15 Things I Did To Save for Long-Term Travel

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When people find out or know you’re an attorney, they assume that you already have the means to travel. You’re made, for sure. That’s how you get to “jet set” around. It has to be.

Well, actually – it’s not true. In my case, the last time I saw a six-figure, recurring monthly salary for every month of the year was 2008. It was sweet while it lasted, but you know what’s funny? I don’t remember what I used to do with ALL that money. It seems like a fortune now.

I live a simpler life since leaving my cushy benefits and salaried job in Washington DC and I’m way happier. Less bills, less stress. Less STUFF. More funds and time to pursue my real passions.

How did I afford all those winters away for the past three and half years, three to five months at a time, and all those weekend hops here and there? Here’s the truth of how I did it.

1. I cut the cable TV

Honestly, I was never a television person in the US. I find it numbing. The drama, the bad news, the politics, the pop culture obsession – no thanks. I prefer to read the paper, books or watch documentaries and occasionally of course, movies. I could even save more if I switched to a go phone from my AT&T plan – which is ridiculously overpriced.

2. I rented my house

The house was a major headache – with the housing market in poor shape I somehow managed to rent it out, at a small loss. After a couple of years though, it became a nuisance to stock money into an asset that was devaluating. So I placed it on the market, and said prayers. In the end it all worked out and as of December 2011, I no longer have that burden.

3. I saved like mad

It was easy to do when I had the full-time job. But even afterwards, anytime I had income I would schedule automatic deductions into my >> money market account. I wouldn’t even feel the money go. The more driven I was to achieve my dream, the easier it was to do.  Even $50 makes a difference over time.

4. I paid off my car and then sold it

Paying off my car was something I did from the beginning. But after I started traveling and living in the city when home, it made no sense to keep my car (and trust me, I loved that thing). I was paying for parking even though I drove it only on the weekends. One less thing to worry about while I plan my move abroad.

5. I cooked and took lunch to work

It’s incredible how much you can save from not buying lunch outside every day. Those $7-$10 daily can add up. Why give my hard-earned money away when I’m making less already and it could help me travel? No way. The same goes for eating dinners out too often – once in a while is all right.

6. I subscribed to Netflix instead of going to the movies

If I ever get the urge for movies, there’s Netflix and online streaming for just what, $8 a month. Sure it’s nice to go to the movies sometimes – like the recent Marley documentary I caught on screen – but going to the movies isn’t really in my “must-do” list when living in the US.

7. Um… I stopped buying Louboutins, Gucci’s and clothes

It blows my mind when I think about it. I blame my lovely mother for this (although I’m thankful she gave me fashion sense). I saw her wearing Charles Jourdan and Dior shoes from when I was ten. Different pair every day. She was a ridiculously fabulous fashionista. Guess what? I followed in her footsteps and so did my sister (who is an accomplished fashion designer). I have about 50 pairs of high-end designer stilettos sitting in my closet, collecting dust since 2008, at $500 each (that was a drop in the bucket back then). Oops maybe I shouldn’t say this online. Anyone want to buy at least half of them?! Size 8, FYI.

8.  I contracted out my services

I became a consultant – whether working part-time with law firms, selling my images or taking on photography gigs when possible. Multiple hats means multiple streams of income (I make myself sound rich but I’m so not…yet.)

I took a big pay cut from my full time job, but with less bills and less debt, it was easier to survive and I had more energy to focus on the things I love. And more control over my time.

9. I rented a studio in town

Moving from the suburbs to the city changed my life and my bank account. Even if I’ve only spent half the year here, my rent is less than a mortgage – allowing me to save more for those trips and giving me more time in the day. Since I know I’m not staying long-term, renting makes sense for now.

10. I saved on my airline miles. Yes, it does work.

Oh my, if I could count how many folks have told me they never bothered to register their trips. It’s like throwing away money, seriously. Signing up with airline miles accounts is FREE folks, free. And before you know it, it all adds up. All you have to do is insert that mileage account number when you book a flight online or when you are checking in at the counter. Just like that. You can even register after a trip, if you do it soon enough.

Proof that it works? In three years I booked the following FREE plane tickets from my accumulated miles (and maybe just $10 to $50 dollars in taxes per ticket): London roundtrip in the summer, Jamaica roundtrip twice and one-way once (high season too), Belize roundtrip once (first time in July 2010). And a couple of domestic flights too.

I also use airline credit cards that allow for the collection of miles per purchase (warning – easy on those cards, they add up very quickly).

11. My travel blogging brought in rewards

It wasn’t happening for the first two years while I built it up, but after my blog picked up traction – since 2011 – I have gained sponsorships as a travel blogger and photographer. I’ve been on a few of press trips – from the three-month fully paid gig in Belize to a week in Taiwan. There’s no way I could have afforded traveling to Asia at that time otherwise, and it was an excellent experience. I was also scheduled for Puerto Rico but unfortunately caught the flu and never made it.

I also get sponsored hotel stays from a wide range, luxury to budget – it’s all part of the job. And expense paid trips are not a guarantee of positive review, they just help us get there.

