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

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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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185 thoughts on “How I Saved $13,000 For Travel In Just Seven Months”

  1. this is trully a really great post on how to go about saving to travel. i think you have helped me think through most of the things i need to work on before i start my plan to save off my salary. , i do not how my own experience will go but i hope i hit my target. i’m planning to visit catalonia (spain) entirely, been there once but only saw Barcelona beautiful place. i’ve been putting off my plans to start saving for it but today i decided that i shud stop thinking and start acting.
    all i know for noe is that i have to cut back on my nights out, movies in the cinema, lunches with friends at restuarants and hopefully i can make it to Catalonia next year around summer…(i dont have the date right yet)

  2. I love everything about your blog! I’ve actually spent four months teaching English in Thailand about a year and a half ago. After we got married last year my husband and I taught English in China, then back packed through Thailand for a few weeks and we absolutely loved it! Next summer we are planning a trip to Europe! We are already crunching the numbers and figuring out how to save, but we are also trying to figure out how to make money while we travel so we can stay in Europe longer! I have a blog right now, a fitness and wellness blog but I’m thinking about making some changes so it turns into more of a travel blog. My question is, what did you do to get adds up on your blog? Did you have to contact companies or people or did they come to you?
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read through my painfully long comment! Hope to hear from you!

  3. Umm you had me up until you said you moved back with your family! That was a huge chunk of change saved and that’s not an option for a ton of people. I already knew that this post would not be a perfect fit for me since I have kids but that threw me off. In any case you did an amazing job saving money!

    1. The family part was for seven weeks total, and if I hadn’t, I would have crashed on a friend’s couch for cheap. Not the several months beforehand. I had no option to stay in my current place because my lease ended. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for this post, I need it! It’s really tough for me to cut restaurants, going out… but I know it’s worth, I just came back from Germany, only 10 days but WOW! I’m ready to save money again for next year, and this time, more than 10 days! 😀

  5. Hey Kate,

    Huge fan of your blog and snapchat! I am writing to seek some advice.

    I have given myself 3 months to save $7,000 for a total of $10,000 for my trip. It’s a lot of commitment and work but I know it will be worth it.

    I noticed that you are from New England. I myself am from Braintree, Ma but moved to Miami after college. Another world traveler I follow, Nomadic Matt, he’s from Boston as well. Both of you guys started in Southeast Asia, both of you guys are from Boston, is that my next move?

    I was thinking of doing one of the following come December 1st: 1. Teach English in Thailand or another country in Asia 2. Go to Australia for working holiday visa 3. Study abroad and get my masters in Europe. What do you recommend?

    1. Yep, lots of travel bloggers are from Boston, actually! A surprising number.

      Only you can make that decision. 😉 You know that! All are great options! But I’d only get your master’s if it’s very affordable for you and if it will pay off in your career. So many Americans get vanity degrees that end up costing them much more.

  6. I love this! People who always say they can’t afford to travel always seem to think that everybody that does travel has some sort of magical income, when really its just comes down to hard work! x

  7. Hello Kate! Thanks so much for this post. My 3 friends and I just planned to take a cruise today and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get serious about saving as soon as possible. Seeing this was great timing as well. BTW you look like u had so much fun! I am thinking about becoming a travel blogger someday, but I’d like to know more about it. Do u have a post about how you became one and what is required? I would love to read it. Anyway, have a wonderful day!

  8. Dear Kate,
    Loved your system to provide for your dream trip. I worked for 5 years after finishing my education, then took a 2 year “bump” traveling this remarkable world we live in. Smartest thing I’ve ever done. Worth every sacrifice I did! Best regards, L H

  9. I’ve never really worked hard to fund a backpacking trip so I can’t really relate, but I have met hundreds if couples and single people doing this kind of thing. And hats off to them.
    When i travelled I tended to lounge around more and puss about. Which I su]pose gives you opportunities others don’t get. But I always feel guilty when the couples or groups who are on a 2 year vacation on exactly 15 dollars a day. I could never have that self control. That one beer every other Sunday or your plans are screwed.
    God bless you guys who really really wanted to do it and did everything to get it. Forget about us slackers spending 3 weeks in rishikesh because the garlic Naans were nice there.
    But I’m 36 and now travelling africa. Once u get the itch. You’re lost to normal society

  10. My biggest challenge has been the pressure I feel from other people (friends, family, etc) to go to an event, or a bar or just anywhere and having to turn them down. I feel bad doing it and I can feel the disappointment over the phone or in person. As bad as I feel, I have to remind myself that it’s OK to put myself first and do what’s right for me. Thank you for your post.

  11. This is really inspiring. I’ve been wanting to save and cut ties to travel. You have really opened my eyes to a lot of new ideas and ways to change my lifestyle. Living in Vegas is hard, but I know I can do it.

  12. Great information on saving money! It is the most popular question we get asked after traveling the world. How can you afford it? As you suggested, if you really want to travel, it should be easy to give up a few indulgences and save for that epic trip. We have now seen over 100+ countries with fairly ordinary wages so yes, it is possible!
    Love your blog. Happy travels!

