30 June 2009

Ain't No Luck About It: A Guide to Saving Money for Long Term Travel

Extended travel is not about luck – I am not lucky to be here, I earned it!

So many people, upon hearing that S and I are traveling for over a year, ask me “How? Did you inherit loads of money? Did you engage in organized crime? Did you hibernate for 2 years?”
No. The answer is simply that we chose to do something and we set out to do it – and here's some tricks that we used. Nothing is revolutionary, just common sense – but used in combination everything listed really worked for us.

I honestly think that you can start at this point, with no savings, and in less than a year be lifting off toward an extended period of travel.

Part 1 – In the Beginning there was a Dream: Before you even start saving

1)Set your goal – IE: BOOK THE TICKET!

Yes. You heard me. Book the ticket before you have the money for the whole trip. Book the ticket if that is ALL the money you have to spare – you will save the rest before you leave. Airlines will allow you to book a ticket up to 330 days in advance, with the best deals usually available approximately 6 months out. What a better motivator to save the cash and turn down that extra 7 dollar pint than the Cathay Pacific E-Ticket sitting in your inbox? The average ticket to SE Asia is 1200.00, to India a bit more. You can get it cheaper if you book it creatively – play around online with seat sales or give a travel agent a strict budget to play with – look at flying from Seattle or Detroit.

I am not suggesting that you book a ticket if you are 10K in credit card debt with a low salary and car payments – but once you get to a better place financially you can save the money for a 6 month trip in JUST SIX MONTHS – I promise. Steps to get to that good place are similar to the following steps – if you are in a really bad place, head to a credit advisor or get a second job – you can do it!

2)Get a plan, Stan.

Where do you want to go? Europe is hella expensive. I still think you can do it....but you probably need some existing savings. Asia? No problem. Things in the developing world are shockingly cheap – a budget of 30 CAD per person a day gets you a nice lifestyle in most places – not including flights (although are dirt cheap on Air Asia.com). On this budget you will go over some days and under others – just keep track and make it even out when you can. So – 30 bucks times 180 days 5400.00
This is the minimum amount of money you will need for 6 months in Asia. You will of course need to add all of the irritating expenses from step 4, as well as a traveling costs (internal Asia flights, trains etc) and any expenses that will continue to accrue at home while you travel – so you can safely budget 8K for 6 months (perhaps more, depending on apartment sitch.)
It is so do-able. You can do it.

Planning your route – at least getting a rough idea – is important to do in advance, as you may want to avoid flying in and out of expensive cities like Singapore, Delhi and Kuala Lumpur if you think you might be tight on cash. Planning also helps you avoid any needless backtracking as it is money down the squat toilet.

3)Your Place or Mine...or your Mom's?

There are a lot of things you need to pay out for before you go – but lets get one out of the way first:
Your place. Are you gonna keep it or give it up? If you're keeping it, can you get someone to sublet for the price of the rent/mortgage you pay? There are websites dedicated to house swaps and house sitters – have a look. If not – you have to add that amount to your savings....so I say LET IT GO!

With your new Eastern enlightenment you will soon realize that things like a kickass apartment *sniff* mean less after you travel. Consider spending the last 2 months in Canada at your parent's place – even if you're thirty. No rent, free food (or for a small fee) - if you can hack it, do it. It can mean an extra 1-2 Grand in the bank.

You will also need a budget to move your crap into a storage space – about 100 bucks for a truck and pizzas – and you will need a storage locker. Hopefully you can leave it at your parent's house, or a kind friend's or uncle's or? It'll save you cash – like 500 bucks worth– so beg and plead for some space in someone's shed.

One more thing if you do move – remember to file a change of address with the post office (and contact your bank, federal gov't -for taxtime - etc to alert them of the changes) This does cost a wee bit of money – remember to do it.

4)The Practical...errrr.....boring details.

