I want to start this blog post with a short exercise. Get out a sheet of paper and write down all your set expenses: rent/mortgage, car payments, cable bill, cell phone, insurance, school payments, and the like. Tally them up.
Then write down all your discretionary spending. This is what you spend on food, movie nights, drinks, shopping, that daily coffee from Starbucks, cigarettes, sports tickets, your daily midday snack, and other similar things. If you don’t know what you spend money on, go track your expenses for a two-week period, see what you spend, and come back.
Add that all up — what did you get? Probably a large sum of money. And I bet there will be many expenses you didn’t realize were there. Financial experts call these “phantom expenses” — we never know they are there because the expenses are so small. People bleed money without realizing it. A dollar here and a dollar there adds up. Even a daily bottle of water or candy bar can make a substantial difference over the course of a year.
What does this have to do with travel? One of the main reasons why you think you can’t travel the world is money. “I can’t afford it,” people say to me, “I have too many expenses.” Most of us certainly have expenses we can’t cut (though remember when you travel the world, all those expenses disappear), but if we cut our phantom expenses, reduce our set costs, and find other ways to save we can build our travel fund much more quickly.
No matter how cheap we want to be, travel requires some money. There’s no way to avoid that, so in order to save for our trips, we need to cut our expenses. Here are some simple and creative ways to cut your expenses, make money, and get on the road sooner:
Cut the coffee – Love your Starbucks? Well, Starbucks loves your money. Coffee is a daily expense that quietly drains your bank account without you ever noticing. That daily $5 coffee costs you $150 per month. At $1,800 per year, that’s two months in Southeast Asia. What’s more important: your daily cup of Joe or spending more time on the beaches of Thailand or exploring the jungles of Borneo? Give up the coffee, switch from cappuccino to a standard brew, start drinking tea, or brew your own cup.
This is an easy, low-hanging-fruit expense that can yield big savings right away.
Learn to cook – We all need to eat, but restaurants are getting quite expensive these days. I have increasing sticker shock every time I go out to eat. You want how much for pasta?! To keep your food bill low, cook more often. I learned to cook while in college (a skill that has helped me ever since) and before I left for my first trip, I cut down my eating out to two times per week. Every other meal I cooked myself. I would save the leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day, thus saving more money. You don’t need to be a whiz in the kitchen, either. There are a million and one cooking sites that will teach you how to cook fast and healthy meals — perfect for people without much time.
LEARN MORE: HOW TO EAT CHEAP AND SAVE MONEY ON FOOD
Lose the car – Cars are crazy expensive to own, between insurance, repairs, loan payments, and filling your tank with gas (current average price of gas: $3 USD per gallon). Get rid of your car if you can. Learn to love the bus, take the subway, bike, or walk. It took longer to get to work using public transportation, but I found that I didn’t really need a car as much as I thought. I understand that this tip may not be feasible for everyone, especially those in smaller towns that don’t have an extensive public transportation system, but an alternative is to sell your car and buy a cheaper used one, which you will only need until you leave for your trip. Buying a throwaway car will allow you to pocket the money from your more expensive car and put it toward your travels.
Find a roommate – You’ll see a huge gain in your savings by lowering your housing costs. Downsize your apartment or bring in some roommates. If you can, try to move in with Mom and Dad. Six months before I went abroad, I moved in with my parents. I didn’t love being 25 and living with my parents, but I saved over $3,000 in rent as a result. If this is not an option for you, bring in a roommate. Turn that living room into a spare room if necessary. In NYC, people turn living rooms into bedrooms and studio apartments into two bedrooms by putting a folding screen in the middle of the room. It’s not the most ideal living situation, but it does save money.
Get rid of cable – In the age of Hulu and free (and legal) streaming TV, there’s no reason for you to be spending $50 per month on cable television. Get rid of it and just watch everything online for free.
Ditch your landline – I honestly only know about 10 people these days who have anything other than a mobile phone. You don’t need both a mobile phone and a landline. Ditch your phone line and avoid doubling your phone expenses.
Downgrade your phone – Having an iPhone costs about $83 per month (unless you have T-Mobile, which I switched to from Verizon because it’s the best carrier for US frequent travelers). While smartphones are handy devices, getting a cheap phone without any fancy apps will cut your monthly phone bill in half. You might get bored on the train not being able to read the news, but saving an extra $500 a year will allow you to spend a few more weeks in Europe, buy fancier meals, or learn to scuba dive in Fiji.
Get a new credit card – A travel credit card can give you free money, free rooms, or free flights. After accruing miles and rewards points with your card on everyday purchases, you can redeem them for free travel on your trip. Travel credit cards are a big weapon in a budget traveler’s arsenal. You’ll even earn huge sign-up bonuses when you get a new card. When used properly, these cards generate free money. Start early. As soon as you decide to travel the world, get a travel-related credit card and begin earning points on your daily purchases. Here is my guide on how to pick a good travel credit card.
