How I Traveled to 115 Countries and Built a Successful Corporate Career at the Same Time
In the past five years I’ve ramped up my traveling big time. I’ve been between 60 and 90 days on the road every year, a journey that has taken me to 116 countries so far, and managed to juggle all this globe-trotting while working as an entrepreneur and then in corporate for two big companies in Denmark.
Now, in a two-part series of posts I’ll explain how I manage to both to travel so much and thrive in my career at the same time.
This time, I’ll focus on how you can travel more — specifically how you can get more time and more money to travel. Next time, I’ll explore how to make your career profit from your travels.
For much as I would like to, I don’t think this post can help everyone. I wrote it especially for people — both men and women — in their mid 20s to mid 30s without kids, who work for an international company and really have traveling as a top priority. It will help, but it’s not a deal-braker, that you’re from (or live in) a relatively rich country.
This doesn’t mean that if you’re a 42 year old woman from Ecuador with two kids and working for a startup you can’t implement what I suggest here. Perhaps and hopefully you can. But bear in mind that the model and my experience will be mostly relevant to the people who are or could be in the group mentioned above
How to Travel More
If I would ask someone why they don’t travel as much as they would like to, their reply is always one of these two: “I don’t have enough time”, or “I don’t have enough money”.
It appears that almost nobody has enough time and money at the same time. Only the retired and the “digital nomads” (more on them — the good and the bad — in the next post) do.
The whole point of this post is to debunk this myth. Even if you have a “normal” job you can still have the time and money to at least travel 60 days a year, if not more.
There’s really no secret to travel as much as I do. I’ve no crazy hacks, super systems, nor other fancy techniques. My solution is and has always been to think about time and money in a bit of a creative way.
Specifically, it’s all an exercise of perspective and prioritization:
- Perspective to help you see that you’ve more time than you think you do.
- Prioritization to help you see that it’s not that you don’t have or can’t have the money, but that you spend and/or live in a way that doesn’t maximize your “travel budget”.
Let’s get into it.
1) How to Maximize Time
There are two ways to have more time to travel. First, you can ‘activate’ more days to travel. Second, you can increase the return on investment (ROI) on those days.
1.1) Activating More Travel Days
We all have 24 hours in every day, 365 days a year. It’s the same for you, myself, Tim Cook, Barack Obama and the most hardcore traveler. The difference is how do we spend our time. This is obvious, but it’s a worth distinction nonetheless. You’ve the same 24 hours and 365 days as the most hardcore corporate CEOs and the most hardcore travelers.
The key is to ‘activate’ as as much of this time for traveling as possible.
The Travel-Possible Day
The Travel-Possible Days are the days that you can travel. Obviously, the more Travel-Possible Days you’ve activated, the more you’ll be able to tour the world.
- For most people the pre-set yearly holidays (anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks in Europe) are their only identified Travel-Possible Days
- For the more intrepid the pre-set yearly holidays plus the usual calendar holidays (Easter, Christmas) are their identified Travel-Possible Days
Thing is, there are probably A LOT of Travel-Possible days you’re not aware you have.
I define Travel-Possible Days as all those days when you’re not working physically at the office. Everything else, all the other days, are Travel-Possible Days. This is a big deal, as it includes:
- The 3–6 weeks yearly holidays
- The 10 or so calendar holidays a year
- All weekends
- All days when you’re working remotely
If you add up, these count as at least 20 + 10 + 100 = 130 Travel-Possible Days a year, even if you never work remotely. That’s a hell more than just 3–6 weeks.
This is a bit unconventional, but again — perspective. It’s not your boss’ business what you do on a Sunday — if you’re in Korea or chilling at home shouldn’t matter to him, at all. You might probably ask “Who the hell goes to Korea for the weekend?” I did, actually, and it’s less crazy than it sounds.
The main idea with “How to Maximize Time” is that you need to activate as many of those Travel-Possible days as possible. Activate as turning them from a “just one more Sunday” into part of a mini-holiday. A Sunday at home is not activated, while a Sunday in Korea is.
There are five ways of activating Travel-Possible Days:
1.1.1) Include Weekends in Your Itineraries
You should always include weekends in your itineraries. Don’t travel out Mondays. If you’re flying off, do it on Saturday, or, better, on Friday night (as we’ll see soon). In the same way, don’t fly back on Friday or Saturday — fly to arrive late on Sunday or on Monday morning. This simple trick expands your holidays big time.
