What is it like to travel the world? Imagine this, you are lying on a white sandy beach looking out over the Indian Ocean just as the blood orange sun starts to dip into the sea. The warmth of the remaining sun washing over your newly tanned body. Sound like heaven? Sound like something you want to make a habit of? Or how about this, you befriend another backpacker who you end up spending 6 weeks with whilst you motorbike up the length of Vietnam. An experience that leads you to find hidden waterfalls and secluded beaches.
I’m going to make a big claim here, ready….travel will change your life. It just will. This might sound dreamy and foolish, and perhaps doesn’t mean much to you right now reading this at home having not traveled (or not traveled enough), but quite simply there is no other experience in the world like traveling it. All of the different things you will see, do and experience will make you a different person, a better person, and will change your whole perspective on life.
This happened to me. I went off traveling to Southeast Asia for 6 months in 2019 and my whole world changed, and now everything is different, and the life I thought I wanted, I’m now rejecting. I’ve realized there is just more to life than I thought!
Traveling is something that is a rite of passage for some, a daydream for others, and is often thought to be reserved for the more financially fortunate of us. As I write this at the beginning of 2020, there has never been a busier time for first-time travelers, kids of 18 just out of school, or the mid-career 30 something, looking for a change. Travel is mainstream. Travel is no longer a far-flung dream, but something that can become a reality…your reality!
But there is a problem, there are barriers in the way, responsibilities, lack of money or just pure fear (even if you’re not willing to admit it). You may be wondering how you can make this dream a reality — if you can make this dream a reality. The answer is you most definitely can, and here’s how.
1. First Ask Yourself: Why do I Really Want to Travel?
You know in your gut you want to go, but why? what is driving you? By answering this question you should overcome the first hurdle many people have in actually taking the leap and going traveling.
Most people are scared, we as a human race are risk-averse, safety and comfort are what we crave, and if we live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, with a job that predictably pays the bills every month, it is VERY hard to throw all this away on something we would like to do, something that is unknown. But if you answer the question as to why you want to travel, and really start to explore the importance it might have in your life, you will start to make it more tangible, and if it’s more tangible it will build and build until it’s a passion….and a passion is a powerful thing.
People fight for passion, people die for passion….with passion for travel you can really do it!
You can overcome any mental hurdle that you put in your way like ‘I can’t afford it’ or ‘I’ve got a house/kids [insert major responsibility here]. This might sound cliche, but you really can do anything you put your mind to…trust me.
‘But why should I trust you’ I hear you think (yes yes I can hear you think ;), well you can trust me because I did it myself. I quit my very successful, comfortable (safe!) job, I sold my house and I just left. And do you know why I managed it so easily? Because I developed a passion for it, I took stock of my life and the thought grew and grew, and I looked at all the reasons ‘why not’ and I thought ‘what have I actually got to lose’? life is not meant for wasting, it’s meant for a living (as they say)…By the way, you’ll soon learn to love my cliches.
2. You Don’t Have to be Rich to Travel
Lack of money is by far the biggest reason people have for why they can’t travel. Saving for traveling is not an impossible task, but you need that passion. With passion, you will make this a priority, and that is the magic answer to getting the money you need to travel the world.
This is not easy, I get that, but nothing in life that is worth having is easy to get, am I right? You have to want this. You have to want it so much you are willing to give up your monthly girls (or boys) night out, to work some extra hours, to take a second job, or even move back to your parents, or onto a friend’s couch if you have to. It can be done but you have to want it that much.
How to Save for Travel
- Work out how much money you need to travel. This will wholly depend on where you want to go and for how long, but as an example, I spent around $10,000 for 6 months travel in Southeast Asia in 2019.
- Take stock of your incomings and outgoings to see where you are right now.
- Cancel or give up the non-essentials, like your Netflix account or your gym membership.
- Change your lifestyle. You will need to make some major changes to save this amount of money, so shop somewhere cheaper, stop dating, and like I said, cut down your social life and move back to your parents if you need to!
- Work out how much you can reasonably save, and how long it will take to save what you need.
- As soon as you get paid, put your allocated monthly savings amount into another bank account and do not touch it.
- Set a deadline and stick to it! Go as far as booking your flights so you have something to work towards.
Despite all of this don’t be too hard on yourself. If you give in and go out one night it’s not the end of the world, but make up for it by working that extra shift.
If you aren’t willing to give something up to get something then just stop torturing yourself now, it ain’t gonna happen my friend.
So….you have answered the ‘why’ and you have found your passion. You executed your savings plan and you have $$$ in the bank, you are dying to go. First off all give yourself a pat on the back because that probably wasn’t easy, second (just to push you over the edge), here is a little reminder of what all your effort will get you.
3. Budgeting While You’re Away
Now there is one golden rule here. You have money burning a hole in your pocket…DO NOT SPEND IT ALL AT ONCE!
