Back in 2015, I set myself a goal. Before I turned 30, I would like to have visited every country in Europe. Why 30? I don’t know, it felt like a good age. Why Europe? I don’t know, it felt like a good continent. Hey, I don’t question other people’s life goals, alright? I just stick to my own goals with extreme stubbornness.
And now, the time has come. The halfway point. 50% of Europe complete, with four and a half years still on the clock. I guess that means I’m on track, right?
If you’ve stumbled across the blog from somewhere on the internet and you don’t know me personally, you might be wondering why this venture has taken me so long. There are 25 year olds out there who have travelled to every country in the world and are sharing their stories of how difficult it was to get a visa to so-and-so country and how scary North Korea was. I know there are bloggers who travel full time and make money from sponsorships and brand deals. For those people, I suppose it would be easy to reach all the countries of Europe within a year or two.
I suppose if you were to read a post on one of their blogs on the subject of how they can afford to travel, they’d condescendingly tell you to avoid eating out at restaurants, skip your daily lattes and stop shopping for designer clothes. Every time I see one of those posts I wonder who they think their audience is and how much of their readers can actually relate to what they are writing about. Unfortunately for me, I am not one of those people. Fortunately for you, I am going to tell you how I manage to travel so much, working full time on a minimum wage and how you can too.
Why I Quit the 9-to-5
I had a 9-to-5 office job in the past and I absolutely hated it. It was good money, but the hours scared me. I know this doesn’t make sense to a lot of people as I’d happily work 60 hours a week at my current non-office job, but something about that 9-to-5, Monday-Friday schedule terrified me. It felt like a designated time to work and have fun, just like school.
I quit the 9-to-5 for a lower paid job at the local cinema which turned into a coffee shop job which turned into a better paid job at another coffee shop later down the line. I work mornings, weekends, evenings, bank holidays and anything in between. Better yet, I make my own schedule which means I can take three days off at the end of one week and three days off at the beginning of the next. That’s a six-day holiday sandwiched between two 35 hour work weeks without taking a single holiday day.
I know some people might find this schedule annoying but for me, it’s about prioritising. A 9-to-5 life is ideal for someone who likes routine but I love the idea of taking a trip in the off-peak season when nobody else is. Because I don’t have a 9-to-5 job, it means I can base my trips around the dates when flights are cheap, rather than trying to find cheap flights on long weekends and half-term holidays. Speaking of, let’s talk about how to find the cheapest flights.
Finding Cheap Flights
My main trick for saving money when travelling is finding cheap flights. Most people, when they’re planning a holiday, have a destination and a time in mind or one or the other. My trick is to go looking without either in mind.
My favourite website to use is Skyscanner.com. Skyscanner gives you the option to choose your local airport. Once selected, click on the box that says ‘To’ and click on the ‘Can’t decide where’ box at the bottom. This will give you every destination in price order, cheapest to most expensive. Finally, when selecting your departure date, select ‘whole month’, then ‘cheapest month’ and Skyscanner will tell you where’s cheap and when. You might be lucky and find a great deal, you might not. This is why I look often. I usually find cheapest flights in the winter months. Once I found a return trip to Madrid for £2. Unfortunately it was for the next day and I didn’t think work would be too happy with a trip that spontaneous. If I was self-employed or worked freelance, I would have totally booked it.
The cheapest return flight I ever booked was to Riga for £7 with a month’s notice. I’ve yet to see another flight to Riga that cheap but it does make sense to shop around for these things and wait if a flight is out of budget. I remember how much I wanted to visit the Ukraine way back in 2015, but the flights from Liverpool and Manchester were too expensive. Recently, Ryanair released a direct route from Manchester to Kiev and I nabbed a spot on one of their planes as soon as I found out, for a quarter of the price it would have been a few years ago. Shopping around is crucial. If there are no direct routes to a country you particularly want to visit, it may be worth looking at airports slightly further away. I have recently started including London airports in my searches thanks to the ability to stay overnight with my sister and it’s brought me a whole world of undiscovered places that were previously out of budget.
Finding Cheap Accomodation
Unfortunately I don’t have anything groundbreaking to say on the subject of accommodation. I simply stay in airbnbs and hostels rather than splashing out on hotels. For me, it’s just a place to sleep. I have even booked a campervan for six weeks rather than renting a car and accommodation for my Melbourne to Cairns road trip.
Despite this, here are a couple of tricks you might find useful:
Airbnbs often have weekly and monthly discounts. If you’re staying somewhere for five or six days, it might be worth it to check how much the accommodation is for seven days instead. Even if you aren’t staying there for the full amount of time, it might work out cheaper.
For really brave people, you might want to try couchsurfing or house sitting. You’ll be surprised at the amount of people who are willing to give you free accommodation or even pay you to live at their house in exchange for watering their plants. If you’re really strapped for cash, it’s worth looking into.
Side Hustles and Jobs
Sometimes your minimum wage job simply doesn’t pay you enough to save. This is why getting a side hustle might be worth it. When saving for my Australia trip, I worked hard at my coffee shop job, taking on more hours than I normally would and I also took on some freelance writing jobs from Upwork. Whatever your talent is, find a way to make money from it.
Paint pet portraits, bake cupcakes, craft plant hangers and sell them on Etsy, make youtube videos, start a blog, start a proofreading business, teach English as a second language online, dogsit, sell tarot readings on Instagram. Do whatever you need to do and get your coins.
Don’t wait for anyone else, just do it.
One of the biggest things that held me back in my first few years of travelling was the fact that I waited for my friend’s and family’s (or whoever I wanted to travel with’s) permission before booking a flight. If nobody wanted to come to Madrid with me then that’s a shame, I couldn’t go anymore. That was until one day I realised I didn’t need anyone’s permission except my own. I have the ability to travel alone, so why wait for anyone else to join me?
Of course travelling with friends and family is good fun but so is doing things by yourself. If you really want to go somewhere, just go! This advice doesn’t just apply to travelling. If you want to do anything at all, go for it. Join a sports team, take a class, take yourself to the movies, go for a nice meal by yourself. Don’t be afraid of looking lonely, you’re strong, brave and independent so go for it!