HOW YOU CAN START TRAVELLING YOUNG
A STEP BY STEP GUIDE
Travelling young seems like such a distant reality for so many of us, I felt it a lot growing up. The combination of Instagram girls in their mid to late twenties with their own life figured out and a healthy lump of cash sitting in their bank and the people who are lucky enough to have their families money to fund their trips, it can feel pretty daunting to even know where to start in the world of young travellers.
As someone who has been travelling pretty consistently over the last 4 years, starting my backpacking at the age of 18
By far some of the most asked questions people message me time and time again are: "Courtney, how can you afford to travel so much?" and "How did you start travelling so young?". I completely get it. It can seem super daunting to be looking at Instagram accounts with girls in their mid to late twenties with their whole life figured out and a healthy lump of cash sitting in the bank. Unfortunately, a lot of us don't have the luxury of scooting around the world business class, and especially not straight out of school or in university. My whole travel ethic is to live for the moment and make the best of your situation, which includes your finances. Backpacking has become such a large part of my life and during the past few years I've learnt a long list of tips and tricks that help me stretch my budget out, meaning I can travel longer for less.
So how do I do it?
YOUR STARTING POINT
We first need to assess your starting point and work from there. Everyone will be in a position and from there you can determine in what sense you can start travelling.
It's important to preface that it's very hard to go from a high school graduate to a full time traveller in the matter of months.
What's your living situation?
Are you living with your parents? Living out of home? If you're paying rent are you splitting it or paying all of it yourself? Paying rent is such a large portion of your income, so if you can try and re-evaluate your living situation. Is there someone who could split the rent with you? Could you move back in with your parents? Could you move into a cheaper place for a few months?
What's your income stream like?
Part time? Full time? Intern? Unemployed? On benefits? Your income stream as well as how consistent is, is obviously going to be a big factor in how long you can travel for and what destinations you can visit on your budget.
TIME TO EVALUATE
So now you've laid out everything in your life it's time to piece everything together and evaluate what your options are.
LITTLE TO NO MONEY
Say you're unemployed or have very little money to spend on travel, then maybe opting to find a job working overseas would be the best option. Finding a live in job or more of a 'lifestyle' job (pub crawl or hostel work) would keep your costs incredibly low as you'd be provided free accommodation, and some jobs would even provide some free meals/alcohol as well as being paid (some hostel/pub crawl jobs don't pay so you would need to have a little bit of savings). You can read my blog post about my experience working in Hungary and Croatia here
There are some destinations which feel like they are designed for young travellers. Cheap, fun, lively, lots to do, it's a paradise for those people who have a limited budget but want to make it last as long as possible! Places like South East Asia, Central/Eastern Europe,
Say you have your heart set on a more expensive country, like France, USA, Australia and so on, this is when doing a working visa comes in.
1. HAVE A GOAL
Having a goal is the first step towards getting the ball rolling, and while it sounds it sounds incredibly obvious to start off with, just bare with me. After school and in the first few years of University life is so unbelievably exciting. When you're not confined to the walls of a classroom there is a million and one things you can do. From Partying, midday brunches, boujee weekends away with your friends, there's so much to enjoy. However, when you're on a tight budget to begin with it is very hard to find a balance between saving and spending.
Having a perspective on your goals is what is going to be the difference between dreaming about a trip and actually making it happen, because every time you splurge on another avocado on toast (one of my many weaknesses), that's another $20 that has been lost towards your travel fund. Choose one distinct goal that you really want to work towards, for example say you wanted to go for a trip around the Balkans for a month, set that as your predominant goal. That way you have a clear vision in your head of what you are working towards, which will make it far easier to move towards it. Making a budget, planning your trip, setting dates and so on will be far easier as well, plus having a specific goal will make you far more excited and therefore far more inclined to reach it.
SOME TIPS ON GOAL SETTING
1. BE REALISTIC
Look at your earning capacity and your weekly/monthly outgoings, and then be realistic about what you think is achievable. If you're earning $500 a week, you spend $150 of that on the essentials and you plan on travelling in 3 months, that's $350 x 12 (weeks) = $4200 you could potentially have for a trip if you were to save for 3 months.
