1. Choose your destination
  2. Work out costings
  3. Analyse your incomings/outgoings 
  4. Find extra sources of income
  5. Credit and debit cards
  6. Pack up and go!

The decision was made. We were going to take a sabbatical from work, pack up all of our belongings and our house, and hit the road for six months.

In hindsight, I wish we’d gone for longer. Packing your entire life up into as many boxes as your attic will store really is quite difficult. Saving money for a trip this long was actually easier than the packing.

Granted, it took dedication, it took willpower and it took determination. But how easy is it really to save for such a big trip?

1. First thing’s first – choose your destination

This was the fun part. We sat down in front of the laptop feeling giddy after having finally made the decision to bite the bullet and go. Our friend was getting married in Spain and so we knew that it was going to be a starting point for us. We scoured travel books, blogs, and Google Maps to work out which was the most viable option.

Europe. We’ll travel around Eastern Europe and then make our way slowly back through Italy, Spain and France towards the UK. Great idea. But, wait. We live so close. Should we not go somewhere further afield while we’re still young and we can? Ok. Southeast Asia. It’s a well trodden route, it’ll be safe. Do we want to do safe and well trodden? How about South America?

This process took about three weeks. We planned half a route through Europe before scrapping that idea, looking briefly at Asia and then deciding we didn’t want to do that either. 

Jo had visited Colombia a few years before with her brother and loved it. Could this be a starting point? 

We eventually decided on a route. We’d go to the wedding in Spain before getting the train to Madrid to say goodbye to our families. Then we planned the route, which was sure to change (and it did). It began Miami – Colombia – Peru – Bolivia – Chile – Argentina – Uruguay and Brazil, before heading home via Lisbon. 

On the road to Machu Picchu
On the road to Machu Picchu – Peru

2. Costing your destination

Once your destination is set, you can work out costs. Getting an approximation of costs by checking out Lonely Planet guides and Hostelworld/booking.com is your starting point. It’s best to get an idea of the following:

  • Dorm bed price per night
  • Private room price per night (you’ll need a couple of these a month to recharge, in my opinion)
  • Average price for street food
  • Price of a three course meal
  • Activity prices for hikes/day trips etc.
  • Transportation costs
  • Price for a beer
  • Price for water

Once you have these costs, it’s easier to work out an approximate budget. For example, we’d decided we wanted to spend 4 weeks in each country, give or take. We found approximate costs for all of the above, and worked out a budget on a country-by-country basis. We then added 5-10% on top of that figure to allow for errors, scams and those nights where you end up spending way more money than you probably should have.

We booked our initial flights, our first hostel and our flight home. I wouldn’t usually recommend booking a flight home, if possible – just in case plans change. The only reason we did was with thanks to Jack’s Flight Club, and finding a stupidly cheap deal from Brazil back to the UK. It was a buffer. It was so cheap that it didn’t matter if we didn’t get on it. We also booked our Machu Picchu Inca Trek, though in hindsight this wasn’t necessary.

We then removed the cost of the above from our overall budget, and split this between six to get a budget per month. For detail, we’d worked out we’d need no more money than £2,000 for two people per month in each country. £2,000 x 6 = £12,000. Minus the cost of flights booked and Machu Picchu tour, we would need to save another £11,000. Now the hard work started.

Colombian sunsets - an experience that money can't buy
Colombian sunsets – an experience that money can’t buy

3. Analyse your current incomings and outgoings

Spreadsheets will become your friends. We sat down and inputted both of our salaries into a spreadsheet. This was followed by every direct debit and standing order, including subscriptions to things such as Spotify and Netflix. Then came an approximation of how much money we spend on eating out, food shopping and evening activities.

Next, it was time for the fine-toothed comb. I recommend setting up a traffic light system within your spreadsheet. Green for the things you literally cannot live without – rent money, gas and electricity and transportation to work. Amber represents items which life would be a little more difficult without – mobile phone contracts, contact lense subscriptions, and gym memberships. Red represents things which aren’t a necessity and should be cut without question – expensive lunches at work, meals out and cinema trips.

Personally, it was easy for us to cut a lot of things. It was going to mean living a simple life for a while, but it was worth it.

For things such as lunches at work, we learned to prep cheap and easy recipes at home every Sunday which would last us all week. We’d buy our snacks to take with us from a cheaper supermarket such as Aldi rather than splurging money on things we didn’t need.

