How I Saved $50,000 to Travel the World Full-Time

If I tell you that I saved up $50,000 to travel the world while living in New York City, what do you imagine that my job was? Perhaps an investment banker, or a lawyer, or maybe one of those consultants that no one actually knows what they do (themselves included)? Nope, the truth is, nothing so glamorous.

I was a public school teacher for 5 looooong years.

Learn how I funded my life on the lam!
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You may wonder how on earth I managed this. Don’t public school teachers make next to nothing? Isn’t NYC expensive as hell? Yup and yup. Saving money without a fancy job is hard. But I’m here to tell you that it’s possible – with effort, strategy, and prioritizing.

Another thing: I didn’t pinch every penny for those 5 years. I actually traveled to 17 countries while holding down a full-time job and simultaneously saving up $50,000If I had really buckled down and focused on saving money and held off on the travel, I could have done it sooner.

When not seeing the Northern lights, dogsledding is a fun way to pass the time
I even went to expensive Sweden while saving to travel full-time. Financially questionable, yes. Insanely fun, also yes.

I also nursed a serious wine habit, because how else are you going to survive the Department of Education?

But in all seriousness, here’s how I managed that seemingly impossible feat. It’s not meant to be a step by step guide for you to do the same. I can’t know your salary, your debts, your cost of living, and your lifestyle.

Maybe your potential savings are smaller than mine, or maybe they’re much higher. This is just my story of how I financed my escape from the 9 to 5 — or the 8 to 3, as my case may be — in order to travel longer and further than I ever thought possible when I first started my career as a teacher.

Living the hard knock life in Belize… er, something like that.

I set clear saving goals

I used Mint to help me track my spending and set goals. My goal was to save $1,000 per month. For every month I saved, I’d gain about a month of future travel, using my benchmark of $1,000 per month for backpacking in cheap countries.

RELATED: 40 Cheapest Countries to Travel on $30 Per Day or Less 

My goal was $48,000, which would be enough for 4 years of shoestring traveling. Honestly, though, I’ve since started traveling a little more expensively – spending more around $1200 to $1500 per month – since I attained part-time freelance work on Upwork.

Best. Coworker. Ever. (even though he tried to steal my lunch, rude)

I had no debt

I know that this is easier said than done for Americans. Student loan debt seems to be a birthright for us. I’ve spoken about my privilege before and how my parents’ ability to pay for my undergraduate degree has given me a huge advantage. I later obtained a scholarship for my Master’s degree in Education, keeping me debt-free.

This is just to be honest and up front – not to tell you that having no debt is the only way to save up a large sum of money to travel.

But if you want to save up to travel, you’ll want to get rid of any “bad debt” — credit card debt and extortionary private loans — if you want to make any serious headway.Β Focus first on paying back that debt. As for your low-interest student loans, you can factor the cost of paying them off into your monthly budget for traveling.

Pay off those credit cards and see the wonders of the world!

I changed the way I socialized

When I was younger, I went out to bars — a lot. It’s kind of what happens when your college campus is literally New York City.

As I got older, I realized I had more fun inviting friends over for a home-cooked dinner and wine, or hanging in the park with cheese and wine (notice a theme here?), or meeting up at a museum. All these things are drastically cheaper than going out to a bar, getting hopelessly drunk, eating questionable amounts of fried chicken, and cabbing it home.

Do as I say, not as I do.

I took the initiative to plan budget-friendly outings rather than always waiting to be invited somewhere. When something came up that screamed massive money drain – like a birthday dinner (this cheap bitch’s worst nightmare) or a weekend trip I wasn’t really into – I wasn’t afraid to decline politely and offer an alternative later.

I streamlined my food, transit and rent spend

Rent is a huge drain in New York City. I opted for living in less hip neighborhoods to save a couple hundred bucks a month. I had my own studio apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn for just over $1,000 a month, which gave me quite a bit of money to be able to save each month.

Being able to afford trips to Cuba make me less sad that I lived over a mile from the nearest hipster coffee shop.

I also lived with a boyfriend for a year, which cut my living expenses in half. While I don’t recommend moving in with a significant other just to save on rent, it did significantly help me save money.

To save on transit, I rode a bicycle 13 miles to work each day for 3 years, which saved me approximately $4,000 as opposed to taking the subway. Yes, even in the winter, because I’m a maniac.

