How to save money to travel full time via @finduslost

This goes without saying, but the first thing everyone thinks about when they hear about people who travel for a living is: how do they afford it?

And I don’t blame them! It’s the biggest question I have when I’m getting major wanderlust from someone’s travel photos. How could they afford to go there? How did they pay for the flights?

Well, it’s not as unrealistic as you think to plan an extended trip abroad. It might not be ideal to jump on a plane tomorrow — but what’s stopping you from going next year?

Read on for how we took the leap and bought ourselves a one-way ticket to Europe, and how you can start traveling too:

1. Budget in advance.

How to budget and save money to travel abroad

I’m a stickler when it comes to saving. I actually get a rush from NOT spending money (if anyone else feels this way, time to befriend me in the comments below). It’s because whether I acknowledged it or not, every dollar I saved I knew I could put towards a travel experience. So, here’s what I did before that sweet sweet paycheck hit my bank account:

  • I calculated how much I should spend in a typical month. $900 for rent, $300 for groceries, $150 for gas…you get the idea.
  • I summed up all those expenses and noted that as my typical monthly spend. Let’s say that number is $2,000 (try to give yourself a bit of a cushion), and each month you receive $2,300 from work.
  • On the 1st of each month, I put $2,000 in my checking account. No more, no less.
  • During the month, I chose something simple to cut back on: drinks. Whether it was opting for water when dining out, or using my coffee machine at home, I didn’t waste money on beverages: alcoholic or otherwise.
  • I checked in mid-month and 1 week from the end. Was I on track to spend less than my budget? Usually, yes!
  • At the end of the month, I logged into my account and moved my leftover cash to my travel savings account, feeling super accomplished. Let’s say my leftover was $100: it doesn’t seem like much — but I also didn’t spend the extra $300 I received from my paychecks! An extra $400/month to put towards travel adds up quick.

To track your expenses, I’d recommend the Mint App. It’s easy to understand and access from your smartphone, and helps you work towards a savings goal quicker than ever.

2. Get a credit card with travel rewards.

Comparing travel rewards credit cards for hotel and flight points

Most have no monthly fee, and the rewards are super useful. I use the CapitalOne rewards card which gives me points for every dollar spent, and can be used towards hotels and flights (my only regret is waiting so long to apply — on an impulse late one evening, it took me 20 minutes to apply and 1 week to get my card!). I wanted something that would work internationally and wouldn’t restrict me to a specific airline. Jacob, on the other hand, flies American Airlines for work and signed up for an AAdvantage card to gain more miles and airline perks. Do some research first to figure out what card is right for you.

3. Tap into your network.

This will definitely not be the case for everyone, but we were lucky enough to not pay rent the last 3 months before we left. That’s because we waited until our leases were over, gathered our belongings, and moved in to Jacob’s family’s house. I downloaded some podcasts, signed up for Spotify, and commuted to work in L.A. every day. In the end, those 3 months of saving rent money felt like a 2 month cushion for traveling.

If you don’t have close family nearby, get creative! Do you have a friend or a family friend who wouldn’t mind hosting you for a few weeks? Does your old university offer short-term housing? You could even look into an extended stay with Airbnb — some hosts offer up to a 60% discount when you book a month or more, especially in the off season. Here’s $40 off if you’ve never used Airbnb before.

4. Sell things you don’t need.

It’s hard parting with your possessions. I’ll be the first to admit it — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dubbed a 5-yr-old t-shirt my next “work out” or “relaxing at home” shirt. But the reality is, it feels good to let go! I bought the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for inspiration, called over some friends for support, and dedicated a couple weekends to gutting my apartment. Which brings me to my next point…sell anything you can. 

You don’t need the furniture, the extra clothes you haven’t worn for over a year, or the books you never open anymore. Jacob and I hosted a garage sale that made us some serious $$ in one day, and the remaining items we sold a few weeks before we left using smartphone apps like Poshmark (great for the fashionistas out there) and OfferUp (easy to use for selling furniture). For someone who can’t get on board the eBay train (me), these apps were gold.

5. Set money goals for your travels.

how to budget and book flights early to travel cheap

Once you’ve dedicated a few months to saving and have funds you are comfortable with in your bank account, it’s time to budget out your trip. Here’s how we did that:

  • Calculated our combined rent cost.
  • Divided that number by 30 (for avg days in a month).
  • Looked for places to stay that were under that daily rate.

Our average nightly spend for 2+ months of traveling was $43/night. That’s $1,290/month — way less than our monthly rent in L.A. We spent more in places that we wanted to splurge at (Santorini), and less in places where we just wanted a basic room (Slovenia). A couple tips:

– when you’re booking via Airbnb, like we did, something to keep in mind is that their cleaning fees and taxes can add up. Staying 5 nights somewhere will save you money in the long run, vs. spending 2 nights there.

– we use Booking.com because it often has the best deals. I check most places out on Tripadvisor too before booking.

6. Be thrifty before leaving, but be smart.

Got some extra cash for your birthday, tax return, or rent deposit? Save it. Want to purchase your flight abroad? Use a flight tracker app like Hopper to watch for when prices drop, so you can buy when the timing’s right. Want to budget even more? Don’t forget to sign up for a travel credit card! DON’T cut corners on a safe place to stay for a night while traveling, or be ultra-thrifty with what you eat (that’s half the experience!). You’ll thank us later.

If you need more inspiration, Western Union recently featured us alongside some of our other favorite travelers in this post about How To Become an Expat! Keep in mind, there are endless reasons to travel — if you’re waiting for the perfect time, consider this as a sign to go for it and just pick a date. 😉

Real talk — what’s keeping you from traveling? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you to Western Union for sponsoring this blog post. As always, all opinions are my own.