How We Afford to Travel: 8 Secrets Revealed

Nick and I quit our jobs back in September of 2016 and have been on the road ever since. The first leg of our trip was a road trip across the US for 6 months. We got rid of our apartment, put most of our belongings in a 5×7 storage unit, packed our car full of camping gear, and hit the road. We visited our beautiful national parks and camped every night under the stars.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - road trip USA
And also used the toilet under the stars

By April of 2017 we had driven from Portland, Oregon to the Florida Keys and back again. We weren’t done adventuring yet so we sold our car, packed our duffle bags, and flew to Venice. Since then we’ve been traveling around the world. We’ve toured the Balkans, partied at Oktoberfest in Germany, visited the pyramids in Egypt, road tripped around Namibia, camped in a tent in the middle of the Sahara Desert, and so much more.

Usually, when people hear this the first question they ask is “how in the world do you afford to do that?” No, we’re not trust-fund babies and no, we didn’t win the lottery. We’ll tell you all of our dirty travel secrets below…

Enjoy!


How We Afford to Travel: Our 8 Secrets

Secret #1: Flight Benefits

Nick’s sister Courtney is a pilot (yes, shockingly there are female pilots, 2 of them). She works for Delta, a major US airline. As is standard for most airlines, Courtney gets flight perks for working there. She gets to add her parents and her “partner” to those benefits. Since Courtney’s actual “partner” is also a pilot (with his own flight benefits), I get to reap the rewards of her hard work.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - flight benefits
Hopefully her next career will be as a hot air balloon operator so I can get benefits on these flights!

That means that I can fly standby for a minimal ticket price to anywhere on Delta’s flight map. And then once we arrive somewhere like, say, Hong Kong, there are plenty of budget carriers that we can take to get around a general region. AirAsia and Vietjet are airlines that we’ve flown regularly because they offer flights for under $100.

So when we flew from Seoul to New Orleans last October for a wedding, I only had to pay the taxes for my flight. It was about a 10th of what a normal flight would cost. And Nick flies on buddy passes that end up being about the same price as my ticket. The difference is that I get a much higher priority and often get upgraded to first class.

How did I end up on Nick’s sister’s flight benefits instead of Nick you ask? She likes me more, obviously.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - flight benefits
Courtney’s order of favorites are me first, then Michael Jackson the camel, and Nick last

Secret #2: Savings

Nick and I lived in Portland, Oregon for about 2.5 years before we started this big trip in 2016. And for that entire time we knew that we weren’t quite ready to settle down. Our plan was to save as much money as possible so we could live off our savings while on the road.

So for those 2.5 years we worked and we saved. We both had good jobs, made good money, and socked it away. We lived rather frugally compared to most other people we knew.

We shared one car – a 1994 Ford Bronco that we paid for in cash. We lived in an apartment (so no mortgage payment or property taxes). We didn’t pay for cable or Netflix or Hulu. We didn’t really shop. We didn’t rack up any debt. And we avoided the biggest expense of all – kids.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - flight benefits
And we avoided the second biggest expense – PETS

This might surprise you but when a childless couple with professional jobs set their hearts on saving a bunch of money in 2.5 years, they can put away quite a bit. And we did. $50,000 to be exact. Plus we both had some savings prior to getting married.

These savings are what primarily foots our travel bill. We wish we had some amazing wizardry to share with you about how to magically travel for free or find a rich donor to sponsor you but we don’t. You just have to exercise some self-control. Don’t buy that fancy new car. Don’t buy name brands. Don’t buy that big house.

Or do, but don’t complain that you can’t afford to travel.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - savings
We chose travel over living like kings!

Secret #3: Budget Travel

Think about all the costs that you have throughout the month. There’s your rent (or mortgage), your phone and cable bill, insurance costs, car payments, credit card payments, food, clothes, alcohol, beauty products, school loans, etc. Now divide that by 30 to figure out what it costs you per day just to live. It’s probably pretty high right?

Well we don’t have any of those costs. Our daily costs include a hotel room, food, and our travel adventures.

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in SE Asia, and here you can get a really pleasant (dare I say fancy) hotel for under $30/night. And we rarely spend more than $10 per meal on food (unless booze is involved of course). And many of our adventures are relatively cheap, or even free. So we generally only spend about $50-100/day between the 2 of us.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - savings
Why pay for two rides when you can share one?

If you can stick to a $50/day budget for one year, your entire expenditures for that year will be less than $20,000. Granted, that’s a tight budget but still, lots of people spend $20,000 on a car. A CAR! You can choose to buy a car or TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR A YEAR! Of course, there are lots of other expenses to consider as well, but you get my point.

Secret #4. Hotel Partnerships

I mentioned that we normally spend less than $30 per night on a hotel room, but if you follow us on Instagram you’ve probably noticed that we occasionally stay in super fancy hotels. And those definitely cost more than $30.

These are hotels that we’ve contacted in advance to ask if they are interested in trading social media exposure for several nights stay at the hotel. They give us a room and we feature them on our Instagram, on our blog, and provide them with lifestyle images to use for their own social media and marketing purposes.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - Hotel Partnerships
Totally natural, not at all staged

This allows us to save the money that we’d normally spend on accommodations. But we don’t make any money through these trades. It’s an easier sell to hotels in countries that are experiencing a decrease in tourism, like Egypt. And more difficult in countries where tourism is booming.

We’ve also partnered with motorhome rental companies, car rental companies, and hot air balloon operators. Plus we’ve had a few brands send us free gear to wear in photos. These are more difficult since we don’t exactly have a mailing address. And these are also for trade, we don’t make any money from these partnerships.

