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

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.

Need help plotting your escape? Hire me as your Travel Coach, or as your Teach Abroad Coach.

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 757 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!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Sukhothai, Thailand May 26-29
  • Phnom Penh, Cambodia June 9-12
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand June 23-26
  • Padang, Indonesia July 7-10
 
 

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Marg February 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I have a question, how much money I should have for traveling to Barcelona? I’m 17 years old, and only i have a part-time job.. 3 days/week $10 per hour, thank you.

Robert Schrader February 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Hi Marg:

It depends on how long you want to stay there and the types of things you want to. Your bare minimum, after plane ticket, will be about $50 per day, which includes a dormitory bed in a hostel (which comes with a small breakfast), two very simple meals, and your transport for the day. About $100 per day will allow you to have a more comfortable existence, with better meals and more tourist attractions, such as Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia and the Barcelona Cathedral. If it’s possible, I would recommend working extra hours in advance of your trip to save more money.

Christine April 10, 2012 at 10:03 am

Fantastic read. I’m 19 and graduating college next year and hope to spend a few years traveling. Did you usually travel alone and how did you deal with all the language barriers?

Robert Schrader April 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I almost always travel alone! I have an article about it, located here. As far as the language barrier, there usually isn’t much of one (for basic services and tourist needs, anyway) although I do know a bit of French, Spanish and Chinese. So exciting that you want to travel, especially as a young female. I’ve met several cool girls who travel alone!

Ksenia April 20, 2012 at 8:09 am

I absolutely loved this post!! Thank you so much for the inspiration and ideas on how to get out of this daily grind I’m in now, and believe that it is possible to see the world and not be super rich!.
PS… How did u know i have a CIVIC?? lol

Robert Schrader April 20, 2012 at 9:01 am

I’m a psychic, ha! Truth be told, though, Civics are great cars! They’re just too expensive for world travelers!

Megan pirtle May 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Great article!
I would love some advice on my situation: Alrighty, so I just got back from spending My junior year of high school in Argentina and LOVED it, so in turn I was thinking about doing an around the world trip for a gap year before starting college. Do you think it would be smarter/easier economically to wait until I’m out of college? Or do you think I could do it just out of high school? (I’m quite restless and always have been, but I want to be smart about this and not be COMPLETELY broke while traveling:))
Thanks!

Robert Schrader May 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I think if you can swing it financially you should do it now, but don’t stress yourself out in advance of college if you can’t afford it. Good luck!

Shashank Sharma May 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Hey,I’m 17 years old.I live in New Delhi,India.I would love to travel as soon as possible with lowest cost.I wish to travel Tokyo for 90 days on a Tourist visa.I wish to ask that how much will the amount of expenses approximately of this Whole trip including Flights+Local Transport+Room (Shared/Apartment)+Food+Bills etc

Thanx

Robert Schrader May 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Hi Shashank:

Backpackers can expect to spend between $75-150 per day in Japan (depending on how many and what sorts of activities you do), so if you are staying for 90 days, you can expect the total cost of your trip to be beween $6,750-13,500, not including airfare or the cost of the visa.

Good luck!

baki zainal May 31, 2012 at 11:20 am

Hi, my name is baki and i am a travel show host from malaysia. i am very lucky as i usually am paid to travel for my tv shows. but the down side of it all is the fact that most of the places that i travel to i have to scan thru it and only visit the places that has been set by my producers. i came across your article as i was researching on things to do in siem reap as this is my first journey on my own and at my own expense. but after reading your article i am motivated to see more of the places that i have missed out on. good stuff keep on writing and keep on inspiring. if ever you are in malaysia drop me an email. i would love to hear stories from your travels.

Robert Schrader May 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Thanks so much for your email, Baki! It’s really cool that you work in TV. I have always been told I would be good for TV, but as you can imagine, it’s very hard to break into travel TV here in the U.S. I fully understand how being paid for your travel limits your flexibility, too.

Please do keep reading — and let me know if you have any questions!

