Find a way or make one. I remember the first time I walked the hallways of the school where my little sister was teaching first grade in New Orleans, and I saw a banner emblazoned with those words. I couldn’t, and I still can’t, think of a more powerful message to send to those kids. To anyone.
I don’t have a trust fund bequeathed by a long-lost relative. I didn’t make a killing patenting the next post-it note so I could retire at twenty-five. I don’t have a rich boyfriend or benefactor. I never even had a fancy job (though I do think I would have looked great in a power suit), and I’ve never had a bank account balance that came even close to six figures. Yet I have spent the last fifty-five months of my life exploring various corners of this vast planet, slowly amassing stamps from thirty-two countries along the way.
This post, brought to you by my credit card crush Capital One, isn’t necessarily a step-by-step guide to affording travel. Some of the things that work for me won’t work for others. But it is a comprehensive breakdown of how one girl-next-door has stayed on the road for nearly five years straight – with plenty of takeaway tips for everyone, from those hoping to travel indefinitely to those just looking to steal away for a weekend more often. You can find a way, or you can make one.
For most who are reading this post, the secret to affording a life where travel is a priority is deciding to make travel a priority. I work hard. I live simply. I spend consciously. And I jumped. The various points in this post break down into three main categories:
- I saved a lot
- I don’t spend a lot
- I also now earn on the road
Here, in a little more detail and no particular order, are ten ways I afford to travel the world.
1. I use points
Taking advantage of the points building system through strategic use of credit card and airline miles has been the single biggest game-changer in allowing me to afford a life of travel. Over the years I’ve saved thousands of dollars in flights and other travel charges just by being smart and savvy about earning and redeeming credit card rewards.
The first credit card I ever signed up for was the Venture Card from Capital One, and I’ve been singing its praises ever since. My Venture Card earns me two points per dollar spent (plus a sweet sign-up bonus when I first enrolled) which can be redeemed for any expense related to travel. In my first year, I earned a free $550 flight to Hawaii. Mahalo, Capital One! These days, I use the Purchase Eraser to zap charges from hotels, airlines, Uber rides and beyond right off my bill.
Unfortunately, airlines are making it harder and harder to utilize their own frequent flyer point systems. This month, I was devastated when American Airlines (my major point-building airline, along with Southwest) joined Delta and United in basically completely devaluing frequent flyer miles for the average flyer. In the past, frequent flyer miles were an amazing way to get around the world for free. As these changes sweep the industry, I’m likely to focus primarily on credit card point building from here forward like with the hassle-free and reliable Venture Card.
2. I worked multiple jobs before takeoff
In the six months before I took off on this epic exploration of the world in 2011, I worked at a clothing store on the weekends. I worked as a production assistant in a graphic design studio in the afternoons. I babysat regularly for two families in the evenings. Oh, and I was finishing off a full load of classes for the final semester of my BFA — from which I graduated with honors.
I have always enjoyed working, and I’ve been on someone’s payroll since I was fourteen and New York State said I could legally have a job. But once I had the goal of travel in mind I ramped up to hustling multiple gigs at once. I sacrificed a lot of sleep and a lot of socializing. University is such a special, fleeting time that occasionally when I’m back with my college crew and they reminisce about the adventures they had while I was folding sweaters on the sales floor or tucking kidlets to sleep, I feel a pang of sadness at all I missed out on. But I can’t deny the fact that that stockpile of savings got me to where I am today – and I’ve had no shortage of adventures since.
Dad’s sense of humor came for free
3. I go where my people are
When my sister moved to New Orleans, I jumped at the chance to tick Mardi Gras off my bucket list. When a childhood friend moved to San Francisco, I immediately put a price alert on for flights to SFO. The more you travel, the more far-flung friends you make. I’ve slept on a pal’s couch in Guatemala, and crashed in another’s spare room for a week in Phnom Penh. I spend several weeks — if not months — each year basking in the hospitality of my loved ones.
Free accommodation and the ability to cook meals and get insider advice from a local are great, but this is not just a way save money. It strengthens relationships – some of the warmest hugs I’ve gotten in my life were from loved ones I made a trek to visit – and as a bonus, it does make travel more accessible.
Even a requisite trip home can be an adventure – don’t think of it as a waste of vacation days! Look at TripAdvisor for your hometown. Think about what you would bring friends to do if they were coming to visit. Try to see it through the eyes of a traveler. The majority of my trips growing up were to visit family in exotic places like Rochester, New York; Tampa, Florida; and Decatur, Illinois. Today, I challenge myself to have blog-worthy adventures in each of these hidden gems – and succeed!
Are you an orphan with no friends? Try Couchsurfing – the hugs are just as good.
In Hawaii, spending a month couch hopping with friends and fam
4. I learned to need less
It’s not about depriving yourself; it’s about changing your desires. I still struggle with materialism and the impulse to spend money in ways that doesn’t align with my larger life goals (just this summer I purchased a very expensive, very unnecessary inflatable swan) – but I know I’m headed in the right direction.
Recently, I’ve been reading What Are You Hungry For?, a book that applies this concept to the way we eat – building a fulfilling life in which we don’t fill emotional holes with self-destructive food choices. Isn’t that what so many of us do with our spending, as well?
This quote from one of my favorite low-budget lifestyle bloggers hits it home:
“Learn how to need less. I’m not talking about restriction or deprivation here. There’s nothing depriving about cooking your own nutritious food, getting around on a bicycle, having a small collection of clothes that you love, and having free entertainment in nature. What I’m talking about is spending money mindfully. Be aware of what really feeds you, and what’s just filler. Start paying attention to how you spend your money and ask yourself how it makes you feel. Shift towards purchases that fulfill genuine needs rather than quick fix desires.” – Mr. Money Mustache
Kickin’ it in Costa Rica — in hand-me-downs
There are a million blog posts out there about how to trim back your spending, and most of them follow a similar script. Ditch the gym membership and run outside. Cancel your cable and watch TV online instead. You know the drill. Here are a few that were game-changers for me.
