One misconception about travel is that it is expensive and unaffordable. That does not necessarily need to be the case. If you have a job in a developed country, do not have any dependents (travel is still doable with dependents however I can only provide tips from my own personal experiences) and don’t have any substantial debt (student loans do not count) then it is probably more affordable than you think. Here are some tips that I have personally used to put my travel aspirations into fruition. So, first things first…
Determine how much you currently spend
Do you know how much you currently spend? Do you know what your monthly cost of living is? What annual payments you have? Direct debits? Unless you’re very organized and a diligent budgeter chances are probably not. I would not have been able to answer any of these questions initially – my estimates proved to be way off when put the test. To understand how and where you can save you first need to establish how much your current existence costs you – and it is likely to be more than you imagine. To do so keep an excel tracker detailing the amount of money you have coming in monthly (salary and any other payments you receive). Check your online bank statements (as painful as this may be) and review all monthly direct debits. Things like monthly subscriptions, internet, mobile line rental, gym membership etc. Review all of your recurring costs such as public transport travelcards and input all this detail into your excel tracker. Then comb through the past three months of your statements to see how much you spend on food, entertainment, miscellaneous, groceries, essentials etc and work out your average spend. Also look at one off/surprise expenses over the past few months such as fines, car repairs, exam costs etc. This can be a very painful experience (I’ve spent HOW MUCH on food?!) but is vital – you cannot figure out how much you can save without realizing how much you spend, and how much of that is utterly unnecessary. I also downloaded a money tracker on my smart phone to make this easier – everything I spent daily would be input into the app – lunch, coffees, groceries, clothes shopping etc. These apps break down the categories and provide averages which are very useful (also a painful exercise). Once you’ve done this you should have a clear, accurate picture of your monthly costs, how much you spend on your prêt lunches a week (especially painful as this provides disproportionate return on my seemingly heavy investment). As painful as this process has been it’s ok because you now move onto step two where you can right some of your (spending habit) wrongs
Minimize your spending
This is a glaringly obvious tip for a post on saving money, however as obvious as it may be it is harder to do than it sounds so I will provide the very really and practical thing I did to right the wrongs of my glutinous spending exposed by the activity of step one. My food costs was the most significant part of my spending which should not come as a surprise to me or anyone who knows me as food is my most sincere love and biggest weakness. Each person has their Achilles heel be it clothes shopping, nights out or in my case food – if you are one of those people who forget to eat (I don’t know if you exist) then feel free to skip ahead, there is no place for you in the next three paragraphs)
Lunch – working in the city in London means I am surrounded by the all powerful corporate lunch time kingpins of Pret a Manger, Itsu, Leon, Pod, Tossed, Eat and some hedge fund backed seemingly independent trendy type ‘dirty’ sandwich bars – all of which have one thing in common (other than repetition) – they don’t come cheap when eaten at 5 times a week. Lunch costs are perhaps the easiest to mitigate against – simply bring in your own lunch. Leftovers from the night before need to become your new best friend if you’re serious about saving money. Even if you don’t cook putting together some grilled protein, salad leaves, hummus and bread together in a lunch box is a quick fix, heck even a homemade sandwich can be tasty (with the right bread and some jazzy fillings) and a big cause of savings. Like snacking at work? Buy multi-pack options from the supermarket and bring them in. I even started bringing my own granola (Waitrose bought however – some luxuries must remain), milk and bowl and would have my breakfast everyday at work without buying anything.
Dinner – as we have established my food related Achilles heel it is no surprise that I enjoy eating out many evenings a week. To effectively save money does not mean denying yourself just merely putting mitigation’s in place and compromising. I often use voucher codes or savings cards (such as Taste Card in the UK ) which provides 2 for 1 or 50% off dining options on some of my favorite restaurants. If I am in a new area and looking for dinner options I check my Taste card app and welcome an opportunity to try something new and save money. Many of my current favorite restaurants have been discovered this way. I have also stopped going to mid range restaurants. I love my cheap and cheerful food and also some very particular high end restaurants for a special evening that I have deemed the mid range “meh” type of establishments an unnecessary part of my dining escapades. I have preferred reducing the amount I dine out to instead have a more enjoyable, special and expensive meal occasionally and the rest of the time you can find me eating at my favorite cheap eat haunts – you can check my favorite London cheap eats post for some suggestions. Also, this isn’t exactly a life hack but I hardly ever order drinks. I enjoy water most with food (tap water is absolutely fine with me) and find soft drinks and sickly sweet sugary syrupy overpriced mocktails highly offensive. I also don’t drink alcohol which means a substantial reduction in average dining costs. Unless there is a great fresh juice option (freshly squeezed, on premises, not freshly “pressed” and in a bottle prepared some vague time and distance away) then I am not into drinks. This results in a handy saving and when I introduced my sister to this concept it apparently revolutionized her life (hyperbole on her part but you understand the sentiment). This makes it very easy to spend less than £10 on a meal especially when at one of these cheap eats and can even mean £10 for a meal for two on a voucher code/taste card. I suppose I must mention here the obvious tip to cook at home to save money, the above 3 paragraphs (yikes) are just a testament to my foodie ways that are bordering on the slightly disturbing.
