Based on my extensive list of travels, this is probably the question I get asked most: “How do you finance your travels?” Many people tell me that they enjoy my blog and my travel photos, adding “I wish I could afford to travel as well.” - Today I will explain how I do it and how you may be able to afford much more than you think you can. I am also curious to hear more advice from fellow travellers.
1. income and expenses
The first thing to keep in mind is that your cashflow is determined by two monetary streams: income and expenses. If the first one is higher than the second one, you are doing fine. The first mistake that many people make is that they think about how much they need to work every month to be able to pay what they pay now. – I do it the other way round: I address what I am spending every month and try to reduce it. Keep your expenses low and you will have to earn less, work less, you will be less stressed and you will have more freedom.
2. keeping the expenses low
In order to keep the expenses low, you have to look at all the things that you spend money on. For most people, the biggest chunks are rent, food and a car.
I decided to get rid of my car and I am saving thousands of $ every year. A car is one of the most stupid things to own because it sits there idly 90% of the day. I think there are only two useful scenarios for a car: (1) You get rid of your apartment/house and live on the road. (2) You share the car with many other people, keeping the expenses per person low.
The single biggest chunk of your monthly expenditure probably goes to your landlord or to your mortgage. You are either making the landlord rich or the bank (or your children who will inherit your house once it will be paid off). None of this makes sense.
3. saving money by travelling
When I moved from London to Malta, many of my friends and co-workers in London were openly envious: “I wish I could afford to move to the Mediterranean.” It made me both laugh but also despair at people’s financial and maths skills. When I lived in London, I paid 550 € per month for a room in a shared flat in a normal residential area in London. When I moved to Malta, I paid 150 € for a larger room in a shared flat. It had a balcony from which I could see the Mediterranean Sea, it had a roof terrace for barbecues and it was a 30-second walk to the sea. I paid a fourth of my previous rent, but I gained in quality of life.
By travelling, I save money. Every month.
I have now moved to Vilnius where I was able to rent a whole apartment (furnished) for 200 € per month. I pay much less than I used to pay a year ago in London and I have much more space.
Rent is not the only factor. Many countries will also have lower transport costs, lower food and restaurant prices, lower prices for anything than your home country. If you follow the business section of your newspaper, you will get a sense for what countries are cheap. Where income or GDP are low, prices will be low as well. Numbeo is a very useful site to compare prices for everything from meals to rents.
Another trick is to stay away from capital cities. Very often, the second city of a country will be much cheaper, but the transport links will be just as good and you might even have more of the original culture of that country left there.
4. long-term travelling
Of course this trick works best with long-term travelling where you are willing to both give up your home and take up a new temporary residence for a few months. I prefer to stay in one place for several months, use it as a base to explore the whole country or even the neighbouring countries and get to know the people and the culture and the history. To me, this is a more intense and rewarding experience than hopping through all of Europe in 14 days.
5. Time is more important than money.
I don’t agree that “time is money”. I think time is much more valuable than money. Therefore, the best thing about saving money (whether by travelling or otherwise) is that you save time. How? The less expenses you have, the less you need to earn, the less you need to work.
When I lived in Germany and then the UK, I had to work all week, every month to pay the bills and to survive. If I could take a few weeks off each year, I was lucky. Now, my expenses are so low that I can cover them with working only 1 or 2 weeks per month. The rest of the time I am a free person.
Every $ that you don’t spend is free time that you have gained. Every item not bought is a day in the forest or at the beach. Every phone contract not signed is a trip to the desert.
6. “But how do you earn money?”
Many travel blogs don’t mention at all where the money comes from. If you have 100,000 $ in savings, it’s no big deal to travel. I don’t have any savings, and my blog is different: I will tell you exactly how I finance this lifestyle.
What I would recommend for work depends completely on your skills, your abilities and what you enjoy doing. I try to focus on work which I can do from anywhere in the world (as long as I have internet). In my case, I work as a freelancer and I can be hired for lawyering, translation and academic writing projects. The trick is to work for clients in the EU or North America and charge the corresponding fees, while living in a low-expense country oneself. My clients find me through this blog, my website and freelance websites like People per Hour or oDesk.
My goal for 2013 is to move into journalism, obviously also with the intention of being able to get paid to travel and write about my trips.
There is a lot of freelance work available. If you are good with computers, you’ll find plenty of work. If you speak several languages, you can work as a translator or teach languages. Generally, practical skills are much more useful than academic skills. If I had learned how to cook or how to repair a car, I would get much better work than with my law degree which is rather useless once you leave the jurisdiction in which it was obtained. There are also many possibilities to work in exchange for a room and food, for example on farms, in hostels or on ships.
As you see, it doesn’t work without work, but at least work no longer takes up the majority of my time.
7. The best things in life are free.
Under no. 5 I already explained that money is far less important than time. Some of the best things in life are free.
Wherever I go, it is usually the nature that impresses me most. A beautiful forest, an evening on the beach, a magnificent sunset, the power of the sea or a long walk across the whole country. None of these places or sights charge anything.
If you are more into social contacts, meeting interesting people on your trips is also free. Whether you chat up the Bedouin in the desert or you listen to the stories of kibbuzniks, you will gain insights beyond your expectations. A great way to meet people is Couchsurfing, a website where people are willing to meet strangers that come to their town or area and spend some time with them, often even allowing you to stay at their place. I have had several guests staying with me, and listening to the stories that they told about their travels was almost as good as travelling myself.
8. There is no risk.
Many people are afraid of taking that plunge of leaving everything behind, even though they also want to see the world. But I am not sure what they are afraid of.
Just do it! You have nothing to lose.
If your plans abroad don’t work out, you can always return and move in with your parents again. You can always return to your home country and find an office job again. If you don’t like the vagabond life anymore, you will quit it. You don’t really risk anything by going on a long journey, but you have a lot to gain. Enjoy!