Money, Safety, and Overall Tips

I get asked many questions before and after every trip, but there are three major ones that always stick out:

1. How do you afford to travel so often?

I am able to afford to travel so often, one, which is the obvious, because I make pretty decent money bartending in NYC. However, making decent money and living in NYC basically HAVE to go hand-in-hand, considering NYC is an overall expensive place to live (average rent in NYC is $1500/month per person, though mine falls just a hair under that). I try to be wise with my spendings; I don’t go out to eat a lot, I try not to take cabs, if I want to drink, I buy a bottle of wine and drink it at home verses going out to bars, and I don’t shop a lot. I first started a savings about two years ago, with my motivation being every time I wanted to take a cab, to NOT take it, and to transfer that money directly to savings (so if I wanted to take a cab that was twenty dollars, I would take the subway instead, and transfer twenty dollars to my bank account). Aside from that, I use credit cards (but I PAY THEM OFF, don’t be an idiot like I was when I was 18!! Can’t stress this enough) that have travel bonuses. My favorite travel card is Chase Sapphire preferred. When you spend $3000 within the first three months, you get 30,000 travel bonus points (which equates to at least three or four $300 flights, or a few nights at a decent hotel). I signed up for the card right before going to Paris and Barcelona in 2014 with my sister, and used it vigorously on the trip as there’s no international transaction fee. I try to not abuse it (though it does happen occasionally), and as soon as I return from vacationing, I put that bad boy in my drawer and pay it off. I have acquired many points from the card and overall it has benefited my travels.

Think about it. How much do you spend on one night out with friends? Now that I have become borderline addicted to traveling, I realize how far a $200 night out in NYC could take me in another country (5 days in Santorini cost me around $380). To each their own, but would you rather have drunken nights over and over with the same people, or limit yourself a little and have those fewer and farther between, with some money put aside to maybe experience something new? Cutting back on the little things makes a HUGE difference.

2. Are you sure that’s safe?

Am I sure traveling is safe? This question always boggles me. No, I’m not sure of anything because I’m not a psychic. But every time I step out of my comfort zone and land in a new country by my lonesome, of course part of me is like, “Well, I hope I don’t die here,” but excitement always takes over that feeling almost immediately. When you travel, you meet SO many people who are doing the same exact thing as you. I actually think Americans tend to travel less, perhaps because our vacation days are so much more limited than those in other countries (Sweden gets 25 paid vacation days on average, while the average American has to work at least one year at a place in order to receive two weeks paid vacation). I also think American media is constantly telling us everywhere is dangerous (look at our current administration, we’re trying to build a freaking wall with our own bordering neighbors!). I have found that, for the most part, people are incredibly friendly and open as long as you’re not an ass hole. Obviously, don’t be an idiot; don’t wear flashy jewelry, don’t walk down dark alleys late at night, and don’t get in cars with people who seem a little off (though I have hitch-hiked in Hawaii before and it was totally safe). Just trust your gut. Don’t leave drinks unattended (pretty sure I avoided getting drugged in Puerto Rico from this tip alone), don’t carry tons of cash around on you (I ALWAYS leave at least one card and a decent amount of cash in a safe back at my hotel or hostel, so if god forbid I get robbed, I have something to fall back on). Just use common sense, and I can guarantee you, it will be as safe as it can possibly get. Obviously, there are certain situations in which can’t be avoided no matter how many precautions you take, but that can happen in your own home, so I would never let that be a factor to deter me from traveling the world. Learn the 911 code in every country (every country has an emergency number, google it and write it down before you get on the plane).

3. Do you have any tips?

Absolutely. Here’s a list of all of the other tips I can think of that can save you money, stress, and time while traveling.

Buy a SIM Card or only use Wifi
I made the mistake of using my cell phone the two weeks I was traveling through Thailand and Indonesia; I called Verizon and asked them to be put on an international plan which allowed me up to $10 of data use a day, however 10 x 14 = 140, and that is on top of my already cell phone bill. Once I was on day three of this trip, I realized that it wasn’t exactly a good deal so I cancelled it, but I continued to use my phone way more than I should’ve. My cell phone bill ended up being $650 for that month! Lesson learned. Now when I travel, I don’t even call my cell phone carrier, and I only use my cell phone when I have wifi. This can be hindering, so if you are traveling long term, I highly recommend you get a SIM card. It allows you to use your phone without being charged all of the extra fees.