- I learned to walk away from the sale rack. Better yet, don’t be at the mall in the first place. I’ve always been a frugal person (my parents are two of the most sensible spenders on the planet), but there was a time in my life when I hit the bargain bins hard. Great deals can distract from the fact that you might be buying something you don’t really need, and using resources that might be better spent elsewhere.
- I stopped coloring my hair. It was hard to give up my highlights at first but it has only enriched my life – I save lots of money, I don’t worry about the state of my roots, I don’t waste days of my life sitting in a salon, and if I want to lighten up my hair, I head to the beach with a bottle of Sun In.
- I’m proactive about my social life. Traditional money-saving wisdom instructs you to give up dinner and drinks out with friends. No thanks! These days I splurge often on nights out, but even back in my hardcore spending diet days I still had a social life. Don’t wait for a friend to invite you to something pricey you’ll have to turn down – invite them to something fun and affordable first. I love setting up walking and hiking dates, or planning giggly nights in with the girls where we make dinner and drink cheap wine.
- I take cash for big nights out. This is the only time I willingly use cash, as the rest of the time it’s cards like Venture for point building purposes. But taking cash means I limit the number of rounds I can buy (am I the only one who suffers from Millionaire’s Syndrome when drinking and wants to buy drinks for the whole bar?), and decide my spending limit when I’m home and stone cold sober.
Before I buy something, I ask myself, “Is it worth a day/week/month on the road?” Often, it’s just not. These days my purchases are mostly electronics that help me preserve my stories and share them with the world, gifts for family and friends who are so perpetually generous with me, and supplies for new hobbies and adventures.
Is it worth a day in South America?
5. I don’t have a car, a permanent address, or a 401K
Not being tied down to a lease, a mortgage or a car plan frees up a lot of discretionary funds. I am blessed to have access to a family car when I’m back on the East Coast, and I often rent apartments for a few months at a time like I’m doing right now in Thailand. But for most of the year I’m regularly-scheduled-payment free (outside my monthly charitable donations).
Forgoing a 401K – thus far – has been a sacrifice that helped me find my footing in location independent self-employment. However, 2016 is going to be the year I search for yet another perfect fit banking solution, and upgrade my currently well-padded checking account into a more official savings situation.
If you love your home base but want to travel more frequently, consider Airbnb-ing it while you’re away (if you want to try being a renter before you try being a host, click that link for $20 off your first stay). If you have a car, consider Flightcar-ing it while you’re on the go.
If you are planning to travel long term or indefinitely and moving home is an option for you, consider doing so until your departure. Many travelers who have blogged about their success in saving huge amounts of money in a short period of time made the sacrifice to move home for a few months before takeoff in order to maximize their savings.
…but I do have a backpack. Time for takeoff!
6. I bank and budget wisely
I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years by using a tightly-researched money management system. I use banking products that I love and trust – and that save me money.
I rely on credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees — like my Venture Card from Capital One — and on debit cards that refund ATM fees. I carry back-ups of each in a separate location in my luggage. I never exchange currency and always withdraw from the ATM, where I get better rates.
I track every single purchase I make at home and abroad and review them with a monthly accounting day in which I update spreadsheets, look over my accounts and check for irregularities in my spending.
Read more about my money management system here.
7. I take long trips at the right time
International flights (and domestic flights in the US) are usually one of the largest expenses associated with travel. As a long-term traveler I have the luxury of traveling slowly overland and exploring a large swath of one region at a time — think six weeks to six months. I always try to get the most bang for my flight buck.
My travel plans follow a pretty logical path. I’m not jetting to Brazil for Carnival one moment and then hopping on a plane to London to sip high tea with the Queen the next. (If it looks like I am doing something crazy like that, it’s usually because I’m on one of the one or two press trips I take per year – which are always disclosed.) While it might appear that I’m always somewhere far-flung and exotic, if you plot my movements on a map they start to seem a lot more sensible.
I try to offset expensive trips and destinations with time in affordable ones. While I still go on blowout Vegas weekends and splurge on expensive festivals, those are few and far between. Currently I’m spending seven months in Southeast Asia, where I like to come rebuild my savings after pricier travels in the US or Europe.
I move slowly. What your average tourist might try to fit into four days in a city, I spread out over eight, slashing my daily spend along with it. Most importantly, I tend to travel in the destinations’ shoulder season. Generally this leads to lower costs, less crowds, and in my mind, an overall elevated experience.
Guatemala, one stop on a four month Central America trip
8. I research like crazy
Over the years, I’ve often treated travel like a graduate degree, putting in countless hours of research into booking cheap flights, nabbing great accommodation, and knowing my upcoming destinations inside and out.
Be aware of what a cab from the airport to your hotel should costs so you don’t get ripped off. Set email alerts for the cheapest airfare and know when the best time is to buy. Pre-book local attractions that give you a discount for doing so. Find a water purification system so you don’t have to buy bottled. Learn a few key phrases in the local language to aid in haggling. Be familiar with your options for public transportation before arrival. I love a night in, travel planning with library books and the internet. Bonus! It’s free entertainment.
Sometimes I sacrifice some spontaneity in the name of locking in cheap airfares and low cost accommodation ahead of time. Sometimes I go in totally blind (either by choice because I want to shake things up a little, or by necessity because I was busy and research fell to the back burner). Even if you don’t pre-book a thing, knowledge is power. From a money-saving standpoint, the more time you put in ahead of a trip, the more savings you can stand to rack up in real time.
9. I sold a lot of stuff
This takes number 3, learning to need less, a step further. I also learned to get rid of what I already had. Honestly, I never had very valuable “stuff” to begin with. Most of my clothes come from places like H&M and Target. Most of my furnishings came from Craigslist. And still, when I gave up my New York City apartment to travel the world in 2009, I made over $2,000 selling my stuff on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and at a garage sale. Each summer when I return to my childhood home in Albany, I still find myself listing one or two things on eBay and hauling bags and bags of others to donation centers.