Again, the principle with saving is not to completely eradicate things from your life, just to minimize them as much as possible. This is key to ensuring that this is sustainable, there is no glory in being overly frugal if it results in a crash and burn or a miserable saving period.
Cinema – is it just me or has going to the cinema suddenly become super expensive? I remember when a trip to the cinema would cost around £5 and now an average ticket is just shy of £15 with snacks often exceeding the ticket price! Utter nonsense which makes cinema savings even more prudent if you are an avid cinema goer. I enjoy trips to the cinema and whilst saving have limited my cinema trips as much as possible to Tuesdays or Wednesdays to utilize the Meerkat Movies 2 for 1 offer which has replaced my personal beloved orange Wednesdays (Brits reading this will know). Don’t have access to Meerkat Movies as you have not taken out insurance with compare the market you say? Well fear not, as the offer applies to ALL insurance purchased via the site, meaning you can take out a travel insurance policy for ONE DAY costing a couple of £’s and still receive the code providing you a full one year’s access to 2 for 1 movies. Well worth it – and you’re welcome.
Gym Membership – now I personally have a complicated relationship with the Gym centered around a personal disdain mixed with naïve optimism meaning I’ve had more gym memberships than I’ve had actual visits to the Gym hence my personal bias may be the driving factor behind this tip. Disclaimers out of the way – ask yourself, is your monthly gym membership really necessary? Unless the gym gives you life, a sense of purpose and structure that if taken out of the equation would result in deep and complex identity issues then you can probably find a way to get the exercise you need without a membership. Jogging for cardio in parks, youtube videos and a mat for core strength exercises, community center swimming sessions and a whole host of other options exist. If that is simply not possible for you then think about downgrading your gym to a budget gym. Leaving my extortionately expensive Virgin gym membership for a budget 24hr Gym Group/Pure Gym set up proved to be a great decision. Saving means sacrifices – and the illusion of grandeur at your local gym is just one of many.
Shopping – when it comes to shopping it is vital to remember that you can only take with you what you can carry on your back. If you are travelling for an extended period of time across different climates then the only priorities you should have in terms of luggage is what will keep you adequately warm/cool/safe/comfortable. Before you buy anything, be it clothes, shoes, games, gadgets etc think carefully about whether this is needed for your trip. Will it help you or enhance your experience in anyway? Or will it likely be a burden to be left behind? If the latter then you don’t need it – the process to downsize your life should already have started, don’t add to it with unnecessary clutter.
Transport – if you live in a major city chances are transport costs are quite high. If there is room to reduce this cost then you may be able to make some small savings that over time could amount to significant savings. If you rely heavily on taxis try to use public transport more. If that is not an option for whatever reason use cheaper options like Uber especially when going home with friends after an evening out where you have the option to split fares (a God send). If you live somewhere with a good bus network (like London) but are a snob you need to readdress your priorities. You are likely to be travelling on all forms of transport on your travels so if you cannot handle a London bus then you may need to rethink your travel plans around Central America.
Accommodation – housing costs are the bane of many a city dwellers existence with prices constantly rising and eating up a disproportionate amount of peoples wages. If this is the case for you and there is any way at all to reduce this cost this may be a worthwhile avenue to explore. Based on your personal circumstances establish whether you can reduce this cost in any way, whether that entails moving back into your family home if that exists as a viable option, bringing in a house/room mate if you live alone or moving into cheaper, shared accommodation if the savings are significant enough to warrant a change to your living arrangements.
