Unless you’re rich or have a nice fat trust fund from sweet Aunt Trudy, rest her soul, most of us can’t just up and travel around the world. It can take months if not years of careful financial planning to bring a trip like that to fruition. I decided about a few years prior to leaving that I was going to travel around the world- but don’t be discouraged, I didn’t exactly ‘save scrupulously’ for all those years. I picked up a decent paying job after I finished university and always kept my dream in the back of my mind. I knew from the start I needed to save a lot of money to travel for as long and as far as I wanted, so I gave myself a loose three to four year deadline. However, during that time I had to keep in mind that I also needed to put money aside to pay off student loans, as well as find my own apartment and furnish it from scratch.
My boyfriend at the time and I were not careful with our money. We both had well paying jobs, which put us in the mind set of being loose with our money; any time we wanted for something we simply bought it. We ended up amassing a huge amount of material belongings in our first year back in Yellowknife to furnish and fill our too large apartment. I often took vacations and spent money even more freely on these expensive trips. Because I had a decent job and was splitting my living expenses down the middle with a partner, I was still able to save money while being so free with it. However, after two years of living like this, not giving any thought or effort to my savings, I had plateaued at about $12,000. My original goal was to have $30,000 for my year-plus adventure around the globe, and $10,000 in a savings account to pay off my student loans while traveling. I put away $250 a month for three years in a tax free savings account which amounted to close to $10,000 when I left- more than enough to make the minimum monthly payments on my student loan for a year or two. The left over money would also be a safety net for me for when I was done traveling, so I didn’t come home without a penny to my name.
You could undoubtedly travel the world for far less than $30,000 but I wanted to have a safety net and be able to travel somewhat comfortably and safely so this was the goal I set for myself. Also, keep in mind this is 30,000 Canadian dollars which doesn’t amount to quite the same as the strong American dollar or British Pound.
Seeing my savings plateau was troubling and a bit of a wake up call. I now had less than a year to make that same amount twice over. And to make matters worse, I had booked a wildly expensive two week all inclusive vacation to Jamaica which cost me and my partner a staggering $5,000 each. Looking back, I am absolutely aghast that I was willing to carelessly throw that much money away on a short two week trip. Don’t get me wrong, the trip was a blast, but I can tell you that I’ve had far more fun in two months of traveling and I’ve spent less money! The bank breaking Jamaica trip was even more of a slap in the face and I resolved to smarten up and start taking my savings seriously. After some tumultuous times with my relationship, I decided to get serious and set an earlier departure date. Instead of leaving the following September, I would leave in January; now I was set to depart in a mere 10 months.
I only did a few things to save money those first two years. The first was set up an appointment with my bank and get myself a really good travel credit card, which simply means a credit card that has great travel benefits. I went with the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite card. With this card I was given an initial 15,000 sign up bonus areoplan miles and would earn 1 mile for every dollar I spent on the card, and 1.5 miles for every dollar spent on groceries and gas. With these rewards, I was able to book my initial one way ticket to Guatemala for this trip, however I’ve since ran into issues trying to book more one way tickets and am not having any luck, even when trying to book four months in advance. I would recommend looking for a card that offers more flexibility with booking destinations, as I’m limited to Air Canada flights with my rewards card. Choosing the right credit card can make a huge difference in helping you get on your way with your savings and getting you great travel rewards.
At 24 years old this was my first ever visa, so I was lucky to start with a clean slate- no debt, other than my student loans, which was a government loan. For years I had been ardently warned about the dangers and temptations of credit cards, so I was lucky enough to learn from the mistakes of my friends and family who had treated them merely as free money. I took a page from my step mom’s financial prowess and bought every single thing, whether it cost $1 or $1,000, on my visa, thus racking up a huge amount of aeroplan miles for travel. I scrupulously paid of my visa each month, sometimes twice a month, ensuring I never let the payments go overdue and thereby cost myself interest. At the end of three years of putting all of my purchases on my visa, I had racked up an impressive 120,000 areoplan miles! I planned to use these points to book my expensive overseas one way tickets, but more so as a reserve just incase I needed to come home at some point for some reason and didn’t want to drop several thousand on a plane ticket.
This was the only conscious saving tactic I used those first two years. But after Jamaica I set to work. The first thing I did was take stock of my finances. I paid off all bills to ensure I got an accurate view of my finances. I looked at what I was bringing in each month from work and what my bills were. Luckily I didn’t have a car, and my only bills were my monthly rent, ($750/month) my cell phone ($80/month) internet ($30/month) and power ($40/month). I figured I should easily be able to put away minimum $600 per paycheck toward my savings. That would give save me $12,000 before I left, bringing me much closer to my goal, but still not where I wanted to be. That means I had to look at my non-necessity spendings to see where I could make some cuts and thus some more savings.
Next I set limitations on my spending:
1. No more vacations before I left (these no doubt added up to my most expensive cost, as where I lived was brutally expensive to travel out of).
2. No more online shopping. I had gotten myself into a nasty habit of buying things online as we don’t have many stores in Yellowknife.
3. No more buying anything for the apartment- I already had more than I knew what to do with. As much as I wanted it, I really didn’t need that $500 robot vacuum for the apartment, so I learned to say no!
