Whenever I post something in the Facebook group I co-manage (Backpacking Budget Travelling in India, BBTI), I get lots of messages from people asking for my secret behind long-term travelling.
How are you able to travel so much? How did you quit your job? How do you manage your expenses? You must have a lot of money to afford all this travelling, right?
Many people think I’m priviliged because I was born and grew up in a 1st economy country. I started my career at a very young age and used to be workaholic, but after my burn-out and depression I wasn’t able to work much for 2 years, so had to live on my savings. Things got very tough and then I decided to find ways to earn and grow money with the limited energy and resources I had.
Now I travel in India on a budget of 20k per month, in which maximum 15k are my expenses and 5k is the money I save for my next adventures. Not only to be able to travel longer, but also to challenge myself, soak into my environments and get to know the country and its cultures better, from a resident’s perspective. I feel one can’t truly understand a country or their people if they haven’t lived amongst them and explored different perspectives. It will also help me decide where I belong and where I want to stay in future.
So: what’s the secret?
The secret is to set your goals, be determined, make smart choices and have a solid can do mindset. Then you’ll find ways to earn & save money and use your savings to grow your money.
Here I will explain how:
1. Make a bucketlist
Think about all the things you want to do in life and make a list of those things.
I myself started with making separate short bucketlists, like: “things to do before 30”, “top 3 dream list”, “top 3 lifetime goals”, “things I want to do before I die”.
You can do the same thing for making a travel bucketlist: “places to visit before 30”, “top 3 dream destinations”, “top 3 ultimate lifetime trips”, “places I really need to visit before I die”.
2. Make a vision board
Ok, you’ve got your bucketlist. Now it’s time to visualize it. Look for pictures & quotes to illustrate your (travel) bucketlist. Make a nice big collage of the most amazing photos & quotes that represent your (travel) bucketlist and put it in a place where you can see it daily. When you see those places & quotes daily, it will inspire your dreams and motivate you to work hard and find ways to make your dreams come true.
3. Know the travel budget for your destination(s) and make a savings plan
If you know what expenses you can expect, it’s easier to make a plan to finance your travels.
I’ve made a list of travel budgets for various countries, divided in shoestring and normal. Please see my article: Travel budgets per country.
4. Make sure you always have a buffer
If there’s one thing this pandemic year has taught us, it’s to be at least financially prepared for any kind of situation. In case something happens and you suddenly need to stay longer or fly back with extra high costs, you need a buffer (travel insurance could be wise as well).. I would suggest a buffer of 15% of the total expected expense and, if you’re not planning to buy a return ticket, also keep an amount of 1 flight ticket back home in your buffer.
5. Maintain a budget: less is more!
If you really want to pursue your travel dreams, you need to make some smart choices. Start with making a budget, tracking your expenses and see where you can save money in your lifestyle.
Think before you buy new things and be mindful to not pay much more than necessary. A room or 1BHK should not cost more than 8k per month, food should not cost more than 500rs per week for 1 person, 1100rs per month is way too much for WiFi… Setting clear limits for your expenses helps you to spend less and hence: save more!
Many people think they already spend their money wisely. I would suggest them to journal their expenses. Most people are shocked knowing the amount they actually spend. Tiny tiny amounts can turn into huge amounts. Check where you can save money.
I made this budget log to track my expenses and manage my budget: Google spreadsheet budget log.
I usually think 10 times before buying something and only buy things when I really need them. Rather cook my own food than eat outside (and the rare times I eat pizza, Thai food, French fries or even pani puri, it tastes so much more delicious!🥰😋😊). Rather roam around with an old cheap phone than a new one. Rather use public transport than taxis or rikshas. Rather buy fruits & vegetables at roadside vendors or small shops than in big supermarkets. You can save lots of money if you manage your money wisely. When you buy something, also ask yourself: “Am I buying this because I need it or am I buying this just because I want it?”
6. Set aside money regularly
Set aside at least 10% of your income every month. You can open a Recurring Deposit for this, so that this money will also grow. Like Ravi N Bhattad once said in BBTI: “Keep 300 INR daily into your recurring bank account and then u can travel every year a foreign country without hurting your pocket or taking money from any other source.”
Another option is to put jars in your room with labels on it: India, Nepal, Thailand, Bali, Europe, North America, South America etc. (places/countries according to your dreams) with the budget amount on it as well. The jars will remind you of your dreams to travel to those parts of the world and you’ll keep filling the jars until at least one of the travels is possible.
7. Generate passive income
Have some side (online or network marketing) business and/or use your savings to earn money. The percentages may not seem much, but they may turn into big amounts over time. This is actually free earning, also known as passive income. Learn about basic investment options. India has got plenty of them and they can help you to save and grow money for achieving your milestones. Don’t let your money just sit idle on your bank account; see what amount you need as a buffer for your expenses and use the rest of your savings to earn profits on them.
For example, if you invest 50k per year for 5 years (137rs per day), it can turn into at least 3.5 lakhs (low risk, tax-free). That’s 1 lakh profit in 5 years, which is basically free money to sponsor a Europe trip!
There are also investment plans with guaranteed returns, like milestone plans. For example, invest 50k yearly for 6 years and get 7.5 lakhs profit after 12 years guaranteed (including life insurance, tax-free).
