Back when overseas travel was just a distant, “maybe someday” dream, I assumed it would be far too expensive for consideration. I equated affordable long-term travel with hitchhiking and camping, which I wasn’t about to do! But after experiencing budget travel through Europe in August 2014 and learning more about people to travel extensively, I realized that a year-long trip could be possible for me. Here’s how I did it:
1. I paid off all debts.
- Even before I decided to travel, I decided to eliminate debt from my life. A few years ago, I had a car payment and some credit card debt. To help me chip away at those expenses, I got a raise at work, then moved to another job that paid a little more. All the extra money I earned went to pay down those debts. When one debt was paid off, the money I had been paying to that bill went to the next one, until they were all paid off. When my credit card was clean and I made that final car payment, it was a wonderful feeling.
2. I spent money on my priorities and minimized the rest.
- Because I have a fantastic group of friends and live in a city full of great happy hours, restaurants and events, I allowed myself to spend money on activities that involved time with friends. I cut down on the number of nights I went out every week, but I didn’t feel guilty about spending in this area. By contrast, I went without a TV and internet access because I was rarely home anyway, and just listened to music instead.
- When I got serious about saving for my trip, I also stopped shopping for anything other than necessities. With a closet full of clothes, I was able to mix and match items rather than buying new ones. I also cut down on hair appointments, choosing to get my hair done twice a year instead of quarterly and using Groupon or LivingSocial deals each time rather than sticking with a particular stylist. I still allowed myself the occasional latte at my favorite local coffee shop, but I eliminated the expenses that just didn’t matter that much to me. It was easier to cut down on expenses when I realized that the trade-off would be more time to travel.
3. I saved the extras.
- When I earned annual bonuses at work, I put that money into savings instead of spending it.
- I opened a high-interest savings account. Though the interest rate is just 1%, it adds up throughout the year.
- Any unplanned funds I received, such as birthday money or purchases from my Etsy store, were diverted to my savings account.
4. I sold my stuff.
- Because I didn’t want to spend money on storing stuff while traveling, I decided to sell everything that could be replaced, reducing my belongings from a two-bedroom apartment filled with furniture, clothing, craft supplies and other random things to a small closet’s worth of boxes and clothing as well as two pieces of furniture that my dad made. A generous friend agreed to store the remaining items for me.
- I took carloads of things to Goodwill, but I also sold many items (including my car) on Craigslist and OfferUp, took clothing and furniture to a consignment store and sold many books and magazines to Half Price Books. The money I received added up bit by bit, and I was intentional about putting every dollar earned into my travel savings account. I gave myself several months to get through this process.
5. I signed up for travel credit cards.
- For my first trip in August 2014, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which does not charge fees overseas and earns airline miles for every dollar spent. I stopped using my debit card to pay for everything and instead used the Chase card, paying it off every month. I’ve earned free flights just for using the card to purchase things I would be buying anyway. I recently signed up for a couple of other points cards offering great sign-on bonuses. I pay all the cards off each month and only buy what I need.
It was important to me not to go into debt for travel. As a result of spending less, saving more, selling my stuff and earning free miles, I now have enough money saved to take me comfortably through a year of budget travel. I will stay in hostels, buy groceries and cook when I can, and use public transportation whenever possible, but I’ll also spend money on the experiences that I care about, like the occasional tour, nights in B&Bs and nice dinners out. It was also important for me to know that I would have a cushion of funds when I return to the U.S., likely without a home or a job. So I’ve also saved enough to get me through for a few months after I return.
Depending on your income and how much you’re able to put aside, it may take several months or even a year to save for a trip. But once you realize that it’s actually possible and start taking baby steps toward that goal, it likely won’t be as difficult as you imagined.