How We Afford Our Travel Lifestyle

I wrote this before taking off for an extended, open ended, around the world trip.

When we first started planning for the trip, we didn’t tell too many people. One of the main reasons is this illusion that in order to travel, you need a lot of spare cash (which is true) and therefore you must be earning tons of money (fortunately not true).

We don’t earn anything close to 6 figure salary. But we’ve been pretty good about saving up what we can by prioritizing certain things. Because of that, even with some setbacks, we managed to stay on track with our saving goals.

Here are some money-saving tips that you can use to fund that travel fund:

Lay The Foundation

Pay yourself first. Contribute to 401k, buy stocks, antiques (I’m kidding), or other types of investment. A portion of your paycheck MUST go to post-travel life. Very fortunate few get to travel for a living, most likely you won’t be one of them. I love apps like Acorn or Stash because it’s proof that you don’t need a lot to start investing (and that compound interest really does work).

Pay off your debt. Or even better, do not get into debt. Jack paid off his student debt within 6 months, most of it from the money he saved while in school from the loan itself. We have lived debt free ever since that. Being in debt also means being in a commitment (to pay it off), which brings me to the next point:

Do not get anything that require commitment. Do not buy a house, or a car, or a 2 yr cell phone contract… Do not get pets who live for a very long time either. If you can not imagine living without animals (like me), consider fostering for your local animal rescue. It’s a win-win situation. BIG BONUS: You also get to save a life.

Save, save, save

Downgrade. Move to a cheaper place. It’s the easiest way to trim your expenses. We saved $200/mo by moving to a smaller AND closer-to-work apartment. And saved further when we re-negotiated the rent after noticing a price drop in the neighborhood.

Find a (cheap) hobby to keep yourself away from movies and malls on weekends. Do not get into rock climbing like we did. It’s addicting and expensive. You know what else is expensive? Boredom. Check out Skillshare to pick up new skills or for activities in your area.

Cook more. You can save tons by not eating out, more than you’ll think. I used to pooh-pooh this idea because it seems so obvious (and because I hate cooking). Then we lived in a converted van for one year and we had to learn how to cook (the food scene in the middle of national forests is seriously lacking). That was how I discovered the joy of putting simple meals together and that joy is still something I carry with me nowadays. Learning how to cook simple meals was truly one of the most awesome and unexpected take away from our year-long van trip. Now, we eat maybe once or twice a week (compared to 6-8 times previously), and save close to $600 a month (eating in San Francisco is $$$).

Check your credit card balance daily I have a lot, a LOT, of browser tabs that I keep open on my laptop and one of them always shows my credit card balance. I look at it every morning. Nothing like seeing your increasing credit card balance to curb random, impulsive purchases.

On similar note, choose credit cards smartly We use Chase Ultimate Rewards. We did the math and figured that despite its hefty annual fee, we’d actually be able to get more in rewards to make the fee worth it. We also use Schwab Debit Card when traveling. Schwab allows you to use any ATM in the world for free.

Sell your unwanted stuff. We live in a 600 sq ft apartment in San Francisco. It’s TINY. It forces us to evaluate every purchase and be diligent in getting rid of unwanted items. I sell our old stuff on Amazon (camera, lenses, and old guidebooks), Craigslist (furniture), and Swappa (phones).

Cashback program is a no-brainer. We used cashback program such as Ebates which gives you 3-10% back of some online purchases. Considering we do most of our shopping online, this adds up quick.

So, that’s the short list of things that have worked for us. I wish I could give an insider tip on what to invest, or some other big money-saving revelations. But unfortunately, it’s just a matter of making sacrifices, making travel a priority, and attempting to strike a balance between living in the now and saving for the future.

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

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12 Replies to “How We Afford Our Travel Lifestyle”

  1. Great tips. I totally feel your pain on the rock climbing bit. We have an indoor climbing gym in town and the monthly membership alone is killer! I haven't even gone outdoors yet — partially because I don't want to pay for the ropes!

    Taking care of debts is huge and, unfortunately, difficult when you have mountains of student loan debt. The best strategy I've seen for saving for trips (aside from points and miles) is simply to set up a high yield savings account and set aside a certain amount of money per paycheck that goes directly into the travel fund. Treat it like another bill, and the money will add up pretty quickly!
    My recent post The Offbeat Black Hills

  2. I'm not sure if I'm going to do a RTW trip or just travel when I can, but if I end up going on one, I won't be doing it debt-free. While I think that getting my non-educational debt squared away is mandatory, I don't think that I can wait until my school loans are paid off before I do it. They can be put on hold, or at least reduced to what you can afford to pay (i.e. $50/month from writing revenue). The way I see it, if I wait until I'm completely debt-free, I'll never end up doing it. Then again, I could get a job and throw nearly every spare cent I have at it and see where I end up, right? :p

  3. We love our fosters! I don't think we'll ever stop fostering even when we're not planning to travel. It's a very rewarding experience.

  4. Saving money for a trip is possible as long as you take the challenge. I think that in order to save money for your RTW trip you just have to avoid wasting money on unnecessary things. Avoid going out for beers, meals, shopping or going to the cinemas, pubs, etc. Saving money for your trip is possible and it all depends on you!

  5. Great list of tips. I agree completely with you on the importance of paying yourself first and taking care of debts. It doesn't make sense why people would squirrel away pocket change and call it 'saving' while paying a 17% interest on a $5000 credit card debt.

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