You just need to do some paperwork and lock in savings for a few years. It sounds scary, but even no risk or low risk plans can double your income over time.
Above are just 2 small examples for no/low risk options. India has got lots of interesting investment plans (even with much higher returns), so it can be helpful to learn about them and choose a suitable plan for yourself wisely before the percentages/returns get less. Think about FDs, RDs, PPF, Gold ETF, NPS, Mutual Funds, Real Estate, ULIPs, LIPs, stocks, forex etc. There are many options that variate from no risk to high risk. It’s best to start investing when the market is at a low point, so you get more returns.
IMPORTANT NOTE: there are a lot of ‘agents’ who act as self-proclaimed investment experts. Never fall for these traps. Never give an agent or broker your money and never let anyone invest for you. Don’t fall for their demos in which they double your money within 2 hours, big names, fancy events on their profiles etc. Think about it: “If this person is really so good at investing, then he/she should be a billionaire, so why would he/she help a simple person like me?” Often they just look for opportunities to make money using your ignorance. Unfortunately, I had to learn it the hard way..
Better learn the basics of investing yourself, do proper research and go for investing options with a reliable company. If you’re unsure about investing in market-related things like stocks, forex etc., there are some websites and apps that provide free demo accounts. That means you can have a fictional account in which you can fictionally invest money. That way you can try out and practise investing without losing any money.
Another way of earning passive income is having an online business. The best part about this is that you can design your own dream job. However, be mindful: you need proper preparation, skills, dedication and hard work for that, and it usually takes at least 2 years to earn some decent money out of it. I am an online professional and it took me 3 years to earn some decent money, even though I’m a professional in the field I started my online business in. (I wanted to do everything by myself and do everything low risk & low cost)
8. Travel lowbudget and maintain a budget during your travels
Sounds logical, but in reality it can be quite difficult. Many people tend to overspend money out of enthusiasm and “YOLO”. Spending money is okay, but you don’t need to spend heavily in order to enjoy. The more lowbudget your travels, the more days you’re able to travel. Save some money for your next travels too 🙂
9. See if there’s some option to work, freelance or volunteer during your travels
Work from home is becoming more ‘normal’ and especially in some professions it’s already quite easy to do. Otherwise look for some options to work during your travels, preferably in a profession for which you don’t need a fixed location. Like: mountain/trekking guide, ski instructor, personal trainer, scuba dive instructor, yoga teacher, surf instructor…
Just make sure your visa allows it if you’re planning to work or volunteer abroad or maybe exchange services: “I teach you … and you provide me …”
For example, if you’re a health advisor, masseur, entertainer, artist, musician, photographer, writer or something, you can work anywhere during your travels. Network, promote it through local travel communities and create word-of-mouth advertising to get clients and earn money to cover your travel expenses. Or make some good bartel deals for services you need. For example, I once did an assignment as a mystery guest for a café and got free food in exchange. Also I once gave someone business coaching and he toured me around in the area without charging me even a penny.
10. Use services like Couchsurfing
It can save you a lot of money. Remember: ALWAYS give something valuable in return. Don’t be a freeloader. Give a little, take a little. For example, if you host couchsurfers from different places, states or countries, next time they can host you. Build up a strong travel network! Travel karma points are very valuable.
11. Try for a transfer at work (or change jobs/working places from time to time)
For example, if you work in Delhi and you want to cover more mid or South Indian places, try for a transfer to Bengaluru or Mumbai for example. Your travel expenses will be less for the months you work there (of course this also depends on your salary, housing expenses etc.).
12. If possible, work abroad
If you have the option to work abroad for a while and earn money in a currency which is more beneficial (for example euro or US dollars), do it.
13. Travel slowly
Slowtravelling saves a lot of costs on things like stay & transport and you are more able to really explore places and soak into your environments, local cultures etc. You spend more time in one place, make (long stay) discount deals, get to know more locals, spend time with them, visit more than just the hotspots and touristic places, see the hidden gems etc. Get a glimpse of what native life really looks like and it will be more than ‘just a visit’ or counting the amount of places/states/countries you’ve been to.
14. Start with India!
The best way to learn the most useful travel tips, tricks and hacks is to start travelling. I’d say starting in India would be the best way possible. Travelling in India is very cheap if you make the right choices. There is always some ashram, gurudwara, dorm, homestay or hostel where you can stay low-cost. Public transport (especially train and bus) is extremely affordable. At many places you can have 3 meals below 100rs per day, because there’s always some langar, street-food, dhaba or low-cost tiffin service nearby. Also, at some hostels and homestays you can prepare your own food, which is very affordable.
Most important: you learn on the go (what works for you and what not, what are your biggest challenges, how to travel with limited resources etc.), meet a lot of people and get the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, states & countries, share travel experiences and exchange useful travel tips, tricks and hacks.. The more you travel, the more creative and flexible you become finding ways to make things happen!
Please note that not everyone is able to do this. It takes a certain mindset, ambition, passion, dedication and hard work to achieve some merits. If you’re not willing to work hard, then just forget it.
And please remember: your intention and actions should always be and remain pure and honest. Never begpack, deceive or loot someone and also don’t be afraid to charge money or ask something in return when you decide to work for someone. Give a little, take a little.