It’s the typical question people often ask me
“How did you manage it for so long? I don’t understand. Did you have savings?”
Firstly, you don’t need a savings account to travel the world. Along my travels I met some truly inspiration people who didn’t have a dime in their bank account, yet they made it work. Whether it’s stopping off in a city you thought would only be a 2-day trip to earn some cash in a bar, or setting up your own blog domain to write about the forgotten forests of Indonesia and get paid to have adverts clog up the page – where there is a will, there is certainly a way.
However, I won’t lie to you – you do need some money to start you off. You’re not getting out of the country without buying a plane ticket. Obviously. Unless you want to hitchhike – I wouldn’t recommend it. For safety reasons.
Before I left the UK to go off on an adventure, I saved roughly £2,500 working full time for 12 months on a salary of £18,000 per annum in my first grad job. Obviously, the following is for individuals that are on an average graduate starting salary or higher with no children or dependents. This is from my own, personal experience.
It meant cutting back on wild nights out, resisting to buy clothes that were not necessary and not spending loose cash on shit I really did not need to eat or take up more space in my bedroom. I would buy second hand books instead of new, trade games with friends and work overtime if there was any. It’s amazing what happens when you’re a bit tough on yourself in the financial aspect of your life.
Unless you have the bank of Mum and Dad behind you when things take a turn for the worse (congratulations if you do!) – here are my tips to survive and live the life of travel you always wanted, job or no job:
1. 14-hour bus journeys via land, over planes.
Yes, your bum will be sore. Yes, your back will crumble. Yes, you will only get 3 hours sleep in fear of your bag being pickpocketed. But you’ll also be £50.00 + richer which could buy you a bed for 12 nights in Cambodia. Just make sure you have a book, a travel pillow and some music. Sorted.
2. Couch surfing.
Why pay for hotels when you can sleep on someone’s couch for free and probably create a whole new friendship at the same time? Couch surfing is now a very popular tradition amongst backpackers and travellers alike, therefore why not join in? To make things safer, always book with individuals that have great reviews on trusted websites and never give out your personal details unless you feel 100% safe.
3. Hostels over hotels.
We all love a little luxury and tender, loving care sometimes. However, if you want to see three cities instead of one you may be best opting for the hostel lifestyle. Hostels are a great way to save money, experience adventures out of your comfort zone and meet some great people along the way. You may even meet your next traveling buddy for future destinations on your itinerary.
4. Air BnB for a night of luxury.
What did we do without Air B’n’B? The next step up from hosteling and gives you a little more privacy with accommodation. Some nights you do want to get away from everyone and fall into a bed with a nice, comfy mattress. Some places can be extremely cheap and compared to a fancy, luxury-backpacker hostel. Great for couples, duos and groups with some great discounts for advanced bookers. Plus, it’s worldwide!
5. Teach English and give something back to the world.
I know what you’re thinking ‘ but that’s not full-time backpacking’. No, you’re right – it’s not. But if you want to be abroad full time, you will need to compromise without financial back up. Welcome to the real world. Teaching English was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done in my life. I could make a full time career out of it if I find nothing else that gets my heart beating wildly. I do not regret anything about spending time with children who value you as an educator to provide them with a language that could benefit their lives so profoundly. It will open your eyes to how lucky you were to have experienced a stable education, economy and culture that encourages potential and dreams.
The salaries vary from country to country – as little as £400 – £1200 per month for first-time-intermediate experienced teachers. Further on down the line and you could be looking at earning as much as £1400-1800 per month in some destinations! If you’re a native English speaker with a bachelors degree, it could be as simple as completing a TEFL course and away you go.
If you intend to return to your home country, employers will value your experience in different cultures and continents, which will increase your career potential. You’re able to handle situations most people would run away from – that’s definitely a positive quality.
6. Make friends in every place you visit.
If you want to live a life of travel, it’s nice to have someone to do it with. When visiting new countries, it’s fairly easy to get chatting to someone in a bar or on a day trip kayaking to secret caves and before you know it, you’re tagging each other on Facebook in shared photographs and adventures. With all the variety of social media available, it’s easy to keep in touch with people you’ve connected with along the way. In the future, these individuals may become invaluable should you return somewhere or need a couch to sleep on. Be wise about what bridges you decide to burn or rot away and you could become a popular globetrotter with the locals.
7. Sell your photography to stock agencies – I’m not kidding!
Shutterstock, 500px, iStockphoto, Alamy and Getty are a few websites to kick-start your sideline salary of selling your photographs. If you’re a keen photographer like me, there’s no reason as to why you can’t try and sell your images to agencies and reap the benefits into your bank account. If you don’t try, you’ll never know!
8. Book tickets as far in advance as possible – if you can.
We all like to be unpredictable sometimes and not plan in advance, but sometimes doing the opposite can save you a lot of money. Flights can be up to 70% cheaper and hotels always advertise premium prices at peak seasons. Do a little research into lesser-known boutique hotels in the little Italian village you want to stop off at on the way to Milan and you could save yourself a fortune.
