Before you ask. No I have never had some high paying job, no one pays my bills for me, I don’t get assistance from rich parents or trust funds. I’m just a normal American kid who is REALLY good at saving money to travel.
Whether it was expensive countries like New Zealand and Australia or cheap countries like South Korea, I have managed to stow away AT LEAST $10,000 every single year that I have worked since 2010 (obviously I wasn’t saving when I was between jobs or traveling).
How Much was I Earning?
I feel like this makes people uncomfortable. But I want to make abundantly clear that I wasn’t actually earning that much money. In New Zealand I worked for a temp agency making $16 NZD per hour for 35 hours a week. After tax I was taking home about $480 NZD every week.
In Australia, where cost of living is slightly higher than New Zealand, I was earning $23 AUD per hour for my first year. I worked in retail and clocked between 35 and 40 hours a week, taking home between $675 AUD and $700 AUD a week (I was paying out a quarter of that on rent each week).
I usually asked to work on public holidays where I received time and a half for every hour worked (that’s $34.50 an hour!).
My second year in Australia, I worked in a software firm for $25AUD/hour, but only worked part time at about 20 hours a week (yup. I worked part time and STILL saved 10 G’s). If there were marketing or sales events, I always signed up so that I could get more hours. I usually took home about $500 AUD a week.
I think it’s important to note that in Australia, you do not pay tax on the first $18,000 that you earn. Usually the company you work for will take that tax out anyway and when you file at the end of the year, you’ll receive that money back. Each year I worked in Australia, I got about $3,500 AUD back in tax.
Australia and New Zealand also have pension schemes that your employer is obligated to pay into. If you are no longer legally able to live/work in these countries (ie you no longer have a visa), you are able to have this money back when you leave. After one year in New Zealand I received $1,500 NZD. After two years in Australia, I received just shy of $4,000 AUD.
When I lived in Korea I was earning the equivalent of $2,000 USD per month, so about $500 per week. My job also included my rent, so it was like being paid an additional $1,000 a month. I managed to save more than I ever have before in that year.
Currency Note: When I was living in Australia from 2011-2013, the Australian Dollar was really strong. It was about 1-to-1 with the USD. The New Zealand dollar was equal to about 75¢ US. At the time I was in Korea (2014-2015), the Korean Won was 1-to-1 with the dollar as well.
Now that you know what was coming in, let’s talk about how I managed to keep it in.
How I Save Money to Travel
Share Your Accommodation
I mean, if you’re a millennial, you’re probably already doing this in expensive cities across the world.
But in all honesty, this is one of the best ways to save as you travel. Luke and I were lucky enough to be able to split the price of a room in a shared house. The rent of shared accommodation in New Zealand and Australia almost always includes your bills. Once that’s paid, you don’t have to worry about any other housing costs.
It’s also almost always furnished. Nothing is going to suck money out of your savings like buying a bed. I’ve never actually bought a mattress, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I did a quick search for how much a new mattress actually costs. Yikes.
Stay off Pinterest, people. It will only do you and your bank account harm (unless of course you’re planning your future travels).
Every shared house we’ve ever lived in came fully furnished, often had all the cable channels, wifi, desks, dressers, walk in closets, comfortable beds and sometimes all the toilet paper you could ever want (I know, my life is glam).
Don’t Go Shopping
It sounds weird, maybe kind of hard, or anti-social, but I just don’t even step foot in malls. I don’t go to them. I don’t need to. I have a closet full of clothes, most of which I don’t even wear as it is. I have plenty of shoes, makeup, jewelry.
If I start feeling sorry for myself or loath the things I have, I think about how much more I could buy when I go traveling again. Clothes on the high street in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and increasingly the US, are cripplingly expensive (in my opinion). Think of all the unique pieces you could buy at markets in Thailand, Mexico, Chile.
Three years ago I went to Bali and bought a beautiful hand died dress and two linen shirts. They were incredible, rich jewel tones. I still have them. They still have their vibrant color and I get complimented every single time I wear them. The three pieces combined cost me $20USD.
Plan Your Meals + Cook them Yourself
I mean this in every sense. Not only will your body be healthier for it, but your bank balance will be, too.
At the start of the week Luke and I plan out what meals we want to have for dinner during the week. Sometimes we look up recipes, but we have a few staples that we love to repeat. Then we write down all the ingredients we’ll need to make those. We add what we want to have for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Then we only buy what’s on the list.
Let me repeat, WE ONLY BUY WHAT’S ON THE LIST.
It’s not about scrimping or only buying certain cheap things. I don’t eat frozen meals, tinned meats or ramen noodles. I buy everything that I want, but nothing more than what I need.
I didn’t even realize this was a money saving tip until I talked to my friends who just show up at the grocery store and buy stuff. I first started making lists because grocery stores stress me out and I hate wandering aimlessly around them. You will spend so much less money at the grocery store if you know what you want to buy before you go in.
Side note: I still go out to eat at least once a weekend, but I make sure it’s somewhere that I really want to go. If all of my friends are getting together, I go out for drinks. I’m not a sad, lonely hermit, I just make sure that what I spend my money on is of true value.
