You don't need to be rich in order to travel around the world.
I'm not just saying that because it sounds good. Seriously. We're living proof that travel doesn't need to come with an eye-watering price tag.
We're about to answer the question people keep asking:
"How do you afford to travel long-term?"
In this article, we're going to share all the ways we keep our costs low so that we can afford to travel longer. If you take this advice to heart and put the effort in, you too, will be able to afford to travel as long and far as you'd wish. Well, within reason...
Tip: Be sure to also check out our article on How to Save Money For Long Term Travel.
1. Choose affordable countries
A budget of $5,000 will mean very different things depending on where in the world you plan to travel. In Western Europe, for instance, it might get you 1 month, where in South America you could spend 3 months traveling. And if you bring that amount to India, you could stretch it out to 5 months. If your goal is to travel longer, choose countries where your money will last longer. Simple.
2. If you choose expensive countries, PLAN it out
Take Tip #1 to heart, but don't let it crush your dreams. If you're daydreaming about the Maldives or trekking in Patagonia, don't let a small budget stop you.
We typically choose countries where we can travel for less than $70 per day between the two of us because we know we can travel longer. (Plus, many of the places we're interested in just happen to be inexpensive to travel.)
But sometimes we break this little unwritten "rule".
We have traveled to some infamously expensive places, and we're so glad we didn't rule them out because of money.
The thing is you'll need to do a lot more planning than you would if you're visiting a less expensive country. Think about how you'll save money: Will you be able to cook? What is the cheapest mode of transportation? And think outside of the box when it comes to accommodation. (See Tip #11).
And do your research: Try Googling "How to travel ______ on a budget". You'll be surprised by how much information that simple phrase can churn out in the world of the Internet.
For some budget-minded wanderlust inspiration, find out how we traveled in these notoriously expensive places without breaking the bank:
- Galápagos: How to Travel the Galápagos on a Budget
- Iceland: Money-Saving Tips for Traveling Iceland on a Budget
- Japan: Travel Budget for One Week in Japan
3. It's all about timing
If you do choose a more expensive country, thinking about the time of year you’ll be visiting can really affect your budget. Croatia in July will be packed with tourists and you’ll be paying top dollar because it’s peak season (we made that mistake). But in October, you’ll still have nice weather and cheaper prices. If there’s a more expensive country you really want to visit, try traveling during low or shoulder season for the best deals.
4. Create a budget
This step is ESSENTIAL if you have a limited amount of money to travel with. Without creating a budget, you'll have no idea how far your money will take you, and you'll be prone to overspending.
We are sharing exactly how we create a travel budget:
It's simple and can be used whether you're setting off on a 2-week Hawaiian vacation or a year-long, round-the-world journey! You're welcome.
5. Keep track of all your expenses (yes, ALL of them!)
We track every single thing we spend money on while traveling.
And when we say "everything", we mean everything: accommodation, food, transportation, tours, entrance fees, beers, and yes, even that woven bracelet we bought from a small child that was too cute to resist.
It may sound extreme, but it is the best way to stay on top of a tight budget, and after a while it becomes a habit.
There's an app for that: We’re big fans of Trail Wallet because it allows you to categorize expenses and it calculates different currencies seamlessly. Plus, you can see exactly where your money is going and you can adjust your spending accordingly.
There was one month we realized just how much money we were spending on ice cream, and let’s just say that we tried to cut down on that habit a bit…
6. Get the Holy Grail of debit cards
Never pay an ATM fee again. That's right, NO ATM fees anywhere in the world! We are seriously obsessed with this card, so get ready for our ravings...
The Charles Schwab High Yield Investors Checking Account debit card is a must for any serious traveler because it's free to set up, there are no annual fees, and they reimburse any and ALL ATM fees at the end of each month.
Whenever we enter a new country, we take out the local currency at an ATM. We've found this to be more reliable than currency exchangers (some can really rip you off!), and more convenient than bringing currency from home. Some months we've been reimbursed as much as $50, and to date this card has seriously saved us hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars.