If possible, try to bring in more money
It is a glaringly obvious fact that if you are able to save more whilst somehow bringing in more money then you will have more funds for your travel plans. Are there any possible ways you can bring in more money? Does your work allow for overtime shifts? Are you able to work weekends? Can you pick up a second job? Even if it means that you have a lot less leisure time remember that a short, temporary period of relentless work can make the world of difference on your travels, affording you more time, more ground to cover or more luxuries whilst travelling. Whilst I was a student I picked up 3 jobs in my summer holiday meaning I was working 8am till 11pm every week day doing two different jobs (sales job and late shift customer service at a shopping channel) and a weekend job so for three months that was 7 days a week with hardly any down time. This meant I was able to get by significantly more comfortably during my 1 yr internship in New York on a negligible stipend. 3 months graft for 1 year return – that return on investment was highly favorable to me. If you work a standard corporate 9-6 job where shift work and overtime is not possible (as in my case) think about any other ways you can pick up some extra money. Do you have a specific technical skill? Can you do some mobile app development or java in your evenings and weekend on a free lance basis? In my case to make my travel plans an actuality rather than just a day dream I left my comfortable consulting job and the benefits it afforded to move into contract work. This was a risky endeavor as contracting offers no guarantees – I can be terminated at any point, I do not receive paid sick or annual leave but I get better remunerated for the risk. Based on my personal circumstances I deemed the risk to be an acceptable one (I work in risk management so of course conducted a thorough risk assessment on myself). This significant change in my career has allowed me to turn my travel plans into a reality. As the cliché goes, no pain no gain!
Budgeting – researching daily costs
Saving is all well and good, but unless you have a calculated estimate of how much your travel will cost you it is but a stab in the dark. Do you know how much your travel plans will cost you? If like me you return from holiday to be surprised by the amount you’ve spent whilst away then budgeting is crucial – this cannot be emphasized enough. Spending 3 months in south east Asia sounds great but how much will your daily costs be just to eat, sleep and exist? What about transferring from city to city? Or spontaneous trips on the (ridiculously cheap and delightful) Air Asia for a weekend in Myanmar or Kuala Lumpur? You need to account for everything – even potential spontaneous trips though that seems to undermine the whole spontaneity aspect. Luckily many have traveled before us and the travel blogosphere is awash with detailed breakdowns of daily costs of living and travelling in different countries around the globe. Google daily budget for Thailand for example, or Peru or anywhere in between and you will find all the details you could ask for to help you figure out your own budget. Understand your own needs and limitations – if 10 person per room hostels are not for you then determine your budget accordingly by scouring blogs and accommodation booking sites. Check flights to get an idea of flight prices but bear in mind these can change for better or worse. Slow travel will most usually work out to be cheaper for you compared to quick travel – if you do not have stringent time constraints then as well as being more budget friendly this is a more enjoyable way to travel too. Check up to date bus and train travel prices to ensure your budget reflects current costs.
Budgeting – Be realistic and understand your limitations
Budget planning is an exercise that makes optimists of us all but you need to do the reverse – become a scathing realist and pessimist rolled into one. Know your self – your nuances, limitations, standards, and your non-negotiables. Can’t stay in a shared room in a hostel? That’s fine, do your research and ensure your budget reflects that. Is a private bathroom a MUST have or just a nice to have? This will impact your budget significantly. Do you become excessively hangry (hunger induced anger) if you are not well fed? Again, make sure this is reflected. Figure out what your compromises are and what you can negotiate. There are some travelers who would prefer to stay in a 10 room hostel and eat pot noodles everyday so they can fork out their saved money on alcohol or beach parties. Food is one of the most important features of travel for me (who am I kidding – THE most important feature) so eating microwave noodles in my room every night when street food heaven lies outside would be my idea of a nightmare and a complete desecration of my concept of travel. Similarly I do not drink alcohol or spend money on clubbing nightlife so have vastly different priorities and negotiables than someone else. Understand what yours are and plan accordingly. Budget for off plan trips too – as spontaneous as you may want to be, if you have money constraints then its pays off to plan. Allocate a pot of money specifically for unplanned trips and work within that budget. Similarly have an allocated pot specifically for luxury items. It is easy to burn out after months of travel so a massage and spa day in Vietnam or staying in a (relatively) luxury hotel to bask in hot water and 1st world amenities can go a long way in getting you rejuvenated. Ensuring this separate pot means that you do not encroach on your daily country budgets. This has been a lengthier post than I anticipated however I hope it has provided useful practical tips to help you save and budget for whatever trip you are planning. This has been a process in motion for me for a year and is based on my personal experiences and circumstances – if you have any additional tips let us know below! Time to put those daydreams into action…