No income while traveling? No problem! (part 1)

If you are reading this post, it means that I still don’t have an Internet access in Guatemala, but I am certainly working on it!

I received a question from a reader last week about how I manage to travel and pay my way around the world, and since several people have asked me in the past, I thought I’d answer with this two part series. The question was:


One of the things that has stopped me so far from doing this is the fear of not having any income while I’m traveling so I am very interested to know how you manage to do that.

No income while traveling

Well the money part of traveling is pretty easy: you don’t need that much. 


In my case, I went to business school the last two years of college and my school was paid for by the company I was working part time for. I also got paid through college, and the good thing is, I was able to save money. 


I had my salary and a scholarship totaling about $2000 per month. And most of my friends were still broke students. So I kept living like them. I saw the money growing on my account and started dreaming about a round the world trip when I graduate. Crunching the numbers, I thought I needed $1000 per month, including flights and everything. 


I kept saving even more aggressively. I took a waitress job during the weekends, stopped going out (I still had a social life and was entertaining friends at home a lot), and by the end of the year, I had much more money than needed to travel for a year.


I decided to buy a flat in the suburbs of Paris, and travel with the rent money. I still had a small money cushion after the purchase, in case of an emergency. My idea was “as long as I have enough money to pay for a last minute, one way trip back home, I am fine”. That ticket price is about $3000. I hope you will never have to pay it, but knowing you can afford to brings you peace of mind.


I traveled for a year on about $15 a day. I didn’t really care much about comfort at the time, camped a lot, slept in buses, ate on the markets, hitch-hiked too, but I always splurged when I wanted. For example, in Honduras, I got my diving degree, and logged in 10 dives. I talked a lot to travelers on the way, about places they had been and I wanted to go, and inquired about the cheapest way to get there, entry fees… Angkor Wat in Cambodia was $20 for a day and $40 for a three days pass. I am not a big fan of antique sites, but this is a must see. I asked people if one day was enough, most said yes, but you will end up exhausted, and that is why people chose a three days pass to explore slowly. I chose the first one, and paid my $2 hotel for an extra night to rest on the next day.


Coming back to the main point of the story, traveling is cheap. When you travel for a week, you need a plane ticket, and will probably buy a package in order not to worry about food and accommodation. It may cost $1000 or more. Traveling slowly is much, much cheaper. You have no plane ticket, you stay at small guest houses or people places, and you pay for what you use. If you just want to sleep, you pay for a $10 guest house and you have a clean room and a bed. In the resort, you pay for the swimming pool, the AC, the all-you-can-eat breakfast, whether you use it or not.


As far as not having an income is concerned, on that first year of travel, I was not worried about it, I had my rental income kicking in every quarter, and my savings from the last two years of college. I thought about getting a small job on the road, and gave it up for a very simple reason: low wages. In Central America, lots of tourists find jobs paying $1 per hour plus tips. At the end of their 8 hour shift, they have $15 or so. $15 go a long way in Guatemala, but I would much rather work for one day in France and enjoy a full week in Guatemala than work for local minimum wage.


Because of the French system, if I came back to look for a job after my trip, I would have been entitled to 24 months jobseeker’s allowance and that was my ”savings” cushion. Worst case scenario, I could get 70% of my last income for the next two years. While this is very reassuring, now I feel safe enough when I have 4 to 6 months of living expenses in the bank. I have never gone that long without a job (at least not on purpose) and I could always take any menial job to make my emergency cushion last longer.


To be continued…

A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. Nice post. My brother has done a lot of traveling and has said similar things about traveling slowly. All you really need is the ticket to get there and there are many ways to keep costs down. Plus, it has allowed him to really enjoy whatever area he’s in as opposed to just doing touristy things.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Hi There, What Can You Tell Me About Yourself?My Profile

    • That is very true, you get to meet locals, be invited for meals or special occasion, learn the language… All of which is practically impossible if you go away for a week.

  2. Sounds like you had a great plan. I hope that when Brian and I decide to travel again we have as much of a cushion!
    CF recently posted..Using Planwise to create a money planMy Profile

    • I was lucky and felt very safe with my cushion. Just like an emergency fund, the notion of cushion can be very different for some people. It might be as low as enough money to call home and have your parents send a ticket back! I wouldn’t be comfortable with so little though.

  3. Veronica @ Pelican on Money says:

    And your story just keeps on unraveling… Fascinating! To me, your life sounds like a story worth writing a book about. Maybe throw in some romance, a bit of danger in your frequent adventures and you’ve got yourself a novel.
    Veronica @ Pelican on Money recently posted..Happy Halloween!My Profile

  4. Tackling Our Debt says:

    You are right, when you stay in a big hotel you are paying for all of the amenities.

    You are able to keep traveling because you are so good at managing your finances. I remember you commented too that you did some tutoring when you lived in the UK. That is always a good skill to have.
    Tackling Our Debt recently posted..How to Earn Income From HomeMy Profile

    • My luck all around is that I have been working “normal” jobs, earning a normal salary, instead of just tips and a little bit here and there. Tutoring can be a great source of income almost everywhere too. I can certainly make my money last longer than most too.