I cancelled my Spotify subscription and found a free 6-month trial online for Apple Music. Netflix went. Eating out went. Going into town for nights out was swapped with a bottle of wine at home with friends. Food shopping became so meticulous, we began to loathe Sunday afternoons. We’d dig out the recipe books, plan each meal for the week. Write a very specific list, and not stray from it. We managed to reduce our weekly food shopping from £80 to about £25 per week for two people. That’s including ingredients to make breakfast and lunches to take to work. Aldi is amazing.

It was a slog. I became tired of saying the same phrases. “We can’t afford that”, “sorry I won’t be there, it’s not in the budget”, and “shall we have pasta again for tea?” 

But it’s all worth it in the end…

Who said budget travel wasn't glamorous? Probably my favourite bus station from the entire trip - Peru.
Who said budget travel wasn’t glamorous? Probably my favourite bus station from the entire trip – Peru.

4. Finding extra income

It’s all well and good cutting things from your life in order to save. But sometimes it’s just not enough. Finding ways to earn extra cash could be a huge help when it comes to saving.

For us, this came in the form of short-term and long-term lodgers. We were fortunate enough to have a guest room in our house. With my family living two-hours away, it comes in great use when they want to come and visit. It was a lifesaver when it came to saving money for our trip. Use sites such as Airbnb and Spareroom to find people to stay with you.

We had numerous people stay with us who worked for the BBC. We housed students, and we had two people who hibernated in their room so much so that we only saw them once. We met some interesting people, made some friends, and also met people I’d happily never see again. But it created an income for us which we otherwise wouldn’t have had.

If this isn’t viable, there are sites you can pick up work if you’re in the right industry. Upwork is a big one, and I used PeoplePerHour a couple of times, too. These sites are also great if you’re wanting to earn money while you’re away.

Another option is to get a part-time job to supplement your current salary. The only problem with this if you’re a UK citizen is that you may start to pay emergency tax for a short while, and we all know how easy it is to get a rebate…

We gave a lot of our possessions – clothes, books, DVDs away to charity but could have profited on those, too. Sites such as Depop, Shpock and ebay make it easy enough to sell your stuff. Or do it the old fashioned way and head to a car boot sale!

Money can't buy you happiness...unless it's a trip to Salar de Uyuni
Money can’t buy you happiness…unless it’s a trip to Salar de Uyuni

5. Finding the right debit and credit cards

For UK citizens, I have one answer and one answer only. Starling.

No fees when you spend abroad, no limit on the amount you can withdraw abroad (unlike its competitors…Monzo and Revolut, I’m looking at you), 24/7 helpful customer service (I used it twice in Argentina and once in Brazil) and budgeting tools such as the ‘Goals’ function which lets you separate your money into pots. Oh, and you earn interest every month. I cannot fault Starling for anything. The best bank I have ever come across.

It would be worth using your Starling account to save your travel funds into, as you’ll earn interest as you save. Your money is covered up to £85,000, so it’s safe.

Disclaimer: I am not earning any sort of commission from Starling, I genuinely just think they’re ace.

In terms of credit cards, I recommend using Martin Lewis’ eligibility check, or Experian’s credit card finder. Both offer a quick and easy process to find suitable credit cards without affecting your credit score. You’ll either be wanting a credit card with 0% interest, or a specific travel credit card so you won’t be charged the standard 3% exchange fee. Personally, we only took a credit card for ’emergencies’. This included last minute travel insurance (whoops) and a flight out of Colombia because we were struggling to find anything below £600.

It’s best to use a debit card otherwise you’ll be paying off your credit card whilst you travel, and that’s an expense you do not need.

Cultural experiences are the best experiences. Taken on Lake Titcaca, Peru/Bolivia

6. Time to go!

You’ve saved, you’ve packed, unpacked and packed again and you’re ready to go. Make sure any direct debits that will be outgoing whilst you’re away are connected to an account with money in it, as you don’t want to be penalised.

For me this was just my phone contract – I had over a year left to go on it and it was more cost effective to keep it running, even though I wasn’t using it. Thanks, EE.

Give a family member, friend or trusted human a copy of your passport, loose itinerary and potentially credit card details just in case you lose it and need the numbers.

Try and stick to your budget as best as you can, shop around when you get there – whether that’s for food or a hostel bed, and allow yourself chill days to give your body and bank balance a break. But most of all, enjoy it. It’ll be the best thing you ever did.


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