Thursday, January 16, 2014

How I Can Afford To Travel

The first thing people usually ask me when they find out that I’ve taken a year off to travel is --- “How did you do it?” “How much money did you need?” or “How did you acquire the money to pay for it?”
I don’t blame them. That’s usually the first thing I ask someone when I find out they’re traveling like me… Some of the people I’ve met on the road have been living a vagabond lifestyle for 2, 4, 10 years even! Now THAT’S impressive!

There have been so many articles and blog posts that come out, claiming to teach you ways on how to “Travel For Free”.  In my opinion, that’s false advertising. I mean, come on! Let’s get real! If you want to travel, you’re going to *have* to shell out some cash at some point! Plane tickets, transportation, food, etc…

 No, no, no. The question should not be – “How do I travel for free,” but “How can I afford to travel?” Or, “How can I stretch my dollar when I travel?” Or – if you want to get really straightforward about it… “How do I travel on the cheap?”



People usually assume that I can travel long term like this because I’m loaded. Richie Rich kind of rich. Even my own father thinks I’m wealthy! It’s hilarious, because they couldn’t be more wrong! I’m too cheap to even pay for my own hair cut (I found a salon that cuts bangs for free).  As a matter of fact, at this moment, I am writing this blog post on a bus as I am journeying from Cardiff to London. I could have taken the train, which is a quicker, more comfortable option… but I opted for the longer, more grueling bus ride, even if I suffer from motion sickness… because the bus fare was only 3 GBP, as opposed to the train’s 30 GBP cost.

No, people. I am not rich. Rich in experience, friendship and love… yes. In cash? No.  What I am is practical and resourceful. I’ve met so many other travelers on the road who have been on the road for yeaaars… Everyone has a different strategy… Everyone has a different story. And this? This is mine.


It’s not as exciting as finding out I had a rich great grandfather that magically left me his entire fortune on his will. Really, it was simple. I prepared for this trip, and I saved. In September of 2012, I gave my company a 6 month notice. I said I was leaving by the end of March 2013 to travel. I was completely moved out of my apartment by the end of the month, sold and donated all of my stuff, and I was Couchsurfing with my friend, Wriss, by October. 

Moving Out!

The money I would have used for rent just went straight to my travel fund. Add the money I got from selling all my furniture… Plus my tax refund…  Plus the little cash I had saved up before I even thought about doing this… Put it all together, and I had roughly  --- $18,000.

For a year, that’s not a lot. Research tells me I’d have needed at least $35,000 to survive for one whole year. Well… I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t a little stubborn or defiant. I was going to make $18,000 work. And so far, 9 months in… I’m still alive! The funds are draining, sure… but I’m still within budget!


The Sydney Clan!

This is true. I have a BIG family in Sydney, a friend from church in Auckland, a friend from college in Wellington,  a friend from high school in Japan, a sister in Japan, friends from college in Dubai, a friend from church in Dubai, and best friends from all over the UK! And now that I’ve been traveling for a while, I’ve made even MORE friends… So when I go to Spain, I’ll be set. When I go to Brazil, I’ll be set. When I visit Peru, I’m golden. 

With my friend, Tina the Desert Fox in Dubai

I’m SO lucky to be surrounded by such amazing and generous people in my life. Every single one of my friends and family that I’ve stayed with have been great hosts to me, and I’m so looking forward to the ones I have yet to visit.
When I had my own apartment, I was a really good hostess too. I’d like to believe this is my good karma for being awesome. :)


It’s safe, I promise. Just be smart about it, as with anything else. I’ve only had very positive experiences in Couchsurfing, and I plan to do more of it in South America this year! What I usually do is send my requests weeks in advance. I choose the hosts based on their reviews by other surfers, and I go as far as contacting those surfers to give me the real deal on the hosts --- just to be 100% sure.

This is the house of my first host in New Zealand. BEAUTIFUL, right?
This is me, my new friend and fellow couchsurfer, Dulce, and our host, Karen.
Be a good surfer as well by offering to cook for your hosts. It’s just polite… and a great way to show your appreciation for their hospitality. Don’t treat it as just a free bed – hosts hate that. Remember that a lot of these people open their homes to travelers for a reason… and mostly it’s because they like meeting and getting to know people from different cultures too! Swap travel and adventure stories and etc.  So be sociable and polite! This earns you great reviews, which will make it easier for you to Couchsurf in the future. :)


 THIS is the best idea in the world of worlds. Working in exchange for board and lodging in different countries… I cannot even begin to explain how this has single handedly changed the way people travel! I am SO lucky I found out about this!  It’s the best thing you can do for yourself when you’re traveling, I swear. You just LEARN so much… You meet so many people… You gain so many new LIFE SKILLS. That’s how it was for me, at least. I guess it’s like a very informal way to volunteer… its’ the easiest way to describe it. I’ve done it throughout Italy, Greece and Israel… working mostly for hostels and B&B’s. The tasks are varied, depending on the place you choose to volunteer in.  I have to say though that this isn’t for the faint heart. It’s REAL work… and it’s NOT glamorous either… So you must be willing to get down and dirty and clean toilets.

