Tourists at the Great Wall of China

How to Travel Young and Middle-Class

I’m living proof that it’s possible to travel young, no matter your economic means.

Just two months shy of my 27th birthday, I have traveled to more than 35 countries, 15 in the last year alone. Paradoxically, I’ve held a full-time job during only seven of the past 24 months yet have managed to finance all of these trips myself, without parental assistance and using credit cards for convenience rather than in lieu of cash.

Let Me Plan Your Trip

To be sure, I spent most of the three years immediately following college graduation working in the service industry instead of “using” my degree, yet managed to visit Europe and India twice each during that time. How, you might be asking yourself, can this be possible?

The fundamental answer is simple: I’m very good at math. Of course, that’s only one tool I use to manifest my travel goals into reality. While I can’t guarantee that any of the techniques I describe in this travel blog post will work for you as well as they do for me (or at all), I can tell you one thing without any hesitation: you don’t need to be wealthy to travel extensively while you’re young.

Cut the Fat

One of the chief mistakes people make once they begin living on their own is attempting to live exactly like everyone else they know. When I graduated college and moved to hip, up-and-coming Austin, Texas, I immediately set myself up in a one-bedroom apartment with an enviable location (and even more rocking view), bought a brand-new car and took a high-paying job so that I could afford all of it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with living life like this, particularly if your family is well-off enough to finance the majority of it for you. If you’re middle class like me, however, a huge pile of obligatory, recurring monthly expenses is as close as you can get to prison without shackles. And I’m here to testify: It is not possible for middle class people to travel and have huge recurring monthly obligation. It should go without saying that you should also limit discretionary spending such as eating out and nightlife.

Break Down Your Monthly Expenses

Say your one-bedroom apartment runs you $750 per month in rent, with an additional $250 per month spent on utilities and other bills such as Internet and television. That’s $1,000 just to put a roof over your head!

Let’s also suppose your car note is a modest $275 per month, but your insurance bill is $125. Even if you spend only $100 per month in gas, you’re still looking at $500 per month for transport, which doesn’t take into account other expenses like car repairs and cab fares.

Finally, you let’s assume you pay $130 to AT&T each month for your super-fast, unlimited iPhone service.

To add it up:

$750 rent
+ 250 bills
+ 275 car
+ 125 insurance
+ 100 gas
+ 130 phone
= $1,730

That’s almost $2,000 of obligatory, monthly expenses. Wowza.

Slash Your Spending

We could dwell on this sad fact, but I prefer a more proactive approach, so let’s take a look at what you could save by making some basic adjustments.

Suppose that you move into a two-bedroom apartment with a friend at your same complex, whose base rent is $900 per month, which means your half is $450. Since the square footage is greater, so too are the bills — let’s say $300, half of which is $150. Even still, your total monthly bills for shelter have now decreased to just $600, as oppose to $1,000.

If you were financing a car and you sold it outright to rid yourself of the obligation, you probably lost money. $1,000 is a conservative estimate. Let’s say you spent $400 on a bike to get you around instead. Shelling out over a grand sucks, but consider that recurring car, gas and insurance obligations are gone for good. Apart from bike maintenance costs and, perhaps, a bus pass, your transport is now essentially free.

To sweeten the deal even more, you told AT&T to shove it, unlocked your iPhone for free and switched to T-Mobile’s prepaid, unlimited plan (which includes 2 GB of data) for only $70 per month as of December 2010.

Your monthly expenses are now as follows:

$450 rent
+ 150 bills
+   70 phone
= $670. Now that’s more like it!

You now have the company of a roommate,  a hot body from cycling and over $1,000 extra dollars of dough in your pocket each month.

Multiply these savings out to see what you save in a year:

1730
– 670
= 1060
x 12
= $12,720

Even if you lost money giving your car back to the dealership and buying a bike, subtracting the sample $1,400 from your sum still leaves you with more than $11,000 to play with between New Year’s and Christmas. This is more than enough for you to realize your wildest travel dreams, whether you want to lie on beaches in Goa, India, explore the pyramids of Egypt or see pandas in China.

Set Travel Goals

Of course, money is only a number if you don’t know what to do with it. When I returned from my third trip to Europe in August 2008, I informed my then-boyfriend that I was going to be in India by March 1 and planned to spend at least a month there. He laughed it off.

