Backpacking and traveling around the world – whether for a few weeks or years on end – is a fantastic experience. Unfortunately, not everyone has the funds to just pack up and leave. How can you save enough money for traveling, without having to live off scraps?
Over the course of two decades, I traveled to the same holiday destination each summer: the mesmerizing and tranquil island of Terschelling. It was my family’s go-to destination, where we would spend two or three weeks cycling the dunes and watching the sunset over the North Sea. Aside from small trips to England, France, and Belgium, I didn’t have much experience traveling. With so much of the world left to explore, I felt it was time to go out and see it all! Together with my best friend, I hatched a plan to visit Norway, traveling through 9 countries over the course of one month to get there.
Since I knew that one day I would want to hit the road to see what else is out there, I had started to save up some money. In this blog, you’ll find a few useful tips on how I managed to fund my trip and all the backpacking adventures that followed afterward! Each time I packed my backpack, I knew my next trip would be even larger in scale – and my budget had to be accommodated as such.
Here are the best tips for saving money to travel!
Table of Contents
5 Tips for Saving Money to Travel
1) Choose your destination
Though at first glance this doesn’t seem like much of a money-saving tip, it is by far the most effective way of spreading your funds. If you choose to backpack Eastern Europe rather than visiting Western Europe, you will easily be able to travel three times longer for the same amount of money. The same goes for choosing Southeast Asia over high-end destinations such as Japan or Korea, and if we get down to details, spending a week in a “cheap” tourist hub like Bali for one week equals the same expenditure as five weeks on Java or Sumatra.
You don’t have to have your whole trip mapped out yet, but it’s a good thing to have a general idea of where you want to go, to set your saving goals. Once you’ve zoomed in on a couple of potential destinations, think about what you want to do there. Hiking, for example, is often a free activity, and climbing the Eiffel Tower won’t hurt you much, but diving in the Great Barrier Reef or bungee jumping in New Zealand will cost a lot more.
2) Determine how long you want to travel
Based on which places you’d like to visit, you can decide on how long you want to travel. Of course, it’s also possible to plan the other way around: decide how long you want to be on the road, and see where you can go in that period of time!
Taking everything into account – flights and transportation included- it pays off to travel longer. If you stick to ground travel for most of your trip, the price of a weekend or a week won’t make much of a difference when looking at your average daily expenditure. If you travel for a month, half a year or even a year or longer, you’ll find your daily expenses can drop up to 75%. Two weeks in Madrid cost the same as traveling 3 to 4 weeks around Europe. Of course, that doesn’t take away the fact that the longer you travel, the more expenses you’ll have.
Together, your destination of choice and the time you decide to spend on the road will be the largest variables on your backpacking budget.
3) Keep track of your budget
Like everyone else, you have your monthly recurring expenses. The first step to take is to turn your traveling budget into one of these fixed costs. Set a recurring automatic transfer for your “travel savings” to be deposited into your savings account, so you won’t be able to spend it doing your daily groceries. Choose a fixed amount and keep a record of how much you’ve saved so far. By planning the automatic transfer on the date right after you get your salary, your travel fund will simply be “taken out of your paycheck”, and won’t be readily available to be spent on other things.
If you’re not doing so already, start keeping track of what you spent each day. Soon you’ll find you’re spending an awful lot of money on things you don’t actually really need. Money doesn’t just disappear; aside from your fixed expenses, you have (almost) complete control over your cash flow! Once you’ve made it a habit to keep track of your expenses, you can set limits to your expenses in specific categories and keep yourself from going overboard.
4) Work for your money
Perhaps you are already fully employed, working a 40-hour work-week. Maybe you’re already doing a few jobs on the side every once in a while. In that case, there’s not much for you to learn here.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have a job, or work part-time, there’s a great opportunity here for you! Go out and find yourself a nice temporary job through which you can save up some extra cash. If you are already a part-timer, ask your boss if you can pick up a few extra shifts during the week.
