How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself

How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself

How I Travelled for 18 Months

How I travelled for 18 months – starting off on a big travel adventure can be exciting.

It can also be a shock to the system!

On one hand, there’s a big world out there. On the other, there’s friends and family that’s will be left behind. Possibly a career too.

Bank savings will only last for so long, which leads to the question:

How do you travel more on less?

Well here’s how I travelled for 18 months without bankrupting myself, used what resources I had, and most importantly didn’t clean out my bank account.

I Separated Travelling from Going on Holiday

Going on holiday is great!

Finishing work and jetting off on a beach holiday for 7, 10 or 14 days of sun is what most of us require for some much-needed R&R. However, it pays to remember travelling and going on holiday are different.

Splashing out on a luxury pad at the Hilton and eating out at restaurants every night are a great way to treat the other half to a romantic weekend. But living this kind of lifestyle for extended periods without the security of ‘holiday pay’ would soon demolish that savings nest egg.

During the last 18 months of travelling two recurring sentences that came up were “I wish I could travel like you” and “you’re so lucky.”

While the comments are good natured at heart, apart from curiosity, the reason I received comments like this is because people imagine I am travelling just like they go on holiday.

Here’s the truth… sadly I wasn’t.

Sure occasionally I checked into a decent hotel room and got upgraded to business class, yet these were the exception, not the rule.

How I travelled for 18 months without bankrupting myself is because for the vast amount of the time I was staying in Agoda budget guesthouses, Airbnb apartments, or rented digs booked directly from the manager.

There were some free stays through Couchsurfing thrown into the equation too.

How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself #travelmore #travelblog #ttot

That’s me wearing the sunglasses & holding the drink: Taken from Google maps in Bangkok

I Used Time to My Advantage

Time is not my foe.

When it comes to going overseas, or even life, time is the enemy of most people. It seems there’s never enough time to appreciate what’s truly in front of you.

While I may not have had the security of a full-time job backing me up, the one thing that was on my side was time. Being 100% in control of your day is a great thing. It means that when a ridiculously low sale fare for $20 comes up, you take advantage and book it.

No messing around waiting a week for a response from your manager, or his managers, manager.

I do have my favourite airlines like everyone else, and it’s hard to go wrong with Singapore AirlinesEtihad, or deal websites like Lastminute. Yet I can also be the world’s best tight arse when needed because it’s incredibly satisfying getting the best flight deal possible.

When there was a massive Air Asia sale in 2014, I was all over it faster than Usain Bolt running the 100m.

My destinations were wherever and whatever was on sale. I booked six flights in one shot; all were at ridiculously low prices.

The cheapest was Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, which I paid a huge $10 USD for.

How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself #travelmore #travelblog #ttot

It turns out Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly

I Learnt About Travel Hacking

Travel hacking is a bit of a buzz word at the moment – but really it’s just a fancy term used to describe a technique used by people who try to manipulate the travel system to get gains.

Travel hacking involves signing up for airlines reward programs, credit cards, or hotels.

Once signed up the traveller does everything possible to increase their chances of free travel, which includes free flights, free rooms, discounts, and other upgrades.

Although travel hacking sounds all James Bond and sexy, the reality is all very basic. How I travelled for 18 Months is because it turns out you don’t need to be George Clooney in that film.

Even the average guy like me can become a travel hacking expert in as little as 14 weeks.

For free flights you:

  1. Sign up for an airline reward program. I’m a member of Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia, and Air Asia.
  2. Sign up for a credit card affiliated with the airline. For example, I have American Express and Visa cards.
  3. Use the credit card for your NORMAL living costs. How much you spend each month will turn into points for upgrades.
  4. Browse the airlines’ website and see if they have affiliated with companies you already use. For example, Virgin Velocity is affiliated brands I already shop with like eBay and Agoda. Bookings will now be paid for with the airline credit card to receive additional points.
  5. Sign up to emails and check offers to see what bonus offer they have. I changed my internet and electricity provider (while renting an apartment in Australia) and these two alone earned me over 20,000 in points, as well as being cheaper than what I was already paying at the time.
  6. Over time, the points will accumulate then eventually you can redeem them for a free flight online or over the phone.

So is it worth the hassle?

Well, yes.

Recently I’ve redeemed points for free flights from Manchester to Bangkok, and then another from Da Nang to Siem Reap. Then there were over two weeks of free hotels stays.

Remember, travel hacking for free flights, or a hotel room is not free – it’s more of a bonus. If it’s a situation where you’re spending more than you would earn the points, then it’s probably cheaper to buy the flight ticket with cash.

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Using points to get free flights

I Made Asia My Second Home

It might sound irrational, but with the right strategy travelling for 18 months doesn’t cost as much as you would expect.

How much is not much?

Well while in Asia my daily budget was quite small – in fact just $20US.

