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How I Afford to Travel (Yes, I Reveal Exact Dollar Amounts)

*Affiliate disclosure: I may receive commissions if you buy via the links below. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

No, I’m not rich. The three main things I want you to take away from this post are:

  1. I am not rich.
  2. You do not have to be rich to travel.*
  3. In a lot of cases, traveling can be less expensive than living in one place.

There are a TON of “How I Afford to Travel” posts out there. These are great. I read these before taking off on my own  trip, but a lot of these people spent months or years saving up $15,000 to $30,000 in order to leave for one year of travel. Props to them. But this is very difficult for most people to do, and it takes a ton of patience (which I tend not to have). They also in general don’t reveal any exact numbers–in this post and others, I will. 

My Situation Pre-Travel

Here’s how my travel preparation differed from most people’s:

  1. I did not save up a huge amount of money before leaving. In fact, the day I flew to Peru in April 2014, I had just $624.25 in my bank account. But I also knew I would have money coming in, through various writing clients I would be working for remotely while I traveled.
  2. I took only four months to prepare.Though my desire to travel the world had been brewing for about one year, I finally committed to the decision to travel long-term in December 2013. I left for my first stop, Peru, in April 2014. I used those four months to research, plan, get immunizations, and save up enough money to buy my initial flights (about $1,575 to Peru and Argentina).
  3. When I made the decision to travel long-term, I was not working at a high-paying job. In fact, I had just quit my pretty well-paying job seven months prior to planning my trip and was nurturing my fledgling writing business. So…money was tight.

So how the heck do I afford to travel?

1. I set up ways to earn money online while I travel.

Some people prefer to save up money for many months, even years, before they travel around the world–not I! I wanted to take off as soon as possible, which means I have to work online while I travel. Before I left for South America, I made sure I had clients who would be fine with me working remotely. I make sure I always have Wi-Fi, so I can send emails and do my work wherever I am. 

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    2. I don’t have any debt.

    This is huge. While I don’t have much money, I also don’t have any debt, which is more than most people can say. I never had to take out any student loans for college because I had scholarships and a few jobs. I am extremely grateful for this. I also made sure to pay off my $500 in credit card debt before I left for South America.

    3. I make travel a priority.

    To clarify, travel is NOT my number one priority. It is, however, way more important to me than having nice clothes, fancy electronics, or a Netflix subscription. When you make something a priority, you will make the necessary sacrifices to move toward that goal.

    4. I cut out (nearly) all unnecessary items.

    I don’t have an iPhone anymore; I canceled all my subscriptions; I don’t own any designer brands; I wear the same clothes all the time. And you know what? Life is great.

    5. I travel slowly, living and working in one place for weeks at a time, rather than hopping to several destinations in one week.

    Trying to cram in a ton of destinations into a short amount of time can quickly drive up your travel costs, especially because transportation can be so expensive. By traveling slowly, not only do you cut down on transportation costs, but you can also take advantage of discounts on long-term rentals. For example, I’m paying $10 per night at my hostel because I’m a long-term guest, whereas if I were staying for a short amount of time (less than one month) they would charge me $20 per night.

    6. I don’t stay at fancy hotels, go to expensive attractions, or do tour packages.

    For me, travel isn’t about the “touristy” things. I’d much rather hang out in my neighborhood, chatting up the owner of the local tienda than go bungee jumping in the mountains or ride on a double-decker tour bus throughout the city. I’m also staying at a nice little hostel, not some 4-star hotel. Living like a local will cut down your costs significantly.

    7. I rarely set aside anything for savings.

    Oh, if my Personal Finance professor knew this, he’d have a heart attack! I spend most of my income on travel, plus the usuals: car payments, insurance, cell phone payments, and food. I don’t focus on saving money for retirement or emergencies. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. It is a very risky way to travel and live. You should always have something in savings for emergencies. Thankfully, no emergencies have come up…but if they do, I’ll be in trouble.

    8. I work my butt off.

    It’s easy to think I’ve got it easy, jetting from exotic location to exotic location and posting pretty pictures on Facebook. That’s the danger of social media–it gives off the aura of perfection; rarely do you see what’s really going on behind the scenes. For me, travel rarely consists of lounging on some hammock on a beach (there are no beaches in Cusco, anyway). I’m always doing different projects: writing blog posts or product descriptions for my writing clients; designing brochures for other clients; contributing travel articles to content providers, etc.

    Today I didn’t do anything exotic or exciting at all. I literally sat on the floor in my hostel all day completing projects for different clients. Only now, at 9 p.m., am I getting around to writing this blog post. I’m not complaining–I just want to break you of any illusions you may have about travel bloggers.

    So there you have it! No trust funds, lucky breaks, or free rides here.

    Just prioritization and hard work. Oh, and some risk-taking too. 

    Caveats and Other Things to Note

    • * I know you’re probably sick of people telling you “Traveling is so cheap! Anyone can do it!” “Cheap” is a relative term. For me, coming from California, everything seems really cheap. If you’re an American, Canadian, Brit, or Aussie, for example, yes, traveling in a lot of different places will be cheaper than living in your home country. But how about someone from India? The Philippines? Uganda? Bolivia? For people from countries where the cost of living is already very low, and GDP/average incomes are low, no, traveling is probably not going to be cheaper. That’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s just harder, and I would like to be sensitive to those realities as well.
    • It’s also worth mentioning that I don’t have any dependents. The reason I’m able to take such great financial risks is that if I do fail, it’s just me who’s affected. I understand there are people out there who have parents, kids, or other family members or friends who depend on them for support, and they can’t exactly risk financial ruin to go chasing some travel dream. I totally respect that.
    • My expense reports do not include my non-travel-related “fixed expenses” for things back home, such as a car payment and cell phone payment.

    For more information, including detailed expense reports, check out my other posts:

      1. How Much It Cost Me to Go to South America
      2. How Much It Costs to Live in Cusco, Peru (With REAL-TIME Daily Spending Log)


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