2. KNOW YOUR DESTINATIONS
I'm a sucker for romanticising beautiful destinations and while I like to imagine it, there is little chance I'll end up on an island in the Maldives with £1000 to my name. Do some research and pinpoint places that are going to work within your budget. Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Portugal, Hungary, Morocco, India, Bolivia and so on are going to be far more friendly to your tight budget than countries like Greenland, Norway and Australia. Start off with the cheaper destinations if you don't plan on working and backpacking, this will let you travel for longer and let you splurge a little because of the low cost of living. This way you'll feel like a goal of $3000 for 6 weeks in Thailand is more achievable than $10,000 for a week in Bora Bora.
3. START SMALL
Expecting a full round the world trip straight out of school is incredibly ambitious, and for 99% of us, is a big goal to reach as an 18 year old. Start small, research countries close to where you live, check out cheap flights (you can check out my finding cheap flights post), buses, trains, etc, even look at working abroad. An achievable goal is going to be far more enticing to reach than something that feels like a mountain to reach.
4. SET MILESTONE GOALS
Saying that you want to save $3000 in the next two months is a big ask for some people (me included), however saying to yourself "every week I'm going to put $400 aside towards my travels' is a more 'mentally friendly' way of thinking about it. Push yourself to reach that weekly goal, and everything above that is a bonus (spend the extra money on more Pad Thai when you get there).
2. IMPORTANT LESSONS TO REMEMBER
Sometimes getting clarity on what's important will help you feel more of a connection towards your goals, and I think these lessons I've learnt over the last few years of travel have really helped me be more confident to travel young.
1. YOU DON'T NEED YOUR FRIENDS TO COME
I know, just the thought of not being able to share those special memories with your favourite people in the world can be upsetting, but it's important to realise that everyone has their own goals, and while travelling at the top of your list, your best friend may not rank it as highly. If travel is something you are truly aspiring towards, I think it's unfair on yourself to be waiting for something you don't know the end date to. And I understand, the thought of solo travel is daunting, but it's so incredibly rewarding. Push yourself to leave your comfort zone, I promise you'll end up having the wildest of adventures and make a whole circle of new friends.
2. RESEARCH, RESEARCH RESEARCH
Taking the initiative to research is going to make your trip feel a whole lot more real. If you've never travelled without your family before or this is your first time solo travelling, you're going to feel far more confident about pursuing a trip if you have some knowledge to back it up. Blogs, forums, Instagram posts are going to give you all the info you need to know when it comes to learning about travelling.
3. IT'S OKAY TO BE SCARED
When I moved to England a week after I turned 18 I was shitting myself. I was so comfortable with all my friends, everyone was finally turning 18 and going clubbing, and I loved my life in Brisbane. However, as much I loved it, I knew deep down I wasn't satisfied with how I was living and I knew that travelling was the most important thing to me. I'm not going to lie the first month I was in England I had never been so lonely. However, taking the leap to do something daring and exciting will always be one of the hardest things you'll do, but it will always be one of the most rewarding. Take that chance because it's better to say "whoops", instead of "what if".
4. EXCUSES WON'T LEAD YOU TO YOUR GOALS
Like most things in life, if you continue to make excuses about doing it, it won't get done. Stop telling yourself "it will happen when it happens" or you're "too busy" to do it, by doing that, you're telling yourself that you don't want it enough to go achieve it.
5. DO NOT FEEL PRESSURE TO FOLLOW THE SAME PATH AS EVERYONE ELSE
I'd say the large majority of my friends went directly from school into university and while I was planning on taking a gap year, I decided to follow suit and chose to go to uni instead. I lasted 3 weeks. What I learnt from those 3 weeks is that you don't need to rush into it (or adulthood), especially if you have no idea what direction you want your life to go in. You will thank yourself for taking time to assess your needs, wants and ambitions, even if it's just for a semester.. Having the opportunity to remove yourself from school friends, your family, your familiarities can be a really good thing to clear your headspace and to help create clarity. Focusing on something you actually want is far more important.
