Reader Question: I’ve decided that I want to travel. I have zero attachment to material things, I’m a really simple person, calm, easy going and minimalist. The only thing that stops me from starting my trip is knowing that I won’t have any income and the only thing I fear is to put myself in a really bad situation, I want to prevent that.I’m thinking of what could happen if a run out of the money that I have managed to save (which isn’t much). The only thing that has occurred to me is to use Couchsurfing to find a place to stay and try to find a temporary job wherever I go. I also thought of doing WOOFing.My journey starts in January. I have a flight to France and that’s the place to start for me. I’m planning to travel around Europe. For now I can speak English, Spanish, a bit of Italian and I’m learning French!What would you suggest to me?
Firstly, it’s awesome that you want to travel, and I really admire people who have achieved multi-lingualism, that will definitely help you out on the road. Being easy going and minimalist will definitely make it less likely that you will run out of money on the road.
When it comes to worrying about running out of money, I have one golden rule: I always make sure that I have enough money to pay for my airfare back home just in case it all goes wrong. But, rarely does it all go wrong. If you’re able to stick to a budget and make sensible travel choices along the way, then you’ll be surprised how long you can travel for. Here are some of the essential must-dos to cut costs and get your money to stretch as far as possible. Don’t pay attention to them, and you’ll find that your money will be gone just like that.
Make a Travel Budget
It is so so important to know how much you can afford to spend on a daily basis. In a hostel in Nicaragua, we met a couple who had been saving for their travels for two or three years. After only three months travelling, they were close to having to return home. They blew $8000 in their first six weeks of travel in America. After that they realised they needed to budget, but it was already too late for them to travel as far as they had hoped. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you have money in the bank and you’re withdrawing on a debit card, rarely checking your bank statement.
Mine and Luke’s daily travel budget is £20/$32 each. We’re definitely budget travellers and actually we spend much less than that thanks to house sitting. When housesitting, our daily expenses can be as low as £3/$4.5 each – that’s not a joke! I keep a spreadsheet in which I detail everything we spend, from the cost of accommodation to a random almond snickers, so I know exactly what’s going out. When you’re travelling on a tight budget, even the little things makes a difference.
On a side note, I always travel with two debit cards in case of unforeseen circumstances. I wouldn’t want to be left completely penniless if an ATM swallowed my card, my bank blocked my account, or I lost my purse. Having two cards – one in your wallet and one in your hostel room locker – is a good back-up idea. In a real emergency and if you’re lucky enough to have parent or friends that will help you out financially, you could also head to a Western Union.
Choose Cheaper Countries
When deciding to go travelling, the countries which you choose to travel in can make a real difference to how far your budget will go. For instance, three days in Hong Kong cost us the same as a whole week in Vietnam. Europe is a notoriously expensive area of the world to travel and as such isn’t usually a first choice for long-term travellers.
That said, there are cheaper areas in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe. Poland is our favourite European destination; it’s an awesome country with so much variety and it’s cheap. For budget travellers, I would also recommend Estonia and Luke would give a shout out to Montenegro.
Unless you’re planning to rent a place temporarily or can find a Couchsurfing host, I would suggest spending shorter amounts of time in Western European countries to save money and opting for longer travels in Europe’s cheaper countries. There’s no real need to worry about the language barrier as many Europeans have great English, and Google can help you out with a couple of useful phrases too. When you are in more expensive countries, definitely try to cut costs by buying local food and cooking in hostel kitchens, heading to free museums and looking on car sharing websites like BlaBlaCar to find rides between cities.
Look for Cheaper Accommodation
As you said, Couchsurfing is an excellent option for cutting accommodation costs and also for meeting and making friends with local people. We’ve had some really incredible Couchsurfing hosts, especially in Poland. Couchsurfing isn’t always possible, but fortunately Europe also has plenty of really nice hostels where you can grab a dorm bed for not too much money. Sometimes there are even opportunities to work a couple of hours a day in a hostel in exchange for a bed.
I would also really recommend house sitting. If you don’t mind spending a few weeks in the same place and looking after a couple of cats, then this is a really excellent option. Unfortunately house sitting isn’t something you can jump into as quickly as Couchsurfing, but setting yourself up as a house sitter can really pay off in the long-term. I’ve written a guide to becoming a house sitter here.
If Worst Comes to Worst…
If you’ve done your best with the above and it’s still all gone down the pan and you’ve run out of money completely, you should volunteer in exchange for bed and board to bide your time between finding employment.
Earlier in the year, Luke and I volunteered on the Angloville programme, which was awesome, and we had a week of free accommodation and meals. There are lots of volunteering options in Europe, and as someone who is multilingual you will probably be able to find a temporary position as an au-pair or nanny in exchange for bed and board if you need it. I’ve heard of a lot of travellers using websites like WorkAway for this, though those often come with a fee. Instead I would check local listings on Craigslist for openings.
When it comes to working, you’re also in a great position because of your language skills. Europe has a lot of language assistant programmes where you can earn and explore a new place, and you may also be able to find private tutoring work while on the road. Websites like italki can set you up with students to tutor via Skype, if that’s something that would suit you. Luke and I both found online work as writers through oDesk, though finding a job with a decent salary on the site took quite some time (if you’re total broke though, any money is good money!)
My very last piece of advice is just not to worry too much about running out of money. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re thinking about travel budgets and costs, but there’s a lot to be said for just going for it and learning (quickly) along the way. If you worry too much, you’ll end up not travelling at all. Keep it all in perspective, plan at least a few weeks in advance if you can and make smart decisions, and you’ll find that it’ll work out.