Quick note from Michelle: Today, I have a great post from Brendan. Brendan is a former Chartered Accountant from Auckland, New Zealand but now is a full-time traveler (since 2011!). I absolutely love full-time traveling and I really enjoyed reading this. Here’s how he saved $45,000 in three years to create a life of travel. Below is Brendan’s post:
Whenever I meet people out on the road, we tend to ask the same questions.
“Where are you from?”
“How long are you staying?”
“Where are you going next?”
And then somewhere in the mix, the question I dread eventually comes out.
“How long have you been travelling?”
Most people expect to hear something like three or four weeks, maybe a couple of months, so naturally I cringe a little when I tell them the real answer.
Of course, this leads to all sorts of questions like; How do I do it? What do I do for money? Do I suffer from permanent jet lag? What’s Colombia like? Are park benches in Sweden really made by IKEA? Until we finally get all the way back to the beginning. That’s actually what I’m here to talk to you about today.
Related read: How To Travel On A Budget And Still Have The Time Of Your Life
My journey started not too different from most long term travellers. When I was 21, I graduated from university and landed a decent job with a decent paycheck in a decent firm. I was an accountant, following in my mother’s footsteps. Yet from my earliest days in that office, I just knew something wasn’t right. I didn’t belong here. I had bigger dreams than this. I wanted to see the world.
Berlin Wall, Germany.
I was signed to a three year contract with my job, so I made it my mission to save aggressively for the entirety of those years. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building up the travel fund that would end up taking me around the world twice and then some. I never expected the journey would turn out quite like it has, but what I did know was: I wasn’t going to be an accountant forever, and if I was going to be spending the best years of my twenties in this cubicle, I sure as heck was going to have something to show for it.
Three years later I had managed to save over $45,000 to my travel fund. I handed in my resignation, right on cue, and set off on the journey around the world that still hasn’t ended.
While I’d love to tell you about those adventures, what I really want to talk about today are the non-adventures that preceded them, because without those three years of a stable paycheck, I’m certain none of this journey would have been possible. When it comes to travel, it’s rarely the tips like finding cheap flights or cheap hostels that people struggle with. It’s the preparation, the years of arduously stuffing away paychecks, the challenge of staying dedicated long enough to make the journey happen.
Saving $45,000 isn’t easy (at least for most of us). It takes a lot of staying power and commitment, but most importantly it requires a mental shift in the way you spend your money. During those years I learned that it wasn’t just good savings tips and a piggy bank that was needed, but a shift to a savings-oriented lifestyle that prioritized saving over most other aspects of your life.
Today I want to talk to you about this lifestyle change, the key actions I took to achieve this, and some helpful tips you can take away and apply to your own life.
Exploring Angkor Wat, Cambodia
I lived at home with my parents and family
This was a conscious decision. I had many discussions with my then-girlfriend if we should move out together, and even buy a property, and we considered it seriously many times.
In the end I decided against it, the sole reason being it just didn’t make financial sense. Admittedly I was lucky to have the option to stay with my family, but interestingly almost all of my colleagues had that same choice and decided against it, mostly as a lifestyle choice. I was in my early twenties at the time, and rents were around $150 per week. While it would have been a lot of fun to get an apartment and live the young professional lifestyle, I just felt the extra saving was just too much to give up.
Saving over three years: $23,400 (at $150 per week).
Related article: 30+ Ways To Save Money Each Month
I only spent $7 a month on my phone bill
This was back in 2010/2011, when the smartphone craze was booming (I believe it was the iPhone 4 making everyone go gaga back then). Many of my friends and colleagues jumped on the craze, but I just continued using the same phone I’d had since high school. Because my phone had no internet on it, I only paid around $5-$7 per month, whereas a smartphone plan would’ve cost closer to $25 per month (not including the cost of the phone!)
Saving over three years: $648 (at $18 per month).
I brought lunch from home each day
In my first year of work I actually spent a lot on lunches each day. Settling into the nine to five life wasn’t the easiest and a nice lunch in the middle of the day was always something to look forward to. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend $15-$20 on lunch at one of the cafes or sushi bars by the office.
