Spending and Making Money During Extended Travel

The most likely questions I'll be asked after revealing that I've been on the road for years are, "How do you afford to travel?", "How do you make money traveling" or "Are you secretly a millionaire?"

There's two parts to answering the question, which are where the money comes from, and somewhat more importantly, what I actually need money for.

Simply put, I usually comment that I spend far less money than I did when I was living in a New York City apartment working a job so I could live an apartment to have a place to sleep in between going to my job which I needed so I could pay for the apartment to sleep in between going to my job to pay for an apartment to... yeah, you get the silly cycle of insanity that was.

"How do you afford to travel?"... I often wonder how I could afford to stay in one place.





You'll read some other blogs discussing "budget traveling" that brag about living on "just" $50 a day. My God, if I was working with that budget the state of my liver, the happiness of my taste buds and fullness of my belly would be abundantly immeasurable.

I am a freestyle traveler living a Hobo Lifestyle, my backpack is homebase and has been for nearly a decade. I'm not a bum, I'm not an uninspired street dweller, nor am I a five-star vacationer.

The meat of my expenses: I've spent anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 in any one single year over the last ten years living on the go. If it weren't for my soul crushing student loans (and the fact that I have family members co-signed, so I can't bail on them), those yearly expenses would be significantly lower.

So, everyone really just wants to know how to make money, but because you're priorities are twisted I will intentionally be a jerk and begin first with expenses instead. These are my expenses, but I'm sure you'll be clever enough to extrapolate what will apply to you.

Travel Expenses for a Budget Traveler


Student Loans (debt)

I'll start with this one since it may not even apply to you, and if that's the case then right away you should be feeling pretty awesome.

If you do have student loans or some other kind of debt that you feel is important enough to pay, it honestly does suck. Virtually all the other expenses I'm about to detail are fairly variable, meaning they can ebb and flow based on the money you have on hand, but many debts don't care about your situation, they just want to get paid every month.

This is easily my biggest expense and accounts for more than half the money I spend month to month. A never-ending over-payment for something I did a dozen years ago that has about zero relevancy in my life now. Yup.

Transportation

For the most part, I hitchhike, which is completely free. Not only free, but sometimes people who pick me up are extra awesome and will offer to grab a meal, offer a shower, a place to stay or even shove bits of money in my direction to add fuel to the traveling fire. Those little bonuses are not to be expected, but are pretty cool when they happen.

When there's a big ocean in the way and no boats to readily hitchhike on then flying is the thing. This costs money. I've gotten pretty good at finding cheap flights, a task that is fairly easy if you're flexible with time and where exactly you takeoff and land on the respective landmasses you're traveling between. A post on my flight searching methods will come soon...

I rarely take long distance buses or trains, simply because hitchhiking is cheaper, more interesting, sometimes even more convenient (leave when you want, hop out when you want) and sometimes just as fast or faster (buses can have delays, layovers, go slowly and otherwise have downtime that matches side-of-road-thumbing time). I do, however, occasionally use public transit, either for getting around a big city I'm staying in, or getting to the outer edge of a big city to a better hitchhiking spot. A dollar here, a few dollars there, it's not way too bad, but I often just walk instead if I can (pack ultralight and walking is no problem).

Depending mostly on how much I fly, transportation can equate to as much as a third of my yearly expenses, or as low as nearly non-existent.

Food and Awesome Beer

Food is amazingly dynamic in terms of it's expense. Obviously this varies based on what part of the world you're in, but in any given place you can eat for 1X amount or 50X very easily. Spend a buck or two on street food, or drop $100 at a fancy restaurant like a proper maniac.

Food can also be free of course, as in the hitchhiking example, or when staying with someone generous. Food is the most universally shareable thing on the planet, so this will happen often.

On that note, you too will want to share meals with others that you stay with. Not only that, but you have to be prepared for nearly-unavoidable situations of going out with someone you're staying with or a group where you more-or-less "have" to join them at an eating spot far pricier than you'd go to on your own. Sometimes you just gotta take the hit to your funds and keep the good times rolling.

Having some food stashed in your backpack is a good idea also, things like granola bars and tuna and other things you don't have to cook (in case you get stuck, you can't eat money), as well as inexpensive things you can cook like noodles and the like, when you get that chance.

