How I Saved $13,000 For Travel In Just Seven Months

How was I able to save enough money to travel long-term?  It had very little to do with being a travel blogger.  When I started Adventurous Kate, my goal wasn’t to live off my blog (not that I would have objected to that!) — it was to run one of the world’s top travel blogs.

My initial plan was to travel Southeast Asia for seven months.  I budgeted $1,000 per month (in retrospect, I should have budgeted closer to $1,500), plus airfare to and from Asia ($1,500), travel insurance ($800), gear ($700), student loan payments for seven months ($1,232) and some extra financial cushion ($1,500 — should have budgeted $2,000 or more).

My goal was to save $12,800 — which I dropped to $12,500 when I spent $280 less than I expected to on airfare.

I started with very little savings in February, having just paid off debt.  From February 2010 until September 2010, a period of just seven months, I managed to save that money.

I am going to be 100% honest with you and show you exactly how I did it.

On February 6 — incidentally, the same day Adventurous Kate went live — I started a new job as an account manager at a search marketing agency outside Boston.  My salary was $50,000 (up from $48,000 at my last job) and my take-home pay after taxes was almost exactly $3,000 each month, or $1,500 on each semi-monthly paycheck.

At that time, I was still saving up for the RTW trip I would take “someday,” or the apartment in New York City that I would get with my sister.  I decided to save aggressively.  It wasn’t until March that I decided to travel through Southeast Asia for seven months instead and to start in October.

boston-skyline-sunset-gallery

Monthly Expenses

My first task was to figure out my essential expenses.  They were as follows:

Rent (half of one-bedroom split apartment in Fenway, downtown Boston): $800

Utilities: app. $100

Student loans: $176

CharlieCard (public transit pass): $59

Gym: $90

Netflix: $10

Chiropractry: $80

Food: app. $300

Social activities and impromptu food purchases (bars, movies, going out for lunch or dinner, nights out with friends): $200

Miscellaneous Expenditures: $150

Total: $1,965

If I managed to watch my expenses, I would be able to save $1,000 per month.  If I changed my lifestyle, I’d be able to save even more.

Vegas Ladies

Changing My Lifestyle

I took a look at my spending and saw that I had a lot of ways to trim my expenses.  It was easy to eliminate things like trips to Vegas and cocktails at fancy bars with the girls.  The everyday things were much harder.

As much as it broke my heart, I gave up my gym membership.  This was the only time I have ever been in shape — I found a gym that I loved, a high-end women’s gym with lots of fun classes.  It was sad to give it up.

I stopped shopping at expensive grocery stores like Whole Foods and switched to the super-cheap Trader Joe’s.

I stopped dating.  I used to be on OKCupid and go on dates all the time.  While most of the guys insisted on paying for everything, I’d always chip in for our second round of drinks or more food.  That added up quickly.

I changed my social and food habits.  Instead of going out for dinner with friends, we’d go out for coffee or just hang out and watch movies at home.  Instead of stopping for a burrito on the way home from work, I’d have one of the Trader Joe’s eggplant parmesans I’d purchased.

And, most significantly, I decided to move home when my lease ended.  It made sense both financially and logistically and wasn’t a huge sacrifice, considering that my family lives just outside Boston.

My lease was due to end on August 31, which meant that my last time paying rent would be July 1 (as I had already paid the last month’s rent).  I expected the full security deposit back as well ($775).  After that, I could move home to either of my parents’.

NOTE: This is the part where a lot of people said, “Oh, she lived with her parents, that’s how she saved, the rest of this piece is irrelevant.” Dude. That was for seven weeks out of the seven MONTHS. I did it because my lease ended in August 31 and my trip started October 20. Was I really going to find another apartment and move all my stuff there for less than two months?

I was very lucky to have the option to move home. If not, I would have slept on friends’ couches and paid them for it.

Boston Marathon

Saving Cash

The very moment I woke up on payday, I transferred the money from my Schwab checking account to my HSBC savings account — my “travel account.”  I got paid $1,500 twice a month, on the 15th and on the last day.

