Most people think that I am too lucky to be traveling long term and that I might have been blessed by some power from above. I am lucky in many ways indeed, but it took me a while to get here and some effort too.
We’ve been traveling full-time for almost a year now but before that I was working and, above all, I was SAVING! For travel as for anything else in life that involves expenses, unless you are rich, you must save and to save you must prioritize your expenses.
I know not everyone has the same chance to save up money – you might have taken up loans, maybe you get a really small salary that doesn’t even allow you to almost get by… but if you have a regular income, YOU TOO CAN SAVE AND TRAVEL. There is absolutely no need to be a millionaire to go around the world. I saved up USD20,000 and you can see on this website how far that money has taken me so far!
Here are a few examples of what I did to save up money in the couple of years prior to start traveling. Follow these tips and you’ll see how you can easily save up and hit the road too!
This is one of the best skills you can have in this life. Eating at home you save money and you have a healthier diet! An average lunch in Dubai on a work day would cost me around USD8-10. With that money, I can buy A LOT of ingredients in the hypermarket and cook at home certainly more than just one meal! Some people use lack of time as an excuse not to cook, but there are a million recipes online that can teach you how to prepare hearty meals on a budget in less than half an hour. There is really no excuse: either you do it, or you don’t.
FORGET NAME BRANDS
If you were to open my fridge back home you’d find either fresh produce or, mostly, items with the brand “Carrefour”. By not choosing brand name items you can save a lot of money. Maybe it only comes to USD5 or so of difference each time you go grocery shopping, but how many times do you go shopping a month or a year? If you hit the shop one a week that means USD20 a month or USD240 a year. That’s 10 nights of accommodation in a double room in an average hostel in Ecuador!
STOP SIPPING EXPENSIVE COFFEES
One thing that always stunned me in the offices I used to work at in Dubai (and there were many different ones as I was a freelancer) was that people would always come to work with take away coffee from stores such as Starbucks. A small coffee from the chain costs at least USD3 while you get free instant coffee at the office! If you take 1 coffee a day that sets you back on at least USD90 at the end of the month… that is USD1080 at the end of the year. To put things into perspective, that is more than what it cost me to travel one full month around Mexico! Your choice: Mexico or fancy coffee?!
DRINK WATER FROM THE TAP
If you live in a place where tap water is potable, drink it! I have been to many places where the tap water is safe to drink and still I see people buying bottled water. This is a waste of money and of plastic. Right now I am in Chile and water from the tap is safe to drink – that is awesome! I drink about 2 liters a day and if I were to buy water here in Chile that would represent an expense of about at least USD2 a day, meaning USD60 a month – this is counting supermarket purchased bottles only, not even restaurants or cafes. With those USD60 I rather hit the supermarket and buy loads of nice food or take a one day tour around Easter Island’s archaeological sites!
PARK YOUR CAR
This is something I couldn’t do due to the nature of my job, but it’s indeed a major expense and represents a good possibility of saving. Buying a car is a major expense and so is it’s maintenance and fuel! Use public transportation as much as possible – and buy monthly cards for this, not individual trips.
DON’T SPEND MONEY ON ITEMS THAT CAN’T BUY YOU HAPPINESS
Some people have to keep buying stuff to feel satisfied. There is some sort of rush and fulfillment associated with the act of buying something new. Some people need an iPhone or a big TV… some others, like me, are happy with an oven fresh Cinnabon. You might think this is a silly comparison, but if you learn how to find pleasure on little things, you will understand that you might not need expensive items to make you happy. That level of happiness does not increase proportionally to the price of the item you purchase anyway. Stop buying gadgets, expensive clothes and other superfluous things as much as one tends to do and you will save money. It’s a matter of priorities – would you rather get that USD100 dress or spend that money doing on a jungle expedition in Costa Rica?
HANG OUT, BUT IN!
Going out at night is surely fun once in a while but it can also be very entertaining to gather with your friends at home! When we used to have a house, we used to do a lot of movie nights and even parties. For parties, we could buy supplies of food and even drinks for everyone, with as much money others would spend going out to bars and clubs in one night only! I am not saying that you should become a hermit or anything of the sort, but you surely don’t have to be out every other day to spend some time with your friends. Not only you will save on expensive clubs and drinks, you will also spend some quality time with your buddies or boyfriend/girlfriend, perhaps cook together, talk more, bond!
