It’s the most popular question I receive in emails: “How can I save money to travel?”
I have written about this before, but I thought that I would combine tips for saving, how much you’ll really need, and how exactly I managed to afford my own travels. Please keep in mind that every person is different; these are just my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. I hope that you will find these tips useful not only for long-term, round-the-world travel, but for shorter trips as well.
1. Figure out where you’re going, and approximately how long you’re going for. This may seem obvious, but I, for example, can only start saving if I have a definitive goal in mind. Saying, “I want to travel the world,” isn’t enough. You should have at least a general idea of where you’d like to go, when you’d like to leave, and how long you’d like to travel for. Answering these questions help you to visualise your goal. Things can (and usually do) change, of course, but starting out with a target in mind can really help motivate you.
How I utilised this myself: I have done this many times, most recently for my trip to Central and South America in 2012. Starting in November of 2011, I decided to put away every single penny I could toward travelling, and I calculated how much I’d need in order to travel the way I wanted to (long-term, budget). I did the same while living in Japan, knowing I wanted to travel through Asia in 2011. I did the same while saving for six months through Europe, working a part-time job through university, and so on. Each time, I managed to exceed my goal. How? Keep reading…
Probably shouldn’t collect currency from around the world if I’m trying to, you know, save it
2. Once you know where you’re going, calculate how much money you’ll need to make the trip a reality. I generally budget for approximately £1000/$1500 CDN (for the sake of this article, let’s assume USD is approximately the same) per month. That was my budget for Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America. Travelling through Western Europe, North America, and Oceania can be much more expensive; so can countries like Russia, Japan, and Brazil. The key is to research well, and to figure out what other travellers in your peer group are spending; I never look at what middle-age luxury travellers are spending, for example, only other backpackers. On top of that, you will need to add the cost of flights, travel gear (if you don’t already have it), insurance, and a bit of “just in case” money.
How I utilised this myself: Here I will breakdown exactly how much I budgeted for my trip through Central and South America.
-$1500 per month, at just over 8 months
-$500 RBC insurance
-$500 travel gear (I already had most things such as a backpack and camera, but I needed new runners, toiletries, a Kindle, a new camera battery, and a few other things)
-$600 flight to Belize (I flew one way, and I didn’t have a return ticket. I received a ticket from Brazil to Canada as my Christmas present from my parents)
-$2500 money in the bank, just in case
3. Here comes the hard part: save every single bit you possibly can. I won’t lie – this is tough. I struggle with it all the time, as I love to shop and go out with friends. It’s just about reordering your priorities; to me, there is no point to buying an expensive bag, or splashing out on a fancy dinner. I’d much rather spend the money on travelling. There are tons of little things you can do to rethink your lifestyle and how you spend your money, and here are just a few:
-Create a mantra for yourself. It sounds silly, but saying something like, “Will I need this in India?” or “What could I get in Germany for the cost of this?” will help you stay focused.
-At the end of each day, throw your change into a jar. This is especially great for Canadians and Brits – gotta love how those loonies/one pound coins add up!
Or at least turn those coins into a pretty bracelet
-Cut out the small expenditures that add up. We all know that buying a coffee every day is terrible for our budget, but think about the other things, too – pack a lunch, shop at cheaper grocery stores, seek out sales for clothes and beauty products, do your own spa treatments at home (though perhaps save waxing to the professionals), and so on.
-Cut out the big expenditures. This can be really difficult, but it will make a huge difference in the end. Instead of that gym membership, start walking or jogging. Instead of a car, use public transport. Instead of costly rent each month, … live with your parents. Please don’t hate me for suggesting that last one.
-Seek out free things to do. Most cities have days when museums are free, for example. Spending money on buying books, in print or on your Kindle? Go to… wait for it… the library! Similarly, use coupons or sites like Groupon for the best deals.
-Sell everything you’re not using/you don’t want anymore. Use sites like eBay or Etsy, sell to vintage or consignment shops, or even have a good old fashioned garage sale.
