How I Afford Years of Non-Stop Travel


I’m always answering “How do you afford to travel?” and  “How much money do you make?

But almost no one asks me the more important question –
“How much money do you spend?”
The answer: As little as possible.

I like to call this “precision spending.”  It’s the linchpin for how to save money to travel the world.  Here’s my recipe:

Step One: Quit Your Job

Okay, this step is optional – and not recommended if you want to save money to travel the world for the first time, but hear me out.  After becoming a freelancer with an unpredictable income, it got easier to say no to unnecessary spends (dining, treats, etc.).  Back when I had paycheck rolling in on the regular, I sometimes thought, “I’ll just save more next month.”  Just guessing I’m not alone on this one.

how to save money to travel the world? make your decisions before you get to happy hour and are clinking glasses like these people

Is it just me, or do intentions to save money to travel temporarily evaporate at happy hour?  photo: matthieu joannon

Nowadays, because I never know how much money I’ll make next month or when that money will show up in my bank account, I’m pretty motivated to think about how much I really “need” anything that requires cash.  And because I’m not keen to spend time on most of the stuff I’d have to do to suck money out of other people’s wallets, my income isn’t a fancy as most of my friends’.  (See: Why a Hard-Working Perfectionist Doesn’t Want a Job)

Step Two: What is Your Why?

It’s super hard to save if you don’t know what you’re saving for.  If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you get there?  Even if you’re just figuring out how to save money to travel, knowing the other reasons you’ll turn to your bank account (food and shelter, etc) makes you successful.  Even if you’re just saving money for a few weeks until a bill is due, it’s still saving!

how to save money to travel abroad? Start by knowing all the reasons you're going to take out the money you put into your bank account

Deciding why you’re saving money (to travel, etc.) is critical to doing it well.  Really, this financial life hack deserves a whole post!  photo: fabian blank

Over the years, I’ve actually come up with ten things I save money for:

  • Necessities – housing, food, communications, transport, toilet paper, gym membership
  • Investment – dude, they are totes not lying about that compounding interest stuff.
  • Education – unless you plan to live (and learn) forever, education is critical to speeding up dream achievement.
  • Family – turns out I like these people and want to be able to do things for and with them.
  • Health – I pay out of pocket for lots of my health care.
  • Travel – you know you’re on a lifestyle and travel website, right?
  • Play – most of my fun is free, but sometimes my friends want to do things that aren’t.
  • Giving – helping others is thebomb.com.  Why of course I’ll donate to your fundraiser!
  • Business – my dream of “starting a business someday” is now “starting businesses… forever!
  • Taxes – those self-employed taxes, man.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.  30%!

I guess this is kind of like a budget, but way cooler.  (If you need some financial triage that doesn’t make you burn with shame, check out your fellow reader’s YouTube vid – “How to Freakin’ Budget.”  She’ll help you “write down all yo nasty numbahs.“)

Step Three: Grow Your Muscles

Y’all, the way you spend is a habit and a muscle.  Remember when you were eating microwaved ramen or lentils like they were going out of style?  A far cry from thoughtlessly tossing that truffle brie or $organic chocolate bar in your basket. (If you’re still at ramen-level: first – don’t worry, you’ll get there someday.  Second – try never to become the person who thoughtlessly tosses any purchase.  This is a muscle you’ll regret not exercising!

The way you don’t spend is also a habit and a muscle.  After years of live-in-exposure to the most extravagant financial habits I’ve known (in the hardest relationship of my life, BTdubs), I was a hot mess of “buy anything I want!”  It’s taken me years – years! – to regrow my don’t spend habits.  I’m still not quite back to my old financial self.

if you want to know how to save money to travel, you're going to need to get our your gloves like this woman and grow your money muscles

Especially if you’re looking for ways to save money on a tight budget (welcome to the club!) these muscles are critical.  photo: matheus ferrero

Living and traveling on $20 a day used to be as automatic for me as driving a car or riding a bike.  I barely thought about it.  Now?  Let’s just say I’m not making former-me very proud.

Still, it has taken a ton of practice (re-forming habits) over the last few years to even get to where I am now.  Who knew you could forget how to happily survive on little?  Who knew that shedding new, naughty spending habits might make me feel guilty?  (“But I should spend $40 on wine to contribute to this dinner, even though there is already more booze than we need.  Isn’t unnecessary spending what everyone else is doing?  Isn’t it just part of belonging to a group?“)

Step Four: Promise Someone Else

I’ve got news for you.  There’s one person in your life to whom you are a really, really bad friend.  You break promises to this person all the time.  You flake.  You don’t keep your word.  You thoughtlessly commit to things you don’t actually have time for.  I’d suggest bailing on this friendship, but the friend is you.

If you want to be successful with the financial promises you’re making to yourself, you need to loop someone else in.  Accountability partners are a critical life hack whenever you’re trying to level-up your life.

how can i save money with a low income? Shake hands with your new accountability partner (after you find them!).

Especially if you want to budget and save money on a small income, an accountability partner is huge step toward success. They can help you stop spending money on things that don’t ultimately matter much to you. photo: redd angelo

After two years of trying to return to my purposeful financial behaviors, I finally asked for help.  A friend, who also wants to be better about money, agreed to talk to me once a week.  In our conversations, we commit to a money goal for the following week, share how we did with last week’s money goal, and discuss our progress toward our long term (monthly/yearly) financial goals.

It’s just the nudge we both needed to actually go open the savings account, actually start the spreadsheet, actually look up 44 Healthy Foods Under $1 before hitting the grocery store.  Knowing someone else is checking up on the financial promises I make keeps me honest and treating my bank account like it deserves to be treated.

Act Now!

As the amazing Meg Robbins always says, you have five seconds to take action.  Get out a piece of paper and write down your whys.  Why do want money in your bank account?  Write down who might be willing to keep you accountable in exchange for the same favor.  Send a message.  Make a date.  Come to that conversation ready to announce your first baby step toward finally saving money for your “whys” instead of absentmindedly spending on your “why nots?”.

Happy Saving! ♣

Inspired?  Pass it on!

Related:
How to Get Free Flights
Do You Make These 8 Travel Mistakes?
How Much Money I Make Blogging

and…
How to Sleep for Free When You Travel
24 Jobs to Do While Traveling the World
How to Become a House Sitter