What can you reduce so that you can create mental space and physical resources for what you really value? Even if you aren’t planning to travel long term, selling your stuff if a great way to simplify your life and add to your travel fund. I admit, I do struggle not to rebuild my stockpile – I’m sentimental and I love picking up little unexpected treasures from my travels. But every time I bring a new physical thing into my repertoire I try to release another one back into the universe.
Read more about my downsizing experiment here.
The Brooklyn bike I bought for $10, rode for a year, and sold for $140
10. I work on the road
I started casually blogging in June of 2009. In June of 2011, I launched Alex in Wanderland with the goal of someday partially or fully supporting myself off of it. Within 6-8 months I was making a couple hundred bucks a month. These days I’m humbled to stay I’m making a couple thousand. Also, these days, a large amount of that gets funneled back into the business – there’s a pretty big team working behind the scenes at Wanderland HQ right now!
In the past, I supplemented blog income with freelance design and writing work, though I’ve mostly dropped those in favor of narrowing my focus. Today, I earn money by selling branded content for products I love, working as an ambassador for brands I love, earning affiliate commissions, promoting bloggers in my featured blogger program, and beyond. In busy periods like this one, I’m probably putting in about 60-80 hours per week. (If you guys are interested in the business behind the blog, let me know and I’ll consider a more thorough post on it.)
But blogging is far from the only option for working on the road – in fact, I’d wager it’s one of the least recommended in terms of hours in and income out. Which is part of the reason I started my series Earning Abroad. In it, I’ve interviewed friends who have traveled the world working as bartenders, photographers, ski guides, fruit pickers, surf instructors, English teachers, boat crew and beyond!
Short-term travelers don’t really need to fret over earning on the go. But if you’re interested in traveling long term or working abroad for some period of your life, find a trade you can take with you. Consider a course like the TEFL that will equip you with a skill – in this case, teaching English – that you can go anywhere. Look for countries with temporary work visa programs, like Ireland and Australia. Be open to working jobs you might consider beneath you – when I first moved to Thailand, I happily handed out flyers on the beach for the equivalent of $2 per hour. Know that things have a way of working themselves out, and just when you think you’re running out of cash and all is lost, there will be some crazy blonde blogger wandering around the island you’re on looking for someone to help answer business emails.
I hope you enjoyed this brief (ha!) peek into how I afford a life of travel. I’ve been enormously privileged in this life and I live in a constant state of gratitude for all the upper hands I’ve been dealt — not a drop of it goes unrecognized. Yet I’ve also made an effort to point out several sacrifices I’ve made along the way — not because I want a gold medal for them (I already have a much more valuable prize), but because I hope to convey that most people living an Instagram-worthy life had to make un-Instagram-worthy sacrifices in order to get there.
Questions? Fire away in the comments! Your own take? I want to hear that too! How do YOU afford to travel?
Many thanks to Capital One for sponsoring this post — and for creating a rockin’ product that I’ve been a loyal customer of for six years straight.
Hey Alex! I loved this post! I would be very interested in a more ‘behind the scenes’ look at the business of blogging. A lot of people talk about blogging but never really go into the details! If you are willing to share, I think it would be very interesting to read about.
Love your blog! Keep up the good work!
Thanks Morgan! Sounds like I will start working on a blogging post 🙂
Ditto! (Same name, same thought.) I’m a PR/English student about to graduate, and I’m hoping to get a freelance career together so I can travel, as well, so any insight would be great.
In the works, Morgans! 😉
Love this post and it totally hits home for me as I’m about to embark on my “Great Escape” in less than 4 days! It’s truly amazing how much crap we all have. For the past 5 months I’ve been slowly selling all my stuff and stashing that money away for travel and paying down student loans. And travel hacking – man, it’s my favorite pastime! 🙂
But, girl, we need to talk about that retirement savings! Open a Roth IRA through either your local bank or through Vanguard and start saving. It could be as little as $20 a week, but it’s something. You need to be able to afford to travel in your golden years!
I’m definitely excited to take the big savings step in 2016! I’ve basically just used my two checking accounts as de facto savings accounts (one of them even earns me interest!) but it’s definitely time to look for something more high yield. I was having a breakdown about this about a year ago, and my dad — who is one of the most frugal, hard-working and these days, financially comfortable people I know — looked at me like I was nuts and told me he didn’t save a dime until he was well into his thirties. That gave me a little reassurance that I wasn’t like, lagging behind the pack or anything but I definitely agree that the sooner the better when it comes to “official” savings.
If only I could have swapped one of those physics classes in school for one on the logistics of self-employment 🙂
Ooooh I love this! I’ve also been thinking about writing a “How I Make Money” post as people seem to always just assume you’re a trust-funder with a bottomless bank account if you do any travel whatsoever.
And duh, of course an inflatable swan is necessary for any scenario!
Haha. I do have to admit that sawn brought a lot of joy to me and three of my loved ones, so I guess in that way it does align with my values 😉 It was still a splurge though. And I would love to read that post from you! Even though we are on similar paths, every self-employed person’s journey is so different I’d be fascinated to compare ours.
I think that learning to live with less is an essential part in being able to travel more and has undoubtedly been my biggest factor.
For me, in large part inspired by your blog, I have big sights on destinations far and wide. However, at the moment that is not obtainable. So rather than get all mopey about not getting to travel to far flung destinations I looked into cheap flights from my local airport (in the UK) and was surprised by how many reasonably priced destinations came up. Sure, they honestly were not high on my travel list but venturing to these lesser known (to me at least) places has pushed me out of my comfort zone and have given me most unexpected adventures!
That’s awesome, Caity. And I think we all underestimate the beauty of our own back yard (or what’s a cheap flight away!) My road trip through Upstate New York this past summer really hammered that home. It was a happy, adventurous, crazy beautiful and wildly affordable week, and it was all within a few hours drive of the house I grew up in.
I love this post and have always found your money management skills extremely impressive! My #1 recommendation this year – read “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” (I got this rec from Adventurous Kate’s blog!). I always considered myself money-savvy and good at saving, but this made me rethink a lot of ways I LOOK at my savings and spending.
