HOW WE SAVED OVER US$16,000 IN 18 MONTHS OF TRAVELING
Helpful tips for saving money on your next travel
Some say you need a lot of money to travel, others state you can travel the world without a cent in your pocket. I guess, we belong to the group that’s right in the middle. We are not rich (actually we are light years away from it) but we are also not the type of person who enjoys traveling with an empty wallet.
So, in July 2013, when Lars, BoB and I started our first big travel adventure, we all three had one aim: to travel as long as possible… I am sure you have the same aim, don’t you? We three knew we have a nice amount of savings in our bank account, but we also knew we worked very hard for it. And after years of saving, we definitely didn’t want to spend all that money within a short period of time. So, from the beginning of our trip, we tried to find ways to save money. And you know what? WE FOUND THEM! We could save an incredible amount of over US$16,000 (in words: sixteen thousand 🙂 ) while 18 months of traveling!! You are wondering, how that worked? Come closer and listen to my tips for you, including the amount of money we saved with each tip.
Save money by volunteering
Lars collecting coffee beans on a farm in Peru
Volunteering was the best way for us to save money on our trip. Volunteering means working in return for free accommodation and food. There are thousands of volunteer jobs available worldwide and very typical jobs are farm work, teaching languages, helping in hotels and hostels. We are registered with two websites, www.helpx.com and www.workaway.info. It’s very easy to work with these websites and they can save you a lot of money! If you haven’t checked them out yet, you should really give it a try. Our first job was on a farm in Belize but most of the time we helped out in hotels and hostels. As you might know, we both come from the tourism industry, and I guess, that was the reason why we felt more attracted by this type of job. All in all we had 8 different jobs and volunteered for 9 months, which was exactly half of our 18 months traveling.
In Central and South America one night in a dorm room as well as food for one day costed each roughly US$10 per person. Most of our jobs included three free meals per day, so we could save up to US$5 per person per day. This means volunteering saved us US$5,040 (252 nights x US$20 per night) in regards of accommodation and US$2,320 (252 days x US$10 per day – US$200 for additional food we bought i.e. chocolate) in regards of food. So, with volunteering we saved an impressive amount of US$7,360!!! Crazy, isn’t it?
And it’s not only the financial aspect, volunteering is also a fantastic possibility to get in touch with locals. During those 9 months we got to know amazing people who talked about their life, their dreams and fears, and who welcomed us as good friends and even as members of their family. Looking back we are very happy and even a bit proud of our experiences.
Volunteering saves you a lot of money. But there are also so many other small things that help you travel further with your money.
Don’t waste your money on alcohol
Lars, BoB and I celebrating 12 months of traveling
Yes, I know, we all want to have fun and enjoy life. And partying is a great way to do so. However, it is too expensive! You find party hostels everywhere, even in the cheapest countries. And especially when you travel by yourself, these hostels are the perfect place to get in touch with others. But even in the cheapest countries alcohol is fairly expensive and almost reach US or European price levels. We met travelers who easily spent US$50 per weekend. Have fun with a few drinks less and imagine what you could do with the saved money! Summing up the weekends we didn’t go out (67 weekends out of 72 weekends of our trip…wow, we are so boring), we saved US$3,300! (67 weekends x US$ 50 per weekend for both of us)
Think as a local
Instead of taking the plane, we traveled from Lima to Iquitos, Peru, on a cargo boat with hundreds of locals and saved a lot of money
I know it sounds strange, but it really helps! Sometimes, when searching for bus rides and prices, we were wondering how locals could afford such high transportation costs. But locals also travel within their own country. So, how do they do it? Slowly we started to learn from them.
After some weeks traveling through South and Central America, we realized that no locals went with the bus companies travelers recommended in the internet. Instead, they went with the more unknown companies which also had modern looking buses, but had a lot more attractive prices than the typical “tourist buses”.
With restaurants it was the same. You arrive in a new destination, your stomach is rumbling, and you just find tourist restaurants with some nice decoration, but high prices. And, nobody is in there. There must be a reason for it, right? In those situations we turned around and looked for a restaurant full of locals. We had many of those moments, but right now I remember one situation in Guatemala. We decided to skip breakfast and to have a bigger lunch later on after a walk through the city. A few hours later I felt how my mood changed from “It’s so much fun to discover that place” to “I’m so hungry, give me my god damn FOOD!”. We started to inspect the restaurants around us. There were a lot of places that looked very inviting but when we saw the prices we were shocked. Unsurprisingly these restaurants were all empty. We walked further and suddenly a very busy restaurant full of locals came in sight. We entered, took a seat, ordered a delicious plate with chicken, rise and vegetables and were amazed by its taste. It was the best crispy chicken we had eaten so far. And it only costed half of the tourist price.
All in all we spent US$3,500 for transportation (buses and taxis) and saved at least US$1,500 by not paying the expensive tourist prices.