Let’s say, for instance, that as the standard person, you take two weeks off in July when there are no calendar holidays, and you take them all in one long shot. If you take 10 days off, you would in the worst case have only 12 days holidays, while in the best case you could have up to 16.
The difference is that in the second case you include three weekends off, while in the first you include just one. Four days on the road is a lot. And you got them for free.
1.1.2) Spread Your Holidays Out
Per above, there’s power in activating weekends for traveling. To activate as many of these weekends, you can spread your holidays out.
Instead of taking ten days off in a row, take two at a time. For example, take off Thursday and Friday (or Friday and Monday, or Monday and Tuesday) and see what happens for the same 10 days off from the above example:
- Above best case scenario: Weekend-5 Days-Weekend-5 Days-Weekend. Total Travel-Possible Days: 16 days.
- Taking Thursday and Friday off only: 2 Days-Weekend x 5. Total Travel-Possible Days: 20 days.
- Taking it a bit further, if you only take a Friday: 1 Day-Weekend x 10. Total Travel-Possible Days: 30 days.
So, by traveling more on weekends and spreading the holidays out you basically can DUPLICATE the number of travel days over the best case scenario of the longer holiday.
I don’t expect you to ditch the longer holiday completely, or only travel the weekends. But this should give you a little bit of perspective. By being smart with dates, your 10 days off can yield 12 days or 30 days of traveling.
Use the Calendar Holidays as Much as Possible
To maximize this effect, use the calendar holidays as much as possible. Travel over Easter, travel when it’s Independence Day, Victory Day, or any other holiday. If you’ve a “long weekend” (when Friday or Monday is a holiday), you can add two holidays on top of it and you can activate five days as travel days at the cost of two days off only. This can be maximized over Easter or Christmas + New Years, when sometimes you can get up to eight travel days at the cost of only three days off.
1.1.3) Work Remotely
You don’t necessarily need to be at the office to work. If you’re not physically at the office, you’ve a potential Travel-Possible Day. Especially in advanced countries, it’s common for employees to have the chance to “work from home”. Take this opportunity wholeheartedly. But, instead of working from home, work from abroad. After all, if you’re not at the office, why would your boss care if you’re working from your house, or from Montenegro, Rome, or Dubai?
I do this a lot. While my colleagues “work from home” once a week (or second week), I “work remotely” once a month or so. Often from a sunny, nice place as Greece or France. I normally won’t go Japan or Australia to work remotely, but for close-by places this is a fantastic way of activating more travel days. To make it work I would:
- Work less hours than normal, ~6–7hrs max
- Work very early or very late. For instance, if I start at 6.00 (and I often do), by 12.00 I’m done with work and have the day free to explore
- Get a lot of ‘pre work’ done before the trip — so in case I need to make a shorter day, I’ve something to show for my “work”
Sounds sneaky? It shouldn’t be so. If you’ve a good relationship your manager, ask him or her if you can try it out once. Then, over-deliver. If you get things done when you’re away, you’ll build trust and you’ll receive more opportunities to keep doing this.
Going back to the big picture, just one day or working remotely — let’s say, a Monday — coupled with the Thursday and Friday of the week before off can give you five travel days at the cost of only two holidays. Do this four or five times a year and, again, you can activate many more travel days than you do now.
1.1.4) Travel for Work
There are jobs with a lot of traveling involved. If you’re a trader, a consultant or work at a head office you could expect to travel intensively. If you want to ramp up your milage, you might want to get one of those jobs.
There’s an obvious upside: free flights, free hotel, free food. Also, if the opportunity allows, you can have holidays before and after the trip. This is especially good when you’re going to a farther away place, as what’s usually the biggest cost (flights) will be paid by the company.
However, it’s not all roses. Traveling for work can also be a killer. More often than not, work trips will eat into your off-work time as holidays and weekends. You’ll normally work double as much you would do at the office as well.