Halfway through my first year I started noticing these amounts adding up on my bank statement and decided to get it under control. I started bringing lunch from home every day – either leftovers, tuna and rice, some fruit – just very easy things that didn’t cost a lot. On average lunch started costing closer to $3 or $4, rather than $15 or $20.
Saving over three years: Around $5,000.
I spent almost nothing on clothes
We had a strict dress code at work (suit, shirt, tie, shined shoes), but I made sure to not let this become expensive. For most of my “career”, I only owned one suit and one pair of shoes, which I wore every day. No other pieces I had were expensive either, I just had a handful of $20 shirts and $10 ties I’d bought overseas, and a very cheap leather belt.
This was quite a contrast to many of my colleagues, who would come in every few months with new shirts and shoes. Some of my colleagues would wear a different suit every day of the week. I was quite surprised at the amount people spent to keep up appearances at work, but over time I noticed it was quite a common thing – people just liked to buy clothes.
Since I was at work all the time anyway, I hardly spent any money on outside-of-work clothes either.
Saving over three years: At a guess, $2,000 – $3,000?
I didn’t have a gym membership
Gym memberships felt expensive. I did play various sports with friends, but was never in a position where I was having money regularly debited from my bank account for a gym or fitness class. At the time, it was around $50 a month to join my local gym. With a bit of discipline and some creativity, it was more than possible to stay in shape at home, and that saved me a lot in both petrol and gym clothes too.
Saving over three years: $1,800 (at $50 per month).
Walking the Camino de Santiago, Spain
I quit drinking
Drinking culture was rather heavy in my office, and Friday night was always the night where the crew would head out after work. Usually it would involve a few bites at a restaurant and then bar hopping until the early morning. On nights like these I would easily spend $100 on food and drink, and usually a lot more.
It wasn’t only Fridays, but all events, parties, weddings and so on where I challenged myself to stay off the drink; as we know, “just one” always ends up being more than just one! There was one stretch of about eight months where I didn’t have a single drop of alcohol, and although that was difficult it was worth it in every way. Drinking tends to exacerbate your spending in a lot of ways (food, taxis, cover charges, snacks, gas), so this lifestyle change was a big money saver, and also had a lot of benefits beyond the financial too.
Savings over three years: Easily over $10,000
I’m not really a coffee drinker anyway, but I also made a conscious decision not to start this habit. Many people had told me their coffee addiction began after entering the nine to five life, so I was always mindful to never start. I’m not sure how much that would have saved me as coffee was all free at work, but I know it would have affected my spending in some way.
Saving over three years: Maybe $1,000?
I had a small side business
I had a very small eBay style business that I would run in my free time, which just involved flipping a few goods now and then, selling old things, and sometimes I would buy a few wholesale things and sell them. It never made much money, maybe $50-$100 per month, but it was something that kept me busy in my free time and also brought a little extra money in too. If anything, it stopped me from going out to spend!
Extra income over three years: Around $1,500
Learn more at Make Money While Traveling – Yes, It’s Possible!
I paid for everything with plastic so I could see where my money went
One thing that was helpful was I paid for absolutely everything with plastic. That way, I had a record of everything I had bought that month.
At the end of each month I would look through my bank statement and see where my money had gone. Quite often the biggest/most frequent outgoings were from nights out on the weekend (which is why I stopped drinking) and expensive lunches (which is why I started taking lunch from home).
Understanding both how money comes in and goes out of your bank account is crucial to keeping on top of your finances, and exercises like this, whether you do it with your bank statement or with a notebook or even with an app like Mint, is something everyone should aim to do regularly. You’ll be surprised how often you spend money without thinking about it!
Related read: How To Take A 10 Day Trip To Hawaii For $22.40 – Flights & Accommodations Included
I had a goal
I had always known I wouldn’t have my regular paycheck forever. I had a three year contract and knew I wouldn’t be staying much beyond that. It wasn’t my dream job and it wasn’t something I wanted to make a long career out of.
Because I knew my paychecks were limited, I was doubly motivated to save while I could. At the time I didn’t know that money would be used specifically for travel, but I did know I was saving for something and I didn’t have forever to do it.