A definite, though temporary, upgrade from my beater road bike

I also ate really cheaply by cooking most of my own meals or making sure that I split my takeaway meals into two portions, sometimes bulking it up with extra rice or bread. There were takeout places in Ridgewood, where I worked, and Flatbush where I could easily get two meals’ worth of Caribbean, Spanish, or Soul food for $6 — at $3 per meal, it didn’t break the bank to eat those meals out.

When I cooked for myself, the food blog Budget Bytes was my cooking bible. I learned so many amazing recipes from that website. I joined a food co-op, despite the insufferable hippieishness of its patrons, to save on fresh produce and ethically raised meat. I bought all my grains in bulk from the co-op or ethnic grocery stores.

I checked my local grocery store’s weekly sales circular and stocked up on canned, frozen, and dried goods whenever there was a sale. I froze all my leftovers and made my own chicken stock and yes, even my own beans. A bit obsessive, yes, but there’s no denying all the money I saved!

RELATED: 101 Ways to Save Money for Travel

Money saved now = more tacos later. Math you can believe in.

When it came to travel, I didn’t always go to the first country that struck my mind. I used flight comparison websites like Skyscanner (I also use Google Flights and Momondo – I usually try a variety of comparison websites before making a final booking to make sure I’m getting the best price!) in order to pick the cheapest country I was interested in, then made a plan from there. By doing that, I got deals such as Sweden for $400 roundtrip, Turkey for $500 roundtrip, and Puerto Rico for $200 roundtrip.

I took on every opportunity to gain extra work or pay

As a teacher, I took on a lot of paid after school work in order to have extra funds to travel. In NYC, we have something called “per session” work that nets you about $42 per hour — not a bad supplement to my less than stellar paycheck. I also worked two summers, which netted me $5,000+ each summer.

I also researched how to get a raise in the DOE and worked my butt off to attain 30 college credits by taking language aptitude tests and independent study courses. That earned me an extra $6,000 per year pre-tax, which made a huge difference. Of course, that won’t apply for everyone, but you can easily gain extra work on Upwork or other online freelancing websites. Hone a skill like SEO or editing and monetize that.

Not seeing the sun in winter working 10 and 12 hour days sucked ass, but the freedom it gave me is priceless.

I wasn’t perfect

I could have saved more, or spent less time saving the amount that I did. I saved that money over the span of five years. Had I canned the traveling temporarily and truly focused on saving, I probably could have done it in two or three years.

I had my vices: I spent far too much on artisanal cheeses and even more on my wine nerd habit. I planned my weekends around eating dumplings. I made impulsive decisions like buying a ticket to Belize or Puerto Rico to escape New York for three or four day trips. I did these things not out of weakness, but because I value my happiness.

fancy life in Puerto Rico
Taking a 3 day trip to Puerto Rico wasn’t smart financially, but it saved this California girl her sanity in a New York winter.

Constantly questioning your decision to buy everything can be a bit of a drain on morale. Don’t beat yourself up on your past expenditures, and don’t be too stubborn to treat yourself when you know it’ll improve a difficult day.

The real trick is persistence. Saving money is a marathon, not a sprint. Work out where in the world inspires you most, and figure out how much it costs to get there. Start setting realistic goals. Hold yourself accountable to them. Over time, you’ll see your savings grow and grow, and you too can quit your job and travel the world. But you have to want to.

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30 thoughts on “How I Saved $50,000 to Travel the World Full-Time”

  1. Great article lady! I’m just awful with saving which is why I’ll prob never save this much in my life, but that’s okay, because i can still travel! :p

  2. I love that photo of you on the Vee Dub! It’s super great that you managed to still factor fun stuff into your budget. My Mum’s a teacher and hearing her stories, I understand how wine was on the list of non-negotiables.

    • Thanks LC! Yeah, I’ve read other people’s accounts where they saved a ton of money in far less time. While inspirational, they all seem to write about how miserable they were during the time they were saving. I’m glad I managed to strike a balance for my own sanity. And oh my god… girl, you have no idea about the stories I could tell. Sometimes knowing a bottle of French red at home was waiting for me was the only thing keeping me from running screaming out of my own classroom.

  3. Wow sounds like you were super motivated and focused! I too am a primary school teacher in the UK and am moving abroad in the summer to work at an international school! If you ever want to get back into teaching, these jobs have awesome pay πŸ™‚ May work for 4 years then follow your footsteps and get travelling full time!! πŸ™‚

    • I’ve always been a big saver so I think this is just kind of how I am wired – I hate “wasting” money! Nice to meet a fellow teacher, that’s awesome πŸ™‚ Where are you teaching abroad?? I’ve considered teaching in an international school but after those five years teaching I just had soooo much burnout that I can’t even think about re-entering the profession at the moment. But I’m sure that working in an international school would be a much different environment than working in a poorly funded public school with an entirely special needs population. Something to keep in mind, for sure.