Top thing I’m changing: A more strongly dedicated “Travel Savings” fund. I autosaved a set amount of money a month to a Travel account, but hadn’t been very targeted in thinking about, exactly WHAT am I saving for? What is my end goal? Because I didn’t have a target goal, I was too scared to spend it – I wanted to keep saving to some undefined goal!
Since then I’ve calculated out how much I need for my next big trip and when I’ll reach that goal. I just need to teach myself that these short-term savings are meant to be spent!
I love that blog! It’s one of many I used to read on the regular when I was in hardcore savings mode (I still pop by every once in a while to see what all my favorite money bloggers are writing about). Having defined goals — and tracking — is so important. It makes all the difference anytime I’m trying to achieve something, from travel to health to business!
Very interesting post, and super interested in a “behind the blog” kind of post.
When I was travelling for 6 months in Canada, I did wwoofing and I loved it ! Besides I probably could not have been able to travel for 6 months if I had not been wwoofing 🙂
There are definitely a lot of options to “make travel last” (even when you’re not a blogger) but it’s true that sometimes you don’t know about it or just don’t think about it.
That’s exactly why I started my Earning Abroad series! I’ve met so many people doing cool jobs all around the world — some I barely knew existed before I first set out.
Definitely interested in a behind the blog post! Thanks for being so open with us!
Anytime, Amy. Oversharing is my specialty!
You said it all! One of the biggest things for me has definitely been cutting down on shopping. I never shopped at expensive stores anyways (hello Forever 21) but even cutting that out has helped so much. I’m pretty sure I bought a grand total of 6 articles of clothing last year. Three of those were purchased in Central America, and ALL six of them were second-hand. And I certainly didn’t suffer for it!
Ah, I love the second-hand shops in Guatemala! I definitely purchased a few gems there. They are the best!
Really great post Alex! I did a 6 month round the world trip last year, and I had so many questions as how I could afford to do it. You hit the nail on the head!
Living simply and tracking your spending, working extra jobs, and just being extra careful about where your money is going is definitely my secret to being able to afford to travel! Also finding free/cheap accommodation abroad is a huge plus. I spent 5 weeks at an ashram in India that was only $3USD a day including meals! Thanks very much for the great read! 🙂
Wow, that’s awesome Mackenzie! I’ve stayed in a few $3 rooms in Thailand but definitely none of them included meals. Great find!
Great post, Alex! I really like your tips about learning to need less, seems like something we could all benefit from. And looking at how much fun you seem to be having in the picture, that inflatable swan was totally worth its money 😉
P.S. I would be very interested in a post about the business behind the blog!
Ha, maybe the swan wasn’t as silly a purchase as I thought 🙂 I loved it at the time but when I got back to Thailand a few weeks later I was looking through my bills thinking, damn, I spent a lot of money on pool toys. Lol.
Wow Alex, thank you for sharing-I had no idea of how you arrived at where you are today. Thank you for that as a lot of people out there might not want to give up the inside scoop! I think it’s importance to pass on knowledge and experience to help others make their own way; it always comes back to us in the end so why not play it forward. Wheels up girl – the world is yours! 🙂
Thank you so much Marie — I was smiling while reading this comment! Wheels up indeed, and I couldn’t agree more, I always try to be generous with the information and knowledge I used to seek out from others.
I have to say, seeing the picture of the giant swan made me laugh out loud. That’s quite the purchase but it does look like it was a hell of a lot of fun. Getting a more serious look behind the blog sounds like a great opportunity if you’re willing to share. I love the “find a way or make one” mentality… I don’t think enough people realize they should live this way until it’s too late.
Indeed. There are a million excuses not to do something and just one to do it — because you want it badly enough! Too many people get bogged down in the excuses stage.
This post is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing, Alex! I think one of my biggest mis-steps is not signing up for points cards. I’ve been on the road now for several years and I imagine it would have saved me a whola looootta money by now. Doh.
It’s never too late to get started, Laura! I used to stress over all I’d missed out on when I first started signing up for Frequent Flyer numbers and credit cards. I quickly let go of that when I saw the real time savings rack up 🙂
You’ve done it again. I love your long read posts and yes please post more about what goes on in the background of blogging. You are truly an inspiration and the longer I read your posts, the more professional and polished they become and your photos are pretty divine.
Keep em coming like this – these are my favourites!
Thank you so much Janice — you’re so kind. Having some stillness and down time in my life right now has definitely given me the space to work on reflective posts like these!
Love this Alex! I would eagerly devour a BTS post about blogging. It’s such a crazy job when you think about it. And I love the message behind de-cluttering and really prioritizing. People always marvel at how much I travel. I always tell them that anyone can do this – they just have to want it more than everything else.
YES. More than anything else indeed 🙂 And yup, blogging is a pretty nutso job. Sometimes when I’m explaining it to people who have never really heard of it as a career before I just like, literally burst out laughing. I feel pretty blessed that this is my gig!
Alex, you are my money-management role model. I’ve loved your posts over the years about how you save on the road and this was super helpful as well! My struggle right now is trying to find the balance between social life and growing my blog, and balancing not one but THREE unpaid internships (all travel related, so I love them, but its exhausting to be working 40+ hours per week at jobs that I love, but then coming home and eating ramen)–and I start class next week for my final semester of college. Yikes.
I also want to put my vote in for a sneak peek of the business behind the blog, since it is growing so much 🙂
Oh man, Molly, I feel you. Out of everything I outlined in this post, sacrificing some of my social life in college was the hardest. I can never get those years back. But I know now that I wouldn’t change it if I could! Hold strong, you can do it — and remember, you’ll never have more energy than you do for life right now!
Thanks Alex for this informative post! Especially appreciate the point about collecting points. Would love to hear more about the BTS of travel blogging!
If you’re not on the points building train, it’s never to late to climb aboard 🙂 One of the best decisions I ever made!
I absolutely love this article, it makes it so clear how you can afford to travel! I started minimalizing a couple of years ago. Sometimes you only get 10 dollars for some clothes. But 10 dresses is already 100 dollars = pretty nice, right? If you’re on the road you understand how little you actually need. Although my winter coat and winter boots are still in The Netherlands, because flipflops in the snow is not a good idea at all.. I’m gonna share this article with some people that are doubting about traveling on a budget, thanks!