Tip: Be sure to take a picture of each ATM receipt so you have a record of the amount that your should be reimbursed.
The other card we use: Not only do you get 40,000 bonus miles (equal to $400) after you spend $3,000 with the Capital One Venture Credit Card within the first 3 months, but you get 2% cash back on every purchase as well. With your points, you can literally erase your trip costs on your account. There are no foreign transaction fees so we use the card everywhere. It's the easiest and fastest way to get kickbacks for your travel expenses.
7. Set up a travel checking account
Many banks will let you set up a travel checking account in addition to your other accounts. There are several benefits to having an account specific to travel. One is that you can manage your budget easily. Let's say you want to limit your spending to $2,000 USD per month. You can transfer this amount from your other account at the beginning of the month and you won't be able to recklessly spend beyond your budget.
Another benefit to having a separate travel account is that if you lose your debit card, a thief will only have access to the money that's in this account – not your entire savings.
8. Cook whenever possible
In Europe and South America, we typically stayed at places with kitchens and were able to cook many of our meals, which saved us tons of money.
In our 5 months traveling Asia, however, we never once had access to a kitchen (except for when we took cooking classes, of course!). And it was fine because food there – especially the local stuff – is so cheap that cooking wouldn’t have been any less expensive.
9. Choose your splurges wisely
If you’re traveling for a long time, you can’t do it all. You need to choose what experiences are important to you, and you'll also need to get comfortable passing on some things.
Splurging on once-in-a-lifetime experiences (like taking a hot air balloon ride in Turkey!) is part of traveling. You'll regret it if you don't. But choose your splurges wisely and know when to pass. Your budget will balance itself out. Trust us... we know about splurging all too well. We're obsessed with eating (everything!), we usually spend a little more money on comfortable accommodation, and we can’t resist adventure sports.
But we cut costs in other ways and pass on things that we know we know we won't regret.
10. Spend your money locally
This means shopping at local famers markets – and not just the touristy ones (ya know, the ones that have more souvenirs than food). Get out of the hotel and entertainment districts and shop where locals shop for food.
Go with locally owned tour shops instead of big companies. Choose guesthouses over Marriotts. Sometimes, local companies are cheaper, but even when they're not, you'll know your money is supporting the community rather than a big corporation.
Even though we try to stick to a strict budget, we always aim to travel ethically. We're not perfect, but we believe that a few extra dollars spent on a a hard-working family or a company that is doing good in the world is well worth it. Read more about how you can do your part to travel sustainably and ethically.
11. Sleep cheap
Accommodation adds up quickly and can often be the biggest expense while traveling, but there are ways to cut this cost significantly. Accommodation does not have to be expensive!
Just to give you an idea, during our year of round the world travel, the most expensive place we stayed was $55 per night for the both of us (in Lake Bled, Slovenia).
And believe us - we were not slumming it during our travels. We stayed in some pretty fantastic places, and the sites below are how we got got ahhh-mazing deals:
Before you get all judgey when you hear the word "hostel", keep reading...
Hostels are almost always cheaper than traditional hotels, and contrary to popular belief, they are not just dorms! There are almost always private rooms that are quite affordable. Plus, many hostels have kitchens you can use, free breakfast, affordable tour options and local advice. And they typically have a common space where you can meet other travelers and exchange stories and travel information.
If you're like us and enjoy meeting new people, we think you'll prefer hostels to hotels, where you won't easily mingle with other travelers. We actually seek out hostels for their fun and friendly atmosphere. Some of our favorite travel memories are pool parties, drinking games, hikes, games of ping pong and deep conversations we've had at common spaces in hostels.
In Europe and the US, we love AirBnB because we we're able to stay in a more “local” area and have access to kitchens so we can save money on food.
