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budgeting, travel preparation


As I enter my 4th month of traveling, a few thoughts and feelings come to mind.

First and foremost: fright.

How did I spend so much money in just a few months? And how did I last in Europe this long?!

Initially, I had planned to take only 6 months off to travel the world. After New Years, I was going to settle down somewhere, get a job, start grad school in the Fall and burrow myself safely and soundly in some cozy, clean city somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t NYC. However, during planning, I failed to remember the one, singular adage that I live by: no expectations. I tend to plan my life 2 weeks in advance and go where the wind takes me. With that comes some new issues with budgeting.

I’m a pretty frugal person to begin with and I’ve been saving money for this and that since I started earning money from allowance, fishing bets with my father and proper jobs in high school and beyond. So, it wasn’t very hard for me to save money for traveling, nor maintain a budget. However, for those who are thinking about taking a lengthy round the world trip or any trip in general, here are a few rules that I follow that I hope will be helpful to you:

1. Self-discipline

Markt Hal in Rotterdam. These markets will be the death of me!

Markt Hal in Rotterdam. These markets will be the death of me!

This is KEY to saving. When I spend money, I rarely spend it on things that are NOT multifunctional, comes with a good warranty or are extremely durable. The things that I want are the things that I need which, living simply, is not much.

2. Budget early

This is the meat and potatoes to this post.

This is the method to my madness:

Every month, after all my bills (rent, utilities, food, transportation, S Factor) are paid (or set aside), I split the remainder in half.

One half goes to savings, the other stays in my checking account and becomes a buffer.

A fun money buffer.

Once that buffer hits $10,000, then I can start spending it until it reaches $7,000. Every now and again, I will remove $5,000 and put it towards a CD or max out my Roth IRA, but for the most part, this buffer has remained with me for over a decade. The first time I reached this buffer, it took me over 5 years, and that was with a job making less than $30k a year. Working in NYC for the past 5 years, creating and maintaining this buffer took 1/10th of the time, however spending it on travel, so I am now finding out, can take less than a week.

3. Where to cut

It wasn’t until I left the US that I realized $20 here and there for a cocktail or 2 beers, Starbucks adds up ($5 drink 4x/wk, 20 x 56 = $1,120 one RT ticket from NYC to Europe

Before traveling:

  • Eating out –> buy groceries instead
  • Cocktails –> beer or a bottle of wine (bring a friend to half it with you or cry alone :p)
  • Takeaway coffee –> buy a coffee mug, drink free coffee from work or make it at home
  • Cabs, public transportation –> walk it or bike it

During travels:

  • Eating out –> buy groceries, take it everywhere I go in Ikea tupperware and make sandwiches for lunch every day. Farmer’s Markets are the way to go here. I live off of carrots and peanut butter — the former being my FAVORITE — most of the time. Being vegetarian helps a great deal on the piggy bank as well for the environment 😉
Cheap late night snack

Cheap late night snack

  • Alcohol –> thankfully beer and wine is cheaper in Europe than in the states, so drink away!
Super cheap, yet super lekker Belgian beer in Gent.

Super cheap, yet super lekker Belgian beer in Gent.

  • Takeaway coffee –> I’m a cafe-sitting-watching-people-for-hours-or-working-away-intensely-from-too-many-lattes kind of person and London, where I am currently living, is a godsend, yet financial disaster for me. As I note in my London page, after some trial and error of finding the best coffee with the best frequent buyer cards (btw TAP Coffee is the best in terms of atmosphere and buy 6, get 1 free), I start my mornings at Waitrose with a free latte with a My Waitrose Card and head over to The British Library to work in their quiet, relaxing environment on their free Wifi.
  • Cabs, public transportation –> I walk everywhere, rain or shine. Sometimes I’ll take public transport if it’s affordable like in Budapest or Paris , but in London, the most expensive city in the world, I prefer to get to know this city via ambulation.
  • Museum passes – definitely worth it depending on how long you’re in a city and how many museums you want to see. If you’re a student, then this is an even bigger bonus since you’ll have free or reduced admission to loads of museums world wide and mostly free if you’re under 18, especially in Paris. So far during my travels in Europe, I have found the museum pass in Paris to be the best bang for your buck. Check out this article in the NY Times about museum passes in Europe for more details.

4. Earn money on the road

I only have 2 credit cards and both earn me money back with every purchase. Use them all the time, but pay them in full on time all the time to increase your credit score and to avoid paying interest fees. Over the years, I’ve earned over $1,000 back as credit that I’ve used towards travel. There are also travel credit cards with great benefits that I recommend you open up months before you begin traveling. Also, be sure to get one with a chip and pin or chip and signature, Visa or Mastercard (American Express isn’t accepted as widely) and no foreign transaction fees.

Also, get a job! A temporary one, like as a bartender, server, developer, etc. One that keeps you mobile. Fortunately, I am able to sustain myself a bit longer as a private yoga and dance instructor, which I LOVE! But I won’t go into the details of this or how to start a career as a professional traveler because frankly, there are blogs dedicated to just this.

I do recommend that whatever job you take up, do it out of love. Become a surf instructor, salsa dancer, a save the world web developer! You’re on extended (perhaps indefinite? :D) holiday; why waste the time doing something you hate?

5. Workaways

Need a free place to stay in the hustle and bustle centre of town or in the peaceful, beautiful countryside? Try a workaway. For all of my travels so far, I have been lucky enough (and very grateful) to have amazing friends that have allowed me to stay with them for free. However, for my last few months in Europe, I will be staying (and working) with families as apart of Workaways. You can find workaways all over the world, from the heart of Tokyo to the Sahara, there is a family that needs your help! They typically ask that you to stay from 1 week to several months and work 4-6 hours a day, 5 days a week in return for shelter and food. What I love about workaways is melting into the culture, learning about the little intricasies of each place and making connections with people from all over.

6. In sum

Some may not agree, but it’s what works best for me in terms of headache and peace of mind.

I currently live off of less than $10 a day for food and transport, and I love it!

Correction: as of August 2015, I live off of £25/week on food and transport. Student living blissssss!

Being a bit of a pig and a snob for local, organic delicacies, food is my greatest expense.

Following that is transportation.

But other than those two, I need nor want for anything else in this world…


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