How I Saved to Travel the World for 5 Years While $40,000 in Debt

After five years of university, I immediately designed a five-year travel plan across six continents and through 40 countries while $40,000 in student loan debt ($38, 990 to be exact – plus $8, 336.86 in interest over the years).

It doesn’t sound like a good financial decision, does it? 

But I didn’t miss a single payment.

How Did I Save the Cash to Travel?

One of the most popular questions I’ve been asked is how I managed to fund my travels for five years, 

I didn’t make a lot – so I needed to be smart with my money to make it all work.

And by not a lot, I mean it.

In 2010, I made less than $22,000. My average income across the five years I travelled was 25,200 per year. But I never came home from a trip in the red.

Saving up my student loan payments was the very first thing I saved for when planning travel.

READ MORE: How I Afford to Travel the World

My Money Saving Techniques

So how exactly did I do it?

It wasn’t always easy but because I knew what I was working towards, it made it worth the scrimping and saving.

I also didn’t always love budgeting. In fact, I wrote an entire blog on the downside of budgeting. But looking back – it was worth every penny (and then some).

Here are five serious ways I saved money to travel the world for five years.

BUDGETING

The most important way to save money is to have a budget and stick to it. This isn’t easy and it’s not a glamorous answer. But this is the most important way to stay on track.

Before smartphones were what they are today, I used the application called iXpensit on my iPod to track every penny I spent between 2010 and 2014.

I can tell you how much I’ve spent on ice cream in the last 5 years (albeit in different currencies).

Today, there are many different ways to track your money including programs within your online banking profiles, smartphone apps or sticking to the classic spreadsheet. Regardless of how you choose to do it, I suggest finding a way that works for you and being disciplined enough to stick to it.

ATM Tip: Taking lump sums of cash out of an ATM while travelling (often the only way to get cash and cheaper than credit card fees) made it tricky to see where my money was going. Manually recording each purchase helped me see my overall spending and adjust as necessary.

READ MORE: Avoiding ATM and Bank Fees While Travelling

Without a budget, I would have overspent and been unaware of where my money was disappearing. I was able to see how much I was spending in each major category of food, transportation, entertainment and accommodation. Manually tracking every penny was not only something I enjoyed (and still enjoy) but helped me stay focused.

READ MORE: How to Save Money WHILE Travelling

Harvest Eatery in Shaunavon – one of the few places I don’t worry about money and enjoy a truly spectacular meal.

EATING OUT

I’m sorry to tell you this – but eating out eats a huge hole in your bank account. And yes – this also means ordering in on apps like Skip the Dishes.

Those coffees you buy every day? That’s cool you like the look, taste and convenience – but you’re paying for it.

I very rarely eat out – and when I do, it’s usually when I’m on the road and get something to go. I’m a sucker for the cheap price and greasy goodness of fast food and usually swing past McDonalds or Subway. Since it’s not the healthiest, I literally pack a cooler when I’m away for work and carry homemade wraps or sandwiches with me. (Yup, I’m that frugal).

A meal out can be a third of my grocery budget for the month. So I keep eating at restaurants for special occasions or unique dining experiences I can’t get anywhere else.

READ MORE: Unusual Icelandic Cusine: The Best and Worst

COUPONING AND SALES

Cutting coupons is time-consuming but really did save me hundreds of dollars depending on how diligent I was.

I made a point of searching out product coupons from manufacturers and websites like save.ca or P&G Everday. I signed up for sample boxes from Sample Source and used apps like Checkout 51. I combined coupons when the items went on sale to double my savings – especially for personal hygiene products like deodorant, hairspray and toothpaste. (Never pay more than a dollar or two for these types of items).

Some people teased me about my coupons, but it felt pretty good going to the cash register and saving ten to twenty dollars on groceries and toiletries. Plus, no friend ever refused when I handed them a coupon or searched out a savings QR code online while standing in line to order.

But most importantly, I avoided shopping for things I didn’t need. I stopped going to the mall unless I had a purpose. I only updated my wardrobe when I replaced an article of clothing and then I usually got it off a clearance rack. And yup – I even stitched holes in my pants to make them last longer (well – asked my mom to stitch them.)

Photo Credit: Matt Scobel

GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS

I was fortunate to be eligible for a student grant from the Saskatchewan government after I finished university – as long as I stayed and worked in my home province. It’s called the Graduate Retention Program and is now a tax credit. But it’s still valuable for those who have recently studied (anywhere) and now work in Saskatchewan.

Over a seven-year period, the program paid back up to $20,000 based on the degrees I had earned. Every year, the money I received went straight into a separate banking account reserved for my student loan payments. This money truly alleviated the cost of my education and the interest I paid towards those loans every month.

Photo Credit: Matt Scobel

BEING REALISTIC WITH TRAVEL PLANS

In several ways, I was realistic with my travel plans.

– I booked return tickets as they were cheaper than one-way. My trips spanned six months which spread the big expense of an international flight out over time

– I travelled to countries where the cost of living is cheaper (think Southeast Asia and certain Central and South American countries).

– I travelled with locals by bus when in-country

– I also realized I couldn’t travel non-stop for five years so I made my travel itinerary a rotating six-month plan. I would travel the world from October to May, then work at home in a seasonal job in Saskatchewan from May to October. This allowed me to save up money to leave again.

Other Ways I Saved Money

There’s a huge list of little ways I saved that added up to be a lot. I list out 20 of them in this blog post.

A few more examples:

– I signed up to do online surveys (not the most efficient way but did earn me $100-150 overtime.)

– I donated plasma and made sure I got the bonus when signing up as well as bonuses for donating a certain amount over a specific time period. (It bought me a Go-Pro).

– I sold gently used items no longer useful to me on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace (it made me $2000 one year!)

Photo Credit: Matt Scobel

No “One Size Fits All”

I understand my methods won’t work for everyone and aren’t realistic for all people. I also understand I have a certain privilege being born a white, middle-class Canadian citizen (with a golden-ticket passport that gets me access to 172 countries without paying for expensive visas.)

But this is what worked for me and is truly how I made it possible to travel the world for five years while $40,000 in debt.

Most importantly: I made the very deliberate and specific choice to invest in travel rather than in other aspects of life such as a new vehicle, purchasing a home, or choosing to have a relationship or start a family right away.

It’s your life and your money – what will you do with it?

P.S. If you’re wondering – in late 2018, I made my final payment on my student loans. It took me 8 years – two years shorter than the average person. Today, I’m happy to say I’m now completely debt-free and still saving for travel!

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One thought on “How I Saved to Travel the World for 5 Years While $40,000 in Debt

  1. Great post, really insightful for people who also have student debt and feel like it’s holding them back from traveling. The more I learn about student debt the more I realize French are lucky to have University that is so cheap, and we still complain about it ahah.

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