Since I quit my 9 to 5 job, probably the most asked question I get is: how do you sustain this lifestyle financially? In this post, I’ll show you how I travel to absolute stunning places on a low budget. As there are tons of ways to travel el cheapo. And it wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t dive into mindset as well. For I see that many of us, with good levels of education, skills and opportunities, have a deep concern to not have a steady income stream, even if they have quite a fortune on their savings account. The fact that the first thing that comes to mind for people about my lifestyle is finances, is very telling. And whilst I believe it is smart to have a buffer and not burn up your entire savings on travels, I think there’s a disproportionate amount of fear of lacking money. Well, lacking things in general (do we ever have enough?), but that’s a story for some other time perhaps.
How I sustain my lifestyle
The biggest costs of travels are: accommodation, food, the travel from one destination to the next, and perhaps the exploration of sights and activities that are typical to the area (such as skiing, diving, or taking a guided tour).
The most important tools and ways that kept my expenses low are: taking up seasonal jobs, house/pet sitting, volunteering for board and lodging. But there’s tons of more options out there, such as BeWelcome and Couchsurfing (sleeping for free at someones couch/spare bed), the website ‘warm showers’ for hikers and bikers, or wild camping and hitchhiking, to name a few.
Volunteering: I volunteered at tons of festivals, a surf lodge in Portugal, in a spiritual center and on a organic farm in Switzerland. In all places, I was provided with food and accommodation. The perk of volunteering at a place which is related to your interests, is that you usually have cheaper or free access to that interest. E.g. if you work at a surf lodge, you can enjoy free surf lessons or at least grab a surf board in your free time, and when you volunteer at a festival, your festival ticket is included. The amount of working hours differs a lot though! Some places only ask 2-3 hours a day (but this is rather rare), whereas others 5-6 hours a day (more common). Below are 2 volunteering platforms I use, but you can also just contact an organisation you'd like to work for. Often there's room for volunteers even when they have not written about it on their website.
Workaway: This is a platform (just like Worldpackers), which basically offers all kinds of volunteering for board and lodging. It’s helpful as you get to filter opportunities by region, type of work and amount of working hours. Besides the typical volunteering options (in tourism), the platform also provides loads of options to volunteer at peoples private homes: as a nanny, to walk the dog, help with gardening, or do general maintenance. It’s a great way to immerse in local culture. You can also sometimes find some housesitting opportunities and paid opportunities on there.
WWOOF: WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. So it's a platform to find volunteering options at organic farms all around the world
Seasonal jobs: I worked a winter season part time in a hotel in the breakfast service. And I’ll tell you straight up that taking up a little job in the area (if you don’t mind spending somewhere for a season) is probably the most lucrative. For you can work just as little as whilst volunteering (or more if you want to), and are able to save a little money ON TOP of paying for your food and accommodation (which is often partly provided by the employee). You might think that volunteering gives you more freedom than contract work, but in reality volunteering is just as much of a work relation (even though the lack of legal obligations).
House & pet sitting: This is wonderful for self employed, or if you just want a lot of time for yourself. House sitting usually includes a couple of hours a week for taking care of plants, animals or the garden. And whilst with volunteering you often share a room with other volunteers, house sitting allows you to have a more luxurious stay as you have the whole house to yourself. And if you're lucky, it can get pretty spectacular!
General tips to save money
Don't stay in your tourist bubble, but try and get in contact with locals. I regularly do small talk with random people whilst travelling by myself, e.g. when sitting in a cafe, during a train ride or when I'm sitting on a bench admiring the view. It not only leads to off the beaten track tips; you might be invited to peoples homes. It occasionally did so for me!
Here’s a good money saving tip, I haven’t come across anywhere else: I don’t go shopping when I need stuff. Instead, I regularly walk into (second hand) stores and when I see something that I’ll need sooner or later and is reasonably priced, I'll buy it. In this way you avoid buying when you really need something and are thus less flexible to find something affordable. Also: The smaller the town, the cheaper second hand stores tend to be. Even in Switzerland I found awesome bargains for normally very expensive skiing equipment!
Don’t be afraid to bargain! Even in Europe where it's not so common to bargain, it is possible. I have bargained hotel rooms before, especially on the day itself: they rather have you take the room than leave it empty. When I took on a season job in a ski resort in Switzerland, I negotiated with my employee to get me a cheaper seasonal ski pass and ski equipment. He sure knows everybody in town, and I knew he was really keen on having me come on the sudden over Christmas, so I knew I could ask for some extras.
Hitchhiking can be fun, but if you want a little more security, check out carpooling websites such as Blablacar, or facebook groups. Also, consider getting the local discount card of a country for the public transport. If you stay a couple of months (or return frequently throughout the year), it quickly pays off.
Start today with a ‘Fuck it’ piggy bank
Put each month money aside for your dreams! And also, for when you feel like I did 1,5 years ago: discontent with your life situation. Your savings will allow you to say: FUCK IT, I’m outta here!
When I had a good salary, I put all my money aside for my future travels. I barely consume(d). I don’t own pets, no car, barely any fancy gadgets (except for my phone). I use everything until it falls apart. I go to the hair dresser once a year. The only thing I'm not economical about is health & food, because it’s a game changer for how you feel + food gives me so much pleasure. Oh, and proper outdoor equipment is also worth the investment imo, as it makes all the difference in a pleasant trip or not.
Lastly, how’s your money mindset?
Have you ever checked, what your believes are around (earning) money? Is it hard to earn money? Are you worthy of earning a decent amount? Is money something dirty to you? Do you negotiate your salary on the regular?
Your convictions affect your reality, and especially around money people tend to have a lot of (negative) convictions. It sure is interesting to become aware of your own. A positive attitude towards money is beneficial in seeing opportunities everywhere you go. And just as important: knowing your skills, and having the confidence to share them.
My trust in my capabilities together with my flexibility of taking up almost any type of job (even if I’m way ‘over qualified’ for it), gives me the confidence that I will always find an income stream. Heck, I’d move to the other side of the world if my finances were looking really bleak. Luckily, I’m not the type of person to let it come to that point. If my savings are dropping to 10k, I’ll do anything in my capacity to get an income asap.
Hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any travel tips for low budget (and conscious) travelling!