I’m often asked how I can afford to travel so much. Over the past few years, I’ve logged over 300,000 miles, backpacked through Northern Thailand, went on a 9 Day Whirlwind European Adventure, traveled solo through Mexico City. People tell me they don’t have the time, the money, or the resources to travel. I get questions like:
Are you rich? No, I am not!
Are you parents paying for you? Definitely not!
Don’t you have student loans? I did, and I’ve paid them off!
How can you afford rent in San Francisco and still travel? By hacking San Francisco housing!
How do you have the time? I make time!
All of these questions are valid, but in the end, it comes down to what you value most at this point in your life, and how you allocate your time, money, and resources to address those needs and wants. Over the past few years, I’ve prioritized travel over housing, cars, food, career, and more in order to accommodate a lifestyle where I can choose when I want to travel and how I can afford to travel.
I recommend checking out my article on the 5 Travel Hacks for the Modern Traveler to find out some of the tips and tricks I’ve used along the way.
I Ate Maggie (Indian version of Ramen) almost every day when I first moved out to the Bay
I was not making any money, and I was working on my startup, FreeSkies. We were bootstrapping the company, and I knew I had to start paying off my student loans in a few months. I had about $40,000 in student debt, so I was trying to save money wherever I could. Maggie doesn’t taste half bad and costs less than a $1 per meal.
I Built A Wall For My Room
Most people in San Francisco end up fitting 3 people into a 2 bedroom apartment in order to afford rent, and we were no exception. The difference was that we had found an apartment that still had a dining room, a rarity in today’s modern apartment. Instead of putting up curtains to add some privacy for the dining room, I decided to build my own walls. I went to Home Depot, bought some wood, some drywall, picked up a few tools, and built my own walls to fully close off the room. It fit beautifully, I saved a ton in rent, and we still had a living room to enjoy. With the extra wood and drywall, I even made a bar.
I Slept On The Couch
A few months after building that wall, I had picked up a job in consulting and soon found myself traveling often for work. I realized pretty quickly that I would only be back in San Francisco on the weekends, yet I was paying San Francisco rent. That just wasn’t going to work for me. We ended up leasing out my old room (the dining room), and I paid a $400 a month to rent out our couch in the living room. I kept all of my clothes in the closet and crashed on the couch on the weekends. I did that for almost 6 months.
I Downsized My Wardrobe
Because I was traveling for work every week, I needed to be able to fit all of my clothes into a carry-on suitcase. This forced me to rethink my wardrobe entirely. Any time I’d consider buying something new, I had to decide if there was room in my suitcase, and what item I’d have to replace. This forced me to really think about what clothes I needed and what I didn’t need, and stopped me from spending excessive money.
I Cook At Home
I decided that I didn’t really need to eat out as much during the week, so my roommates and I decided to start cooking at home more, and saved a ton of money on eating out. When the average meal in San Francisco costs $20, you end up saving a lot!
I Drink At Home
Just because you’re trying to save money, doesn’t mean you have to give up all of the luxuries. We bought drinks we liked and drank them at home. We hosted numerous parties at our own apartment, but by keeping the party at our place, we were able to avoid spending $15 a drink at a bar.
Paid off my debts in a year and a half (It wasn’t easy)
Because I’ve been able to save money over the past few years, because of the reasons I’ve stated above, I was able to pay off over $40,000 in student loans within 2 years. Paying off your student loans is arguably the biggest advantage when it comes to saving money long term. Just think about it. The sooner you’re able to pay off your student loans, the sooner you can put that money towards your 401k and different investments.
Because of the beauty of compound interest, that money makes you even more money in the long run. Paying off my student loans quickly were essential in allowing me to allocate more money towards traveling.
When I travel…
I Stay In Hostels (Check out why I love staying in Hostels)
Whenever I travel, I choose to stay in hostels. Not only is it a much more cost effective option, but it allows you to meet new people, explore local culture, and have many of the perks and amenities that a more expensive hotel would provide.
I Eat Street Food
Why go to expensive restaurants when you can experience local culture and cuisine by just eating street food. In many countries you can get a meal for under $1 by just checking out street vendors.
I Use Rewards Points (Check out my favorite card for earning travel points)
About a year ago, I wrote about the 3 No-Brainer Credit Cards Everyone Must Have in Their Wallet. These credit cards have allowed me to accrue thousands of points that I redeem for flights and hotels when I travel. Points are not hard to get either. You can earn points for buying the things you already do every day, on Amazon, on groceries, on restaurants, and more. Recently, I used some of the points I’ve saved up to book a first class ticket from Hong Kong to San Francisco on Cathay Pacific, and stay in the Ritz Carlton Macau.
I Work Remote
If your company has a flexible remote work and PTO policy, use it to your advantage. Even while I was consulting, we would have numerous opportunities to work from remote, and I’d take the definition to the extreme. I would work out of my hostel in Mexico City, a random McDonalds in central Illinois, and a train station in Stockholm. By working remote, I was able to save my PTO days, get my work done, and still be able to travel. I understand that not everyone can the ability to do this, but look for ways in your current company or role where you can make the best use of your time, and maximize your personal time. There’s always a way!
These are just a few of the tactics I’ve used over the past few years to save up money. Many of these tactics are not hard to try yourself. When travel is more important to you than what you eat, how you commute, or where you live, you can prioritize that over your other wants. So the next time you think you don’t have time or the money to travel, think again!
Originally published at jaymulakala.com on August 14, 2018.