I would allow myself no more than $500 every two weeks to spend on groceries, student loans, doctors’ appointments, everything.  On the 15th of the month, I would transfer $1,000 to my travel account.  On the last day of the month, I would transfer $100 to my travel account (accounting for $800 for rent and $100 for utilities).

If there was anything left over in my Schwab checking account on payday, I would transfer it to my savings account.  If there was $43 left on the last day of the month, I would transfer $143; if $27 remained on the 15th, I would transfer $1,027.

Keeping a maximum of $500 in my checking account at all times prevented me from overspending.

After July 1st, with no more rent to pay, I began transferring $1,000 from each paycheck.

haggis-hostel-working-gallery

Extra Income from Freelance Work

A few months back, I found a gig writing about Boston nightlife for AOL Travel, which I found on Craigslist. I wrote short posts five times per week and got paid $20 for each one.  After a few months, the job was eliminated, but they soon hired me back for a similar project.

Additionally, shortly after I started my new job, a former boss of mine came to me wanting to hire me for a project.  Talk about brilliant timing.

As a travel blogger, you shouldn’t expect to make any money for the first year — but there are exceptions. I was one of them. I started selling my first ads at about five months in.

Everything that was supplemental — everything from AOL, my side gig, or ads on my sites, went straight into my travel account.

I got most but not all of my security deposit back as well, netting me another $740.

Boston Swan Boats

A Day in the Life of Money-Saving Kate

6:15 AM: Alarm goes off.  I snooze for about 30 minutes.

7:06 AM: The last chance I have to jump on the D line if I want to make it to work on time.

8:30 AM: Work begins.  I hate my job and draw a notch at every 30-minute interval that passes.

1:00 PM: Lunch break.  I spend it taking an hourlong walk around town, stopping for a $1.29 wrap from Dunkin Donuts on the way back.

2:00 PM: Back to work.  I eat the wrap and the food I brought from home: a yogurt and an apple.

5:30 PM: Work over.  Time to head home.

7:00 PM: Home.  I have a Trader Joe’s eggplant parmesan for dinner and watch a bit of TV.

8:00 PM: Freelance work time.  Writing for AOL, working on the project for my old boss, working on Adventurous Kate.

2:00 AM: Collapse into bed.

Believe me, I know how unhealthy this schedule was.  I felt like I was losing my mind.  I spent my weekends sleeping and didn’t do anything but work during the week.  Which, of course, kept me from spending money.

I don’t recommend living like this for longer than a few months — but I am ultimately very happy that I did. I saved a LOT of money.  And because I was eating so little, I lost 20 pounds as well.

Lake Q Sunset

Moving Home

I moved home to my mom’s house outside Boston at the end of August.  Within days, she was horrified by my work habits and I immediately scaled back, going to bed at 1 instead of 2.

While I was no longer paying the $59 per month for public transportation, I was paying much more to 1) get my car back on the road, 2) pay my car insurance and 3) pay for gas.  Commuting by car from north of Boston to metro-west took an hour each way. I also paid my mom a small amount for rent and groceries.

Within a week of putting my car back on the road, my car broke down.  It turned out that it needed $900 worth of repairs.  I felt like crying.

I didn’t succeed in hitting my savings goals every month.  Sometimes expenses creeped up on me, and I didn’t always save as much as I had hoped.  But I kept going.

Purchases

I had a list of items that I needed to buy for my trip, which I did over the course of several months.  Buying some of the more expensive items in New Hampshire helped me save on sales tax.  Here is my packing list from that time.

Backpack (REI Venturi 40L): $100. (This backpack has since been discontinued. Today I use the Pacsafe Venturesafe 45L, $200, which is a million times better and still works great as carry-on.)

Sandals (Tevas): $40 with REI savings

Portable safe (a.k.a the most important thing I pack): $70

Toshiba Netbook: $400

Sneakers: $85

Little items: everything from solid shampoos from Lush to tank tops from Target.  Estimated $200.