  13. I found this post very insightful and eye-opening, I am in the process of doing the same thing as we speak and get constantly called boring now because I’d rather stay home and watch Netflix and cook so I can save up for traveling every month. Thanks for the honesty as well, I appreciated the legitimacy of your post.

  14. James Bergman

    I have been looking for a simple post on how people save their money, and this, by far, has been the best! Thanks for sharing, and good job!

  15. I congratulate you on saving up and sacrificing on your night out but it seems like you have a really good paying job to save for seven months. Since I have two girls, I’m only receiving $730 a month, it’s quite a struggle to save money for seven months for travel. It’s not like everyone could save up as most of the wages go to your kids, put food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. I’m disabled too so it’s very difficult for me to get out and about.

    1. It’s hard to say because I was earning constantly throughout the trip. But you shouldn’t go by my advice anyway — prices in Southeast Asia were lower five years ago than they are today. I’d recommend doing research on current prices to see how much you’ll be spending. Remember that you’ll spend FAR more than you think!

  16. Great post, I love reading about the different ways people save money to travel! I am usually really good at saving money but I am struggling a little at the moment living/ working out in Australia. I need to be more strict with myself!

  17. You would do better to be debt free before traveling. Pay off your student loans. Other, more responsible people are subsidizing your debt.

  18. Awesome article! It really is all about lifestyle change, but once you get going you’ll save money and get healthier like you said.

    I always tell friends to cut the gym membership, get back to the good ole days of running and playing sports, and cut cable and cell phone bills.

  19. thank you for being honest and open about how to save for a big trip. I saved for a Disneyworld/Universal trip in 2012. Started in April saying this is my goal and I am going to do it! We were going end of September. Saved and saved and the kids did odd jobs to save for their spending money. I went through work that at the time had a travel agency and I had gotten a $200 GC and this prompted it all. It was stressfull but I managed plane tickets/park tickets/car rental for 4 $175 a paycheck and had it all paid off by Sept 1st. when we went the kids had $150 spending money each saved and the meals at Disney were paid. It was such an awesome trip of a lifetime and to have everything paid up front on a budget was well worth it. I will be trying a new trip next June and time to get saving again!

  20. This is exactly what I am going through. Haha! Saving for travels is a daunting task.
    Work full time then work freelance, fortunate enough to make time for freelance writing in my office only.

    I have a personal loan to pay off, some amount to give home and little to give for rent, after all this, I can only imagine to save 300$ per month from full time work. Rest 150$ i try saving from my freelance which is entirely dedicated for my weekend trips and long term international travels.
    It is extremely hard but the passion makes me keep going.

    I will be paying my last installment of loan in 2018 starting so that will be the time I can actually follow your tips – to transfer major chunk of my salary to save for travels. And as soon as i have enough, I’ll finally quit my job for about an year and JUST TRAVEL. I have a loooonngg way to go but I won’t quit.

    Some other expenses that I avoid to save is beauty salons – manicure pedicure blah blah!

    Loved your article, it is really honest and I could totally relate to your daily schedule.
    But, my eyes are affected with all the over time work on laptop.

    Awesome article 🙂

  21. Staying focused and reminding yourself EVERYDAY when you wake up why you’re making those cuts and sacrifices is really going to help you reach your travel moneysaving goals. I agree that life beforehand may not be the most fun but when you actually leave your house with that backpack on your back, life is sweet!

  22. I loved this article it gave me bit of hope because I am planning on going to Europe for summer ( i know its not ideal) for 1 month and while you make 1500 twice a month, I make that in just 1 month, so im starting to get discouraged plus i haven’t even started saving because 2 months have been rough for me financially.

  23. Inspiration story! I am from the Czech republic and I am trying the save money for traveling as well. Unfortunately, our salaries are ridiculous compared with yours !:D I would have to live like that more than few months to save 13.000. I am able to save 100€ from my salary each month. Still, appreciable tips to save money, though. 🙂

  24. Great article! This is a very similar approach I talk to conquering my debt. For me, the fastest & least headache way I’ve found to budget is in percentages (a system that took four months to establish). On each payday, I calculate 20% of my paycheck and take that out at the ATM, and that’s all I can spend. I can spend it on anything I want, this has helped significantly so I don’t feel like I”m torturing myself. Then my “variable bills” get deducted on my debit card and amount to another 20%. The other 60% I put all towards my debt snowball. Additionally, every month I look at the variable expenses and spend all month trying to get one line item reduced. This month it’s my cell phone. Next month its insurance. Every dollar I’m able to cut add’s to my debt snowball. Once the snowball is done then it’s vacay time! =D thanks for sharing!

  25. Very detailed post with extremly valuable advice! I admire you for your spirit, lifestyle and the way how to enjoy life after reading your posts! Excellent posts! Good Job, Kate!

  26. This is a beautiful article. I love your comment about moving back in with your mom at the beginning. It’s so funny to me that we think this is such a bad thing or that it is looked down upon. It’s one of the greatest tools we can utilize in order to get ahead and a lot of the time make our dreams come true! Thank you for writing such a raw and honest post! I loved it

  27. This is one of the well-detailed articles I have come across on travel. I think we all need to be brutal and more conservative about spending.

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