You don’t have to be rich to travel the world, in many ways having money kills the fun. I had my best adventures when I was broke. So how can you afford to travel? what’s the secret?
- First things first, work your butt off and save like mad.
- Don’t party, buy ‘stuff’ or dine out.
- Be frugal and use hostels and homestays
- Choose the cheapest transport.
- Work or volunteer to stretch things out
- Play the tax system
And before you ask, no I didn’t inherit anything, win the lottery, or tap relatives. I’m an ordinary working-class guy who had a dream and went for it.
That was 30+ years ago and I figure that I must’ve spent about a third of my working life traveling abroad.
In this article, I will tell you how I managed to travel with next to nothing in the days before the internet was even a ‘thing’ and contrast it with how I can afford to travel now.
I’ll also outline the common ways other people get by. Is being a digital nomad all it’s cracked up to be for instance?
Let’s find out.
Work Hard, Save Like Mad, and You Can Afford to Travel
I remember coming back from backpacking through East Africa in the 80’s, and arriving home with next to nothing. I’d spent it all.
What was I to do? I bought the cheapest tent. Pitched up in a campsite, and bought a 2nd hand bike. I had only £75 in the world and I cycled around all the local plant nurseries until I found a summer job.
In six months I was back in Africa.
This is extreme but the point is, it can be done. If you have the will, you can make things happen.
It’s all very well dreaming but in the end, it comes down to earning cold hard cash and that means working your butt off.
Let’s use the word ‘sacrifice’. What are you willing to give up in order to gain something else?
More nights in, no dining out, or going out drinking. You’ll have to cut down on your cappuccinos, and take a packed lunch to work. And do you really need a car? What about overtime? Can you work 6 days a week? what about 7? These are the decisions you’ll have to make.
I did all that at the beginning. I’m better off now but I’m still frugal. I don’t throw cash around buying ‘toys’. These days I live on my boat in the summer and that gives me a base to come back to, and that’s enough for me.
How to Save Money So You Can Afford to Travel
It’s all very well having a job but the cost of living these days is insane. Saving money can be very hard, I’m not underplaying the scale of the task. It’s harder now if you are broke than it was when I got started. But here are a few ideas to consider.
Save Money on Accommodation
For most people, a supportive family is an obvious solution to an immediate need. Can you kip in a spare room? What about friends, can anyone put you up? I understand if this isn’t viable, it wasn’t for me, but boy does it help if you have a strong network.
Further Reading: Paradise on a Budget, It’s Amazing (Go While It’s Still Affordable)
I spent a few summers living out of a campervan. That solved the problem for a while. This is fine if you are young and it’s only a means to an end. It saves you a ton of cash. That said, it’s not without drawbacks.
For the most part, living in your motorhome is frowned upon socially. There is a stereotype associated with ‘travelers’ that is hard to overcome. It’s not fair and it shouldn’t matter but somehow it does.
And there’s the practical side. What about your mail? You must have a postal address to do anything these days. What about a toilet, washing, and laundry? There are issues to consider.
Ideally, you need to find a site or premises that will allow you to park up long term. Parking along the side of a road is not fun. Ask around. Someone might be happy for you to park up and be extra security for them. Or how about renting a driveway from someone who needs some extra cash?
For many years I lived in a youth hostel. Sometimes I worked in-house, at other times I used it as cheap digs. I had a few good years renting a place from friends. I was lucky, they had a property free just when I needed it. I could rent on the cheap. That couldn’t last forever so when it stopped I bought the boat.
A boat is like a floating motorhome but without the stigma attached. Having a boat is seen as Bohemian. It’s perfectly acceptable. I can describe myself as a wildlife artist who travels and lives on a boat. It sounds so romantic. I should cheer up a bit really!
This is my compromise for living cheaply these days, it’s how I can afford to travel so often. If you are a couple saving up for anything, it’s a great way of saving a ton of cash.
Most marinas offer cheap moorings and all the facilities you need and that suits me fine.
