How I Find the Money to Travel

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 22nd, 2008

I get a lot of questions asking me how I find the money to do all this traveling. Am I rich? Do I travel for work? Am I a male gigolo? Sell drugs to little kids? Sadly, it is none of those. As I said in a previous post, desire is what motivates and keeps me going. I want to travel so I do. But there is always the practical question of money. No matter how cheap you can travel, you do need some money.

So how do I afford to travel? I work a lot. I save. I’m frugal. A lot of people have this misconception that travel is expensive, that whenever and wherever you go, you are going to spending a lot of money. In some places like Europe, that may be true. In some people’s cases, that is always true. But for most of us that isn’t true. Travel can be cheap and cheap doesn’t mean bad.

I tell my former co-workers all the time that I just travel cheap and images of awful service and rundown hotels pop into their mind. Backpacking isn’t for them and they want their comfort. I want my comfort too. I eat out and do nice things while I’m away. It’s not all 12 person dorms and instant noodle meals. So maybe frugal is a better word to use. I don’t travel cheap. I travel frugally.

When I am home, I work and I save. I don’t go out every night and am careful about how I spend my money. I make travel my monetary priority. That’s the most important part of the puzzle. Don’t waste your money. If you are always spending on something else, travel will always seem out of your reach. You need to make travel a priority too. Once it becomes important, you begin to find ways to save. Cut out the Starbucks and the fancy lunches.

Before I went away in 2006, I saved for over a year. I acted like a pauper so I could make sure I had enough money to travel. When I was on the road and ran out of money, I taught English in Bangkok.

Once you do that, you have to make sure you spend your money wisely. People, especially Americans, have this image of travel and hotels, of fancy things and shopping, and luxury. All they see is dollar signs but you can have a comfortable vacation without comfortably spending your life savings. A good alternative to hotels are local guest houses and B&Bs. They offer comfort, breakfast and laundry but with a more local feel and a lighter impact on the wallet. The owners aren’t big corporations but locals who are thrilled to be sharing their part of the world with you. Moreover, hostels, house swaps, and couchsurfing are all good ways to keep travel cheap.

Flying might be more expensive than it was in the past but there are certainly good deals out there and those flight tickets don’t have to cost a fortune. I always seem to manage to find prices that don’t kill my wallet and that’s because I look hard and just don’t jump on the first flight I find on Expedia! Find an alternative to flying if you can. Trains and buses may take longer but are a lot cheaper. Most people don’t take a trip because flight costs scare them but, if you do your homework, you’ll find a cheap deal.

Step out of your guidebook and find those little tiny local restaurants with great food and little tiny price tags. Eat where the locals eat not where Frommer’s tells you. The locals aren’t spending a fortune living in their neighborhood and you shouldn’t either. You travel to see new places not new hotels. So see the place and you’ll find that living locally and traveling differently will save you money and give you a richer travel experience.

This site is dedicated to keeping you motivated, telling tales, and showing you how to travel frugally. You don’t need a lot of money to travel- you just need to think differently. Forget packaged tours and expensive hotels and overpriced restaurants and souvenirs. You can still have a luxury vacation without a luxury price. You just need to think different and do a little work to get the deals. Booking that package on Orbitz isn’t going to save you money!

And that’s how I find the money to travel and how you can too.

comments 26 Comments

Quickroute

Totally agree! – find the touristy center plaza and veer off 5 blocks and you’ll get better food for a fraction of the money!

kristin

Or jsut tag along with you and then you don’t have to plan at all :)

Ryan K

Amen! Thanks for writing this. Next time I get “the question” I’m going to politely refer them to this blog post (and the one from a few weeks ago). I just started reading your blog and I have to say, it is quite good – keep up the good work!

I’m also a 20-something (now a grad student after a few years in the working world). I was bitten by the bug after a 8-week trip around Europe in 2004. Four years, five continents, and 35 countries later and I’m still voraciously planning trips every chance I get! Best of luck with your travels, if you are ever around Boston and want to swap travel stories over a beer let me know!

Best,
Ryan…

travelphilippines

that is so true matt. travel does not need to be expensive. it should be an enjoyable experienced.

Anna

I would add one more point – READ!
There are TONS of resources on how to do things affordably and most folks are just too lazy to look for them. And then do the backbreaking work of reading!

Melissa Hancock

Hi Melissa here I love to travel to learn about different cultures & customs and get off the beaten track. I go to all the acient ruins & historical sites, camp or stay in B&B’s, But some people don’t really want to travel they just want a relaxing holiday where they can do nothing but relax, spend money, and lay in the sun. That is the difference between Travelers & holidays. Travel on my friends x x x Melissa

Nomadic Matt

Ryan,

Actually, I’m in Boston. Shoot me an e-mail.

Angel

Glad you wrote this. People ask me this all the time and my answer is generally what you said, it’s my desire to travel and see the world more than purchasing the what-have-you-nots. I think it’s all about priority and willingness to do it.