11. I gave back

Giving feeds receiving. I also believe it’s what the more fortunate of us should do – send blessings around to those who need it.

I gave away my old clothes and will continue to downsize every year with used apparel I no longer need.

I  donate money even when I have nothing coming in. For instance, for the past seven years I’ve been sponsoring the cutest girl in Ethiopia. I’m not related to her in any way. I just wanted to make a difference in a child’s life and give her access to education. I kept it up even when after I quit my job and long after when I had a couple of months with no income. Nothing gives me more joy than receiving her handwritten letters from Ethiopia in the mail and seeing how much she’s grown (since she was seven) and how she’s doing in school. Today, she’s fourteen years old. Probably the best thing I’ve done in my life so far, no kidding.

12. I sold unused items

I sold some of my household goods and other electronics I no longer used. Like the extra Nikon D90 body I no longer needed when I upgraded.

This section is a work in progress – I plan to sell all the things I have no need for before I hit the road again. That 30 inch (or is it 40?) plasma Sony HDTV that still sits in my apartment as if I watch it? That’s next on the list. What I can’t part with though is my collection of African paintings from Congo.

13. I learned to ask questions and find solutions

Basically, I learned to hustle. That insurance bill that comes every month or the internet service? Those things we subscribe to at home? They almost always have a suspend option -a temporary hold while you’re away abroad. That often means only 10% of your bill has to be paid, or you can have it put on hold until you return in some cases.

It pays to call and ask, knowledge is power.

14. I worked my behind off

Yep, it’s the old-fashioned work-hard and play hard formula. When I was home I worked as much as I could so I can save as much as I can – within reason of course, because making time for friends and family is important. But that meant long hours and sacrificing weekends for weeks on end.

15. I cut down on salon visits

Seriously, when you have as much hair as I do it’s tough to maintain on your own. But I stopped going to the salon every single week (yes I used to do that). Instead staggered it to twice a month, learning how to do it myself the rest of the time.

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In a nutshell, if it’s what you really want – to travel or pursue what you love, whether it’s a class or living abroad – it’s possible. It just takes diligence, sacrifice and gratitude for the tools you already have.

Are there any other ways you’ve saved for long-term travel if you’ve done it before? Feel free to share below.

***

Note: I just realized since publishing this that I have two number 11′s – ah well, bonus tip, I’ll leave it as is.

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma has contributed writing and photography to CNN Travel, New York Magazine, AFAR, American Way, Travel Channel, BBC Travel, and others. She’s the currrent author of MOON BELIZE for Moon Travel Guides and is completing a second title, MOON BELIZE CAYES. Lily is also AFAR's Jamaica Expert, and author of the AFAR Jamaica Country Guide. A serial expat, she's lived and studied on three continents, including Africa–from her native Ethiopia to Côte d'Ivoire–and Europe, and is fluent in four languages. A former attorney who ditched the office for the road in 2009, she favors all things culture, adventure and storytelling, and escapes Washington DC’s winters every year.

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19 Comments

  1. Robyn 3 June, 2012 at 7:36 PM #

    Yes, I totally agree. I had 1-2 roommates, even though we had a 1 bedroom, we made it work. It was crazy, but everyone was hustling to save money for their dreams. I do my own hair. I don’t have a TV. I go to the Farmer’s Market, which is huge because it is so cheap! My wardrobe sucked for a good year, but I didn’t care it wasn’t a priority. Or, if I do buy pieces, they are from reasonably priced stores and they are classic pieces that are timeless, not super trendy outfits that go out of style right away. When you really want it, you make it work! Thanks for the article! Great validation for me!!

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 3 June, 2012 at 7:42 PM #

    Robyn! Thanks for adding to the list. I forgot to add the farmer’s market solution – so very true. I’ve avoided the big chains like Giant and Safeway because a lot of that stuff is so overpriced.

    Also agree on timeless, classic clothing – great tip! Most of my trendy stuff has remained in my closet.

    So glad you found this useful and thanks again for adding to this list.

  3. Fidel 3 June, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

    Great information and real information that people can use whether they are a lawyer or a student.
    How do you start getting companies and hotels to notice your blog though? I hear people often say that once their site built up traffic, they started receiving offers. Well how do these offers come about and what is a good monthly amount of visitors that put you in that category?

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 3 June, 2012 at 7:57 PM #

    Hi Fidel, thanks for sharing and reading.

    My honest answer to those questions: NETWORKING is king. Yes, posting consistent and solid content also is important – but assuming your work is on point, the way to get noticed is to network in your industry. Many ways to do this, from using Twitter, Facebook, sharing your work, guest posting on others’ blogs. But also – reach out to the hotels, tourism boards or PR companies that interest you and that target your niche/market. Send a cold email – why not -introduce yourself but also have your material (press kit) ready.

    I will say, if you keep blogging consistently and providing information of value or enjoyment to your readers, you will get there. Interested parties will find you. If they don’t, go knocking, don’t wait around. I had to learn to be proactive and spent many hours reading and learning about the industry.