-Change the way you socialise. Going out for dinner and drinks can be extremely costly. Instead, invite friends over for a potluck. Even getting takeout can be much cheaper than actually sitting at the restaurant; you won’t be tempted to order an expensive drink or bottle of wine, and you’ll spend less on tipping. Not to mention – drinking at home with friends is the best. If anything, “pre-drink” before you go to a bar or a club. Classic, but cost-effective.
How I utilised this myself: I pretty much did everything on the above list. When I worked as a server in 2011/2012, I put every single dollar I made from tips into a separate bank account, once a week. I knew that if I just put the money in my wallet I’d “accidentally” spend it. I recently started selling clothes to consignment shops and I’ve made almost $1000 so far. I also don’t have a gym membership, which actually speaks more to my laziness than my saving finesse… I do walk every day for 30-60 minutes, though!
No more of these, unfortunately. Sorry, Second Cup.
4. Work. Work really hard. You may have to take a job (or jobs) that you don’t like very much. If you know that you are only working to make enough money to then quit and travel the world, you might just have to stick with it for a little while. It sucks, of course, but until money grows on trees, it’s a necessary evil.
How I utilised this: People seem to think that I make money through this blog, but I’ve made a conscious decision to keep this blog ad and sponsorship free. I make money indirectly (though writing work and my new job that I got because of blogging… more on that another time), but at this point I don’t sell advertising or links or anything like that. I don’t knock bloggers who do, but it’s not my style.
I very rarely talk about work, for one very good reason: I’ve had some really shitty jobs in order to make money to travel. As already mentioned, I worked as a server for about five months over 2011 and 2012, and I hated it. My feet ached every day, there were tons of horrible customers, the staff were often fighting and angry… but I worked there full-time, and then some, taking over-time shifts when I could. Why? Because I was making $80 a day in wages, plus around $80 in tips. That’s $800 a week. I was living at home, and barely going out (this was also because I was in Winnipeg in winter). I was basically a hermit, but I managed to save over $10,000 in five months. Added to the savings I already had, plus a small inheritance from my grandmother, I managed to make my $16,000 goal for Central and South America. Throughout 2013, I worked as an assistant in a financial office. While I loved my coworkers, I can’t say that the work was especially titillating. I simply did it to bring in cash.
5. Set up a separate bank account, and/or automatically transfer money into it each month. This is extremely easy to do, and it makes a huge difference. I find that if I have money readily available, I spend it. If you put money aside, somewhere you can’t touch it, it will make it much easier to save.
How I utilised this: My dad is an investment advisor, so I have often transferred money into other accounts that he then handles. This is a huge advantage, I know, and having a family member who knows about banking has allowed me to save more than I probably could have on my own. He has even helped me to invest money wisely so that I’ve actually made a bit of money in the stock market.
Dirhams, Rubles, Dollars, and Rupees – I just need cash
6. Use your contacts to find new job leads. Just as I took advantage of my dad’s investment advice, talk to the people around you to either gain their support of your saving (they might want to join in) or to network for job leads. If you have a few hours to spare each week, you might want to take on a second job; talk to people in your neighbourhood for babysitting, dog-walking, or tutoring opportunities. Friends or family members might have a project that needs an extra pair of hands, or perhaps you have an online friend that can hook you up with some freelance work.
How I utilised this: Every job I’ve had has come through contacts or networking. When I put the word out that I was looking for a job this year, many people came forward to offer help. Even now, when I meet people, I always stay open-minded and tell them that I’m looking for freelance stuff; it’s how I landed my current job. Ask, and ye shall receive!
7. Work abroad. If you can’t save as much money as you would like to travel, consider moving somewhere to work. You won’t get to move around as much, but that may be a positive thing in your eyes. You’ll get to know a culture and a country much better that way, and you’ll be able to experience a new place while earning and hopefully saving some money. The easiest/most popular way to do this is to teach abroad; the most lucrative spots in the world for teaching English at the moment are Japan, South Korea, China, and parts of the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and UAE. Teaching isn’t the only job, of course; there are expats all over the world making a living. Many people under 30 (or under 35 if you’re heading to New Zealand or Canada) choose a working holiday or youth mobility visa to work in the UK, Australia, and other countries. Find the job for you.
