Enjoy Travel

6 Full-Time Travelers On How They Stick to Budget Goals

Lindsay Tigar  |  April 7, 2022

Ready, set, travel — and still meet all your budget goals.

I love to travel. And I know I’m hardly the only one — it seems all my friends have a bucket list of destinations they hope to experience as soon as time and money allow. But as I’ve written about before for HerMoney, traveling as often as some people we may follow on Instagram seems like an unattainable, incredibly expensive habit. And while travel will never be as affordable as a staycation, with some smart strategies, travel can actually be cost-effective. Full-time travelers, like the powerhouse women we feature in this article, know all the tricks of the trade (and they’re sharing their secrets with us!) The key is not just understanding where every dollar is going — but being savvy about where we are headed, too. 

Here, they spill their secrets from the road:

Keep a budget spreadsheet

While most people track their everyday purchases — from groceries to gas and so on — somehow, that mentality is forgotten while lounging on a beach. No, shopping for necessities is hardly the most glamorous part of a vacation, but it is the one that stands to save you the most, says freelance consultant and full-time nomad since 2014, Katherine Conaway. These days, she’s living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with a plan to relocate to Taipei, Taiwan for a bit. To hold herself accountable while country-hopping, she manages a spreadsheet that’s broken into categories: housing, travel, transportation, social activities, work expenses, taxes, insurance, savings, etc. No matter where she is or what adventure she’s on, she keeps a record of everything in and out — including PayPal payments, Venmo transactions and so on. It may seem tedious to some, but for her  it’s been an effective strategy for managing her finances. “It’s better to be conservative than aggressive when it comes to money management — if you budget too well and spend less, then great! Either you can splurge on something later or put it into savings,” she continues. “But if you overspend, then you’re in a tight place with fewer options.”

Create a daily budget

When we reflect on the last time we hopped a train, plane or rented an automobile, chances are high we had an overall amount of money we wanted to spend. Though this is an important figure to have in mind, travel blogger Lauren Juliff says it can be even more impactful when we break that number down into daily increments, to see what our daily outlay really looks like. Juliff travels six months out of every year, with a current location of Wanaka, New Zealand. In a few weeks, she’ll pack up and move to Singapore for a stretch of time. Before she shifts locations though, she always researches recent budget breakdowns from travelers online to understand what she can expect to spend each 24 hours. “Once you’ve found somebody who has a similar travel style to you, you’ll be able to calculate exactly how much you can expect to spend on your vacation,” she continues. “After a decade of full-time travel on a budget, I’ve found that I average $50 a day on almost every trip I take, so I keep that in mind whenever I’m saving up to visit somewhere new.”

Cook as much as possible

Every traveler experiences destinations through a different sense. While some are fascinated with sight, others follow their noses and try to eat anywhere-and-everywhere they can. But depending on what corner of the globe we’re  taste-testing, dining out can add up very quickly.  When we’re on longer vacations, vegan caterer Lisa Spykers suggests choosing an Airbnb with a kitchen over other accommodation options. She’s tested her own advice on this, and has visited (and cooked in!) 30 countries in the last year. “Sometimes I can’t find traditional dishes offered in vegan and veg restaurants, so I started a project of ‘veganizing’ traditional recipes in each country I visit,” she explains. “In doing so, I have found this is quite cheap too because the ingredients are easily sourced given they are mostly locally produced and used quite often.”

Maximize travel points

To say that project manager Lindsay Jensen has been busy in the last year is an understatement: she’s taken 46 flights and visited 35 countries, averaging three passport stamps and four takeoffs monthly. Right now, she’s located in Cape Town, and will soon make her way to Marrakech. With all of this coming-and-going, she’s figured out a way to reward herself by using travel credit cards smartly. “Earn the points, miles, and free nights by strategically signing up for credit cards and ensuring you credit each flight and hotel stay to a rewards program,” she recommends. “Once you have earned the points, maximize their value: pay attention to out of pocket costs on award flights — taxes and fees can vary based on airline program and destination — and book with airline partners to use less miles or pay less out of pocket fees.”

Set aside funds for happiness 

Yes, cooking does save money, and staying at an Airbnb is less expensive than a five-star hotel. But as we’re saving, it’s important to save room to invest in experiences that make us happier and our lives easier, says freelance digital project manager Cathy Ferrell. She’s been on the go for eighteen months, moving every three to five weeks. “It can sometimes be lonely and difficult traveling, and trying to stick to a strict budget can exacerbate this,” she explains. “If you budget for these things ahead of time, you won’t feel like they’re breaking your budget, and you can get back to the experiences that make traveling so rewarding.”

Emma van Rooijen, executive assistant at the World Small Animal Veterinary Association also adopts this philosophy. She’s traveled full-time for two years, and only returns to visit her family in the Netherlands occasionally. Regardless of where her wanderlust takes her, she reserves budgets for what brings her job: outdoor activities. “Find out what it is that you want to be spending your money on, and remember this as you go,” she continues. “Don’t let others throw you off, some people might not agree with what you are and are not spending money on. It’s your money and your happiness.’

Travel during the off-season

The next time you sit down to choose your next travel location, Spykers suggests paying attention to seasonality. When we visit hot spots when they’re in prime demand — Disney World during spring break, for instance — prices are significantly higher than normal. “The shoulder periods often have great weather and the prices are more affordable,” she continues. During her travel career, she’s picked off-the-grid hubs during the off-season that have given her the opportunity to truly immerse in culture, without battling tourists every step of the way. I

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