3. START SAVING
Unfortunately, I cannot comment too much in this section because I am possibly the worst at saving EVER. However, when I have a destination or a goal in mind, I would sell my right kidney to get myself on that plane. The most important thing to remember when you're fresh out of school is;
TRAVELLING IS NOT ABOUT THE RESORTS, MICHELIN STAR MEALS, OR BOTTLE SERVICE IN THE MOST EXPENSIVE CLUBS.
Travelling is about the experiences, the places, the people you meet. Travelling when you don't have a lot of money isn't always easy, and there have been moments where I've just wanted to break down for a list of reasons, however I've never felt so rewarded in life when a serendipitous moment happens and everything clicks. Be prepared for long travel days and a LOT of pasta. Being homesick, drinking a bit too much the night before, taking the wrong turn for the third time, the list goes on. But is the ADVENTURE.
1. SKYSCANNER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
I've spoken about Skyscanner before, but it truly is my holy grail when it comes to booking flights. My favourite thing to do is to select the airport I am leaving from, and then in the 'To' section, select the 'Everywhere' tool. This will bring up the cheapest flights from your departing airport on specific days, or even a whole month.
Just from looking now I can find flights (return) for:
Sydney - Malaysia €229
Sydney - USA €306
London - Bulgaria €21
USA - Puerto Rico €98
2. SAVE YOUR COINS
I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I don't really count coins as 'money'. $1 for a bottle of water $4 for a sandwhich, it all adds up. I suggest taking advantage of your shrapnel, which means every time you break a note, when you get home that night put the remaining coins in a jar. Soon enough you'll collect a nice little pile of coins, which can very easily add up to a couple of hundred if you're lucky. (If you're the type of person to dip in to the jar, super glue it shut so you're not tempted to open it.)
3. GET RID OF THE LITTLE THINGS
A lot of the time, it the small things you're spending on that end up costing the most. Your daily coffee, the gym membership you don't really use, the weekly clothes shop. All these things can be cut down or taken out of your routine (even if it's just for a little bit) to help you save! I've already written a blog post about Savings Tips, which you can head over and read for some more ideas.
4. WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE BAD AT SAVING
Now, reading a savings plan is all well and good, it's putting it in to practice which is always the hardest part. If you're like me, don't worry. The world has opened up hundreds, if not thousands of different ways to travel on a budget, if not for free, so you can stress less about saving up that big wad of money in your account.
WAYS YOU CAN TRAVEL WITHOUT SAVING A HEAP
Couchsurfing is a website which connects travellers to people who are willing to give up a couch, spare bed, air mattress, etc in return for nothing (often just company or you can offer to cook a meal or two for them). It's a really great way to travel for free and meet some friendly travellers. I've done this in Luxembourg and Paris and had a really good experience both times.
2. WORKAWAY AND WWOOF
Both of these websites are very similar in concept, Workaway and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) are both volunteer programs which allows travellers to live and stay in a country for a longer period of time. In return for an agreed amount of hours per day/week, you'll recieve a free bed and often a few free meals too. Workaway offers a range of options from hostels, surf camps, restoring houses, etc, whereas WWOOF is for the people who love getting out in nature and getting their hands dirty.
3. PETSITTING AND HOUSESITTING
This option is really great if you're a couple and you love a bit of downtime. There are heaps of websites (check out Trustedhousesitters.com) that connect you with people looking for someone to house/pet sit for them. This way you can stay in a more homely place for a longer period of time and really get to feel what it's like to be a local.
4. APPLY FOR A WORKING VISA
This option is incredibly popular with young Australians fresh out of school, and it's working overseas for a year or two. The majority jet off to the hustle and bustle of London and do an array of jobs from working in schools to pulling pints in the pub. The initial costs of getting a working visa can be pretty steep, however it's the perfect way to spend a year abroad, and often gives you a few months off to travel around.
5. AU PAIR/NANNY
Want to spend your days finger painting and doing some light chores in return for free board, pocket money, and almost (if not) all of your meals provided? Then Au Pairing/nannying could be the perfect gig for you.