Six months of travel insurance: $400. I use and recommend World Nomads. Do not scrimp on this. If you get seriously injured and need an air ambulance to another country, it could save you and your family hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And then came the biggest purchase: my plane ticket.  I spent a lot of time looking at different routes and timetables on Kayak — Boston or New York to either Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Singapore.  Finally, I found a round-trip ticket from New York to Bangkok on KoreanAir for $1220.

(Looking back, I shouldn’t have booked a round-trip ticket.  I ended up getting it only partially refunded because I chose to fly back via England instead.)

Kate's Backpack

And Then I Left

My job couldn’t have been a worse fit for me, and I knew within a few days that taking it had been an enormous mistake.

My original plan was to work until October 15, saving up the maximum amount of money before departure on October 20.  But as time and those little notches added up, I told myself that I didn’t have to last quite that long.  Maybe October 1 would be okay.

But on the morning of September 14, I had had enough.  I picked up my belongings and simply walked out. I drove a few blocks away, parked, and emailed my resignation from my iPhone.

I drove myself home and got back to work immediately — on Adventurous Kate, my labor of love and new (if scant) source of income.  I told myself that I would need to make about $1,500 in advertising over the next eight months to make up for the lost income from leaving my job early.

And there you have it!

By the time I left on October 20, 2010, I had saved just over $13,000.

Kate in Bangkok

Kate’s Tips for Saving Money for Travel

You don’t need to make $50,000 a year and have a few freelance jobs to save money quickly and dramatically. The single most important thing you can do is as follows:

1) Start a savings account strictly for travel expenses.  Pledge not to touch it until you start traveling.

2) Calculate your monthly expenses and figure out where you can cut back.  Figure out the bare minimum you need to live, giving yourself a small cushion (around $100-200).  Calculate the difference from your monthly paycheck.

3) The moment your paycheck comes in, deposit the ENTIRE difference into your travel account.  DO NOT touch your travel account.  Will you run out of money?  Not if you’re careful.  If funds get low, spend a few days eating lentils and watching TV and going for walks until you get paid again.

As for unforeseen expenses, like my car repairs and higher-than-expected bills, I put them on my credit card and used my next paycheck to pay for it instead of taking it out of my travel savings.

Saving money is not easy.  It takes work and it takes sacrifice.  I lived a very difficult life for several months.  But it was absolutely worth making my dreams come true.How I saved $13,000 for travel in just 7 months | Adventurous Kate

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Erica { EricaDHouse.com }
Guest

Easily on my favorite posts on here. Thank you for being so honest about your finances! It’s always so amusing how secretive people are on the topic.

Explorer Guidebook
Guest

Erica: “It’s always so amusing how secretive people are on the topic.”

Strongly agree! I know many of them 😛

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas
Guest

When I decided to move to Spain, I intended to be here only a year and to save loads so I could use my multitude of long weekends to travel. I was living at home right after college, and my biggest expense was going out with friends (and having so much fun, I almost didn’t get on the Madrid-bound plane!) Instead of drinking, I often chose to be the DD so I’d get in time with my friends and keep spending to a minimum. They’d often pick up dinner so long as I got them to Chicago and back safely.… Read more »

Michelle
Guest

Wow that’s awesome!

Shaun
Guest

Sweet backpack!

A separate travel account is ESSENTIAL for sure. I have two. My yearly travel savings account and the Big-Year-Off account. Sometimes I can’t put much in, other times I can dump a nice fat sum in each.

The key is that it’s my #1 priority, and where my focus is.

Shubhajit
Guest

Nice post. I don’t think I can ever save money in a separate bank for travel, but I like the idea. I don’t travel like a nomad, it’s always a 10-15 days affair and rest for 2-3 months. Yes, I like the schedule and appreciate that behind that cool smile, there is a hardworking lady. Nothing comes easy in this life. Respect.

