Traveling is incredible – it’s eye opening, challenging, and life changing. It teaches you things you can never learn within the borders of your hometown. Unless chronically xenophobic, there’s nothing more fulfilling than traveling abroad.
But one thing always stands in the way of getting out there: MONEY
The best time to travel is when you’re young, but the biggest obstacle that most people encounter is the budget. Without cashing in the retirement funds, most people don’t have a couple of grand lying around to spend on traveling the world.
But what if traveling is actually completely possible, even as a twenty-something without a trust fund?
Although I have merely just started on my journey, I’m expecting to travel for the next year without concerning about money. Here’s how that’s going to happen:
Step 1. Hustle & Save
Before departure, save, save, and save. Other than my typical day job, I was a language tutor, babysitter, translator, and freelancer for various side-hustles while working in Taiwan. Even with the lousy exchange rates and lower income standards, I saved enough to feel comfortable without stable income for the at least a year, given that I don’t suffer any flesh-eating diseases.
Having no student loans or any home payments is also a plus. I moved out, consolidated my things into a few boxes that now sit in my sister’s basement, and cancelled any unnecessary payments. So other than the costs of my travels, I have no other expenses to worry about.
To keep the bucket at least half-full, pick up various side gigs along the way. From Craigslist ads to spontaneous networking, there are plenty of odd temp jobs that pay in cash along the way if you just keep your options open. It could be dog walking, tutoring, babysitting, or it may line up with your career and boost your resume. Sifting through creepy Craigslist ads this summer, I actually found a legit temp job for the US military, adding a few extra grand to my travel funds that will last for months.
Step 2. Budget Transport
This is the best time to travel ever in history, thanks to everything “budget” making overseas travel affordable. Airline companies are finally acknowledging the millennial wanderlust, providing stripped-down ticket deals for the benefit of backpackers who travel light. You’ll be able to find tickets from Taiwan to Bangkok or Tokyo for only $150 round trip, or NYC to Europe for less than $200. Just be prepared to sacrifice the blockbuster movies, and not get so much as a pack of airplane peanuts. Bring a book, plenty of snacks, and maybe your own booze for comfort.
Within Europe, busses are also the way to go if you’re not on a time crunch. The journey may take crazy hours, but we’re looking at less than €20 to go to the next country. It’s quality time to get some reading done.
Take a look at Norwegian Air, RyanAir, Spirit, V Air, Tigerair, Flixbus, Megabus, and many, many more. If you’re flexible with your dates, you can get very far without spending much. Don’t expect anything luxurious, but it’s gonna get you there!
Step 3. Work Exchange
This is where the life-changing concept of “work exchange” helped create an affordable and super rewarding way to travel. You might’ve heard of WWOOF, HelpX, or Workaway.** These are networks of people who own businesses, farms, mansions, or even boats who would just like some help, providing free housing, often food and transport, in exchange for your skills.
The exchange allows you to stay short term or long term, hopping from one country to the next, rarely worrying about the burden of searching for accommodations that can often be costly. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to live with local families, eat home cooked meals, and make lasting friendships with locals and other travelers from all around the world.
Traveling this way means being allowed to stay somewhere for more than a month without spending more than you would for a week staying in hostels. You’ll also go home with new knowledge on growing vegetables, building furniture, filmmaking, web design, or whatever else you got to work on. Budgeting aside, this experience is incredible for the endless rewards in new knowledge, skills,and friendships.
There are some differences between the work exchange sites, but the underlying goal is the same — to lend a hand to those reaching out, while providing a home to the travelers who need it.
Make sure to read and research before heading out. For most of these, you will have plenty of down time to relax and work on personal goals, whether that be learning new languages, sharing stories, or relaxing on a hammock.
4. Set Your Priorities
This method of traveling the world is recommended for those who are willing to travel light, live minimally, share your personal space, and are open to adventures that aren’t always perfect. You can’t expect things to go exactly as planned, and must be prepared for spontaneity. It’s definitely not for shopping sprees and luxury dining.
The ones who will feel most rewarded are those who want to do more than just take selfies with tourist attractions. This method of traveling was an answer to my yearning to learn more about the place than just what is already well known, to read more than one page of the book.
Of course there are challenges in traveling this way, and it requires proper research and communication to find an experience that suits you. Being able to get along with most people is also a major plus.
Furthermore, it’s the perfect taste-test for future endeavors. If you’re looking to relocate abroad like the millions of expats around the world, this is one of the best ways to experience a different lifestyle before choosing to settle down.
Things to Keep in Mind
Avoid countries that require special visas, entry permits, or snobby entry fees. Those things can often rack up to cost hundreds of dollars, and a lot of your precious time dealing with bureaucratic gibberish. Most countries not suffering political turmoil allow 90-day visa-free travel within 6 months. If you want to stay out longer, you can easily arrange your trip by switching back and fourth between countries to jumpstart your tourist visa allowance.
Work exchange not a new concept. WWOOF and similar volunteer programs have existed for decades. From personal experience, it seems to be most popular among Europeans and Australasians (a word for Aussies+Kiwis?). Perhaps it’s much easier to take longer holidays or less financial stress. Maybe it’s less societal pressure against people who choose to take a break from traditional employment and see the world.
Admittedly, it’s been a bit hard to silence the part of my American brain hard-wired to job hunt and settle down. As I continue my travels, however, it’s felt more and more rewarding as I learn new things about the places I live, acquire unique skills, and experience the different lifestyles across the world.
Just a few new things I learned so far: People easily butthurt are called “offended liver sausage” in German (beleidigte leberwurst); or that there’s a word in French that means “can’t be bothered to do that” (flemme); Italians, at least in Turin, don’t eat between 3-8pm, and never drink their coffee to-go; Spaniards and French are actually obsessed with baguettes, just like popular belief; although you won’t see a lick of English around in the Netherlands, most Dutch people pretty much speak English fluently; Europe is also surprisingly eco-friendly, with sorted recycling in almost every home, bicycle highways, and European windows are awesome.
*All currency based on the value of the USD during the time of travel.
**Disclaimer: This is not shameless advertising for work exchange programs, but a testimonial for the amazing opportunities provided by the concept. I can’t imagine traveling any other way! Check out HelpX, Workaway, and WWOOF for more details. I personally chose HelpX because it’s 20€ for a 2-year membership that spans all countries. WWOOFing, on the other hand, charges annual fees per country.