While I am the first to agree you wouldn’t get much for this back home, it turns out in many places in Asia you can.

Less than $10 a night secured me a surprisingly decent place to stay in Da Nang, Vietnam.

The room included a powerful hot shower (something not to taken for granted in SE Asia), fresh towels, cleaners, international cable TV, fast Wi-Fi, plus a huge all you can eat buffet breakfast – every single day.

Being situated just one street back from the beach and the fact I could eat out for a couple of dollars was a bonus.

In Taiwan, I was able to almost half this daily accommodation cost by renting out a place in rural Minxiong while learning to speak Mandarin. Even I sometimes struggled to believe I could live a decent lifestyle for such a tiny amount.

Well, it turns out you can – there are plenty of cheap places to go backpacking.

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Travelling around Asia is cheap and fun

Finally, I Travelled Slowly

It’s easy to think that you’re going to change the world by travelling.

Let’s ride into an 18-month travel journey with all guns blazing, spending each day to the fullest, seeing and doing as much as possible.

For me, it was quite the opposite, sometimes more along the lines of a relaxing semi-retirement break. Not quite the adrenaline fuelled travel adventure many would imagine. Sure there’s bungee jumping, parachuting out of planes, and diving in the ocean, but for the other 99% of the time, you find yourself doing everyday non-adrenaline stuff.

How I travelled for 18 months without bankrupting myself is by taking it slow.

Moving slowly, with the occasional sprint every now and again is what allows me to go longer, further, and avoid travel burnout.

I would move to a new city or town, find a backstreet gym, chat with the local guys, and then do some deadlifts or squats. Often these gyms would cost around $10-20 for the entire month, around the same price I would be paying for one casual yoga class in Australia.

If I couldn’t find a gym, there was always running around the park, or my personal favourite the beach.

Do you see metal bars? Well, then there’s always chin ups and dips. Total cost for this = nothing.

After I would eat some local street food, wander through markets, work remotely from coffee shops, chat with locals, attend Couchsurfing meetings and generally just enjoy life.

Just because you’re not travelling at 200mph, breaking any world records, or changing the planet – doesn’t mean travelling isn’t fun.

It is!

How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself #travelmore #travelblog #ttot

Taking time out in Taiwan

 


How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself

How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself images created by ToolsofTravel.

Barry Sproston
Barry is a traveller and expat who spends most of his time between Asia and Australia. He has spent 12 months training at a Gung Fu school learning Wing Chun. Explored the island of Taiwan by scooter more than once. Been tricked into eating raw horse meat sushi in Japan. Even tried to overcome the fear of heights by bungee jumping in Thailand. One day he plans to open a guesthouse.
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24 thoughts on “How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself

  1. theCuriousPixie

    Such a great article with brilliant ideas. I only wish I could be in a position to go off travelling for 18 months. Totally agree with taking it slowly, my problem being trying to cram too much in with my limited annual leave.

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      Totally understand as in the past I’ve been in the same position of being reliant on annual leave to get my travel fix. The key for me is finding a travel work balance and if you can find work that incorporates travel – even better.

  2. Candace

    Great post! Especially found the travel hacking bit interesting, it’s not something we’ve ever looked into but we certainly will now.😉 Have you looked into housesitting? It’s another great way to save a lot of money, you can live and work in an area for up to 3months with free accommodation. All you have to do is look after someone’s house and possibly a pet 😊 Check out trustedhousesitters.com. Look forward to your next post, the Austin’s (360honeymoon)

  3. luxurybackpacking | Emma

    This is a really great, informative article! Looks like you had an amazing time! Saving money is so important and doing it on the road can even be more important! We are also members of Etihad’s guest program being Platinum member it definitely has it perks! Which we can use to redeem miles within Australia too! Love the pic of you on google maps as well! That is some achievement 😀

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      Yeah, the US appears the best for travel related cards deals. Although I’ve used travel credit cards from both the UK and Australia and they do also have some fairly decent offers.

  4. David

    Great post Barry, it’s always nice to see a realistic view of what long term travel looks like. I’ve been travelling roughly the same amount of time and definitely agree it’s nothing like going on holiday. I haven’t found myself travel hacking as much as I thought, unfortunately my points are a bit scattered over different airlines. I agree that choosing cheap destinations helps stretch your budget and while I didn’t spend too long in SE Asia, Latin America can also be super cheap and even Eastern Europe. I could get by living quite well for about $40usd a day in Eastern Europe, which sure isn’t SE Asia cheap, but still pretty good.

