How to Travel the World on a Budget:
My name is Josh. I'm a world traveller, and a freelance writer in my spare time. I just returned home from my second long-term trip in the last two years - this time, a 5+ month trip to South America. When I tell people this, I almost always get the same question - “But how can you afford to travel for that long?” I love it, because my answer is always the same. If you know what you're doing, saving up for a travel adventure just ain't that hard.
Money, or lack thereof, is the most common thing that stops people from following their dreams, taking the leap, and travelling the world. I can’t tell you how to travel for free - but I can tell you how to travel cheap. Whether you’re saving up for a backpack adventure, moving to a new city, or heading out as a working traveller, it pays to have some extra coin in your pocket before you leave. With the right guidance, some inspiration, and a little bit of good old fashioned self-control, your dreams aren’t that far out of reach.
In part 1 of this series, I'll show you how to travel the world on a budget, starting with the three most important money-saving tips that I use to save up prior to hitting the road on an adventure. I'll also give you three useful steps that you can use to track your progress towards the adventure of your dreams.
First, here's a picture of me, taken immediately before biking down Death Road in Bolivia.
Travel Budget Tip #1:
Create a pre-travel budget, and stick to it.
If you’re like me, you’re a born adventurer, wandering the earth with your head in the clouds. Don't let your budget bring you down.
Sure, creating a budget doesn’t seem all that difficult - but how willing are you to actually monitor your spending, and make necessary adjustments to your lifestyle? It may seem like a big step, but it’s also the first step - and after all, the first step is always the hardest. If you want to turn your dreams into an actual “been there, done that” reality, this is the place to start.
Don't forget to check out the three simple steps about how to track your progress, and take your travel budget from just-on-paper to practical. You can find them at the bottom of this article.
Travel Budget Tip #2:
Spend less on lunch and caffeine.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip, but believe me - it deserves a category of its own. Cutting back in these two areas can end up saving you the most money toward your travel budget. Lunch and caffeine are easy to overlook, because they can appear to be minor (or necessary) expenditures.
Doing the Math
I’m a Canadian, and everyone knows we love our Timmies coffee. Let's say I spend the equivalent of $2 on coffee every weekday, and $10 on lunch. Approximately 260 weekdays each year means I’ll end up spending over $3100 by the end of the year on coffee and lunches alone. I don't know about you, but I find that number staggering.
I’m hungry, so let’s talk lunch.
If you prepare the night before, it's not difficult to pack your own lunch for work or school. If you’re wondering how to travel cheap, groceries can make all the difference. Make extra food at dinner, so you have leftovers for the next day, or wake up 10 minutes earlier in the morning to make a quick lunch. If you really want to travel, you’ll do whatever it takes to save the extra $10 per day.
Like most people, I consider my daily coffee an absolute must-have.
Eliminating my caffeine intake completely would be a stretch, but I found easy ways to decrease my spending habits. It takes no more time to make your own cup of coffee in the morning than it does to stop on the way to school or work. Before you know it, you're in class or at the office (and might even have access to free coffee). Yes, I know, it might not be the fancy Starbucks drink you're used to, but ask yourself this. Would you rather drink a knock-off espresso on your drive to the office, or a real-deal, freshly made Italian espresso on a sunny patio in Rome on your next trip? To me, it’s a no-brainer, and it’s the one area where I’d say I saved the most before leaving on my trip to South America.
Travel Budget Tip #3:
Work. Work. Work.
We all know the saying, “Work hard, play hard”, right? For me, the best form of playing hard is being able to travel the world. In order to make that happen, though, you’re going to have to work your butt off at some point. For me, that meant working two jobs when I was back home living in Canada.
Having an extra source of income during the evenings or weekends can help you turn a 2-week vacation into a potentially life-changing adventure. I’m not telling you to completely eliminate your social life, but believe me, it's worth it to say no every once in a while. Instead of going out, work an extra shift at the restaurant, referee that Saturday afternoon hockey game (that was my inner Canadian speaking), or finish up that freelance project you were working on for your friend’s startup company. Once you’re an experienced traveller, you’ll find lots of creative freelance work. Once you have your foot in the door for freelance work, you can continue to perform that as a side hustle during your travels! Extra sources of income can be instrumental in adding to your travel fund, and making your dream trip a reality.
The 3 Steps to Creating a Travel Budget
As promised, here are 3 simple steps to take your travel budget from on-paper to practical:
1. Keep track of your current income and expenses for the month. By doing this, you should be able to see how much money you're currently saving - or not saving. This will help you identify where you can make some simple changes that will have a big impact on your bank account.
2. Determine which current expenses could be decreased or eliminated completely. Examples (from my own experience) might include: eating out less, cutting back on entertainment and alcohol, downgrading your mobile phone plan, etc. Making all of these changes at once can be intimidating, so consider taking one step at a time over a certain period.
3. After making changes, continue monitoring and reviewing your budget. By doing this, you’ll be able to better recognize new spending habits, and once again make any necessary corrections. You could end up saving hundreds of dollars per month to put towards your travel budget.
So there you have it - my top 3 tips for how to budget for travel, as well as 3 useful steps to tracking your budget. Of course, there are many more opportunities to save up prior to your travels, but these tried and true examples are what worked (and continue to work) best for me.
(Bonus) Travel Budget Tip #4:
Read my next article.
Once you’re done saving up, and you've booked your flight, it’s time to start thinking of how to save WHILE travelling. Stay tuned for part 2 of the series - or subscribe to the Smaller Earth Newsletter to get my next article right in your inbox.
For now, take care of yourself - and remember, adventure is out there.