I didn’t have a specific goal of how much I wanted to save, rather, I had a specific limit of how much I could spend each month. The idea that I only had limited paychecks to save as much as possible was secondary motivation for me. I think having a goal, whether it’s a time period or a dollar amount (or both) is very powerful, especially if you’re not a naturally frugal person, and I think this had a big impact on the amount I was able to save during those years.
I sent my money offline and invested
In our world of one click purchases and credit card taps, it’s easy to buy things on instinct. However, if you push the temptation to spend just one inch further away, it’s often enough to make you think twice.
One little trick I did was move all my money into either investments or offline bank accounts – I only had $50 or $100 in my checking account at any one time. If I ever wanted to buy something, I needed to find a computer and move some money across before I could do it. This intermediate step between purchases was very effective at stopping me from buying unnecessary luxuries.
It also meant that my savings were in stocks or fixed interest earning deposits most of the time, which further added to my savings balance.
I educated myself
This was perhaps the most important thing I did during those years.
Financial literacy is important for anybody wanting to take control of their money. Working as an accountant, I was given a front-row seat to the financial turmoil people managed to get themselves in. One particular client I’ll never forget was earning over a million dollars per year and couldn’t pay his tax bill (nor his accounting bill, to my boss’s endless frustration). When I looked through his bank statements, it was obvious why he was in this situation. He had multiple houses and cars, was swimming in debt, and bought silly things.
I spent a lot of time reading different financial blogs, learning about the stock market and how it worked, learning how to invest smartly, talking to the guys who worked in wealth management and corporate finance at my office and asking them questions, I learned about the difference between good and bad debt, read the financial news each morning, understood how interest rates were and how they affected my money and savings. You might think that accountants know all this stuff already, but the dismal attitude towards money of many of my colleagues would tell you otherwise. Many of them saved nothing and spent their entire paychecks.
Improving your financial education is not a difficult thing to do. Ask good questions, read the news, read good personal finance blogs (like Making Sense Of Cents!), read books, and apply it to your own finances. It’s important, and it works.
What happened next?
In early 2011, I finally handed in my resignation and started this journey around the world. Today I am a full time nomad, bouncing through various of my favourite cities around the world, working as both a blogger and freelance writer. These past years have been life-changing, but I always tell people it was those steps at the beginning that made it all possible – taking control of my money, educating myself, making the most of my regular paycheck when I had it, and staying disciplined with my saving.
Camping in the Sahara, Morocco
For those of you who are saving towards your own long-term travel (or any other goal), here are four final tips to take away with you:
Every bit counts
I’ve relayed this story to countless people over the years, and many of them can never quite get it.
So you…didn’t buy an iPhone and…now you can travel the world full time? That just doesn’t make sense!
But it does. Because every bit that you save counts. Saving $1,000 is just saving one dollar a thousand times. It adds up. Don’t buy a coffee today. $3. Don’t buy the bottle of wine. $8. Over a few years of saving this not only adds up, but compounds. Spending leads to more spending, and saving leads to more saving. If you can utilize this positive feedback loop, you will improve your relationship with your money and saving will become a habit that you are proud of, rather than a battle you seem to be fighting every day.
It helps to celebrate. When you set your savings goals, set your savings rewards as well. Saving is challenging and having something to look forward to is a powerful tool for keeping you on track. When your savings reach $1,000, reward yourself with a nice lunch. When you reach $5,000, take a little weekend trip.
This approach is great because not only does it motivate you, it both permits and controls your discretionary spending too. If there’s a pair of shoes that you love, you don’t have to tell yourself that you can’t have it. Simply write it down on your rewards list and tell yourself that you can have it, you just need to reach the next rung on your savings goals first. This is something I use in many areas of my life – dieting, fitness, saving, blogging, and it works (just write 1,000 more words and you can watch that Game Of Thrones episode!)