Take a bus instead of flying
Our comfortable and inexpensive bus from Lima to Cusco, Peru
Flying is quick and therefore much more comfortable than long bus rides. However, if you have a lot of time, like us, try to avoid flights. Usually even the cheapest airfares are at least 1/3 more expensive than buses. Here is an example: In Peru we paid US$36 per person for a comfortable 12 hour bus ride from Lima to Cusco (for visiting Machu Picchu). Of course, we could have taken a one hour flight for US$126, instead of sitting 12 hours in a bus, but as we weren’t in a hurry, we could save US$90 per person. And – voila – with US$90 we could buy TWO Machu Picchu entrance tickets! All in all we saved roughly US$700 by taking a bus instead of flying.
Do your own cooking
Enjoying our own cooked meal on Christmas day 2013
No worries, you don’t need to be a chef for this tip. Depending on the country you travel to, you can save a load of money by doing your own cooking instead of eating out. In some countries, i.e. in Guatemala and Bolivia, restaurants were so cheap that it would have been more expensive to cook in the hostel. As a result, many hostels didn’t offer any cooking facilities. However, in most countries we did our own cooking and spend only US$10 per day (2 people) instead of US$20 per day (2 people) by eating out. This means, we saved another US$2,520 on food (252 days without volunteering x US$10 per day for food).
If you travel by yourself, try to cook with other travel mates, share the costs and benefit from the lower prices of bigger packaging. And you know – The way to someone’s heart is through the stomach ;).
Don’t buy things, you don’t really need
Sometimes it was hard for me to resist those beautiful souvenirs on Guatemala’s markets
I have to admit, especially as a female, it was sometimes hard to resist those beautiful colorful earrings, cool shirts or unique handbags. And even Lars was impressed by some decoration for an apartment or by souvenirs for our families and friends. But, besides the fact that we wouldn’t have been able to carry around all that stuff, we thought about the amount of money we would spend on those “unnecessary” things. During 18 months we only bought five new pieces of clothing: two warm hats, two pairs of gloves, and a sweater made of alpaca (I couldn’t leave Bolivia without getting an alpaca sweater for only US$6!).
Before we started our trip, back at home, we promised to send postcards from every country we would go to. But, if we had known the prices for stamps to Europe before, we wouldn’t have promised anything. Finally we decided to not send any postcard. Sorry to all of you, who expected one of those little colorful cards from us!
Avoiding all these expenses we saved at least US$350 in 18 months.
Walk as much as you can
We like to walk wherever we can. It’s a great way to see things we wouldn’t see from a taxi or a bus. And the best about it, it doesn’t cost anything! When exploring a city, we always try to avoid public transportation. In Buenos Aires we walked up to 20 kilometers per day (okay, no need to be THAT crazy). Although the subway was incredibly cheap, we preferred strolling through the streets and getting from one highlight to the next highlight on our feet.
Also, when we arrived at the bus terminal in a new destination, we tried to figure out beforehand, how far the walking distance to the hostel is. As long as it’s a walk less than two kilometers, we walked to the hostel (my back wouldn’t survive a walk longer than 2km as 24 kg get so much heavier with every single step). In most countries taxi rides were actually pretty cheap but by avoiding taxis we saved at least US$400 in 18 months.
Use your hands and do your own laundry
Possibly I had one of the best views ever for doing laundry in Huaraz, Peru
During our journey we learned to appreciate a lot of things that were totally normal in our everyday life in Germany. Washing machines were one thing we took for granted. At home we usually wear a sweater for a few hours and, although it’s still clean and doesn’t smell sweaty at all, we put it in the laundry. Traveling with a limited amount of clothes makes you think about what is really dirty and what is still clean. Especially when you wash your own laundry, you learn how much work it is. Particularly in the beginning of our trip we tried to save every dollar and did our own laundry all the time.
In South America it was often prohibited to wash clothes in the hostel and a laundry service was offered. But even here you find ways and tricks. When we had a private room with a shared bathroom we took some clothes under the shower and washed it there (but pssst – don’t tell anybody 😉 ). Usually private rooms are only cleaned after check out, so nobody saw our clothes line. By doing our own laundry, we saved US$150 in 18 months.
Save money and travel further!
You see, there are many different ways on how to save money while traveling… and these were just a few. Summing up all savings we made, we get to a total amount of US$16,280!! That’s crazy! If we had to take that amount out of our accounts, it wouldn’t have been possible to travel for such a long time.
The biggest challenge is to stay disciplined and to find the right balance between saving and enjoying. Keep in mind, the most important reason, why you go on a long journey, still is: HAVING FUN!
A last advise I want to give you: Compare! Lars and I always calculate with US$10 per night per person on a trip. So, every 10 bugs not spend on unnecessary things, is one night more in a fascinating country. Try it and you will be surprised how much easier it is to say “no!” to new shirts, earrings or shoes.
So what about you? Have you been on a long journey? How did you save money? Do you have more helpful advises for other travelers? Feel free to leave a message below or send me an email! I hope I could give you some decent tips for your next trip and wish you a great, cheap travel :)!