I used to know people in Dubai that would easily spend USD200 on an average weekend night out and still go out at least once a week. That represents an expense of USD800 – equals a month of traveling around Ecuador! Not to mention that is also the average salary of 80 months of a waiter in Cuba. That’s right, 80 months, about 6 and a half years! INSANE, isn’t it? Those same party animals would address me with lines such as “oh, I wish I could also travel, you are so lucky”. Stop drinking your life away and come join us, what the hell!
If drinking in bars/clubs can set you back on a lot of money, so does smoking! In Portugal, my friends pay about USD5 for a packet of cigarettes. If you smoke 1 pack a day that is USD150 at the end of the month! An average lunch in Ecuador costs USD 2.5 so those USD150 could buy you 60 meals! That is lunch and dinner for an entire month.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN USE PHONES ANYWHERE NOW-A-DAYS DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO USE THEM CONSTANTLY!
People love to call and sms these days! Back when I was younger, if I used to set a time to meet up with my friends, we would just show up and period. Now a days, you call each other to book something, then call on the day saying that you are stuck at work and might not make it. Then later call again and say that you might show up, to only end up SMSing to say you are almost there. Once you reach the place, you call again and say “where exactly are you?”. Wasted money that could be saved with a little organization.
If long distance phone calls is what you need to do (like when I used to call my family in Portugal from Dubai) use Skype! And any other free application, such as WhatsApp, that helps you stay connected without eating up your credit.
LIVE IN AN AFFORDABLE AREA
Living in Dubai, renting a place to live was one of the biggest expenses – I guess this applies to most cities around the world, unless you are living with your parents or inherited a house (lucky you if you did!). I could have lived in Dubai Marina and call myself fancy, instead, we got a place in Discovery Gardens, a couple of Kms from the center. Having a car, this didn’t really make a difference in terms of time and comfort, but did impact positively our monthly expenses. Being this a cheaper area than many in town, we got to be in a more spacious home while paying less rent. Also, when we started living together, we were doing so at a studio apartment – it was only later, with better income, that we moved into a one bedroom. Best tip of them all: don’t ever live above your possibilities. Even if you think you can manage (with the use of credit cards and all) this will eventually come and bite you in the ass. Do not spend whatever you don’t have and do not spend every cent of your salary as you never know where you’re going to be next month.
DO NOT TAKE SMALL EXPENSIVE VACATIONS
If you plan on traveling long term, you might want to skip your regular yearly vacations that cost much more than the same amount of time when traveling for longer. A couple of years back I went with my Mom to Jamaica for a week. We lounged at an all-inclusive resort for about USD1100. Now a days, I can easily go by for a month on that money, while visiting multiple locations. Shorter breaks are expensive and long term travel is just way more affordable. If you want to focus on the later, skip the touristy vacations for a while and save the money.
SELL EVERYTHING YOU OWN AND THAT YOU CAN DO WITHOUT
This is the ultimate tip I can give you if you want to travel full-time and need to gather money to do so. Before heading out, we sold everything we owned and, right now, everything I have fits in my backpack. I didn’t have much anyway as our apartment was a rental, but if you have a place, a car, house appliances, gadgets you don’t really need to take with you, clothing or anything else of value, you can sell it and gather a lot of money. We even sold an old plastic Christmas tree and that silly thing ended up paying for a couple of meals in Latin America. EVERYTHING COUNTS!! And you will see once you strip yourself from a lot of possessions you will come to realize that you can do just fine without them and that setting yourself free from material things gives you a real sense of freedom.
Think about what you really want to do and do not loose focus. If you want to travel (and you aren’t particularly gifted financially) you are going to have to think your expenses. There are going to be little temptations on your daily life… from a new shinny pair of shoes to a flashy phone or something else… but keep in mind that those things might make you happy on the moment, but it won’t last. If you really want to travel, prioritize and keep your goal in mind.
Forget about the old saying “one day”… that’s lame!
Set your goal, keep on saving and hit the road. Once you are out there, it will all feel beyond worth it… I promise!