I mentioned costs a few times on the blog but I have not directly addressed the topic of money. This post outlines my expenses and how I saved and planned for a year of travel. A future post will highlight what I do while traveling to manage my money.
First, the numbers:
- $20,282 – Food, transport including flights, accommodation, entertainment and daily life expenses since leaving Minneapolis August 8, 2016. This figure is an average of $64 USD per day over 300 days.
- $1,385 – Entertainment, food, transport, a few new clothes and toiletries, airline penalties for a missed flight, and 2 nights in a hotel during my 9-day birthday visit in NYC.
- $250 – New clothes purchased in Thailand and Chile including jeans, one tank top, one bikini, and one pair of shorts.
- $5,631 – Pre-departure costs including a laptop, camera, clothes, visas, health insurance, passport renewal and cell phone.
And my total expenses to date:
- $27,548 – I estimate I will spend an additional $1500 in the coming 5 weeks.
So, how did I save $30,000? I have always been careful with money and since I began working more than 6 years ago, I saved money every month. My conscious effort at saving for The Year of Sarah Joy began 2 years before I departed. The big steps I took to save included:
- No new clothes. In 2 years I think I bought 1 pair of jeans. I did not buy new work clothes, exercise clothes, or special event clothes. When I needed a wardrobe re-fresh, I borrowed dresses from a friend.
- No restaurants. I ate out less than once a month and had drinks out about as often. Limiting meals at restaurants had the positive side effect of making meals or drinks out feel like a special occasions.
- No car. On average, not owning a car saves a person $7,000 USD per year in gas, insurance, maintenance and car payments.
- Meal planning. I grocery shopped and cooked every week. For $60-80 (at Lunds, a high-end grocer) I purchased all the food I ate each week. The website and cookbook, Budget Bytes are a fantastic resource for lower cost meals.
- Small apartment. I lived for 4 years in a 350 sq. ft. studio apartment in a location with convenient access to public transit. My rent costs were less than 30% of my take-home salary.
- Limited re-occurring expenses. Beyond groceries and a $45 monthly gym membership, I paid $60 for a phone contract and $800 in rent each month.
For 2 years, I saved at least $600 per month. To this savings, I added 2 years of tax returns, $2,000 from the sale of household possessions prior to departure, and about $5,000 paid out from my employer for unused vacation time. I made up the difference with earlier savings.
To plan financially for a year of travel I found a book at the library, The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, with the below chart the writers titled the Spendometer. The chart indicates how many days’ travel can be had for $1000 in countries around the world on high, mid, and bare-bones budgets.
Using this chart and additional information I learned from books and blogs, I determined $60 per day would be my average budget. Mindful of my budget, I identified countries with lower daily-life costs and planned a route to match my budget.
I treat myself semi-often to flashpacker activities/accommodations/meals to remind myself I am not a broke 20-something and to acknowledge the efforts of the last 2 years. It is possible I could have spent $2000 – $3000 less over the course of this year if I were spending with as much thrift as I did prior to departure.
Money is generally a taboo topic. I am writing about this subject for two reasons. First, international travel is not always as expensive as we may imagine, especially when visiting less expensive countries or traveling in low season. Second, I want to encourage other people who may be considering saving for an upcoming large expense – the short term sacrifice is rewarding in the long term.
In a conversation about money I also want to acknowlege the opportunities I had to earn more than a living wage after college and to be debt-free are not opportunities available to every person. Every day I am mindful to avoid taking for granted the amazing privilege that is being unemployed and able to afford long term travel.