Make friends everywhere you go
Open up to people you may not even typically open up to. I am overall slightly anti-social, I don’t really like gatherings and parties and hanging out with large crowds. However, you never know the friends you can make if you just open up, and how much you can really learn about people. Making friends with people while you travel can lead you to future opportunities; I know a girl who made friends with a couple from Portugal, and she is now currently watching the couples’s dogs in exchange to staying in Portugal for free for an entire month. You never know who you may meet and what memories you may share. I drank two bottles of wine with an Australian girl on a boat in Hawaii; I haven’t talked to her since and to be honest, I don’t even remember her name, but she taught me so much about her culture and vice-versa, and it was one of the coolest memories I’ve made. Talking to locals and nomads alike enhance your experience.

Sign up for travel insurance
This can save you if you lose a bag, need to cancel a flight due to a medical issue, and furthermore. It can also save you if you get into some type of accident/incident while abroad. It usually starts around $50 and seems to be worth it every time.

Buy good shoes
You will be doing a LOT of walking while traveling, don’t be an idiot like me and bring Nine West flip flops while hiking through coral reef in Aruba (my life flashed before my eyes at least twenty times). Invest in good gear (backpacks and suitcases included), and it will take you a much longer way.

Save where you feel you need to save, and spend where you feel you need to spend
What’s more important to you? Room service and a luxurious hotel? Or would you rather use that money to spend on local food, drinks, and adventures? Everyone is different. I personally would rather skimp a little on accommodation (Hostelworld.com, AirBnb, Couchsurfing.com are all great options) and spend that money on eating local grub and activities. Hostels are my personal preference; it’s a great way to meet people, they’re STUPID affordable, and most offer private rooms so you can still save coin and not have to share a bunkbed with a twenty-year old who just finished Uni. In Peru, I had a private room in a hostel for $16/night. Sometimes I do need to splurge and stay in a hotel, but I never opt for the fancy ones. The most important factors to me are location, good air conditioning or heat (depending on where and when I’m going), and good wifi. Based on those features alone, I usually search on Orbitz.com. I stayed in Rome, Italy for one night at a hotel five minutes from the Colosseum for $90/night, which included free breakfast (which included free Prosecco because Italy is a country after my own heart). To me, that deal was entirely worth it.

Don’t take taxis.
Taxis will eat up your money quicker than anything else. If you feel you MUST take a car, try UberPool or LyftLine, which most countries offer. You can save quite a bit, at the expense of sharing with another passenger or two. Always go for local transportation; busses, subways, trains, etc. My personal favorite way to get around a city is to walk! It takes longer but it’s the best way to take it all in, and you never know what hidden gems you may stumble upon! I also love to rent bikes.

Try getting a job abroad.
I have personally never done this, but it is something I constantly look into. Sign up to teach English abroad by getting your TEFL/TESOL certificate. Countries such as South Korea, Japan, and China will pay you immensely and usually cover your cost of living and the flights to and back from there. Aside from making money, what a rewarding opportunity to teach kids a new useful language! Other than teaching, you can look on Workaway.com, WWOOF, or other volunteer programs, which, for a small fee, you can volunteer to work in various environments (farming, marine life, agriculture, babysitting, etc.) and in exchange for your work you get a free place to stay and free food. You don’t exactly make money, but if you save enough prior to arriving, it’s a great way to get to dive into a new culture and get out of your comfort zone. You can also opt to be an au pair, where you can stay with a family and watch their kids, usually for an allowance and a free place to stay. Aupairworld.com is a great source to get started.

All in all, there are MANY ways to save to travel. I actually find traveling is cheaper than living, and much more educational than my personal day-to-day life. As I said in regards to safety, I’ve never felt incredibly unsafe, though I’ve had a few incidents (ripped off by cab drivers, followed by a guy in Belize, a man whipped out his penis to me in Barcelona though it was a crowded street so I don’t think he could’ve gotten away with much, food poisoning in Thailand, etc.), but once again, these incidents can happen ANYWHERE. If you are thinking of going somewhere, whether it be alone or with a buddy, I say do it! You’ll never know if it’s right for you until you try.