This is where shit gets annoying. You will have saved and planned and pleaded – and now here comes practicality to budge on in and bleed you dry before you've even wrapped your lips around a Chang beer. You will need money – and no small sum, for the following things:

a) A good backpack: count on 200 bones. Get a suitcase style zipper and not a top loading – you will thank me. Also, choose the size that you think you will need, and then make your friends tie your hands behind your back and force you to purchase the size smaller.

b)A few articles of travel clothing and toiletries: but remember, everything except for sunblock is wayyy cheaper in Asia, and you might as well wait until you get here to stock up.

c)Pricks and Pills: Surprisingly, if you have a good job your prescription plan will cover 80% of the cost of these – even if the travel clinic lady says that they won't. Submit the claim forms – what's the worst they'll say? In case you have no coverage, plan on about 400 bucks (ouch!) or higher if you go for the fancier malaria pills (which I say – don't do it!). Any other pills – IE: antibiotics, birth control, allergy pills – are available here, and for a tenth the cost, so just consider hitting up a Bangkok pharmacy.

d) A Years Supply of anything you cannot live without: Good face cream from Dermalogica? A special brand of contact lenses? MAC foundation in NW20? Better just buy it and bring it – but ONLY if it is small.

e) INSURANCE: No, your credit card will not cover you. No, you cannot afford the cost of an emergency airlift to Singapore. You need insurance. The cheapest price I could find was 1 buck a day, with BCAA. You have to do this.
Remember to cancel your BC Blue Cross to avoid being charged 50 bucks a month for the months that you are not here – that does add up.

f) You may want to consider leaving a small sum aside for your return – the week or two before you get that first paycheque when you get home. If you are not going back to your old job, that period may be longer. You can always 'seat of your pants' it when you get home – but if thats not your style, you'll need a bit of dough.

g)Other little but potentially costly things? Good trekking sandals, a camera, swiss army knife and a guidebook. Look here for other great backpacking goodies....

All together these annoying things can add up to over 2 Grand, but you will have saved and planned for them so they will not shock you at all. Make sure that you incorporate every other possible travel expense that you may have so that you can adjust accordingly.

Part 2 – Now for the Dirty Work – Saving the Cash.

1.Break out the Spreadsheets – Get a Budget.

Its not as daunting as it seems – and you have to do this. Excel is not a necessity, you can use pen and paper, but a spreadsheet really helps you to tinker with numbers and adjust them up and down. For instance, taking 10 bucks out of one column and adding 23 to another and eliminating another all together.....gets messy without a good computer program. Ask someone for help if you've never used it.

Look at what you have been spending your cash on until now, perhaps even track all of your spending for one month, and really re-evaluate what you can do without. DO NOT skimp on existing bill payments – but you may consider going to a lower monthly payment on student loans (but not your credit card – you have to CLEAR that sucker before you go.)

Our sample budget during the 6 months before we left:
1300 – rent
200 – Jess student loan
240 - on restaurants, lunches and coffees (30 per person per week) (this is DRAMATICALLY lower than it had been)
100 – bar/pub/entertainment
120 – phone bills
20 – cat food
20 – cabs/bus fare (this is DRAMATICALLY lower than it had been)
40 – personal hygiene products
350 – groceries (150 for a big shop every 2 weeks, plus 50 for our local produce store)
100 – alcohol
25 – gifts

And that was ALL we bought. If it was not in the budget, we didn't do it. No magazines. No dollar pizza slice. No cute pair of shoes that were on sale. Nothin'.
I know a lot of you drive cars – but if you can, walk or ride your bike to work. If you cannot, get a bus pass – you will save loads.

Play around with your numbers and find a combo that works for you – and STICK TO IT.

I don't want to give away exact salaries – but I think that you can all guess that this amount left a substantial amount leftover for us. Single peeps, I know that your expenses are a bit higher per person but you can make this work. If not – get a part time job. I am not joking – we met one woman in her 50s who worked 2 full time jobs and 1 part time job so that she could take a year off. If she can do it you can too. THERE IS NO EXCUSE! If you want it you can have it.

There is no magic secret to budgeting – you just have to suck it up and follow the plan.

2)Hey Good Lookin', Time to Get Cookin'!

This is the main way that we saved money – you can save up to 500+ a month just from eliminating restaurants and bought lunches. S and I discovered that we were wasting gobs and gobs of money on restaurants, lunches and weekend brunch. You HAVE to STOP this MADNESS. Stop it. Cook food. Cook delicious, extravagant food that will make you happy and satiated and quell your need for restaurant food. Here's how to turn the abstract into the reality – the Food Plan.

