This coming February I’ll have been traveling for almost four years straight. Most times were spent in one specific location for an extended period of time, others were spent backpacking and moving constantly. A few times I flew home to spend a couple of months there before transitioning and packing up for somewhere else.
It’s crazy to think of all the places I’ve been and how 4 years ago I was just graduating from university. If you would have told me then that I’d still be traveling today, I think I’d be pleased, but also completely surprised. I always thought I’d take a year or two abroad and then come back to the U.S. and settle down like everyone else. I figured this was the only path there was.
Turns out there are many paths. Turns out traveling is actually cheaper than living in the United States, especially San Diego. Turns out you don’t need a conventional lifestyle to be happy and live a comfortable life.
Since early 2011, I’ve lived in two foreign countries, traversed two separate continents and traveled to 23 countries independently. I don’t have a trust fund, my parents don’t buy me flights and I rarely purchase anything on a credit card. Before I left home I sold my car and had around $4000 in my bank account. Here’s what I did.
For most people, teaching English in other countries is the key on how to travel long term.
Two months after graduation from university, I left for South Korea. I taught English in Seoul for what ended up being two years. While I enjoyed most of my time there, I despised a lot of it too. I had a hard time adjusting to the weather, the people, the culture and the lifestyle. Regardless, today I can completely say I don’t regret it at all. Staying in Korea for that long allowed me to save most of the money I’ve used on travel.
In South Korea as a foreign English teacher you receive: flights to and from Korea, accommodation in a single apartment, 21 days paid vacation, renewal bonuses, tax refunds, health insurance and a $2000 (give or take) salary monthly. With a frugal mindset on day-to-day expenses you can save about half of that each month. During months vacationing in places like Thailand or Taiwan, people usually break even.
It was during my second year in Korea where I buckled down and saved as much as I could. I only went out once a week, rarely went shopping and I tried to eat as inexpensively as possible. It was tough. I wasn’t very happy. I focused all my energy on planning a big trip around Asia once I left.
When I left Korea in February 2013 I had around $21,000.
Backpacking on a budget
After leaving Korea I took a 5 month backpacking trip with my then-boyfriend around Asia. Although I was celebrating leaving Korea, I still didn’t particularly splurge all the time. That money I saved I knew I wanted to last. Spending 6 weeks in India was ridiculously cheap, and some days I only spent a total of $12 while living very comfortably. On the other hand, some days in Thailand I would spend $50 a day just on food, drinks, massages and/or random activities.
Over the course of those 5 months I spent around $6000. Here’s how to budget for an extended trip.
Having no debt
Although I do know people who manage to travel and still pay off their debt especially while teaching English in high-paying countries, I’ve been fortunate that I graduated from university with no loans and no credit card debt. For this I’ll be forever thankful. It has allowed me to start fresh in life and just focus on travel.
While traveling, the only expenses I incur are the ones directly in front of me. I don’t own a car, I don’t pay for auto insurance and I don’t pay rent in San Diego. When I’m not settled in one location, I spend drastically less than I would living in San Diego or when I’m renting an apartment somewhere.
While nowadays I pay for travel insurance, a few costs to run my blog and a couple other things bills, I can still lead a pretty frugal existence. At the same time I don’t deprive myself. Instead it’s all about balance.
In Iceland I went out for a fancy dinner (it was actually just a really pricey appetizer of whale. Yes, whale. Not the endangered kind) and the next day ate packaged sandwiches and didn’t buy any alcohol to even it out.
Teaching in Spain and Working Online
When my backpacking trip around Asia was over, I spent a few months at home before moving to Madrid to start a 10 month teaching contract. The salary and package was far less than in South Korea, but I was happy to still have some savings to back me up and get settled. In Madrid I paid €375/month for rent, about €50/month on bills, €30/month for my phone and insurance, €54/month on an unlimited metro pass and about €30/week on groceries. Everything else, like going out to eat and travel was extra. With a €800 salary and about €100 per week from doing private English classes I brought in about €1200 per month.