Izyan June 4, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hey Robert (Rob?),

So, I have been reading all the things about traveling today and jotting random things and being excited because I’m finally done with college. Then the bewitching minute came and I thought about my possible finances and the length of time I’d like to be abroad. I got a little worried but your post cheered me up when I came to “The most important component of budget travel is “travel” itself.”

Hope you’re travelling around!

Warm greetings from Singapore!

Robert Schrader June 5, 2012 at 7:30 am

It warms my heart to hear that! Please do let me know if you need any additional inspiration!

Harvinaa June 7, 2012 at 2:05 am

Nice money management plan. This is superb travel management with family & money. You are my inspiration in travel planning. I will definitely visit your post about travel. Thanks for sharing with us.

Robert Schrader June 7, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thanks very much! 🙂

Susan July 4, 2012 at 10:12 am

Ha. I used to live across the river, in a high rise just short of Caesar Chavez in Austin. Moving to a stupendously crappy apartment with a slumlord-style landlord uptown saved me several thousand dollars in only 6 months, all of which went to getting me OUT of the country. I relate to a lot of this!

Robert Schrader July 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Whoa! What a small world! I just got an email from another former fellow Austinite!

amir alam July 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Hey,I’m 17 years old.I
live in kolkata,India.I would
love to travel as soon
as possible with
lowest cost.I wish to
travel londan for 7days on a Tourist
visa.I wish to ask
that how much will
the amount need in rs

Meagan July 16, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Hey Robert!
I happened to stumble upon this blog in search of tips on traveling young. This is absolutely an inspiration and makes me want to travel even more than I did before! I’m an 18 year old girl that just graduated high school in Augusta, Georgia. My only issue is that I do not, in any way or form, know what I want to do with my life- all I know is that I want to travel and see the world! If you could please help on something, it would be great. For one, I want to travel but I’m also a bit afraid to do it alone for the safety of it all – but at the same time I’d LIKE to do it alone… like you said, you have to learn to find location independent jobs, well.. I’d like to not only be location independent, but live and travel independently too. And it would be even more amazing if I could find a job/internship that travels. On a second note, being that I’m just now being plunged out into the world, I have no idea how to start! So I’m a bit clueless. If you could give me some kind of advice and/or tips on my situation, it would be greatly appreciated!

Robert Schrader July 16, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Maegan: I suggest you read my 12 Steps to Long-Term Travel series to get started!

Ellen August 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

Hey Robert,

I’m 28 and have been traveling off and on for the last few years. I’ve just found your blog, but already I can see its full of things I tell my friends all the time! I’m looking forward to checking out more places, and becoming more travel independent.

Thanks for the info!

Robert Schrader August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Thanks for the kind comment! I definitely hope my site becomes a resource for you and your friends. Be sure to let me know if you have any questions!

Drew August 12, 2012 at 1:20 am

Man, where were you 15 years ago? Don’t answer that. This is a great post from someone who “gets it”. Well done, Robert.

A cautionary tale for you 20-somethings…LISTEN TO ROBERT…my wife (37) and I (42) are currently in the process of undoing / reversing a lot of decisions we made over the years. At some point, if you’re not careful, you will wake up and ask yourself:

“How the #$*& did we end up owning a house in a city we don’t want to live in, with a whole bunch of crap we don’t want to use, doing jobs that takes more than they give?”

Done so far:
1. I jettisoned my “career”, and got an overseas “job” that gives me 180 days off per year.
2. My wife gave notice at work and will be going to NZ for the winter…I’ll meet her on my time off.
3. The house is going on the market next spring, we’re moving to the city we’ve always wanted to live in, and we’re going to rent an apartment.

20-somethings today have more potential than anyone in the past to grab life by the balls. Trust me, there are a lot of people looking over their shoulders at you with admiration, respect, and a bit of envy.

Anybody need a lawnmower and a tablesaw?

Robert Schrader August 12, 2012 at 4:38 am

This comment is quite a compliment! I’m glad to see that even people more experienced in life have been able to apply some of the suggestions in my post. What are you doing that gives you 180 days off per year, if I may ask?

