We all wish we could we could grow money on trees, or inherit an inheritance we didn’t know we had, or rub a magic lamp to take care of all expenses for that next dream trip. I can almost hear the excitement in the emails and tweets of people who stumble upon my blog for the first time, because as one of them put it, reading about my travel adventures can make it seem like I’ve discovered the secret of always having enough money to travel! Unfortunately, the truth is far from it, and saving money for travel is a conscious effort I’ve been making for the past many years.
I’ve already talked in detail about how I afford my travels; this time, I’m sharing practical ways to save money for a trip that have led me to my most awesome adventures across India and the rest of the globe.
1. Say goodbye to shopping.
If there is one indulgence that can’t co-exist with travel, it is shopping. You can either spend a day at the mall, adding the latest trend in fashion to your wardrobe, or you can use that money to buy an air ticket to an adventure you’ll never forget. Warning: both are addictive. If you decide that the latter is what you want more badly, stop going to the mall, unsubscribe from all your favorite shopping newsletters and Facebook pages, and refuse to accompany friends for window shopping. Find other free hobbies to bide your time and weekends; you could start by exploring the free sights in the city you live, discovering new neighborhoods and parks, taking your camera for a spin at odd hours, or really anything that will convince you that sacrificing that trip to the mall will soon be worth it.
2. Create a savings fund.
I’ll be honest here; I’m not investment savvy or inclined to find complicated ways to grow my money by a wee bit. I opened a simple savings account while I still had a full time job, and authorized an automatic transaction into it for a fourth of my total salary, on the day after pay day. I also refused to use my ATM card for that account, for the simple reason that if I had easy access to it, I would give in to a fleeting desire to buy something expensive. Before I knew it, I had saved enough money for a back-up fund that would allow me to quit my job and travel.
Now that I don’t have a regular monthly income, I create mini saving funds for particular trips. For instance, before my trip to Turkey, I took on freelance writing and social media assignments particularly to channel funds towards my trip; not only did it motivate me to work harder, but having a target in mind helped me prioritize my work.
3. Avoid eating out.
Eating out in a metro like Delhi can be terribly expensive. When I first moved here, I was spending most of my time working out of cafes and clocking up bills of INR 500-1000 a day for simple meals and tea / coffee, in the name of a conducive working environment and because I hate cooking. I would’ve become bankrupt at that rate, but I made simple modifications to my “home office” and convinced my house mates to have a part-time cook for us. My expenses went down steeply. If you like cooking, even better. Avoid a night out at a good cafe or restaurant, and instead indulge yourself with a nice home-cooked meal and a movie; you’ll thank yourself when you’re using the same money to indulge in a Chocolate Con Churros in Spain!
4. Find work online.
Gone are the days when earning money online was only a thing of scams. Identify your skills; writing, social media, web designing, coding, content development, even poker, and put them to use online. Organizations all over the world are looking for better and cheaper ways to get things done, and if you can prove your credibility and build good search ranking on Google, there’ll be no stopping you. I recommend working online as opposed to getting a part time job offline, because of the flexibility it offers; you could be working in the middle of the night or from an airport halfway across the world, as long as you have internet connectivity. If you can master the art of making an income entirely virtually, believe me, you’ve struck gold. It’s the only kind of gold I know I’ll ever own!
5. Be smart about weddings.
Especially if you’re planning your own. By my very rough estimates, a small wedding in an Indian city could fund my entire travel in Western Europe for a year! That’s right. Yet, many people will choose the former, because that’s what society demands. If you ask me, you can either meet the various demands of society (now get a masters degree, now get married, now have a kid…) or draw a line somewhere and claim your life. It is not impossible to travel for a living when you’re married or even when you have a kid; I know of many travel blogging couples who homeschool their kids on the road, but of course it requires even more guts and rebellion to do it, besides a partner who shares your boundless love for travel. If you must get married, ditch the big fat Indian wedding for a legal registration or an intimate ceremony in a part of the world you love.
While I have radical views about the concept of a marriage, I try to be supportive of friends and family who decide to take the plunge, but only while keeping my expenses at bay. I prefer to borrow wedding clothes and accessories from my mom or aunts (truth is, they can hardly ever be reused), club travelling for a wedding with my own travel plans, and believe that a wedding gift that involves travelling is the best that I could genuinely give someone.
6. Stop drinking out.
I know it will be criminal to recommend avoiding alcohol altogether! When the going gets tough – when you have an unstoppable urge to go to the mall and buy the new in-thing, when you watch your savings fund dwindle on returning from a trip, when your taste buds wouldn’t feel satiated with anything but a fancy Italian meal at an expensive restaurant, when assignments fall through, when everyone around you is getting married – and it will get tough, you’ll need your favorite wine or whisky to stay strong. Keep your stock at home or drink at a friend’s place if you must; drinking out is the second biggest expenditure for most people after shopping, and you’ll wake up with guilt for having blown precious money on alcohol that could’ve been bought at a fraction of the cost.
7. Sell things you don’t need.
Most of us have a natural inclination towards hoarding. When I got my swanky new Sony Cybershot, I carefully put away my old camera in my cupboard, thinking what if something were to happen to my Cybershot. It sat there for months, slowly depleting in value; I’ve only recently decided to let go and am still cringing about the money I lost because I didn’t sell it sooner. Likewise, raid your cupboards, find things of value that are of no use to you anymore, create a listing on eBay or olx, and make some bucks while you still can. If nothing more, it could buy you a train ride or a meal on your next trip.
When I receive extravagant gifts (however seldom that might be) that I can easily do without, my first instinct is to sell them; the point is, once you’ve set your mind to saving every extra penny for traveling, there will be no stopping you.
8. Get rid of your credit card.
When I got my first credit card, it felt a little like a magic lamp that could buy me things I didn’t have the money to buy. I would get a bill shock pretty much every month that I owned that dreaded card, and blow all my money paying for extravagant purchases. Then one day, out of spite, I cut the card in two and called my bank to cancel it. I haven’t owned a credit card since, and it’s the only reason I’ve never travelled with money that I don’t already have, only to struggle to pay it off later. So go, get rid of your credit card, and get control of your expenses. You’ll thank me later.
9. Save for budget trips.
I’ve long stopped thinking of travel as a luxurious getaway; to me, travelling is everyday life. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth (and if I was, I probably would’ve sold it to travel), and when I travel, I don’t long for the luxury of a five star resort or roads without potholes or people at my beck and call to plan my itinerary or high end meals at fancy restaurants. Much the opposite in fact; the best adventures are born out of lack of a big travel budget. When you set yourself a saving target for your next trip, look out for cheap flights, factor in public transport rather than hiring a car, a nice but basic place to stay, and local food at small cafes; if you’re going to do this often, you have to start looking at travel not as a break from life, but as life itself.
Your turn, what are some ways you save money to travel?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.