How to Travel When You’re Poor, Part 2: Tips and Tricks

Okay. We established in Part 1 that yes, you definitely do want to travel, and that you definitely can do it. I want to tell you all of the things that made it easier for me to do it, in case you’re in or around the same boat financially (hahahaha we can’t afford to be in OR around a boat). Here are my disclaimers:

1. While my optimism ranges from cautious (my normal day-to-day state) to actually just pessimism (on any topic remotely related to successful romantic relationships), I’ve recently learned that in regard to travel, it’s entered a brand new zone, which is irrationally, deliriously pure–should I quit my job go to a foreign country for two months with basically no forethought? Normal Nicole says no no you stupid idiot, you should not. Travel Nicole on the other hand was too busy gleefully spending Normal Nicole’s money on a plane ticket to hear the question. Take all my advice with a grain of salt. Two grains. Mostly salt, with a grain of advice.

2. I’m going to reference apps and brands of stuff occasionally, but this is not any sort of monetarily induced endorsement. I imagine that the folks representing the different things I link to in this post are not like angry that someone of my caliber is promoting them, but not enthused exactly either. Like that one friend that shows up at the bar who always gets a little too drunk and no one expressly dislikes them, but no one is really excited to see them either, but they’re so excited to see YOU, and then no one else talks to you for the rest of the night, but they still sort of smile at you in passing. You’ve become tolerable, but sort of someone to avoid by proxy.

Budgeting–This Part Sucks, But Then You’re Done

In Part 1, you picked where you were going. Well done! Now it’s time to figure out how much money you need to do the damn thing. Here’s the approximate order I went in, which I think might be wrong for “good” planning, so it was most definitely done by Travel Nicole:

  1. How much is the plane/train/boat/gas money to get where you’re going?
  2. Where will you sleep? How much will that be? Can you do that for free?
  3. Will you starve to death? How much money will it take to not starve to death?
  4. Transportation while you’re there–will you need it? How much is it?
  5. Realistically, what can you pack so that you don’t have to buy it, and what do you ACTUALLY need to have?
  6. Booze money.
  7. What if there’s an emergency?
  8. Oh fuck, you still have other monthly bills too

8 things is alot of things, but it’s actually only two things a day if you take 4 days to do it. That’s math for you.

The Breakdown of That Awful List

Transportation to Your Destination

  1. It’s pretty easy to look up the cheapest method of transportation. If you’re trying to go to Ireland from the US, I can tell you that WOW Air is cheap af, and you can get a sweet long layover in Iceland (which is how I ended up spending a day in Reykjavik before I cried my way through a night in Keflavik Airport by my lonesome #goodvibesonly). Do just a little bit of homework here. Try to flex your travel dates to fly at times that aren’t super popular. My flight from Chicago to Ireland went like this:

Flew out of O’Hare at 11:30pm Monday night. Landed in Iceland 6ish hours later. 19 hour layover in Iceland. Flew out of Keflavik at 7:30ish the next morning, landed in Ireland about 3 hours later. I was absolutely wrecked after that, and honestly I still barely know what time it is, but my round-trip flight cost me a little under $500USD.

Room, Board, Emergencies

2/3/7. Where to stay, how to eat, and what to do in an emergency are things that I solved all together. Here’s the best thing I can tell you: just volunteer. If you want to have a really glamorous trip, this might not be the best option for you. If that’s the case, may God go with you on your journey to a better suited blog. I chose to sign up with WWOOF, an organization that matches volunteers with hosts all over the world with the primary focus being organic farming. WorkAway and helpx are two other organizations that include different types of opportunities, like childcare or working in a hostel. Think honestly about what you have to offer, and then offer that thing. There’s a nominal fee for these–I’m pretty sure it was $30 for a year long membership with WOOF. WHICH INCLUDES INSURANCE SO THAT IF THERE’S AN EMERGENCY I HAVE HELP. I also have gotten accommodation and meals in exchange for getting to learn and do organic farming, which almost doesn’t seem fair, because I’m getting the good end of everything. I’ll write a more detailed post about the WWOOF process as I’ve known it soon!

