How We Afford to Travel (& How You Can Too!)

There are a few questions we get asked over and over again:

“What’s your favorite country you’ve traveled to?”

“How do you pack everything you’ll need for a year in a backpack?”

"What do you miss most from home?"

But the most common question of all is one I can always tell is coming. The person asking's eyes narrow and they take a breath... 

"How do you afford to travel so much?"

Asking about finances is one of those taboo topics you just aren't supposed to talk about. And quite frankly, when people we didn't know well started asking questions about our personal finances, I was shocked.

I found the questions intrusive and rude. 

But recently, I stepped out of my own shoes and tried on a different perspective. Weren't these the exact same questions I had when long-term travel was just a dream of mine?

Absolutely. 100%.

It was then I decided that I wouldn't take offense to these questions, but instead see it as flattery that people consider us to be a resource. We decided that we will answer these questions graciously and honestly because that's exactly what we wanted 3 years ago and never quite found. 

We've had people assume all sorts of things, from "you must come from wealthy families," or "you can't be saving money for your future at all." Some people even assume that we eat ramen noodles and stay on strangers' couches to travel the world while spending nearly nothing. 

It's time we put the rumors to rest: none of these assumptions are true. We certainly don't come from rich families who fund our escapades, and we ARE thinking about our future and are saving accordingly. 

You might be surprised to learn that we pay student loans even while traveling. No, we haven't ever deferred them, and yes, the monthly payment is a significant amount. (We've been asked both questions before. Multiple times.)

So how exactly have we afforded to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle the last 3 years, traveling to 43 countries and counting...?

The answer to this question is three-fold, and we've created a super detailed guide that goes through each step in 3 separate articles.

1) We are good at saving money.

It's a constant learning process, but we’ve been able save quite a bit of money over the years that we use to fund our travels, save for the future and just pay for life… ya know, like eating food and buying toothpaste and stuff.

We’ve got all sorts of tips and tricks that have helped us save enough money to travel extensively and live out of our backpacks (on and off) for 3 years. We've put together all of our money-saving advice in one article and hope you can use our hacks to save up for whatever your dream may be.

Update: Teaching during the day is not the only thing you can do to make money. One super easy way Ben has recently found is to teach English in an online classroom with VIPKID. You can earn anywhere between $16-$22 per hour (plus additional incentives) practicing English elementary-age students in China. You can set your own schedule (best hours are Beijing evening time), work as many hours as you want and you don't even need to your TEFL to do it. All you really have to do is be on time, be energetic and be happy, which many of you already are. Check out it VIPKID here, it will be the easiest money you make online. 

2) We are master budgeters.

No matter if we're going on a weekend camping trip or a year-long, round-the-world adventure, we always, ALWAYS create a budget. If you don't set an expectation of how much you're going to spend, you're almost guaranteed to overspend.

Sometimes our budget is tight, and other times, we decide that we'll travel a little more luxuriously. Setting a budget doesn't mean it has to be a low budget. Heck, you could set a budget of $1,000 USD a day if you'd like. The important part is to know your limits. 

Creating a budget can actually be pretty simple and fun. Follow along as we show you exactly how we make a fail-safe travel budget.

3) We travel cheaply. 

Let’s put it this way: If you go on a 2-week vacation, you might stay in luxurious hotels with ocean views and eat at the highest acclaimed restaurants on TripAdvisor.

But we usually don't travel this way.

Since we enjoy exploring for long periods of time, we treat travel like normal life when it comes to spending. We certainly have our splurges, but on average, we actually spent less money when we were traveling than when we lived in an apartment in Minneapolis. That's right. Travel doesn't have to be expensive.

We can back that statement up with data. These are our living expenses from three different stages in our lives. (Each breakdown is for two people):

Living in Minneapolis

  • $1,010/month rent for a small one bedroom apartment
  • $500/month for groceries for two people
  • $40/month for utilities
  • $214/month for insurance for two cars and renters insurance
  • $59/month for cable on a small tube TV (basically for the Food and Travel network)
  • $30/month for coin laundry down the hall
  • $400/month for gas for two cars
  • $550/month for entertainment like movies, festivals, drinking and restaurants

Total Expenses: $2,903/month

Traveling in Southeast Asia

  • $321.52/month for hostels and hotels where we got to meet fellow travelers
  • $317.83/month for going out to eat for most meals just because it was so cheap
  • $318.73/month for buses, trains, tuk tuks and motorbikes
  • $102.93/month for flights and visa fees
  • $377.89/month for massages, tours, temples and island hopping entertainment
  • $193.26/month for numerous beers and gin & tonics and delicious adult fruity concoctions
  • $166.07/month for miscellaneous gifts, clothes and toiletries
  • $106.17/month for much needed snacks when we get hangry
  • $11.69/month for infrequent water bottle purchase

Total Expenses: $1,916.10/month

Living and Teaching in South Korea

  • $0.00/month for FREE housing through our schools
  • $312/month for groceries for two people
  • $256.00/month for utilities and phone bills
  • $170.00/month for drinking, festivals, movies and restaurants
  • $72.00/month for bus passes and taxis around town
  • $304.00/month traveling throughout Korea nearly every weekend for a year
  • $90.00/month for miscellaneous things around the apartment

Total Expenses: $1204.00/month

On our year-long travels, we spent an average of $80.76 USD per day between two people. If you’re too lazy to do the math, that’s just cents over $40 per person each day, and yes, that includes everything – from international flight to beers on the beach to travel insurance!

In this article, we've put together all the ways we travel cheaply in order to show you that it doesn't have to be expensive