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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *