HOW TO TRAVEL YOUNG & BROKE
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. Seeing these Instagram girls in their mid to late twenties with their whole life figured out and a healthy lump of cash sitting in their bank account can make travel feel very unobtainable for the average person, and 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 career at the age of 18, I've felt the full force of being a young traveller with next to no money. Sleeping at airports, 2 minute noodles and a very strong desire to try my hardest to make my travel dreams happen, I think you can probably relate and are ready to face the adventure head first. Travelling while you're young (and probably broke) isn't easy, however if you've got drive you can make it work, it's possible. If I can do it, you can too.
I moved to the UK and started working minimum wage jobs with no idea what I was doing and only a couple of hundred £££ in my account. My love for travel never wavered, and I would opt for the cheapest flights, 20 bed hostel dorms and whatever else I could that would keep my costs down. Travelling with no money taught me how to be imaginative and resourceful, and I am excited to share my secrets with you of how I got it all started. You may not be able to afford a one way ticket around the world or a week away in Bora Bora, however there are ways you can start travelling young if you're fresh out of school or in university and I'm going to share the fundamentals for getting started.
YOUR STARTING POINT
Your first task to making your travel dreams a reality is to assess what your current 'life situation' is and working from there. You want to list all your weekly/monthly expenses as well as your income and figure out how much you can realistically put towards savings. Some of these expenses will include:
- Living expenses (rent, transport, medical costs)
- Monthly payments/repayments (car, insurance, student fees)
- Purchases (clothing, makeup, coffee)
To make your life easier I have included 10+ Printables in my We Travelled the World Club bundle - which include a weekly/monthly expenses sheets already made for you! Shop them here!
Here are a few things you should be considering about before you can start assessing how and where you're going to be able to travel. This is when you should be thinking about:
1. your life expenses
2. your income
3. your realistic savings plan for travel
WHAT IS 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 to save some money. 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?
Rent and accommodation can be difficult to change, however if there is away you can lower your living costs, then it's a great way for you to save extra money per month that you can put towards travel.
WHAT'S YOUR INCOME STREAM LIKE?
Part time? Full time? Intern? Unemployed? On benefits? Own your own side hustle? Your income stream as well as how consistent it 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.
Consider getting a second job, freelancing or starting a side hustle. When I was 18-20 I would pick up a second hospitality job for a couple of months so I could earn a little extra on the side, however if you have skills that you can market and freelance you can be your own boss and charge a lot more! Some of these skills may include: social media management, graphic design, proof reading, gardening, makeup artist and the list goes on. You'd be surprised to know that you probably have a skill people would pay for! Fiverr and Upwork are great sites for listing your expertise or check out Facebook groups in your local area and see what is in demand.
Check out my how to start a travel blog blog post if you're interested in blogging!
HOW MUCH DO YOU SPEND ON EVERYTHING ELSE?
How many subscription services fo you pay for monthly? What's your grocery spend each week? How much money do you spend on your Friday night out? Do you get your lashes and nails done every fortnight? While it may only be '£10 here' '£10 there', that all adds up pretty quickly and before you know it you're spending £100+ a month on costs that you could definitely cut down on. Living as minimally as possible during the lead up to your trip could help you save an extra couple of hundred/thousand!
Consider cancelling subscriptions or choosing a lower plan for a couple of months, the more diligent you are about cutting out costs you don't 'need', the more money you can put towards travel. Write out your 'non-essential' costs (ie - not living, transport or food costs) and see what can be cut out - it's okay to be ruthless!
The We Travelled the World Club bundle also includes a savings tracker, so you can feel more motivated to put your money away for trips. Shop the bundle here!
Once you've written out your expenses and income you should have a rough idea of how much you'll realistically be able to save from now until your trip. It's important that you're honest with yourself, over estimating how much you'll be able to save will mean you'll 1. plan a trip that you can't afford and run out of money midway through (don't worry, I've done it too) or 2. not be able to go at all.
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. Again, it's important to be honest with yourself, and while you may not be able to afford 5 months travelling around South East Asia, maybe you could afford 1 month travelling around Cambodia - a little trip is better than nothing.
LITTLE TO NO MONEY
Say you're unemployed or have very little money to spend on travel (I'm talking only a couple of hundred £/€/$), then opting to find a job working overseas would be the best option. Working overseas could be anything from au pairing, hostel work, painting houses or pet sitting, and it's a lot easier to find jobs than you think!
Finding a live in job or more of a 'lifestyle' job (pub crawl, promoter or hostel work) would keep your costs incredibly low while you travel as you'd be provided free accommodation, you may get some free meals/alcohol, access to a bike/car, and some jobs are paid (although it's best to have a little bit of savings to keep you going). You can read my blog post about my experience working in Hungary and Croatia here.