My hosts, Franco and Martina from The Shanti House in Italy

Other opportunities include working at a farm, at a vineyard, ski resorts, etc… It depends on the season, and on the demand. 
I’ve had 5 different Help Exchange experiences in those 3 countries and I’ve had an amazing time in all of them. I’ve honestly learned SO much, about the work, about the country and their culture, and about myself… AND I’ve gained SO MANY amazing new friends from it. 

My friends/fellow volunteers from La Preghiera in Perugia, Italy

Honestly, it’s the best thing since sliced bread. You work for a few hours a day… you stay and eat for free… so you therefore save money! I’ve even had instances where my hosts gave me some pocket money to spend on booze! Haha! How cool is that? :) Seriously though… if you have time and are willing to just work it… DO THIS. Use HelpX or Workaway… either one works. Different organizations, same purpose.  Go to their website, sign up, pay the fee (around 25 USD membership fee for 2 years), and start searching for your future hosts.
Just DO IT. It’s amazing. I promise!

With my fellow volunteers at The Overstay Hostel in Israel


This was my hostel in Santorini. Caveland. 13 euro a night.

I LOVE staying at hostels. It’s just SO EASY to make friends when you’re there, especially for solo travelers like myself. They are SO MUCH FUN… There’s always something going on, like an organized tour… or themed nights… or group activities… You’ll never be bored. If you do, it’s your fault. And it’s SO CHEAP. Cheapest hostel I’ve been in only charged 11 USD a night. And it was decent!  

These guys were my roommates at my hostel in Rome

I mean let’s be honest… when you travel to new destinations, how much time do you actually spend indoors anyway? In my opinion, as long as the bed and the bathroom is clean, no matter what the size, and no matter how many people are in the room with me (I’ve been in a 30 bed dorm), all is right in the world. 

It is in hostels that I get to jam and share my ukulele-ing skillz with people too! Most of them have common rooms or lounges where people just hang out… I’ve been to a few who have musical instruments lying around for anyone to pick up and play too! I love it when musical numbers spontaneously combust out of the guests… And I love being able to jam or sing along. Music brings people together… 

An impromptu jam session in my hostel in Oban, Scotland

If this isn’t your style and you’d rather stay at a private room – you can do that at hostels too. And their prices are still cheaper than booking a room at a hotel.
FUN FACT: Just 2 minutes ago, I booked a 3 night stay at a hostel in Portugal. My total cost for three nights was about 8 pounds cheaper than my 5 mile cab ride in London earlier.


It is a fact that if and when you travel slower, you save more money. It’s the better way to travel anyway, because that’s the only way you could get acclimatized to the culture properly. I was in Italy for about 6 weeks, a month in Greece and another month in Israel.

When Karen and I did my birthday Eurotrip in March of 2012, we visited 5 countries in 2 weeks. Our money was well spent just on transportation costs alone… and I probably spent more in those 2 weeks all over Europe than I did in all three months of Italy, Israel and Greece combined.

I guess enjoying your trip depends on your travel personality. I used to love the fast paced travel I used to do… One to three days per country, then boom… on to the next. It was exhausting, but it was fun. But then all you ever really get to do is be a tourist.

When you spend a good amount of time in a particular place, you’re not just a tourist – you become an actual traveler… Because then you get to interact with the locals more… learn about their food… their language… participate in their culture… And it’s really great. It’s such a great feeling… to feel like you are included and you belong in a place that isn’t your home. Before you know it, you’ll get invited into their homes for anywhere from good conversation to good food to a nice warm bed (for SLEEPING, ok??)
I’ve definitely been able to hold on to the little cash that I have by spending a longer period of time in the places that I visit. You should try it too!


ladies and gents! All the secrets have been revealed! My life is an open book, and now you know EVERYTHING. It’s anticlimactic, isn’t it? There’s no stealth here… no foul play… no undisclosed bank account in the Cayman Islands…  Every penny that I used on this trip, I’ve acquired through perseverance and hard work. No mumbo jumbo of any kind…

At the moment though, I’m trying to come up with ways to actually make some money while I’m on the road. And there *are* a few options I can explore… I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to come along… Something that I’d be comfortable with, and something that I’d be good at. So if you guys have any ideas for me, please, by all means… Hit me. :)

Meanwhile… I hope this post helped those of you who are thinking of taking a trip… big trip, small trip, doesn’t matter… The point is, I hope this very practical “revelation” has encouraged you to go for it… because now you’ll know it doesn’t really take a fortune to be able to do something like this. If you have some money saved up, even if it’s not as much as what I started with… maybe you can take off just for a few months and see where it takes you.

Just remember… that travel is never a matter of money, but of courage. So be brave, little one. There’s a big and beautiful world out there. Go out and explore. :)