9. You do not need another T-shirt with the name of the town you just visited
Take a photograph instead. If you are backpacking in Asia and attend a crazy full moon party on Koh-Phangan, you’ll easily spot thousands of travellers sporting ‘Chang’ and ‘Leo’ t-shirts. Whilst clothing souvenirs are a good way to wear your memories on a sleeve, they also eat away at your loose cash and take up room in the suitcase. Try to think about it when you’re having to pay extra on checked baggage or wear three t-shirts in 38-degree heat.
10. Ditch the extras and travel light – save money on checked baggage.
No, you do not need moisturising lotion with tanning agent. No, you do not need brown AND black mascara. No, you do not need a weatherproof jacket in a terrain of dry, hot heat. There’s no guessing what you’ll actually value when you venture abroad for a long period of time until you actually do it. However, there were many a things I packed for my initial departure that I eventually had to part with due my aching back and frustration at carrying it all. Just remember the essentials – sun cream, malaria tablets, shampoo, 3 t-shirts, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of trousers, 1 bikini/swimming trunks, 1 pair of good-fitted shoes, flip flops, underwear, camera, travel insurance and an emergency credit card. The rest is luxuries (if you can manage it).
11. Travel insurance – because even the most streetwise person (me) can lose stuff.
It baffled me how many people I met along my road of ‘freedom’ that didn’t have travel insurance. I felt sorry for their families, should they get intro trouble and need to get a helicopter out to save them on a mountain cliff top. Prepare the relatives to re-mortgage their house. Pay £200 per year for 12 months of insurance with an excess of £70 and you’ll be able to find your way out of most situations with the correct documentation. It will save you a whole load of hassle and an extremely large, international phone bill. Getting yourself into trouble without insurance could cost you your travel lifestyle – don’t do it. Even the most careful can get into trouble.
12. Compromise – don’t think serious decisions won’t have to be made.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself at a crossroads (literally) of making a decision on the road of exploring. There will be issues in all aspects of your life that you’ll have to be able to handle whilst on the road or somewhere other than your home country. Emergency flights home, family illnesses, boyfriend/girlfriend trouble, personal issues – circumstances we have no control over. Make sure to try and consider that it could happen and prepare a contingency plan if your backup fails. It could be something as simple as crossing off a few places that your wallet can’t stretch to, or postponing your spiritual journey to fly home and see a family member that has fallen ill. Unfortunately, life back at home won’t stop for you just because you left.
13. Become resistant to alcohol and save hundreds.
I’m not particularly a lover of alcohol, but I’d never say no to a glass of Pimms in a beer garden on a warm, British summers evening. However, when you get into the groove of living a backpacker lifestyle, you soon find that your savings will be eaten away if you choose to party with strangers all the time on tourist islands and the infamous, backpacker trail that is, Khao-San road. It’s great to relax and let your hair down with people you didn’t know 24 hours beforehand, but try to keep control of it. Your funds will remain balanced and your health will improve. If your passion is to travel, you’ll find you don’t need alcohol to have a good time. You’ll want an extra sunset or snorkel trip instead.
14. Keep track of your finances and plan ahead.
Whether it’s a manual excel spreadsheet, an app such as ‘Money Box’ or good, old-fashioned A4 paper – there are tons of ways to keep track of your expenses. Because of my long-term goals of staying abroad, it made logical sense to keep note of expenditures and income, which created me a realistic target to save each month. Savings = independent security back-ups and more adventures.
15. Travel in groups and get discount on transport.
There are many companies that offer group discounts if you’re willing to discard your independence to travel with like-minded wanderers. Yes, the Danish dude in the bunk below you may have a terrible snoring habit, but you won’t want to discard the great memories of a town you thought you’d never see and be glad you have some extra pennies you didn’t expect to have. Plus, there are always earplugs.
If you’re keen to stay abroad and experience different ways of living whilst gaining work experience, ‘Workaway’ is the perfect opportunity to do so. In reward of a few hours honest work, you’ll receive a safe place to sleep and possible even meals too! There’s so much variety that it would be hard not to find something you wanted to do – from building houses in Austria to fixing motorbikes in Burma. People are always looking for individuals that can spare an extra pair of hands and help them in their projects – you may even find a new career out of it.
17. Street food – just try to check that it’s hygienic.
Street food is exciting, adventurous and you get to taste new foods everyday. Whilst it may have a reputation for giving you a dodgy stomach, look out for vendors that regularly clean their utensils with water (clean water!) and meat that isn’t in view of sunlight for vast amounts of time. Stay away from stalls that have swarms of flies circling around them and try to avoid meat when possible, unless it looks thoroughly cooked. Keep charcoal tablets in your bag, which will help you deal with the unfortunate case of food poisoning – just in case.
18. Punch fear in the face.
Fear is the number one emotion that stops people from traveling. ‘I’ll never get back on the career ladder’ ‘I already have commitments’ ‘What if I never want to come back?’ ‘What will I do with all my stuff?’ ‘How will I get the same managerial position once I leave?’ These are all assumptions and fear conjunctions – not facts and truths. Don’t play up to fear and let the goals deteriorate because of it. Tackle the fear and enjoy the ride. You’ll find a way.