Working while you travel allows you to really get to know a city, make great friends and have some wonderful, unique experiences. Particularly when you're young with limited funds it's more of an 'investment' on your money and you can make your savings last a lot longer rather than a short haul trip that blows all your savings in a few days. You can find travel jobs all over the world on sites like Workaway and WWOOF. All you need to do is find a cheap flight - you can check out my blog post here.
If you would prefer to do a small trip away instead of working, then it's definitely doable. Find a cheap flight from your city airport - you can use the Skyscanner 'everywhere' tool to do this, then plan a weekend or week long trip, depending how much money you've got tucked away. Make sure you're realistic about your budget and what you can afford!
Check out my 'Planning your first solo trip' Youtube vid for some added help!
For someone who has a little bit of savings, generally anywhere from £1,000 - £3,000, this would definitely be enough for a 1 - 2 month long trip. When you're planning you want to choose your destinations carefully. While countries like Finland and Canada are beautiful, your money would go a lot further in regions like South East Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. Be smart with your choice of destination and even if you have to pay a little extra for a longer flight, it would mean you could spend more time discovering the region you pick.
Remember to stick to hostels, public transport, inexpensive activities and shop bought/street vendor food to help make your budget last as long as possible.
A DECENT AMOUNT OF SAVINGS
For those who have a healthy sum of money sitting away waiting to be used, you'll have ultimate freedom to choose anything and anywhere that interests you. You could look at spending some of your money on a gap year program, working visa or volunteering opportunity, which would either let you work or live overseas somewhere for a few months or up to a year. A lot of young Australians and Kiwis come to the UK to work in boarding schools for a year then during the school holidays travel all across Europe, while a lot of English travellers go to Australia to do working holiday visas and work on farms to make some money. As I mentioned before, this is more of an 'investment' with your money and allows you to stay long term somewhere while exploring during your free time.
To find programs like this worldwide check out - LetzLive, Volunteer HQ, Go Abroad and Gap 360
There are some destinations which feel like they are designed for young travellers. Cheap, fun, lively, lots to do, it's a paradise for the people who have a limited budget and want to make it last as long as possible! Places like South East Asia, Central/Eastern Europe, Central/South America and Africa are all affordable and constantly bustling with backpackers.
Remember, it's best to pick one destination that you really want to visit and plan out from there. Particularly when you're on a limited budget it's easy to spend all your money on transport, especially if you are moving to a different location every couple of days. The slower you travel the longer you'll make your money last, so focus on travelling one area as best as you can - the countries will always be there, you can easily go back and see more another time!
Some of the cheapest destinations I've travelled to are: India, Nepal, North Macedonia and Mainland Greece, Poland, Morocco and Estonia.
If you have your heart set on a more expensive country, like France, USA or New Zealand, this is when you should look at doing some kind of working visa, working holiday or volunteering opportunity. Through websites like Workaway or WWOOF you can find more 'casual' jobs that will only need you to work a few hours a day, while getting a working holiday visa will allow you to find more long term jobs, whether that's hospitality, office jobs or trades/construction.
PLANNING, BOOKING & SAVING
When you've decided on your destination and length of trip it's now time to start planning, booking and saving. Check out Your first solo trip blog post and what you should know before staying in a hostel blog post for some extra help!
We touched on destinations ready, and you should have some places in mind that would work with your budget. Consider the price of accommodation, food, transport and activities while you look for the perfect destination that will suit your budget, the cheaper your living costs, the longer you can stay. The next step is to research (a lot) and know exactly how much you'll need to be able to afford your trip.
You want to keep your trip small to start off with, it's better to have money leftover than just spending it all and living on the bare minimum to the point where you can't even enjoy yourself. The things you need to consider when planning are:
- Local transport
- Alcohol (if you plan on drinking a lot, that's a big extra cost you need to consider)
- Pre trip expenses like visas, vaccinations, travel equipment, group trips
While you're planning you want to be noting down the costs of your trip, bearing in mind how much money you have for travel now and how much you'll realistically be able to save between now and your trip.
Now it's time to book. You want to book the fundamental aspects of your trip first which include your transport, accommodation and any big day tours or group trips. These will likely cost the most so book them as far in advance as possible, don't forget to note down how much you're spending on these initial costs.
If you're someone who is bad at saving or tends to spend your money on things you don't necessarily 'need' (clothes, beauty appointments, drinking), then you may want to do the booking stage in intervals, for example one week you get paid and book your flights, the next fortnight you book your accommodation and so on. This is what I used to do when I started travelling and I found it to be really helpful, especially when I had a limited income.
Once you've got the essentials booked you should have a rough idea of how much money you'll have as spending money on your trip, this money will cover your food, day activities and entry fees, alcohol, souvenirs and laundry. You can use budgetyourtrip.com to find a rough daily budget of the destinations you're visiting.
Saving can feel long and tedious, but every little bit helps. I recommend having a savings tracker to help you note how much you are actually putting away for travel (there is one included in the We Travelled the World Club bundle you can shop here). How much you decide to save is up to you and your living situation, however I always recommend opening a separate bank account which is dedicated to your travel funds! I personally love Revolut, Monzo and Starling.
LIVING CHEAPLY WHILE YOU TRAVEL
So now you have everything booked and ready to go, it's important to know what you should be spending your limited budget on. Your priorities should be booked and paid for already (eg accommodation and transport), so you should only have:
- day activities
- local city transport (metro, bus)
+ some extra money for emergencies (trips to the pharmacy, toiletries, etc)
to pay for while you travel. Backpacking is about moderation and particularly with a small budget you should be cautious of where you're spending your money. Arguably food, alcohol and activities will be your biggest expenses (if you have already paid for your accommodation), so these are the costs you need to keep an eye out for.
While you travel street food, local vendors and supermarkets will be your go to for delicious and inexpensive meals. These will be the cheapest options and, depending on what countries you're visiting, you should make an educated decision on which will best suit your budget. In regions like Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Indian subcontinent and South America, street food is cheaper, more accessible and less hassle than cooking for yourself, so you should opt for the £1 curry with the locals rather than spending £5 on groceries.
For other, more expensive, regions like western Europe, North America and Oceania, cooking for yourself will save you spending $20 + per meal. It's best to stock up on some basics if you can, for example when I travel on longer trips I usually carry a pack of pasta or rice around with me. It saves you money buying a new pack each time and doesn't need to go in the fridge and is super versatile, which is obviously ideal! Then when you plan on cooking you can stop by the supermarket to buy enough extra ingredients for the next day or two.
If you plan on cooking for yourself a lot always make sure to book accommodation with a kitchen!
Your day activities could range from a walking tour, kayaking, tapas tasting or vodka bar tour - the possibilities are endless. To find inexpensive tours check out what your hostel is offering at reception, they will be working with trusted and well liked backpacker companies that you can tag along on. Alternatively you can look on GetyourGuide.com, Hi Hi Guide, and Airbnb experiences for tour options all over the world. These sites have a wide variety of tours for every price range!
If you want to do more of your own thing try Googling 'free things to do in...' or 'hidden things to do in...', Google and Pinterest will give you endless ideas of great options that you can either do for free or a small fee.
If you're someone who likes to go out drinking then you need to watch out, alcohol can easily eat away at your budget, especially if you are a partier! Try and limit yourself and how much you go out while also sticking to supermarket wine and happy hour shots. This is how I got by in my early years of travel, and while it definitely doesn't taste amazing, it does the job.
Party hostels will often have associated bars with them that offer discounted drinks and happy hours, so make sure you make full use of that. If partying is something you really enjoy it may be a perfect excuse for you to get a pub crawl job, I did this in Croatia and got paid while also getting free accommodation, free alcohol and free Uber rides!
MAKE GOALS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Having a tangible goal is the first step towards getting the ball rolling and will make you feel far more motivated to plan and save. Whether your goal is an amount of savings (£2,000, £5,000, £10,000, etc) or it may be a specific trip you have in mind - you can check out my planning your first solo trip Youtube video here. When I first started travelling I found it was easiest to pick a destination that I REALLY wanted to visit and plan my trip around that. For example I found a £20 flight to Stockholm, but I knew how expensive it is as a city and only had about £300 for the week, so I knew that was all I was going to be able to afford. For another trip I really wanted to visit Bratislava and knew that it was affordable and because it's so central in Europe it's a great place to get the bus to a second destination, so I chose Budapest - you can read my Bratislava to Budapest blog post here.
Make your goals simple and achievable, especially when you're starting out. You'll feel far more motivated to actually book something if you feel like it's realistic.
BE REALISTIC ABOUT SAVING
Look at your earning capacity and your weekly/monthly outgoings, and then be realistic about what you think is achievable to save per week/per month. If you're earning $500 a week, you spend $150 of that on the essential costs like groceries and transport, 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 diligent about saving.
If you have a big goal of saving £10,000 and that feels a little too unobtainable, try and split it into £1,000 segments and work towards £1,000 at a time. I always thinking having a separate savings account is an easy way to stay motivated and not spend your travel funds.
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 (the more affordable, the better), and check out cheap flights - you can check out my finding cheap flights post here. Get to know backpacker friendly companies for buses, trains, travel discounts and the best hostels you can stay in all over the world (check out my hostel recommendations + reviews post) and don't forget to look into working abroad! You only need to give up a few hours of your day and it can mean living in a new country for a couple of months.
SET MILESTONE GOALS
Saying that you want to save $2000 in the next two months can feel like a daunting ask for most of us (me included), however saying to yourself "every week I'm going to put $250 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.
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