The most common remark I heard when I told others of my plans to travel was “Wow, I could never do that.” Aside from family obligations and lack of vacation time, the reason I heard most often for this is “I don’t have the money.”
I haven’t always had a response to that statement. In fact, when I first started reading travel blogs and learning that people were doing this full-time, my first question was “How on Earth are they paying for this?!”
I’ve learned a lot since then about how to finance long-term travel and found ways to make this lifestyle work for myself financially. Of the methods I talk about below, I’m financing my travels with a combination of savings, starting my own business, and travel hacking.
While sacrificing your life savings for the love of travel certainly isn’t for everyone (and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone), there are many ways to make long-term travel work if you’re committed to the wanderlust cause.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for financing travel. The options available to you will vary with your trade, financial history, skills, ability to be a self-starter, and so much more. None of the paths below are easy, and none of them will make you rich, but if you’re truly dedicated to trying out long-term travel, the following methods could be a fantastic starting point.
Save, Save, Save!
This is probably the most obvious option and the one that seems the most overwhelming. However, if you are working full-time, making a decent income, and open to cutting your monthly expenses, traveling on savings may be an option for you.
Start by thinking about how long you’d like to travel and what your personal travel style is. Do you like to stay in resorts and nice hotels, or are you comfortable with hostels and guesthouses? How many countries do you plan to travel to? Will you stay in one region or are you looking at a RTW trip?
Using all of this information, begin to budget out what you anticipate spending on your trip, factoring in food and entertainment costs. You should arrive at a (scary) figure that will become your savings goal.
Now look at your current monthly income and expenses. What can you afford to cut from your expenses? Do you really need cable or can you make do with Netflix? Do you really need that gym membership or can you go running and do at-home resistance exercises instead?
Once you figure out what you can cut, look at what you can reasonably set aside each month. Then, divide your total savings goal by this amount to see how long it would take you to save up. Does this savings goal seem reasonable to you? If so, traveling on savings may be an option for you.
More and more companies are becoming open to letting employees work remotely. In fact, some start-ups are now entirely remote. Of course, all careers don’t allow this (sorry to my cop and firefighter friends!), but if your job can be done via laptop remotely, consider asking your boss if this may be an option in the future.
While it might be a stretch to work remotely indefinitely, you may be able to get your employer to agree to a split year (six months in the office, six months remote), or another arrangement that suits you both.
You never know until you ask!
Start Your Own Business
This route can call for some very specific skills, but many people are able to create an online business and work remotely 365 days a year.
Are you skilled in graphic design? Web development? Photography? Marketing? Copywriting? Editing? Game development? If so, the door is open for you to create an online business, selling your time and skills to others.
With tools like Skype, Basecamp, Asana, and more, there’s hardly a need to meet with clients in person anymore. Start with a well-designed website, strong resume and clear list of services. Then, begin to build your client base through word-of-mouth, networking, and online advertising.
The benefits to this are that you are in control of your own hours – you can work as much or as little as you’d like based on your cash flow – plus you can continue to develop your skills and keep your resume polished while traveling. This looks better for future employment when you finally chose to settle down.
Work Your Way From Place to Place
This one is a favorite of college students and gap year travelers. Many countries (like Australia) will issue you a temporary work visa, which you can use to work legally for a few months as you travel. This allows you to make enough money to cover your food and other daily expenses as you explore a new place.
Another option is to use any specialized skills in exchange for small amounts of cash at hostels. For example:
If you have any cosmetology training, you can charge for haircuts. Most travelers haven’t had them in a while!
If you’re a certified yoga instructor, many hostels will let you hold yoga classes for travelers.
If you’ve bartended or served food before, you can work the hostel bar.
A lot of travelers don’t want to waste time in a new city doing laundry. Offer to take clothes to the laundromat for fellow travelers, in exchange for a small fee.
If you’re very familiar with the area you’re staying in, you can lead walking tours for fellow travelers, in exchange for a small fee. (Check local laws before attempting this one – some regions require you to be a certified tour guide).
If your hostel has a terrible website, or advertises using grainy, low-res photos, offer to provide them with pro-quality photos or a website redesign in exchange for accommodations/cash.
Similarly, if you’re fluent in other languages, offer to provide clean translations for signs/websites in exchange for cash. Hostels and restaurants that receive frequent foreign visitors are often receptive to this.
I could write an entire post on this (and I probably will, soon enough!), but there are so many ways to receive free flights and accommodations all over the world.
The most popular of these methods is to apply for multiple credit cards which give you loads of bonus airline miles / free hotel nights for signing up. (Important note: Only attempt this if you have good credit! Your credit score takes a small, temporary hit every time you apply for a credit card). You can then use these miles to fund your travels.
You can also use your miles to book flights with “stopovers,” meaning you can travel to two destinations using only the miles you would spend to get to one.
A quick Google Search for “travel hacking” can give you far more in-depth information, but if you’re willing to apply for some credit cards, and you’re willing to put some elbow grease into the research behind it, you can significantly reduce your travel expenses through travel hacking.
I’m hesitant to recommend this one to most people (I’m anti-consumer debt, as a general rule), but it’s an option nonetheless.
All I know is my grandmother is 70-something years old and I still hear stories about how she took out a loan at the bank when she was 25 and traveled through Europe for six months. She paid the loan back upon her return to the States, and still claims to this day that it was the single best choice she’s made in her life.
Think about it this way: We’re willing to go into debt up the rear for student loans to further our enlightenment and provide us with knowledge that will guide us through our careers. Is going into debt for travel really much different?
If you don’t want to take out a loan, charging your travel expenses to a 0% interest credit card is also an option. However, keep in mind that you’ll miss out on some of the fantastic mileage and cash back benefits that credit cards with higher interest rates provide. (i.e. No travel hacking for you!)
Which option would you be most likely to consider? Let me know in the comments below!