Awesome beer is one of my bigger expenses, a luxury item of sorts. I brew when I can and generally love craft beer and visiting breweries, so when I can afford it I will often indulge in whatever the local liquid bliss may be. This can add up.

The great thing about food and beer is that you can eat and drink as much or as little and at whatever quality based on what you can afford, it is far from a fixed cost.

Accommodation


Between friends, family, hospitality websites (trustroots.org, couchsurfing.com, etc) and traveling with a personal shelter (like a tent, tarp or bivysack) your accommodation expenses would be exactly zero dollars.

However, there may be times when a a night in a hotel or a hostel will be needed. The most common reason for me has been weather related, like either extreme cold or even heavy rain coupled with other circumstances. Other reasons have included not being able to find anywhere to stealth camp in dense urban areas and simply feeling way to beat not to give in, or when traveling with a girl and needing a good night in a room off the road.

While sometimes hostels can be cheap, the average cost for a night in even a budget hotel can easily be more than weeks worth of good eating and drinking, so choose your fancy nights wisely.

Phone

I recently switched to Google's Project Fi phone service. It costs $20 a month for unlimited calls and texts and data costs $10/GB (prorated, meaning if I use 745MB it'll cost $7.45). The best part of this phone service is that it works in almost every country in the world without the need of getting a new sim card or being charged roaming fees. For example, I recently landed in Australia and my phone simply worked before I even got off the plane, I had data and could text my host immediately. Same with Indonesia, and will be the same with the majority of the countries I visit.

It's basically the ultimate phone service for world travelers, I'm loving it so far. Also it doesn't have a contract, which means if I run out of money or don't feel like I need a phone for a while I can just pause the service and stop paying. I've also noticed that I'll get service in places others don't, since the nature of Project Fi is that it uses many different company's towers, instead of being tied to just one service as you would if you got a local sim card.

If you're thinking about switching to Project Fi then you can use my referral code and we'll both save $20 on our next bill, my code is: TDW3EE. Totally do it!

Incidental whatnots and so forths

Visa fees, movies, cover charges, festivals, new gear and so on. These are basically things that just pop up or you get talked into doing. Maybe you wanna get a new phone or maybe a new sleeping bag. Or rent a scooter in Thailand. See a show in Berlin. Go to a museum in Prague. Get a ticket to watch the Lakers stomp the Suns at the Staples Center. Pay to host your website. This is life, these things happen.

Wrapping up travel expenses

You may not have noticed, but most of these expenses are expenses you have in all ways of life. So many people, especially for short term trips, will make a travel budget and be somewhat intimidated by the final number. They fail to realize that things like food, public transit and incidental whatnots are the same expenses they'd have at home. And for the more permanent traveler, the odd hotel/hostel cost (assuming you limit these to the situations I described) is going to be far less than paying rent or a mortgage every month.

Also, depending on the job and life you may have had, your transportation fees traveling may be significantly less than that of car payments, gas, insurance or regular-basis public transit costs you may have been used to.

Living on the go requires far less money than a stable lifestyle.

Now, there's precisely 17 bajillion ways to make that money while traveling, so I'll mention just a few.

Making money while traveling


Harvest

All around the planet at different times of year there is some kind of harvest or another, this means short term jobs that are perfect for someone traversing the planet in need of a few quick bucks. These can range from fruit picking, to dairy farms to the marijuana harvest.

I'm most familiar with the California marijuana harvest, usually trimming, which involves being in northern California around October willing to sit around with a pair of scissors all day. Like many harvest jobs, the pay can either be hourly or based on what you produce. In the case of weed you can expect $20-$25 an hour or $150-$200 per pound that you process, which can add up to $100-$400 a day, or even more if you're quick and put in the hours. I've heard the fruit harvest in eastern Australia can earn you even more per day, if you're working hard enough.

I've tried to make it out for harvest season any year that I can, as several weeks of trimming can often earn me enough money to last the whole year. Making money: done.

Sharing your stories online

If you're freestyle traveling then chances are you're having an amazing time and having experiences that some people don't even have the creativity to daydream about. Sharing photos, videos and writing your stories on a blog is not only a great way to share these experiences, but can also be a means of earning a few bucks for the next hoppy pint of beer or bowl of spicy curry down the road.

You can start making some of those dollars through ads (easily setup through services like Google Adsense), accept donations from your readers and perhaps even writing a book or selling prints of your photos.

