Greetings from Africa! Somewhere right now, I’m trying to snap a photo of a lion without being eaten. Or, I am friending a honey badger. In the meantime, this week I want to share stories of readers who have realized their travel dreams in hopes of inspiring and showing you that anyone can make their travel dreams come true!
A lot of people say you need to have a well-paying job in order to afford your trip. But Michael (age 27) never had one of those, yet he still managed to save $15k in 6 months while on making $9 USD per hour! When he told me his story, I knew he was perfect for this week’s success story. He epitomized the idea that anyone can find the money for travel. Without further ado, let’s meet Michael and find out how you save so much money while making so little!
Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself.
Michael: I was living in Austin, Texas before I became a citizen of the world. I had always wanted to take a year off and travel the world. I had taken small trips overseas in the past and would meet so many travelers who were taking months or years off to travel. Those people put the idea in my head that maybe I could travel for extended periods of time too. When I graduated from college I spent a year and a half looking for a teaching position but couldn’t find one. I started entertaining the idea of selling everything I own and taking a year off to travel, but still it didn’t really seem feasible. Since I couldn’t find a teaching position I got a job as a cook at a pizza place in Austin. I was only making $9 per hour plus tips.
How long were you planning on traveling?
I was just planning to be gone for a year. Once I started researching how to travel the world, I came across several blogs of people offering words of encouragement and advice. I had looked up RTW tickets and thought that would be the best way to go. I had started organizing and planning the entire year; what cities I would go to, the cost of living in each country, etc. But then I thought “how the hell can someone plan for an entire year?” I was new to planning a trip but still knew there was just no way to plan anything for an entire year. Now, I’m just going to go with the flow and be gone as long as possible.
That’s the best way to go! What fears, if any, did you have about your trip?
I was afraid of two things. First, I feared what people would think. I was about to embark on something extremely unorthodox where I come from and I knew no one was going to understand. Instead of people asking me why, people were amazed that I actually had the balls to do it. My family was supportive and thought it would be a great experience, friends were probably a little jealous but they were supportive and couldn’t believe what I was doing. Everyone thought I was crazy but in a good way. I have had 100% support from my friends and family. I still get to keep in touch with everyone regularly through e-mail, Skype, and Facebook.
The second fear I had was about the trip itself. I thought to myself, what if I spend all this money, and waste so much time just to have nothing work out the way I want it to. But it was just fearful thinking creeping its way into my mind. The bottom line is, no matter what decision you make in life, you never know whether things will work out for you. As long as you pursue what your heart is telling you to, things will always work out just fine. Thinking that things might not work out went against my newfound way of thinking. I have been gone for two months so far and already things have worked out better than I could have imagined.
Was there anything specific about this site that helped you overcome those fears?
I was inspired by your site not to plan. That’s one of the reasons why I like your blog so much, because it’s written from the perspective of someone who waived off fear and the societal norms that prevent us from traveling and just went for it. I wanted that for so long but didn’t think it was possible until I started reading your site. To keep my inspiration alive before I left, I would tell friends and family about you and tell them “look, it is possible.” When my friends told me I was crazy and that they would never be able to do it, I would email them posts from your site, so that maybe they would be inspired too. Or at least, they would have a better understanding of where I was coming from.
Moreover, this site helped me to travel better by introducing me to money-saving techniques such as WWOOFing and Couchsurfing that have helped me save on accommodations. The site also gave me ideas on how to save money on eating which was something I originally thought I was going to have to spend a lot of money on because everyone needs food to survive. After reading about eating locally I was inspired to cut down my budget even further when it comes to food. Not only is eating locally adventurous and fun but it really does help to save a lot of money. You helped me to realize that the slower I travel the more money I will save. If you don’t have a set itinerary and have nowhere to be then take your time while getting from point A to point B, not only do you get to see more and take more in, but you have the opportunity to meet more people too.
Ok, so tell us, how the heck did you save $15k in 6 months?
