People always ask us how we were able to save up enough money to quit our jobs and settle into a life of full-time travel. It’s right up there with “you guys are going to f*#$!& murder each other.”
And while we usually laugh off that second comment and quickly change the subject, we welcome anyone who wants to talk to us about money and how we were able to fold our financial goals into our other travel-oriented lifestyle goals.
It wasn’t easy.
It took a lot of work and a little sacrifice to both save a comfortable nest egg of start-up cash and plan ahead to sustaining our travels for as long as we possibly could.
We know we aren’t going to walk the earth as barefoot nomads forever, but we want the decision to stop wandering – whenever that might be – to not be forced upon us by an empty bank account.
Here’s how we did it.
Step 1: Get out of Debt
Personal debt is as crippling as a bottle rocket up the bung hole. Over 80% of Americans are shouldering a considerable amount of debt – something that leads to stress, troubled relationships, and a generally unhealthy, unhappy way to live your life.
There is no such thing as good debt.
I repeat: there is no such thing as good debt.
The first thing we did when planning our finances was creating realistic goals for getting ourselves out of debt. You’ll never truly be free until you can get to a certain level of comfort with what you owe, and what your plan is to pay it off. You might have to make a few sudden changes or sacrifices to make this happen, but it’s as vital as the money you’ll need to save to make intelligent decisions about cutting off certain sources of income.
Step 2: Sacrifice
Downsizing your life and minimizing your monthly expenses is the most efficient way to save money (and get out of debt). Consider doing the following things to keep that hard earned money in your bank account:
- Move into an apartment with rent less than 15% of your total income.
- Grocery shop, cook, and plan meals up to a week in advance.
- Get rid of your car payment and buy something you can actually afford. Or get a bike (seriously)
- Don’t shop online. Ever.
- Consolidate your cell phone plan with a significant other.
- Cancel your gym membership and create home workouts.
If some of these things seem hard, it’s because they are. It wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice if this shit were easy, right? Right.
Step 3: Sell your stuff
Turns out you probably won’t be needing that leather couch you’ve so diligently formed to the shape of your buttox when you’re flying down Highway 1 with the windows down. We tried hard to convince ourselves we’d be needing all of our stuff “someday,” so we stuck it in a storage unit and vowed “someday” to come back and resurrect our expensive little time capsule.
About a month before our departure we realized all that stuff we crammed into every corner of that storage unit meant nothing to us. In fact, we’d forgotten what most of it even was. After an emotional, pointed, and incredibly brief conversation we decided to pull it all out, get rid of our storage unit, and sell pretty much everything we owned.
The very decision to rid our lives of the last bit of unnecessary stuff lifted such a weight off our shoulders we immediately knew it was the right one to make. We held a massive garage sale, parted ways with all books, clothes, and desk drawer knick knacks we had held on to so tightly mere weeks before. There wasn’t a fortune to be made, but the mental space and emotional levity we gained by ridding our lives of the things we didn’t need was all the riches we needed to deem it a monumental success.
And at the end of the day, every little bit helps, and chances are you have a lot more money tied up in non-essential assets than we did.
Step 4: Create a Budget
I plan to go into much greater depth about budgeting in a later essay, but for starters I’ll just say this:
CREATE A BUDGET, DILLHOLE!
Your budget is your lifeblood – the backbone of your financial footing and the only way to cultivate a truly sustainable nomadic lifestyle. Be as realistic as possible and know yourself when it comes to spending habits and the types of experiences you’re hoping to indulge in while on the move. If you’re incapable of going through Texas without sampling every backyard, roadside brisket you come within 5 miles of, jot that down. We’ve found it’s a lot easier to start big and whittle down your expenses to a reasonable monthly number you feel comfortable covering.
Of course, what good is a budget if you fix to break it wide open at the first sight of a sombrero made entirely of corn tortilla chips? Yes, sticking to a strict budget is powers of ten more difficult than creating one. That’s why it’s important to build in a bit of wiggle room so even when you do let your inhibitions get the best of you, you don’t have to feel like you’ve let the universe down by outspending your daily allotment.
Track your spending, do your best, and don’t cry into your salsa if you splurge every once in a while.
Step 5: Obsessive Compulsive Tracking
We keep a notebook in which we write down each daily expense down to the cent categorized into the following buckets: food, gas, lodging, and miscellaneous. We then average out our spending each week and make sure we are keeping within our budgeted daily numbers (with that wiggle room, of course). The act of writing things down and not relying on a computer to tell us where we’re at helps keep our budget in the front our our minds, and gives us a bit of extra will power when it comes to making monetary decisions.
Even though I’ve never felt more like my father’s son, this OCD practice has become indispensable for staying within our budgetary wickets.
Step 6: Find Supplemental Income
This step is entirely optional, and will depend on your savings and how much time you plan to spend on the road. For us, this little adventure marked a career shift that now revolves around the ability to do remote freelance work. We worked on side projects for over a year to build up a small client base that would allow us to extend our travels into the foreseeable future.
But, you certainly don’t have to be starting a new career in order to earn money on the road. Pretty much anywhere you go in the world there are opportunities to pick up odd jobs to scrap together a bit extra walking around money. There are also services like WWOOF that will connect you with people who need help on their farms of around their giant countryside manors, and they will reward you with a place to stay and all the borscht you can stomach.
Just know there are infinite ways in which you can keep your coffers full without a 9 to 5 holding you down. And if your dream is to one day get paid as a full time travel writer, the best way to do that is to start writing and start traveling. Find out what that thing is for you and start doing it now.
Step 7: Let Go
Ultimately, all this great advice we just laid out should be thrown out the window along with your bikini top once you fully ease into full-time traveling. If you’re really dead set of making this type of life working for you, you’ll make it work for you. Letting go of the stress that can come with pinching pennies is all part of the process – something that hasn’t exactly come easy to us. Be smart, be aware, but don’t let this week’s food allotment preventing you from having experiences you will cherish for the rest of your life.
After a while you will naturally let go of that shit. It’s important to approach this kind of life shift with realistic expectations, but the real challenge is finding an effortless balance between indulgence and responsibility.
You are now ready to go forth with your plan to do something awesome. Carve your own path and take ownership over that very personal journey. It will make it all the more meaningful once you make those dreams come true.