This post is the first in a series of How-Tos on saving money, traveling, and realizing your biggest, juiciest, wildest dreams.
Open The Door
When someone finds out I quit my job last year and traveled the world for 6 months, the most common reaction is, “Holy shit, that is so cool!”
The second comment is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
The third comment is, “Why?”
The fourth category is what I call, “the naysayers”:
“Why don’t you pay off your loans with your money?”
“Aren’t you afraid you won’t have enough money or you’ll run out of money?”
“I could never do that.”
“Why don’t you buy a house with that money instead?”
Category four people may mean the best for you. They may be coming from a place of love. But PLEASE don’t ever listen to a Category four person!!! Their opinion either comes from a place of love or a place of jealousy/insecurity. Either way – I repeat – DO NOT listen to the Category Four person!!!!!
Because if you do – if you let their words of doubt and projection slowly seep into your mind – you may never go for your BIGGEST, BOLDEST dreams. And these are the most important dreams. These are the ones that pop up in your mind while you look out the window, while you’re scribbling in economics class, while your surfing the ‘net or while your eating leftovers for dinner. There is a reason these dreams keep “popping” up in your brain.
It’s Destiny knocking at your door! You gotta answer that knock eventually! Because if you don’t answer it, you’re going to miss out on one of the greatest adventures your soul was born to make.
And when I say, “the greatest adventure,” I don’t mean traveling the world for 6 months. It could be different for you: buying a house, having a kid, speaking at a professional conference and sharing what you’ve discovered from experience, opening/starting a new business, having your art displayed in a famous gallery, winning a Grammy …. The list is as long as there are people in this world.
How I Saved (And Made) The Money
First off, I had to quit my current job if I was going to make this dream happen. I had a job as a Photo Librarian at a Special Library. I worked in College Park, MD, but lived in the godforsaken expensive city that is Washington DC.
My boyfriend was working in an advertising agency at the time and he wondered why I wasn’t applying for an ad job. I had no idea how my Masters in Library Science would get me a job at an Ad Agency.
Turns out, when I had taken part in a huge digitization/web migration project with the photo library I learned a lot about Web design, Web migration, Databases, and the importance of Taxonomy.
All of these things help in Web design. Oh and the salary for these jobs is significantly more than at a library!!!! And guess what lots of Ad Agencies need? People who know about Web redesign!!!! There’s a whole market for it. I started reading up on “Content Strategy.” I went to countless networking events on Web design and content strategy. I applied to Content Strategy jobs.
I quit my job as a Librarian in March 2016 and moved to my job at an Ad Agency. The year and three months I spent there was the hardest professional year I’ve had in my life thus far. The work environment was toxic, stressful, and hard to navigate as an outsider. But I wasn’t going to give up. No matter how toxic it got, no matter how many new things I had to learn. Because that paycheck was my ticket to fulfilling my dream. Every time I got down, I had to remind myself what the goal was. I would envision myself sitting in an Italian cafe, eating a pastry and sipping a cappuccino while writing short stories, blogging, and working on my novel. That was the image that kept me going.
While working at the agency, I studied how to write copy in my spare time. I started free-lancing on some projects with my boyfriend who is a designer. I knew I could use this skill remotely when we began our six month travel around the globe.
I had to move out of my apartment. I loved my roommate and that apartment, but I needed to find a cheaper apartment to live in.
Luckily, just as I was looking, a friend posted a Craigslist ad on Facebook! I interviewed to get in the group house and I got it!!! My room was a large closet. It fit my queen sized bed and a FEW other things.
But now, I was making almost double what I made at the library and saving more because I moved into a cheaper apartment. I was saving between $500-1,000/month.
Other Money Saving Hacks
- The money-saving app, Qapital. Qapital saves pennies for you and adds them up to great savings. Every time you buy something with your debit card, the leftover cents from the purchase transfer into your linked bank account. So for instance, if you buy a coffee for $2.25, 75 cents will go into your linked bank account. My boyfriend and I began using Qapital long before our trip started and we used our Qapital savings for our trip to Barcelona!!!!
- Make your coffee. Don’t waste your money every morning on coffee from a cafe or Starbucks. Find a yummy coffee at the grocery store and make that at home, then bring it to work. I lucked out because my work places had FREE coffee. Which is a fabulous perk. If you get sick of the free stuff, make your own. Coffee/Cafe money adds up.