Secret #5: Amazon Affiliate Revenue

Back in 2017 we started this blog (we hope you read it regularly and love it). We work really hard to create meaningful content that will help you plan a trip or simply inspire you to travel. And we also write some blogs that contain Amazon affiliate links.

We recommend products that we like on lists like Best Stylish and Comfortable Travel Dresses and What to Pack for Egypt. These are generally products that we have actually purchased and have used in the past or are carrying around with us today (you can see photos of me in those travel dresses in every photo we post on Instagram).

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - savings
You really really need to buy this dress

If you click on one of those links and then buy ANYTHING on Amazon in the next 24 hours (assuming you don’t click on someone else’s affiliate link first), we make a small commission. Your price is exactly the same, affiliate link or not, we just get a small bit of Amazon’s profit. We make about $20/day in Amazon affiliate revenue on average.

If you really want to be our favorite person in the whole wide world, click this link and make it your Amazon bookmark. We’ll love you forever and ever.

Secret #6: Advertising Revenue

The real secret here is how many fights Nick and I have gotten in over advertising on our website. Because I HATE ads and he insists that we need them. I hate when they’re on that little bar at the bottom of the page. I hate when they pop up while I’m trying to read. I hate when they are blinking or moving or generally trying to get my attention. I HATE THEM and I don’t want them on my website, spoiling all of my hard work.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - advertising revenue
Okay, I could get behind a beer ad on our site

But, as you can see, they are here. And if Nick ever tells you that I win every argument, you have proof that he’s lying. For every visitor to our website we make about a penny. So if you are reading this, thank you for your contribution and I’m very sorry to subject you to this.

And since we currently get at least ~1,200 unique visitors to our blog each day, we make about $12/day on ads. It doesn’t sound like a lot, we know, but our blog is growing. And the more it grows, the more money we make each day from advertising revenue.

Secret #7: Revenue from Hotel Bookings

Hotel websites have a similar affiliate program that Amazon offers. If someone clicks on one of the hotels that we recommend on our blog, we make a small commission. Again, your cost doesn’t change at all, we just get a small slice of their profit pie.

We write a few blog posts like The 10 Best Unique Hotels in Portland, Oregon and Where to Stay on Oahu. And while we haven’t always stayed in the hotels that we recommend, we do a ton of research to make sure we are recommending amazing hotels that you’ll love.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - booking affiliate revenue
We didn’t just borrow this bathtub, we actually stayed here

And similar to the Amazon program, if you click on one of our links and then book any hotel, anywhere, we make a small commission. So again, want to be our best friend? Bookmark this Booking.com link, this Agoda.com link, and this Hotels.com link and use them to book all of your hotels!

The revenue that we make from Booking.com, Agoda.com, and Hotels.com is difficult to determine because we don’t get paid until the person actually stays at the hotel. And people very often make travel changes and cancel their booking. Last year we averaged about $70/month in revenue from our hotel affiliate partners.

Secret #8: Human Resources Consulting

Did you know that before I became an Instagram model (sarcasm), I was a Human Resources Business Partner? I hired people and fired people and did manager and employee coaching and generally made sure that all human resource practices were ethical and legal.

So I made a few connections in my 10-ish years in the business and occasionally get calls from people I’ve worked with in the past or people who have been referred to me. I’ve worked with both businesses and job seekers while on the road. The time difference is difficult but I put in early mornings and late evenings.

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - human resources consulting
Very responsible and risk-averse HR Professional for hire

When I work with businesses I charge $100/hour. And when I work with individuals to help them with their resumes and job search I charge $50/hour. This work is far less consistent, but when I do get a consulting job it really helps in funding our adventures.

Nick’s pre-photographer career was in software sales so consulting work really isn’t an option for him. But while I’m consulting he makes me coffee and rubs my shoulders and then spends all of my hard earned money.

How We Afford to Travel: The Raw Numbers

How to Afford to Travel: Tips, Secrets, & Advice - The Big Picture
Very serious about saving

Okay, so I outlined all of our sources of revenue above, and here’s how it all shakes out.

Today we make about $20/day on Amazon, $12/day on ads, and $2.50/day on hotel sites. That’s $34.50 per day. If we’re adhering to our daily budget of $50 (which rarely happens when there is wine involved), that means that about $15.50/day is coming out of our savings. Not bad right?

That is really oversimplifying things. And it’s taken about 2 years to build up our blog traffic to what it is today. But hopefully it gives you an idea of what we’re making, what we’re spending, and how we’ve managed to afford to do it for as long as we have.

Please feel free to comment with questions – we’re an open (check) book!

We hope this inspires you to start saving and go see the world!

Want help budgeting for your upcoming travels? Check out these guides!



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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sonika says:

    Thanks for sharing this candid post. I would love to know your approach to health insurance in the budget

    1. Valerie Wheatley says:

      Thanks for reading Sonika! We actually don’t have health insurance. We’ve had to get a few things done along our travels (stitches from surfing wounds, dental check-ups and such) and we pay out of pocket. The charge for healthcare in other countries is so minimal compared to the US. And you can get prescriptions without going to the doctor – pharmacies are everywhere. My stitches in Indonesia cost $60 and Nick’s in Chile were completely free. We probably aren’t the best example as we should have insurance, just in case.

  2. Sonika kumar says:

    thanks! I appreciate the reply. Take care and safe travels 🙂

  3. David says:

    7 American baseball guys who quit their jobs and ventured to China to teach little kids how to play baseball met this fabulous couple, Nick and Val in a small beer bar called Winking Seal in Vietnam. Truly an amazing story. It just happened to be Val’s birthday the day we met. Good times with Mark the owner. CHEERS to you adventures.

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