This amount was about enough to break even in Madrid. When I went on longer trips, like to Rome or Prague, I spent a bit more. When I just hung around Madrid and took trips within Spain I saved a little.
Although over the course of my first 6 months in Madrid I slowly continued to eat at my South Korea savings because of frequent travel, I was also spending a lot of time blogging and freelancing. It was this work that eventually paid off in the last few months allowing me make up for the extra money I’d spent.
Coming back to Europe for three months without a teaching job
When I decided to move back to Madrid for three months and travel around Europe without a cushy teaching job I had around $8000. My goal for this period of time was to work as hard as possible online when in Madrid but allow myself freedom when traveling to new places. Although I definitely spent more money than I made in these three months, the money I brought in offset my costs.
I paid €450/month for rent in Madrid, tried to eat very inexpensively whenever I wasn’t traveling or didn’t have plans with friends and always booked the cheapest travel arrangements and accommodation.
When I was working online I was bringing in money through a wide variety of tasks. I did freelance writing, like this one for Hostelworld, random contracts through Odesk, doing virtual assistant work for other bloggers and writing sponsored articles.
Offsetting costs by blogging partnerships
Another way I have been able to stretch my money in the last three months, and during other trips prior, is by working with companies.
While 80-90% of all my travels are self-funded, there are some tours and accommodation I will either get for free or discounted in exchange for promotion via my blog and social media. Although this isn’t what most people like to hear, this is how I sometimes offset my costs and continue the lifestyle I want to keep living.
Also, the companies I work with are with ones I stand by, for things I’d do anyway or for topics I feel readers would find interesting.
These activities don’t pay the bills, but it does give me content to write about and photos to share. I’m always grateful when a company wants to work with me because it means I must be doing something right and when I think about it, it’s a dream come true!
Where I stand today
Almost 4 years of travel have passed and I’m about back to where I was monetarily when I set off for South Korea. While it’s not a great place to be in my mid-twenties, it’s not bad for all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve seen. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
When I’m here in San Diego I’ll be working online as much as possible to keep freelance writing work. I’m slowly getting the hang of this online world and usually find things by straight luck, word-of-mouth from other writer friends and/or just sending a lot of emails. Regardless, I’m still brainstorming what my next step might be. I have a few ideas, and one includes some extra exploration around my home country in the form of a job I’ve always wanted to try. Details to hopefully come this spring!
But before I get ahead of myself and stay put for too long…
On January 6th (TOMORROW!) I’m off to Brazil on the first trip that I didn’t make happen myself, but really fell in my lap out of luck. I’ll spend five weeks traveling from Rio to Recife soaking up the sun, sipping on caipirinhas and eating my heart out.
Crazy to think after all these years of financing travel myself, I actually ended up winning a trip, too.
Takeaways on how to travel long term
If this article provided you with anything, I hope it’s that travel is feasible in a variety of different forms. All you have to do is want it and sometimes be creative on how to make it happen.
- Traveling can be much cheaper than life at home if you minimize your bills and debt.
- Knowing how to be frugal on a day-to-day basis is extremely helpful for continuing this lifestyle. This doesn’t mean you have to be cheap though, I splurge sometimes too!
- If you have a skill, you can work remotely from anywhere. The trick is just researching how to do it and then marketing yourself.
- If you can’t save up a ton of money, travel to where you can live inexpensively. Just because a country has a weaker currency doesn’t mean it’ll be any less amazing (Thailand, Vietnam, even some parts of Greece, for example, are amazing cost friendly destinations). Some of my greatest experiences have come from countries where I lived happily on $25-$35 a day including accommodation.
- Don’t let your career define who you are. If you want to see the world, make it happen. There’s really nothing that can completely stand in your way.
- Everything you need to know about a life of travel or how to travel the world alone is out there. All you have to do is look.
Want to travel or teach abroad but still unsure where to start? Want to set up a blog with WordPress.org? Contact me and I can give you some quick advice. For more, we can set up a Skype session at an hourly rate.