Save Money on Entertainment
Be warned, hard-core saving means that your social life will take a hit. Unless your wages are very good, entertainment is the first thing to go.
You’ll have to cut down on boozy nights out, restaurants are a no-no, and so is your morning Starbucks? Save hard and stay in.
Cook for yourself and have friends around. Don’t buy your lunch, make it. Take a flask to work. Why not? It all adds up. A latte costs about £2.50 ($3.00) where I live. Times that by 7 = £17.50 ($22) per week. That’s the budget for a whole day in most of Asia, food, lodging, and money enough to rent a scooter for the day.
Save Money on Transport
I made the biggest saving recently by ditching my car. Well actually it ditched me.
My old rust-bucket finally gave up and I had to scrap it. Instead of looking for a new one, I bought a new pushbike with a trailer. I saved a fortune. Still do.
Do I miss it? I must admit I do occasionally, but I can always rent a car now and then. And cycling is good for me. It’s amazing how quickly you get cycling fit again. And the added bonus about being car-free is wagging my sanctimonious finger at passing polluters!
If you need wheels for work, have you considered downsizing to a scooter? Or an e-bike?
Being car-less also means I take trains and buses more now than I ever did in the past. It’s not convenient and not always that cheap, but savings are there if you plan ahead or buy saver tickets.
Life on the Road, the Affordable Way
Saving up money to go traveling might be an endurance test but when you arrive in a developing country all that sacrifice makes sense.
Much of this world is still incredibly cheap. Your money goes a long, long way.
Further Reading: What’s It Like to Travel Solo? (Isn’t It Lonely to Travel Alone?)
If you couldn’t afford to eat out at home, now there’s no reason to eat in. Public transport costs very little and accommodation is a bargain. Honestly, anyone can afford to travel in Asia. The major cost is the initial flight.
Spend Your Travel Money Wisely and Be Frugal
The way to make your money stretch is to be selective and keep within an approximate budget.
Look for Popular Homestays to Save Money
Accommodation is cheaper than you’d ever guess. In Asia the competition for your trade is fierce and bargains abound. There has never been so much choice. You’re not confined to noisy dormitories, especially now that Airbnb is an option.
There are some more expensive cities where you’ll have to take a dorm bed, Singapore is a prime example, but a night or two in transit is not such a bad thing.
Top Tip: Always have earplugs for dorms and eye masks help too.
I often hear people talk about dorms as a place to meet people but that is often overstated. In my experience, backpackers are a closed bunch. Couples keep to themselves and single people hide behind laptops and smartphones.
Dorms are as social as you are prepared to be yourself. If you are willing to say hello to people, they can be sociable. If not, they can be lonely.
One of the recent developments gaining popularity all over Asia is the Capsule Hotel/Hostel. They are dorms on steroids. Each bunk is a self-contained private unit. They have lights, power points, and even storage. They are the perfect compromise for the budget-conscious traveler who prefers their own space.
Outside of the big cities, homestays and guest houses are what makes traveling so special. They are usually very friendly, family-run, and super safe. Some of your fondest memories will be staying in these hidden gems.
Of course, the choices open to you will vary from place to place and from country to country.
I couldn’t afford to travel in Africa without a tent. If I didn’t take one, I wouldn’t be able to stay in so many parks. Africa is not geared up for backpackers on the whole, and even in South Africa, the parks are too pricey without camping.
Further Reading: Best Wildlife Watching in Asia (10 Great National Parks)
One last option worth mentioning and very popular with some people is Couch Surfing. You can’t get cheaper than free. You can travel all over the world and stay with local people. I’ve never done it myself but some people love it.
Use Local Transport to Save Money
Why pay extra to have a dodgy tour firm pick you up at your hotel/guest house and transport you in a minibus with other ‘independent’ travelers when there is a local share-taxi or bus station down the road?
The mistake I see many travelers make is choosing tourist transportation over the local alternatives. When it comes to convenience, you pay a premium.