Every day of the week needs to be planned like an OCD soccer mum's weekly schedule. On a calendar, plan delicious menus for every day, including lunches and breakfasts on the weekends – even snacks. Now write your grocery list based on the meals you are planning on preparing, add a few extras for snacks (kept in your desk and the fridge at work) and STICK TO IT. Stick to it, not as a diet but as a budget plan that you cannot falter from. Look at work schedules, plans, events etc to make sure each day will work. This takes me about 90 minutes to do – and I have practice!

Love ordering pizza at 25 bucks a pop? Learn to dress a Boboli crust and make it exactly the way you want it.

Eggs Benny at the Reef? Grab a packet of “you cannot possibly fuck this up” Hollandaise powder and an egg poacher, spice it with some jerk sauce and there you go.

Even if you insist on picking up 2 rolls from your favourite sushi place, make your own miso and edamame, and eat it at home – with drinks you save over 10 bucks plus tip this way.

At the grocery store, try to save money everywhere possible, but make sure you buy wonderful ingredients and yummy things so that you are not tempted to stray. If you have Brie cheese and olives in the icebox what else could you need? Shop for two weeks using your lovely food plan and amazing grocery list based on that plan, and only stop at the local expensive market to pick up a few bucks of fresh veggies a few times a week. This saves you from the expense of food going bad in your fridge (wasted $$$$) and curbs impulse buys on a Tuesday after work.

Keep 2 or 3 microwave meals in the fridge at work and at home – they are more money that cooking your own, but cheaper than buying lunch out. Use them sparingly, but on those days that you are running out the door they will save your arse and keep you on budget.

Because you are human, give yourself 30 bucks a week to do with what you choose – go for brunch twice, once for sushi, buy lunch three times – I don't care. If your friends insist you come out to the new pricey Izakaya – ask them to pay. You have no shame! Potlucks are another great money saver – your friends will be totally understanding and it saves soooooo much money. But do not break down - think about fruity drinks on the beach in Borneo to sustain you in your times of need.

If your mum offers to take you out for supper, ask for the cash equivalent and make her some pasta, pocket the change and voila! Happy proud mum eating homecooked child food – her favourite – and an extra 40 bucks in your pocket!

3)Every Measly Buck Counts

You will not believe what 1 buck can buy you here – so whenever you can, pocket it. Save and roll change, return your empties, clip coupons, buy on sale and in bulk. Every penny should be thought about – and that includes late night cabs (walk or bus – you did it when you were younger!) and coffees. No more S'Buckies – you have to take your own coffee or tea, even leave some at work so you are not tempted to splurge. No movie rentals - download! Cancel the gym membership you don't use, cancel the paper subscription, no more magazines (read them online for free!) 8 dollars a day on coffee and a magazine can turn into 60 bucks a week in the bank – and that is two full days of travel. So get your priorities straight and your head outta your ass! I easily saved 50-100 dollars a week by cutting out all of the tiny splurges.

4)Pretty Painted Clothes Horse or Seasoned Travel Guru?

Well, which do you wanna be? You are about to travel to Asia and learn a ton about the world and yourself – you do not need that dress. You do not need those shoes. You do not need that handbag, tube of lipgloss, bathbomb or blowdry. I have slowly gotten rid of every single piece of clothing I brought with me and replaced it with cheap locally bought stuff – and the bursting closet of clothing I have at home seems silly and excessive (and will all be wayyyy too big. Yay!) In the 6 months before you set out, do not buy any DVDs, clothing, concert tickets, birthday gifts (your friends and family will understand.)
No more mani/pedis at 40 bucks a pop, no more 30 dollar blow outs, no more massages – pluck your own brows and paint your own toes!
Leave your debit card at home. I saved – gulp – 400 + (++++++) a month simply by not shopping or paying for beauty treatments, S just as much.

5)Yard Party!!!! (Or kitchen, living room.....)