The joke ended up being on him.  Almost immediately after returning to the U.S., I set to researching India in-depth, deciding upon cities and attractions I couldn’t do without seeing (and those I wouldn’t lose sleep over missing). Eventually, I mapped out an itinerary, complete with sample rates for transportation, hotels, daily spending and even a lump sum to be used in the event of an emergency.

By the time the holidays came around, I had a “magic number” in mind every day I went to the Cheesecake Factory to wait tables. Visions of pink desert cities, mile-long stretches of beaches and the largest monument to love ever built were tucked safely in my mind as I trudged through each day’s work.

Simply saying you want to travel is not a goal. In order to travel somewhere, you have to decide upon where that place will be, how long you’ll stay there, what you plan to do when you get there and so forth.

If you want to take a trip to Morocco, the generic abstraction of “Morocco” is probably not going to motivate you enough to actually make it there. But reading up on how to navigate the busy night markets of Marrakech, make a trek to the charming coastal city of Essaouira or spend three nights in the Moroccan Sahara desert might.

Picturing yourself somewhere is the first step to being there. The most important component of budget travel is “travel” itself.

Free Your Mind

Whether you plan to visit Morocco, Myanmar or a country whose name doesn’t start with an “M,” you must find not only the money and motivation (I like the letter “M” today), but also the time to travel while you’re young. This can be an arduous, if not impossible task if you work a typical full-time position. “Fifteen days annual leave” doesn’t sound so competitive now, does it?

Every young traveler’s goal should be to become location independent. In other words, to get a job or gig that allows you to earn money from anywhere in the world. Location-independent jobs can take many forms.

I earn my living primarily through Web copywriting, which mostly see me producing content for retail and review websites. It’s soulless, but it’s flexible, quick and pays the bills. For ideas on how to make yourself location independent and make money even when you’re away from home, read my post on How to Travel With a Purpose.

Another option is to find work abroad. For example, you can teach English in Asia, which will give you a convenient base for travel in the East, income far greater than your cost of living and allow you to fully immerse yourself in a culture for a long period of time, something more nomadic travelers rarely experience of their own accord.

The bottom line is this: In order to travel, you have to want to travel. Being middle class, middle income or just plain broke is not a good excuse to hold you back from traveling young if you really want to do it. By cutting out superfluous expenses, setting tangible budget travel goals and limiting your work to occupations that are time-and-location flexible, you can manifest your travel dreams into reality while you’re young, just as I have done: You, too, can leave your daily hell.

So, you listed that Civic on Craiglist yet?

About The Author

is the author of 535 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/nasri.wahid.7 Nasri Wahid

    I’m from Singapore and I love to travel and have been to a few countries when i was still schooling. That was exactly what i did, part time jobs, cut expenses, save up, travel. But what happen after that? I’m back to Square One again. What a cycle.

    I broke that Vicious Cycle and now Time and Money is not going to be an issue for me. Time and Money are the reasons that most people don’t Travel and what they do is Complain. If you keep Complaining and not looking for a Solution, you will end up hearing yourself Complaining for the Rest Of Your Life. I found my Solution!

    I found a Platform that allows me to have both (Time and Money), allowing me to create
    Fun, Freedom and Fulfillment in my life, Making a Living, Living. I was
    Open to the Idea and Step Out of my Comfort Zone and my friends and I
    are heading to Zakynthos,Greece this October! So excited!

    My friends and I are expanding this concept throughout the entire Asia and we are looking for Leaders, Pioneers and Visionaries. If you are serious about having More Fun, and Travelling a lot more, I would love to have you on board! Drop me an email @ md.nasri.wahid@gmail.com or add me up on facebook. I can share with you more as we go! Cheers! :)))))))

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  • Melissa

    I totally agree with everything you say! With a proactive and positive mindset I’m sure things will go the way you want most of the time. I’m only 17 and I have always wanted to travel and write and I only just recently came across it. I know blogging can be a handful to keep up with, but i know what i want. I want to travel freely without any ties but I’m not sure how to do that and support myself at the same time, as i am very doubtful my blog will be broad enough to earn enough money for myself and travels. Any tips or ideas? Please help. melissarameka@yahoo.co.nz

