How to Afford to Travel Like A…Broke…Backpacker…

“So, uh…how is that working financially?”

It’s the question I dread every time I tell someone about my latest transcontinental plans. The barely-veiled under questions are “How can you possibly afford to travel so much?” followed by “Why can’t you just be broke like the rest of us?”

Travel is expensive, let’s not parse words. It eats up savings and leaves my bank account coughing and sputtering. In 2011, I will spend eight months on the road. It will be the most money I’ve ever spent.

In one month, I’ll be on a plane out of the country again. I avoided telling anyone in the program I recently finished until I absolutely had to, because it causes more problems than I wanted to bring up. Even amongst experienced travelers, the simple fact that I can continue after living abroad for six months is fodder for conflict.

So how did I do it?

1)   I lived at my parents’ house for six months. The money saved on rent alone was enough to put away significant funds for travel. In my area, one pays at least $500 a month for a shared apartment, without utilities or food. Total saved over six months: $3000.

2)   I didn’t go out much. Or…at all. Or I went to the only bar in town with a $1 a shot happy hour. I reigned in my partying side quite a bit, and saved at least $25 a week compared with the summer before I seriously began planning to move to South America. Total saved over six months: $600.

3)   I started selling my clothes, jewelry, and generally getting rid of all my worldly possessions. Total earned over six months: $300

4)   I mooched. A lot. Usually only from food people brought to work to share. And my parents’ cabinets. Total saved over six months: Not sure. Hard to put a price on leftover carrot cake.

And the biggest one…

5)   I put a price on each paycheck that came in. I allowed myself $100 from each paycheck for food, unexpected expenses, and fun. That’s all. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The rest had to go into savings. And I told people about it, so I felt accountable.

Once I’m on the road, I drink very little. I stay in cheap, sometimes sketchy places. I ride local trains and busses. I survive on bread, cheese, and art. It’s not like I’m staying in a five-star hotel and dining on caviar every night.

The truth is, it isn’t easy to save for travel. It takes sacrifice. I have never owned a car. Or a house. Or a dog. I had to give up stability in exchange for the amazing opportunities to see the world. I realize that taking the extreme steps that I’ve gone to are not possible for some people, but it starts with the mentality that I am willing to sacrifice to be able to travel. And even if it starts with a morning Starbucks being swapped for homemade tea, that small step will make a difference eventually.

And don’t let anyone get confused. I am going to be incredibroke by the end of this year. To the point that I will have to take whatever job comes my way first.

But it will be completely worth it.

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