5. JUST BOOK IT
Sounds crazy right? Well you're talking to the queen of impulse decisions here, so for me this is completely rational. The only way to REALLY get things done in life is to just go do it. So if you really want it and you've got the means, what's currently stopping you? There is so many exciting things in the world right now, and you're obviously intrigued to go see them yourself, now is the time to make it happen.
If you like forward planning, book the trip for a month from now, 3 months, a year. At least you now have a GOAL which you can work and save towards, no matter where it is. This will motivate you to actually save and to make proactive steps to achieving your goal. Even if it is a one way ticket somewhere initially, and then you save up the funds for a return, or you change your mind and continue travelling, at least you have the flexibility to have those options.
6. WHEN YOU'RE ON THE ROAD
1. COOK FOR YOURSELF
Your three biggest money stealers while you're travelling are transport, accomodation and food, and it's often the latter that quickly adds up to a large portion of your savings. While eating out is fun and a great way to spend time with new friends, you could potentially shorten your trip by half if you're eating out every day. Take advantage of hostel kitchens, eat where the locals eat (this will ALWAYS be cheaper than the touristy areas), grab a takeaway pizza and share it between friends, buy some groceries and have a picnic, the options are ENDLESS.
I swear by hostels when I travel. I honestly don't enjoy hotel rooms that much, and while clean white sheets are appreciated, the stories and fun you conjure up in a hostel is what makes a lot of my travels. When you're booking a hostel have a look at Hostelworld, which is the site I swear by! Here is what I look for in a hostel:
It's great to find a super cheap hostel, but there is no point staying there if it takes you €10 and an hour each way to get in and out of the city you're visiting. Look for something that is reasonably close to the centre if not in the centre. It may cost you a little more, but it will save you paying for taxis/buses/trains daily.
As stated above, having a hostel kitchen is going to save you BIG bucks, so if they have one USE IT. Some hostels even have specific nights of the week where they cook dinner for free (or a few euros), or they have a big bucket of pasta readily available to use, and a lot of them will have a space in the fridge with food from travellers who have left and didn't finish what they had bought!
Take advantage of whatever the hostel has to offer! Use the hostel bar, BYO alcohol and drink it in your room, free walking tours, free pubcrawls, discounted day trips, be greedy and use what you can! This will mean you'll have a great time for ridiculously cheap.
3. BYO ALCOHOL
This one is for the partiers among us. It's no secret that drinking out is pricey, but trying to reason a €15 cocktail is hard when you have a daily budget of €30. Use drinking at your hostel to your advantage, go find a park, the beach, by a river and enjoy a €4 bottle of wine. It might not taste the best, but you'll have more of your budget to spend on other things.
4. BYO WATER BOTTLE AND CUTLERY
It may not sound like a lot, but if you're spending €2 a day on a bottle of water, not only is that wasteful but you're also spending €60 a month for something you can get for free from a tap? Invest in a metal water bottle and save yourself (and the environment)! I would also recommend purchasing a little cutlery kit, it's perfect for eating takeaways and picnics, you'll thank yourself.
5. BE SELECTIVE WITH ATTRACTIONS
Every major city has a long list of things to go discover, however being on a budget means you won't have the luxury of doing it all. Do some research on what you would really love to do and narrow it down to one or two. Splurge on the things you couldn't imagine not seeing and disregard the rest. Also remember to bring your Student ID if you have one, it can save big $$$.
6. BUSES INSTEAD OF PLANES AND TRAINS
Forget planes and trains, buses are going to SAVE your wallet if you're on a tight budget. Companies like Flixbus and Eurolines are perfect if you're travelling around Europe (you'll have to google bus companies depending on where you are in the world), they make take a long time to get from A to B, but you'll be able to spend that money on something nice when you get to your destination. - Also if you can get a night bus then you'll save on accomodation, BONUS!
7. GET CREATIVE
Money can't buy you everything, get creative with your time and make an adventure out of it! Google free things you can do in your city, I bet there will be walking tours, museums, art galleries, bars, book stores, parks, beaches, hikes, etc that you can go explore, all for free!
8. SHARE WITH OTHER TRAVELLERS
Groceries, AirBnb's, taxis, whatever it is, try and share it when you can. This will be mutually beneficial for you all AND you'll probably make a new friend out of it.