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      Great to hear David. Travel hacking (especially the points part) can appear like hard work from the outside but it pays off in the end plus there’s nothing like the feeling of flying for free! You can’t beat SE Asia for stretching your hard earned cash – but Eastern Europe is a good idea too. Still need to try Latin Ameria as Miami is the closest I’ve been…

  5. Cameron Cobb

    Great list of ways to save. The travel hacking with rewards cards is incredibly valuable. I would say the one thing I will do next time is travel more slowly. I went through 22 countries in Europe in 6 months and it got quite tiresome and expensive. Taking your time and looking for the best deals with time on your side are great pieces of advice. Well done!

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      Hi Cameron, 22 countries in 6 months is quite a list. But yeah I totally agree that you can only keep this pace up for so long before suffering from travel burnout. I try to aim to stay for around one month in each country – but even that feels like rushing to me

  6. Sonia

    i like the very last quote of your articles. Just because you’re not travelling at 200mph, breaking any world records, or changing the planet – doesn’t mean travelling isn’t fun. It is!

  7. Frank

    Nice post Barry. You nailed it on the head on the first paragraph – people telling us we’re lucky but thinking every day is spent lounging at the pool at the Hilton. Even after 16 months now of full time travel some of our friends still have no idea how we travel, the concept so foreign…

    Really, we travel just like you: slow and staying in apartments along the way (mostly Airbnb). We always have a base where we stay at least a month, thereby saving money and also getting to really know a place. We also work, so we can’t be running around everywhere, and this year have been signing up in gyms wherever we go because we want to get back in shape. But honestly, even if we weren’t doing those things, we’d still be travelling slow because moving around every 3-4 days might be great on a 2 week vacation but would, at least for us, create burn out real fast.

    Travel hacking something I could improve on. Thanks for the tips.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      Hey Frank,

      Glad you like the post.

      Yeah setting up a base is vital for the long journey. I like Airbnb too. It’s very handy for stays of around a month or so, plus having a kitchen is a bonus. I’ve tried similar websites like HomeAway and Housetrip and been happy with them also. However, if I’m staying longer than a month (say 2-3 months), I find it’s better to email apartment managers direct. Sometimes they can do much better deals.

      When I first started ‘travel hacking’ a few years back, admittedly I did get a little obsessed with trying to fly the world for free. I would always check to see who the airline affiliates were. Thankfully I’ve calmed down a bit now, but I still enjoy the odd flight for free. It can be a struggle with Credit Cards in Asia though because cash is still king there. It’s certainly much easy here being based in Melbourne at the moment as everyone accepts card payments – even for $2 purchases.

      1. Frank

        I’ve had a look at some of those sites but they often don’t quote monthly prices (even if you enter dates exceeding a month). Flipkey is another. I want to know how much I’ll be paying for a month without having to write and negotiate with the owner…some of the sites have much to learn from Airbnb.
        Totally agree that if you have specific apartments in mind that always better to keep outside of Airbnb. In fact many apartments advertise through Airbnb just because it’s cheap advertising…but I’ve often stayed in an apartment I’ve booked through Airbnb then extended outside of the site, just comes out cheaper.

        Travel hacking- had bad experience losing my airpoints with Air Canada years ago. It had been 3 years that I hadn’t flown them. They stripped me of my points and I would have had to pay to have them back. I just don’t trust these companies which is why I don’t bother with loyalty programs or any of that stuff.

        How do you come across $20 flights ? (outside out the budget airlines in Europe).

        Frank (bbqboy)

        1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

          Yeah, it can be time-consuming and a pain is emailing back and forth to negotiate rates. Like you said some of the hosts on Airbnb, and similar sites, are keen for longer stays and do offer discounts for monthly stays. I notice some will state a monthly price up front in the description, but find for most you still have to contact them. Not used Flipkey but will check it out.

          As far as I’m aware there isn’t a website on the scale of Airbnb that specialises in 1-3 month stays. I guess there aren’t that many long term travellers like us looking for this type of deal. People on their holidays just want to stay for 2-14 days.

          Now I have come across some local agents while travelling that deal in 1-3 month apartments, but it’s mostly smaller scale, often mum and dad type businesses. Filling out forms and paying bond can be a nuisance, especially when it’s not written in English! When I booked an apartment in Taiwan for three months, I had to get my friend to translate for me.

          In regards to you experience with Air France, yeah agree is does suck that the points expire if you don’t use them. I’ve also blacklisted Thai Air and refuse to fly with them. Really I just use whoever has the best deal going and don’t fly with any particular airline just to get the points or status like free lounge access. My points are earned through credit cards and bookings other services affiliated with the airline. For example, I haven’t flown with Virgin Australia since 2012 but have built enough points through my affiliated credit card to fly with their partner airlines for free in the last few years.

          For $20 flights, budget airlines are the best way. Air Asia, Tigerair and Ryanair are three airlines I’ve used to get tickets for this price and lower. Yes, they are budget, so you have to pay for every add-on, but for $20 I’m not expecting much apart from a seat.

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