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Tips for Traveling Abroad for a Year...Or How 2 broke 20 somethings did it and still had money in the bank when they got home
Pat and I get a lot of questions about how we managed to spend nearly a year living abroad and as luck would have it had money in the bank when we got back and managed to buy a house 8 months after we got back. Here are a few of the things that we did that made it all possible. There are other ways to do it, we met a guy in Christchurch that had been traveling for a long time, but he had to stay in homeless shelters at times because he ran out of money. Don't do that! I've never slept in a homeless shelter, but I imagine it's not great. Here's how to avoid that and have fun at the same time.
1. We sold everything. People thought we were crazy to sell all of our stuff. But how many people in there mid 20's have irreplaceable stuff? If all that's standing between you and going abroad is selling that old futon and that blender you never use, sell it! You can always get a new blender when you get back and decide for a week that you want to really get into smoothies.In the end we had just a handful of boxes that we stored at his parents house with important things. Don't be afraid to get rid of everything. We sold our dishes, our bed, mountain bike, tv, game counsels, couch, snow boards, our cars...basically everything anyone would want or think they want. I even sold 2 giant bean bags for $20 to a weird guy in a Geo Metro. How we got those to fit, I have no idea. We used Craigslist, KSL ( a local website that's really good for classifieds), Facebook, and co-workers and friends. I immediately put anything we made into savings. This did a few things: it gave us extra cash, made it so that we didn't need to rent out a storage unit, and purged all the stuff that we didn't actually need. We also gave a lot to charity for the stuff we didn't sell. It's such a good feeling to get rid of stuff you don't need for something that's going to be awesome like travel!
Budget. Start cutting back on the things you don't NEED. And be honest with what you REALLY need and don't need. Do you need that new video game or to go get your nails done every two weeks? Probably not. Cancel that cable subscription, stop getting coffees everyday and make them at home. Stop going out to eat as much. Figure out how much you're saving by cutting back and then immediately put that in savings every week or month (whatever works easiest for you). It might seem like a bummer now, but keep your eye on the prize! A year abroad is going to be way more fun than paying $80 a month for cable to realize there's nothing good on.
3. Do research on how much things are going to cost where you are going. Some of our largest expenses were upfront, like airfare, hotel for the first few days, buying a van and registering it., and stocking up on supplies (food, gas, tools). Don't skip on this. If you undercut how much things are going to cost you, you will run out of money sooner than you want. Build a cushion for unforeseen expenses...like the flat tire we got and the broken headlight we had to get fixed.
4. Get a Charles Schwab bank account. This saved us so much money, I can't even tell you. First of all, there are no atm fees anywhere in the world! That is awesome and unheard of. If an atm machine anywhere in the world charges you a fee, Charles Schwab reimburses it for you monthly. Also, and this is huge, there are no foreign transaction fees anywhere in the world. Which means you can use it for anything and it's just like you were using it back home. HUGE money saver. A lot of credit cards or banks charge anywhere from 1%-3% or more for foreign transactions. So, if over a month you spend $1000 abroad, you're going to pay an extra $30 just for the privileged. Which may not seem like a ton, but figuring that the U.S dollar is not as strong as many other currencies, you're already going to be paying more for everything, don't pay more just to spend your money.
5. Look into working holidays. We spent all our time in New Zealand which has a working holiday visa. This means you can live and work there for a year. I would highly suggest this. Not only will working help you stretch your money further, but you'll make tons of friends. All the friends I made in New Zealand I made while working. And its an opportunity to have a deeper insight into the culture. I learned so much while working, it was a great idea. But don't forget that you are still on vacation, so don't get too serious about climbing cooperate ladders, remember to have fun! This is the beautiful place that I worked for a while.
6. Be honest about expectations. If you aren't working while abroad, you are not going to be able to afford to go out to eat hardly at all and expect your money to last a year. When we landed in New Zealand we had $13,000 in the bank and $3000 in the bank when we got back. With that $10,000 difference we had to buy return tickets, food, gas, lodging, travelers insurance, (Which was a requirement of our visa). Now we were able to supplement our funds with my job, but most of that went into higher lodging costs since we got a beach side apartment and weren't camping for a while. We also went out more with friends. But we wouldn't have been able to afford any of that without the job.
7. Know that you will not be able to afford a regular cell phone or internet plan. We got a pay as you go phone and internet stick through Vodafone. It was used primarily for emergencies and updating our families on how we were doing. I think we may have spent $30 a month for both. Our phone didn't have a camera, data, nothing. It could call people, and had a nifty flash light on it. That's it. It will be next to impossible to afford a standard cell plan with all the bells and whistles on limited funds. But honestly, we didn't miss it, it was actually really nice and I kind of wish I could go back to that. In NZ, wifi is rarely free. We found a couple of coffee shops that would give you a code after buying something. When I had my job, there was a local library that you could get free wifi at which was fantastic. We were always at the library! It had a descent signal, so we would skype with family from the park outside. It as great. We expected more places to have free wifi, but we had already budgeted for our internet stick (that's probably not what they're called, Vodafone called it a vodastick) so it wasn't a huge thing for us. Having the Vodastick was helpful when we were able to find out about a cyclone that blew in and flooded our only way out. Pat bravely checked if we'd survive the crossing. The Oregon Trail game did come in handy...huh?
8. Get some basic tools. If you are planning on buying a car or van (which I would highly recommend). Get some basic tools and know at least a little bit about how to use them. Thankfully Pat is an aircraft mechanic, so I left that all to him. But we did get tools right away and those combined with his skills saved our bacon more than a few times. We bought our van for $3000 NZ dollars and sold it nearly a year later for $1200. We sold it in about 30 minutes at the backpacers car market. We could have gotten more, but we didn't take the time because we were in a hurry and honestly the van had about a days life left in it (no exaggeration). I wonder where our Van (named Delilah) is now....sigh memories. And spending $1800 over a the course of a year is about $150 dollars a month. You wont be able to travel far with any other means of transport or as freely for that cost. And the van doubled as lodging for a long time so we saved even more money. Mechanics in NZ are a lot more expensive than in the U.S. So if you can do some basic things, you'll save a ton.
9. Don't forget to have fun, budget for it. That's why you're there right? Don't get so caught up in how much everything costs to go out and have fun. We went on a cruise of Milford sound, hiked at the base of a volcano, surfed (well tried to), swam in waterfalls, saw pinguins, drove nearly the whole coast of the entire country and saw so much. Sometimes you just need to go out and do it!
Don't let this picture fool you, I did not dominate those waves.
10. Ask for help. We were taken back by how friendly and helpful people were. When I was looking for my job, I just started walking into every store and shop I could find. People were so helpful. In one bakery, the very nice guy behind the counter told me about a job at a resort, I went there and two days later I had a job. We got help when our van got a flat tire and our wrench broke...in the middle of the night...in the middle of nowhere. I think people are for the most part good, and like to help people, don't be afraid, but use your head. Also, hit me up in the comments if you have questions, I'm happy to help...and I promise not to whistle at you like the transvestite hookers in Auckland did to me...promise!
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz