it’s not a secret that ESL (english as a second language) teachers in europe aren’t the wealthiest lot (although i have heard a different story about asia– that’s where you can really rake in the $$). no, for us here on the european continent, the job is a labor of love, but one that puts us very near many intriguing and interesting new places to visit. my travel list is always a mile long and it never ends. a day after returning from a trip, i am already thinking of the next destination!
in my three years abroad (yep, i just hit big three! hooray!), besides getting acclimated, settled, and comfortable in our new home, it’s no secret that travel has been a priority for us americans abroad. we map out those days and weeks off and think long and hard about where to go next… in fact, it’s rare that there’s a month where we don’t go anywhere!
now, i am the self-professed queen of frugality, and this thriftiness has really helped us when it comes to traveling on a teacher’s budget. this year alone, we were able to save up enough spending money for a month and a half in the united states + enough to take care of bills and insurance for the next two years… on the czech crown. so i thought i’d pop over and share some of my best tips that we do every day for making travel a priority on a low budget… and then making it happen.
1) the most important thing to do: make it so that you have as few bills as possible.
we do not pay for any entertainment services, internet (that’s a stroke of luck, though!), or anything but fixed living expenses like rent, taxes/social security, insurance, and groceries. this is it, y’all. our mobile phone costs are so minimal (i’m talking, less than $5/month, we’re not big talkers) for keeping up on our pay-as-you-go phone plans with no data. get your living expenses down; cancel what isn’t a necessity. the only non-necessary thing i pay for is a monthly subscription to yoga glo for $18/month. (unlimited lessons for less than the cost of a few lessons of yoga in a studio)
2) we buy… not a whole lot
the world is full of tempting things to buy, but we try to have none of it! i mean, when you’re thinking about saving up for that awesome trip to iceland, a new shirt at zara doesn’t seem so great, does it? i’ve brought/traded out some clothes over the summer from the states, so it seems like i got new clothing for free. we shop at discount groceries and cook at home, rather than going out to eat or drink (even though going out for drinks in this country will not set you back so far!). for entertainment, we stream or download our favorite shows and either check books out at the library (at the british centre) or check out e-books for free from my hometown’s library (do look into whether your local library does this, it is a godsend, especially abroad).
sure, there are always times when you really need a new (fill in the blank). that’s going to happen once in awhile! i waited until we got a hefty refund (for being so thrifty last year, woohoo!) from our electricity company to go get a new phone, recently.
3) now that you have few bills and buy nothing, SAVE. as much as possible.
earlier this year for about five straight months, i was able to save a very respectable amount by simply buying not a whole lot and putting the rest in our savings. it might be hard at first to get used to it, but watching it add up over time made my thrifty heart grow three sizes. just be sure to note what special expenses you may have coming up between now and your trip (like a birthday dinner and night away, etc) so you can properly budget for them. keep your eye on the prize! (loads of saving money tips later in the post!)
4) travel locally… the obvious thing that doesn’t seem obvious.
to keep our adventures rolling between those big, exciting trips, we go on local day trips on the weekends. castles, lakes, hikes, big cities (prague, linz), and other places of interest lay within only an hour or two on the bus or train, and domestic transport tickets are rather cheap. if you pack a lunch and don’t stay overnight, it is a really great way to go! if it’s a little further away, sometimes we’ll only spend one night and make the two days very full ones.
5) keep busy with work in the winter
i am aware not everyone has the opportunity to take on more hours, tasks, or opportunities at work that result in overtime or extra pay, but if you do, give it a go. that’s what those dark, long winter months are for, besides hibernating indoors with a cup of tea. i don’t mind working hard in the winter when i start dreaming about an adriatic vacation i may be planning in the summer!
6) take very good of the things you do have.
best way to not need new things = take care of your old ones! alex, electronics expert dude, taught me that you should wait until the battery in your electronics is down to almost nothing to charge them, and when they are fully charged, they should be removed from the power source immediately. doing so can greatly prolong the battery life of your gadgets! clothes (especially jeans) don’t need to be washed as often as you would think, which can prolong their life as well… and air-drying always helps!
7) we choose our accommodations very carefully.
as i’ve outlined on my 25 best euro travel tips list, we consider what time of year, where we’ll be, and what we’ll be doing when choosing accommodations. if it’s a very busy city break (like for the berlinale film festival), we’ll hostel or camp because we know we’ll barely be at our accommodation, anyway. (and more money for movie tix!) if the weather’s nice and it’s a beautiful natural area, we’ll also try to camp. if it’s a winter holiday in a rural place with not many sights to see, nicer accommodation it is in lieu of spending more on entertainment.
8) other things you can do, regardless of where you are, to save money for travel…
+ walk or bike instead of bus or drive
+ cancel your netflix, utilize your local library’s extensive movie collection instead
+ downshift your mobile phone plan to one that does not include data to save more.
+ keep your electricity bills low: unplug your electronics and appliances when not in use, never leave lights on unnecessarily (candles are fun!), and turn down (or off) your heat when not at home.
+ grow your own food from seeds! tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs are really useful for meals. a fun and productive hobby.
+ if you’ve got a “starbucks habit”: invest in a nice bag of coffee (or box of tea) and save money by making it at home vs. cafes or starbucks and carrying it in a tumbler. you’ll feel better knowing you’ve still got a really quality, delicious drink and will definitely save.
+ if you make tip money, put it immediately into a special box or envelope immediately, if you can. make your tips your travel money!
+ have a movie night at home instead of going out to the cinema
+ if you have an extra bedroom, consider becoming an airbnb host and watch the cash roll in.
+ sell things you don’t need or use (at a resale shop or online… the re-sale app, depop, is very popular)
+ house-swap. if you live in a popular location for tourism, try swapping homes with someone else across the world! i would love to try this one day.
+ if you are abroad, instead of paying for language classes, try to do a lesson or conversation exchange: one hour of your english for an hour of whatever language you want to learn. i am planning to start this in the autumn!
the minimalistic, traveling teacher lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but i don’t mind making a few sacrifices here and there throughout the year in order to have our travels, combined with the laid-back pace of life and the beauty around me that this lifestyle affords.
what are some of the best ways you’ve saved money for travel or during your trip?