Most of us don’t buy into the whole “I’ll-travel-when-I-have-enough-money-to-afford-it” idea. We generally understand that putting off travel is the equivalent of putting off life. If we don’t travel when we’re young, we’re hardly more likely to travel when we get older.
But that still puts us in a bit of a quandary, because travel can be expensive. Sure, there are ways to cut your budget so a trip is more affordable — there’s an entire internet out there dedicated to budget travel — but you still have to save in the first place, and that means settling down and working for a bit, unless you’re one of those lucky few who works for National Geographic and gets to work and travel all at once.
If travel is a priority for you, the period between settling down and saving can be maddening. You’ll want to go out and do fun things, but then you’ll have to stop yourself in the name of delayed gratification. And if you do try and make life enjoyable in that between time, your savings account will inevitably fill up slower than you’d planned.
It turns out this is really only a problem because we allow it to be a problem. People all over the world have discovered creative ways of spending very little money in their day-to-day lives, reserving most of their funds for big things, like travel. Here are some of your options.
When Julie Phillips of Calgary, Canada, lost her apartment, she moved in with her friend Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz. In order to move in with him she had to give away a lot of her stuff, and over a bottle of wine once they’d finished the move, they started talking about what a gigantic role “stuff” had come to play in their lives. They decided on a whim to buy nothing for a year, and when their story caught on in the local press, they realized they actually had to follow through with it.
They began walking and biking everywhere, and instead of eating out, they would throw dinner parties at their home. They stopped getting expensive haircuts, and they started making their own laundry detergent. They made an attempt at growing enough food to be able to feed themselves, but, ultimately, weren’t able to grow enough in their garden. Even if they did technically buy things here and there, collectively, they saved over $55,000 over the course of the year.
Their year has since ended, and they have gone back to buying certain things, but the exercise taught them what they could do without, what they could buy on their own, and how they could avoid the insidious lifestyle creep that comes with making more money but never having money to spend. They were able to cut their consumerism down to a manageable size. And $55,000 can buy a long trip.
In a similar vein, many Americans are taking to the tiny-house movement. Tiny houses, if you haven’t heard, are exactly what they sound like: condensed homes that are usually attached to some sort of trailer, and can be parked pretty much anywhere. Because of their size, tiny houses emphasize space efficiency, cutting back on clutter, and an overall simplification of their owners’ lives.
Tammy Strobel wrote about living in her tiny house for Matador back in 2012, and earlier this year was profiled in a video on The Atlantic. She and her husband decided to move into a tiny house when they realized their lives could use some simplification, and their tiny house eventually enabled them to pay down their debt and to use their money for things they actually wanted to spend it on. Strobel wrote: “My grandparents…taught me that living simply isn’t about self-deprivation. Instead, it’s about giving yourself the time, freedom, and money to pursue your dreams.”
Live with no money at all
If you want to take an even more extreme approach to saving, you can try living with no money at all. It sounds impossible — especially after hearing about how the Buy Nothing Year roommates inevitably had to spend for food — until you consider the existence of the barter economy.
Take, for example, Heidemarie Schwermer, a 69-year-old woman who has lived without spending or receiving money for 15 years. She does this doing odd jobs in exchange for a place to stay or some food. Schwermer does this for idealistic reasons: she believes that the system centered around money is broken, and wants to live a less materialistic life. But the barter economy isn’t remotely new, nor is it a product of idealistic anti-capitalists. It’s far more ancient than the money economy itself: it’s a simple trading system, and it’s formed the basis of human cooperation for millennia.
The International Reciprocal Trade Association estimates that the US barter market is worth $12 billion annually, and for the most part, the people who participate in it aren’t like Schwermer. Many of them have normal jobs that pay actual cash, but they use the barter system to trade their abilities for other things they may want but can’t afford otherwise.
Ultimately, saving for travel (or for that matter, saving for anything) doesn’t have to mean a life of misery and self-deprivation. You can live a very simple, happy life as long as you’re willing to get creative about how you get there.