It’s easier now than it used to be. Online booking and Uber have cut out most of the sharks. There was a time when transport was a battle and being cheated was the norm. Not now. The power has shifted in our favor. Happy days.
And you know what? no one wants to hear about your tour bus trip. Get on a local bus and see some life. Sometimes, things will happen and you’ll have a story to tell.
I remember getting on a local bus once and seeing the comfy tourist coach speed by and wondering if the chicken bus, I was on, was such a great idea. Then suddenly all hell broke loose.
I turned and saw people scrambling over their seats, some were screaming, while others were in fits of laughter. There was a snake on the loose!
I sat back knowing that I’d definitely made the right decision.
Save Money Finding Cheap Flights
If you’re like me, you have a vague idea about where and when you want to fly but nothing concrete.
It’s good to be indecisive and flexible but there are drawbacks. Flights are cheaper if you book well in advance. So much for spontaneity.
It really helps if you have a clear destination in mind. I’m usually flying to somewhere in Asia.
Most of my trips are in winter. I leave the UK in November and return again in April. The choice of cheap flights is best in October and as Christmas gets closer the prices go up.
I can usually find cheap deals up until Nov 30th, after that there is usually a steep jump in airfares.
There was a time when I would simply buy the cheapest tickets I could find, but those days are all but over. Now I consider the added transport costs of getting to and from the airport and the departure and arrival times. I don’t want early starts and late arrivals.
My preference is for a direct flight. I look for promos and offers and sometimes I get lucky. Then I look for short layovers on a direct route. A couple of hours to stretch your legs is the perfect transit time. Lastly, I look for long layovers with the possibility of breaking the journey for some sleep.
My Search Method for Finding Cheap Flights
Firstly, I look at the comparison sites,
Then I check the airlines directly to see what they are offering. If I see some good deals I note them down.
Next I check out some well-known high street (UK) travel agents.
Now I’ve got a good idea of the options open to me I visit the agents and ask them to beat the deals I’ve found. I get quotes from each one and if one quote stands out, I will ask the other two agents to beat it.
It all takes time and effort, but it pays off.
Flight Clubs and Onward Tickets
A fairly new development has been the emergence of flight clubs. They are sites that crawl the web for amazing flight deals. You sign up for their newsletters and they send you the latest bargains on offer.
Free membership gets you a few deals and paid subscribers get the rest. Some offers are crazy cheap but the departure points are often in the back of beyond. I’m on the fence about them. I haven’t paid for a membership but they might suit you.
Check these companies out.
Another fairly new option has been the emergence of onward ticket sites.
For a small fee, they will issue you with a legitimate onward or return-ticket booking which cancels after 48hrs. It allows travelers to enter a country demanding proof of an onward journey. Very useful if you are hopping around.
Try these sites:
Expedia.com also has a 24-hour refund policy which allows you to book a flight, cross the border and get your money back.
Another way to achieve the same result is to book a sacrificial bus or ferry ride out of the country. A search online for bus companies is easy enough. I found a $10 ferry crossing from Indonesia to Singapore to use as proof of an onward ticket.
I’ve done the same thing with real flights offered on promo deals. I’ve booked AirAsia.com flights for $20 and never used them.
Some people fake their tickets but for the sake of $10, it’s not worth the risk.
Budget airlines have sprung up everywhere, especially in Asia. They are so ubiquitous that they are often the first choice of travel. Cheap flights have undoubtedly opened up formally remote areas and whether that’s a plus point or a minus is debatable.
If you can fly with just hand luggage, you can travel far and wide for peanuts. But you do lose something.
Where’s the adventure?
There’s something to said for taking an overnight train isn’t there? If you just got on a plane you’d miss all the fun.
Besides, it’s better for the planet. I am trying to cut down on my flights now. I took my first overnight bus in years recently and it wasn’t so bad.
Working and Volunteering Abroad Can Make Your Travel Very Affordable
Inevitably your cash will run low at some point. Do you go home or find some work?
Some Work Options
One of the most popular ways to get some well paid work is to Teach English. If you have the qualifications you can earn serious money.