Don’t beat yourself up
We all slip. It happened to me all the time. After a rough week I’d come home with a new video game, or I’d stash my lunch in the fridge and go out for pizza with the guys on Friday. We are all human and it happens to all of us (except for Robocop, he saves everything). Don’t use this as an opportunity to beat yourself up – use it as an opportunity to learn about yourself and your relationship with money. Do you tend to splurge when you’re stressed? Don’t focus on the money, focus on the stress. Do you blow cash on big lunches when you’re hungry or tired? Work on the hunger or tiredness. Money can teach us a lot about ourselves!
Don’t worry about mine or anyone else’s results, and be proud of what you save
Forget about me, or anyone else. You may be sitting there thinking how impossible it would be to save as much as I did because you have kids, or you don’t earn as much, or you have a mortgage, or any other reason you might have. The truth is, any amount of money you manage to save is an achievement. Set your own goals, stay committed, and be proud of what you save. We’re all on our own journey.
Good luck, and safe travels!
Brendan is a former Chartered Accountant from Auckland, New Zealand. He has been travelling full time since 2011, and shares stories, life lessons and travel advice on his blog, Bren On The Road.
Are you interested in traveling full-time? Why or why not?
Mustard Seed Money says
Awesome article!!! You can definitely see the choices that you made aligned with where you were trying to go in life. I commend you on being able to be disciplined for so long in order to reach your ultimate goal.
I would love to travel full time in the future, although it might be hard with two kiddos who enjoy some of the stability of routine and also we’re so close to their grandparents. So when I was younger this was definitely the dream but now the dream has pivoted towards pursuing more of my passions 🙂
Yes dreams change and I suspect mine will too eventually. Quite a few bloggers out there are travelling full time with kids, but it’s a different challenge. Even I don’t think I’ll be one of them if/when the time comes.
It just goes to show you if you set your mind to it any thing is possible. As Mustard seed money indicated sadly I couldn’t travel like this as I have kids. I don’t have any desire to home school afterall. But some day when they have graduated I intend on a similar path.
You know it’s funny I’m seeing that so much more these days – retirees backpacking around the world and staying in hostels etc. It’s really great. I love how diverse the community can be – the adventurous spirit never truly dies I think.
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
It’s amazing to see what you have sacrificed in order to save up such a big amount and achieve your goal of traveling the world. Six years is definitely a long time. I’m glad your family is supportive of your decision. Best of luck!
Yes that has been a huge blessing. Not everyone is so lucky, particularly people from my background. I have the best parents in the world!
Owen @ PlanEasy says
So much fun!
It’s not easy to live an alternative lifestyle like this. Getting a house/apartment is considered the norm and its not easy to resist the constant pressure of those expectations, even if they don’t fit well for you personally.
Enjoy you’re travels!
Owen @ PlanEasy says
Agree completely – it is getting a lot easier though. There’s a great community of nomads out here now who will support and understand you. The internet has allowed all of us to find our own tribes, even if they are spread everywhere around the world. Pretty amazing.
That is awesome! I love your dedication to your goal. I just started saving more so I can travel and see more places but I never thought about traveling permanently. Something to think about. Thanks for sharing your story!
Hey, that’s awesome. It’s a slow and steady grind – just keep going!
Paige @ Fixing My Finances says
This is an awesome story and your determination to save is very motivating! Great tips about saving too. You definitely took some sacrifices that most people aren’t will to make. I am surprised that you were able to wear the same suit everyday for 3 years, not to mention how you were able to survive without a smart phone 🙂
It’s a lot easier when you’ve never had one before. If I had to give up my smartphone now it would be a lot harder!
Alexander @ Cash Flow Diaries says
Great story! Travelling has defined me as a person and I dont ever want to stop seeing new places and learning new cultures. To date I have been to 22 different countries and I havent even been to south america yet which is on my bucket list!
You will love it there!
Did you not have student loans to pay back from your university degree? I think this is the big thing keeping many Americans from saving a bunch of money and/or traveling more. I do think it’s possible for anyone to do this, but having the privilege of living with your parents and not having any other major responsibilites (like bills for your apt and kids) definitely helped.
Yes I did but it was certainly not as much as Americans – our university fees are subsidized by the government. It costs around $4,000-$6,000 per year depending on what you study. I was very lucky in that way.
Lily @ The Frugal Gene says
Thank you Bren!
