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A Solo Woman Beginner's Guide to Travel, Money and Having Enough of One to Do the Other
Does this sound like you?
"I can't afford to travel." "I have no money to see the world." "I just wish I could take off around the world but that'll never happen."
True, travel does cost money - but are you sure you've done everything in your power to put the money gods on your side?
There are four basic ways to stretch your travel budget:
- You can save money by cutting expenses
- You can earn more money before you go
- You can travel as cheaply as possible
- You can make money while you travel
What follows are some savvy savings tips that will be useful if you're a first-time traveler, or if you're planning a long-term trip for the first time. If you've had to save before to travel, chances are you've tested one or more of these but - if you still want to travel and aren't making ends meet, you might be in need of a refresher!
Why not me, right?
But first, you need to know how much your trip will cost. I've put together a comprehensive resource page on how to plan your travel budget - so read that first if you haven't yet got a $$ figure in mind for your trip.
While preparing to travel long-term, I also did something that motivated me tremendously: I created a travel vision board, a huge wall of cardboard where I stuck pictures of places I wanted to see and scribbled sayings related to travel. I wrote up quotes on index cards that I pasted all over my apartment and office. So whenever I was tempted to throw my hands up in despair and head off on a shopping spree (or ice cream binge), I saw my cards. The ones that reminded me that the reason I was suffering was because I wanted to TRAVEL. And that soon, I wouldn't have to worry about any work AT ALL!
Method #1: Save money before you travel
When I started preparing my own round-the-world trip, the first thing I did was to look at my expenses and decide what I could cut. My criteria were simple: if I desperately NEEDED something - electricity, heating, food - it stayed on the list. If it was merely a pleasure, an addition, a desire - it got chopped off. I was brutal. But then, I REALLY wanted to travel!
- I moved, from a bright and airy apartment to a tiny studio beneath 24-hr church bells. I didn't get much sleep but I paid a third of my previous rent. I could have moved into a smaller place and sublet the larger one, or gotten a roommate.
- I sold my car and started taking the train to work. For me, that was a huge savings. If you must keep your car, at least try to cut costs by getting cheaper insurance or using it only when it's urgent.
- I pretty much stopped going out in the evenings. I entertained at home (casseroles, not caviar!) and just begged off any occasion that would cost me money.
- I brought my lunch to work, and - key to it all - I stopped drinking coffee at the office; with a ten-coffee a day habit, I'm sure this added an entire month to my travels!
- I tore up my credit cards - literally. That helped me pay off debt, but more to the point, it prevented me from accumulating more (this was pre-Internet, when I couldn't compensate by spending it all online)
- I got rid of my TV, my magazine subscriptions - anything that wasn't essential to survival. I spent a wonderful year hanging out in parks with friends, reading the stacks of books I'd never got around to, and writing. Amazing what can take the place of spending when you're not looking!
Method #2: Earn more money before your travels
It's not a painless process but if you need money to travel, the best place to get it is in your own pocket. If you have the opportunity to find a side hustle, grab it!
- the obvious first - get a second, or a third job
- do some freelancing on the side in your profession
- teach classes of something you know: English to non-English speakers, another language, knitting, cooking
- practice a healing art if you're qualified: massages or soft therapies
- simple jobs - babysitting, pet walking, bartending, personal shopping
- work overtime if you can
- sell things on eBay
Method #3: Travel as cheaply as possible
I've written extensively about how to travel cheaply, even if you're almost broke. - on how to travel even if you're almost broke. Here are a few more tips based on my own experience and those of fellow travelers:
- Before you leave, check if travel passes exist where you're going (rail, air, boat). You usually have to buy these before you leave.
- See what discounts you can get. If you're a student or teacher, you can get special discounts. The same goes for senior citizens, members of certain groups or associations...
- Find out if you qualify for discount cards - hostel cards, ISIC cards, senior cards - and get them before you go.
- Check your credit or debit card charges - make sure your card company doesn't overcharge for withdrawals abroad. Look into prepaid credit cards and avoid the hefty charges.
- Develop a budget for the week - and try to live within its means. And write down what you spend. (I used to separate my week's cash into a small envelope - when I ran out, I stopped spending and if I was careful, I had something to carry over to the next week.)
- Stay longer. You can often negotiate a cheaper room rate if you're staying more than a couple of nights.
- Always make sure your hostel has a kitchen - and use it!
- Shop at a local supermarket or better yet, at a local market. Don't go to restaurants unless they're cheaper than your homemade fare.
- Don't drink or smoke - easier said than done perhaps but you can travel days in many countries for the cost of a two-pack-a-day habit and a few drinks at the pub.
- Take a local bus rather than a 'tourist' bus or a taxi. Even better, stay in shape and walk!
- Travel at night. Sleeping on a train or bus will save you a night's accommodation.
- In some super expensive countries - Scandinavia, anyone? - consider camping. It's often free, and in summer you could balance your stays in cheap accommodation and couchsurfing with a bit of camping.
- Share a room with a fellow traveler when you can. In most countries, the cost of the room doesn't change if there are two of you. Even if it does, your share will still be cheaper than a single room. Just wait at the reception and when another solo woman checks in, ask if you can share to save money. You'll often get a 'yes'!
- Look for shared rides or rooms on your hostel's bulletin board. Buy used goods - if you're heading into the mountains for a few days, a cheap sweater will do the trick.
- Sign up for airline specials (they send out newsletters with their sales - you can sign up for free on most airline websites) and consider cheap accommodation alternatives, starting with Couchsurfing.
- Sell your own goods once you're done with them. There's always a market for camping gear, used tools...
- Don't buy new books - trade them with other backpackers. Many hostels have shelves for book exchanges. Otherwise sell your book to a second-hand bookshop - and buy your next read.
- And finally - stay legal. Fines cost money, not to mention possible prison sentences and other unpleasant things.
Method #4: Make money while you travel
This has been one of my preferred ways of staying on the road. I've done all sorts of things, from translations to teaching English to selling toilet seats - all with one goal in mind: to stay on the road as long as I could.
The world is a bit more sophisticated now and we have the internet, which is a gold mine for those of us who want to work without having to stay home to do it.
You can make money on the road, in more ways than you can imagine! If you're drawing a blank, here are a few ideas of the kinds of jobs you can find as you travel, depending on your skill level.
If you have a humanitarian bent you can try finding work with an international non-profit or a not-for-profit job.
If you're young (at least at heart) you can try find a job as an au pair, in a ski resort, on a yacht...
If you love to write, you could write about travel for a living and if you're interested in being online, plenty of travel bloggers have launched blogs as businesses.
A few final money-saving travel tips
- However you take your money with you, use multiple methods: some cash, some cards, and spread out through your money belt, your pocket (just a little cash for incidentals) and your bag (a small amount for emergencies only) - if one thing gets lost, you'll still have the rest.
- Let your bank know you're traveling. In Europe this isn't a big deal but I've had my US card flagged because the bank was wondering why it was being used in Dubai.
- In many rural areas, especially in the developing world, you'll need cash. You can walk many miles before finding an ATM so be forewarned.
If you have any tips for saving money to travel, please share them below!
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