Whenever I tell people about my upcoming plans to travel for six months around a large chunk of the world, I’m nearly always met with a disappointed “I would love to do something like that – but I could never afford it”, with most people assuming I must have funded the whole adventure with hand-outs from Mummy and Daddy. We’ve all seen that spoof ‘Gap Yah’ video that went viral a few years back, but the truth is the world is open to all. The gap year is no longer the domain of the privileged few.
A minimum wage gap year
In a few weeks time I will be leaving the UK to travel extensively across the United States, South America, Australia, South Asia and India. I have paid for all of this myself, with no financial help or hand-outs from family or friends. I have never been good with money, always spending my pocket money on the day I was given it, and prior to making the decision to go traveling just over a year ago had no savings. Just like many people in their early twenties, I have a pretty low income job in a pub, earning just shy of £7 an hour and was notoriously rubbish at managing what I earned, living one weekly pay check to the next. I was also living in massively pricey South London. So how could somebody like me manage to afford this kind of adventure?
First of all, prioritise. And when I say prioritise, be ruthless. The first few weeks of attempting to save I was useless. I thought putting £50 into a savings account then spending the rest of my wages down the pub would get me where I wanted to be eventually. But then it dawned on me: no it wouldn’t. I would be in the same place a year later, just with a couple of hundred quid in a savings account saying “I would love to do something like that – but I could never afford it” to any friend returning from their travels.
The best way I found to motivate myself to start saving properly was to book something. So I booked a week long trek in Peru, ending up at Machu Picchu. I had put down a £100 deposit, which I was determined not to lose, and then I knew I had no choice but to stop spending and start saving. It also then felt more real. Rather than “I’m hoping to go to Peru next year” I started saying “I’m going to Peru next year.” And you would not believe how great that feels.
Super saving techniques
I cut out costs wherever I possibly could: I bought a second hand bike from Gumtree, saving me £50 a week in cab fares home from work after a late shift (and to get me fit for that week long Peruvian hike), bought a Young Persons Rail Card (which paid for itself within two journeys), switched to own brand food from the supermarket, made packed lunches, cancelled my Netflix subscription, I even gave up my lovely London flat and moved in with family – their way of helping me fulfil a lifelong dream. I still pay them house-keeping, but it’s significantly less than I was paying in rent. Eventually I began to see the price for everything not in pounds, but in nights in a hostel. “Ohhh, £35? I’m not sure I want to spend that – that’s a week in a hostel in Montevideo!” as well as helping me to focus on saving, it also eases the pain of working on basically minimum wage when you realise that an hour of work equates to a night or two nights accommodation! It’s taken a while but I’ve got my monthly expenses down to £100 a month for phone, travel, food, nights out and anything else I want to buy.
Secondly, research. And research and research and research. Ideally I would have gone off on my jollies with thousands of pounds in the bank and without a care in the world, but in reality you can save thousands of pounds by planning every little part of your adventure in advance.
I started by making a rough plan of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to see, and then researching into how best to link up the dot to dot across the globe. Be flexible with your plan and the savings will stack up. I knew I wanted to visit a friend in Watsonville, California before heading to South America. The nearest international airport to her is San Francisco, and the cheapest flight I found between London and San Francisco was £500 with 2 layovers, overall nearly a 30 hour flight.
As I researched further into alternative airports or routes, I found I could fly to Los Angeles for £300 direct from London, then catch a bus up to San Francisco for £4 – bargain, I’d have saved money and get to see another city in the process! The flight was with Norwegian Airlines so I wondered if they might have even cheaper fares flying from Norway, and found a direct flight from Oslo – LAX for £160! I picked up a cheap low cost airline flight from London Stanstead to Oslo for £40. London – LAX for just over £200, not bad going at all.
Just by looking around, being flexible and refusing to pay for anything until I’d found the lowest possible price I’ve saved myself thousands of pounds, which has meant I can travel for much longer (and cover more of the globe) than I ever imagined. For those of us that have little to spend but lots of time in which to spend it, this can be a great way to cut costs.
Plan your future
Another way to save is by booking accommodation in advance. It takes some of the fun out of it, however as a female traveling alone it gives my family some kind of peace of mind knowing where I’ll be. It also means I’ve been able to be extremely picky, rather than having to settle for any hostel with space nearer the time. My basic requirements are free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and complimentary airport or bus station transfers. They may seem insignificant, but if you assume the average cab ride from an airport to a hostel is around £15, plus £3 for 24 hours of Wi-Fi and another £4 for breakfast and coffee somewhere, you could save yourself quite a bit of money over 6 months!
There are so many backpacker hostels around these days, and hostels are offering more and more to try to attract guests, so shop around and see how much you can get. My hostel in Santiago has cost me £45 for 7 nights, and even includes free entry to the “local disco”. You don’t get much better than that.
So there you have it: if you work hard, put the hours in, research your plans more than you researched for your dissertation and be willing to sacrifice while you save, anybody can travel the world, even on minimum wage! Why are you still hanging around?! The world is waiting.