4. No more eating out- okay I didn’t stop this entirely, but I made a promise to myself to cut it down drastically and only eat out for special occasions. I took a look at my finances and added up all the money I had spent on eating out in the last month and the amount was appalling and made for good shock therapy to cut down on that indulgence.
5. Cut down on excessive Christmas and birthday presents- I was buying extravagant gifts for my family and partner and made the decision to give them only sentimental gifts that didn’t cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars as I had in the past. In the end this saved me huge amounts of money, and the gifts were far more meaningful and appreciated.
6. I sold off nearly all of my personal belongings- this included all of my furniture for the apartment, kitchen supplies, clothes, and a million other silly things I had needlessly accumulated. I had 3 garage sales over the summer before I left and this brought in several hundred dollars to add to the fund. I likely could have made closer to two thousand dollars off of all my my things, however, I mostly just wanted to get rid of everything quickly and painlessly, without hassle, so I sold everything at a serious bargain and gave friends really good deals on my furniture.
7. I moved back in with my parents for my last 4 months living in Yellowknife. This saved me loads of rent as my parents so generously let me live rent free (I had asked them not to get me anything for Christmas as I couldn’t take anything with me, and it would do me no good sitting at home for two years unused, and while they didn’t listen entirely, my dad suggested that living at home rent free could be considered their very generous christmas present, which I so gratefully accepted).
8. And lastly, I simply made a very conscious effort to monitor all of my spending and think twice about anything I was going to spend my money on. To be honest, I turned into a bit of a frugal Scrooge. Every time I wanted to buy something I would hesitate and think, what could this buy my while I am traveling? Two nights in a hostel, a scuba lesson, a guided volcano hike etc. and would usually put the item back and realize I really didn’t need it. All purchases I made in those last 10 months were purchases of necessity, not of longing.
Together, all of these tactics ended up saving me a lot of money! After having plateaued those first two years, once I implemented these rules, I saw my savings begin to grow almost exponentially. 10 months later I had $40,000 in the bank and was ready to take on the world!
These were my strategies for saving money, but there are so many more out there that you can apply to yourself to help you save. The most important thing to do is to scrutinize your current financial affairs and analyze where all your money is going. Make charts, use excel, go to your financial planner- make a strong effort to focus on your finances and build yourself a realistic plan that you know you can stick to. Nothing is worse than making an unrealistic goal and then falling short, disappointing yourself and your efforts.
Some other great ways you could save money:
1. Pick up that second job/log some serious overtime. It’s a time commitment, but promise yourself to put all of the money from the second job/overtime into your savings and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fast it adds up. A serving job at a bar or restaurant is a great option for a second job and the tips will make you fast cash!
2. Sell your car or house if you own one, or rent them out to someone so you have an income while you travel.
3. Promise your tax returns (if you get any) each year to your travel fund. I am beyond excited about tax returns this year as it means I have a couple grand coming my way soon – it feels like free money!
4. Set up a tax free savings account- you can set this up with a financial planner and set your investments to minimal or medium risk (I went with medium high because I knew I wouldn’t be touching it for at least three years, and it earned me a few hundred dollars!) Promise yourself that this is your travel fund and you won’t touch it no matter what. The beauty of this account is when you want to use it and transfer it back to your regular account, you don’t get taxed on it. It also helps to have an account set aside where you can’t actually touch the money without setting up an appointment to transfer the money with your financial planner.
Make sacrifices of some of the luxuries in your life:
5. Change your cell phone plan to one that doesn’t cost so damn much!
6. Get rid of your cable and lower your internet bills by cutting down on usage. Would you rather be downloading movies and watching cable tv shows, or saving money to travel the world and live your dreams in reality instead of vicariously living through the television?
7. Cancel your gym membership or those yoga classes that cost $140 a month. You can buy work out videos and small gear for at home or use www.yogaglo.com for a fraction of the price. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your health, it just means you have to change the way you workout. Find a space at home and make it work
8. Stop driving your car so much to cut down on gas and start biking or carpooling.
9. Make this the perfect time to quit addictions- like caffeine and smoking. These are bank busters and will save you loads if you can cut back drastically or all together on these bad habits.
10. If you had a job where this is a possibility, sign up for a deferred leave program: you take a reduced salary at 80% for four years, and then you get an entire year off, while still getting paid the entire year at 80% salary! The beauty of this is you still have a great job to return to after an entire year traveling- it’s like getting paid to travel- you hardly need to save money if you can swing this one!
Saving doesn’t have to be hard- in fact, I found it was fun, because I knew what I was saving for- the adventure of a lifetime. Looking back, there are still so many things I wish I hadn’t bought and had instead saved the money for my travels. Trust me when I tell you that hiking to the crater of a volcano, watching as the sulfur gases steam through the earth far below, and then ripping down the volcano side on a toboggan in a coverall suit is worth it far more than that new outfit, that venti pumpkin spice latte, or that that $18 yoga class you could have done at home for free. If you want to travel you have to be willing to make changes and sacrifices at home, the money isn’t just going to save itself magically. You have to put in a little work to reap the wonderful reward that traveling is. It might seem hard to give some of these things up that you’ve become so accustomed to, but if you always keep your goal in mind, and remind yourself why you’re making these sacrifices, it will be easy, and oh so worth it- I promise.