How Can I Afford to Travel the World?

“How can I afford to travel the world?” is the question that most often graces our e-mail inbox, and is most commonly asked by someone who has recently been on their first great backpacking trip. Hearing that people travel for years on end is an eye opener for those who have worked 40+ hour weeks for most of their adult lives. I personally worked 50+ hour work weeks for years, taking a few weeks of vacation twice a year and being content with that. Now Sissy and I are a year and a half into our current trip and have plenty more to go.

Ninh Binh
One of the viewpoints in northern Vietnam we visited during our month in the country.

We must have made great money or a trust fund set up then to afford to travel six months in Africa, nine in New Zealand, two in Europe, and seven in Asia (by the time we’re done) right? Well, not really. I made good money back home, but also ate out every day, had a nice car, and the other normal expenses that come with a “normal life”. Sissy studied, and volunteered in South America after graduating, so disposable income wasn’t common for her. How then did we and do we still afford to travel long term? Here are a few pointers for the would-be long term traveling community.

Devil's Pool
Hanging over the edge of Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on earth, doesn’t require tons of money.

Face New Realities

Traveling often means vacation in the minds of the uninitiated. White sandy beaches, big resorts with infinity pools, bright colored cocktails, etc can come to mind. While traveling can be that, more often for those of us without huge savings accounts it means sleeping in dorms, tents, and hotels without hot water, or sometimes with a wall or two missing.

zebra lusaka
Camping can be better than high end hotels when you do it right and it doesn’t have to break the bank.

The first sight of a cockroach in your room or a rat running through the kitchen may be startling, and those things definitely don’t show up in glamorous Instagram feeds, but can become an acceptable reality over time. Have you ever dreamed of climbing Kilimanjaro, diving with giant manta rays, going on an African Safari, or trekking to Machu Picchu? Would you put up with the occasional rat or cockroach if you could do those things?

Kilimanjaro Uhuru
Christmas morning 2015 was one to remember, getting to the top of Kilimanjaro!
Machu Picchu
Five days of trekking to Machu Picchu with food and tents included can cost less than two nights in an average San Francisco hotel room!

If you earn a decent wage, even only a bit above the minimum wage of most western countries, you can likely save up enough so you can afford to travel faster than you think. Once you’ve set a goal amount to get yourself on the road, eating out, drinking alcohol, and buying new things will all be put on the back burner. If your priority is truly to travel for a long period of time, this will become more important to you than all of these other luxuries. Plenty of travelers who have been on the road full time for over a year did so by saving their tips and wages as a waiter or waitress, among other relatively low paying jobs.

Be Willing to Work and Adapt

If you’ll be going for a long time, or don’t have a ton of money to begin with, your funds will run out eventually. You’ll have to work to save up again. While you may be able to earn more money in your home country, if you are flexible and 35 or younger you can likely get a working holiday visa in a handful of countries. While some of these countries may require you study in them, others have very few requirements beyond paying a minimal fee to go and being under a certain age. We chose New Zealand for our first working holiday since it had no fee for me and a low fee for Sissy, wages were decent, and Auckland was known to have lots of jobs available at the time. While going back to work after an extended trip doesn’t sound like fun,  it can allow you to see parts of the world you otherwise wouldn’t have and save for that trip you’re dying to take.

Emerald Lakes
Working while abroad can have its perks!

From office jobs to fruit picking in fields and tons of options in between, Australia, Canada, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, and tons of other countries have great opportunities for all types of people. We applied for our New Zealand working holiday visas, had them issued the next day, and showed up in the country with no accommodation or work lined up. Eight months later we had enough to travel the country for a month and a half and go through Southeast Asia for seven more months after!

Mermaid Pools
Work may not have been ideal but the weekends were pretty relaxing!