Thanks so much for sharing this post, Jessica! That is the greatest endorsement a blogger can receive!
Great post. Like others have said, people seem to think that you have an unlimited trust fund because you travel, which is rarely the case. So, yes, I’m interested in the business behind the blog, the real scoop, if you know what I mean, especially what you do other than affiliate marketing. Thanks so much!
Yeah, I have been traveling for all these years and I’ve yet to meet these trust fund travelers that doubters seem to think are so rampant 🙂 Maybe we aren’t hanging in the same places, ha!
Yes please to a post about business behind the blog! I think it would be a lot of help to the fellow bloggers that read your awesome posts 🙂
Thanks Abi! Sounds like I better get one going in drafts!
Thank you for this great post.
I have been reading you for a while but now I may get an even better picture of this nomadic thing as I am wrapping up prep for my own adventure. I am almost done with craigslisting, donating and otherwise getting rid of thing. I am so exited!
That being said – I would love a more detailed post for “behind the scenes”. I know there are multitudes of those posts but I actually enjoy your blog THE MOST. I started a blog a while ago. I am not planning for it to be some great source of income – more of a way to record my trips and a hobby for me. But you are my “Blog Model” 🙂 They always tell you” “Pick one blog you personally enjoy and see how they do it” 🙂 I pick YOU! LOL
Aw, thanks Marta! You made my morning. Thank you so much for reading (and loving!) Alex in Wanderland <3
Definitely admire you for being so on top of your finances! I keep a rough track (and of course make sure I have plenty of money to pay important things like bills before buying anything else), but I could do better. I’m also sometimes impulsive when it comes to anything travel-related!
I feel like I could be better too — some months my accounting is a mess and nothing adds up and I get so frustrated with myself for not being savvy enough to have a better system! Then I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can with my messy Excel and just soldier on. There are definitely some great blogs out there if you’re looking to tighten up your finances!
Wow, such a simple but powerful statement. Find a way or make one, pretty much everything you need to have the life you want exists in those words. I’ll try and remember it.
It’s been printed in my brain since I first did!
Well, this post certainly caught my eye. I had followed your blog religiously for a couple months at the beginning of last year. Studied abroad in Italy over the past summer and had a hectic 5th semester in college right after, but now I hope to keep up with your adventures once more.
Thanks for such an informative look at how to make travel a more obtainable goal. Definitely some things I will be turning over in my mind for a while to come. Happy New Year! And here’s to a new start for me following your blog once more. 🙂
Happy to have you around again, Emily! 🙂 Thank you for reading and saying hi!
These are great reminders, as I know all about how selling your stuff and not buying crap is the best way to retain money, yet somehow it’s so easy to forget 😉
It is indeed! Finance blogs and books (from the library 😉 ) are a great reminder and a great way to stay on track. Good luck!
Hi Alex, I loved this post and would enjoy more behind the scenes and the business of blogging posts. Can you give us tips for starting our own travel or hobby blogs? Where to even begin on platforms and styles to use? I love how your site is developing. Good work guys!
Thanks Sarah! I’ll try to include that. In the meantime, check out my Obsessions page — there are links to all the sites and resources I used to get started!
It took me same time to learn how to need less, but actually, only after I started taking slightly longer trips while bringing only my backpack (I took a 2 month trip having only 5 kg of luggage) I realize what actually I need. At that point I gave up all the products that society told me I need to use, but I actually didn’t have to – perfumes, body lotions, fancy clothes, special make up, special brushes, ect. After that point I stopped spending money on stuff that I actually don’t need to feel any better in life. In fact my life became better cause I stopped taking care of materialistic stuff which led to having more important priorities in life.
That’s amazing — two month with 5 kg! I think a big turning point for me was my apartment in Gili Trawangan. It was one room with a mattress on the floor and no sink in the bathroom (just a shower, strangely) but I don’t think I’ve ever loved a place more! If that could be my happiest house, maybe I can stay away from Ikea next time…
Sometimes, you just gotta buy the giant swan…
Capital One Venture is one of the travel credit cards I’ve been looking at so I’m happy to know it has your stamp of approval!
I love love love the quote about learning to need less. I’m currently in the middle of downsizing all of the “stuff” I’ve amassed these past few years and crossing my fingers I’ll be able to get some cash for it. And, like you said, I’m working my ass of now to be able to travel later this year.
And yes to a behind the blog post, of course!
(P.S. Did I ever mention one of my favorite things about your blog is that you put so much obvious thought into posts sponsored by the brands you work with? I love that I know you put as much work into this as every other post and it’s something you might write about anyone, instead of something you happened to pull out of nowhere and didn’t put effort into.)
Thanks Sky! Means a lo. You are right — often when I work with sponsors I brainstorm posts that I’ve been wanting to write that tie together. This one was almost TOO easy. I’ve been meaning to update my “how I afford travel” post for ages. I’ve written about this card before and naturally would have included point building in any post about affording travel. Ta da! This post was born.
Alex, this is a terrific post. Most of us wonder how people are able to accomplish the dream of traveling like you are and find a way to make a living during the process!
I’ll echo what’s already been said here, that learning about the business of blogging would be incredible insight.
Here’s a few things I’m left wondering:
– how were you able to first draw the attention of brands and related income?
– how were you able to grow such a strong following in a relatively short amount of time?
– any insight for those of us who are trying to travel as a family? I used to travel a lot more before having a child! Budgetary needs become much higher when this is the case but the desire certainly doesn’t go away!
Finally, check out my movement & film series “Slow Road” to sacrifice the highways as we seek to capture the spirit of place for the roads less travelled!
Thanks!! 8 )
Hey Ben, thanks, I’ll keep those in mind for the future post! One thing I feel like I have to point out write away though is I don’t think it’s been even a relatively short amount of time that I’ve been blogging. I launched this domain in June of 2011 but actually started blogging and growing an audience in June of 2009. Six years is like an eon in blog world 😉
I absolutely loved reading this would love to hear more about behind the scenes. I as well have a capital one card that I use to get points and have zero transaction fees so it’s great to see someone who is very successful in te travel blogging field use the same thing! Thanks for continuously inspiring us!
