I recently shared that I made a big move last week and quit my job to move to South East Asia to volunteer for a while. Often when I read stories about those who did this sort of thing online, I’d constantly leave with a big confused look on my face wondering how (but actually, how??) did you leave an income to do one of the most expensive things you can do: travel.
They say that you should have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses saved up in case you get a surprise layoff (or in case you surprise yourself and quit your job like I did, whoo!), but I did NOT have that much saved up. With just a little preparation and a lot of diligence, you too can quit your job to travel with no savings.
Before I start, I will point out that though I didn’t have much savings when I quit, I did have plenty of frequent flyer miles, which helps a lot. I didn’t need to pay a ton for those, either, though, or have to wait for years from them to build up. I did it for about $50 in under 3 months, which you can read in detail about here.
Step 1- Identify your largest expenses
To get rid of your income means you also have to get rid of the bills that you need an income to pay. Write down what you spend the most money on each month or with each paycheck. For instance, my expenses, in order of most expensive to least, looked something like this:
- Student Loans
- Fun Money
Step 2- Figure out what expenses you can eliminate.
Look at your list and find what expenses you can completely cross off of it. For me, the first thing I knew I needed to do was to sublet my apartment, so that my single most expensive (my rent) and my third most expensive (utilities) costs are supplemented and I don’t have to worry about them anymore. I got lucky and didn’t have too much trouble doing this since I live in Manhattan, where people are always eager to rent for an internship or short-term while moving to New York but not wanting to commit. Other options to eliminate this expense are:
- Talk to your landlord to see if he’d perhaps allow you to break your lease early without penalty.
- Airbnb or rent your space out and make quite a bit of money. If you can find a friend to help you manage it and your landlord allows it, you may even make enough to have a small income while you’re away.
From this list, the only other thing that I can completely eliminate is fun money, which I use for, well, fun (you can read more about how I budget that here). However, because I want to enjoy the last bit of time in New York, I’m not going to go completely “fun money free”. But, I could if I needed to.
Step 3- Figure out what expenses you can cut down.
After taking into consideration what I can eliminate, my expenses now look like this:
- Student Loans
- Fun Money
To me, none of these are options to eliminate (can’t just eliminate food now, can we?!), but I can cut them all down. Here’s how you can cut down the cost of each of them.
1. Student Loans
Depending on what sort of loan payment you’re on, it may be worth calling your lender and finding out what your monthly payment will be reduced to when you have no income. A lot of loans are based on a percentage of your income, so if you have very little income, it could lower quite a bit. Keep in mind that this isn’t a free pass and that you will likely still be accruing more interest. Personally, I am not altering my student loan payments even though I won’t have an income because I do have enough savings to pay for them for a couple of months and I want to aggressively pay them off. The point is that there are ways to lower your monthly payments that you can look into if you feel like that will really help your situation, just make sure to weigh the pros and cons of doing something like that.
This one is much easier than student loans. If you want to cut down money on food, then say goodbye to restaurants and $6 lattes. You’ll need to get used to eating on the cheap while you’re traveling, anyway, so this is great practice. If you are already fairly frugal with food money, try:
- Packing your lunch.
- Buying in bulk- buy an entire carton of yogurt for the week instead of individual ones every day.
- Apps that give you cash back for groceries such as Ibotta or other similar apps.
- Buying cheaper foods (less meat).
- Freezing more fruit or fish to make them last longer.
3. Fun Money
Tailor this to whatever is most important to you and you can afford. If I had absolutely no money to spend at all, this would be the easiest category to cut out. Stop going out and stop shopping. Hopefully, you’ll co-workers will be treating YOU to happy hour since you’re about to leave, anyway :). Some ideas to “get back” money are:
- Use Ebates, it’s an amazing program to help you get cash back on EVERYTHING. Amazon (which, if you’re quitting your job to travel, will be a highly used website), Nordstrom, Target, everything. (Sign up below and you’ll instantly get a $10 sign up bonus!)
- Go through your closet and seeing if you can still return anything. Stores like Nordstrom and Lord and Taylor have extremely flexible return policies and you can return things months after you bought them (so long as they still are wearable, of course!). If you can’t get your money back on these items but can only get store credit and are really looking for extra cash, you can sell the gift cards online on Ebay or here for a bit less than they’re worth and still get some money out of it.
- If you can’t return items, consider selling them on Ebay or at your local thrift store.
