“How do you finance your travels?”

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

Now comes the best part: I do not save money for travelling, but I actually save money by travelling. How that? Easy: by moving to a cheaper place.Andreas-Moser-Santini-Malta-relax

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.

Support your favourite blogger!

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!

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Economics, Life, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to “How do you finance your travels?”

  1. I think it’s also about how much your prioritize travel. I travel a lot for a 9-to-5 person, it’s my number 1 interest, and I’ve organized my life around making travel possible. I finance trips by renting out my apartment on airbnb. I’m in New York, so my short term rentals cover most of it. It’s great income, but I also have to organize my life around it to some extent.

  2. I get asked the same question by my peers – How can you afford to travel so much? My pension isn’t a huge amount, but it puts me well above the average standard of living in most countries outside the U. S. We had enough money saved that I was able to retire early and begin traveling six months before my monthly checks started. We have been living in Central America for the past six months, and we like it enough to stay on for maybe another year before deciding on a new location.
    Your advice is valuable for the pre-retirement demographic. Beyond good planning, I think it takes the courage to take the first step (leap?) and just take a trip – perhaps the one you have only dreamed of. After that, you simply prioritize and find a way to continue.

    • Your point about taking the first step is good advice. For younger people, just take a semester or a year abroad, with the option of returning home. You will see if you like it or not.
      Because you mention retirement, I have to concede that this freelance lifestyle does of course not lead to huge retirement entitlements, so I may have to continue working after 65. But as long as I can combine travel with work, that will be fine. And if it is necessary, I can always return to Germany, work a few years as a lawyer again and save something.

  3. Elena says:

    Interesting point of view, like always.

  4. I might just have to direct people to this post when they ask me the same question. Very thorough explanation!

    I would have to disagree with your last point (though only in semantics ;-) ). I think there is plenty of risk involved with picking up and moving to a new part of the world, and with traveling in general. But what most people don’t consider is the risk and opportunity cost (in experience/fun/life rather than dollars) of staying at home, accumulating wealth, letting roots grow deeper and deeper as the years pass. That sounds more frightening to me at this point in my life than choosing a new home every year!

    • I see that exactly the same way as you have put it! Staying in one place, possibly even one job, for 30 years to me would be the biggest “risk”: the risk of wasting my life.

  5. Anastassia says:

    “Staying in one place, possibly even one job, for 30 years to me would be the biggest “risk”: the risk of wasting my life”. Thank you Andreas!

  6. April says:

    This is great! I love how you added links to useful new sites I can utilize for future travels! I completely agree with keeping expenses low…so many of my friends seem to live beyond their means.

  7. Thank you for this post (as you have just seen my latest post on vagabonding a few minutes back as I type this) I too one day hope of having a job where I can travel more, or as you well put it, work while traveling :)
    I hope when I’m done with college, I shall do the same and these valuable points I will keep in mind.

  8. Mal Ta says:

    you have balls man :)

  9. sabaahang says:

    When did you embark on work-on-the-move style of earning money through online freelance websites? How long did it take for you to establish and be able to rely on it as a source of income? I’ve been pondering about how to smoothly steer my life towards such location-independent lifestyle for some time now. However I don’t exactly find myself as having reliable practical skills at the moment.
    I’m planning to start finding an interesting so called practical hobby suitable to function as a source of income via Internet (e.g. graphic design, web design, what else? ), get confident doing it, sign up for one of these freelance websites, gain a reputation enough to rely on and then earn the guts for quitting a full time job that didn’t come to me easily in the first place.

    Im concerned that this whole process wouldn’t exactly take a negligible amount of time. This whole seems like a 2-3 year (if not more considering a hectic life on the side) project for me to develop what it takes to take the risks associated with it…

    • Hello Saba,
      but you are a computer whiz kid and programming crack, these are very marketable skills!
      I quit my last steady job in November 2011. Eight months before, I had moved from full time work to part time work (25 hours per week). About one year before quitting my job, I had started to focus on projects on the side, mainly translations. As I had begun to build up a bit of a client base and a reputation, I felt confident enough to reduce my regular income by going part time and then ultimately to quit it all. But this was probably helped by the fact that I had already been a self-employed lawyer from 2002 to 2009, so I was used to not having any regular income and not knowing at the beginning of the month what I will be able to afford at the end of it. I did combine the final jump with leaving expensive London for inexpensive Malta, so I knew I could survive with a fraction of the income I had been getting previously (in a much warmer and more beautiful climate, on top of that). I only had savings to carry me through one month, so it just had to work.
      I never wanted to rely on having only a few (long-term) clients, that is why I found these freelancing websites which I mentioned very useful: with every completed job, I build up my reputation there and I find it increasingly easy to get jobs. Meanwhile, I often get contacted by clients who have come across my profile before I even apply for a job.
      For the lawyering freelancing, I get a lot of requests through the FAQ on my website and my blog as well as my profile on AllExperts. I answer some questions for free there and it seems to be great marketing because it allows potential clients to check out my knowledge before they hire me. Whenever I see business ebbing down, I know I have to do some marketing, which in my case means writing an article about German law.
      If you want to go into graphic design or web design, I guess that a portfolio is rather important. You may have to accept some freelancing jobs at the beginning which pay less than you hope for, but they will help you to build up a portfolio which you can display on your website.