Try out AirBnB. If you’re new, sign up here and you’ll get $35 off your first stay! Yes, seriously – no gimmicks!
If you are traveling in Asia, Agoda is hands-down the best place to find cheap accommodation. This site is easy to use and has a great review system, so you'll easily get a feel for how nice each hotel is. And the deals are unbeatable.
Another option to try is Couchsurfing. It's completely free and you're able to stay with a local which can lead to some unforgettable experiences that you wouldn't be able to have in a hotel. And who knows, maybe you'll make a new friend!
But be warned, Couchsurfing should not be thought of as just a "free crashpad". Hosts may have expectations about spending time together, and some won't want guests in their homes when they're away at work. If you're not feeling all that social, or want the freedom to come and go as you please, Couchsurfing may not be for you. But if you want to connect with likeminded people and explore the place you're seeing through the eyes of a local, Couchsurfing may just be the best part of your travels.
Just Show Up
This is an option that can have a high reward, but there's a bit of risk involved. You can wander around town and find an area you like, and walk into whatever accommodation appears nice. It gives you flexibility and sometimes guesthouse owners, happy to fill any unoccupied rooms, will give you a great deal if you show up on the day you'd like to stay.
But in other cases, your transportation may drop you off in the afternoon heat, and wandering around aimlessly is the last thing you want to do. Plus, you always run the risk of most places being booked up. Walking around with all your luggage can make you a target for anyone looking to take advantage of a weary traveler (see #16). And without looking at reviews, you may not have any idea of the hotel's cleanliness and we'll tell you from experience that bed bugs are NOT something you want to deal with while traveling.
Depending on where you are in the world, camping can be a great way to save money on accommodation (and it'll add to the adventure!). Be sure to really research the laws in your country when it comes to where and when you can pitch a tent, and invest in quality gear. There's nothing worse than waking up to a soaked tent and sleeping bag.
One potential downside of this option is that you'll have pack your accommodation with you. You'll have to find the balance between minimizing your load, while still being prepared.
12. Travel slowly
If you only have 2 weeks, it makes sense to bounce around quickly. You'll want to see as much as you can in the time you’ve got. But if you’re traveling for an extended period of time, you’ll need (and want!) to slow down. Traveling for a longer period of time can be much cheaper per day than a short trip. Bus rides are cheaper than flights and agreeing to stay somewhere for a week might land you a great deal.
13. Stay a while
And while we're on the topic of traveling slowly... Volunteering on your travels is a great way to delve into a community, make a positive difference and get free (or very inexpensive) room and board.
Caution: Whenever talking about volunteering abroad though, we caution people to really do their research. Voluntourism is a growing industry and there are many programs that are actually detrimental to the communities in which volunteers work. Many of these programs also require a hefty fee, so they are by no means a cheap alternative to travel. There are great organizations out there, so don’t let this warning scare you away!
Whenever possible, try to split with others. Taxi fares are cut in half and group tours prices can be significantly reduced; plus, you’ll get the chance to make new friends!
Oh, and Ben and I split a lot. Typically we get two meals, but if we want a smoothie or a dessert, we’ll only order one. When you’re trying to save money (and you’re part of a couple), it just doesn’t make sense to ALWAYS get two $4 ice cream cones. At least, this is what I try to convince myself...
15. Drink from the tap
Water isn’t something you really think about when you’re packing for long term travel or figuring out a budget, but it should be on your radar.
If you're planning to visit countries in Central and South America, Africa or Asia, a Steripen should be on your list of must-get travel gear! In many regions of the world, you can’t drink from the tap, and buying plastic bottles of water is not only wasteful, it can be very expensive (especially if you are hydrating properly!).
Being the Excel-loving nerd he is, Ben calculated how much money we saved in our 3-month trip to South America and it was surprising! We saved over $200 in 3 months, on water alone!
16. Avoid being scammed
While we are big believers that there is more good in the world than bad, there are unsavory characters in every city and country. When you're traveling, you are in unfamiliar territory which can make you a bigger target for people trying to scam you.