Transportation and Incidentals Once You Arrive

4/6. If your room and board is taken care of, you’ve just gotten rid of the highest expenses of traveling. Which means that new things take that spot, and for me that was transportation around Ireland once I got there, and play money–mostly for going out for drinks or food or buying the odd item I might need or want.

Again here, this amount will vary depending on where you are, and how you plan to get around. On foot? Free. Public transportation? Easy to find online–just search “public transportation in (name of place you’re going).”

Two potentially helpful notes here: If you’re going to be travelling in one city a lot, there are usually cards that you pre-load with money that give you cheaper fares than paying for each ride on the spot. In Dublin, you have Leap cards, which work on the local buses, the Dart, and the Luas (which are little local trains). It’s worth it to look into these, because it actually does save you money. The other thing is if you’re taking a longer bus/train ride to see something new, it is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper to buy a roundtrip (also called a return) ticket than to buy two one-way tickets on the fly. I was dumb and made this mistake once, and I still regret it.

Incidentals is harder to advise on, because I don’t know you or what you like or dislike or might need or not need or ANYTHING really. I can tell you that I got tired of trying to figure it out for myself too, and just figured I could probably live with $200 a month for fun money, and if I couldn’t then that was a whole second problem that I’d have to tackle, and did I really want to have to do that? No, I didn’t think so. I will say that I wish I had bumped this up to $300 a month, but also I’ve gone out with new friends kind of gratuitously, and I go new places just about every weekend (which means I’m away from the free room/board), so you can get away with $200 with some self-control probably.

So, I sort of lumped all this together, and figured about $600 for two months would do it. Just to recap, we’re at around $500 for the plane, $0 for accommodation/main meals, and around $600 for incidentals/travel within Ireland, so $1100.

What to Bring So You Don’t Have to Buy It

Bring less of literally everything you have, and then fill the newly empty spaces in your luggage with socks, and you’re done.

I kid.

Bring toiletries. Even the stupid little bottles you’re allowed to have in your carry-on bag (which is the only bag you should be bringing, see forthcoming post about how much you don’t need to pack because this will also save you $) will get you a couple weeks of shampoo/conditioner, and months of face lotion. Bring a toothbrush, because they’re cheaper in the US, not by much, but every single thing matters. Buy toothpaste there so you don’t have to go through hassle at the airport because it might be some sort of nefarious device. If you’re a menstruating person, consider a Diva Cup, because then you don’t have to bring or buy any other period things. Bring sunglasses.

Basically, bring things that are maybe more expensive, and that are convenient to get through airport security. Really think about what you actually need to not feel disgusting, and then get rid of everything else. Practice using just the things you pack in the couple weeks before you leave, because that’ll give you an idea!

Recurring Monthly Bills

Actually the hardest part to sort out. Here’s what I did, and I’m not saying it’s great, but I am saying I did it:

I canceled things I didn’t technically need (bye Netflix I miss you). If you aren’t home to drive your car, you don’t have to carry insurance on your car. See if you can shift the payment schedule so that you don’t have to pay while you’re gone. If not, you can cancel that policy (remember you’ll have to reinstate it and probably pay a fee to do so). Do you need electricity if you aren’t home? You do not. I literally am just not paying it presently, because I remember from my exceedingly poor undergrad years that you usually get 90 days to square up your utility bills. Sublet your apartment. Just do that. I didn’t do that, I borrowed money, and that was stupid as shit. I’m playing real fast and loose with my monthly bills, because that stress is worth it to me to get to travel for two months. YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THIS, PROBABLY FOR ALOT LONGER THAN I DID, BECAUSE I’M GOING TO BE FUCKED WHEN I GET HOME AND HAVE NO INSURANCE OR EVEN ANY ELECTRICITY TO NOTICE HOW MUCH NETFLIX I DON’T HAVE.

