I am a great traveler, as well as community journalist and photographer, and for years I dreamed of taking a year-long trip around the world. Although I love my job, my modest annual salary of $30,000 has sometimes made it difficult to fund travel.
By being intentional with my spending, I was able to pay rent and cover basic needs, as well as fun, shorter adventures. But the money I wanted to save for that big dream trip was often gobbled up by an unexpected car repair, a few dinners that added up, or sometimes purchases I didn’t even remember making.
For two years, I struggled with online budgets and tools that felt too complicated and overwhelming. So I avoided them all together. After two years, I had saved less than $1,000 more for the trip and felt a little defeated when my year-end bank statement arrived.
I realized that if I really wanted to pursue this life of travel, I needed to make some major financial changes.
It took seven years, partly because I was still traveling during that time, but I reached my goal of $21,000 to fund my airfare and spend a year on the road in 2014 and 2015. , I was a digital nomad, writing and selling articles about my experiences.
Since then, the financial strategies I learned from that time have allowed me to continue to travel all over the world. Here’s how.
I sat down and ran my digits
I chose to completely simplify my savings strategy. First, I looked at my expenses and decided that I could reasonably set aside $300 a month. I saved less during the months I had my adventures.
My apartment, car insurance, and other monthly bills weren’t optional, but I looked into what was flexible. My credit card statement was a good source of information.
I was shocked at how much I spent on food and items like books I could have borrowed from the library. Once I came to this realization, I couldn’t ignore it.
It became apparent that I was spending a lot more than I thought, often on frivolous things like $7 on drinks and snacks every time I filled up my car with gas.
With my numbers in hand, I was able to move on to the next steps.
I made small changes that added up over time
Planning meals ahead of time, setting aside a small budget for a restaurant visit every week if I was so inclined, saved me about $50 a week.
I started to eat better and was more careful about the ingredients I was buying, as I would otherwise come home from the grocery store with a bag full of items that didn’t fit together well.
Video by Jason Armesto
Even something simple like packing my lunches saved a lot too. Eliminating those $8 salads and sandwiches I bought in the past because I didn’t plan ahead helped me save at least $25 a week, which I could spend on my trip. .
Every small step has made a big difference.
I opened a bank account dedicated to my goals
I knew that one of the things that would help me achieve my goal would be to make it very easy to deposit money and very cumbersome to withdraw it. I realized that I would get less out of my travel fund if it took a lot of effort and time to do it.
So, in 2008, I opened a dedicated account for my travel fund in a bank with a local branch, where I had no other accounts. I made sure not to create an online account or attach a debit card to it. That way I would have to see a bank teller in person to get the money.
Video by Helen Zhao
All the effort to withdraw funds made me wonder if an expense was really worth it. If I were to stop and ask myself, “Do I really need this?” the answer was usually “No”.
Over time, my resolution was supported as I saw the balance increase with my fortnightly deposits.
The out of sight, out of mind strategy worked well for me. Using direct deposit meant I never had the money I planned for my trip on hand, so I was less tempted to spend it elsewhere.
I still use this strategy today for other savings goals. My travel fund is still in action.
I looked for travel options that do not exceed my budget
When I started researching my trip, I prioritized spending on special and memorable activities, and I stayed in line with my accommodation and food budget when choosing hostels and staycations. homestays with local families and finding options for simple meals in local shops and restaurants.
In doing so, I was able to explore Kenyan wildlife on a tent-camping safari, hike a famous mountain pass in New Zealand, and experience the summer solstice at Machu Picchu. I raised funds in my hometown to help send money to farmers in Las Minitas, Nicaragua to open a preschool, then spent three months with them building it.
Video by Helen Zhao
I spent a week exploring the Peruvian Amazon, volunteered as a photographer with linguists documenting rare languages in Australia and Senegal, and was invited to spend New Years with a family in Zambia. My host family and friends I made as an exchange student in Germany took me in, then later I had the chance to reconnect with them for two months.
All of these experiences and opportunities, and the people I have met along the way, have had a lasting impact on me.
I stuck with the strategies that worked for me
Over the past few years, my budget approach has allowed me to scuba dive in Honduras, visit friends in Germany, and check off my list of trips to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador. The next stages of my itinerary are Thailand and Cambodia.
There are plenty of services accessible online and easy-to-use personal budgeting apps, but I found that a more analog approach, at least to achieving this particular financial goal, worked best for my needs.
Video by Helen Zhao
I realized that there are a number of key strategies that have never failed me:
- Examine the costs associated with your goal or dream and estimate how much, at a minimum, you need to achieve your goal. It doesn’t have to be exact but realistic.
- Establish a timeline. You can save more or less, depending on how quickly you want to reach your goal.
- Consider how much you can save each salary, bearing in mind that there are always unforeseen expenses. You don’t want to aim too high and then get discouraged if you have to keep pulling back to make ends meet.
- Schedule direct deposits at work so you don’t see the money you’re saving. If this is not possible, make scheduled deposits to the account.
My travel fund has also inevitably acted as my emergency fund at times, and that’s fine. Things happen, so don’t worry if you need to dip into your funds if, say, your car’s timing belt breaks or your exhaust rusts, like mine.
It takes a lot of hard work to reach your financial goals. My best advice is that every few deposits you check your current total and then physically write it down. Seeing your balance increase will motivate you.
When you reach your goal, really take the time to enjoy the victory. Remember to revel in your well-deserved success.
Kris Dreessen is a writer, photographer, and travel enthusiast who has become adept at saving for her travels. She has visited over 35 countries and enjoys sharing her knowledge with others on how to create adventures on a budget.
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