Drew August 13, 2012 at 1:45 am

“More experienced in life”…yer killin’ me. You’ll be here before you know it, my friend!

180 days a year (ish) I fly a helicopter in Africa, 6 weeks on, 6 weeks off. The best part (apart from getting to work in Africa and get to know all sorts of great people) is that the schedule is very stable, and the company pays my ticket to and from wherever I want to go in the world during my time off.

The other half of the year will be dedicated to travel.

You’ve just inspired me to write a post “Advice For 20-Somethings…” or words to that effect. Thanks!

Happy trails.

O.t. August 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Dude, I am 33 and just about doing a lot of traveling in my life. When I was in my 20’s, I either did not have the time (girlfriend/college) or the money (girlfriend/college). Now, I want to travel as much as possible. I agree that just saying that you want to travel is not going to get you to travel. Usually, when I do a lot of research, I usually get excited. The only thing I never do and I know I should so is create an itinerary. I usually just get to a city and explore which at times works out and at other times just fails miserably. Anyway, I’ll be going to Sydney and Melbourne this December because I have a small window. This summer though I will be going to Croatia and perhaps Hungary. Do you have any info on those two destinations?

Robert Schrader August 21, 2012 at 12:43 am

I have lots of information on Australia! Read my Australia Travel Guide!

Dave September 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Completely agree with this post. I did something similar working in China and South Korea as an English teacher from 2006-2010 and managed to fit in travel to 30 odd countries and still end up with $10,000 in the bank at the end of it for the future. Was raised in a working class farm family in Ireland but this didn’t hold me back. Good to have found a kindred spirit.

Robert Schrader September 4, 2012 at 1:14 am

Yes indeed! And good to know more of us are out there. Thank you for reading, and I hope you continue exploring the site.

CrankyFranky March 10, 2013 at 12:13 am

good to see – as a frugalista from way back I’m always bemused that most people have no idea how much they spend – all they know is they’re broke – hello ?

but I was also good at math – and have kept spreadsheets and budgets since I can remember – result – I’m now ready to retire with enough money whenever I feel like it – I’m enjoying work for now but it’s nice to know I’m ready to jump if/when push comes to shove.

and with planning, I’ve enough to live in first world countries – if I choose to stay in third world countries for a while, it’ll be money for jam …

Chris April 20, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Your are Stupid….not in a mean way…but you just DON`T know some things….like: If you are NOT libing in America or other country with a similar economy (a good one i mnea with well payed jobs ( France, Germany, Luxemburg, Sweeden, Finland, Norway, Australia, etc.) ) you are almost doomed. Look, i`m from Romania. Here salaries are extremely low! Even if you are a manager at a middle class company, your salary stiil isn`t enought for not even to travel in your own country at the seaside for 3 weeks per year. It`s INCREDIBLE HARD! But of course…you think that “oh no, if you want you can. Trust me…bla,bla,bla.” But you have no idea in what kind of world do you live…. For you it`s easy…for us and MANY MANY others it`s incredibly hard. You, who were born in a country with a good economy, are so lucky… But, even thoought, I have made a travel plan for myself, a solo journey around the globe…i calculated that if I travel by bike ( a cheap one, but reliable) and iIf will sleep only in my tent….and if I will buy cheap food (NOT fast-food, cause fast-food is an EXPENSIVE FOOD for my budged…) from supermarkets…maybe..just maybe….I will need only 15.000 Euros….but I think it will cost more… this includes everything from bike,tent,equipement,food,border fee, bike maintainance, and when necessary other mean of transportation like ship or ferry. SO yeah…..it`s not that simple when you`re maximus salary, after you graduated a good university and earned some experience, it can only be about 600 euros (if you are LUCKY)…and that`s…an awkward salary…because even if you are living in a 1 room apartment you still need to pay about 250 euros on bills + about 200 Euros/month on food + other unexpected events or emergencies….so…at the end of the month you will have about 200 Euros in your hands…but this the BETTER scenario i could think of…

{ 18 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: