A few years ago, I took a leap. I chucked it all—the cushy TV producing job, the serious relationship, the lux condo on Chicago’s North Side, my car, a lot of my “stuff”—and left the U.S. for nearly three years to travel around the world
It wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, it was years in the making, but my wanderlust had gotten the best of me and if I didn’t do it now, I’d always regret it.
During my travels, I met amazing people from all walks of life. I ate delicious local food. And I witnessed the great beauty of this earth.
And I saved money.
The question I get the most: How the heck could I afford to do this? Was I rich? Did I inherit lots of cash from a wealthy uncle?
No and no.
Travel is cheaper than you think
I wasn’t on vacation. Therefore the money I was spending wasn’t in addition to living expenses back home. I essentially cut out any expenses at home—from cancelling my cell phone bill to selling off most of my stuff. So there were no bills except my credit card.
While traveling I simply had to worry about transport, lodging and food. I did not need a car. I did not need to stock up on all the things you need when you have a home: from toilet paper to vacuum cleaners to sheets and towels. I lived out of a bag and life was easy. Less was more.
No stuff = no worries
So, back to that question: On average, I spent about $2,000 each month depending on where I was in the world. In Asia and Central America you can cut that in half. In London, I stayed with friends. Plus, I ended up working odd jobs and freelance writing while I traveled, so I broke even part of the time.
Although I’m a foodie and love to eat out, I had to enjoy cheap eats or cook at my friends’ homes a lot. I splurged on occasion and stayed in nicer hotels (like the B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa in Zurich; Ventana Inn & Spa, Big Sur; Salt + Sill in Sweden; Vancouver Shangri-La) and sometimes took a vacation from my travels. Like that time I went to Thailand and decided to hang out on the beach for a week and do nothing.
The most expensive part of this kind of trip is transportation, but even that is still cheaper because you’re only booking one-way tickets and your dates are flexible so you can find amazingly good deals. Plus, the slower you travel, the cheaper it is.
How to start saving now
-Cut down on things like new clothes, gadgets and eating out
-Sell off things you don’t need on sites like Craigslist (when’s the last time you used that bread maker?)
-Cell phone: Do you really need that huge monthly plan (and bill)? Or can you do what I did and only pay pre-paid (which only costs me $100/year)?
-Use cable/phone/internet “vacation hold” when you go away for an extended period
-Eliminate debt or credit card balances, and use a credit card that gives you cash back
-If you’re in a city, consider selling your car and using public transport or a bike to get around.
Conventional thinking is skewed
People are accustomed to what they know. Depending on your frame of reference or where you live, spending $4 a day for a latte, $15 for lunch, $100-plus per month for 800 cable channels is normal; so is buying a brand new car, or putting down a hefty down payment on a home or condo.
All these things would have cost more than I spent in a year traveling. But for some reason you don’t think twice when your friend says they’re buying a brand new car or home. To me, spending money on travel, and the experiences that come with it, is the most rewarding investment.
It’s been ingrained in our collective conscience that travel is superfluous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Travel is educating. Travel is enriching. Travel changed my life.
Since her travels ended a few years ago, Lisa’s back living in the city she loves, Chicago. She’s a freelance travel and food writer and blogger, as well as a media and video consultant. This year alone she lived in Berlin for a month, hiked in Bhutan, enjoyed the Alps in Switzerland, spoke at a conference in Toronto, drove through the Rockies in Colorado, soaked up the sun in the Dominican Republic, and watched the leaves change colors in her Midwest backyard, Door County, Wisconsin.