1.1.5) Get More Holidays
Don’t settle for a two week holiday. You can be bold and get more days off from your company. You can do this in the following ways:
- Negotiate. When you sit down to sign your contract, ask for more holidays. The negotiation doesn’t need to be just about the salary. If traveling is valuable for you, fight hard for more holidays in your contract. I personally do so. I don’t care if Bob and Mary have 20 days, or that it’s company policy that everyone has 20 days. If you really want to hire me, I want more.
- Negotiate unpaid holidays. What if you could negotiate two extra weeks off, unpaid? That’s much easier to achieve, and I have never had any manager saying no or turning me down because I was bargaining hard on unpaid holidays. It’s an exercise of priorities. Are you willing to sacrifice half of your October paycheck for two weeks in the Caribbean? I’m okay with it.
- Move to a country with more holidays. I couldn’t cope with Argentina’s two-week holidays and moved to Denmark, which gives you five to seven. If your country is as stingy with holidays as mine and the bosses tough on the two points above, perhaps you could look into going abroad.
The Catchall — Be Really Good at What You Do
Why would your managers let you take a day off every few weeks, let you work remotely and give you more holidays?
Because you’re really, really good at what you do. You’re amazing and indispensable at the office, you’ve a great relationship with your manager and you keep your promises, always delivering on time and exceeding expectations. If you’re that good, you’ll get that extra credit. If you get that extra credit, you can use it to bargain for a bit more traveling. That’s what I’ve been doing.
It’s hard to be so amazing. But hey, you can give it a try. When I’m at the office, I work my ass off big time. I work over hours, often on weekends and I’m the first to raise my hand and ask for more responsibility. I apply The 21 Laws of High Performance and live by them. You can do so as well.
But What If…
… you’re a manager of ten people
If you’re effective, you can manage a big team remotely — you might not be able to take three weeks off straight, but you can still do the shorter holidays. It’s all about communication. There are dozens of people I know that do this, including myself.
… your job doesn’t let you work remotely in any way
But can’t you take short holidays, anyway? If not, get another job.
… you work in an ultra-competitive environment
What’s your priority? If you work in i-banking you barely have time to sleep — or so my friends say. Thus, naturally, you won’t go world-touring big time. But it all comes down to your priorities. If you exit a job like this and land a job in corporate development or strategy, you can have a bit of both worlds, I guess.
Ultra-Competitive Environments Side Note
In ultra-competitive environments for any day you’re traveling another guy will be pulling all-nighters and will be in the prime spot to take the next promotion off you. I’ll show in the next post that it’s naive to think that you could be the best in your career and travel more than any of your friends at the same time. You can be strong — but definitely not the best — on both simultaneously.
1.2) Maximize the ROI on Your Travel Days
Once you’ve activated more days to travel, you need to make sure you get as much experience and value as possible out of them. Depending on how you travel, two full travel days to you might be less valuable than one full day for a hardcore traveler. You get more value out of your travel days in two ways: traveling smartly and traveling intensively.
1.2.1) Travel Smartly
The biggest ‘time sink’ in traveling is transportation — including flights, train and bus rides, driving, commuting, etc. Thus, the best way to go increase your travel ROI is to either transport yourself less or transport yourself at better times.
- Take faster trains when available and choose a 2hr flight over a 18hrs bus, if possible.
- Take direct flights, if possible.
- Pay up to stay in a good location. It doesn’t make sense to save 20 Euros a night in a hotel if you then need to stay 1hr away from the city center or station. Better to pay more and be out in the UNESCO World Heritage site within 30 mins of waking up and not after 2 hours.
This costs money, but it’s often not that much. It’s also money well invested.
Transport Yourself at Better Times
- Book Early or Late Flights. If possible, always take flights either very early or very late. This guarantees the best ROI and value for your time — no wonder why most business travel is at dawn or late in the day. A 6.00am flight is more a blessing than a curse. If you, for instance, need to fly 2hrs to go to Rome, if your flight leaves at 6.00am you’ll be at 8.00am at Rome’s airport and within one more hour in the Colosseo. You’ll then have the whole day to see the city. If your flight is at 11.00, you’ll probably do nothing that morning in your departure city and you’ll only get to the center of Rome in the mid-afternoon. It’s much better to get a big, uninterrupted block of time for sightseeing than just do 2hrs here and 2hrs there. You might have to pay up but it’s worth it.