- Make your lunch. I know it’s really tempting to buy your lunch. It’s convenient and it tastes really good. But it drains your account. Try making yourself lunches you enjoy. The more effort you put in, the less your lunch will suck. And the more money you will save.
- Along the same lines, Cook at home. Don’t eat out all the time. Choose once a week or every other week to go out for dinner. Paul and I would still treat ourselves during our two-year saving time, but we didn’t go out to dinner too often. When we did, it was used to “treat ourselves” and give ourselves a pat on the back for saving. You need to pat yourself on the back when you’re trying to reach your goals. It’s not all pain and no gain.
- Buy food at a grocery store. It’s so much cheaper to make a week’s worth of meals from $50 than eating out all the time!!!
- Cut down on the drinking or buy it at the store. We stopped drinking as much when we went out and pre-gamed more. Pre-gaming, meaning drinking more at home before we went out to avoid buying lots of expensive drinks at the bars. DC is a drinking town and the drinks are VERY expensive compared to the rest of the country. You can save a lot if you don’t drink as much.
- If you buy clothes, buy thrift or clothing exchanges. I didn’t buy many clothes for two years in order to save for the trip. Instead I had “clothing exchange” parties with friends. One friend hosts at their house and everyone brings clothes that are barely worn and they want to get rid of. Don’t bring clothes that have been thoroughly worn or ruined, but bring the clothes you literally have hanging in your closet untouched for years. If it wasn’t at a clothing exchange, I got new clothes that were not expensive at thrift stores, or borrowed clothes for special occasions from kind friends.
- Do your own facials and mani/pedis. Look up DIY facial recipes via Pinterest or an internet search. Paint your own nails with a new nail polish you buy at Target. Self care doesn’t need to be expensive.
- Cheaper gym memberships. Working out is important to me. The cheapest deal I could find that worked for me and my schedule was $112.00 for “Class Pass” – an app that allows you to workout at multiple studios for one price. If you do not want to spend gym money, come up with a workout routine from YouTube, online classes, running or self guided yoga. Whatever makes you feel fit and happy.
I was able to save $10,000 before our trip began on October 1st, 2017. I began saving for the trip in earnest in March 2016. Also, my boyfriend would get freelance gigs that needed a writer. On these projects I would write the copy and he would do the design. This was a great way to make some extra cash and it kept me floating till I got back to the USA. I worked for the Ad Agency remotely for about one month when I was abroad, from Sept-November 1st. This helped too. It’s a lot easier to get remote gigs than you think. Search the internet for companies that need remote workers or provide freelancers remotely to various companies. This will ensure you won’t run out of money while abroad.
Check Your Privilege
I am living my life as a White, Cisgendered Woman. This is the experience I can share and speak to. I cannot speak to living life as another type of person. I try my best to understand other life experiences, but I recognize I will never experience life as another person – unless I am reincarnated one day, which I think is real …. but that’s another blog post ….
I am proud to say this trip was 90% funded by ME! I saved $10,000 over two years in order to fund this trip. The 10% I’m accounting for was the $1,000 my parents lent me after I returned from the six month trip and I needed money because I had yet to secure a job. I am still paying my parents back for this no-interest loan. The fact that my parents could give me the $1,000 while I was on the job search upon my return to the US of A was an example of my privilege. I feel very grateful that I have that support from my family. When shit goes down, I have the good fortune of knowing my family can help me out. Not everyone can say that.
Be Nice To People …
When you are traveling in countries and you are being served and taken care of by other hardworking human beings – wait staff, tour guides, drivers, a masseuse/manicurist/pedicurist, cooks, street vendors, hotel staff, airbnb hosts, food vendors, retail workers – treat them with the respect they deserve. Your trip has been made more amazing by their efforts and they may not be able to enjoy the things you are getting to enjoy due to many circumstances/systems: economy, illness, human rights violations, race, gender, etc. Treat all people you meet with respect. They are not just props for your travel experience.
My next post will center on how to plan the timeline of your trip. “Part II: Where Will I Go?”
I’ll focus on how to plan out your trip itinerary, what times of the year to go to certain locales, and where/how to “make a home” while you are travelling.