How We Saved Travel Money

This week on the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge, the question is about a subject near and dear to every long-term traveler’s heart: travel budgeting.

Find one major expense to cut from your daily life. How much can you save for travel by cutting it? How many other expenses (large or small) could you reduce in order to put that money toward travel?

We want to look at this two ways. First, there’s the year of preparation we had to save travel money and then there’s the budget we’ve used on our travels to have as much fun as possible, spend as little as possible, and prolong the traveling as long as we can.

A Year Of Preparation

First, here’s how we prepared for our travels. We started talking about this in August 2010, planning to leave sometime in late 2011, which ended up being November 7th, 2011. That gave us a little over a year to save as much money as possible, sell a lot of our stuff (which generated a good bit of cash), and pick out and buy our travel vehicle.

Deep Budget Cuts

One of the keys to our planning though was not to become complete recluses. Planning for the future is great. Planning for the future at the expense of living today isn’t so great. So while we did make deep cuts to several areas of our budgets, we didn’t give up everything completely.

Eating & Drinking Out

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we like eating out. But it’s mighty expensive. Buying drinks at bars and restaurants very well might be one of the few things that’ll put a dent in a budget even faster than eating out. Again though, in the interest of not being recluses, we didn’t completely stop going out to eat and drink. We just cut back and opted for other forms of entertainment like cookouts/potlucks and having our drinks at home or other people’s houses.

Gift Giving

We did completely cut out giving gifts to each other, a tradition that we have continued during our trip. Giving gifts at the same time we’re getting rid of possessions didn’t really seem to jive, so we’ve switched to having experiences together on gift-giving days instead.

New Clothes

We also quit buying new clothes. When the goal is to downsize the number of things you own, buying new clothes is kind of silly unless something really needs replacing.

Shallow Cuts

Another area that we reduced, but didn’t eliminate was travel expenses. The primary reason for this was that we were living 2000 miles apart. So if we wanted to see each other (and we did), it required investing some money in traveling.

Typically, that meant Edie flying to San Diego. Sometimes it meant us meeting in a neutral city, such as our trips to San Francisco and New Orleans. Beyond that though, neither of us took any major trips.

Today’s Cuts

Of course, now that we’re traveling, we really have to watch the funds to try to prolong the adventure as long as possible. So how do we do that?

  • Take advantage of the free and cheap – Most cities have some free entertainment, whether that’s museums or concerts. Find them and go to them. The LBJ Museum in Austin is a prime example of a place that provided us with 4 hours of free entertainment and education. We don’t visit a lot of museums or other paid places unless it’s an absolute “must-see”.
  • Spend time outdoors – Typically, we’re more interested in being outside anyway, whether that’s hiking, walking around the city, or visiting a dog park. Our National Parks Pass helps defray the costs of getting into the National Parks.
  • Go for a drive – Backpackers can’t really do this, but we obviously can. Sure, it costs us gas money, but that’s it. We can spend a lot of hours driving through the scenic areas, stopping when and where we want for pictures, hikes, or a picnic.
  • Spend less on sleeping – We use WWOOF, WorkAway, and HelpX (which we recently discovered) to a) meet new people and b) reduce our costs by working in exchange for room and board.

We’re always up for new ways to cut our costs. Any other ideas?

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