Journalist Susan Heller Anderson shared this vacation packing advice in a 1987 New York Times article: “Lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then, take half the clothes and twice the money.”
While few of us still travel with our entire budget in hard cash, the sentiment still rings true.
But where does all that money come from? Saving for an extended trip can seem daunting, especially for young backpackers. But it’s absolutely possible to fund a grand adventure with a modest budget of only a few thousand dollars.
While this is partially because dollars, euros and pounds are substantially stronger than rupees, baht and quetzals, it’s also because many of us travellers are often more careless with our coin than we’d like to admit.
Below are tips for getting more out of less while saving for your travels:
Bringin’ Home the Benjamins (or the Bordens, if you’re Canadian)
Of course, the simplest way to have more money is to make more money.
Seasonal jobs are ideal for young travellers: For instance, the starting pay for some entry-level positions in Vancouver’s film industry is around $18 per hour. Daily overtime kicks in after eight hours, and most people work between 60 and 80 hours per week, saving up in the summer to travel during the winter, when there isn’t as much filming going on in Canada.
While grinding away like that may seem, well, grinding, remember that the more time you pass earning money, the less time you’ll have to spend money—which is especially beneficial for those cursed with Teflon wallets, so to speak.
Serving and bartending complement the traveller’s lifestyle nicely, as they’re relatively easy to break into, there’s decent earning potential, you can typically work as much as you’d like—and nobody claims all of their tips on their taxes. (But if Revenue Canada asks, you didn’t hear that from me.)
Also, they give you an excellent transferrable skill if you’re seeking a working-holiday visa. One of my Canadian backpacker friends wound up in bartending and even management jobs in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, and plans to do likewise in Australia next year.
Penny Pinching 101
Think of saving money like losing weight. Drastic, short-sighted changes (e.g. eating only Raman noodles and bananas) are like crash diets: doomed to fail.
Conversely, a holistic lifestyle shift is like a healthy-food and exercise regime: sustainable and more likely to stick.
For some of us, our biggest expense is rent. The most straightforward solution is—yep, I’m going to say it—moving back home with your parents.
Hear me out. I planned my yearlong round-the-world trip while living with my parents for 18 months beforehand. As well as saving on rent and utilities (approximately $750 per month), I avoided costs I’d never thought about before—laundry, repairs, having to buy or replace appliaces (let’s call it $50 per month)—all of which added up to a whopping $14,400.
If moving home isn’t feasible, consider finding a cheaper apartment or sharing with (more) roommates.
One way to evaluate your expenses is to, for one month, purchase everything with your credit card and then review your bill. It’s amazing how quickly the “little things” add up, so scrutinize every expenditure.
You can probably find ways to save on your phone plan, commute, exercise and shopping habits.
Alcohol can be an enormous expense, too, but I already recommended moving in with your mom, so if I propose quitting drinking then you may not like me anymore—that said, my friend in the film industry went dry and is saving on average $1,000 per month.
Of Dollars and Donuts
If rent is the leading overhead, then it’s usually followed by food. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your grocery bill without inflicting yourself with scurvy. Here are a couple of grocery hacks for eating on the cheap—I wasn’t militant about these and was still able to keep my food bill at around $35 per week:
- Bring your lunch/snacks to work or when you’re out for the day
- Meet friends for tea instead of dinner
- Brew your own coffee and skip your daily Starbucks (if you’re spending $3 every workday, that’s more than $720 a year)
- Learn how to cook
- Plan your meals for the week and make multiple small trips to the grocery store instead of making one big weekly shop—this will ensure you eat everything you buy as opposed to cultivating science projects in the back of your fridge
- Choose produce and dairy that’s on sale or clearance whenever possible
- Go vegetarian, save for canned salmon/tuna
- Avoid condiments—seriously, they’re nutritionally useless and sometimes pretty costly
- Ditch the juice, and drink only water, milk and tea/coffee
- Shop at bulk stores
- Avoid pre-prepared meals
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry
- Skip dessert
Saving anything around $10,000 for a long trip requires discipline, flexibility/adaptation and creativity. But it isn’t impossible. If you find yourself losing motivation or growing frustrated, remember: you’ll probably forget your 18 months of drinking soon-to-be-expired milk, but the memories of your travels will last a lifetime.