The bottom line on this one is that the Do I HAVE to Pay This Exactly On Time dance is tricky as hell, and doesn’t feel great. But it can be done. There will be bills you do have to pay exactly on time. But maybe not as many as you think. For me, those broke down to my student loan payment, and my phone bill.

Now You Know What You Need–Time to Save!

Stop having fun, and get an Acorns account. This is how you save the amount of money you actually need, which is not that much. I know I’m promising alot of future posts, but I’ll do a more in depth one about saving too, because you’re tired of reading and overwhelmed by now.

This is the worst part of everything. Do you know how I dealt with it?

I saved enough for the plane ticket, and then Travel Nicole BOUGHT THE PLANE TICKET and left Normal Nicole with the rest to figure out. But knowing I had that ticket to leave in 4 months made me figure the rest out faster, and better, and it was a magical beacon driving me forward towards a really great scary amazing thing.

Beacons don’t drive, the beckon, huh? Whatever. I’m in Ireland, I can mix metaphors as much as I want.


This One Time, In Ireland…

Mostly I want this to be a helpful blog, that adds some sort of value to the internet and your life. But partly it’s a record of my traveling, and WOW I do alot of dumb shit.

Take this weekend, for example.

Saturday night, I met up with a friend that I met when I first arrived to Ireland, and who has fast become a constant and lovely companion. We had plans to go go to a show, and met early to grab tickets. Fun linguistic side note: in Ireland, you do things at the weekend instead of on the weekend, and they sell tickets to gigs on the door instead of tickets to shows at the door. I’m prepositionally confused nearly constantly. When and where does anything happen here? I just don’t know.

Stylistically typical of my late-night work; contact me to discuss how I can help capture your night out!

ANYWAY. We got a bottle of wine to share by the river before the gig (which was at Kaizen Bar, the newly opened venue upstairs at Yamamori Tengu, which is excellent and well worth your time if you’re in Dublin). Post-river-wine, we headed to Wigwam where we inexplicably ordered marginally expensive coffee-flavored shots that were not bad, but did offer a somewhat puzzling bouquet and flavor profile (thankfully I’ve opted not to refine my palate, as it’s less expensive to not give a fuck what you eat or drink). After several unsuccessful cute-girl selfie attempts, we gave up and started for Tengu. The show was a rave-y house music bonanza, with Fish Go Deep absolutely slaying their entire set. Drinks were drunk. Dances were danced. My phone suggests I was practically the official photographer of the evening (see above), and that I have a unique approach to the art that includes moving the camera constantly when shooting to evoke a feeling of perpetual motion and drunkenness in the viewer. We partied like champions, no one slipped us an Ambien (thank you, Jay-Z).

And then somehow we ended up at an after-party. And we were there until 8:30 in the morning. And it was at the apartment of someone who is maybe bordering on too old to not have toilet paper in the apartment. He offered me a tea towel in lieu of toilet paper, and then asked me if I wanted to stay over for the night. I cast around for a polite and lady-like way to make my intentions clear, and settled on ‘uhhhh, I don’t want to have sex with you, so…’ Etiquette level: Julie Andrews. The very next thing he said was ‘why?’ At which point I lost most of the rest of the respect I had for him and also any feeling of security, and then my temper. He didn’t ask again, and was a very pleasant host for the rest of the evening.

9:00am found us (me+my original friend) wandering through the city centre sunrise, marvelling that the world had somehow become light again, and realizing that we needed to sleep. Immediately. So immediately that we booked a hostel on the spot. The reception staff of Abbey Court Hostel is made up of I’m pretty sure actual angels, who took a look at us and apologized that we couldn’t get into our room until 2pm, but if we needed to chill out (we very definitely did), there was a hammock room downstairs that we could use until then. A hammock room is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s where we spend the better part of the next 5 hours, until we rolled gracefully out of our hammocks, elegantly dragged our poor bodies to our (28 bed) room, and tucked ourselves into bed for another few hours.