      My goal for 2013 is to move towards journalism. I want to become able to sell some of my articles and/or photos. I think that will be tough, because it’s a very contested and overcrowded market with a lot of people working for free. But I enjoy writing and if it would only finance a few of my trips, that would be worth it. As I am beginning to prepare for this move, I notice that lack of self-confidence is the worst inhibition. But then I read what kind of crap gets published on blogs, websites and even in newspapers, and I think: “I can do better than that.” – For your self-confidence: you know that you have been hired by a company that everybody in your industry would like to work for. They probably had a ton of applications, but they picked you. So you must be good!

      (On a personal note, thank you very much again for your generous hospitality in Tallinn, the very interesting conversations and all the time you spent with me!)

      • sabaahang says:

        Dear Andreas,

        Thanks for the complete response as always. Your answer although not a magical proscription to ease taking the step “not knowing at the beginning of the month what I will be able to afford at the end of it” however it creates more and more determination and braveness that will eventually lead to pushing the boundaries of life.

        I love your logic, I understand it and it seems like what I would do (and hopefully I will) but I have never had “a Chevrolet Blazer S10 was the first one, then a Jeep Cherokee and finally a Jaguar XJ with a 222 HP engine” to even start to think about selling them. What Im trying to say I think is that the kind of confidence that came to you upon taking these big steps was probably backed by a lofty amount of experience, advantage of having reached what you wanted in life and having choices as a result of tasting options and evaluated them. On a harsh comment it would be like asking a normal someone to pray the God on an empty stomach.

        I know… the choice will eventually bring much truer happiness than what one could imagine and that’s why I’ll lead my life there but then again I too prefer to shorten the gap before risking to jump.

        I admire you and I’ll keep finding ways to facilitate the transition. I’ll also need to start building a reputation for a year or two. Organize it, develop valued skills and commit to it bits by bits avoiding to be misled by wrong prioritization of goals. But first things first…to find the proper my very own personal path to take the journey.

        What I do at work now is nothing anybody can’t do! even a fairly short amount of experience will bring anyone up to speed! No special knowledge nor experience! You have a knowledge that can’t be easily transferred. If I had thought about planning for my future path sooner I would have started developing suitable desirable skills much earlier. Before being caught between a bunch of unfulfilled probably ill-targeted goals and a hectic life which is a result of following the flow of life in whatever semi-random order it has come to you…

        I’m planning to start writing a blog like you to practice bringing ideas to reality. I hope it will be a good kick start

        On a personal note, the experience of hosting you has been nothing but true honor for me! It doesn’t happen always to find rich personalities to have profound conversations like the ones I could have with you. I will take any chance to catch up with you and I hope till then I could’ve at least taken my life more into my own hands no matter how little that would be.

  10. Pingback: How to finance a life of travel « About time I did this

  11. davidmalta says:

    I like your style dude, I enjoyed reading your posts when you were in over here in Malta, and I enjoy them now. What you say boils down to a simple thing: you have to be courageous enough to close your ears to the things you have heard all your life, and be willing to try something different. For me, moving to Malta was like that scene in the Indiana Jones movie (I believe it was the wonderful ‘Last Crusade’) where Indy takes the leap of faith onto that invisible pathway across the ravine. Worked for him…

    • THAT leap of faith would have been a bit too much for me. :P

      But you are spot on with your advice to ignore the advice that you receive from others, all the warnings, all the negativity. So many people told me that it won’t work, that it is stupid, that I will come back home after a few months (that was more than 3 years ago).

      Thanks for your compliments! I hope to return to Malta again for a few weeks and to write a bit more, maybe some feature-length articles about the island.

  12. I love the fact that you just don’t tell people they SHOULD travel more, but give specifics on how you do it. I operate on a very similar arrangement.

    I would add that it is quite easy to save up fairly large amounts of money (say 50,000 dollars or even 100,000 depending on your job) if you are currently in a fairly well paid job and have no major financial commitments (children, mortgage, excessive cocaine habit, expensive girlfriend,,,,).

    As Andreas said, drop the car and you have saved 5,000 a year, easily. If you move to a smaller flat or cut back on just one or two major expenses, you can save even more.

    Secondly, you don’t have to wait until you’re travelling to earn money on the side using your skills. When I was in Munich in a day job, I started working as a freelance translator and English teacher on the side, so when I gave up the day job I already was prepared for working independently. And I could save the extra cash.

    So between cutting expenses and earning more, you can pull together 50,000 in 2 or three years. A financial cushion like this makes it easier to take even more risks (and get the associated rewards).

  13. Well, two problems, my friend. Traveling within my income means walking across the street – at best. And with my meds, I tend to have a logistics tail the size of a small armoured division. ;)
    You can NOT have my car, however – that is VERY necessary when living in the middle of nowhere (and is more than compensated by the low cost OF living in the middle of nowhere). Besides, it’s exactly have as old as I am – and therefore, we are both archeological treasures. At least, that’s what I keep telling my wife. She still ain’t buying into that idea, though…. :D

  14. Pegaso says:

    When you say leisure time is far more important than income you can certainly count me in, as you can all like-minded people who share this common desire for personal freedom. But how many are actually like that? When you look around you don’t normally find so much burning desire for freedom. If you ever noticed, it looks more like people don’t really know what to do when they have time on their hands, and just look forward to going back to work, so they can have some sense of purpose in their life. That’s why they work 40 hours+ a week regardless of income.

  15. elkement says:

    Very interesting – great post! Though I do not travel I can relate to anything you say. I believe your advice can also be applied to a non-nomadic lifestyle.

  16. I love traveling, and I never thought about some of the suggestions you offered. I will try them and let you know the results.

  17. Calin says:

    I like these steps very much. Practical, simple and easy. I like that you what you love and you live your life ;-) Will keep reading you!

  18. Pingback: How to be Happy | The Happy Hermit

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