- Take Night Trains and Buses. Night trains are an amazing deal. For decent prize you normally get a) bed and b) transport to your destination. Some even include a shower. It’s even romantic. I encourage you to take as many night trains or buses as possible. Often you’ll leave at 7.00pm or so and arrive at 6.00am at your destination. Transport takes time, so bundle it with sleep to increase the ROI.
Travel Minimalistic — Don’t Check In Luggage
Pros never check in luggage. Traveling with a cabin bag only will save you time, make your trip more flexible and also save you money. The benefits are worth it:
- Saving Time. If you don’t check in luggage you’ll save on at least an hour on flights because a) you don’t need to be at the airport early and can board in the last minute, and b) you don’t need to wait for luggage after the airplane lands. Needless to say, you don’t need to wait hours and fill dozens of papers when your luggage is delayed or lost. A flight at 6.00am is more agreeable when you need to be at the airport at 5.15–5.30 for last minute boarding and not at 4.45 to hand over your luggage to the sleepy airline staff.
- Becoming Flexible. I travel with a 35L backpack that’s small and comfy enough to be on my back and on the road the whole day if it’s necessary. I rather leave it in the hotel, but if there’s no option, I can go on with it the whole day, walking 10K, going to all museums, etc. If you’ve a gigantic trolley, you just can’t do it. You either need to waste time and pay steep fees to leave it in storage or you can’t just take it at all and need to go back to your hotel before heading to the airport or station, even if it’s the other way.
- Saving Money. We’ll touch on this below. But it’s now common place for airlines to charge you for checking in luggage. You better spend that money elsewhere. Paying for luggage is the biggest newbie mistake when it comes to traveling and absolutely unnecessary.
Packing Side Note
I could write a whole day about packing, but all I can say is that you don’t need much when you’re on the road. For instance, during a two week trip to Central Asia this is all I took:
2 pants, 2 shorts (one for swimming), 5 t-shirts, 2 shirts, one sweater, one jacket, one scarf, underwear and socks for a week, toiletry bag, documents, my iPad, iPhone, a charger for both, a big DSLR and one pair of shoes. It all fit in the 35L Minaal backpack, and I took a packable ‘daypack’ for when I left the bigger backpack in the hotel. I’d to wash one time, but hey — it takes me five minutes and gives me much more flexibility.
I don’t take the DSRL too often. When I don’t I can bring an extra pair of shoes or another jacket.
As a rule of thumb, take what you’ll use only. If I take a certain item to a trip and I don’t use it, I’m very skeptical of including it in the next travels. Towels, robes, etc are all bulky and can be just rented from the hotel for a nominal fee, if not available for free.
1.2.2) Travel Intensively
You can also increase your travel day ROI by traveling more intensively. If you’re serious about traveling, ramp it up — take it as a challenge, as a job. Wake up at 6.00 or 7.00, if not before, and hit the day with energy. Stay out until late, and only be at the hotel to shower and sleep. If you take traveling this way, you can do two-day itineraries often in one day, and this way see in one week what other people take two.
While this tires me up, I always ask myself — do I travel to relax, or do I travel to see the world? 90% of the time I travel to see the world. If I’m Tunisia, I’m dying to see the ruins of Carthage, or the Ancient city of Dougga, and if I’ve only five days to see it all I take the tempo up. This doesn’t mean I rush through attractions — I don’t. Instead, I rush out of the hotel. I go all-in to see the places I flew in to see in the first place.
I sometimes travel to Paris, Rome or Kyoto to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or to write the whole day. But it’s the exception, not the rule. If I’m in fucking Uzbekistan, I make sure that I make the most of it. God knows when I’ll have the chance of being there again! The ‘relaxed trip’ is not better or worse than the ‘intensive’ trip, but when it comes to increasing your travel ROI, being intense pays off.
Travel more days and use those days better. That’s the main idea of this first part. Activate as many travel days as you can. Increase the ROI of these days by traveling smarter and more intensively. Do that and you’ve half of the puzzle solved.
2) How to Maximize Money
Time is one half of the puzzle. The other half is money. After all, if you don’t have money to travel, what’s the point of activating all those travel days?
Thus, the purpose of this part of the essay is to give you perspective on how you could have more money to travel. This you can do by a) expanding your travel budget and b) increasing the ROI of your travel budget.