In reality, though, you may not make all that much unless you're willing to put in the time to make your blog easily found in Google searches, spread the word through other blogs and social media, and most importantly make sure your stories and content is absolutely amazing and interesting. 

Even if it's just a few dollars trickling in, though, that's a few dollars for your next beer, all just for sharing your stories which you probably want to do anyway.

Other digital income

If you're a web developer, coder, database admin or otherwise involved in IT then this option is quite obvious. It can be easy for you to pop into a cafe or library from time to time and get paid to work on various projects remotely.

Besides being a digital ninja there are other ways to make money online casually. You can roll the dice with online gambling, translate documents remotely from one language to another or fill out surveys for a few bucks here and there when you have a few free minutes.

Odd jobs

Every here and again I'll be hitchhiking or couch surfing and someone will offer me with a day's or even a week's worth of random work. I assembled cardboard six pack holders on a bottling line in Oregon, threw wood in a chipper on a property being cleared out, moved glass doors around in an apartment building being built, helped move equipment from one area of a warehouse to another and pretended to be a ski instructor for a day.

I've never tried to seek any of these out, the opportunities have just presented themselves. You'll find this too, for the same reason you're reading this post (wondering how it's possible) while you're traveling people will ask you the same thing, "How do you support yourself?" Some of the time they'll have an opportunity for you, essentially answering their own question.

You can always be proactive too, either by checking short terms gigs on craigslist or popping your head into local businesses to see if they need a hand, but I've noticed that these odd jobs will just find you if you let it flow that way.

Gifted resources

I've never panhandled, it just seems pretty boring to me and I get the feeling that it can make some people passing by feel awkward, guilty or even upset. It is, however, reportedly quite profitable. Some travelers and bums I've spoke to have raked in $25 an hour and even way more when they've been in a high traffic area in the right kinda situation.

Buskers (street performers) can make about the same or more whilst eliminating the awkward/guilty/upset reactions.

Panhandling isn't for me and I'm not musically talented enough to busk. I have, however, been gifted money from time to time, often while hitchhiking. Sometimes it's a handful of coins and sometimes it's serious cash (I've been given a hundred dollars before, completely unsolicited from people I just met!). I don't turn down these gifts, in fact it mostly would have been quite rude not to accept.

This sort of thing extends digitally to the blog as well, as people have often sent me a few bucks via PayPal after reading through some of my stories and advice.

While traveling you realize that the value of your stories, positive energy and inspiration will often result in a fair exchange of some cash, a bite to eat, a ride or getting to hear someone else's stories and return some inspiration back to you.

Work Exchange

"Work exchange" doesn't really count as "making money", but rather further eliminating the need for money. Services like WWOOFing, HelpX and WorkAway give you the opportunity to work minimal hours in exchange for accommodation and meals.

It's usually things like helping on organic farms, pulling shifts at a hostel or otherwise volunteering. In the best situations you'll learn new skills, meet amazing people and you won't be spending any money, all while being in a new part of the world.

Projects

I've got involved in several projects over the years, not many of them were sensationally profitable, but they were all fun and had (and still have) potential.

One was a travel website called Trip Hopping for doing transportation searches ranging from hitchhiking to flying.  There's been some other smaller projects, but probably the most involved was a backpack that I designed that turned into a small tent, the Freestyle BivyPack.

I launched a successful Kickstarter for it and spent over a month sewing a bunch together. In the end the materials, shipping and other expenses cut into any kind of profit, but it made a little and was something I'd been dreaming about for ages.

Traveling doesn't mean you put your life and passions on hold, especially if you're traveling more or less indefinitely. Whether you're writing books, making music, knitting sweaters or making backpacks, you can potentially still pull it off on the road, even if it means pausing for a few weeks here and there.

Plenty more!

Search around or be a bit creative and you'll realize there's unlimited ways of making money while traveling and plenty of clever and simple ways to reduce your need for money in the first place. Feel free to leave comments with your own ideas and experience on the matter, it'll help everyone.

This is just a simple list of ideas to help inspire you, so stop worrying about money so much and get out on the road, have your adventure!

Comments

  1. I've heard about taking surveys for almost 15 years now. I gave in a tried it last year and it didnt work for me. I didnt recieve one cent. The rest of the article was interesting however

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