I have been able to travel to almost 40 countries while on a strict budget of $50 per day. I am what long-term travelers call a “travel yo-yo”. I go travel for a long while, then come back to the US to make more money, and then go travel for a long while again.
How did I get here you may ask? Almost six years ago, I studied abroad for the first time. It was only a three month program to Europe, but this changed my life. I went from being a sophomore in university who was undecided (about more than just which degree to get), to learning that there is a huge world out there to explore. Within the first week of the trip, I knew I was hooked and needed to see the rest of the world.
Just a quick disclaimer: I understand that I am grateful in my privilege to be able to travel. I was born in a country in which I was able to go for my dreams and save enough to do this. I realize much of the world does not have this privilege to travel. But that does not make me lucky, this is hard work. My family is not made of money; they do not support me very much financially. I make my goals a reality through being intentional with my choices.
You Don’t Need as Much as You Think
It is not as expensive as you think it is to travel the world. My budget is $50 a day, which is $18,250 for a year. That is only $1,520 for an entire month! I know people who spend more than that for a week of vacation! In expensive countries, the budget fluxuates to $70 a day, and, in cheaper countries, to $30 a day. I know travelers who travel on less than that, and I know travelers who travel on double that. It is all about your flexibility and openness.
On our budget ($100 a day for two people), we get to do amazing things. For example, we spent an entire month road tripping around New Zealand in a camper van. We did so many activities while in New Zealand, such as swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura, sailing through Milford Sound, and hiking the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was an incredible time, but New Zealand is very expensive. So in order to make it under budget, we ate PB & Js for lunch literally every day, cooked all of our meals, and stayed in budget campsites. Sacrifice and compromise. Sure it would have been nice to get an even bigger camper van and be able to eat out more, but if we wanted that, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to visit New Zealand at all.
In Australia, we house sat for 20 days. That means for 20 days we had free accomodation! But we also had a dog to take care of. Sacrifice of taking care of a dog (just kidding dogs are the best!) for the reward of staying in Sydney and Brisbane for free. (You can read more about the wonderful world of house sitting here.)
If you are willing to be flexible and seek different types of travel, you can much more easily afford long-term travel. Long-term travel is not a vacation; I cannot stress this enough. If it was, I would not be able to afford it! I think of my type of travel as living daily life in different places. I don’t eat out every night at home so why would I when I am traveling? That is how you make travel affordable.
Be creative. There are more ways to travel the world than just a vacation abroad for 10 days. I was fortunate to have and afford the study abroad programs through my university. If you are a student, take advantage of these! After my three months on a semester program, I became an intern abroad in Germany for a summer. After graduation, I was an English camp counselor in Japan for another summer. Then, instead of getting a corporate job right away after graduation, I became an au pair in Germany for 10 months. When I was done being an au pair, I worked full-time for 1 year to save enough money to travel for another year. That is where I am now. I am 2 months away from being finished with my year long trip around the world. And will probably go back to the US and work to save enough to keep traveling again.
I have only been to Europe one time as a vacation in the years that I have been traveling. All of the other times I found a creative way to travel, on a low price. Here are some ideas for traveling in different, cheaper ways:
- Trusted Housesitters
- Get free accomodation around the world by housesitting.
- Au Pair World
- Gain a new family abroad, and see the world!
- World Packers
- Volunteer opportunities that let you get free accomodation in exchange for working a few hours per day.
- Live and learn on an organic farms around the entire world.
- Teaching English Abroad
- As a native English speaker you can teach English abroad in many countries with many options to get ESL certified before or during the program, work, etc.
I am intentional with everything I do and spend. Every dollar I spend is put towards travel. I cannot tell you the last thing that I bought that wasn’t related to travel. I haven’t bought a shirt, coffee mug or anything else miscellaneous that I couldn’t use on the road.
If you want money to travel like I do, you don’t need to ask for a raise or promotion at work. Begin by looking into your expenses, you can save a ton of money by seeing what you are already spending.
- Look at your purchases
- Get rid of unnecessary expenses like shopping and eating out.
- Learn how to cook; I love to cook and don’t eat out very often when I am saving to travel.
- Learn how to make your favorite Starbucks drink at home and save the daily coffee money.
- Save with all your might!
- Going out for a night on the town with your friends? Offer to be the DD and only get water all night. That $5 beer could be an entire day on a motorbike in Asia!
- Birthday or holiday gifts? Make a homemade card and homemade gift. Go out on an experience together.
- Surround yourself with like minded others
- InterNations is a great place to start. It is a community for expats and travelers. They have communities in 420 cities around the world so they most likely have group get-togethers near you!
- There are many Facebook groups you can join for support like Bucketlist Bombshells and Nomadic Network by Nomadic Matt
- Follow great budget travelers on Instagram. My favorites are @janetnewenham, @traveltomtom, @heleneinbetween, @Evazubeck, @thewanderingquinn and @saltinourhair
Use Credit Card Points
The art of using credit card points to save a whole lot of money on travel is called Travel Hacking. This is something that took me a long time to learn. This is a must if you are planning to travel for a long period of time. For example, our flight from Honolulu, Hawaii to Christchurch, New Zealand (one-way) was $440 each. I bought both of our flights ($880!) for freeeee! Free!! That is the magic of credit card points. It is all about getting the right cards at the right time. I am not yet an expert at this, but my boyfriend and I each have 3 travel credit cards (and we both have great credit scores and are not ruining them by signing up for these cards). These are the travel credit cards I use:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Travel Tip: If you are looking for more about my favorite travel credit cards, click here.
There is a lot to learn about traveling on a budget. Two people who I have learned the most from is Nomadic Matt and Extra Pack of Peanuts.
- Read “How to Travel the World for $50 a Day” by Nomadic Matt (Matt Kepnes)
- This book is the guide for how I learned how to travel the world on a budget. It is an easy read with great, actionable information.
- Listen to podcasts about travel during your commute or in your free time. My favorite travel podcasts are Extra Pack of Peanuts, Zero to Travel, Location Indie, The World Wanderers and Amateur Traveler.
- These podcasts have great useful information about traveling around the world on a budget and full-time travel.