  • Daniel

    Hello Robert,

    I have just discovered your blog and I am loving it. Its funny, Its funny I wrote a post on my on blog (in spanish) with a similar message to yours: http://blogs.elcomercio.pe/cincocontinentes/2013/07/cuetione-de-dinero.html

    Having lived in the USA for a five years I know the frustration that comes from receiving a decent paycheck everymonth, but having only 10 ridiculous days per year to travel. I think you are right on regarding cutting the fat of your expenditures, However most young people in the US who are a little bit scared of hitting the wide road without a stable job will still have the time issue to contend with. I guess one option is to find a career niche which allows you to become a consultant on your own and take on short term assignments in between travels. I have also met americans on the road who to outdoors work such as landscaping, and travel for a full 4 or 5 months a year.

    I have been working in France for the last 10 years, and I am lucky to enjoy 9 weeks holidays a year which I use 100% for travelling, however even with such good working conditions, I regret not having more time to really enjoy my destinations for longer than the couple of days a three or four week holiday allows you to do.

    All the best

    Daniel

  • Daniel

    Hi Chris,
    Being Romanian, you have the opportunity of working anywhere in the EU + associated countries. Ever thought of looking for a job in another country such as the UK, Norway or Switzerland so that you can save your money faster? This could be an idea!
    Good luck with your travel plans
    Daniel

  • Chantel Sanchez

    I think the thought of not having a steady job really scares most of America’s youth. I look around me and see my friends all starting families, working jobs they don’t like, and buying cars. It’s not like I’m saying its a bad path to follow but it doesn’t seem satisfying to me. I don’t want to work everyday of my life and not have traveled anywhere. At the same time I am afraid to take the first step. After reading this I understand that to get anywhere I am going to have to plan everything and set actual goals.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Yes, you must set and actively work toward achieving goals!

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  • Paola

    I just discovered your blog and I’m loving it. It’s very inspiring!

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thanks! This is my goal! please continue reading.

  • Andra

    Hi Chris,
    I am also from Romania, and I couldn’t disagree more. Indeed it can be difficult to raise the money from a first job (if you’re lucky enough to get one) but there are so many options even when starting off:
    a) As Daniel mentioned, working in the EU is your best option. Especially now that working restrictions are lifted in all the EU countries you can save up an income similar to that of this blog owner in around one 1 year
    b) Teaching languages abroad. Provided that you have a high level of English and the TEFL certification (a couple of my Romanian friends have traveled like this after university.
    c) Student options (if you still are one): AIESEC – where you can take a job abroad after/during university and get maintenance expenses or doing semesters abroad through ERASMUS (I’m sure you’re familiar with this one)

    The point is many Romanians from average income families can travel abroad (and have done so already) and coming from a country with smaller salaries can make it difficult but certainly not impossible. Multa bafta!

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thanks for your comment, Andra! I appreciate your positivity.

  • Jessi Lee Clayton

    I think I may accidentally read your entire bling in one sitting. Oops.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    There are worst mistakes to make!

  • Alina Zdrenghea

    This comment is for Romanian people, I am a single mom I was working in Romania and I paid rent, food and school etc with a 500 euro salary and I traveled like crazy with my 6 year son, you should stop being so negative and just search for smart cheap solution. And yes I had a decent life in Romania.

  • Gottaask

    Can I ask you something Mr. Robet Schrader? I don’t know where to ask this and it isn’t really related to this post but can you offer any advice or ideas or well anything I suppose on travelling as a girl? Because here’s the thing, I plan on travelling, I love it. But I don’t wanna be stuck in the same “safe” places. I want to go to like, South America, for example after I’ve gotten more experience with travelling South America is safe enough but you’re always discouraged from going, especially if you’re a girl (equality is not yet a thing all around the world sadly). So what do you say? If I want to travel, most probably alone , and yet I want to get off the beaten path. I’m not looking for trouble, I just want to see the world and I don’t have anyone to go with (please don’t tell me to “join a group.”
    Anyways, thanks for any feedback.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    I won’t tell you to join a group! What I might suggest you do, however, is read blogs written by solo female travelers, in addition to Leave Your Daily Hell. For example, http://backpackerbecki.com or http://adventurouskate.com

    Good luck!

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Yes! Positivity always wins over negativity!

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