Kesi was living in New York City as a young, single woman. But instead of living it up in her free time, she stayed in—sacrificing nights out for something that would bring her even greater joy: the freedom to travel. Now a full-time digital nomad and owner of Kesi To and Fro, she’s learned a lot about saving, living within your means, and running a business on the road.
“Go sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the harder it is to leave.” That’s what a mentor told me about my dream of traveling. At the time, I was just beginning my career on Wall Street, and I realized how limited my dreams might be with just two weeks of vacation a year.
I took my mentor’s advice: I laid out a plan for a one-year career break so I could travel the world and not have to ask “What if?” later. That one year has turned into seven years and counting.
Saving up to see the world
Before leaving New York to pursue my passion, I became super budget-friendly. I’d make my lunch instead of ordering a Sweetgreen salad. I’d stay in, telling myself that I could buy three drinks in Thailand for the price of one in New York. I cut a lot of my expenses. The sacrifice was easier knowing that I had something even better to look forward to.
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I was saving about $1,000 a month—a decent portion of my salary. I put those savings into a short-term investment account to help my money grow faster than it would in a traditional savings account. In two years, I was ready to hit the road.
How to travel on a budget: 3 tips
I’d saved $30,000, but I found I could survive (and thrive!) on much less—around $10,000 per year. Was I in extreme comfort? No, but I was having great experiences. I traded luxurious (and expensive) flights for low-cost 17-hour bus rides—and for incredible memories, like the time I met a Peruvian potato farmer who guided me to the Rainbow Mountains. They’re as stunning and as colorful as they sound.
Read more: How to spend mindfully with a values-based budget
Your travel budget is all about your comfort level and risk tolerance. It’s possible to travel with very little, but you can splurge on what matters to you. I liked spending on experiences and activities, so I saved in other areas. Here’s how you can do the same:
1. Live like a local: Hotels and Airbnbs are usually a big expense, which is why I recommend more cost-effective alternatives. Apps and websites like Trusted House Sitters and Workaway give you a place to stay in exchange for a bit of work. Couchsurfing is another app that lets you stay in people’s homes and enjoy the cultural exchange.
2. Travel smart: I advocate long-term travel for many reasons, but one of them is giving yourself more time and flexibility. If you don’t have to fly on a specific date—or even to a specific destination—you can usually find cheaper flights. I also saved up airline miles before traveling, used credit card points to earn free flights, and sometimes took trains or buses instead of a plane, all in the name of traveling on a budget.
3. Earn as you go: For some fun and a little extra money, I picked up seasonal work as a hostess for sailing charters at The Yacht Week, a summer festival on a sailing flotilla in the Mediterranean. It became an important part of my finances: I’d work for a few months, and then travel for the rest of the year on that income. A bonus perk? I got to connect with people from all over the world, and they’ve opened their doors for me to come visit them. Seasonal opportunities in hotels and restaurants are a good option for many long-term travelers. You can also look for work teaching English—either online or in-person wherever you are staying.
Making a business out of my passion
When the pandemic hit and I lost my summer job with The Yacht Week, I needed a new way to make money. I already had a hobby travel blog, so it was a natural transition to invest in making it a full-fledged business.
As a full-time content creator, I earn an active income with influencer marketing campaigns and by working with travel companies to organize group trips to Uganda and Antarctica. I also earn passive income through ads and affiliate marketing on my website. Owning a business has given me so much confidence. I didn’t realize just how capable I was.
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With the income from my business and consistent investing, my net worth has increased by $40,000 since I started traveling. I’m proof that sustainable, long-term travel is possible!
What I’ve learned from life on the road
They say travel is the best teacher, and I’ve learned some wonderful lessons. In the spirit of paying it forward, I’ll share my top tips for traveling long-term.
- There are many ways to be wealthy. Money and work aren’t the only important things in life. I’ve found relationships to be the best way to measure my own wealth—and those relationships have helped me travel the globe.
- Save before you go and spend (wisely) where you’re going. Yes, you’ll need cash for practical things. But remember that traveling is a privilege. Wherever you go, be ready to spend money and support the communities you’re visiting.
- Don’t plan too much. I suggest booking a one-way flight somewhere and letting everything else sort itself out. The magic of traveling is in the unexpected moments. Maybe, like me, you’ll turn traveling into a lifestyle!