2.1) Expanding Your Travel Budget
I call the travel budget to a pre-set slice of your net income that you exclusively use for travel related expenses: flights, accommodation, excursions, gear, etc. The bigger this budget, the more money you’ll have to travel.
There two ways to expand this travel budget: a) you can increase your net income and b) you can assign the travel budget a higher percentage of your net income.
For example, if your net income is 2.000 Euros a month (24.000 Euros a year) and you spend 5% of it traveling, your travel budget for the year is 1.200 Euros. You can make the budget bigger by having a higher income (3.000 Euros a month and 5% yields 1.800 Euros) or by spending a higher percentage traveling (2.000 Euros a month and 10% yields 2.400 Euros).
2.1.1) Increasing Your Net Income
There’s no better way to increase your travel budget than to make more money. “Don’t focus on saving pennies. To be a pro, work relentlessly to make more money”, or so people say. In order of effectiveness, these are the most popular five ways to increase your income:
Move to a High-Income Country
I moved from Argentina (low income) to Denmark (high income). I make something like 5X more in Denmark than I could make back home, and my disposable income (after taxes, rent, etc) is higher than almost all of my friends’ gross pay back home. Naturally I can travel more now than I did before.
While I don’t think everyone can or wants to switch countries, moving to a high-income country tops the list of potential ways of increasing your income. Countries like Switzerland, Singapore, Norway, UAE, the US and Australia pay big sums for quality talent, much more than in, for instance, my native South America, Southern Europe, most of Africa and Asia.
If you don’t know where to start, you can look into Numbeo or, if you would like to move to Europe, this average income map.
Negotiate a Higher Salary
If you’re really good at what you do, get paid accordingly. Don’t settle for a 5% salary increase year-on-year. Be more ambitious.
This is not an essay about negotiating your salary, but hey — if you get multiple job offers, you can play company vs. company and get a better deal. Make companies fight for you. Don’t cave in when your manager says there’s “no budget” to increase your salary. If you’re indispensable, put pressure on your company and negotiate a good contract.
Build a Side Business
Your ‘day job’ doesn’t need to be your only source of income. You could build a side-business as well. For example, I ran a big dating advice network online for a few years and it single-handedly paid for all my travel expenses. These days, I write books and make presentations that give me extra cash.
Don’t under appreciate the value of a side business. Even if you make only 100 Euros a month from your side business that sums up to 1.200 Euros by the end of the year. That’s a return ticket to basically anywhere in the globe.
I’ve countless examples of people working within blue-chip companies that run successful side business. My girlfriend teaches a class in university. One of my old classmates invests in real estate. One friend runs his own investment fund and one other freelances as a designer after hours.
Side Business Side Note
It takes a lot of time to build a successful side business. This weights on the time trade-off, as if you spend a lot of your time traveling and another lot working on your side business you won’t have time for much else. That was an issue for me at different points in my career. The holy grail is to build a flexibility-focused side business (also called lifestyle business) — those like Tim Ferriss wrote about in The 4-Hour Workweek.
Tap Into the Shared Economy
The easiest and most popular way of making some extra income is to tap to the shared economy. Specifically, rent your flat on Airbnb when you’re away. If I’m off for more than two days I always put my apartment for rent. I get paid a decent amount per night, often much more than what I pay for a hotel in a developing country. If there’s anything like ‘effortless money’ in this world, that is renting your flat on Airbnb.
2.1.2) Increasing Your Travel Budget as a Percentage of Your Net Income
You can assign 0%, 5%, 10%, or, if you’re intrepid like me, 20 to 30% of your net income for traveling. The bigger the slice, the more money you’ll have to travel. However, unlike the case above, now the extra money will come at the expense of something else. Just as with time, you’ll have a trade-off.
If you travel as much as I do, you would be naive to expect to keep that millage and at the same time:
a) live a fancy jet-set life — with a top apartment, the best car, etc
b) party as much as your most crazy friends do
c) save as much as your big-saving friends does
d) buy the nicest, latest gadgets as your Apple fanboy-friends do
You just can’t do it all and you’ll need to prioritize. If you prioritize travel, something’s going to give. Perhaps you’ll still be able to save a big piece of money. But jet-setting, big savings, world touring, the newest gadgets and partying hard at the same time? For that, you’ll need to have quite some cash.