How I utilised this: I have personally never applied for a working holiday visa, and I fear that my upcoming birthday is going to cut me out of the running for a few countries. I did, however, teach English in Japan for over two years, and managed to save $20,000 doing so. That’s how I paid for my travels around Southeast Asia and North America in 2011, and how I had a bit leftover for the following year.
To conclude, everybody’s journey is different, from the first dollar saved to that plane ride home. Only you will know what the best method of saving money is for you, but I hope that you find some value in this advice. I would also like to stress that I did not do all of this on my own; as I mentioned, I had a small inheritance from my grandmother, my father has helped with my investments, and my mother has taken me on numerous trips throughout my life (including, for example, to Belize last year, and on the Trans-Siberian railway in 2010). I would also like to add a reminder that not everybody can travel, and those of us who are able to even consider doing some of these things to save money are very fortunate indeed.
Once you make travel your top priority, watching the money pile up in your savings account will become an obsession. And then – go. Go and have the time of your life. You deserve it.
A detailed list of my earning/travelling from 2006-2013, 7.5 years of travel:
2006: I had been working for many years to save for my trip around Europe. I started at 16, and at 19 got a big break in working with Miramax, which paid me far more money than a teenager knew what to do with. I invested it all, which led to a large chunk of savings. I also worked from 2003-2006 in a confectionary, saving as much of each paycheque as I could. I had over $25,000 saved by the time I left for Europe at 22.
2007: I worked with both the Associated Press in entertainment television and a financial firm in Toronto. I earned enough to travel to Mexico and Jamaica, and then spent the summer in Russia and the Baltic states. My mother also took me to Iceland. I then spent a few months on a road trip through Canada.
2008: I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I lived with a boyfriend (AKA I didn’t pay rent). Living off of the savings I had, I travelled to Northern Ireland, Wales, France, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. My mother took me to Morocco and Egypt. I then moved to Osaka, Japan, in the summer. I rounded off the year with a trip to New Zealand.
2009: By this point, I was saving quite a bit in Japan as an English teacher, about $1000 a month. I managed trips to Vietnam and Sri Lanka, as well as trips around Japan. My mother and I went to Malaysia and Brunei.
2010: I was still saving a lot while teaching in Japan, though I also took time off to visit the Philippines. In the autumn I went with my mother on the Trans-Siberian, and then went with my father to America. This was the year I started making money with writing, in both print and online. I also started this blog.
2011: Using all the money I had saved over the past two years, I visited most of Southeast Asia, as well as India and Nepal, and did a quick trip to Australia. I finished the year with a road trip through America and Canada (which included Burning Man). I then started working as a server/bartender in Canada.
2012: I spent the first four months of the year working (with a week holiday to Cuba), and then left for Central and South America. I returned to Canada at the end of the year.
2013: I spent January to March working at a financial firm. In April I flew to London, where I stayed with my friend Mark for two months. I also visited Italy and Israel. I then flew to Toronto for TBEX, and eventually back to Winnipeg to spend the rest of summer working at the same firm and preparing for my move to London. I have been to Germany and Ireland so far, with lots of little trips around England, too.
Which brings me to today, and a new job I’m excited to tell you about… and hopefully a lot more travelling…
Edit: I still get a lot of emails about how I specifically have earned money through blogging in order to support my travel habits. As you can see… I don’t make any money through blogging, not a cent (though I have just added a few affiliate links here and there, so that may change slightly). I’ve made a conscious decision not to monetise this blog and instead earn all of my money through related work, which is how I’m able to travel (and, you know, eat and pay rent and stuff). I also occasionally work with tourism boards and/or travel companies who ask me to travel on their behalf, i.e. take media or press trips. There’s no real secret: I work, save money using the above tips, and then travel!
