Having spent much of the last couple of years moving around (a lot) within Canada thanks to my remote job, I recently got to thinking about how much money I’ve spent on travel in the last six or so years. Then I got to thinking about where that money actually came from and how my spending habits have evolved over the years.
Long-term travel is not for everyone, but I feel that at least giving it a chance is something we should all do if we have the means. Until you experience the firsthand joys and pains of carrying around everything you own on your back, navigating different cultures and landscapes every few days, weeks, or months, and really challenging your own independence, you can’t really know how you’ll react or adjust. It can shake up your views of the world and yourself, and alter your course in life.
With that said, it can definitely get expensive. I’m saving up for a new camera right now and thinking back on the thousands I’ve spent on plane tickets in the past. But, at the end of the day, I sometimes managed on very little and never found myself penniless along the way. Here are a few of the ways I paid for long-term travel experiences.
1. Teaching English as a Second Language.
This was what started it all for me. I was obsessed with living abroad during university, but waited until I’d finished my degree in my home province (the most cost-effective option) and started applying to teaching jobs in South Korea. In a year of working, I saved up around $15,000 CAD (starting with less than $1000 in my bank account when I arrived) by living pretty modestly without sacrificing the opportunity to get to know the country.
The money I saved allowed me to spend six months travelling in Cambodia, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand (with a more strict emphasis on budget travel for the last two) and then move to Western Canada and survive until I was able to find a new job.
I got my job in 2012 through Dave’s ESL Cafe, which is still around. I must warn that this is not for everyone. I met people who quit weeks and months into their contracts and were stuck paying their own way home. When you teach at a private school in South Korea, you work. A lot. And deal with helicopter parents — it is teaching, after all. If you have worked with kids or in an educational environment in the past, if your ambition is to be a teacher, it may be perfect for you. I also met people who’d been there for 10 years. Before you start applying, maybe talk to someone who’s been there. It might save you a long trip and an expensive flight home.
2. Workaway: Work Exchange Agreements.
In 2015, I spent a month working on an organic vineyard in central Chile for 5 hours a day in exchange for free room and board. This was in a pretty rural area, but it was a very cool experience that I highly recommend. You won’t make money, but you get a chance to experience living and working with locals while living for free for the most part.
There are a few different options for the type of work you’ll be doing, so you can certainly mix it up and line up different work exchanges in different regions as you travel. This is an interesting way to experience a country (or countries) and meet other travellers and locals along the way.
3. Remote Freelance Work.
I did freelance editing (and a bit of writing) for a couple of years, both while travelling and then at home while job searching. I got my editing job through the Problogger Job Board.
I must warn that there are a lot of freelance sites that really devalue your work, and I did not make a lot of money while freelancing, though people who dedicate themselves to it as a career can do well with it. I spent some time every day or two and pretty much broke even while traveling through Ecuador and Peru on a budget of around $30 USD per day (depending on how much time I put in each week).
Would I do it again? I think it depends on the job. You might bounce around until you find a gig that fits you.
4. Collecting and Using Rewards Points.
I’m no expert when it comes to rewards points and credit cards, but I have definitely saved money using points to buy flights and pay off my credit card balance.
If you’re really looking to get the most for your money in terms of rewards, doing some research before signing up for a card can certainly give you an advantage. This is something I should probably look more into myself, but I can say even a basic level of knowledge can help.
5. Budgeting: Making the most of your money and saving for future travels.
It may not be a way to make money or get anything for free, but this is the most important point when it comes down to it. I have never made significant money while backpacking, and I’d never be able to do work exchange programs without money in my bank account. What’s made a difference to how much I can travel is how well I can save when I’m working full time and how well I can stretch out that money when on the road. And I think I’ve gotten pretty good at that while also not sacrificing experiences.
When I talk about saving and budgeting, I mean doing it with intent — not just little decisions here and there, but really putting together a plan (in writing) and sticking to it. Having a plan in place makes you feel compelled to stick to it. If you have no idea where to start, just creating an excel file and inputting your income and estimated expenses can begin to put things into perspective.
Budgeting is something I’ve talked about before on this blog, but I feel that the years have given me a lot more insight. So, look for a part 2 coming soon on this topic that delves deeper into budget tips and plans. For now, here are my older posts on budgeting.