During my last semester of college, when most of my friends were planning out their careers or applying to grad school, I was busy looking for cheap flights so I could fulfil my dream of backpacking around Europe.
Shortly after graduation, that dream became a reality as my closest friend and I took off for Spain on a one way ticket. We spent several months traveling around the continent, often volunteering at places in exchange for room and board.
The trip was extraordinary. Yet, despite our best efforts to be as budget-conscious as possible, we eventually ran out of cash and had to fly home just before Christmas.
I returned to the US with no job and no money, but an infinite amount of inspiration to keep me focused on finding a way to get back on the road as soon as possible.
...And just 9 months later, I was boarding a plane to Spain once again.
In this post, I share how I managed to travel 4-6 months out of the year for several years and how all that traveling actually helped me save money in the long run. Also, be sure to download my free PDF on how to make money while studying abroad.
Finding a Job that Let Me Travel 6 Months Out of the Year
After my first backpacking trip around Europe, I knew that I needed to find a job that could earn me a decent living and that would allow me to travel again as soon as possible (i.e. no long-term salaried positions). I also decided that I didn't want an office job and would prefer working outside.
Lastly, I committed myself to making an adventure out of this opportunity. Rather than beg my parents to let me live rent-free in their basement for several months (as tempting as that was!), I decided that I should move to a new city so that my time in the US would feel just as exciting as my time abroad.
With all that in mind, I decided to moved to Washington, D.C. -- a city I had never visited before -- and become a tour guide.
The job was perfect in so many ways. I met people from all over the world, I developed a much greater understanding of American history, and I got paid to do cool things like take a tour of the Pentagon or travel to Baltimore to watch an Orioles game.
But most importantly, it allowed me to work tirelessly for 6 months and then leave to travel as soon as the season quieted down.
That first year, I worked through mid-September and then took off on a 4.5 month trip to Spain and Brazil.
The following year, I once again worked through the spring and summer, then traveled to Nepal, India, Thailand, and Myanmar for the fall and winter.
And so the cycle began.
I would live and work in the US for 6-8 months and then use the money I earned to go traveling for the rest of the year.
However, as I got better at budgeting, I learned how to save more money than I needed for my travels. So rather than return home with an empty bank account, my savings continued to grow despite spending money to go abroad.
By fall of 2015, I had saved $22,000 — money I then used to move to London for graduate school.
How did I do it? By working hard, being extremely disciplined, and by traveling 4-6 months out of the year.
4 Ways Traveling Actually Helped me SAVE Money
Traveling for several months every year might seem like a financial impossibility, but after looking at my budget, I realized that it would actually be cheaper for me to go abroad than to stay in the US year-round.
1. Traveling always gave me a very specific goal to work towards.
Nothing motivates me to work hard and save money like the prospect of an epic trip. When you have something as exciting as a 4 month backpacking adventure around Asia to look forward to, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to say 'yes' to extra shifts and say 'no' to happy hour drinks with friends.
Because I knew my savings would have a direct impact on the length and quality of each trip, I was able to stay much more focused than I would have if I were saving up for a piece of clothing or some other material object instead.
2. It motivated me to work relentlessly for a fixed amount of time... and consequentially have no time to spend any of the money I earned.
During the 6-8 months of the year that I lived in D.C., I worked constantly. Not only was I motivated by the idea of going abroad, but also by the knowledge that I wouldn't be able to work the rest of the year. At one point, I went 35 days in a row without having a day off. It was exhausting and completely unsustainable, but the beauty of seasonal work is that it doesn't need to be sustainable. You work crazy hours for a set amount of time and then the season ends.
The added effect of working so much was that it really limited my ability to spend money. As a tour guide, I ate most of my meals while on shift and all of those were either paid for or could be written off. I still occasionally bought clothes online, but even that didn't happen very often as I never had the time to go out in them. And I can't even begin to calculate how much I saved on booze and bar tabs, but I can promise you it was a lot.
3. Traveling to countries with a lower cost of living helped me save more than I would have if I stayed in my home country.
If I had stayed in Washington D.C. over the winter, I would’ve been out of work and spending $950 per month on rent alone. Instead, I left my apartment, stored my belongings with a friend, and traveled to India where that $950 went a lot farther.
