Like many long term travelers, people frequently want to know our secret to traveling long term. “How is it possible and how you can you afford to travel so much?” “How can I afford to travel,” they ask, curious how they can travel more themselves. And although David likes to spend money as though we are rich, this is certainly not the case. Surprisingly, we spent more money living in Chicago than we do traveling. A month’s expenses in Chicago cost us roughly $4,500 per month, while traveling around the world only cost about $3,200 on an average month – that's for both of us. Places like Europe were more but destinations like India or South East Asia were cheap enough that David could spend to his heart's content without me freaking out. Travel credit cards with airline mileage bonuses are a huge help, and even living in Spain we still continue to apply for credit cards for travelling. We just recently booked our trip from the US to Spain for just $25 in taxes and 25,000 miles each, one of our best deals yet! Once I reach a spending limit on a particular card, I will get the bonus points and then I like to compare credit cards quickly to find another card that will give me a good offer. Cards like British Airways or United Mileage Plus have great credit card offers that have helped us bank miles. If the card I currently have charges an annual fee, I cancel the card after the bonus is received.
So this begs the question, how could we really afford to travel even spending $3,200 per month without jobs? The answer is simple. Wait, it’s not simple. It took some work and planning but it was totally doable.
Rewards Credit Cards
Using credit cards with excellent awards was once the method we used to travel for less. We mentioned in an earlier post on booking our round the world tickets that we used credit card mileage to book part of our flights last year. In fact, half these miles were from signup bonuses from credit cards. And in addition to our round the world flights, we also made several side trips in Singapore, Japan and around South America. I refuse to pay full price for a flight so instead we take advantage of signup bonuses. In addition to free flights, some airline credit cards and airline mileage programs allow you to redeem miles for hotel rooms. This was a much needed respite from hostel life so we tried to spend a few nights in a hotel each month to get some luxury and privacy.
Nobody likes to hear this because it takes work, planning and discipline. Saving for a trip is not fun and you have to cut out of a lot of things that you may normally be used to buying. I already spilled the beans on how I spent a year cutting coupons in an earlier post. It was horrible but saved us a ton of money. We also limited ourselves to a discretionary budget of $300 each per month. This amount included things like eating out, buying drinks at bars, shopping for clothes or any other purchases that are not “necessary” in day-to-day life.
While living in Chicago before our trip, we tried to keep our grocery budget to under $500 per month. This may seem a bit high for groceries but consider that we eat almost every single meal at home. This allowed us to save a lot of what otherwise would be spent eating out. Even during traveling, we attempted to cook as many meals as possible, making budget travel a priority. We stayed mostly in hostels while traveling so cooking was easy since most places have a community kitchen. Now living Spain, we still try to cook as much as possible, though luckily we’ve found Spain to be a very inexpensive place to live. While there are certainly expensive restaurants and bars, it is easy to find places to find food and drink for under 2-3€. Places like El Tigre in Madrid will cost you 5€ but you get a pint of beer or sangria and a huge plate of tapas that will fill you up.
During our travels we always tried to find the cheapest route to get from city to city. Traveling cheaply is important to us, so now living in Spain, we travel mostly by bus because it is almost always cheaper than train for short to medium distances. We recently took a trip around Andalucia for just 70€ taking us from Madrid to Córdoba, Sevilla and Granada. A train ticket for the same journey would have been double the cost. While traveling in Europe last summer, we actually bought a rail pass to travel by train for two months. This ended up costing more than buying bus tickets which I talk more about in my Eurail post.
Being flexible with your travel schedule is one of the best ways to save money. Flights are always more expensive in dates and times of high demand. Flying on weekends or during the middle of the day is usually the most expensive. Though as crappy as it can be, taking an early 6 or 7am flight can save you hundreds of dollars. We actually use a combination of flexibility and airline miles to determine where our next travel destination will be. We recently got round trip flights from Madrid to Vienna and Nice for just 16,500 miles and $88 in taxes a piece. Neither of these places were necessarily must see destinations right away, but the fact that the award flights were available for cheap made an easy decision and will let us explore two new places.
There you have it, all our secrets to affordable long term travel. Were they really travel ‘secrets'? Probably not. It's mostly common sense. But some of them are just a few tricks that we've learned throughout our travels and since people are often curious as to how we do it, there it is!Do you have ‘secret' tips to help you save money on travel? Which one of our affordable travel ways do you find the most difficult to accomplish?