How to Travel the World Without Being Rich
EDITORS NOTE: Thanks to Oliver Munro for putting together this piece for the site. This post is written from his perspective, which allows us to get a different perspective on saving for travel. Ben
One of the biggest excuses people give for not seeing the world is that it’s too expensive. They believe that they need to be earning a huge salary or win some kind of lottery to travel abroad, but that’s simply not true.
I’ve been to just over 40 countries in the last 5 years, earning only a little more than minimum wage between travels. I know it’s possible.
The tips below will not only allow you to get out and see the world on a tight budget, but many will also help you to become a more financially responsible person even when you’re not traveling.
When planning for a holiday, one word comes to mind: Sacrifice.
Sacrifice means giving up every unnecessary thing in your life that costs you money – or at least most of them. For me, the biggest sacrifices I’ve had to make related to food, going out, and shopping.
I’m a naturally lazy person, but I’ve trained myself to cook all my dinners, prepare all my lunches the night before, shop only the cheapest brands, and stop buying new clothes. When saving for my next trip, I also attend about 90% fewer parties, gigs, festivals, and many other fun things that I love.
Whatever it is that you spend the most unnecessary money on – that’s what needs to be culled.
I like to think of things in perspective:
- $25 spent on Uber Eats = two authentic Italian pizzas in Rome
- $150 on a live concert = a jungle safari in Brazil
- $180 on a faux fur jacket = three weeks’ accommodation at a hostel in Vietnam
- For more advice on how to reach your savings goals and stay motivated, check out these 12 Helpful Tips for Saving Money.
Do It Yourself
Don’t waste your time and hard-earned cash on travel agents, tour groups, guides, and taxi drivers; if you want to travel for cheap, you need to take matters into your own hands.
That means booking your own flights, renting cars or catching buses and trains to get around, using TripAdvisor and other resources to learn where to go, and most of all, becoming a true explorer (see over 100 travel resources for cheap, fast, safe travel here).
The more you take matters into your own hands, the more memories you’ll make. All my best travelling stories are from the times when I just winged it, trusting fate and my wit to see me through.
Even if everything went horribly wrong, I always came away with a good story – like the time I finished a 30km hike in Siberia, missed the only ferry ride going back to the town I was staying in and had to beg a random fisherman to take me across Lake Baikal in his rusty dinghy using my very limited knowledge of the Russian language.
Use the internet. Ask your friends and family for advice. Speak to strangers. It’s not as hard as it might first seem – literally millions of people brave the world beyond their borders every year.
The hardest part is just taking the plunge, and that’s only hard the very first time.
Find a New HQ
Depending on how much travelling you want to do, it’s worth considering uprooting yourself and moving somewhere that offers cheaper travel costs to different countries.
In 2016, on a whim, I picked up a two-year visa for the UK and moved to London. From there, my flight costs to visit Europe went down by thousands of dollars, and my travel time was reduced by literal days compared to if I’d stayed in New Zealand. After two years, I still wasn’t sick of exploring Europe, so I did the same thing again – this time moving to Hamburg, Germany.
If there’s a specific continent that you’re interested in exploring in-depth, moving there semi-permanently will allow you to take lots of mini long-weekend trips, rather than having to book off weeks or months from your job.
Check out this blog for everything you need to know about moving to a new country.
Take Your Time
Perhaps the worst part about traveling is, well, traveling.
Not only is it a tedious and often exhausting effort lugging your bags around from bus to plane to train to the hotel to bus again, but it can also be very expensive.
The less you have to spend on airfares or bus tickets, and the less time spent in transit, the more opportunities you have to thoroughly explore the world and learn about whichever place you happen to be in.
There’s no reason to rush from one town to the next. Relax – you’re on holiday.
Recommended Reading: Travel is the Only Thing You Buy That Makes You Richer
Every year, more and more people are becoming digital nomads – people who work while they travel, from their laptops, tablets, and cellphones.
If you’ve got the skills to pursue a remote career, there is a good chance you could potentially travel forever.
While it isn’t as easy as it sounds to become a freelancer or find remote working opportunities, digital nomading is easily one of the best ways of saving money – and even making money – while exploring the unknown.
Choose Cheap Countries
In my experience, the best countries are the ones that you know almost nothing about before you go. And more often than not, they’re also the cheapest.
Visting Europe? Why not head East, towards Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia . . . these countries might not be as well-known as France and Spain, but for half the price and half the crowds, they might even be better.
And by visiting cheaper countries, you will not only be able to travel for longer, eat better food, and explore places that you haven’t already seen a million times on Instagram; you’ll also be supporting poorer economies and contributing to an improvement of welfare for those living less fortunate lives than your own.
Another bonus that comes with visiting a country that has not yet been ravaged by tourism is that the locals tend to be a lot friendlier towards travellers. If you’re lucky, they might even offer to show you around.
Earn Your Stay
What could be better than cheap accommodation? Well, how about free accommodation – and food.