Learn to Live Cheaper

Accommodation and food are two of your biggest expenses that are generally controllable while away. You’ll get used to sorting by price while booking online and showing up places with nothing booked yet depending on what part of the world you’re in. Our sixth story, private, en suite room with a huge balcony overlooking the edge of Halong Bay in Vietnam set us back $6 per night. That’s $3 per person with a view that was pretty darn good. A full meal in Moshi, Tanzania was 90 cents when our local friend came along and showed us the right places to go. Big plates of Nasi Goereng for 90 cents in Indonesia, 23 cents for a mug of beer in Vietnam, and a dollar for skewers of beef in Bolivia are all available, you just need to search them out and worry less about the ambiance while you eat. Leave your western appetite behind if you’re on an extreme budget, since places that do offer western food often charge a bit more than the local alternative, plus it’s more fun to try new things!

Cat Ba Island
The view from our remarkably nice hotel room on Cat Ba Island, on the edge of Halong Bay. $6 a night was money well spent!

In South America you may choose to stay in dorms within hostels or camp, and $7-10 per night can often get you into a nice enough place. Throughout Africa you may be able to camp in the safer countries, and stay in cheap hotels and guesthouses in others. We camped out on the side of the road through Sudan for free through most of the country, and stayed in cheap hotels in Ethiopia, where camping isn’t as easy of an option. Southeast Asia is an easy area since you can often find nice, private, en suite rooms for $4-10 per night, sometimes including free breakfast! Europe and North America can be a bit tougher, but and hostels can also keep things reasonable. Australia and New Zealand are most commonly seen by travelers from the back of a converted minivan which are affectionately, and not wholly correctly, called camper vans.

Meroe Sudan
Locals riding past our tents in the desert in Sudan.
Afford to travel
Our trusty 1996 Toyota Estima set us back $1,300 USD in New Zealand, a country with very low standards for emissions, allowing tons of cheap imports to be sold for next to nothing. We sold our van with its built in bed and portable stove for $2,200 during high season when we left the country.

Get Over Your Fear and Go

At the end of the day if traveling for an extended period is something you want to do, you’ll need to stop making excuses and just go.

“I would, but I’m a homeowner.”

“I would but I have a good paying job.”

“I would but I have kids.”

“I would but I can’t afford to travel for so long.”

If you don’t want to travel for a long time that’s completely understandable, it’s not so appealing to everyone. If you do want to give it a try, use some of these excuses as reasons to go. As a homeowner you can likely rent your house out and make a little bit of money while you’re gone to help keep you on the road. That good paying job should help you save up to leave faster, and if you got a good paying job once, you probably can again in the future. Your kids should experience as much of the world as possible, when better to start then now? Again, traveling doesn’t have to be so expensive. Once you’re paying a couple of dollars a day for accommodation and food you’d be surprised how far that rent money and savings can go.

Vatican Rome
While we miss our homes, visiting gorgeous sites like Vatican City help dull that homesickness.
Admiring and climbing on glaciers in Iceland is another good way to overcome being homesick.

We don’t have children and know nothing about the hardships of parenthood. The family we bought our van from in New Zealand brought their eight month old son with them for their six month trip through the country, living in the van along the way. Their story is relatively common, we must have ran into a dozen families with children around a year old in the country, all living from their vans, all having come from normal lives back home.

Hamer Tribe
We don’t have kids, honestly visiting the tribes in Ethiopia is about the closest we’ve come to real interaction with children during our travels, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to travel with them.

It’s scary to travel solo, but tens of thousands of people go per year. It’s scary to show up somewhere new with no job or house, but it’s common and easy enough with the right attitude and decisions. It’s scary to leave a high paying job and the security of home, but liberating to see the things you’ve only dreamed of (and tons you haven’t!). If you really want to go, at the end of the day you just need to go. Read The Alchemist for some inspiration, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty if that’s your thing, go browse Pinterest and get your wanderlust going, whatever it takes, just get up and get moving, otherwise you’ll definitely regret the things you never did instead of possibly regretting some of the things you did do.

Komodo dragon
Now stop reading this long post and go!


Do you need more details, advice, or information about long term travel and what it’s like? Comment below or e-mail us, we’d love to hear from you! Also don’t forget to subscribe on the right of your screen.

One Reply to “How Can I Afford to Travel the World?”

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