  4. Good for you Allison! I really like this article, there’s a feeling of humility which I really like. Sometimes articles talking about personal achievements can feel a bit over-indulgent but this doesn’t at all. Totally agree with how you can make little changes and save money – cooking at home is a big one and like you said it’s actually a lot more fun than we first thing.
    Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    • Thank you Lula! I’m glad that came through. Talking finances can always be a super sensitive topic, which is why I hesitated for so long to write this post… but I’m glad you think I managed to do it with humility. Really makes me happy to hear that. And yes, the little changes are really what saves up big in the long run. Cooking for myself is probably the biggest one, followed by riding my bike – and both were things I loved to do. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Allison,

    Your determination and positive attitude allowed you to pursue your dreams. There is nothing wrong about that. I like how honest you really are and open-minded. Since moving to London, from Portugal, and 14 years later I had enough money to put down for a deposit, so i could buy a house ($30.000), and perseverance is the key. I compromised a lot, and that is okay. I am now doing what a love, travelling.

  6. I agree about the part on still being happy – just saving, saving, saving and not seeing any happiness day to day is not worth it.
    And, I definitely practice not eating out! Most of the times when I see those dishes priced at $15 per small plate of pasta, I just feel horrified – I can get that pasta at home for fraction of the cost. You have wine, for me it’s tea – one pot in a cafe is never enough, and at home I can drink as much of it as I want to and not pay $5 per tiny cup πŸ™‚

    • Oh I know! Pasta is one of the things I hate spending money on the most because it’s so easy to make at home. That’s why when I do go out to eat, I like to eat at ethnic restaurants that have food I could never cook (or would have to spend so much on ingredients that it wouldn’t really save me much money to cook myself), like Vietnamese or Thai food.

  7. Currently working at this! Fortunately, my husband makes way more than me (I’m a teacher as well). Once our debt is paid and we’ve reached our savings goal we are out of here! Thanks for sharing this encouraging post.

    • Definitely helpful to have another salary when you’re a teacher! So excited for you to save up for your journey. Keep your eye on the prize and your goal will be here before you know it!

    • Hi Dani! Thanks for the sweet comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the post and took something from it! Mint is a free service where you link your bank and credit cards to your Mint account and it automatically tracks and categorizes your spending. It sends you alerts if you spent too much on food (oops) or nightlife, etc. It’s not perfect at categorizing at first, but once you use it for a while it starts to get things right πŸ™‚ You can set savings goals and that kind of thing on it too. Highly recommend it!

  8. I can totally relate to this as a New Yorker! It’s so tough in New York, but it is doable if you try. It might take a bit more willpower to stick to a plan for some people since there are so many tempting ways to spend money, but it’s doable! πŸ™‚

    • It definitely is! Moving to a less “cool” neighborhood definitely helped me avoid the temptations πŸ™‚ Kind of hard to buy a $5 cappuccino when all that’s nearby you is dollar bodega coffee!

  9. I love this story! it shows that saving for travel is an ongoing habit, not just a one-time thing you do.
    it also shows that you can just be a ‘regular person’ (no fancy job) to save up to travel the world.
    Are you monetizing your blog these days too? that’d probably help you be able to perpetually travel!

    • Thanks Vanessa! Exactly – it’s all about mindset and priority. And yup, these days the blog is monetized through ads and affiliates – not 100% where I want to be, as I’m still dipping into my savings a bit, but getting there! πŸ™‚

  10. Very nice travel blog. I dreamed to live your lifestyle. Hope to learn more from you. Just subscribed and followed you IG πŸ™‚

  11. This is an excellent article!
    Your “About” Section I just have to mention where you said that you spent your younger years in school studying maps and memorizing countries in Central Asia…..instead of socializing with the kids around you… I swear to you that was me too. It felt so comforting to read that because I literally was that same exact kind of child myself ( I wasnt very social at all.. or still am actually). I just discovered your blog and I LOVE IT !!!!

    • Aww thank you Alana! Your comment made my day. Good to know I wasn’t the only weirdo as a kid – though it would have been helpful if you were at my school hahaha maybe I would have been teased less πŸ˜› Anyway, thanks for the kind words, and I’m so glad you found my blog!


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