So you want to travel the world, eh? (Can I get away with saying “eh” even though I am no way a Canadian?) Good plan. Travel will make you smarter, more empathetic, more interesting, and more interested in the world around you. You’ll figure out who you are a little better. Even when you’re going through rough moments, you’ll have the time of your life.
But to do that, you need money. How much money depends on you and your interests. Do you mind hostel dorms and only drinking at happy hour? Or do you want to post up in a terraced Airbnb and go out every night? Will you be traveling through more expensive countries or ones where the cost of living is lower than in your home country? Doing lots of paid excursions or more on-your-own wandering? No judgment for whichever kind of trip you chose — to each traveler, her own version of a year abroad.
Once you’ve decided on your number, though—maybe it’s $30/day + flights to southeast Asia or $45/day + flights to South America or $75/day + flights to Europe—you’ve got to figure out a way to save that much. That’s where I come in.
I’ve done this. I saved $20,000 for a year of travel. Then I went and did the travel. (My trip took me to most of South America + a 6-week jaunt to New Zealand, and the majority of my budget went to getting to far-away places like the Galapagos or Queenstown.)
I had a good job and a good salary that made saving that amount way easier than if I was doing what I do now, which is working as a freelance writer and making ends meet on a decidedly more month-to-month basis. But no matter how much you’re starting with or where you want to end up, following these tips will help get you there.
1. Pick your splurges, then prune everything else back.
I read so many finance advice columns leading up to my trip that basically espoused an approach of “spend nothing ever on anything that makes you happy; live in a furnishing-less box, and don’t ever order a latte on a Sunday morning even if you really, really want to.” (This guide was not one of those; it was actually helpful as a starting point.)
I didn’t want to live a year or two of denial and misery just to live a subsequent year of abundance and indulgence. I much preferred to enjoy my “real life” before my “travel life” began, even though it meant having trifle money later on to blow on helicopter rides over glaciers. (Which I did do once; it really, truly was not worth it, let me tell you.)
This is the most important piece of advice I have for you. Decide what you need to feel human and happy and ruthlessly protect that, and cut spending on everything else.
I spent a month tracking my spending before making my decision on what I could and couldn’t live without. (In college, I used a budget religiously, but I grew away from the church of Excel trackers living in New York.)
My major spend categories were the following: rent, utilities, phone bill, food, transportation, entertainment, health, self-maintenance, and clothes. (There was a “student loan” bucket, but I got that taken care of before I started saving for my trip.) I decided what I’d keep as my splurge: my sublet, even though it was expensive for the true bedroom in a converted two-bedroom fifth-floor walk-up (which turned out to be a nightmare complete with an extortionist roommate, but that is a story for another article). I’d always wanted to live in the East Village and I was so close to everything I loved — parks, thrift stores, Tompkins Square Bagels — that I knew I would be happy there without needing to spend a bunch more money (like when I lived uptown and spent a fortune on cabs to get home after a night out).
What I cut: self-maintenance — no more haircuts or massages, buying new clothes, which was never really my thing anyway, ordering in food three times a week, and my going out budget. I canceled my Classpass membership and instead tried to walk everywhere all the time, which was a free workout that which let me see my city while saying goodbye to it and also cut down on my Uber charges. Win, win, win.
Let yourself spend in order to make yourself save.
2. Sell everything you don’t regularly use.
I was a bit of a hoarder before I left on my trip. My apartment was full of odds and ends from past roommates who’d moved out more hastily than I had, like a gorgeous oak and glass Johnny Walker bar cart with brass handles and a sturdy black vanity complete with hidden mirror, both of which I’d bought from ex-roommates at $50 each that I didn’t really need. I also had a habit of adopting orphaned furniture I found on the street, like a wrought iron stool that just needed a new cushion or perfectly functional, slightly nicked front hall table. I sold it all on apps like Letgo and OfferUp for much more than I’d paid, and I didn’t miss them. The same went for clothes and accessories I never used — to the internet marketplace they went. I sold them and chalked up a thousand dollars to add to my travel fund.
3. There is such a thing as a free lunch. Find it.
Yes, you could stay in for a year and marathon Netflix on your best friend’s subscription. But if you want a bit more social action, you could go investigate the myriad of lunch-and-learns, launch parties with open bars, networking hours serving hors d’oeuvres, and catered lecture series that your city is undoubtedly offering that you just don’t know about yet.
Start with city-specific email lists. For New York, I love pulsd, which emails out a daily newsletter of deals and free events. (I’ve gone to an entrepreneurship chat at WeWork with free drinks and snacks and a comped wine launch on a SoHo roof with a crawfish boil and unlimited rosé after hearing about them there.)
Talk to friends working in industries like PR or media who may need a plus-one for work functions, and do a regular scan of your “promotions” folder in your email to see if you’ve missed any free events like launch parties or anniversary parties.
Check out event boards at your local Aerie or Athleta — both athletic brands often host free yoga classes in their studios every month. I went to a great vinyasa class at my local Aerie that served frozen yogurt afterward, which very much counts for breakfast.
Look out for events at your local college or university too, especially grad schools, who often host talks on very interesting subjects and will pay you in pizza or sandwiches to attend them.
Don’t stop going out — just find creative ways to not spend when you do.
4. Stop drinking outside of the house with the one exception of happy hour.
Again, you should still go out if you want to. But should you spend $16 for a cocktail ever again? Probably not. The $3.20-per-ounce you’re paying will go much farther put towards buying ingredients and mixing up a pitcher of gin fizzes or mojitos and hosting friends over for a pregame before hitting the bar.
And if you’re going to go out, do your research — schedule dates, catch-ups, and celebratory cheers during happy hour.
5. Make your money work for you.
As you start growing your cash on hand, don’t let it just sit there stagnant (and in some cases, shrinking, depending on the rate of inflation). Once you’ve amassed a few thousand, put it in a high-yield savings account (check out Discovery’s options) or a certificate of deposit (I like the ones offered by Charles Schwab). You can also invest it in a mutual fund (I use Vanguard) but keep in mind the risks associated.
It’s nice to watch your money grow without you having to do a thing.
PACK YOUR BAGS