When Jeremy and I were getting ready to trade in our address and 9-to-5 jobs for a nomadic life and a lot of question marks, we pulled out just about every trick we could find to save money to travel the world.
To be honest, we got a bit ridiculous about it.
But you know what? We don’t regret a single penny-pinching move that we made, and we didn’t mind it much at the time, either.
It’s absolutely amazing how little restaurant meals and small creature comforts matter when chasing a passion–and we were on fire with passion during the months leading up to our departure (and luckily for us, every day since).
Every time I read a “how to save money to travel” guide, I look for any new ideas that we can use, knowing that most of them won’t apply to us. Finances are often far too individual for sweeping proclamations–if I read one more post suggesting to cut down on cab fares, my eyes will roll into the back of my head: some of us don’t come from places with oodles of cabs or any useful public transportation options in the first place.
That doesn’t make the author’s advice useless–just useless to us. Usually, though, we’re able to pull out 1-2 ideas from each author and make them our own. That’s my goal for this list, as well. This isn’t a start-to-finish how to guide for anyone, it’s simply our experience. Take what sounds interesting, and leave the rest.
This list is complete with every single money-saving tactic that I can remember us using: from a couple of nickels to thousands of dollars, here is everything that we did, big and small, to save up roughly $40,000 to travel the world.
Phase One: San Antonio, 2014-2015. Planned departure date: Maybe at some point in our 50’s when we gather the nerve.
Even before deciding to leave on an indefinite (okay, it was only supposed to be 6 months) trip, Jeremy and I had a travel addiction and a fierce desire to limit the amount of time of our lives we spent commuting.
Which is to say, we were already pretty frugal (also known as eccentric), and we were already dumping a disproportionate amount of money into an account marked “Travel Fund”, well before we started tossing around the idea of going on a long term trip in our twenties.
Money Saving Actions of Phase One:
1. No cable TV. In fact, we have never paid for cable TV, and never regretted it.
2. We kept our house at roughly 78 during the day in the summer, 75 at night. In the winter? Roughly 68 and 65.
3. Despite our post-grad jobs, Jeremy drove a 2006 Suzuki Forenza left over from college. Our main car was a 2015 Honda Fit at this point, purchased out of necessity when my beloved 2005 Honda Accord was totaled in an accident in early 2015.
4. We tracked every single penny that we ever spent–always have, and likely always will.
5. We had a discretionary budget of $350/month–that included restaurant meals, random activities, going out with friends… essentially anything that wasn’t a bill, a grocery, or a necessity like a doctor’s visit.
6. No gift exchanges between us. At some point during our engagement, we stopped swapping gifts for birthdays, Christmas’ and anniversaries: we found that we were always happy to put the money toward a travel experience or local adventure together instead.
7. We used travel rewards credit cards to maximize our rewards and limit how much cash (ie, invisible, untracked money) we used. (We still have the cards, but they’re mostly gathering dust these days–most of our travel destinations are much more cash based than the USA).
8. The first bills that got paid were always our savings accounts, including the travel account: payday was my most favorite day during all of these phases, because it was the day I watched our travel dreams get closer in time.
9. At the end of the month, any leftover money from our budget was swept into the travel account rather than left in our checking account to tempt us.
Phase Two: San Antonio, Fall 2015. Planned departure date: Fall 2016.
Here’s a secret: originally, we didn’t plan to leave in May 2016…. we planned to leave in September. That changed, as we were lucky enough to have our home sell quickly and our savings plans pick up steam.
The biggest motivation in changing the date, though? We had plans to visit Bolzano and Tuscany with my dad and grandparents–and we didn’t much see the point in paying for a roundtrip flight to Europe and then flying back out only a couple of months later.
Also, we were impatient to go and beside ourselves with excitement… that weighed in on the decision, too.
Money Saving Actions of Phase Two:
1. The discretionary budget got cut to $200/month. Most months, we spent well under that.
2. We ran an experiment in our house to see how long we could go without grocery shopping: we made it almost 3 weeks, revealing just how many packages of meat and vegetables had ended up in our freezer.
3. We stopped using the electric dryer for most of our laundry and started hanging our clothes to dry.
4. We ate (and completed our grocery shopping) off of a meal plan.
5. We stopped buying clothes (we didn’t do much of this before, anyway).
6. Our solo commutes became a couple’s activity. Jeremy and I worked for the same company in San Antonio, and while we weren’t able to go car-free, we sucked up the scheduling conflicts, waited around for each other on odd days, and drove together.
7. Driving became strategic overall: we made an effort to limit how many miles we drove on a daily basis and planned outings accordingly.
8. We negotiated a better price on both our internet and cell phones by threatening to move companies (it wasn’t an empty threat).
9. Overtime was a regular occurrence.
10. My makeup routine got an overhaul–as in, I stopped wearing it most of the time.
11. We stretched out our haircuts and got them done inexpensively: Great Clips hasn’t done us wrong yet, though I know it’s a cardinal girl sin to go there.
12. Impulse purchases became nonexistent outside of the occasional food item. It turns out there’s normally nothing that you need so badly that you can’t think it through for several days first.
13. We cut out temptation online: if you don’t see the adorable workout clothes or fun travel gadgets on Pinterest, you can’t want them.
14. Literally every purchase got compared to travel. A lunch out with coworkers? That’s a whole day’s food in Thailand! A new piece of clothing? Nevermind, I’d rather go kayaking in Croatia!
15. We started categorizing our belongings and experimenting with Craigslist. What we couldn’t sell and weren’t set on keeping was donated in an effort to cut down on moving costs.
16. We listed our house on the market and made an effort to have it flawlessly clean and ready for showings 24/7.
Phase Three: San Antonio, Spring 2016. Planned departure date: May 2016.
Our house sold, yay! We were thrilled to clear our largest hurdle in being able to leave, but that also lit a fire under us: our departure date of May 10 was getting very real, and very close.
Money Saving Actions of Phase Three:
1. We hosted an enormous garage sale. Furniture, books, kitchen gadgets, picture frames, wedding presents. A little advertising and several hours later, we were $400 richer.
2. We sold the Suzuki Forenza.
3. We carted off 2/3 of our (sizable) remaining book collection after the garage sale to Half Price Books.
4. We sold about half of our furniture with our house, and most of the other half through Craigslist and our garage sale.
5. We hired a truck and drove our remaining belongings to Oklahoma where my dad was going to store them, rather than use movers. We also packed 90% of the house ourselves.
6. Right before departure, we put our Honda Fit into a “storage policy” (my mom was nice enough to store it), meaning that we paid pennies on the dollar to insure our car in exchange for the promise that we wouldn’t drive it.
7. Our “dates” became exercises in entertaining ourselves without spending money: we took long walks around the neighborhood or nearby parks, did research/planned for the trip (it became an enormously engrossing hobby!), experimented with different recipes, and practiced taking photos on our new camera.
8. Netflix had to be canceled. That one stung a bit.
9. For the 2.5 months between our house closing and our flight to Madrid, we lived with my mom–a huge privilege and a lucky break.
10. The library became our best friend. It took us forever to get library cards in San Antonio, but we made the most of them during those last few months!
The savings, of course, is not the end of the story: armed with our carefully calculated travel budget and determination to be on the road for as long as possible, we have continued tracking our money very carefully while on the road–check out this post that I wrote for Thought Catalog for more on that!
We now also have several (hopefully) profitable ventures running in the background, including Jeremy putting his skills as a computer engineer and software developer to work as a remote freelancer.
During our travel hiatus in Oklahoma, we came to the realization that six months wouldn’t be enough travel for us–and neither would eight months or twelve months. We fully expect that we’ll get tired of being nomads at some point, but we don’t know when.
Because of that, we cleared out our last “big” possession while at home and sold our Honda Fit, along with odds and ends like my wedding dress and Christmas decor. As of now, the only possessions we own that we don’t carry on our backs fit neatly in some boxes in my dad’s attic.
Ultimately, it was a huge combination of factors that allowed us to save enough money to hit the road: our income helped (two employed college graduates with no kids and no debt outside of a mortgage–we weren’t hurting for money), our lack of student loans helped, our sheer determination helped.
Even our young marriage and the fact that we’ve thought of money as a team since our very early twenties helped, though that’s not exactly something that is able to be or should be replicated on a whim.
While there were a million and one ways that we could have spent our hard-earned savings, I feel very confident in saying that there is absolutely nothing else that we would have rather put the money toward. Every penny we have used (and continued to use) for traveling the world is money incredibly well spent.