I decided I wanted to save $15,000 for my trip, figuring that could last me for a year. I only had 6 months to save for my trip so I had to work my hardest to be able to get to $15,000. I say I only had six months because to keep myself from putting off the trip and keeping myself disciplined I booked my flight out of the U.S. the day I decided I was going to travel around the world.
At first I thought I would get a second part-time job, upping my total work hours to 60 a week. I was only making $9 USD per hour so it’s not like I was living the rich life. My boss ended up giving me the hours I wanted so there was no need for a second job. On top of the 60 hours he gave me, I would eat up others people’s hours if they called out of work. On average for 5 months I was working about 65 hours a week. Life was tough, but I kept my goal in sight and fought through it. In those 6 months, I put myself on a budget; I would limit myself to drinking once a week, eat food from work as much as I could, not use my air conditioner as much (that was the worst for I was living in Texas), and try to lower my electricity bill by not using as much light. Basically, I put my expenses into two columns, wants and needs (a friend of mine came up with this money saving technique). Every time I was to spend money I would ask myself if it was a want or a need. If it was a want I would usually come to the conclusion that it was a waste of money.
Aside from working I sold stuff to make money. I sold almost every electronic item I had, like my T.V., guitar amps and such. I figured I could always get those things again later in life if I wanted them. I also sold my car.
I didn’t actually reach my goal of 15,000 dollars. I was close, though, at about $14,000. The life of working so many hours got to me and I started drinking a lot with friends. Not just because of work though, I wanted to have as much fun with everyone that I could before I left. I wasn’t sure when I was going to see all my friends again so I wanted to live it up, but that’s okay.
What about life on the road has surprised you the most?
How much people are willing to help you out. I didn’t think people were going to give a damn about me, if I was lost I figured they would say “good luck kid, cant help you!” If I didn’t know how to communicate I figured people would give up, but none of that has happened. If I’m lost people will help me find my way, if I can’t communicate, people will be patient and honestly try to figure out what I’m trying to say. If I’m lost and I can’t communicate, most people will tend to realize my problem and then point me in the right direction. Being lost and asking someone for directions is a great ice breaker at the very least. Some of my best conversations have started with me asking people how to get somewhere.
How do you stay on budget when you travel? I would think after living so frugally before you left that you would want to splurge on your trip.
Staying on budget is tough. Sometimes you want to eat an awesome meal, and sometimes you just want to get really drunk. I have no problem with indulging from time to time. You’re supposed to have fun while traveling, and eating and drinking is one of my favorite things in life. But you have to remember to do those things in moderation. Before I left I figured how much I would be able to spend every day to be gone for a year given the total savings I have. I just stick to that. If I find myself in a surplus than I will get a nice meal and drink. If I’m not, than I will conserve my money. Budgeting to me is a science. I did research on the cost of living in several parts of the world to help plan out my budget.
What one thing that you thought would be a challenge has turned out not to be?
I thought the biggest challenge was going to be finding my way around the countries where English isn’t spoken very well. And it is a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge, and not as frustrating as I thought it was going to be. Sometimes I end up at the wrong place, but I just laugh it off and enjoy where I am. The great thing about traveling without time constraints is that if you have nowhere to be, it doesn’t really matter where you are. Don’t think about the destination, just enjoy the journey.
What advice would you offer to others who want to travel but might not think they can?
I would tell them to make a list of all the reasons why they think they can’t and then one by one come up with examples of how they could overcome each reason. I would also encourage people to read about others who have done the same thing to realize that it is possible and really not that hard.
Michael’s story shows us that you don’t need some high paying job to travel. Even on a minimum wage job, if you are diligent enough, you can save enough to travel around the world. Michael made his trip a priority and cut out all wasteful spending. If you’re having doubts about your ability to save money and travel – whether it is for a 2 week, 2 month, or 2 year trip, think about Michael. If he can do it while on earning $9 per hour, you can do it too!