Skip the cabs and opt for the public transportation. If you already take the public transportation, skip that and bike or walk. It’s finally summer, remember?! If you need to take cars, uberpool and Via are cheaper, shared alternatives. Whatever way you can reduce this expense (and there ARE ways), now is the time. You’re about to go on an adventure! Remember how happy you’ll be when you have that money to spend on a plane ride, not an uber.
Ok, whew! That was a lot of work, but congratulations! You’re closer to quitting your job without having a ton of savings sitting around because you’re cutting out the reasons you need an income in the first place.
Step 4- Where you’re going and how you’re getting there.
This is the fun part! You get to decide where you’re about to go adventure. The most obvious next step is to choose somewhere inexpensive, but with a bit of extra research, you don’t have to limit yourself to only “cheap” countries. First, I would use the calculator on this site to get some of the daily spending averages in locations you are interested in. That will give you an idea of the cost of living and realistically how much you’ll spend there as a traveler. Then, you’ll want to go through the steps you did above for you expenses, and analyze what expenses you can either eliminate or cut down on and how. Some ways to do this are…
Hostels are so common in Europe, Asia, and South America, and you can often find work in them to stay or eat for free at the least. Some often come with additional stipends. This cuts out one of the most expensive expenses (rent/housing) you’ll find in the calculator above. Websites like HelpStay and Hostel Travel Jobs are great resources for finding this sort of work exchange. Another way to utilize hostels is to look for hostels with communal kitchens available, so you can buy groceries and make breakfasts and snacks for yourself, rather than eating out for every single meal. I will continue writing about my journey in working at hostels in this blog as I experience it myself.
Going abroad to volunteer is a great way to spend your time traveling and is not eliminated if you have no savings. There are countless options, but many of them (surprisingly) cost money. However, both paid and unpaid volunteer opportunities can help eliminate your expenses, so they are great options to do abroad (that and you’re, of course, helping people). There are a couple of ways to handle this.
There are plenty of pros to paying for a volunteer program. Going to a country can be intimidating, especially if you’re: alone, new to traveling, new to the country, or you feel unsafe. Programs can give you community, identity, and structure, and, actually, paid isn’t always more expensive. For example, International Volunteer HQ would charge $824 (including service fee) to spend 4 weeks volunteering in Cambodia. This includes all meals and accommodations. According to the calculator above, the average daily cost in Cambodia is $31. So, if volunteering is for you, this isn’t a bad option price wise. If you do decide to pay for a volunteer program, keep a couple things in mind:
- Please, please research the program in depth. “Voluntourism” has many potential ethical conflicts that come with Westerners visiting poverty stricken children for a couple of days and then leaving. Do your homework.
- Make sure you know where the money is going. If it’s going to a coordinating organization, find out what their fees are. If it’s going directly to an orphanage or local business, make sure it’s going to the expenses of the orphanage, not to the pocket of those running it.
If paid programs are simply out of the question, you can try to volunteer for free, it will just take more time and effort on your end, and potentially a lot of e-mails without replies. Some helpful resources for this are Free Volunteering and WWOF. With these programs, you’ll often receive compensation from food and/or accommodations, again cutting down your expenses. If you have particular organizations or centers you’re interested in, there’s nothing wrong with a good old fashion cold e-mail (I guess how old fashioned can an e-mail be? but you get my point!). Tell them you’re interested in helping and will give free labor. The only issue here is that you’re much less likely to receive housing or food, so you’ll be on your own, money-wise.
Unconventional incomes/ expense cuts
If you’re someone whose quitting their job to travel the world, you’re probably a pretty creative, outside-the-box thinker. This is your time to shine! Find ways to make money on the internet or by selling T-shirts as you travel. E-mail outdoor companies and offer to market their gear in your social media photos if they give you gear for free. Come up with a new idea for an income, then teach (with charging a small fee, perhaps?!) others how to make income in the same way, and watch your empire, journey and adventures grow like wildfire. The options are endless.
Step 5- Travel with no savings.
Now is your time to shine! Figure out what you can stop paying for, figure out what you can pay less for, and figure out how you can make your adventure of a lifetime cut down on your expenses, too. I’m going to have further posts on more creative ideas on how to make money abroad and how going abroad is a continuation of your career, NOT a pause, so stay tuned! There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to travel because you have no savings.
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Quitting my job to travel was one of the best decisions of my life. I still use freelance skills I learned while traveling to make extra money and crush my financial goals.
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