How do you save money to travel? Do you have anything else to add to this article?
This is really inspiring, Brenna. I’ve been travelling for over 2 years now, working mostly on the go, and sometimes I feel like I’m working just too hard. Your post puts so much into perspective – that everyone out there who seems to have built an awesome life of travel has put in as much, if not more, work. Thanks for sharing your accounts so openly. I hope to be able to write something similar 5 years later 😉
Thank you so much! I do think that some people believe travellers don’t work and just traipse around the world all the time – the fact is that it’s not always like that, nor is it possible. I’m really glad that you enjoyed the article, thank you for your comment!
I too have done this, and When I left in 1970 I traveled to the northern countries, as I am much older now, I am reliving my travels with my husband of 30 yrs…in marriage. I am much older. Do this NOW cause when you get to my age you will not see much of anything except a cruise here and there.. not much on traveling. Since 1970 till today 2017 the rates of travel is so much higher. My plane ticket with hotel for 2 weeks was only 289.00
now that’s one nights stay at a hotel.
I say, if you can try back packing with europass or stay with youth hostels… and make friends maybe they have friends you can room with for 20 bucks a night… cause The way I did my travel was at night on a train, I slept on a train. I did this alone too like Brenna did. It was a lot of fun to do this my parents were sad that I was living like a pauper, but if you want to see the world that’s what you got to do live like a pauper. Overall I understood the world around me, I understood that who I Am does count. I was happy I did this when I was younger after that trip I worked for a major motion picture company where I saved 10.000 a yr and traveled each year for 2 weeks. that’s all they gave to me, and I only spent about 1000.00 then for 2 weeks, ate in high class resturants and met a lot of nice people too.
So do it, if you have the time and money. Make a memory board on where you want to go.. I am headed out to Thailand one day in 2019. I hope to get there soon, before I can not go anymore old age.. im having trouble walking now.. I want to see it before I die. PS I did go to Southern Italy which I loved.. if you go, Go to Palermo and see Montepelligrino where St. Rosalia Shrine its well worth walking the 900 steps to see the shrine.
Great post Brenna. Realistic expectations and great photos. Also, your post on teaching in Japan is great for anyone that one that want to get all Godzilla and live in an awesome, interesting country.
Thanks, Turner! I really appreciate it – you’re the king of working abroad, after all.
Great article! It’s always interesting to see how other travellers budget. I liked seeing how you broke everything down. It helps me get an idea of if I’m overspending or under budgeting or whatnot.
One of the ways I’ve made money while travelling abroad is by doing simple jobs like babysitting or cleaning houses. They’re certainly not glamourous jobs, but they can bring in a lot of cash quickly. They’re also the type of under-the-table jobs that you can do regardless of what type of visa you have (or don’t have). I’m currently in Australia and they pay $15-$20/hour for this type of work. One night of babysitting can easily bring in $80 for me. It adds up fast!
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for the tip about working abroad.
An excellent post that expresses a lot of the principles I live by! Even when shopping I think to myself “can I wear this skirt travelling?? can I use the money for this skirt on travel instead??” and usually talk myself out of buying too much. I am trying to save now and planning a trip in January ^^
Exactly! You are the queen of saving money/budgeting. I just spent £90 on a lime green winter jacket – not sure if I’ll need that on my next travels……….
I need to pick a place to visit next so that I can focus on a goal and start saving!
Brenna, thanks for sharing your tips on how to save for travelling. I think they are the same regardless of what you want to save for – you have to have a goal which needs to be an actual number and activity you want to do, and then prioritise that goal above other things for a while. if you can stay focused then it is amazing how quickly you can save for that goal!
For each big trip I have done the first step to know that I am serious is to put together an estimate of what the trip will cost and start saving. My policy is to not borrow money for travel, it is much better to save up first and you can then really enjoy it! There is nothing worse than borrowing the money and then having a great time but knowing you are coming home to a couple of years of paying off a loan…
Thank you for your comment, Anne! I agree, as I was writing this I realised that these were really tips for any end goal, not just travelling.
It sounds like you have a real handle on travel budgeting and planning. I also don’t like to borrow money!
Ha! Love that last photo…clever…
Awesome post Brenna as always!
Right… time to go clear out my closet and re-visit that Ebay account… 🙂
Aw, thank you Helen! x
This is really fascinating! Love how you broke this all down. Also applaud your decision to not take ads or accept sponsorship at the moment.
Thank you, Cara-Mia! I appreciate your support.
Hey, great post! Being from Winnipeg as well, I find this rather inspiring.
One quick question: what kind of work did you do with Miramax?
I was an art department assistant for Miramax many years ago.
Some impressive saving tips! My boyfriend and I are currently considering teaching in Asia next Autumn for a year as our travel funds will be pretty low by then and we want to save for a trip to Canada and America. We had been thinking about Taiwan but after reading your post about teaching in Japan that sounds pretty good too; how much tax did you have to pay when you taught in Japan?
I can’t remember exact figures, but it must have been quite low (considering I can’t remember). I was certainly able to save a lot, so I’d definitely recommend it!
[…] How to Save Money to Travel the World – This Battered Suitcase – Still using money as an excuse to not travel? Here’s what you need to do. […]
[…] How to Save Money to Travel […]
I’m so curious about this job! Also, what kind of writing program are you in? Is it tailored for travel writing? Creative writing? I’d love to go back to school, but I no longer use my current degree (Environmental Geoscience). It would be fantastic to go back and study something I would actually use. (P.S. I realize I’m making myself sound like a total groupie by leaving all of these comments, but fuck it. I guess I am. 🙂 )
Ha ha, don’t worry – I like all the support!
I’m working on a new travel blogging platform for Expedia UK, and I write lots of articles about travel blogging. It will go live soon, and I’m sure to talk about it here. My degree is in Creative Non-Fiction Writing, and it’s tailored however you’d like, so I write mostly travel stories. Next year I will be paired with a mentor; my advisors will find a travel writer for me. It’s very cool!
That all sounds so fantastic!! And I love that it all allows you earn money and stay creative with your blog without compromising your style. Last year was rough, but it’s all coming together for you. And as long as your mentor isn’t Bill Bryson, that sounds so amazing. (Admittedly, the only thing I’ve ever read of his was “A Walk in the Woods,” but it ticked me off that he was able to sell a travel book about the Appalachian Trail when he *barely* walked it. Like at all. But whatever I’m not bitter. 😉 )
Um, trust me, I am DEFINITELY not Bill Bryson’s biggest fan…
Advice for a VERY small town girl while traveling? I’ve lived in a one-stop light town my entire life and have dreamed of doing everything you described in your article and found it inspiring!
However I’m not sure how to go about doing it alone! Like I said — small town girl. ha.
Hi Nicole, not sure which “guys” you’re referring to but seeing as I answer every comment I thought I had better be first. Honestly, the only way you’re ever going to do it is if you do it. You have to have guts. It will be scary at first – as in, the first flight and maybe the first day – but then you will meet tons of people and fall into a happy rhythm of solo travel. Nobody can change anything in your life but you – you’re the one who has to take the plunge. Good luck!
Great tips! I always wanted to travel the world, and I admire that you were able to do that yourself.
Thank you, Mark!
Awesome guide! This is really helpful. Thanks!
Great, I’m glad it is helpful! Thanks for letting me know.
[…] This Battered Suitcase – How To Save Money To Travel The World […]
[…] and you’ve never taken the chance to travel alone: I implore you to do it. Save up (it’s possible, so stop telling yourself it’s not), cut out nearly all your spendings, and do […]
I totaly agree with #1 i made a spreadsheet to calculate our travel estimate. And looking back on it at the moment it looks spot on
That’s great, thanks for letting me know!