A couple pieces of advice are to Google "common scams in _____" before visiting a new place. Each country has scams of their own, and once you're aware of them, you'll be less likely to fall victim.
And as a general rule of thumb, the most common places to be scammed are before, during and after transportation. (For example, the time between landing at the airport and getting to your hotel.) This is when you are carrying all your luggage, tired from traveling and in a totally new place.
One of the more common ways of being scammed is that taxi (or tuk tuk/rickshaw/etc.) drivers will charge an inflated rate to people who are clearly tourists.
How to avoid this:
- Before arriving in a new city or country, do a bit of research to see what you should expect to pay for the ride to your accommodation. A quick Google search usually does the trick. Sometimes transportation from the airport is a bit more expensive, but you'll at least know when someone is trying to totally rip you off.
- Many countries do not use meters in taxis. If this is the case, ALWAYS ask how much your ride will cost. If you don't do this, they can charge whatever they'd like when you arrive at your destination. If the price quoted is far higher than what you have found in your research, walk away. Often times, the driver will lower the price and you can barter respectfully. If not, move on to another driver.
The Bottom Line: We don't want to scare you or insinuate that you shouldn't trust anyone when traveling, but it is always good to be prepared. There are scams all over your home country too, but since you're a local, you're less likely to be fooled. Just do a bit of research and be aware of your surroundings. Act confident (even if you're not), and trust your gut. If something feels sketchy, it probably is.
17. Make money on the road
There are lots of ways to earn a little cash online (or a lotta cash – depending on how much time you can dedicate).
We love Upwork, but there are quite a few sites out there that connect freelancers with clients looking for all types of help on their business. Try Peek, where you can earn money by giving your honest feedback on websites. You could even start your own blog. (We make some money on this website, but that’s a story for another time!)
But don’t be fooled – earning money while traveling isn’t easy. You need to have access to reliable Internet, which can be difficult in some parts of the world. If you are working with clients in your home country, you might need to think about working in different time zones to meet deadlines. And sometimes, you’re going to have to forgo fun things in order to get work done. Trust us, it’s not easy saying no to a daiquiri on the beach in order to meet a deadline.
18. Teach English Overseas
By now, you're probably sick of hearing this one. But we can't stress enough how great an opportunity teaching English in South Korea was for us. It allowed us to live in another country and really delve into the culture while making (a lot of!) money.
We've gone over exactly how much money you can plan to make in one year teaching English in South Korea, so we won't say much more on the topic other than DO IT if it is remotely interesting to you.
19. Don’t forget this...
Travel insurance is something you just can’t risk going without. We’ve met a handful of people who have had unfortunate accidents on the road and have had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals. That type of evacuation ain’t cheap, and it most certainly will add a couple zeros to the end of your budget. Don’t risk it.
Travel insurance isn't as expensive as you'd think and it will cover these emergencies (even though you hope you never have to use your coverage!). Some policies even cover valuables stolen on the road or delayed flights.
We have an entire article devoted to helping you choose the right travel insurance policy for you! There aren't any excuses anymore.
And one more piece of advice before we go...
Know your limit
We met plenty of people on the road that claimed they'd continue their travels until "they ran out of money". It might sound like a romantic idea at first thought... but it's not so appealing when they have to call Mom and Dad and ask to borrow money to buy a last-minute flight because there's not enough in their account to get home.
We highly recommend that you have an amount of money in mind that is your limit, and you never ever let your bank account dip below this number. This applies to long-term travelers in particular.
This isn't meant to sound preachy, but it will be so much more reassuring to come home not completely broke. Even while traveling for a long period of time, we always have a "reserve" that can be used to purchase a flight and pay for a couple month's worth of rent and food.
Our advice: Figure out how much money you're comfortable living on for two months (plus the cost of a flight) and use that number as your limit.