By 4:30pm on Sunday afternoon, we were brand new women, in that we looked and felt like death warmed over and were starving. We bravely journeyed forth. O’Connell street was a vibrant, frightening, sun-soaked wonderland of people and sounds and smells. We glided through like weird shadowy spectres, directly to McDonald’s because apparently my hangover cravings are exactly the same here as in the US.

And finally, finally, at 6:13pm, we got on the bus for home.

I’d say I’m thriving.


The main takeaways here are this:

  1. Abbey Court Hostel is actually an excellent place to stay–it’s cheap (we paid 15 Euro per person), it’s clean, it’s on the river, you get breakfast if you book and stay overnight instead of booking to sleep through the day like hungover idiots, and the staff is amazing. I’m not getting paid to say this, it’s just the actual truth.
  2. Don’t do rave drugs from strangers in Dublin. I’m not saying I did. I’m just saying it’s advice I can give you based on research.



How to Travel When You’re Poor, Part 1: (Do You Even Really WANT To?!)

This is not a comprehensive guide, so please don’t get mad at me.

Here are things I know: I’m carrying more than the average amount of college debt (it’s in the six-figures. My parents are so proud), I make a very modest living (I manage food production for a small cafe company in a small town), and I live alone so I pay living expenses alone. It’s still possible to travel. I’m typing this from Ireland even though I live in Illinois, so that’s how you know I’m telling the truth. There ARE a few things to consider as you start to make your traveling moves–here are the things I’ve found most helpful so far.

Where Do You Want to Travel?

The Washington Monument, Washington D.C. (USA), August 2017

This is probably the most fun part of the list, honestly, which is why I put it first. Do you want to stay close to home? Somewhere in the country? Somewhere out of the country?? Essentially, how easy is it to get to where you’re trying to go?

A couple things to consider, particularly on a tight budget:

Language barrier–if you’re not able to pay for guided tours or fancy hotels or a cell phone plan that allows you data in a foreign country, a language barrier can make navigating tough. I picked Ireland for my first big trip abroad partly because I speak the language fluently, and since I am almost perpetually lost and asking people for directions and advice, this was a good move on my part. It’s also easier to socialize and make new friends. Also though, if you’re comfortable with a language barrier, just ignore this advice entirely.

Exchange rate: I’m poorer in Ireland than in the US, which is remarkable. I’m less poor in Mexico than in the US, which is remarkable in a different way. Money isn’t everything, so I’m not suggesting you put a TON of stock in this. BUT you don’t want to run out of money entirely on your trip, probably.

How Can You Get There (literally)?

The further away, the fewer modes of transportation you have to choose from–if you’re going overseas, you’re going to need to take a plane, or I guess charter a boat? And that’s going to (obviously) cost more than a road trip to a nearer destination.

There’s a give and take with all your decisions if you’re traveling on a budget. If you want to go somewhere further away, the cost will be higher, but the payoff is a trip to somewhere new and cool and amazing. If the cost is higher just to get there, you might have to adjust your expectations for what you’ll do when you arrive. If you have $1500, and you spend $500 on a plane ticket, you won’t be staying at nice hotels and going on tours and taking taxis when you get to where you’re going. You’ll be staying in hostels and couch surfing and googling ‘Free things to do in (insert name of city)’ frantically. If you have the same budget but you’re able to take a weekend trip to a nearby city, you might be able to spend $50 on a train or bus ticket to get there, and all of a sudden you’re looking at a much higher potential for glamorous living.

Which brings us to…

What Will You Give Up in Order to Do It?

I have been revisiting this question throughout my trip so far, because the answer changes as circumstances change. Here are the main big things I had to make decisions about in order to spend two months in Ireland:


Can you take time off of work? Will you have to quit your job? If you quit your job, can you be pretty sure you can get another one? The answer for me here was yes, I quit my job. But also yes, I can get another one, with the same company. This might require uncomfortable conversations with your boss. It’s okay, you can do it, and it’s worth it (I think, anyway).