There are dozens of handy websites out there like WWOOF, Housesitting and Workaway, where travelers can find hosts offering meals and a bed in exchange for some work (usually no more than 20 hours per week).
All right, so it’s not completely free, but you still get most of your time to explore the area and do what you want. Plus, you’ll probably make some new friends at the same time.
Plan for the Worst
Sometimes life doesn’t go our way. Unfortunately, that’s just how the world works; if we didn’t have to go through the bad times, we’d never be able to appreciate the amazing times.
Luckily, some disasters we can prepare for. And that prep could one day save you a lot of money.
Here are some simple rules for avoiding a massive breakdown while traveling abroad:
- Always carry a photocopy of your passport with you.
- Don’t leave anything in a hostel dorm that you aren’t willing to replace.
- Learn the laws, rules, and etiquette of your destination before you go.
- Be kind to strangers. You never know when you’ll need somebody’s help.
- Don’t take photos in government/military areas – trust me, I once almost got arrested for photographing a kitten at the Bosnian border.
- Carry a First Aid Kit in your backpack. Even the smallest cuts can become infections.
- Don’t Panic – we make our worst decisions when we’re stressed out.
Click here for a full checklist of things to do in the 12 weeks before you set out to travel long-term.
Accommodation is one of the most divisive topics when it comes to traveling, especially if you’re traveling with a group.
There’s always one person who’s happy to camp beneath the stars in a random car park somewhere in Italy, and another who is only willing to stay in a place with a huge pool, where the staff leaves cute little chocolates on the pillow every morning. Unfortunately, those kinds of luxuries just aren’t feasible when travelling on a budget.
In this case, your best bet is hostels.
If you can handle sharing a dorm room with anywhere between 3 and 10 snoring strangers, hostels serve as one of the best ways to make new friends and save a lot of money on accommodation.
Always Compare Prices
This is a fundamental rule for travelers looking to save money.
There are countless platforms out there for finding the best deals on everything from flights (Skyscanner, Kayak), to accommodation (Hostel World, Booking.com).
By searching for the best deals online and being flexible with dates I’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands, in travel costs.
Nothing. But. Essentials.
Pack light. Okay, now pack lighter. Seriously.
The less you take, the less you need to look after. All a good traveler really needs is a week’s worth of clothes, a toothbrush, a passport, and your cellphone. The more you add to this list, the more you’re spending on insurance, excess luggage fees, and hostel dorm lockers.
Everything else should be thought of as a luxury.
If you realize you’re missing anything along the way, you can always pick it up in a shop. Who knows, maybe it will even be cheaper.
See all my packing lists and tips here.
Book in Advance
The early bird catches the cheapest deals. It’s simple stuff really: the sooner you book, the lower the price is going to be. Especially when it comes to hotels, flights, and festival tickets.
Although this also carries with it a bit of a disadvantage – you’ll be locked into your dates unless you find deals with zero cancellation fees – if you know exactly where you want to go, and when, then it’s essential that you sort your payments out early.
This will also make it feel like you’re spending less while you’re on holiday because you won’t be swiping your credit card every time you check into a last-minute booking.
Know When to Cook and When to Dine
Food is a subtle killer when it comes to draining the wallet. And when the air is permeated by mouth-watering international flavors, you might find yourself eating more often than you normally would.
The secret is knowing when it might be cheaper to hit the supermarket and when you’re better off living off street-side bao buns or wood-fired pizzas.
That’s easily worked out with a simple Google, or a quick look at TripAdvisor.
Eat smarter; save more.
Stay with Friends (and Strangers!)
If you’ve already traveled in the past, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve connected with people from other parts of the globe along the way that would be more than happy to offer you a temporary bed. It is one of the beautiful things about traveling.
If not, that’s okay – there’s still a chance you could score a free place to rest your head, with a bit of luck. For those that don’t have friends in high (or low) places, there’s always CouchSurfing. This is a website specifically designed for travelers to find places to stay, with locals, for free.
And if staying on a stranger’s sofa sounds a bit intimidating, you might be able to rely on the kindness of the strangers you meet along the way to offer a free place to crash.
Lastly, don’t let the tough times get you down.
Sometimes, things just go wrong. Your bags don’t arrive at the airport. You lose your passport in a country where you don’t even speak the language. Your best friend bails on the trip last minute because he’s fallen in love. Sh*t happens.
The important thing is that you develop a good sense of humor, and don’t let a couple of mishaps ruin a good trip. If you can teach yourself to laugh when luck doesn’t go your way, you might find that those unlucky patches turn into some of your best stories.
Positivity is contagious. And to be frank so is negativity.
If a stranger or a new friend sees you handling some unfortunate event with a bit of grace, they will be far more inclined to help you out. Nobody wants to approach the guy stomping around the hostel, punching walls, and cursing while everyone else is trying to sleep.
Your good mood could save you a lot of time and money.
Very useful for me