Jean
Guest

This is very inspiring Kate. I admire your discipline! Youre right in saying that it’s the everyday things that are hard to give up. Simple things like making your own lunch to take to work. Sigh. Thanks for posting this, I am encouraged to know that it CAN BE DONE! 🙂

Stephanie
Guest

I love this post, so honest! I had a slightly out of control shopping and lifestyle addiction when I decided that I wanted to travel long term. I found that I could save 100s of pounds a month if I didn’t buy any new clothes, makeup or accessories. Believe me it was very hard at first but I learn’t to love the beautiful clothes that I already had and I sold any expensive dresses that I would no longer wear on Ebay. I also cut back on taxis, cocktails and brought my own dinner in to work rather than spending… Read more »

Sara
Guest

This post is fantastic. It’s so helpful to read actual numbers to get a realistic idea of what you had to give up and what you wish you had given yourself leeway for after the fact. Thank you!

Steph
Guest

Man, I remember how much i loved payday and the magical feeling of transferring money into my savings account. Kinda miss that…

chad @ cypress bend
Guest

Hi Kate – it really takes dedication and commitment to pull this off not to mention a lot of courage. I don’t know to many people who would put themselves out there like that to follow a dream. Very inspiration.

Laryssa
Guest

Thanks for being up front – a lot of travel bloggers seem scant on these financial details, and there’s no way all of ’em are independently wealthy 😉

Lisa
Guest

Hi Kate, Love your post. Travel is my absolute passion, but I racked up a lot of debt doing it. I have cut down my spending considerably and paid off my credit card debt as of last year. My goal is to save a house, but still learn to save money so that I can travel. Eventually, I would love to do what you do and travel the world as my job. Till then, I have to budget. I love how you listed everything out and were really honest with us. It costs a lot of $ to go shopping… Read more »

Katherina
Guest

I completely agree with the separate travel savings account… and putting a fixed sum on payday is crucial!

Jennifer
Guest

Thank you so much for this! I hope to someday take off and live outside of the U.S. but right now I’m concentrating on paying off $30,000 off student loan debt. I want to be completely debt-free before I make any moves. I also moved back home a year ago (easy cause my parents live in New York City) and it is not so easy to give up your freedom. The first year I paid off all my credit card debt, took a 2 week trip to Spain and blew the rest on clothes, dinners and hanging out. I wish… Read more »

Erica
Guest

Fantastic post. Thank you for sharing such specific details on your monetary timeline for a trip like that. Sounds like your dedication was rewarded, many times over! That’s really inspiring.

Christina
Guest

That was insightful, thanks for sharing. I am envious you had the opportunity to move home and save on rent. We were paying almost $2,000 a month in rent in super-expensive San Diego leading up to our trip, which killed. This also makes me sort of wish we had picked to go Southeast Asia – we did Europe for 2 months and it cost much more than your trip did for 7 months! Would have liked to stretch all that money a little longer. Oh well!

Rafael Marquez
Guest
Rafael Marquez

It seems so basic, but I agree that a separate travel savings account is key to success. I hadn’t even thought of something like that. Thanks for the tip!

Wanderlusters
Guest

Kate, This is some serious dedication, congrats. We went through a similar experience when saving up for our departure from normality. You have listed some great money saving techniques, although as you mention they often can’t be sustained for too long. Having been nomadic myself for the past two years I am starting to realise just how little ‘stuff’ one actually needs. Selling possessions to fund your travels can seem a little heartbreaking at the time but looking back I can’t remember why I ever placed such importance on it all. We’ve save over 90% of our accommodation budget through… Read more »

Laura
Guest

So motivating and inspiring, Kate! Thanks for sharing and being so candid with both your successes and struggles in this process.

AlexBerger
Guest

Excellent writeup. Nice work Kate. Should be great info for a lot of people.

Jack Norell
Guest

Well done. I’m somewhat into a similar savings regimen now, which is stressful at times but building up a travel fund again.