Do you have any? You really won’t need a ton to actually do the trip, but are you comfortable having none at all, or do you need to retain some? I am presently running myself completely out and crossing my fingers, which I want to be very clear that I’m NOT (necessarily) advocating, but I’m also not against it if you’re in a part of your life where you’re not responsible for the care of anyone else.


Do you own your home? Do you rent? Are you going to sublease your apartment?  Rent out your house? Are you going to pay rent while you aren’t living there in order to keep it for when you get back? How many months can you skip paying your utilities before they close your account? (it’s usually 3, don’t worry). Who’s going to check your mail? WHO WILL WATER YOUR PLANTS??


This one is the most fluid, and probably the least relevant unless you’re thinking about an extended trip. If you’re going to be living somewhere new for a month or two though, it’s an important one. Example: I live alone (with dogs, so not actually ALONE alone), and happily so. This isn’t something I can afford to replicate in a new country where I’m not working, though. So in order to travel, I had to get real comfortable with the idea of co-habitating, and with new people to boot. It’s been a challenge in some ways, and excellent in other ways, and ultimately seems like a small thing to give up in the whole scope of the trip. But it is really important to think about this kind of thing, because if you don’t, you could end up living in a really cool place, but in a style you hate, and you’ll be so unhappy and that would be awful and I just don’t want that for you.

Fun Before You Leave

If you’re saving money for traveling, you aren’t going to be able to do as much at home before you go. Your grocery list is about to get boring and repetitive. When you go out with friends, you’re drinking one PBR because we all know it’s on special (Pro-tip: order with a slice of orange to trick yourself into feeling fancier). Life will be quieter when you cancel your Netflix and Spotify Premium* accounts to save that $20 a month. I’m not saying you have to slim down to entirely spartan living, but also I am kind of saying that a little bit. It’s okay though, you’ll be so busy picking up extra hours at work that you’ll barely notice.

So, in conclusion,

Do You Even Really Want to Travel? 

Reykjavik, Iceland, Aug 2018

Don’t worry, you do. And you can. And I’m already so proud of you for thinking about all of these things, because that’s responsible and good of you, and demonstrates that you’re ready to tackle the next phase of the process, which is actually planning your trip.

I made loads of lovely mistakes during that part of my latest adventure, so in part 2 of this post, I’ll give you all the knowledge and resources I have now that I wish I’d had then. I also did a few things properly at the beginning, and I’ll tell you about those things too.


*I didn’t cancel Spotify. Could I have used that money? Yes. Yes I really and truly could have. But I just couldn’t do it. We are none of us perfect.



I want to call this first post "Ballin' on a Budget" so badly, but I'm a 30 year old white woman, and I'm just not sure I can. BUT the ghost of that title lingers, because it's Halloween season and even travel blog posts are spoopy atm.

Travel blogs are a dime a goddamn dozen, and the reason that this one has anything new to offer is because I have mountains of debt, and no savings, and I always ALWAYS thought traveling was something that other people got to do, not me. That was a stupid thing to think.

It wasn't stupid. It just wasn't totally correct either. I make alot of mistakes. It's great because you'll get to read and learn about so many things you shouldn't do, because I will inevitably have tried to do them and failed publicly. This includes but is not limited to: everything financial, navigating literally anywhere by any method of transportation, Tinder dates abroad and at home, taking good selfies, taking any good photographs at all, learning my lesson the *first time*, booking good hostels, and remembering to use the bathroom after last call at the bar. I've been learning so much in the last couple of months.

I AM wizard of packing lightly but efficiently though, so that part I can give advice on without an embarrassing anecdote.

Effortlessly windswept. Galway Bay, May 2018
Effortlessly windswept. Galway Bay, May 2018