[…] Ps. Read how to make money from travel blogging and how to save money to travel. […]
[…] of the questions I receive via email the most – other than “how do you pay for your travelling” / “you have a trust fund, right?” – is “will taking some time off […]
What a great article! My husband & I are saving up for a round the world trip. It’s hard to save money but when the motivation is there, it can be really fun & almost makes us somewhat competitive to see just how much we can save.
Thank you for writing this out in detail! I’m seventeen, and I dream of traveling the world but I don’t know how. It’s hard feeling stuck while living in the city I grew up in, and working tough jobs where I have to deal with rude customers and long hours, but I know it will pay off. I like your idea of working in other countries, and experiencing different cultures and communities, while saving for other travels.
It’s encouraging to read through blogs like yours, and see how solo travel is possible for women, but being realistic on the cost of travel. If you could go back to when you first started to save and plan, what advice would you give yourself?
Thanks for the comment, Tiffany! It will indeed pay off. To be honest I think I made the right decisions when I was younger in terms of saving to travel, so I would just tell my younger self to not worry, it will be worth it… and then some!
My two big savings come from trying to always accumulate points with one airline group such as star alliance or even better a specific airline. Either by using a credit card that accumulates piints( and paying it off the next day – don’t spend on it what u don’t have already in cash; u get the points but not the debt and it increases ur credit score)
Or by buying tix on that airline when the prices are lowest or on sale: sign up for email alerts etc. I would check fares on sites like Expedia etc for hours each week in different days. Also most airlines lower there rates late Monday night Tuesday morning. Think midnight.
The other thing I do is spend paper bills so I accumulate more coins. Forces me to save as I refuse to spend even one penny.(I’m Cdn) in Canada we have a bunch of coins so our smallest bill being a five it is easy to spend paper to get the change. Even if sth is 0.35 cents I would break a five dollar bill forcing me to save $4.65. It sounds backwards by I really did save so much this way.
I agree with everything u wrote: basically it amounts to where there is a will there is a way. I want it bad enuf u will get three crappy jobs to pay for ur travels. I know I’ve worked some jobs where I literally said in my head: Egypt or bazaar in turkey or Angkor wat here I come which made it possible to smile at the customer I wanted to claw the eyes out of 🙂
[…] from others or from my own experience on how to save money to travel (UPDATE: I have written an even more in-depth post about saving money to travel here). A lot of my travel in the past was funded by a really well-paying job I fell into, but I am […]
[…] I’ve written extensively about how to save money to travel the world, including a history of how I saved money to travel. I always recommend that people save a bit more than they’re planning to spend (for emergencies and/or special situations and experiences) and that you have a bit of money saved up for after your trip so that you don’t return to absolutely nothing in the bank (if you’re planning to return, that is). […]
[…] culturally, and environmentally responsible.” While I’ve written tons of articles on how to save money to travel the world, what to keep in mind if you’re planning to travel long-term, and so on, it doesn’t […]
Great advice on saving money and a real inspiration! It is the most common question we get asked after traveling the world.
How can you afford it? As you mentioned, if you really want to travel, it should be easy to give up a few luxuries and save for that epic trip!
We have now seen over 100+ countries with fairly average wages so yes, it is possible! Keep on traveling and sharing that passion! Happy travels!
Thanks so much for the money-saving tips! I’m already doing most of these in my preparation for a year long sabbatical starting in the Fall of 2016. I’ve also discovered work-stay programs where you volunteer your time with different organizations, businesses, families, etc… in return for lodging and food. This allows for travelers to save on accommodation and food costs, while also being able to contribute to a community. And while I don’t have the option to live at home, I am able to sublet my furnished apartment for a decent profit while I’m away to help ensure that there is still an influx in my finances. Hopefully I can scrape together enough funds to last a year! Thanks again for your tips and I look forward to reading more about your adventures – you’re an inspiration!
Brilliant Article. I think the same rules of saving money for traveling applies to those such as myself who dream of setting up their own photography business (currently at 52% of needed funding) of which I have already implemented.