  5. Mr. PoP took a year off during the middle of college and traveled somewhat slowly. Though he didn’t make it all around the world, he traveled to several different areas in the US, picked up different jobs (some manual labor, some more technical skills), all while he didn’t have a degree. He completely supported himself and got to see some really cool places while doing it. And then he came back and started dating me =)
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Income Inequality In RelationshipsMy Profile

    • That must have been a wonderful experience, I imagine he learned a lot, how to find a job anywhere, be flexible, adapt… many qualities for today’s job market.

  6. Wow, things are definitely different in France vs. the US, just based on your last paragraph. I’m also impressed with how cheaply you traveled. I think it’s just hard for many people (myself included) to envision travel being that cheap. I expect to spend a few grand for a vacation, but I suppose it’s because I’m not looking at the full spectrum of possibilities. Thanks for sharing!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..Get the clutter out: 5 things to organize todayMy Profile

    • We are very lucky in Europe re health and benefits. Travel can be dirt cheap, even if you want a minimum of comfort and luxuries. You can do a home exchange if you are comfortable with that, get a flight with your credit card rewards and spend roughly what you would at home on food, plus a bit for exploring. Some people who do houseswaps would even leave their cars. I don’t travel as extremely as I used to but last year I toured Mexico and the US on the motorcycle and my daily budget was about $35 per person, eating mostly china buffet and sleeping in chain motels, but we saw the whole country, coast to coast! On a two weeks holiday, it is normal to spend way more.

  7. Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy says:

    You are making me lust after my vagabond days again! I left the States when I was 18 and traveled to Europe for three weeks ( worked my tush off beforehand to save for my flight and some pocket money.) I loved traveling so much, I stayed for five years traveling eastern and western Europe. When my daughter is a bit older, I would like to explore the Orient and Africa more. I love your stories, they really bring me back to my own great memories. Thank you so much for sharing this window into your world.
    Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy recently posted..Happy Halloween from Broke-Ass MommyMy Profile

  8. That is a great post. I have no idea how I’d go about traveling for that long. We only take short vacations, and pay for the extras. If I were to take a year long trip, it would be a totally different mindset. I’m not ever sure I could get out of my comfort zone to do that, but something to consider if we can ever get to passive income living.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Halloween Humor: Random Things I’m Scared OfMy Profile

    • Living abroad for a few months, like your friend did in Argentina, is a good way to discover new things while sort of staying within your comfort zone (you have a house to sleep, a neighborhood you get to know, it is just like moving house). Being a nomad requires letting go of many things and it can certainly be daunting.

  9. This is exactly what I want to do. My partner and I have traveled around New Zealand living in a tent and it was absolutely awesome. You don’t need to have heaps of money to travel. I’d love to travel cheaply using passive income from investments – that would be so cool.
    James @ Free in Ten Years recently posted..Being rich is relativeMy Profile

    • That is what I am trying to achieve too. I could probably live very extremely off passive income but want a bigger cushion for inflation and well, just in case.

  10. I have never traveled for long periods of time due to trying to progress up the corporate ladder at work. I feel that by having an extended trip I would be less likely to be promoted than others who were more available.

    I really need to forget about living a ‘normal life’ and start doing something exciting – like move to Guatemala
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..October 2012 Goal ReviewMy Profile

    • lol. When I left right after college people said I was throwing my degree away and would never find a job. Many were still jobless when I came back a year after. I think it was the best time to take a year off because I had no house, debt, kids, no ties basically. It gets harder with age, although whole families do it too. In your case I would try in between jobs to ask to start as late as possible and take a month off in between, that shouldn’t affect your company’s vision of you.

  11. It’s a good idea to have that $3,000 safety net. I wonder how many people take a long term trip around the world only to forget to have money set aside incase they need to call it off early.
    You really lead an amazing life.
    Justin@thefrugalpath recently posted..How to Start Saving When You Can’t Afford toMy Profile

  12. I can’t believe you get that benefit of backdated income support in France… MENTAL!!
    Savvy Scot recently posted..Change Your Life – Step 5 Learn New SkillsMy Profile

  13. It wouldn’t work for us. One of us (ahem, not me) doesn’t like to travel, but will go if e v e r y l i t t l e is worked out ahead of time.
    Marie at FamilyMoneyValues recently posted..Clutter, Clutter Everywhere – continuedMy Profile

    • hehe that wouldn’t be possible! When I bought a round the world ticket with 10 flights or so over a year, I thought at least the flight dates wouldn’t change, then so many things happened, and I have had to change most of them. A nightmare for anyone who likes to plan ahead!

  14. This is a very interesting post. It can happen to anyone. You actually do not need a lot of money when you travel. Just bring the right amount of cash or you can use your card. You can even save before going on a tour. It requires practical sense and you will be alright.
    David @ Bankruptcy Canada recently posted..Canada Bankruptcy and What You Need to Know about Provincial LawMy Profile

    • It is true that you really don’t need much. I am not a big fan of bringing so much cash while traveling but many good card do not charge fees on overseas transactions, that is much safer.

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