The most important piece of advice a traveler will tell you is that if you really want to do travel, there is a way.
Previous blog posts probably illustrate that travel is very important to me, that I’ve dreamt of it all my life. When presented with opportunities to go abroad, I grab them.
I first visited the Dominican Republic in 2008 through International Student Volunteers, assisting in the light construction of a school and tutoring local children for two weeks. The program was quite expensive, and I was able to fundraise most of the money due to the kindness of my family and friends. I drafted a letter, detailing my goals for volunteering in the DR. Their collective generosity paid the program fee. The remaining expenses, including a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Puerto Plata, was a joint effort between me and my parents.
During my last year at university, I realized that my travel ambitions didn’t materialize in the way I expected. Sure, I had gone to faraway places, but it was only for two weeks (Dominican Republic) and three weeks (Cambodia) at a time. I wanted to spend more time abroad, to immerse myself in a different culture. I contemplated studying abroad, but realized that it would postpone my graduation date, costing me a lot more money in the process.
At a study abroad information session, they tried to inform us of all our options: they mentioned the possibility of being an au pair, but didn’t go into much detail. As I researched it online, I came to the conclusion that it was the perfect opportunity for me. I would live with a family in another country, caring for their children and doing light household tasks in exchange for room/board, as well as a monthly stipend.
This option allowed me to live in the Netherlands for nine months — also traveling to Germany, Belgium, and Spain — without touching a penny of my savings. In fact, since I’m a frugal spender, I was able to save some money (~500 euros) to use for my backpacking trip through Europe and Southeast Asia.
The rest of my travel budget came from a combination of many different things:
- Before leaving California, I worked (as a nanny) and saved as much as I could.
- I was awarded the Working Abroad Grant, as a participant of InterExchange’s working abroad program.
- I also wrote blog entries for the agency in exchange for monetary compensation.
Again, my point is that there are many different avenues to pursue.
- Work (a lot), and SAVE your money
- Search for work abroad programs (au pair, wwoof, helpx, workaway)
- Apply for grants
- Find a niche that allows you to travel and work
- Fundraise (send out letters to friends, family, corporations; host events to raise money for your travel goal)
But the most important decision I made with regard to my travel budget was to spend little while abroad. It’s part of my travel philosophy: the less I spend while on the road, the longer I can stay abroad. My travel style is a product of those principles. While interacting with locals and developing meaningful relationships, I save money so that I can continue meeting people for as long as possible.
If I stayed in luxury hotels, traveled everywhere by plane and train, shopped for myself frequently, and splurged on fancy meals, I wouldn’t be able to travel very long. And more importantly, I would miss so many opportunities to connect with other travelers and locals.