After starting to follow in your mom’s footsteps to a stable office setting – was she understanding of your passion for adventure seeking & traveling?
I second living with your parents! A lot of people think it’s embarrassing but just **have an end goal in mind** & you’ll see the monetary benefits of living with your parents real quick.
I think at the start she thought it was temporary, but as it went on for a few years I think she did get a bit anxious. However once I started blogging and she learned I was trying to use travel as a way to better myself and educate myself and others, and not just use it as a long holiday, I think she embraced it a lot more. It’s funny how Chinese people (and from Asian backgrounds in general) always ask me about what my mother thought! It’s so telling of our culture.
M Bowden says
Good article. Your dedication is impressive.
Was the $45,000 used as a gap fund to tide you over until your blog/book income covered your expenses? It seems a little light to live off of ROI.
Yes, lasted about 3+ years.
Step One: Live with your parents
Step Two: Eat your parents food at work
Step Three: Use your parents internet to run a business
Cool tips, man.
You said it. This Person has ambition, drive, a no quit attitude and the kind of support only found in the top 3 percent of people in the USA.
This person hasn’t worked two jobs they hate (or three) to keep the electric on.
This person never put off a visit to the dentist because they knew it’d cost them a weeks pay they already allocated to get the broken water pump on their 25 year old car fixed.
Or staggered into work after waking up with a fever because they knew the boss would fire them or just cut their hours next week because they were suddenly ‘unreliable’
Glad they’ve found a passion. I hope they recognize the rest of us aren’t angry because of what they have, it’s what they don’t know we don’t.
M Bowden says
34 percent of Millenials(age 18-34) live at home with their parents. Most of them are not saving such a high percentage of their income. Characterize it how you want but the author’s accomplishment speaks to a section of the population.
Everyone has some unique advantage in life, most fail to properly use it.
Everyone’s journey is unique and the message I want to share is to use all the resources available to you. I’m aware that many have much less/more than I do. Maybe you already practice frugality to the highest but I know the majority do not and it was those who I was hoping to reach.
Yes. Regardless of being able to save he made that choice NOT to live in excess with pricey phone, clothes and lunches and coffee. He said he didn’t pay rent.. not that he didn’t contribute to household food or buy the soap to wash his own butt. The first two comments above this are so negative. If you have that outlook why read an article you can easily click away from?
Life is about choices not about making someone feel guilty about using the cards they were dealt. He didnt buy new things or go party with friends. Which is what a lot are doing with their money at 21. Plus the writer has many many more years of life ahead him and plenty of time to experience difficult times. My 17 year old sister that I have raised since she was 9 (I am 34) saves 50% of her money while her friends blow it. She saves 25% of that specifically for college and knows she will not always be able to save that much. But she is using the cards life has dealt her.
This is so great! It takes so much dedication and passion to achieve this – congratulations!
Dylan Wills says
Always struggled with wondering what I need to do after graduating from grad school; put more $$ towards savings or debt payment.
I would like to pay off my debt as fast as possible, but was wondering what your course of action was; did you have student loans, how much were you putting towards savings a month, one line best advice for entering the stock market?
Thanks a lot and look forward to reading more into your blog posts!
If you know nothing about the stock market my broad advice would be slow and steady contributions to a low-fee index fund like Vanguard. If you know a bit more and can understand financial statements etc you could invest some of your funds in individually picked stocks. I would recommend concentrating to clearing your debt before doing either though. Hope that helps!
Victoria @The British Berliner says
‘Nice one Bren!
I also follow you on your blog, but it’s great to see you making strides further along. ‘Love the article.
Hey Victoria, nice to see you here! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Yes. I want to and am planning and saving towards it now. Great article and glad to see a young person get out of their corner of their world and to see the rest of it. It changes you in some of the best ways only travel can. I come from a small-ish town in Alaska (although our big there is another states small) and always wanted to travel. Saw a few things in different states but the chance came in 2008 when moved to Belgium and lived and worked there for six years. I am greedy and didn’t see enough and want to see more of the states… so after my sister (raised her since 9) graduates next June? Hitting the road to for a whole year with my husband and two dogs. If can do work remotely? Even longer. So these kind of blog posts are great to read. Gonna go check out the othee blog and probably be happily envious of the pictures and stories.