I often meet people teaching English in Asia. Korea seems to be at the top of the list at present and China is popular too. If teaching is for you then taking a TEFL course will pay for itself in no time.
These online teaching sites may interest you but there are many more:
- English First (English speaking graduates)
- VIPkid (North American graduates)
- Cambly (Native speakers non-graduates)
I’ve never wanted to teach English myself, I can barely speak it, but I have made money using my own skills.
I’m lucky enough to be able to draw and it’s a portable skill. I’ve traveled through New Zealand for free with the money I made. I spent very little in Oz and paid for a big chunk of my trip in East Africa.
Further Reading: How to Sell Your Drawings (All You Need to Know)
My best money-earner was drawing the guesthouses and hostels as I went along. I would trade my pictures with the owners or sell them to other guests. Easy.
I also got a lot of commissions from the hostel owners friends.
I remember a time when I hitched a ride with some backpackers in Australia. We were talking about people we’ve met earning money as they travel. They mentioned a guy, they’d heard about, who went around Oz drawing hostels. They were talking about me! I was as proud as Punch.
Many young people apply for work visas for Australia and New Zealand, that’s been a standard option for decades. I went on a 6-month tourist visa and worked cash in hand.
Now the dream of many travelers is becoming a digital nomad. On the surface, it has got a lot going for it. Potentially it allows you to hole up anywhere and earn money while you sleep.
Well that doesn’t happen overnight I can tell you. Boy does it take work. If you think blogging is passive income, think again. And you can’t go off the beaten track. If there is no connection you’re stuffed. I’d say unless you are dedicated to the idea, don’t bother.
Volunteering is a practical way of extending your trip, save money, and meet great people.
The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization is one of the best. You volunteer your labor on a farm in return for food and lodging. Many people have a great time seeing life in a totally different way all over the world. All for free.
Workaway is similar but covers a wide range of volunteering programs. You donate 5 hours a day in return for food and lodging.
Helpstay is another one to check out. They claim to vet their hosts before accepting projects. They offer a mix of opportunities some free and some low cost.
Play the Tax System to Offset Traveling Costs – My Trump Card!
You won’t find this tip in many round-up lists about cheap travel but as the world changes and working online becomes common it will become more relevant.
I am self-employed. I make wildlife art and my purpose for traveling is to find and photograph wild animals with a view to making printable illustrations. That means I have expenses.
I keep all my receipts and offset the costs of my trip.
My trips are tax-deductible!
That’s right. I claim for accommodation, park and guide fees, food, and travel. That’s almost everything.
As most of each trip is taken up with all things wildlife I can offset the majority of my costs. So when people ask me how I can afford to travel that’s the major reason. And it’s all legit!
On paper, I make very little but that’s misleading. I choose to spend money all winter and earn money all summer. That’s how it works.
Does it solve all lifes problems? NO. If I ever wanted a loan or a mortgage the banks would laugh. That’s a drawback but I’m in the system which is a good thing, I pay some tax, I manage to bank some money and I get to travel for 4 months every year. Not so bad.
Every country has it’s own tax rules but I think you’ll find most systems will allow artists to travel and claim expenses. You should check it out.
You don’t have to be rich to travel but if money is hard to come by you must be super-focused. I’ve made traveling into a way of life. I’ve geared my life around getting away for long periods of every year.
It all sounds idyllic and I’ve many memories to show for it, but let’s be honest, I couldn’t do it if I had real responsibilities. If you haven’t got those ties and want to travel, do it now before life gets in the way and you really can’t afford to travel.
If this article has given you food for thought share it around. Why not PIN IT with the image down below.
Other articles you might enjoy are:
- How Do Wildlife Artists Make a Living? Copy This and Get Started
- Where to See Wild and Orphaned Orangutans on a Budget (step by step)
- How to Find and Photograph Wild Tigers on a Budget – Independently
- How to Plan a Wildlife Photography Trip (A Detailed Beginners Guide)
- Best Budget Camera for Wildlife Photography
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