We get this question all the time too – “How can a family of four afford to ride their bikes from Alaska to Argentina?” And I answer about the same as you – travel doesn’t have to be expensive. We camp out most of the time and cook our own meals over our tiny campstove. We ride our bikes so we don’t have to pay for transportation. It works – and it’s not all that much money.

Jason

First, great blog. I’ve enjoyed reading and learning across the entire site. Regarding flights, there is an excellent website that gives outrageously low prices for mostly European travel. I have recently purchased a ticket from Bologna, Italy to Gatwick, UK for $12 US. There were also about 10 other flights under $30 US from Florence area into the London area. Check out http://www.skyscanner.net. I have friends who have used these services, and they’ve all arrived safely : ).

Something I have recently come across is a site called http://www.CouchSurfing.com, where one can contact a member of this site (thousands in every city around the world) and request to sleep on their couch for 1-3 nights. Has anybody used this before? I’d love to say I am not skeptical as I can see myself giving away my couch if I had a permanent residence at the moment. Anyways, food for thought.

Great post Matt! You and I are kindred no-budget traveling spirits! Anyone who liked this post should pop over to Less Than a Shoestring, where I go into more explicit detail about how much a frugal traveler spends and on what. My Baring my Budget posts will show you that few expenditures are far from deprivation while traveling!

I am often asked the same question. I usually answer the question with another question. I ask “do you own a car?”.

I don’t own a car and when I am home I walk or ride a bike everywhere. I then ask how much do you spend on the car?

How much do you spend on:
- Car repayments
- Petrol/Gas
- Service and maintenance
- Insurance
- Auto Club Fees
- Accessories
- Tollway/Parking Fees

It adds up to considerable amount each year. The amount that some people spend on a car I prefer to spend on travel.

I carry our ‘hotel’ cooking gear so we can have steaks, shrimp and all the best foods in our hotel room. We save so much money by not eatting out, and that way we can get out and see more. Actually, dairy allergies started this whole process, and I have just ran with it. The airline tickets have been the big one so I find websites and books that have tips on how to fly for just about nothing.

Tom

Bologna is one of the most amazing places in Italy!

Simone Gorrindo

I’m curious — What kind of work do you do when you’re home between trips? It’s hard to find a line of work that allows you to come and go, and extremely difficult in an economy like this one.

I am one with you in the belief that traveling doesn’t necessarily be expensive. It depends on ones choice and perspective on traveling. There are now many promo fares that travelers can take advantage. Hosteling is an opportunity to spend less and meet more people. If you plan your travels well — search the net, know the place, book in advance, and save for your trip — you don’t have to spend a lot. My friends and I usually do my travel bookings on our own.

Hedy

Great post, very true.

It’s all about priorities. Great post Matt.

Jeff

Wow I must live in a different world. My normal vacation is buying some grade A hamberger and breaking out the grill. I know you probably don’t want to say, but how much do you make in a year? I assume you are single which helps keep your expenses down, but really. I get a total of 10 days vacation a year. I have to use several days between christmas and new years when my work shuts down. It’s either that or go without pay. I reciently lowered my health insurance at work so I could have a few more dollars in my check to make ends meet. This is not just me it’s pretty much everyone I know. So how do you get a job that pays enough money you can afford it and then gives you enough time off so you can go. You must have a sweet setup that way.

Carolyn

You’ve had some great tips on here Matt, but I am disappointed that you can’t give some ballpark figures on what your trips cost, or what line of work you’re in that allows you this freedom. I have no idea if I have saved enough to travel on, just because I really have no reference.

Diyosa Mercado

That is very true, Matt! I work for Orbitz and I sometimes find it expensive booking a package. Everytime I sum up the total price of my customer I would whisper to myself “Damn! Why would you go for package!”. Since I am an agent, I have to upsell! But I never do package for myself. I do the same thing you do… More money you can save, the best experience and great experience you can get.

Desiree

Agree! Amen to this post. I get annoyed when my friends tell me they want to travel but don’t have the money. Obviously you won’t have any money if you keep spending whatever you have on shopping and the movies and what nots.

jr

I work every day of my life over 10 hours a day, pay all my bills, never go out for fun to eat or buy anything but the very basic necessities, eat ramen and still dont have any money or time for travel. I don’t entirely agree with your post and I do not find it very helpful at all.

If you are American, have decent credit and are super responsible with paying your bills on time, you can really exploit the credit card offers that give bonus airline miles for getting approved or spending a certain amount. That’s what I did and I was eventually able to collect over 1,500,000 frequent flyer miles which has allowed me to fly all over the world for almost no money. When there’s a will, there’s a way!

Jina

Laura, I have looked at different credit cards that offer miles, which one do you feel offers the best deal?

Thanks, Jina

One can also use the 10 % savings technique. It literally means saving 10 % on everything: utilities, food, entertainment etc. And then put it all into traveling when it all adds up.

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