Liana@RunToMunch
Guest

for people who can’t move in with their parents, an extra roommate never hurt, or moving further out from the city center gets cheaper rent too!

DJ Yabis | Dream Euro Trip
Guest

Coolness. The lesson here as well is that if you really want to travel, nothing can stop you! ;D

LateBloom Lisa
Guest

Thank you for breaking this down for us! I am just starting to plan my trip and am putting away a little at a time. This post is inspiring me to see where I can cut back and make changes. I hope to get going (internationally, that is) very soon with your advice!

Red Hunt
Guest

Super summary of the dedication it takes to save up for travel…and how life changes are sometimes needed!

Dani
Guest

Great post – I love to read about how people saved up for their big dream of travel – when Jess and I left London semi-spontaneously, we barely had any savings (impossible to save money while living in London.. agree? 😉 ) and just hoped we’d get enough freelance work to make our dream of long-term travel work.

Margaret
Guest

Ah, the nitty-gritty details! And it sounds like some other hard lessons learned, boiled down for the readers to draw their own conclusions. As someone who will be launching a sola business soon, these are some good signs to watch for- I finally pulled the plug on my work too- last day is Jan 31! Hooray for people who choose to ‘go for the gusto!’ 🙂

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

Such inspiration to save up! I have always wanted to travel and do more but I have never budgeted my money. Seeing the possibility to save up as much as you did means that I can too. I now see things I can do to save up on for travel. Thank you for showing its possible.

justdorkin
Guest
justdorkin

Thank you kate. Very motivating

TammyOnTheMove
Guest

Great post and some great tips! I love reading about how other people are saving for their big trip. It really isn’t that difficult once you add up all of your expenses you realize how silly some of those expenses are. I can’t believe that you fit everything you needed for a 7 months trip into that tiny backpack by the way. Very impressive!

Allie
Guest

Awesome post. I love the detail! It actually sounds extremely familiar…right down to the apartment rent in Boston, pricey Healthworks bill (but I loved that gym!!), and switch from Whole Foods to Trader Joes. I made a bunch of similar changes in my life to save up for my stint in Italy, but I appreciated the new ideas you gave today!

Adina | Gluten Free Travelette
Guest

Thanks so much for sharing the full details! It’s so helpful to see things broken down like that. This year we really working to reign in our spending and deal with our debt so we can save funds for future travels. Unfortunatly having had to borrow our way through 2 BAs, an MA, and potentially another MA coming up – our student loans become so oppresive! At least there’s always road trips and camping!

Kristine
Guest

Good for you!! I don’t know how you did it for so long. My problem is that my travel account IS my savings account…so if I need (or more like want…) money, I just transfer it over. I’m looking into getting a separate bank account so this stops, though.

I’m in grad school and haven’t had a “real job” yet, but I’ve saved for all my travels through babysitting. Some days it used to be so exhausting that I would cry, but most of the the time the kids were adorable and it was good, fast cash.

Gerard ~ GQ trippin
Guest

This is so thorough. I’m sure many people will appreciate the level of detail which will show them how realistic it is to save up for a big trip.

Kim - Liv Life
Guest

Good for you!! You put your mind to it and you made it work. I’m incredibly envious of what you are doing, and now that I’m in my mid-40’s with a mortgage, kids, college, braces, etc, travel isn’t so easy. We save and cut like you do, but it only gets us a 2 week vacation or so. Scheduling becomes ever more difficult with kids.
Congratulations on truly Living Life!! I’m proud of you!

Crazy sexy fun traveler
Guest

Good detailed post! I am glad I never had to pay student loans as we don’t have them back home, nor had a car. It made it easier to save.

Wil
Guest

Impressive. I’m planning on an extended trip to Southeast Asia myself and you have me a little intimidated. After gear, airfare and everything I have a travel fund of less then half that. Hopefully it will just force me to be resourceful and find ways to make money as I’m hoping to work while I travel. Thanks for the info!