The internet is full of get-rich-quick schemes. Forget about those… but pay attention to those side jobs that could get you a little bit of extra cash every month. Sell stock photos and videos on stock platforms, enroll in a paid online survey program, become a mystery shopper, or start your own website. While non of these things will make you rich, they are nice activities that eventually do pay off a little.
5) Sell it. Sell everything!
Alright, no need to get desperate! If you pick up all the tips in this blog, there’ll be absolutely no need to sell anything. If you really want to get rid of your junk in the attic, or own an expensive portrait of an aunt you never liked anyway, then sure: sell it! But don’t make it the focus of your attention. Still, there are some cases in which selling everything might work out just fine…
Throughout my travels around the world, I met many fellow backpackers who were happy and homeless. At one point, I was even homeless for a while myself!
The first man I met who had given up on everything he had was an Australian 40-something traveler, who had spent the past 11 years paying every single thing he bought – from a coke can to a new washing machine – with a credit card that allowed him to collect travel points. After 11 years he had enough money to travel around the world for a year. He sold his house, his car, and left.
The second traveler I met had done the same, but without collection money. He simply took what he owned, sold his house in London, and traveled the less expensive parts of the world until he ran out of money. By the time I met him in Brașov, Romania, he had been traveling the entire world for over 10 years. When asked what his reason for breaking away was, he claimed that “living on the road is cheaper than living in London.” The man had just spent six months in the Amazonian jungles and was now planning to live in Eastern Europe for a while, close enough to hop over to London to renew his passport, but far enough to not have to deal with Western European prices.
Finally, I met a young busker once who played the banjo on the streets of Europe. The last time she had a home was two years before. She never owned anything. Never settled anywhere. She only had her banjo, a bite-sized backpack filled with all of her belongings, and a sense of adventure. Playing the banjo 2-3 nights in a row in a good busking spot would earn her enough money to buy an intercontinental flight ticket, and a week later she’d be busking in New York.
So, if you’re thinking about selling some things to travel, and to free yourself of your monotonous city-life, then don’t hold back – sell everything!
The Best Things to Save Money on
Gathering up a nice reserve for traveling the world doesn’t mean you have to live on water and bread to get there. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to take a good look at what you eat, and where you eat it. Did you just have a wonderful meal in a nice restaurant over the weekend? It must have been great, but does it still feel that way if you know that meal cost you 3-4 days worth of travel money?
Cook more, spend less. It’s an easy calculation. If you want to get into the details of home cooking: choose chicken over salmon more often, or tea over coke. Even keeping the small expenses in mind will help you save more in the long run.
This goes for work lunches as well: do you always get your food from the work cafeteria, or do you allow yourself to buy lunch every once in a while at a nice sandwich shop? Realize these aren’t things you need – they are luxuries. Don’t break your budget over a bit of extra work: visit a supermarket and buy the ingredients to prepare your own lunch; you’ll save up to 80% of your lunch budget.
Going out for dinner and/or drinks is the number one budget killer under young adults. When I was in university, my peers would often brag about the wallops of cash they’d poured into their bellies over the weekend – sometimes up to $60,- (€51,-) or more. By the end of the month, they couldn’t afford a single cup of coffee and were desperately waiting for their paycheck from the student finance program to come in. Don’t get me wrong; going out is an important part of student life, but it always flabbergasted me to see my peers could’ve easily afforded a three-month-long EuroTrip with the cash they blew on drinks during a single study year! As a student, you can save up to 90% of your budget by “just having fun” rather than taking home the crown at your local student bar.
Set a budget for going out, and stick to it. You might never remember the night you drank 10 beers, but you’ll always remember the day you spent the same amount of money on an activity-packed day in Thailand – accommodation included!
How many times a year do you buy new clothes? And how many times per year do you actually need new clothes? Aside from food and drinks, clothes are the next big thing to save money on.
