"How do you afford to travel?"
I get this question a lot.
As a writer living in New Brunswick, I’m certainly not making the big bucks. And as much as I begged and pleaded my parents to be billionaires, it’s not like I have a trust fund to fall back on either.
So when I go on adventures for months at a time, people get confused as to how I’m actually able to afford it.
Truth is, travel in today’s age is incredibly inexpensive. With rewards programs, discount airlines and cheap accommodations – not to mention endless possibilities for remote work – you don’t need a lot of money to travel the world.
Because in my experience, travelling the world is actually cheaper than living at home.
The cost of living in Atlantic Canada
Living on the east coast is pretty affordable, with Halifax even being named as one of the most affordable cities to live in.
But when you consider everything you spend your hard-earned money on, it’s not difficult to see how we get ourselves into so much debt.
When I moved to Ireland, I left as a recent university grad facing the world with very few possessions and returned jobless without two pennies to rub together.
So when I got a job as an editor at Brunswick News two months later, I was finally able to start building a life for myself.
And, I was finally able to see where exactly all my money was going…
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My first order of business was to find a place to live.
Luckily for me, a friend was also looking for a place. So we decided to split the cost and rented a house together for $800 per month plus utilities (which included internet, heat, lights and the phone bill).
Housing is possibly the biggest expense we have as an adult.
Whether buying or renting, it takes a nice chunk out of our paycheck. And even though I had someone to share these costs with, I was still paying about $838.69 a month for my share once I added in the cost of tenants insurance and utilities.
Our new place also didn’t come furnished, so we needed to fill our home with household items in order to make it liveable.
Opting to get a lot of things second hand, scoring a lot of stuff for cheap (or free!) from friends, family and local Buy ‘N’ Sell groups, I still paid roughly $600-$800 for my share of household items.
Living in rural New Brunswick, it’s near impossible not to own a car ‒ especially for someone like me who had to commute 45 minutes to work every day.
Once again, I went second-hand for this purchase. I was able to finance a 2010 Hyundai Elantra for $6,632.16 at a 6.99% interest rate over the course of 2.5 years. Throw in a set of winter tires for $600 and $726.06 in interest, that makes the grand total for this purchase $7,958.22.
But anyone who owns a car knows this is just the tip of the iceberg. A car requires maintenance and juice to make it go, not to mention insurance for the off-chance you’ll need it.
I pay about $43 to get my car serviced every two months or so, but that number could go up if there are any repairs needed. Since owning this car, I’ve had to replace the hood, windshield, lights and windshield wipers, a cost of which I would put around $500.
But just for the sake of monthly comparisons, let’s assume everything runs smoothly and all I had to pay was the $43 every two months for an oil change and maintenance. When you add in those car payments, insurance and money for gas, I still had to pay roughly $710 each month to run my car.
While someone else might have dropped thousands of dollars on new living room furniture, I’d rather take what I can second-hand and spend those thousands on a wine tour in Tuscany.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still things I need to shop for, including groceries and gifts.
While I rarely eat out, I do like to cook and I still spend about $500 a month on food. And when you add family functions and other commitments to the mix, that number only grows.
When you live at home, you get invited to more things, such as weddings and baby showers, which means you’re obligated to spend more money on extras. For me, this usually means having to bring a dish for the potluck events and a gift for the bride, baby or birthday boy being celebrated.
It’s a cost I’m more than happy to pay, but is one that’s often overlooked when budgeting for home living. Sure, I’d probably send this person a gift once I’m home anyway, but the cost of attending these events gets dropped completely when I’m not there to attend.
Costs abroad vs. Costs at home
Earlier this year, I spent three months living in Europe.
I spent a month in Portugal, a month in Spain and a month travelling throughout Ireland, France, Holland and Denmark. I decided to become a Worldpacker to help save money on my trip.
When I was in Lisbon, this meant volunteering to work in a hostel for 24 hours a week and, in exchange, I got to live and eat at this hostel for free. I was also given a bit of spending money each week (€25), which is rare as a Worldpacker, but was definitely welcomed.
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In order to see just how much money I spent when living abroad compared to living at home, I tracked my expenses using the Track It app on my iPhone.
In total, I saved $468.52 living in Portugal compared to living in Canada.
Tenants insurance: $13
Car rental: $209.88
Public transit: $63.80
Moncton to Lisbon: $389.16
Lisbon to Tenerife: $141.55
Travel Insurance: $6.60
Car payment: $189
Car insurance: $105
|Food and drink||$451.33||$598.89|
$294.38 (ongoing from home)
Car payment: $189
Phone Bill: $90.35
Car Insurance: $15.03
Phone Bill: $110
The total amount I saved is based on a lot of different variables, two important ones being:
- my not having to pay as much for food, and
The cost of living is also much cheaper in Portugal and, because I continued on to Tenerife after my stay here, I didn’t need to drop serious cash on a flight home just yet.
But let’s not forget, these are simply monthly savings. Neither does this expense sheet account for car repairs, household items and other things I needed in order to live at home. Nor does it account for the amount I saved having a roommate when living in Canada.
What’s important to take away from this is that, while the stuff you pay for abroad is sometimes different than the stuff you’d pay for at home, that doesn’t mean it’ll cost you more.
How did I save?
When you move abroad, you get to break up with some of the expenses you had at home.
Before I left, I moved out of my house, which meant I was no longer paying rent or utilities. I was able to put my insurance down on my car to fire and theft, and because I no longer needed gas, my car costs went from $710.04 to $204.03 – that’s over $500 saved!
And of the $1,811.92 I spent while living in Lisbon, 16% of that money was used to pay off bills I had to keep up with at home, including car payments, insurance and my phone bill.
Even with having free accommodations and food in Portugal, I still spent a decent amount on both. But even with food, transportation (excluding flights) and accommodations all costing $803.75, compared to the $1,721.93 I spent on these same things while living at home, it’s not hard to tell which was the more frugal option.
What were my additional costs?
I’m quite strict about my budget when I’m travelling abroad. Just as I am when I’m at home, I try not to spend money on things I don’t need.
This means expenses, such as shopping, didn’t change much from Canada to Portugal (though I did buy a few souvenirs when abroad). So the only added expenses I really had were tourist attractions and flights.
Although I may be strict with my budget when travelling, I will never sacrifice a cultural experience I really want to do in order to save a few bucks. But with these tips, I was able to spend little on tourist attractions without feeling like I was missing out on anything.
My flights, on the other hand, required me to be a bit more creative.
Because my closest airport is in Moncton, I often don’t get a lot of deals when flying to Europe. But if I can get myself to a bigger airport, it’s usually not so hard to find a good deal.
The cheapest flight I could find from Moncton to Lisbon was over $600 one way. But when I expanded my search, I was able to find a one-way flight from Toronto for less than $300. And because I used my Air Miles to get from Moncton to Toronto, the entire flight cost just under $400.
So while I may have spent an extra $576.77 on flights and attractions, I also saved $1,045.29 by not having the same expenses as I did at home.
Leaving us, once again, with a grand total savings of $468.52.
Variables to consider
Of course, the numbers you end up with on your trip might look a bit different from the ones I ended up with on mine.
There are many different factors that will influence the total cost of your trip. Travel is on a very wide spectrum and can be done in countless ways, from living on $5 a day and hitch hiking everywhere to being put up in 5-star hotels and going on helicopter tours.
I sacrificed a lot of things when living at home in order to save up for these trips – trips that were months-long adventures, not just two weeks of my vacation.
So when I did travel, I was able to leave behind a lot of expenses and bills that I would have had to keep up with otherwise.
When it comes down to it, you can travel for as little or as much as you’d like. But by opting to do things a bit unconventionally – like volunteering to be a Worldpacker – you can save a lot of money.
Because in the end, how you spend your living abroad doesn’t have to change so drastically from how you spend your money at home.
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How do you do?
To my fine, frugal friends who say they can’t afford to travel, I say humbug!
While it may seem like you have to save a lot of money in order to travel, as long as you’re willing to get a bit creative and stick to your budget, it doesn’t have to cost a penny more. If you truly want to make travel a priority, you will find a way. Just make sure to budget and track your expenses, just as you would at home.
So tell me: How do you get by? What creative things have you done in order to save money while travelling?