It’s a great card, right? I always recommend it to friends, too — several have signed up!
Interesting post and it’s clear you’ve put a lot of time and effort into making travel a priority. However, I can’t help but wonder if you are struggling with student loans like so many other Americans. If I won the lottery I would not go travel, I would pay off my loans.
Hey Jenny! Good question — I do not have student loans. I received a hefty academic scholarship and my parents generously paid the rest. (That was the deal — they paid tuition, I got a job to pay for utilities, clothes, food, fun, etc.) I didn’t mention it in this post as it was over 3,000 words when I hit publish, but it’s no secret — I’ve mentioned it a couple times on this blog in different posts. I definitely understand how lucky I am to be in this position, however, there are so many amazing travelers out there who are working around their student loan debt, and many of them are blogging about it! Let me know if you’re interested and I can point you in the direction of many of my friends who have written on that topic.
What a great post with awesome advice! I work hard so that I can travel hard 🙂 most of your tips are additions to what I already do and I’ve found some very useful things in your post.
Not taking a card when going out will actually change my life! How did I not think of this sooner!
It’s a game changer! Definitely prevents those mornings where you wake up, look at your statement, and go NOOOOOOOOOO!
Sage advice, Alex. You’ve inspired me to keep a better track of my finances (which aren’t awful, but the spending can get a bit out of hand!). Hip hip hooray for slow travel! It’s the way to do it, for sure.
It makes such a huge difference in per-day costs. When I go on a short trip I’m always amazed at how much I manage to spend in one day!
“I go where my people are” – SNAP! Flying to the otherside of the world to see friends who moved to Australia from the UK!
That’s so awesome Iain! I have SO many friends in Australia… can’t wait to go visit them all someday!
I love this post! So much great advice on here. But the part I love more than anything is your point about “learning how to need less.” I feel like I’m only just now starting to discover that – which sounds silly, but sometimes you have to get the clutter out of your life before you realize what you really need or don’t need.
I don’t think it sounds silly at all. It’s a lesson some people struggle to learn their entire lives — some never do at all.
Great post, Alex! I agree with everything you listed, especially going where your people are. I’m naturally a minimalist, so I don’t have a hard time doing without extra ‘stuff’ but the 401K is hard for me! I started saving for my last year and I hate seeing that amount of money being saved towards something so NOT fun, but I’m in my thirties, so figure I have to start thinking about it now…lol. And you’re right that people think travelers come from a trust fund. When I came back to the U.S. after backpacking through Europe the customs guy made a snarky remark about how lucky I was to have mommy and daddy pay for trip. I had saved for 2 years to be able to take that trip.
Wow! That would have really upset me. When I first started traveling, I had a LOT of friends and acquaintances at home assume that my parents were funding it. I rarely get that anymore. These days I think it’s clearer for people to understand that I earn a living from this blog, but before it was hard to fathom that I could have saved significantly and be spending slowly.
Alex – these are all great tips. I think downsizing and simplifying are probably the best first steps. Earning on the road can come later.
I worked 11 years in the tourism industry in Alaska, usually on 8 month contracts, which gave me winters off to travel. This allowed me to save money and have a steady jobs while being on the road about 10 weeks a year. As you say, there are many ways to do it, the key is to get started because you meet people and learn things on the way that help keep it going.
That is SO true Jeff. The longer you go, the more you learn, the more allies you make, the less stuff you need… etc. It’s kind of a rolling ball once you get going!
Great post! Tom and I are constantly asked how we afford to travel full time as well. I wrote a post a few years back about “why the money hasn’t run out” but am way past overdue for an update! In a nutshell; we build apps for kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is such a random and niche thing that we do that people usually don’t get it. They will say, “you travel to different places to build apps for kids in different countries?” To which we explain with something like, “no, we build apps for kids all over the world which we can do from anywhere, so we choose to do it from different countries!” I love seeing all of the unique ways that people who travel are “creatively employed,” though I am sure that the #1 thing we all have in common is that we all spend less!
Very cool Jenny, I love it! I’m fascinated by all the different ways people stay on the road (hence, Earning Abroad!) That’s a particularly interesting one you have!
This is so informative. I 100% agree with points 4 and 5 for making the biggest impact long term.
What you said about weighing up somethings value against a day/ month of travel is the best way I find to stop myself desiring something new. Wandering Earl refers to the Pad Thai Currency when talking about this which really works. Every dollar counts!
And going where your people are is one of the funnest ways to travel- especially when they speak a local language that you don’t!
Ha, I usually tend to think of it in terms of Thai massages 😉 Whatever works!
Loved reading this post and I’d love to read a post about the business behind the blog!
You guys have convinced me! It’s definitely on the docket!
Loved your post! Would love to hear more about the “business behind blogging” if you get the chance to write a post about it.
In the works 🙂 Thanks for reading Katherine!
Losing the car is the big one for most people … it’s one of the biggest money pits out there. In most cities, transit functions well enough to get you where you need to go!
Yeah, between car payments, insurance, maintenance, gas, AAA, etc… wow! When I’m stateside and borrowing a family car, I balk just at the gas prices, let alone the rest.
Hey Alex I love your blog and thanks for all the tips
Thanks Izy! You are so welcome 🙂
Find a way to make some spicy in my life that’s what i m looking for, i hav efound your site by google
I m scuba diving fan and always looking for new adventure
I Loved your post, so usefull with great advice
Hey Julie! Nice to meet ya! I’m a huge scuba fan too with plenty of posts on the subject — feel free to check them all out in my “arrivals” section above!
This post was amazing – so informative and really inspiring. Just this morning I made the tough decision to not sign-up for language lessons and to try to use cheap/free methods in order to save for a couple of upcoming trips. Sometimes it’s hard to make these kinds of sacrifices, but in the end I know I’ll definitely remember that trip to Mallorca more than 10 hours spent in class. Thanks again for this great post!