George
Guest

Wow inspiring, a really brilliant read and an excellent breakdown of how it was done. A lot of people feel that they can’t give up somethings and you just have to work out what is important. When I was saving I budgeted £40 a week for food + luxurys (going out, new clothes, etc) basically everything except rent and bills. Everyone said it was unreasonable most people blow more than £40 a week on food but the first week I came out +£15. It’s really doable. I explained that I had to do it to save up for my trip,… Read more »

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
Guest

Wow you go girl! What an awesome post. I’m really inspired how you focused on your dream and you made it happen.

Tom Bartel
Guest

If I ever get a job again, I’m going to try this. In the meantime, I am eating a lot of lentils.

kle
Guest

Oh i ealy can elate to this post! i managed to save around 15.000$ in around 4 months. Honestly? i didnt think it wuld have been possible when i started! but, just as you, i had a good income and i saved around 1800$ per month, sometimes even more, but my social life was disintegrated 🙂 and i just spent for food and the rent (i moved into a friend’s house, sleeping in the same bed or coach for months)… i sold clothes, electronics, books, dvds on ebay, and i collected the money i was puttin away on company’s shares.… Read more »

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

I can totally relate to much of what you wrote. especially about giving up your gym membership. Mine was too pricey and I know its making a difference in the long run. oh and also about the job situation I also despise mine and feel like walking out ,just like that.. 1 day ,1 day.. happy travels! -Jess

Alex Gibson
Guest

That is one tight schedule to a definate goal. Thanks for the inspiration, truly blood, sweat and tears.

Sorin
Guest

wow! amazing; but the saving period depends where you came from. In the USA for example it took you 7 months to save 13.000. My example, living in Romania it took me almost 2 year to raise that amount and to start traveling the world.

Alice
Guest

Love, love, love this post Kate! Saving money is hard, and it’s even harder to change your lifestyle! I congratulate you! Haha! I, myself am trying to save at least $500 a month. Succeeded after the last 4 months, however, I don’t have a stable job for I am a nanny, so my monthly pay varies. Hopefully, soon, my hard work on my blog will pay off, just like you =) Good luck on this year’s travels!

Ken
Guest
Ken

I can relate to this article. I moved back to Australia from New Zealand to move back in with my parents, cutting rent and expenses in half; while also taking away most of the temptation to go out and drink with my friends every weekend. Sometimes its hard not seeing them all every weekend, but it’s totally worth it. I have friends who want to travel with me but they find it hard to save because they are out on the town every weekend. I committed to saving $250 a week, and after bills, food, etc I can add up… Read more »

Amy
Guest

My boyfriend and I are right at the end of our travel saving marathon and are about to leave on our trip in a few weeks’ time. We used many of the saving techniques you mention above, including freelancing and as a result we’re both exhausted, stressed and just about loosing our minds – it will be so good to leave! I’m wondering whether you continued your freelance work (not including your blog) when you first started travelling Kate; if so, how did you find that? I have agreed to continue working freelance on the road for several clients but… Read more »

Lynn
Guest

So many others have said it, but your post is extremely inspiring. I think, in the end, it is an illustration of knowing what your priorities are. If travel is your priority, there are ways to cut other things that ultimately less important to you. Thank you for your interesting insights.

Terry
Guest
Terry

Hey,

Ironically I saw a link to your webpage only a few days after having discovered you. You’re growing! Perhaps someday I’ll be able to live the life of a wanderer myself. I feel ashamed to say “some day” although since I re-enlisted for another 6 years in the military awhile back, I can’t exactly get out unless I decide to be a S#&t bag and become dishonorably discharged. Not gonna happen, haha.

Best of luck Kate!

Rosemary
Guest

This post was great, i did something similar before i first went travelling. I found that this tactic did not work for me a second time around. So now i am trying to use work and travel together more.

Stephanie Snow
Guest
Stephanie Snow

Most of the average earner people does not want to go for a travel because they think there will be a lot of cost while actually they can manage money for a travel from their regular earning. This was one of the great money saving post I have ever seen so far. 🙂

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