wait, but cheechee, how do you afford to travel so much?

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"wait, but cheechee, how do you afford it all?"

This is probably the question I get asked the most from all of my friends. Just a couple of days ago, I got tagged in a meme that essentially voiced all of these questions:

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It's a totally valid thought! I'm not a trust fund baby, and I just graduated college-- so I'm certain all my friends are just scratching their heads from bewilderment on how I managed to pull off a six month long trip abroad. 

So voila, today, I am here to demystify how I managed to do it!

A couple of factors I realize are not accessible to everyone, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I recognize my unique situation: 

  • A little over half a year ago, I signed a contract for a job that asked me to start in summer of 2018-- so I had job security before I took off
  • I graduated college without student loans, thanks in part to generous scholarships and research funding + being an in state student -- so I was debt free
  • I had held four different internships throughout college, 2 additional jobs, and multiple freelance contracts before entering the real world -- so I had enough savings due to being a designer + an intern in tech
  • I also had applied to various credit cards and gotten approved for the ones best suited for travel perks-- more on this later, but I essentially had  the best in class cards for travel perks

I realize that not everyone is as fortunate nor in the same situation where they can leave school debt free and have multiple paid internships. I had paid my own way through the latter two years of school, so I definitely understand how there is a lot of burden on being able to pay off your education and the pressure to enter the "real world" to start paying off debt. 

However, that being said, there were a couple of additional calculations + mindset changes I took into consideration before embarking on my world tour.  I also budgeted roughly $55/day (USD) while on the road, all inclusive. Below, I've broken down my tips into the main categories of spending for a traveler: accommodation, activities, transit, and dining.

ACCOMMODATION

  • As I had ended my lease after graduating and no longer needed a permanent address, I was able to save roughly 1K-2K a month simply by not paying rent
  • I was okay with staying in the cheapest mixed dorms in hostels if that meant I could save $5 a night. Every penny counts! I also prefer to stay in hostels when I'm solo traveling/ traveling with a friend that is not a significant other, as it allows me to meet fellow travelers and enjoy a more social atmosphere. Plus, they have usually have a bunch of really cool activities and sometimes even have free breakfast/dinner!

 

 Me at the top bunk of one of the best hostels I stayed in-- it was in the Lisbon train station!  

Me at the top bunk of one of the best hostels I stayed in-- it was in the Lisbon train station!  

ACTIVITIES

  • I approached travel less as a "vacation", and more as an opportunity to stretch my dollar-- so I went to countries that were much more affordable.
  • Free walking tours in Europe were absolutely the best, great for meeting travelers and also to see cities on a budget. Highly highly recommend if you haven't done one yet. (These tours operate on a tips basis, so I could squeeze in a lot of sightseeing on a lower budget rather than paying for the overpriced tourist buses).
  • In Southeast Asia + Northern Africa, I bargained a lot before paying for anything, including tours. I was able to snag a 3D2N desert tour with transit to my next city for $90 (30/day), with a $25 upgrade for a more luxurious desert camp with running water and actual beds-- which wasn't bad at all!

TRANSIT

  • As I had a long span of time, I chose to travel slowly, which meant a lot more time spent on buses and a lot less money spent on planes.
  • Some great ways of getting around: 
    • Europe: Flixbus has a very extensive network, and usually is way cheaper than trains. I also utilized the public transit network (metro is usually great in European cities), and sometimes I would squeeze in sightseeing for places that required public transit within a 24hr timeframe so I could make good use of the one-day public transit passes many cities have for tourists. I also hitchhiked once in Croatia so I could avoid paying for an overpriced taxi ride, and a kind gentleman picked us up with no strings attached!
    • Southeast Asia:   mopeding around is significantly cheaper than hiring a taxi (I think the average was <$5 for a day's moped rental).  However, this is a slightly more dangerous option, especially for those who have never ridden scooters before and are used to western standards of traffic laws. In this case, make good use of Uber in areas that have it if you would rather not ride a scooter (Vietnam has moped Ubers that are very affordable) and would prefer not to get ripped off by shady taxi drivers. I had a couple of unfortunate run ins with overpriced taxis (mostly due to a lack of working cell connection) during my time in Vietnam, but if you have working data you will be good to go! 
    • Egypt:  This is a trickier one-- we ended up booking through our hostel for an all inclusive package on the local train (1st class non-sleeper tickets from Cairo-Luxor-Aswan-Cairo), as it is near impossible to purchase tickets by yourself at the local price if you do not speak fluent Arabic. More on this later.
    • Morocco:  It is most efficient to go directly to the bus stations in big cities (ask for Supratours or CTM bus stations) and book there. It will be much cheaper than booking online for inter-city transit.
  • In addition, traveling with a carry-on sized backpack at around 7kg meant I never had to pay any baggage fees, a sneaky way budget airlines get you to pay double the price for a plane ticket (RyanAir, EasyJet, AirAsia, VietJet etc.). There were some close run-ins with AirAsia as my bag was slightly closer to the 10kg mark, but I am very proud to say I only paid for checking in my bag once through those 6 months I traveled. Pack less!
  • I also received the Priority Pass as a perk alongside my Chase Sapphire Reserve, which meant on transit days I could save money on meals simply by going to a lounge instead. These lounges also had free alcohol + water and nap pods with power outlets, which was a total score for the weary traveler!

DINING

  • Sometimes I would just pay for the breakfast buffet (usually 7 euros) and pack a sandwich for lunch instead of dining in a restaurant. This went super far, especially in cities like Copenhagen where the cost of a meal could easily cost upwards of $25!
  • I also cooked in hostels, as I could almost always find another budget traveler willing to split the cost of groceries-- and cook a delicious meal together! This was significantly cheaper than dining out.

In case you were wondering-- I ended up averaging around $42/day in Asia, $65/day in Europe, and $50/day in Egypt + Morocco, all things included. 

If I had stayed in California during the same time period, I would've probably spent closer to $70/day (thanks overpriced California rent), and that's on the lower end of my calculations. ($1500 rent/30 days + gas & transit + groceries + eating out and entertainment with friends etc.)

So there you have it! In my case, traveling was certainly more affordable than staying put.  In addition, knowing that a day abroad would cost me around $55 made it much easier to not spend that 80 dollars on the Birkenstocks I was eyeing nor on unnecessary objects. Also, only having a 35L bag made it super easy to realize how much I really needed in life ;) 

Obviously, budget traveling isn't for everyone. It takes a certain amount of flexibility to be okay with sleeping in hostels where your bunkmate might snore, or to have to trudge super far to get to a bus station when you could just take a taxi so you can save those 5 bucks to go towards your next meal, and also to fit your life into a carry-on sized backpack so you don't pay the extra fees for checking in a suitcase. However, if this does sound like an adventure to you-- budget traveling might just be your thing!

p.s. I read a book prior to planning this trip called How to Travel the World on 50 Dollars a Day, written by Nomadic Matt (another avid backpacker), and it was super useful. I highly encourage everyone thinking about budget traveling to read it-- it has fantastic tips on how to make your budget go further. 

What are your thoughts on budget travel? Let me know below!