It’s all about those trade offs! I can see how it would be a fun challenge to put together your own DIY course using online and free resources. Best of luck! I’ll be doing the same with Portuguese soon.
So glad I found this post of advice. 🙂 This is so useful dear. I should learn how to sell some of my stuff now. Haha.. Thank you for this 😉
Learning to downsize and sell unwanted things has so many benefits — one of them being monetary!
I am now learning the new and wonderful world of points to help with travel costs! I’ve used my banked credit card points twice to cut my flight costs in half when flying to Hawaii and now booking my trip to London. I take advantage and rack up my points for flights by just putting everything on my credit card and just paying it back immediately – it’s great!
Actually one of my favorite things about being in the US or Europe is using my card EVERYWHERE. In Southeast Asia it’s a shocking rarity to be able to use one. Even the absolute poshest restaurants here on Koh Tao don’t take them.
Hi! Thank you for the article it was very inspiring! My question to you is how to get noticed? How do you eventually build up advertisers?
Secondly, his did you come into your style of writing? I don’t come from a writing back round but am trying to learn my own style right now. Thanks again!
Hey Katie! Honestly, about 90-95% of advertisers I’ve ever worked with approached me, and I’m not sure how they found me. A few have told me they found me on top blogger lists like the one on The Expeditioner (based on traffic.) So I actually have very little experience pitching to companies — I just wait for them to come to me! As for the writing, I think it comes naturally over time. The more you write the more your style develops. I have taken writing classes too to hone my craft! Hope that helps!
This is such a great post! I so often read blogs where people tend to silently brag about having all these incredible opportunities. It’s so nice to see you open up and be honest about everything you do and all the hard work it takes to make your dream/career a reality. I’d love to read more about the business behind your blog for sure! I literally came across your blog today and have spent hours reading all your posts. Definitely got you bookmarked!
Aw, thank you so much Alex! I do my very best to be an open book around here (er, I suppose an open blog is more accurate!) Thanks for checking Wanderland out and I hope I’ll see more of you around here 🙂
YES to this entire post!! Such great advice in here! I started traveling by myself a couple of months ago with hopes of being able to continue it for(ever) the long haul! This post and the other long term travelers I’ve met so far give me hope!
When I went home for the holidays so many people told me “Oh, I could never do that” or “If only I had enough money!” (Which I’m sure you hear ALL of the time) and I just wanted to say you CAN do this! I didn’t have any money two years ago when traveling was a dream in my mind. I worked and prioritized travel and saved. And let’s face it..when you’ve lived in NYC you realize how cheap travel really is :p Hahaha
OH, and BTW I’m currently in Panama City, basically from reading your posts about it a couple years ago and deciding I wanted to go to there. So thanks for the inspo!! 😀
Ha yeah I find that comment particularly hilarious coming from anyone who pays rent in the five boroughs. The world is a bargain compared to Brooklyn! Glad you’re enjoying Panama City — one of my favorites!
This is the first time I´m on your site and am really impressed. You have a very inspirational story, so thank you for living the dream and doing awesome things! I think you might like our blog, The Toasty Avocados, which focuses on living happy and healthy (including lots of travel around the world). Check it out! Thanks again for the great post!
Thanks for the kudos, guys! Cute logo — hope we’ll see you around here again!
Thanks, and we will definitely checking out more posts! Keep on keep in’ on 🙂
Great post! I just recently decided to start playing the points game a little more seriously. I’ve had a United card and a Starwood card for years, and enjoy the benefits, but need to try opening up new cards for the points bonuses. Need to check out this Venture card, too.
Having just turned 40, I’m trying to make up for lost time – I graduated college with a mountain of debt that’s followed me everywhere. Next year, I should finally be in a position to take 6 months off work and just travel.
Sounds like you are doing a great job playing catch up! Six months off of work sounds fantastic… I think you’ve earned it 🙂
Good Evening Alex,
I am currently planning my first excursion around the world. As a 26 year old female, I am weary that being a woman and traveling by herself would be possibly dangerous. I am saving right now for my first stop [which I have no idea where to, possibly South America where my friends have a home], but I am wondering if you had any ideas as to where to go from there?
I read that you said “go where your people are”, but I have friends that are constantly traveling and are unavailable until next year. Possibly a tip or trick?
Hope to see you on my journey!
Well, if you have friends that are constantly traveling, why not join them? It could be fun to meet up for a bit on concurrent journeys, no? I’ve loved my independent travels in both South America and South East Asia — and Europe! You’ve got the world at your finger tips… enjoy it!
Thank you for the advice! I would love to link up with some friends, but they are where service is unavailable; diving deep into the unknown. I will keep South American as well as South East Asia in mind though – those are two areas that I would like to explore for sure. Safe Travels!
Great post! Loved “learn to need less”! I didn’t get this until I started to travel – it’s amazing how we can adapt and learn to live on a whole heap less than we are used to in North America. Excellent tips, thanks for sharing!
Thanks Paul! I love how this post resonated — reminds me travelers are really on similar pages with our priorities for saving and spending, and that’s a beautiful thing.
‘Self-destructive food choices’- that probably applies to the 1.4kg steak I ate in San Sebastian a couple of days ago because I had to taste it- you know for research purposes hahaha. One of the few downsides of solo travel is that I had no one to split it with.
It’s amazing how many people ask me how I can afford to travel and ask if my parents support me. To which I quickly respond that my mum actually owes me money! I worked 7 days a week for 2.5 years while studying law full time and like you sacrificed a lot of time socialising. But now I’m 2 months into a 15 month trip and I’m the happiest person I’ve ever been. The sacrifice has definitely been worth it!
P.S. Sorry I haven’t been reading for a while- a crazy 2 weeks in Portugal almost killed me! ha
Two crazy weeks in Portugal sounds like fun 🙂 I used to get the parent question a lot but it has faded the longer I’ve been on the road. I guess people can see pretty visibly now that I am earning a living here on Alex in Wanderland, which definitely helps! Used to drive me nuts though.
