After traveling to over 40 countries and learning valuable ways to travel hack, I have learned one important rule: you do not need a lot of money (or have a high-paying job) to travel. Many people are hesitant to travel, and hold themselves back from possibly some of the most epic adventures because they think that they can’t afford the costs of traveling the world. With a few simple rules and tips it can be entirely possible to travel short or long term with little income.
In any case, if you’re going to travel the world, you’re going to need realistic financial planning. How much are you going to save? What is the minimum you will need to get you where you want to go without starving or feeling stranded? How do your finances look for when you return home? These are all essential questions to have thought out before one departs on a long trip, and the following guidelines can help you get set to afford to travel.
Set a Travel Goal
First and foremost, create a travel goal and stick to it. By mapping out what your expectations are for your trip, it’s more likely that you will work towards it on a daily basis. Think about the length of the trip and the type of experiences you hope to gain. For instance, a goal can be to backpack through South America for three months on a $1,000 per month budget, or to live in an eco-village in India for several months. With your travel baseline goals outlined, it’s easier to plan for what needs to be done to get there.
Start a Travel Fund
Unless you plan to use prior savings, you’re going to have to save some cash to pay for your travels. Even if you only put $200 into a travel fund every month, that’s $2,400 you will have saved up in one year. On top of that, anytime you come across extra cash, put it into your travel fund. The more you’re able to contribute to the fund, the more you will be able to stretch out your budget and ultimately make your trip more flexible and enjoyable. This takes financial responsibility, and by making a commitment to yourself to not tap into those savings you will reach your goal sooner.
Get Your Finances in Order
A couple of months before you are due to travel, make sure to get every single one of your finances in order so that you are not accumulating late fees or paying for things you simply don’t need while you’re abroad. Call your car insurance company to let them know you won’t be driving your car and have them freeze your account until you return. If you don’t plan to use your cell phone on your trip, you can ask your service provider to also freeze your account until you return so you’re not paying for a monthly plan that you will not be using. This goes for wireless internet as well. For student loans or other bills you can’t get around paying, make sure to have enough money in your bank account to continue to pay them. Make sure you can log in and pay all of your bills online using a credit card, or set up auto-pay if you think you might not have access to the internet for extended periods of time.
Take Advantage of Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses
The single most expensive portion of your travels is likely to be your plane ticket. One of the most valuable travel hacking tricks I have picked up over the last couple of years is signing up for a co-branded credit card to earn free airline miles. By getting a new card or two each year I have been able to cover almost all of my flights using airline miles earned from the sign-up bonuses offered with the cards.
Many travel rewards credit cards have a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points, which is enough for a free, round-trip flight to almost anywhere in the world. When you sign up for a credit card that does have a bonus, you usually have up 90 days to meet a minimum spend requirement, which can be $1,000 to $3,000. The minimum spend is easier to meet than you’d think, and on Well Traveled Mile there are a lot of creative suggestions on how to do it. By earning rewards points you can easily save $1,200 on a trip by not paying for an airfare.
Cut Back on Conveniences
It’s true, we all love our conveniences and luxuries, but if you cut out many of those you will save more money than you would think. Sure, watching shows on demand is great, but in the age of the internet there is really no reason to pay for expensive television programming, especially if you’re looking for ways to afford to travel the world. Instead of buying a $3 cup of coffee, make it at home. Live close to work? Then save money on gas and ride your bike or take the bus to work. Think about all the small, daily expenses you could live without, then do it.
Cutting back on these expenses will save you more money than you’d think, and once you realize how much money you’ve been spending it will be easier to fight the urge to spend when it’s not needed.
Research Alternative Accommodations
The bottom line is that in today’s well-traveled world, anywhere you travel to you’re likely to find an affordable hostel and they’re usually clean and well kept. By staying at a hostel you can easily find fun and safe accommodation for $10–$15 a night. My favorite sites are Hostelbookers and Hostelworld. It pays to compare prices for the same hostel, and you can often save a few bucks by booking through the cheaper website. Couchsurfing is another option available and provides free accommodation for travelers who create an online profile and request a couch. The benefit of Couchsurfing is that it offers users the chance to have a local experience with their host. My other favorite site for finding cheap accommodation is AirBnB, and on a recent trip to Puerto Rico I was able to save $40 per night by staying in a studio listed on AirBnB instead of a hotel.