how i afford to travel the world

How I Afford A Life Of Constant Travel

Dear Mum,

I hope this postcard finds you well. It’s been a while since we last heard from each other. If there was Internet in Heaven, you might have probably read here that I’d quit my job to travel the world. Don’t worry, before you get yourself too worried, yes—I’m still in one piece despite having travelled to more than 65 countries.

And no, dad didn’t sponsor me. How could he have afforded to? He had only saved up enough to allow me to finish my degree in an Australian university. I am eternally grateful to him for doing so but I had a hard time persuading him that the world has more to offer than a regular pay cheque. He couldn’t have understood my intentions then but now, I’m glad that he has come to grudgingly accept that I would never be quite the regular Malaysian girl next door.

How did I get started?

Yes, I know money doesn’t grow on trees, that’s why I started out with only RM1200 (USD 400 then). But that lasted me for two months. Yes, the article was a little misleading to mention that the funds had lasted me for most of my travels. As much as I wished it was true, that didn’t quite happen in reality. Not for me, at least. I know that there are other brave souls who hitchhiked and Couchsurfed through the world with almost no expenses. Hitchhiking is when strangers let you ride with them for free, and CouchSurfing is when strangers allow you to stay in their homes for free.

Yes, mum, you wouldn’t believe it. These days, almost everything is possible.

Anyway, let me set the record straight.

I did quit my job and leave home, to two countries that I’d never been to before. There was no promise of security of a job when I come back or prospects of landing another job during my travels. And I went alone—I had to. Who else was crazy enough to come with me?

Thai train - how i afford to travel

I DIDN’T QUIT JUST ONE JOB TO TRAVEL THE WORLD.

I’D QUIT COUNTLESS.

Then I went back to Kuala Lumpur and picked up another job, this time as a writer in a lifestyle magazine for college students. I had worked for another 7-8 months, before politely resigning. I travelled most of South East Asia with whatever I’d saved up from that job. Within this period, people I’d met along the way had also supported me by lending me money, offering me tips and opportunities and by providing me with the right shoulders to cry on. You’ve no idea how many good people are out there. Simply kind-hearted wayfarers who’d offered me help without expecting anything in return.

I wasn’t a finance guru but I’d learned to live within my means, in other words, the cheapest ways possible.

Right about the time when I ran out of money again, I got a job as a Crew Lecturer where I’d worked sporadically over the course of 6 years, on 5-8 month contracts. Here, I managed to save up a fair chunk of money as I was paid relatively well by European standards and the currency was in Euro.

tiny wanderer in amsterdam as a solo backpacker

Yeah, never in my life would I have imagined myself to be working on a ship but I guess, life didn’t quite turn out the way my 16-year old self had thought.

In between, I had also secured a 2-year UK Working Holiday visa, which existed then. When I wasn’t working on Costa cruise ships, I was wandering through in every country that I could afford. And when I needed a break from the constant travel, I waitressed and made coffees in a cute little café on Carnaby Street, London.

 

making coffees to fund my travels-tiny wanderer

 

At some point in 2011, I said my final goodbyes to working on cruise ships and travelled for a year before I went on to apply for an Australian Work and Holiday visa. In Melbourne, I juggled three waitressing jobs to make enough for my next round of travels.

Sounds like a charmed life? Not really. I did really work my ass off but it was surprisingly rewarding. I enjoyed serving customers, the nice ones at least. On the weekends, I took trips to nearby countries like Ireland, Italy and France.

If you were to just look through my Facebook pictures, you’d think that I was rolling in cash. I was defined by my snapshots of faraway destinations, interesting foods and exciting adventures. But no one took photos of me slogging long hours behind the café’s counter.

It was only till 2 years ago, that I thought I’d hang my travelling sneakers up and put my backpack away. I thought I’d give normal life a try. I had just turned 30 and thought, perhaps ‘settling down’ could be an adventure on its own.

After Australia, I embraced temporary stability by I working in Singapore as an advertising copywriter. It almost worked for two years and then I met Chris.

You’d have been more proud of me here because I’d stopped quitting jobs to wander. Instead, this time it’s all Chris’ fault. He made me quit my job to move to Germany. Oh, I’ll tell you more about that another day.

MAKING TRAVELLING MY HIGHEST PRIORITY IS THE BIGGEST SECRET

tiny wanderer on a jeepney in the philippines

As you can see, mum, my journey was deeply personal. It was not special but it made me who I am today.

I wasn’t handed down a set of formulas and was told that if I were to do A, that would lead me to B, and so on. I made a few mistakes before figuring out that B or C would be the solution.

Now that I’ve gone through a decade of mistakes, I’ve come to a simple conclusion of how I made it all happen. It’s tricky, you see—the solution is so obvious and plain yet no one sees it.

The secret is to make travelling my highest priority amongst everything. Which means, I literally say no to expensive night-outs when invited, I don’t shop as a hobby, I don’t have a large wardrobe of clothes, I don’t change my mobile phones or have a dozen other gadgets other than a Smartphone, etc.

In other words, I found myself turning into a cheap ass and that’s the truth. One of my friends had coined it the ‘backpacker mentality’ and by golly, he’s right! Backpackers seek out the cheapest options when they travel. I’ve adopted this mindset for the majority of my travels, especially when I first started out. Surprisingly, this mindset also influenced all my decisions even when I wasn’t travelling.

I usually go through a long and deliberate process before buying anything expensive. And if I could not justify the price tag, I don’t buy it. I put it back to the shelves and walk away. When I couldn’t let it go, I seek out cheaper alternatives.

With every penny saved, a new destination becomes possible.

I just make travelling a necessity, like how most people make coffees, food, a hot body or nice bags a necessity.

Just that sheer will and ravenous hunger for new places and new experiences made it all happen. It happened despite every obstacle that was placed in front of me. It happened because I would do anything to make it happen.

I chose travel, again and again.

And it chose me.

Hope you’re well, Mum. If you were alive, I’m sure you’d have loved to tag along.

 


 

How did you afford to travel? Do you have any further tips that you’d like to share with us?

Ying Tey

Ying Tey (Piccola Ying) is a Malaysian freelance writer based in Germany. She’s always in the pursuit of adventures and tales; so far, she’s chalked up 68 countries to date. She’d previously funded her travels by teaching English on Costa Cruise Ships (yes–including the one that sank!), by making caffè lattes in London and Melbourne, and by writing copy for a Singaporean advertising agency, that persuades you to buy a Mini Cooper instead of a Toyota.


Today, she just wants to inspire you with stories that will make you take the path less travelled.


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