The most important factor here is fashion: if the reason you keep buying new clothes is that you feel your “old” clothes aren’t very fashionable anymore, consider searching for apparel that doesn’t age as easily. Fashion trends will always flash by fast enough to keep consumerism going, but if you really want to save money, it is time to disembark that train right now.
Your budget for buying clothes should be set on a yearly basis; buying clothes should never become a monthly expense. Once you’ve run out of money, your closet will be waiting there for you – filled to the bring with combination-opportunities!
Activities and entertainment
Your wish to travel probably coincides with a longing for adventure. Luckily, there are plenty of adventures to have at home as well, while you collect your savings! Though you could potentially save quite a bit of money in this category, don’t be too strict with yourself:. You’ve chosen this path to live, and experience new things – not to gain them in one place and give them up in another.
If you wish to save money on entertainment and activities, look into your running subscriptions for magazines, streaming services, and other entertainment hubs. Do you use them to the full extent of your subscription, or could you scale them down?
When was the last time you bought something because you thought it was a bargain? Sales are intelligent marketing efforts to get you to buy the things you otherwise might not have considered buying. If you haven’t bought something before – whether you had simply never considered it, or because it was too expensive – then that probably means you didn’t actually need it. Not even at a 50% discount! Remember: the value of a product bought at a sale is not the same as the original price! A pair of 75%-discount shoes bought for $25,- is not worth $100,- in the first place. You did not you just earn yourself an extra $75,- by buying them.
At the base of wanting something lies a choice. The next time you see a nice bargain somewhere, whether it saves you $2,- or $200,-, stop to think if that “bargain” is worth several days of travel.
Monthly direct debits
Take a good look at your fixed monthly expenses. Which of these direct debits can you live without? And which ones can be reduced? You probably won’t be cancelling your rent or your mortgage anytime soon, but there might still be some saving opportunities left!
For most people, the gym subscription will come up first. So ask yourself: have you really been going to the gym? Or have you slacked off since you signed on? Most gyms have different subscription types, based on how often you want to visit on a monthly basis. Make sure you have the subscription that suits you best. A great alternative to paid sports subscriptions is to simply strap on a good pair of running shoes, and go for a run.
Gigabytes of data usage! Unlimited phone calls and messages! And at a bargain price! Nowadays, we use our smartphones every day, and we don’t even have to think about the amount of data we use anymore. This keeps us from getting worried, and it keeps the phone companies extremely happy: because who in their right mind would actually use up their almost limitless data package?
Smartphone users rarely get the reality check they need to reconsider their phone subscription. There are very few households left in the (Western) world without Wi-Fi. In fact, there are very few public places left without Wi-Fi. Hotels, restaurants, trains, gyms, shopping centers, the list goes on: there’s almost no place where you cannot get free Wi-Fi. Yet here you are, comfortably paying your provider for an excessive amount of data every month. Unless you often wander the most desolate area of the world to watch YouTube videos or use streaming services, the absolute minimum package your provider offers will be more than enough to always have internet. That’s a promise!
Control your cashflow
In the end, you control your cash flow. To really get in the saving mood, ask yourself the same two questions before every purchase, every order, and every outing: do I really need this, and how many days of travel will it cost me? If you are really dead set on traveling the world, this will be enough to help you save enough money to make your dreams come true.
More Travel Tips
- Teaching English in Thailand: The Quirky Life of a Thai Public School Teacher
- How to Save Money for Travel
- Teaching Abroad: A Step-by-Step Guide for Non-Native Speakers
- Teaching English in Thailand: Living and Working in Khlong Luang
Content creator Pim Razenberg is an experienced traveller who’s been roaming the planet for many years. After a stint in the Dutch film industry, he lived and worked in Romania, the United Kingdom and Thailand. Pim is currently working in the Netherlands, bringing creative new projects to fruition and writing a novel detailing his journeys across the world.