This time last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my plans to backpack out of the country for four months. In the end, I split my time between Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Thailand and Malaysia. I have been home for more than six months now. During that time, LOTS of people have reached out to me asking me how I saved up for my trip. So I’m going to write what I hope is a gold mine for anybody hoping to do some real international backpacking.
This article is designed for people who want to travel for a long time on a small budget. Backpacking does not involve direct flights, nice (or even semi-decent) hotels or expensive car rentals. I don’t mean to knock anybody doing any of those things. There were plenty of times where I would have killed for a nice hotel room or my own car. All I’m saying is that I’m not writing this article for those people. This article is intended to be informative for those people willing to travel ultra-cheap. You have to be willing to look like a hippy and carry all of your stuff on your back. You can’t expect convenience or comfort, you only expect cheap. You are probably not taking your yearly two-week vacation, you want more than that. To me, this is the best way to travel anyways. You are much more easily accepted and assimilated into local culture and you meet so many more people.
So you don’t get discouraged and stop reading, let me tell you what my situation was before my trip.
- Student loans? Check.
- High paying job? Nope.
- Job with unlimited amounts of vacation time? Nope.
- Job waiting for me when I got home? Nope.
- Big, fat bank account? Not even close.
- Well what the hell, man? Read on!
A travel budget can be broken down into two parts: saving and spending.
- Saving- You need to make a realistic goal of the amount of money that you think you can save up.
- Spending- Once you have figured out how much you can save, start trying to figure out how long you think that you can travel on that budget.
If you asked any of my friends to describe me, the word stingy would surely come up. There are tons of people that want to go and travel for four months, but what’s holding them back? Money money money money money. I can promise you that no amount of stingy living would make going on your dream trip not worth it. But you have to make some very serious lifestyle changes in order to actually do that. And remember, every dollar counts! Here are some things you need to think about:
- Rent: This is most people’s biggest expense. If your rent is holding you back, move if you can! A slightly crappier place in a slightly crappier neighborhood is not that big of a deal! If you are about to move, pick the worst room so that you can pay a little less than your roommates. For two years in college, I lived in an addition on the back of a house that was the size of the inside of a mini van and might as well have been made of cardboard.
- Groceries: Anybody that knows me is going to roll their eyes at this next sentence. If it weren’t for Aldi, I would not have been able to afford to travel for half as long as I did. Aldi is a discount grocery store from Germany. It was recently rated as the healthiest and most “save the bees” friendly grocery store in the U.S. Healthier than even Whole Foods! It is also remarkably cheaper than Kroger, Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, etc. If you aren’t shopping at Aldi, you are throwing away TONS of money for no good reason! If you have an Aldi or something like it, make the switch!
- Savings Account: Have a set amount of money that you will put into your savings after each paycheck. Don’t take money out of your savings account!
- Drinking: Drinking is the biggest element of this category, because it is EXPENSIVE! If you can’t cut back significantly, at least consider getting your drinking in before you head out to the bar (but don’t drive!), so you aren’t paying bar prices all night.
- Fun: Your friends are about to do this super fun thing that you just totally have to do because it is gonna be so super fun and oh yeah did I mention you totally have to do it because it is going to be so super fun? Traveling is super fun and it is worth sacrificing a few trips to the amusement park. If you don’t have self-control over these things, use Groupon. Every dollar counts.
- Eating out: Just say no.
- Work: Work work work work work. Take every opportunity you can to make some extra money. It is worth it. And when you’re ready, quit! If you can’t quit, do everything you can to seem like a big asset. You might be able to negotiate a leave of absence. I worked as a special needs preschool teacher’s aide during college, and I was lucky enough to love my job and dedicated a lot to being good at it. When the woman running the kitchen left, I took a chance and told the school director that I thought I could handle the job. She knew I was a hard worker and gave me a shot. I turned out to love my new position and it paid a little more too. Now, I’m a full-time teacher, a perfect job for travelers!
- Stuff: Do you need that sweet glow in the dark yo-yo? Ask yourself before you buy more stuff if it is worth a couple days of traveling.
- Travel gear: Look for deals! As we say in the outdoors community, don’t be a gear-whore! You do not need every piece of gear and you do not need the best brands! Call your local REI and ask when their next garage sale is, and show up early! Look for discounts and never pay full price for gear!
- Gas: Ride your bike! Yeah bikes! Keep your eye out for cheap gas prices when you can’t!
How to travel on a budget article soon to come!