Most of the other tour guides actually remained in D.C. and either got a part-time job over the winter or budgeted well enough during the busy season to be able to survive on the handful of guiding jobs that were available out of season. A majority of them had families or partners in D.C., so I completely understood why they chose to stay. But for me -- a young, single woman -- it seemed downright impractical to remain.
4. Traveling teaches you that less is more.
When you live out of a backpack for 6 months, you quickly begin to realize how little you actually need in day to day life. You get used to wearing the same outfit everyday and making due with only a handful of toiletries. All the impractical junk very literally weighs you down and so you tend to get rid of those things asap.
After I return home from a trip, I try to maintain that same head space. I'll usually sell a few things on eBay or at a second-hand shop, and do my best to declutter my room. I also make an effort to not buy any unnecessary things, which definitely helps me save more money in the long run. Though I could still do better at reducing my amount of 'stuff', traveling has definitely taught me a lot about the value of living minimally.
Why I Quit My Dream Job?
After telling you all the incredible benefits of working as a tour guide in D.C., you're probably wondering why I'm no longer pursuing that path.
As much as I loved my job and liked D.C., the city never quite felt like home to me. It's extremely transient and I never imagined living there permanently (though, to be honest, I've never imagined living anywhere permanently).
I also always knew that I eventually wanted to go to graduate school, but doing that in D.C. wasn’t feasible because of the high cost of living and tuition. So I decided to study in London instead. Though it was also expensive, tuition in the UK is about 1/4 of what I would’ve spent to attend most graduate schools in the US. It was a year-long program and I had every intention of eventually moving back to D.C. and returning to my job as a tour guide after it was over.
But life works in unexpected ways.
Instead, I fell in love with a Brit and decided to start my own tourism business here in London. Sometimes dream jobs change and now I’m working toward a different goal.
How Can You Do What I Did?
Find a seasonal job. If you want to go traveling but have no idea how to save enough money to do so, I'd suggest you start by looking for seasonal work. Try to find a job that can guarantee you solid hours for at least 4 months out of the year and that will welcome you back the following season. As a tour guide in D.C., there are infinite opportunities for work from late March until the end of June thanks to the huge number of visitors who come to see the famous cherry blossoms, as well as the countless school groups that take an annual trip to the city. Though it quiets down a bit in July, there are still a lot of guiding jobs available through summer and early fall. However, by the time it gets to November, the amount of available work is scarce. For that reason, my company actually preferred that I leave every winter so as not to dilute the number of jobs any further. I loved working as a tour guide and honestly believe it is the ideal job for anyone who loves to travel. However, I'm sure there are many other jobs out there that also pay well and are seasonal so be sure to do your research! If you have any questions about working as a tour guide, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Consider working remotely. Being a digital nomad is my new dream job. From programming, copy writing, and digital marketing, to graphic design and ecommerce, there are seemingly endless opportunities to make money online. If you're just getting started, consdier listing your skills on sites such as Fiverr, Upwork, and People Per Hour while you work to develop your own website.
Travel to countries with a lower cost of living. I never would have been able to save as much money or travel as much as I did if I were visiting places with a high cost of living. India, Nepal, Thailand, and Burma were all extremely affordable. Brazil was quite a bit more expensive, but still much cheaper than Washington, D.C.. When I returned to Spain for 2 months, I spent most of my time walking the Camino de Santiago which was extremely affordable. If you want to increase your savings quickly like I did, it's important to earn money in a Western country's currency but travel somewhere with a much lower cost of living.
Volunteer in exchange for room and board. WWOOF and HelpX are 2 fantastic websites where you can find volunteer jobs that offer room and board. Most of the opportunities involve working on a farm, homestay, or hostel. I've personally had experience helping out at a yoga retreat in Spain, an adventure hostel in Ireland, and a party hostel in Brazil. I also spent a week staying in the Picos de Europa mountains with an off-the-grid hippy who lived in a tipi and grew or foraged 90% of his food. A majority of these experiences were fantastic (with the exception being the yoga retreat which involved a bit more work than we felt was fair), but all were crucial in enabling me to travel longer and more affordably.
Has traveling ever helped you save money? Would you want a job that let you travel 6 months out of the year? Leave any comments or questions in the comments below!