    As far as my offers to Taiwan and Belize, they came through Matador Travel – an online magazine that also runs an online writing and photography school, called MatadorU. Worth checking out if you’d like to refine your writing skills and get real-time feedback (if you do, check out my resources page for the link :)).

    Hope that helps.

  5. Tarra Stauffer 3 June, 2012 at 8:05 PM #

    Great information – thank you for sharing. Bless

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma 3 June, 2012 at 8:15 PM #

    Thanks very much Tarra, and for reading and sharing. Bless!

  7. Fidel 3 June, 2012 at 8:49 PM #

    That information helps greatly.
    I need to make time for networking more and getting “out there.” Just seems like a lot of “popular” travel bloggers begin treating their selves like celebrities and they seem to give off an air of superiority. Not all of course, just some.

  8. Lebawit Lily Girma 3 June, 2012 at 9:22 PM #

    HA! Fidel – it’s funny you say that, because I posted about the travel blogging world on my personal Facebook page.

    But the key – is to work hard. Don’t watch what others are doing, as tempting as it is and as frustrating sometimes because as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s NOT a diverse group out there.

    It’s a lot of work in itself – blogging and networking – I spend more hours than you can imagine doing this, but the rewards have been trickling in. Focus would be my word of choice – focus on what makes you different, and what you have to offer. Meditate on it if you have to (no kidding). And step away from those blogs – sometimes disconnecting IS connecting. I learned that myself.

  9. Fidel 3 June, 2012 at 9:51 PM #

    “Sometimes disconnecting is connecting.” I like that!

  10. Lebawit Lily Girma 3 June, 2012 at 10:19 PM #

    HA! Thanks, I need to remember that too. :-)

  11. Oneika the Traveller 4 June, 2012 at 2:32 AM #

    LOVE the honesty in this post! Congrats of reaping the rewards of travel blogging, your words and pictures defniitely deserve it!

  12. Nailah 4 June, 2012 at 4:10 AM #

    Great advice – I love # 15. If I added up all the money I have spent on salon visits products and such…I could probably fund 2 years of non stop travel!! Sigh.

  13. ~CDA 4 June, 2012 at 5:05 AM #

    When you keep your eyes on your prize, nothing can stop you, especially when you have the right tools in place to help you maintain that focus. Awesome list! I know because I’ve done most of them and continue to release things that no longer serve me! Congrats Lily on stepping off the grid!

  14. Kevin Smoot 4 June, 2012 at 7:39 AM #

    You know I would have bought that d90 body off of you!!!

  15. Lebawit Lily Girma 4 June, 2012 at 7:52 AM #

    Thanks Oneika! I appreciate it. You know what we do for travel! Thanks for reading.

    Nailah! Oh yes… ditto!! I could have funded a house overseas or 2 RTW trips, ha! The hair, the make up, the shoes, the clothes (I have more than I know what to do with)… Insane. Better late than never?

    Thanks CDA, off the grid is an awesome place…even if few understand it. :-). “Release” – great word fir it.

    Kevin, I laughed out loud because you wouldn’t believe how fast it went. I literally said to someone I worked with in Belize “I don’t need this D90 anymore” and right away he wanted it, lol. I wish I knew, I would’ve sold it to you!!
    That should have been my Tip #12: I got myself a kick-butt accountant(I want my discount for this online endorsement LOL).

  16. Ele 4 June, 2012 at 8:44 AM #

    You can also look into you mobile bills, maybe there is a cheaper provider or plan? Also, what about the Internet? If you pay for it, what about signing up with a local library and using it there? Walking instead of using public transportation. Plan your food for the week, buy at once during discount days. So, there are ways to save.

  17. Diana 4 June, 2012 at 10:28 AM #

    Solid advice! Taking down the pointers. My blog’s FB page has been at a stand still. However, my Twitter followers are on the rise daily. Good points about sending a cold email and media kits. However, my blog’s readership isn’t that impressive, can you suggest any wording for media page or cold letter to attract sponsorship?

  18. Lebawit Lily Girma 4 June, 2012 at 11:04 AM #

    Thanks for sharing, Ele – there are definitely other ways including those you mentioned. It’s all about finding what works for you.

    Diana – it’s really not so much about readership, that’s just one factor. Just be yourself and introduce your background, who you are, what you do and what you’ve accomplished thus far (awards, publications). And then mention your blog by stating who your audience is. If they want numbers and a kit, they will eventually ask. But start with a short email intro and follow up. The key is to show passion and a good fit between what you do and what you want, and showing you have value.

    I don’t believe in using the same wording as others – just a general outline helps. I would look at examples of other press kits for outline purposes but fill it with your own voice. Hope that helps!

  19. Katherine 11 June, 2012 at 9:47 PM #

    Awesome post. Thanks for the tips. Just what I needed to read right now. Have already implemented 5, 6, 7, 12 and 15! Have been feeling in a rut so time to get my ducks in a row!

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