Well, it's come to this. You have to invite people over – you can't go to the bar. If your friends want you to come out for some pints they are going to have to buy all but the 2 that are in your budget ( We gave ourselves 100 a month – for 2 of us – for an entertainment budget – including movies.) Have your peeps over, drink some Painted Turtle or Bowen Island (the cheap but good stuff....well, good-ish) buy some cheap snacks (homemade hummus with pita chips is pennies a serving and makes people happy) and play a boardgame – corny as it may seem now you are headed to parties beyond your imagination in SE Asia!
If you do go out, drink the special, and try to get your friends to return all the drinks that you bought them when you were free spendin' with your loads of cash. We saved, as a couple, at least 400 bucks a month (sometimes more) by not drinking in bars and clubs – I know some people whose savings would be over 1K/month.
Think about that. In 6 months that is their entire trip, less airfare and bits n bobs, just from bars, clubs and (partially) restaurants. What will you remember more on your deathbed?

6) The 3 R's – Use Them For Your Own Personal Gain!

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – you are saving the planet (and you owe it for your long haul flight.)
Seriously – this is not just an 80's fad – you can save so much money this way.

Reduce – reduce all of the stupid spending! Cut back on packaged foods, scrape out that make-up container, stop buying new clothes, stop buying DVDs and stop consuming your weight in dranks at the bar! You can save sooo much money if you stop your gluttony. I know I did.

Reuse – Everything. It may sound icky, but rinsing out ziplocs, tinfoil and disposable containers saves you cash. Always carry a re-usable water bottle so that you never have to waste your money on something that is free.

Recycle – In the year that you are saving, need a new kettle? Or humidifier? Or..... anything? Forget buying new. You have a few choices – Value Village, Craig's List, and even better: Freecycle.org.
Life's not about fancy department store bags – used and free is better than new and....not free.

7) The Early Bird Stops the Panic?

Get as much of the packing (your backpack and apartment) done in advance, and get those small details on a list, and then start checking it off. Leaving shit til the last minute ends up costing you money as you panic and try to cram weeks of work into days.

8)Take advantage of 'em.

You heard me. If someone is willing to make you supper, take you out or buy you a drink you better get on that shit. Any free meal is a meal that doesn't come out of your food budget, and that is the most important thing that there is. Does your work offer per diems of taxi vouchers or any kind of expense account? Think long and hard about how you can use that (morally.)

Free calories are good calories – if someone brings goodies into the office you gotta grab some – even if you are just bringing them home for S. Leftover pizza at a pizza party? That should go home with you. Fixin' bars? Meant to be pilfered. Buffets too......

Part 3 – Motivational “Van Down By the River” Section

Anyone can do this – you can do this! Money is not some scary thing that gets away from you – you have the power and you control it, not the other way around. S and I were lucky enough to have good salaries and some extra wiggle room, but at any salary level a lot of this is possible. Take a second job where you can earn tips, or grab as much overtime as you can.

When you stop spending like crazy on the small things it is amazing how much money starts accumulating in your bank accounts – money that you can use toward a truly amazing life changing experience. I plan on using these ideas to save for everything in the future – after doing this once when I think of wasting 300 dollars in a single day on bars, restaurants, taxis and treats I feel ill.

I know that I am not the most authoritative voice on the matter, but if you have kids this is still all possible. You may need more time to save, but consider traveling before they are 2 years old ( at 20 or 22 months) so that their hotel and airfare is free! Up to 12 years old and they get substantial discounts on air, train and hotel. We see a lot of families with small kids traveling (hippies, expats and middle American types alike!) and they unanimously agree that it is really rewarding, fun and exciting.

Travel saving feels different from other savings – less like a chore - but that all said, is this feasible as a long term savings plan over a year in length? I personally don't think so – I would go squirrelly, but you could adapt it and pick and choose what works for you. The simple fact is that once you get used to re-using and making do, saving and scrimping – it actually becomes a fun challenge to see how much money you can save.

Ask me more in a year or so – I'll be saving for South America.....


Marjorie said...

I think you have some wonderful suggestions here - not just for people who want to take that 'trip of a lifetime' but for anyone who has a dream that requires more $$ than might usually be saved. And it makes me think that maybe Australia is possible this year...

master kevin said...

some great tips here i did the same thing with my budget planned it all out. looked at everything ingoing and outgoing. i'm pretty sick though and went a bit extreme i only have three expences, rent, petrol and food. alcohol cut out totally, entertainment gone.
love this post

Dolly Daydream said...

Thanks for the tips! Writing my "to do list" today!! Just needs some ticks next to them now!! Nest stop....Get a backpack!