Affordable wanderlust: How to afford to travel for a year
Friday, 29 November 2019
If you're like me, you find it depressing that the United States does not have any policy about paid vacation time.
According to a 2013 report by the Center of Economic Policy and Research, we are the only wealthy country that lacks such a system. Austria, by contrast, has a law that allows for 22 paid vacation days per year. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway permit 25 days vacation, and France takes the cake with 30 days.
This fact is inspiring some people to take extended leaves from their jobs —sometimes for over a year. I was one of those people. I left a great job (but with just 10 days of vacation time) in June 2008 and traveled for exactly one year.
The experience taught me a lot about money management, and I was able to save enough money to accomplish my dream. Here are a few of my takeaways.
Save everything and get a second job
I started working toward my goal in September 2007. At the time, I was making a $30,000 salary as a magazine staff writer and living in San Francisco — one of the most expensive cities in the world — with very little disposable income and no safety net. For extra money, I signed on to be a Mary Kay beauty consultant and hosted parties for my friends. I also worked nights at a coffee shop down the street.
Work overtime and take extra jobs if you can. Consider every penny you earn as an investment in a future experience abroad.
Open a new bank account
Create a separate bank account just for your trip — I did this and it really helped. I kept the money I needed for daily expenses like rent and groceries in my primary account, and deposited a portion of every paycheck into my trip fund.
Think about volunteering
There are thousands of volunteer programs to participate in while you're on the road. I wanted to teach English in Nepal, so I fundraised for the experience through IFRE Volunteers Abroad. Family and friends gladly donated, and their funds helped pay my way for a life-changing three months. Other organizations that offer volunteering programs include GoEco, GVI and Cross-Cultural Solutions.
Look into health insurance options
Solidify your health insurance situation in advance of your trip. If you're just taking a sabbatical from work and can stay on your company's plan, do it. If not, call your insurance company to see if you can extend your coverage on your own dime. It's also wise to check out the list of travel health insurance providers endorsed by the U.S. Department of State as well as what may be available to you through the Affordable Care Act. Since I quit my job to travel, I opted to purchase an affordable individual plan, which worked well.
Choose inexpensive destinations
There's a massive price difference between traveling to Europe in the summer and Southeast Asia in the winter. Consider going to locations that offer inexpensive food and lodging options. I spent my first six months in Asia — China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and India — and easily lived on less than $25 per day that included food, lodging, and activities. My second six months were spent in Australia and New Zealand, which were much more pricy.
Get a job on the road
I was nearly broke by the time I got to Australia, but that wasn't a problem thanks to the country's working holiday tourist visa program, which is favorable to U.S. citizens. If you're between 18 and 31 years old, the visa is pretty easy to get (note: there are also options for older travelers). I flew to Perth and worked for two months at a sandwich shop, and the money I earned helped me keep traveling.
Don't plan all of your transportation
Unless you are very tight on time, I advise against purchasing a round-the-world ticket. These can be expensive and will limit your travel dates. Instead, book as you go. You'll save money by traveling overland and will be able to come and go as you please.
Pack light and bring detergent
One backpack will take you around the world for a year without a problem. Bring powder detergent and wash your clothes in your hostel bathroom to save money. Every other backpacker will be doing the same thing.
Consider free travel options
It is possible to spend next to nothing while on the road by participating in programs such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or WWOOF). This program offers live/work arrangements on farms all over the world. Can't afford a room for the night? Consider signing up for Couchsurfing, a website that partners locals possessing an open couch or bedroom with travelers looking for a place to stay.
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