You may feel a little rich, and when you hit cheap ass countries like Thailand or Vietnam you’re going to feel even richer. But unless you want to end up having spent all your money in the first three months, by staying in luxury hotels or going on endless day trips, just because you think ‘hey it’s cool, I’ve got enough money’, think again. You worked so hard for that cash now you need to be just as careful in making it go as far as possible.
This is not as hard as it sounds, and actually I think you may find that once you have worked that hard for your cash, and you are out there somewhere in the amazingness of this globe, you will be quite aware of the fact that once it’s gone, it’s gone, and you’ll be on your way home!
So here are some tips for how to protect that hard-earned cash of yours and make it last as long as possible:
- Set a daily budget
Some days you’ll be over it and some you will be under, but if you research what the average daily budget might be for where you are going, it’ll make it much easier to not blow too much money as you travel around. For example, I worked out I could cheaply travel Southeast Asia on $30 a day (on average) and I did it by doing the following things;
- Track your spending
This might seem a bit excessive but it’ll be the best way to show you where you are, and if you are on a budget. An app like TrailWallet will tell you whether you can really afford that day scuba diving or not, BUT don’t let it hold you back. Remember you are here to have life experience, so although it’s great for keeping you on track, if it means you end up miserable whilst doing it then maybe you just need to re-adjust your daily budget.
A month less travel might not sound that appealing, but if that means amazing experiences in the months you are traveling, then surely it’s worth it!
- Check your bank balance regularly
This is more important if you can’t be bothered with tracking all your spending (and I guess that might be most people!). By taking look at your balance once a week, you will keep in mind where you are. If you don’t, that money will soon disappear from under your nose, and you’ll regret it.
- Be sensible
This is perhaps an obvious one (and a boring one at that), but just be a little bit sensible with your money, like don’t buy the whole bar a round of drinks…common sense right!
4. Making Money While Traveling
If, despite everything, you still feel you won’t have enough money to travel the way you want to. There is another option, but it will change the way you travel so bear that in mind.
Working whilst you travel is a very real option, and is a lot easier than you may think. Loads of people do it, they may even do it more for the social side, but an extra bit of money to keep you traveling is never a bad thing, so here are some ideas:
- Teach English. Job opportunities are all around the world and in many cases, you don’t need to be certified. You just need to be a native speaker.
- Work at a bar or in a hostel.
- Work as a waiter in a cafe or restaurant.
- Look for how you could freelance whilst away with your current skills. Whether you have a background in web design, programming, etc or are able to do any type of admin work, you should definitely take a look at what’s out there.
- Fruit-picking. A surprisingly common one in certain countries like Australia where you can actually get paid quite a lot!
- Are you a certified Scuba Instructor? This is a great way to make a buck, and if you aren’t then maybe it’s something you could look into doing whilst you’re out there.
- Be a tour guide. Learn about a place and then put your knowledge into action.
- Are you a budding photographer? You won’t be short of things to photograph whilst you’re away, so why not sell some?.
There are many more ways to make money if you are willing, so be creative.
5. Travel Hacks
There are always more ways to save money, so here are some travel hacks for you, as well as some general hints & tips around money:
- Join up to loyalty programs for as many hotels as you can as it’ll basically allow you to get free accommodation. For example, Hotels.com gives its Welcome Rewards program members every 10th night free, and some hotel loyalty programs can include perks like complimentary upgrades, Wi-fi or breakfast.
- House-sitting is another great way of getting free accommodation and is becoming more and more popular.
- Signing up for some credit cards, with no annual fee and a big sign-up bonus can land you a free flight every now and again, just be smart here and read the small print!
- Airline rewards programs can also get you free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets no matter how often you fly, so make sure you sign up. Also, make sure to look for partner companies such as Amazon and Apple who may offer air miles as you shop!
- Joining airline or flight booking site mailing lists (like Skyscanner) can often bring a great deal your way, so keep your eyes peeled.
- When booking a flight, book 6 weeks before you fly, book on a Tuesday and travel on a Wednesday. Apparently this is the magic formula for the best deal!
- Be flexible with your dates and try to travel outside of high season for wherever you are going. You will always get a better deal.
- Be flexible with your destinations. Perhaps you can travel via a cheaper route – research is essential here.
Take Public Transport
Public transport is by far the cheapest way to travel, much cheaper than a taxi, but admittedly it can be hard to work out. If you have the time try and do this though, it can be a lot cheaper. For example, I worked out how to get to the airport in Hanoi, Vietnam by bus (after a few hours of wandering around the day before!) but it cost me all of $2 vs. the $20 a taxi would have cost!
Avoid Lots of Little ATM Fees
The best way to save on ATM fees is to take out as much money as possible each time, and keep the bulk of it safe in something like a portable travel safe in your room – this is what I did.
