How I Self-Funded Travel to Over 30 Countries
I’m often asked how I afford to travel as much as I do.
First, let me say that my travel is self-funded.
I don’t have rich parents. I’m not secretly dating an Arabic prince or a Chinese real estate mogul. I didn’t cash out of options from a successful start-up.
I’m a normal person who happened to have the incredible luck of being a resident of a peaceful and prosperous country with a powerful passport.
Perhaps most importantly, I always make travel a priority in my life.
Before I start, let me tell you a story.
“How Does She Afford It”?
A little while back, I settling into my top bunk at a hostel in Copenhagen after a 20-hour journey from my home in Vancouver.
I had just struck up a conversation with a Hamburger (someone from Hamburg, Germany—stop laughing, you North American) and agreed to go for dinner with him when my BFF in Vancouver messaged me about a conversation she had just had with her coworker.
This conversation went as follows:
My BFF: “My best friend is leaving today for Europe for three weeks! I am so jealous!”
Her coworker: “She’s leaving for Europe?”
My BFF: “Yeah, and I feel like she just got back from several months there!”
Her coworker: “So…how does she manage that? She got like a sugar daddy thing going on?”
My BFF: “Actually, she is as intelligent as she is beautiful. She works for a Fortune 500 company here in Vancouver, is a successful blogger, spends her money wisely, and saves for traveling.” (Aww…shucks, I’m embarrassed now).
Her coworker: “So…is she single?”
“She must have a sponsor!”
Daily Hive (formerly Vancity Buzz) recently published an article with a line about “the girls with thousands and thousands of Instagram followers who are always travelling the world, and somehow forget to tag their sponsor.”
And I’m sorry, but no.
Sure, these girls exist and if it makes them happy and they aren’t harming anyone, all the power to them.
I, however, am not one of them. You don’t have to be either in order to travel.
Let me break down some numbers to show you that it is very possible to travel often, and completely on your own dime.
Since I’m from Vancouver, Canada, I’ll use Canadian Dollars, salaries, and cost of living for this example.
Please note that this breakdown is a generalization. Please also note that this piece is targeted for people who do not own property or have dependants.
According to Statistics Canada, the average wage for Canadian employees is $952 a week, or just under $50,000 annually [December 2014].
- Income: $50,000/year
- After-tax income: $42,516/year
After-tax income: $3,543/month
I’ll use the average Canadian salary against a breakdown by Daily Hive [May 2017].
- Rent: $900 – The total rent cost ($1800) is split between both roommates
- Utilities: $80
Phone Bill: $80
- Internet: $50
- Groceries: $325 – This total cost ($650) is split between both roommates
- Going out to eat (including nights out at bars/clubs): $120
- Monthly transit pass (2-zone): $124
- Taxi costs: $40
- Personal items (clothing/makeup/hygiene): $100
- Leisure (gym pass/movies/events): $50
Total cost of living: $1,869/month
This leaves you with $1,674 each month.
That’s decent sum, considering you’re earning an average wage and living an average life in the most expensive city in North America.
For fun, let’s throw in a dentist visit for $2,000, say you sometimes use car-share instead of public transit for $1,000/year, and pretend that you (like me) still have to repay student loans at $188.50/month or $2,262.60/year.
Your total savings for the year: $14,825.40.
Costs of Travel
Here are some rough estimates of how much travel costs.
Let’s assume the following:
- Relatively conservative but comfortable spending
- Accommodation in hotels instead of hostels
- Round-trip flights from the west coast of North America
- 2 people traveling together, price of travel per person
Some general costs of travel:
- 2 weeks in Western Europe, 3 cities, 3 to 4-star hotels: $3,500
- 1 week on a Caribbean cruise, 3 ports, leaving from Fort Lauderdale: $2,500
- 1 week in Hawaii, 1 island, 4-star hotel: $1,500
- 1 week in Southeast Asia, 5-star resort: $2,500
Remember what your annual savings are based on an average salary and an average life?
Yes, you can self-fund frequent travel.
I’d like to mention that I hit the average $50k salary in my mid-20s with an English Literature degree. I paid for this degree myself and earned it in 3 years instead of the usual 4 while working and living on my own. My current career is in marketing. I have an active social life and expensive hobbies.
I am also a female of a visible minority—the gender-wage gap and racial privilege working against me.
If I can do it, so can you.
Some tips on saving money to travel
Don’t spend beyond your means. Debt can be unnecessary. Interest is expensive. I personally refuse to take on debt for anything other than education, property, or health.
Make your own meals instead of eating at restaurants. Drink at a friend’s place instead of at a bar. Make your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. Grow your own veggies if you’re so inclined.
Find additional income sources. I personally freelance as a marketing and design consultant on top of my regular job. Instead of Netflix and chill or farmers markets on weekends, I’m often in front of my computer performing content audits or coding something. Some people invest in property. Some people trade stocks.
Don’t drive. Take public transit if you can. Cars are expensive. Gas is expensive. Vehicle insurance is expensive. Public transit is a lot less expensive and it’s good for the environment.
Make, don’t buy gifts for others. Anyone can go to the store and buy something, however, a handmade gift is unique to only you and the recipient. I often draw portraits of friends for their birthdays.
Some money-saving questions to ask
- Do I need that $4 Starbucks vanilla latte, or can I make do with homemade or office coffee?
- Do I need to take a cab home tonight, or can I take the night bus?
- Do I need another $8 drink, or should I call it a night and get some sleep instead?
- Do I need to order the most expensive item on the menu, or will a cheaper option do just fine?
Some travel-related priority questions to ask
- Do I want to drink Starbucks every weekday morning for a year, or pay for a flight to drink cappuccinos in Rome? (Starbucks $4 x 5 days x 52 weeks = $1,040; round trip YVR to FCO = $1,000)
- Would I rather sample wine for three summers in the Okanagan, or for one summer in Bordeaux? (Fuel $100 + accommodation $200 + wine tour $50 x 3 = $1,050; round trip flight YVR to BOD = $1,150)
- Do I want to go for bubble tea every week in Vancouver, or for a week in Taipei? (bubble tea $5 + food $10 x 52 = 780; round trip flight YVR to TPE = $600)
- Am I willing to give up a season in Whistler to ski a new run in the Alps? (I don’t ski enough to provide proper numbers…sorry)
Making Travel a Life Priority
Yes, I am privy to an incredible amount of privilege. I am being able-bodied and a resident of a peaceful and prosperous country.
Yes, I have friends and credit cards with platonic benefits. I know several cruise ship officers with generous work perks and have credit cards that I can collect travel miles on.
Yes, I’ve had serious partners or parents take me on trips. This accounts for only 3 of the countries that I’ve been to.
I am also careful with my money, don’t take unnecessary risks, and always make travel in a priority in my life.
Perhaps the most important piece of information I can leave with is this.
You must truly want to travel and be willing to make travel a priority in your life.
Having the money to travel involves sacrifices. If you’re an average salary earner living an average life like me, you must exercise frugality in order to travel. I sacrifice a certain degree of daily comfort in order to live the lifestyle that I do.
If you prefer to have a nice car and home, all the power to you. If you have a family and children, all the power to you too.
While I don’t doubt you, too, can travel often, my guide is aimed towards the unattached working professional who doesn’t mind/is liberty to sacrifice a comfortable life at home in favor of spending as much time at airports as they can.
This lifestyle is not for everyone, but it works for me.
If you truly want to and are at liberty to do so, this lifestyle can work for you too.