Drive Less (Or Not at All)
Over the last six years I have only owned a car once and it was for just over 12 months. In New Zealand there literally was no other way to get around. It was a used car that Luke and I bought for $2,000NZD. In the end we resold it for $100 more than what we bought it for, so it was a pretty good investment.
I know a lot of you need a car. But I also know a lot of us use cars when we definitely don’t need to. I’m totally guilty of this whenever I’m back in the US. Think about all the places that you could just as easily walk or bike to. Think about how much you’re saving on gas, parking fees, tolls. All these little things add up over the course of a year.
Owning a car is one of the surest ways to drain your bank balance. If you can survive without one, you’ll be traveling sooner and with more in the pot.
Get a Saving Buddy
I’m so, so lucky to have a partner in crime in all this. Saving is so much easier when you have someone by your side who is trying to achieve the same goal. There’s certainly no way I would have saved up all this money to travel if it wasn’t for Luke.
Planning to travel solo? That doesn’t mean you can’t find a friend or roommate who is trying to save for something as well. Maybe you have a friend saving for a wedding or a house or a new car. Partner up and help each other when things feel tough.
When a few of your friends are trying to guilt you into going on a night out, call that ally and invite them over to have a fun night in.
If none of your friends can relate to your situation, find some virtual ones. I’m a member of some super supportive Facebook communities (Ladies, check out Girls Vs Globe and GoWonder. Guys AND gals, Travel Addiction is a good one too). Reach out to bloggers or Youtubers that know what it’s like and can offer support and inspiration.
There are thousands of people out there who know what you’re going through and probably need a bit of support as well. Find each other. (You can always email me. I love to chat about how to save money).
Take out Weekly Cash
This helped me massively when I first started saving for travel. I would take out a week’s worth of spending money. That would be for absolutely everything: groceries, meals out, drinks, transport for the week. The only thing that was excluded was rent, which I paid automatically online.
Once the money started getting low I would cut back my spending. It was always a little bit more than I truly needed and I don’t think I ever actually spent every penny, but it was a really visual way of seeing what was being spent.
I think it’s all too easy to not even listen to what the price of something is and just hand over your card. We’re so disconnected from our money that we often don’t pay attention to how much we’re spending.
By paying for everything in cash, you are suddenly incredibly aware of the cost of everything because you can see it leaving your wallet.
Utilize Your Savings Account
At the end of every month, any money that is left in my checking account gets moved over into my savings account. It’s no longer available to spend.
When we first moved to New Zealand all those years ago (and nervously opened our first joint checking account, eek!), we started doing this mostly so that it would earn a bit of interest.
As the money began piling up, we became mildly obsessed with how much we could save each month (I don’t advise this, it’s sad and weird).
BUT it did stop us from digging into it unless it was an absolute emergency. We got used to spending what we had in the checking account (our wages each week), and magically it kept growing.
Remember What You’re Saving For
I’ve spoken about it before in this post, but I don’t really need a reason to save. I guess I’ve been living this way for so long it’s just become my norm. Thanks to these methods above, I have a completely different relationship with money than I used to have. I value it in completely different ways and I find that has made saving for travel a completely natural part of my life.
If you’re just starting out, it’s vital that you remind yourself why you’re limiting your weekly spending or avoiding retail centers. You want to save money to travel the world.
I used to work with a girl who would print out pictures of all the places she was going to go when she had saved enough money. She taped them around her desk as a reminder to herself.
Whatever you have to do – whether you change the image on your computer desktop to a beach in Bali or simply imagine all of the markets you’ll be shopping at in South America, it’s good to remind yourself why you started all this savings nonsense in the first place.
Try Not to Worry About What Other People Think
You know the saying, “comparison is the thief of joy”? Well, I think other people’s opinions are the thief of joy. You can quote me on it.
Saving for a house? Totally excusable. Putting money aside for the big day? Whatever it takes! A BABY?! START THEIR COLLEGE FUND RIGHT NOW!
Saving to travel? Why are you being so intense? or That’s not that important! It’s just a vacation after all.
I’m not poo-pooing what other people decide to spend their hard-earned money on. People should use it for whatever makes them happy. Isn’t it only fair then, that other people treat your decisions the same way?
When you start cutting certain things out of your life in order to make room for travel, some people just aren’t going to get it. You’re going to have to learn to be okay with that. Surround yourself with supportive people who want nothing more than for you to be the happiest version of yourself.
Don’t Punish Yourself
I know some people live paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ve been there; working my butt off just to have enough to pay rent and eat cheap meals. Not long ago, Luke and I were down to $50 between us and we had to ask our landlord for a few extra weeks to pay the rent. We didn’t eat cheese for MONTHS.
I’m certainly not on track to be saving that kind of money this year, but even though I’m only earning $200 a week, I’m still saving. My goal is far different this year, but I’m still managing to fit in plenty of travel (long weekends away once a month since we moved to Mexico!).
Maybe $10,000 isn’t realistic for you right now either and that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes late payments are what you have to do to make it through the week. The goal is to start being more aware of what you’re spending your money on and learn how to cut costs where you can. The goal is to learn what is most important to you and to focus your spending on that instead.
If you buy a new shirt, go out for a few drinks, or drive when you could have walked, the world will keep on spinning. There will always be more opportunities to save.