How to save for a year of travel

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“What are your New Year’s resolutions?” I ask Peter.
“Erm… I don’t have any,” he replies.
“Slapdash,” I say, referring to the nickname I gave him early on in our relationship: Slapdash Watson.

I, unlike him, am one of those people who make lists (sometimes lists of lists) and do everything possible to cross everything off. I have even formalised failing: I allow myself to leave one thing unfinished each year. Worse still, I’ve been known to lobby list-making app Evernote to make their strikethrough thicker. Yes, I’m that person (it worked, okay, so whatevs).

The point is, when it came to saving for our travels, I had to take the mantle in making sure we reached our target of £20,000. I should say that it’s possible for two people to travel for far less than that but as our trip includes some of the remotest countries in the world dotted across the planet’s biggest ocean, we had to save a little bit extra.

We planned to set aside 25% for transport (boats, buses, planes, trains) and big-ticket excursions (diving, whale watching, trekking Macchu Picchu – none of which is cheap). This left us with a budget of £40 a day for accommodation, food and day-to-day activities. In most places, this has been sufficient but in others (Rarotonga!) we’ve had to stick to free activities (not that we’re complaining about lying on Muri Beach or hiking The Needle).

We started saving one year before our planned departure, meaning we had to be pretty diligent if we wanted to hit our target. Here’s how to save for travel, a year of it  – and how you could too.

Ask for a pay rise

If you are exceptionally good at what you do (I am, obvs), then be bold and ask for a pay rise. Quality employees are harder to come by than you think and most companies will do as much as possible to hang onto their best people. If you have consistently performed, aren’t shy about taking on extra responsibility and take an active role in helping your teammates succeed, then ask for a pay rise. I got a 16% increase in the middle of a merger because I believed in my own value.

Move in together

Gasp! Move in together! What? Now!?

This was pretty much the reaction Peter and I had when we first discussed this possibility. Both of us were very used to our own space so the prospect of moving into my one-bedroom flat in Newbury Park was unnerving. Then we figured if we were to travel together for a year, it was probably best to make sure we could live in close quarters. If you’re travelling with someone and don’t yet live together, consider doing so. It will likely have the biggest impact on your budget overall.

Give up your vices

Thankfully, my biggest vice is cheap: chocolate. Peter’s, on the other hand, were slightly more fiscally demanding shall we say. There was the morning coffee habit, his penchant for Scottish whisky and his smoking of various varieties. I can’t abide smoking and I don’t drink (yes, I’m square – we know this) so it was a lot easier for Peter to quit. The coffee habit we’re still working on.

Set limits on eating out

Kia hugging a Nando's restaurant sign how to save for travel
Like any good Taurean, I have an Epicurean relationship with food (yes, even Nando’s)

One of my biggest pleasures is eating out, from cheap eats like The Kati Roll Company in Oxford Circus (if you haven’t been, go!) to mid-tier dining like Bangalore Express in Waterloo (if you haven’t been, go!) to slightly more expensive places like Apsleys in Hyde Park (if you haven’t been, put the money in your travel budget).

In our year of saving, we vowed to eat out no more than twice a month including takeout. Sure, we broke the rules once in a while but in general it worked because it gave us something to look forward to and made us savour the occasion. Having a quota can go a long way in strengthening your resolve. Moreover, we were more diligent about preparing our lunches at home. It became boring after a while but it saved a hell of a lot of money.

Cancel your subscriptions

I cancelled my Spotify, Sky+ and Lovefilm subscriptions. Peter cancelled his National Geographic and Sight and Sound subscriptions. Sure, it was a blip in the budget but every little helped. Ask yourself if you really need your subscriptions (especially the gym!) and if not, cancel them!

Seek free entertainment

This ties in with the point above. Instead of Spotify, use playlists on YouTube. Instead of buying books, use Project Gutenberg which offers thousands of classics for free. Instead of the gym, get a running app and get on the road. At every juncture, ask yourself: ‘is this worth a day on the road?’ More often than not, the answer will be no.

Rent out your spare space

If you have a spare room, rent it out. If you don’t have a spare room, rent it out! In our year of saving, Peter and I lived in my aforementioned one-bedroom flat. This didn’t stop us putting up my living room on Airbnb as a ‘shared room’ with guests having the room to themselves between 9pm and 9am. We doubted we’d get any interest but ended up with a steady stream of guests and met tons of interesting people in the process.

This isn’t for everyone, but if you really need to squeeze out every last penny, this is a great way to do it. I also rented out my parking space for a pretty penny so if you have one spare, put it up on Gumtree.

If you want to try hosting for yourself then you can earn $50 after hosting your first trip through this link.


Buy an annual travelcard

If you live in a city like London, you may be able to get a hefty discount on your travel fare by buying a travelcard for an extended period. For example, buying a 12-month travelcard instead of a monthly one saved me just under £300.

If your company doesn’t offer a season ticket loan, consider dipping into your savings for it. The money you’ll save will likely outstrip any interest you’ll make on the amount.

Sell your stuff

We put up a whole lot of (mainly fitness-based) items on Gumtree. There was my treadmill, Peter’s rowing machine, his dumbbells and also an old 4-track from his university days. This had the added advantage of saving storage space. If you don’t need it, put it up on Gumtree or Craigslist. Just give it a try.

Try to get free storage

Luckily for us, Peter’s parents offered (okay, agreed) to store our stuff during our year away. Ask around to see if your friends and family have spare space to store your belongings. Like I said, every little helps.

Get a good travel credit card

At 31, I had never had a credit card. My Asian upbringing drummed into me that we do not get into debt. I applied for a Halifax Clarity Card for fee-free transactions abroad but there’s a whole host of options out there. I recommend Money Saving Expert for finding the right one for you.

I’d like to end by saying that all this was a lot easier than we expected. Unless your situation is wildly different from ours (Kids! Grandkids! Credit card debt! Your name on the international wanted list!) there’s no reason why you can’t travel if you really want to. 2015 can be your year of saving and 2016, your year of travel. You just need to decide.

Good luck!

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