If you guys are interested in the business behind the blog, let me know and I’ll consider a more thorough post on it.
YES PLEASE!! 🙂
It’s in the works! Stay tuned!
What an amazing and inspiring post Alex!
You’ve mentioned there’s a big team behind your blog now, I wonder.. how many members?. 🙂
Thanks Monika! I have two part timers right now and one freelancer who is doing a bit of work for me as well. Plus I have a developer who does a lot of technical bits and bobs. So none of them are working exclusively for me, but it does feel wild to have so many on my payroll! Blogging is no longer a low overhead business in my case, ha.
I just stumbled upon your blog and this post was amazing. Also, I currently live in NYC and used to live in Albany! I wonder if our paths ever crossed. I’m going to keep this post close in case I can ever use it!
Small world! I love hearing from other Albany peeps 🙂 Thanks for the kudos!
Love this post!!! I’m about 7 months away from embarking on my first backpacking adventure. I’m working 2 jobs right now and thinking about finding a 3rd one for evenings. I’m also selling ALL my stuff. I think it will be very freeing to not have so many material things tying me down. Thanks for the inspiration and for a post I can others to prove I’m not crazy for wanting to sell all my stuff and get away!
Definitely not crazy! I’d say determined 🙂 Good luck with your progress, Emily — sounds like you are on the right track.
All great points, however the credit card points is harder down here in Australia, as there are fewer cards, and even fewer tied in with frequent flyer points 😉
Another reader Britt just chimed in on another post with a suggestion for a great Australian card for travel — it’s on my travel planning series. Sounds like one worth looking into 🙂
Alex, I loved this post! So helpful. We’re in the process of planning a big trip from UK to Australia without taking any flights so budgeting is key. It’s good to know that the smallest changes can make a difference to your daily spending.
We’ve only recently set up our blog for our travels, so would love to hear more about you manage to travel the world AND run a business!!
Year To Flee London
I’m still working on a post of that sort… stay tuned, I swear one is in the works 🙂
Thanks Alex for putting this together! It was very helpful and I love that you do anything to continue to travel. I’m 6 months away from officially becoming a “digital nomad”, but I’m a bit nervous as to how to earn income. I have a great support system and will definitely be trying different things to earn a living, but I wanted to ask how you go about working in other countries when you don’t have a working visa? I’m assuming its under the table, but where do you go about looking for something like that? Any feedback is greatly appreciated! 🙂
Hey Kim — yes, the work I’ve done abroad has generally been under the table, cash in hand jobs. What is available in one country will be totally different from another. A good place to go to start getting ideas would be my Earning Abroad series 🙂 Enjoy!
Great post! I noticed the Cayman 10 dollar bill and got so excited because that’s actually where I’m from.
What an awesome place to call home! I spent a very happy summer in Cayman many years ago 🙂
Alex, wonderful post. So happy to see you still find space to give back through donations to charity!
Every time I read a travel blog such as this and my head starts spinning with thoughts of quitting my job and taking a serious hiatus, my first concern is always “what about health insurance?” Do you have any insights into this you’d be willing to share? Forgive me if you’ve written about this before or I missed it in the comments.
As of January 1st, I’m actually health insurance free! Eek. It’s on my to-do list for this summer, and I’ll be sure to keep you all updated. So stay tuned… and cross your fingers I don’t need it until then! (Until about a week ago I was in Thailand where even a fairly grave medical disaster I could have afforded. My boyfriend went to the ER with a dislocated shoulder and x-rays, sedatives, hours of care and all doctor fees added up to a whopping $500.)
Hey Alex! Thanks for sharing your story and I absolutely love your site 🙂 After spending over 200 days on the road in the past year I figured I would try my hand at blogging as well too. It’s been great to see how people all around the world are now finding ways to make travel a part of their lives instead of just waiting for the 2-3 weeks vacation they get a year. Personally I still work a standard 9-5 (albeit 100% remote) which is nice to get a steady paycheck and benefits but I look forward to becoming self employed sooner rather than later. Hopefully we can cross paths sometime if and when you ever return back to the NY area!
Welcome to the blogging world, Dan! Sounds like you have a sweet setup. Location independence is a gift I cherish! Enjoy!
This is one of the most realistic and down-to-earth approaches to financing travel I’ve read, and I relate to it in more than one way. I’ve saved huge amounts, worked several jobs and scoured the internet for hacks to cheap travel.
I feel like I’ve got a true insight into how professional bloggers such as yourself truly started out, and it isn’t too dissimilar to the rest of us!
Aw, thanks Nathalie! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and that it stood out to you in a sea of similar ones around the interwebs 🙂
Great post looking at some of the real issues about how people can afford to travel. I’ve kind of gone the opposite way in the fact I worked abroad and traveled for 4 years before deciding I liked having a stable job. But I still use the tips and tricks I picked up as a long term budget traveler – and I think my life is so much better for it! I spend as little as I can, I only buy things on sale – and use credit card points and 0% balance transfer options to spread the costs of trips! I now manage about 10 weeks away a year – not too shabby for someone who works 9-5! Where there is a will there is a way!
Not to shabby AT ALL! I have so much respect for those who balance travel in with traditional office jobs. It definitely can be done, you and many of my own friends regularly prove it!
Hey Alex !
Thank you so much for the inspiration. I am currently working a 9-6 and traveling every weekend. I have just started blogging, and would love to be able to eventually take over my income and travel full time. My main fear is not having money saved up. Nice to know that I’m not the only one putting off planning that far ahead haha. Looking forward to reading more tips/hacks from you .
Thanks for sharing,
Hey Haley! I think that’s a very common concern but it sounds like you have the motivation and that’s the most important part! Welcome to Wanderland — hope to see you again around here soon!
Hey, Alex, this is a really great post. I’ve written about this before but you have one of the most extensive lists I’ve ever seen and so relatable too. Love it thank you. I’m going to check out the rest of the blog.
Thanks Jesse! This post is an oldie but a goodie 🙂 I work hard to find fresh takes on common topics, so I really appreciate the kudos!