Hey Bridgette, I love your attitude and really hope you’ll get to live those adventures. I’ve no doubt you’ll get there. Keep reading, learning, grinding.
I love this, and I would love to be able to travel full time with my family (with two kids!) and just experience life! I made a point this year to save more money and I’m really wondering now if we’d be able to save $45,000 in a few years time… I’d have to go calculate! Before reading this blog, I never would have thought it possible to save money to go traveling, or become debt free or even to make money blogging. Everything is possible to me now. Thanks for your story Brendan!
Hey Lisa. Thanks for reading. Even if you can’t reach the 45k figure I hope you’ll still set a goal that fits with your own situation. Maybe it’s only 5k or 10k, or even 1k, but that’s where it all starts! The mindset above can be always be applied in some way. Wishing you the best.
Great article and implementation of your dreams. I am interested in where you invested your savings. Also, now that you travel full time, where do you keep your money to draw from; what are the mechanics of paying any bills?
I still keep my money in my NZ bank accounts, and a lot of my savings got invested in fixed interest deposits or the stock market. Most payments and banking can be done online now, so it’s all very easy. I use Paypal a lot.
Well done your tips are useful and real I followed something similar to repay my debt and now I’m completely debt free and a more conscious spender…I love travel but honestly I don’t know If I’ll do it full time but I like to do it more often…however thanks for sharing your tips:D
Travel or not, being comfortable financially and living frugal is such a healthy lifestyle change in itself. Well done!
Ever worked a job you hated? If so, how did you save money from that?
Yes, I loathed every second of my job which might be where the motivation came from.
Alexis @FITnancials says
I love this post, and I don’t think there should be any stigma for moving back in with parents after college. I haven’t done it personally, but it’s a great way to pay off student loans and avoid interest accruing, and you can save up for a decent down payment on a house. Great post, Bren!
Mrs. Farmhouse Finance says
Great advice! I love the idea of treating yourself when you reach a savings milestone. It’s easy to burn out on frugality or deprivation, so I think it’s really important to build some of those rewards into your plan. My husband and I just reached a big milestone in saving for our house ($50,000). Although we still have a ways to go, I still made a point to celebrate this accomplishment. Those celebrations are sometimes what lights the fire under you to keep going.
Yes! That part is super important. Congrats on the milestone 🙂
This was a really informative post, thank you! I would also be interested how you found your footing in freelance writing. Travel is one of my greatest pleasures, and I always love learning from fellow travelers how to enhance the experience:-)
Hi Malia, I have a blog post that talks about how I landed my first jobs. There’s also a free email course which goes through things in more detail – you can sign up at the bottom of that post 🙂
Sarah Shumate says
I’m definitely not cut out for full-time travel, but this was still a fascinating read! All are good tips, but I thought the ones about keeping your cash in investments and cutting back or quitting drinking altogether were especially helpful!
Yes, we are lucky we can do that in NZ! Some countries don’t let you buy gum on a credit card.
Thank you so much for sharing this!!! Firstly, it’s amazing that you’ve spent the past six years travelling – I bet you’ve had so many amazing experiences. I don’t think I could travel for so long but, I definitely want to do it for 1-2 years and then on and off. Seeing this post has really motivated me to start saving, not just for travelling but, to also having a savings account. Seeing all the ways that you’ve managed to save has given me lots of ideas to start a savings account, even if I’m only able to put a little bit of money by.
Thank you once again 🙂
Chloe @ https://girllgonerogue.blogspot.co.uk/
Your words are incredibly helpful for life in general! Thanks!
This is a bit deceiving. You can’t really say you are saving, you just aren’t spending. I don’t drink alcohol at all, so can I say I’m saving $10,000 every 3 years? Not really. Same goes for the coffee. He wasn’t even a coffee drinker, so how is that $1,000 saved?
Thank you for sharing! It’s refreshing to know that there are other like minded people out there. Changing your lifestyle to put saving first and making conscious decisions to achieve your goals 👍🏼