Road Money: How I funded 6 months of travel
I am still completely new at this extended travel malarkey and have come at it quite late in the day. I didn’t have a gap year in my early twenties and before this trip I hadn’t been away from home for longer than 2 weeks. I am far from being an expert on any travel related matter, especially saving and budgeting. That said, friends have asked me how I went about gathering the cash make my dream trip a reality. I took 6 months completely off work and used the time to visit the countries which most captured my imagination.
If like me you live and work in London, the idea of saving anything at the end of a month is a notion many of us scoff at… here are some things that worked for me:
It is not as expensive as you think
We can all use Facebook and Instagram to make it look like we are ‘living the dream’ in the most decadent and luxurious locations, spoiling ourselves with a never-ending supply of cocktails and glamorous activities. (For the record, I definitely do this, and encourage this practice!) The reality is, that most of these beautiful places aren’t anywhere near as expensive as life in Northern Europe. If you are happy to live modestly and in basic accommodation then the experience becomes the ultimate reward. In India a friend and I were living on £7 or £8 per day each (all in) and we always had full bellies and clean, safe accommodation. Some of the most delicious food I have eaten has been the beautiful, fresh, vegetarian cuisine we enjoyed in Southern India. Right now I am self catering in Nicaragua where a mango costs 4p and an avocado only 20p. Coming from the UK it feels really decadent to have these treats everyday.
Get a poor boyfriend
I joke, but it is true! Having recently set-up his own business, my boyfriend was, for a time, back to a student salary. It is definitely easy to scrimp and save when you are both in the same boat. We got very good at Friday and Saturday nights ‘in’ with home cooking, wine and boxsets. We were more creative with exploring London ‘on the cheap’ and some of our nicest date days were walks around the capital and taking a picnic to one of the many gorgeous parks. If the above option isn’t available to you then I recommend getting a RICH boyfriend. I’ve never tried it but have heard it’s great.
Quit the gym
As a regular gym-goer this one was hard for me. I knew I would miss my morning sessions before work and being able to go to a spin class at lunchtime. A few months before my departure date I decided I could no longer justify the ludicrous monthly cost of my membership at a swanky gym in Kensington (picked because its 5 minutes away from my office!) So I cut the cord, saved the money and got my butt out the door for a daily run. Turns out this was a great decision. I discovered my office has showers. I discovered that running outdoors in January was actually glorious. I think the cold makes my brain work better. It was good preparation for me adapting to working-out on the road, in all climates and locations. I don’t think I will be joining the gym when I return to London. If anything, its an extra £100 a month to spend on wine to make me feel better about no longer travelling around the world!
Suspend or postpone Christmas gifting for a year
I recognize that this absolutely will not be an option for everyone. Thankfully I have an especially awesome family who understood my need to save and weren’t thinking materialistically. Also, several of them told me that they were relieved because I usually give crap presents. I gave my boyfriend a fridge magnet with a picture of us in it. He bought me a head torch. Sexy. I did shifts at Crisis (a homeless care facility) over the holiday period and (half-jokingly) told my family that this could be my gift to them. I think we all had a very Merry Christmas.
Air miles are the shiiiiiit
A couple of years ago I got quite nerdy about saving avios points (British Airways airmiles). I got a buzz every time I saw my point balance go up and when work travel was long and exhausting I consoled myself that every flight was contributing to a FFF — Future Fun Flight! Even if you don’t fly often enough to save many points, I highly recommend the credit cards that give you one point per one pound spent. (I have a British Airways American Express). So far on airmiles I have bought a return flight to South Africa, a one-way ticket to India and countless short-haul returns to European destinations; many in business class.
Visit places off season
I actually ended up doing this accidently. My list of destinations didn’t fit a tradition ‘round the world in one direction’ type of trip, so I just ended up going where I wanted when I wanted. In Africa this often meant that our campsites were deserted and we were the only tourists we saw for a few days at a time. In India, this meant that without fail we could haggle our accommodation costs way down and cut great deals for staying in the same place for a couple of nights. Its rainy season here in Central America, but it has barely rained at all and the accommodation is cheap and plush compared to Asia.
Get a job that stimulates and exhausts you in equal measures
OH MY GOD YOUR JOB SOUNDS AMAZING. LIKE…THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!! This is a reaction I have gotten very used to hearing when I meet new people on the road and tell them what I do for a living. Yes, I am lucky to have a brilliant job in an exciting industry, where I get to travel and work with inspiring musicians. It is however a HUGE commitment. It bleeds into weekends and holidays. It makes you ‘that guy’ on their phone in the restaurant. It wakes you up with 100 emails from another timezone and then keeps you awake at nighttime with jetlag and anxiety. I love it though, and I am grateful to have it in my life. Sometimes it doesn’t leave much room for anything else, which can be a GREAT thing when saving money. Who needs any more entertainment when you have spent the day on a tour bus with a bunch musicians, practicing a cover-version in another language that they have to play live on the radio in like 15 minutes, AND the drummer has lost his passport somewhere between Cologne and Paris. Oh the excitement! Also, there is often free wine.
Book a flight and get motivated
If all else fails and you are bad at planning and saving, then feel the fear and do it anyway! Book your first big flight, put the date in the diary. It will feel totally exhilarating. You can deal with the details later.
And a final thought…..
Canned tuna, lentils and home made salad is the lunchbox of champs! Pret lunches and a daily Americanos became a distant memory when I was saving but it never felt like a big sacrifice. When you watching the sunrise over the Taj Mahal or sipping ice cold Corona on gorgeous beach, you are not going to lament all those cheese and pickle packaged sandwiches that you didn’t buy.