Keep $100 cash in a hidden place in your backpack/luggage for emergencies, and don’t spend it unless you really need to.
A handy little app that can store all of your pin numbers, bank and credit card details, etc in one place, but is very secure.
6. What to Consider Before You Go
There will feel like a million life admin things to do before you go, and who likes boring life admin right?! But unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. Here are some things to consider/sort out before you go:
- Book your flight (obviously!).
- Go to the doctor for any vaccination you might need and get a vaccination card as proof (take this with you when you go as you might need it).
- Open a bank account that doesn’t charge for taking money out abroad.
- Are you taking a phone? (I suggest you do), if so then get it unlocked so you can put in local SIM cards if needed (tip: most countries will have wifi everywhere so you might not need to bother with a SIM).
- Set up any leftover regular bill payments to happen automatically while you are away.
- Inform your bank(s) that you are going to be away for X amount of time otherwise, they may block your card when you first use it abroad
- Make sure your passport has at least 6 months left on it.
- Check to see if you need to get a Visa for your first destination before you travel. Some countries give Visa on Arrival (VOA), but not all!
- Mail – is there someone you can direct this to that you trust? You may need them to open it in case something needs your urgent attention.
- Buy travel insurance – this is super important, I recommend World Nomads.
- Photocopy all your important documents like passport, bank cards, insurance documents, and your vaccination card and email them to yourself and someone you trust just in case you lose the originals.
- Take 5-6 passport photos away with you. You will need them for further Visas.
- Book the first hostel/hotel at your first destination – this will give you peace of mind to know you have somewhere to go when you’re tired and jet-lagged.
7. Helpful resources
There are hundreds of places you can look for information or help on travel these days, but here are a few of my favorites:
Try and book ahead for your hostels if you can to avoid disappointment. Hostelworld or even Hostelbookers has some of the best rates around.
If hostels aren’t your thing, or if you just need an upgrade for the night, Agoda is the next best place to book accommodation.
Honestly the best source of information for pretty much anything to do with travel. Want to know the pitfalls of crossing the Thai/Cambodian border, just read another traveler’s stories of when they did it! This gave me an armory of info, hints & tips before I went traveling, and also saved me some cash!
Still one of the biggest brands of a travel guide, and one of my favorites (as well as thousands of other peoples). Southeast Asia on a Shoestring was my bible before and during my travels.
Tip: Rip out the pages that you don’t need so carrying it in your luggage isn’t as heavy…it’s like war & peace that thing!
Want to compare flight prices for the best deals? This is one of the best comparison sites out there. But as I said above, to avoid the website gathering cookies and giving you higher prices, change your internet settings from ‘public’ to ‘private browsing.’
8. Some Must-Have Items
Ultimately you should pack as little as possible to keep the weight of your backpack/luggage down, but there are a few things that I think you just must take with you to make your travels safer and easier:
Oh my word, these are the single best thing to take traveling. They organize all your clothes so you aren’t pulling them all out every time you need to find something in your bag.
Take a sarong with you (or buy one when you get there) and you’ll be able to use it for a beach towel, a cover-up, a scarf, a shower towel (if needed – although a microfibre towel is the best bet for this!) and a hundred other things. It’s the single most versatile item you’ll have with you.
A tad pricey but this item really puts your mind at rest so you can leave your passport, excess money and other valuable items in your room whilst you’re out. Some hostels/hotels in some more questionable places are notorious for thieving from customers’ rooms or safes.
You will want to use your own padlock for lockers & some hostel doors (to be on the safe side).
9. And Finally…
Want to hear from someone that’s taken the leap themselves? Here is Hayley from Travel Blog Lovepuffin who has just quit her job, given up her lovely flat in London and has jetted off to Southeast Asia, after years of dreaming about it:
“I always knew I was destined for a life on the road, ever since family holidays to America as a child. I dedicated my working life to the travel industry, and when having cheap and frequent holidays just wasn’t enough, I decided to take my work on the road with me.
I have recently quit my job and embarked on a new lifestyle of traveling, writing, and consultancy, and I’m certainly not looking back! We live in a very special time, and we are lucky enough to be able to work remotely, so the real question is, why is everyone NOT doing this? Make your passion your work and you will never feel you are working ever again.”
I hope this guide has inspired you and given you some useful information as well. Taking the leap to change your life for a bit and go traveling is a brave thing to do, and will not be an easy thing to accomplish, but if you manage it, if you ask yourself why and make it a priority, you will not regret it.
Natalie is a freelance travel writer born in Belgium and living in the USA. She has traveled to 40-plus countries and lived on four continents. She loves experiencing new places, soaking up their art, food, and culture. When she’s not writing, Natalie is probably reading, gaming or sipping a mojito at a local bar and planning her next trip.