If you’re not the very rich type, take these five big broad areas (traveling, jet-setting, partying, saving, buying stuff) and then prioritize them. If traveling is your number one or two, you could well spend 10% to 30%. It’s all cool as long as you consciously give up on a few of the others.
It also helps if you budget — as per Laws of High Performance 19 and 20.
2.2) Increasing the Travel Budget’s ROI
If you increase your travel budget, you’ll have more money to spend and more money to travel. But expanding the piggy-bank is not the only way to travel more. You can also have more money to travel by spending what you have better and smarter, thus increasing the ROI of your travel budget.
Specifically, this means spending as little as possible in your travels without losing in quality of experience. There are multiple areas where you could increase ROI, but three stand out: flight tickets, accommodation and long excursions.
2.2.1) Flight Tickets
I spend 35% to 40% of my travel budget on flights. Even in the low-fare times we live in, the tickets still sum up to a lot of money. While short haul routes are incredibly cheap, long-haul flights still cost a bunch. A flight back home to Argentina from Europe never costs me less than 800–1000 Euros. It’s big money. There are three ways to minimize how much you spend on flights:
- Only Buy Discounted Long-Haul Flights. It’s dumb to pay full-price for a long-haul flight. If you plan a bit in advance, you can always find some kind of deal. There are dozens of websites that track airline deals. I’ve found return flights to Copenhagen-Singapore for ~400 Euros… a Copenhagen-Tanzania-Maldives-Sri Lanka-Copenhagen loop for ~900 Euros, and have paid just ~290 Euros to go to Kyrgyzstan. If you’re flexible, you can find much better deals as well. It takes just a bit of research to find the right flight or date combination that slashes 100 Euros off the first price. I can’t recommend you enough to take a bit more extra time to investigate.
- Fly Budget Airlines. Ryanair might be uncomfortable, even annoying — but hey, as the CEO Michael O’Leary said, “people only care about the cheapest price, and we’re the cheapest.” He’s right. In short-haul routes it’s a no-brainer to fly Ryanair, or Easyjet, or another low-cost carrier — especially when you’re flying, as in the first part, to well located airports and at a good time in the day. Is it worth to pay double for a bit more legroom, a glass of Coke and a small cake? It’s up to you to decide, but embracing low-cost carriers can save you a lot money in the long run.
- Abuse Frequent Flyer Miles. Europeans might have the longer holidays, but the Americans have all the good frequent flyer deals. If there’s one thing I would love to be American for it’s those deals. Oh. My. God. Americans have so many opportunities to get almost free flights anywhere in the world with minimal effort that it makes me nuts. From credit card deals, to (a few years ago) hacking the Fed, there are dozens of ways for Americans to ramp up their miles without even flying. There are a whole lot of services and courses that can teach you how to hack the system. Non-Americans have it much harder. In Northern Europe the deals suck, but, despite this, I make sure to make all my big purchases with the card that gives me the most miles per Euro spent. It’s a waste not to.
Note on Low-Cost Airlines
Most top-ups on low-cost fares are useless. Don’t check in luggage. Don’t pay extra to select a seat. Bring your own food and drinks. By keeping it low cost you’ll save big time. If you need more than the bare minimum low cost airlines are a bad deal. If you need any of the above, fly with a “fancier” airline.
Accommodation is, after flights, the biggest expense for the usual traveler. It’s usually expensive in developed countries and more accessible in the rest. Where to stay can range from hotels, to hostels, to camping sites, or to Airbnb or Couchsurfing. In all cases, I suggest you look for two critical things in any of your bookings:
a) Make sure you’ll stay at a good location. This to save time, as mentioned above.
b) Make sure it’s safe and secure. Better to pay up and avoid getting your things stolen.
The rest is up to you. But don’t kill yourself over free wifi or a continental breakfast. The only deal-brakers should be bad location and an unsafe environment. So, where can you actually stay?
- If you’re on a budget, Couchsurfing remains the prime option. You can stay for free, or (if you’re a nice guest), by the nominal fee of inviting your host a dinner or bringing a small gift. If you’re on a budget, go for it.
- Hostels are good if you’re on a budget. I avoid them if I’m in the “intense travel” mood these days, but they’re still a worthy alternative, especially if you’re traveling alone and wish to meet fellow travelers.
- Airbnb is, these days, one of my preferred options. Though not cheap, you can still get good value for your money in terms of location, comfort and facilities.
Couchsurfing, hostels and Airbnb have (usually) one critical point in common: they’ll have a kitchen where you can cook, usually. Cooking “home” saves you big money in the long run, especially if you’re traveling in Western Europe. Paying 15 Euros for a dish of pasta when you can cook it yourself for 2 Euros is a missed opportunity to improve your budget. This becomes less of a major issue in South East Asia, the Middle East and other places where eating out is good and cheap.
- Then there’s good old hotels. Hotels get bad “press” from the digital nomad crowd, but in many cases are the best (or, in some cases, the only) deal available. If you’re planning to book for a hotel, look for discounts — apps such as Hotel Tonight can help (Link Android, Link iOS ). In all cases, do whatever possible to avoid paying the full price.
Hotel Benefits Side Note
You’ll be impressed by how you can squeeze extras from hotels almost effortlessly. To start with, always ask for a room upgrade. If they don’t give it in the get-go, wait for the staff to change and try again. It almost always works. I walk down and plainly say that I need to change the room.
If they can’t change the room, ask for another perk. Perhaps it’s free breakfast, a complimentary drink, or whatever. But make it a habit to ask for a better deal.
Last, as mentioned above, the best deal with accommodation is to avoid it altogether. If you take a night train you’ll get transport and “hotel” in the same deal, saving you both time and money.
2.2.3) Longer Excursions
3-Day, 5-Day, 10-Day or longer excursions are expensive, but they’re also easy to negotiate. Even if the agency’s website says “1000 Euros, fixed — book online”, give the agency a call and discuss with the manager and tell her you can only pay 750 Euros. You’ll be surprised by how often they cave in or at least discount you a couple hundred Euros.
If the agencies are proving tough, ask for a cost-breakdown sheet. Then you can negotiate on points that are over priced or even opt-out of activities you’re not interested. Usually, you can save by fighting back on transportation charges and opting out of lunch and dinner bundles (unless you’re staying at one of those all-inclusive places, where it’s a good deal).
In all cases, NEGOTIATE! Don’t pay full price. Especially off-season you’ll get a discount with just by challenging a bit the first offer.
2.2.4) Other Ways to Save Money While on the Road
- Cook your own meals. As mentioned above, if you cook breakfast and dinner, you’ll save big time. If you’re really on a budget, prepare some sandwiches for lunch and take them with you while you’re off in the city.
- Drink tap water. In most of the US, Western Europe, Japan and many other places tap water is clean and drinkable. Always have a bottle with you, and re-fill whenever possible. Don’t pay for a 5 Euro water in the airport when you can refill your bottle in the water dispenser next to the bathroom.
- Drink less alcohol. It’s not uncommon for backpackers to spend up to 20% of their daily budget in beer, wine and cocktails. It’s cool to have that glass of Malbec in Buenos Aires and that pint in Munich, just don’t exaggerate. You can have fun without being shitfaced every second day.
- Don’t buy stuff. Don’t buy every souvenir you see. Sadly, these days most souvenirs, from Tunisia to Colombia and from Italy to New Zealand, are all made in China. If you buy something, go upscale and make sure that what you get is local and authentic.
- Don’t change money at the airport. Or, if you do, make sure it’s at a good rate. In some cases you can lose up to 10% of your money just by getting into a bad money changing deal.
I’ve been to 115+ countries using this exact framework. There’s really no hidden secrets — this is just a game of thinking about time and money in a creative and analytical way.
Just remember — this is not for everyone. First, traveling needs to be high up in your priorities, as this entails sacrifices and opportunity costs. Second, it’s easier for young guys and girls in the richer world without many obligations at home.
In an upcoming part two I’ll go deep into how your travels could benefit your career.
If you liked this article, you’ll also like my book — The 21 Laws of High Performance. It’s an all-practical guide on how to achieve your objectives, be it traveling, get healthier, strengthen your career, start a business and more.
You can also get a notification for when part two of this post is done (and a few free chapters of the book as well) if you go here.