Open an online savings account – While saving, you can have your money grow a little bit more by putting it in a high-yield online savings account. I’ve done this since the time when I was preparing to go away on my first trip and I netted a few extra hundred dollars. Interest rates are pretty low these days but you can still get 1-2%. Good online US banks include:
- Discover Bank, interest rate: 1%, no fees, $2,500 USD opening deposit
- Virtual Bank, interest rate: 1%, no fees or monthly minimums, $100 USD opening deposit
Get a Charles Schwab account – Charles Schwab bank refunds all your ATM fees and has no account fees. With this card, you’ll never pay an ATM fee again. For more on saving money when you bank, read this article.
Sign up for travel newsletters – No one likes to clutter up their inbox, but by signing up for mailing lists from airlines and travel companies, you’ll be able to get updates about all the last-minute sales or special deals happening. I would have missed out on a round-trip ticket to Japan for $700 USD (normally $1,500) if it wasn’t for the American Airlines mailing list.
In addition to signing up for airline and travel site mailing lists (check out the resource page for my favorites), I have a weekly mailing list where I find the best travel deals of the week and send them to you. I do the work of looking for deals for you.
Build a network on Couchsurfing – Building a network on Couchsurfing can help you make friends with locals and get free accommodation when you do travel. But if you have never used it before, you might not get many responses. After all, someone who hasn’t been vouched for and has no reviews isn’t an appealing candidate. Before you go away, sign up for Couchsurfing, find a local meetup (there should always be at least one in your area), and attend. You’ll make friends, be added to people’s profiles and vouched for, and have a network you can utilize when it is time to actually go away.
Replace your light bulbs – Seriously! Electricity costs money and since every penny counts, using energy-efficient light bulbs will cut down on your utility bills. Fluorescent light bulbs now cost as little as $2.50 USD for a pack of two, and replacing just five bulbs can cut $75 per year off your electric bill. Plus, due to energy efficiency initiatives in certain states, many electric companies will give you a rebate if you buy fluorescent bulbs! (Be sure to check out which rebates your local energy company offers…no matter where you live in the world!).
Going green can save you green!
Buy second-hand – Why pay full price when you can pay half? Use websites like Amazon (discounted books and electronics), wholesale websites, and clearance sales to buy at discount.
Cut coupons – The Entertainment Book, grocery coupons, Groupon, and loyalty cards all reduce the price you pay at the register. Clipping coupons might make you feel like an 80-year-old grandmother, but the goal here is to be frugal and save money, and coupons definitely help with that.
Sell your stuff – Before I went overseas, I looked around my apartment and saw just a lot of stuff I had no need for anymore: TVs, couches, tables, stereo equipment. Instead of keeping it in storage (which costs money), I decided to just get rid of everything. I sold it all and used the money to travel. After all, I’m not going to need my couch while eating pasta in Rome! Sites like Craigslist, Amazon, and Gumtree are excellent places to sell your unneeded consumer goods.
Skip the movies – I don’t know about you, but I find movies ridiculously expensive. It can cost up to $15 for a ticket, and that much again for the popcorn and soda. Cut out the movies or rent them online via Netflix ($7.99 per month) or iTunes ($1.99). Whatever you do, cutting out trips to the movies will save you a bundle.
Stop drinking – Alcohol is expensive. Cutting down the amount you drink is going to have a big impact on your budget. While this might not apply to everyone, those of you who are carefree might go out with your friends on the weekend. Drink before you go out to the bar or simply don’t drink at all. Cutting down the amount of alcohol you consume is considered low-hanging fruit — an easy way to save money.
Quit smoking – Smoking kills not only you, but also your wallet. A $10 pack per day amounts to $3,650 per year. Even half that amount would still yield enough money for close to two months in Central America. If you don’t want to stop smoking for your health, do it for your trip.
Stop snacking – A snack here and there not only adds calories to your waistline but also empties your wallet — another example of phantom expenses. We don’t think much of them because they cost so little, but they add up over time and eat into our savings. Eat fuller meals during lunch and dinner and avoid the snacks.
Earn extra money on the side – The sharing economy has made it really easy to earn extra money on the side. You can rent your spare room out on Airbnb, drive with Lyft, cook dinner on EatWith, or lead personalized tours through Get Your Guide.
No matter what skill or unused asset you have, there is a moneymaking service for you. Use these websites to boost your trip savings and travel cheaper. Here is a full list of sharing economy websites you can use to earn some extra cash on the site.
Buy a metal water bottle – Plastic water bottles are not only harmful to the environment, they are also harmful to your wallet. One or two water bottles a day at $1 per bottle will add up to at least $30 a month. That’s $360 a year! You can spend a week in France with that much money! Instead of plastic, buy a metal water bottle and fill it with tap water.
Cutting your daily expenses, being more frugal, and downgrading to a simpler way of living will allow you to save money for your trip around the world without having to find extra sources of income. I know these tips work because I used them before my first round-the-world trip (and still use them to keep my living expenses low). These tips alone will help save you thousands of dollars that will suddenly make your dream trip seem less like a dream and more like a reality.
For more ways to save money so you can travel more often and longer, read these articles next: