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Financial freedom of travel

We talked to young Canadians who travel year round about how they afford a life of (mostly) leisure
January 1, 2017, 5:31pm

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It’s winter. You live in Canada. Lately you’ve likely been spending 30 minutes of your morning scraping your windshield or crammed into the subway sweating through several layers of snow-soaked business casual. By the time you get home at 6 p.m., it’s pitch black, freezing cold, and all you want to do is eat soup, watch Netflix, and not so much chill as pass out by 9:45. It can be a bleak four months.


A surefire way to combat the dreariness is fantasizing about a more glamorous kind of lifestyle—one where you spend your days hopping catamarans between Croatian beaches, scaling Alpine mountain ranges, or strolling along canals in the arm of some devastatingly attractive Parisian. But then you always arrive at work and face the same cold realization: this type of living takes serious coin.

Actually, there are thousands of young people who have figured out how to travel without a trust fund. We checked in with three full-time nomads to steal their savings tips and hear the stories about what makes it all worthwhile.

The Pro-Savers: Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift

In 2008, Nick and Dariece saved up $40,000 by working like crazy and cutting back on their expenses. They quit their jobs as a printing press operator and a real estate paralegal, respectively, and left for a 13-month trek through Southeast Asia and the Subcontinent. Somehow, returning to nine-to-fives in Calgary just didn’t seem appealing after that.

Since they’ve made the switch to full-time travel, the couple have worked a grab bag of jobs, including stints as English teachers, bartenders, and housesitters. It’s allowed them to sail to untouched islands off of the coast of Mozambique, go on safari in Kenya, and spend two weeks traversing the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan—trips they’ve documented on their popular travel blog Goats on the Road. Here’s how they made it happen:


Get your game plan together

“The best thing you can do when planning and preparing for travel is to know your current finances inside and out, and know what you plan to spend on your trip,” write Nick and Dariece over email (they were in the middle of a jungle trek when I reached out).

The cost of your trip, and how much you’ll need to save, will obviously vary wildly based on where you want to go—Sweden’s about five times as expensive as Sri Lanka. Do your research, set a detailed budget, and then multiply it by 1.5 to cover any surprise expenses on the road (which will happen, btw).

Next, make a comprehensive map of your current income, expenses, and debts. Figure out what’s an ambitious, yet realistic amount for you to put aside each month, and stick to it. Heads up, you should prioritize paying off any high-interest debt (like your credit card balance) before you start building your travel fund.

Treat yourself (occasionally)

Saving should be your number one goal when you’re planning for a big trip, but try not to completely neglect the rest of your life. Fit in a pub night with friends every few weeks if that’s your thing, or invest on a decent pair of winter boots when you need them. “Don’t limit yourself too much during the saving and planning phase of your travels,” says the couple, “or you’ll resent the trip altogether.”

Work hard, save hard.

Nick and Dariece started working insane amounts of overtime once they realized they wanted to travel non-stop. They were lucky in that they both had decent-paying jobs that could offer them extra hours, but if you’re stuck in part-time or low-paying work, you can still find creative ways to supplement your income: Nick and Dariece found a roommate for their spare bedroom and socked away their new rent money for the trip. It only took Nick and Dariece eight months to save up the $40,000 for their first 13-month trip — but it could have been double that. “Letting go of our condo, our vehicle, and some electronics made up a little over half of our savings,” says the pair.


The Professional Hobo: Nora Dunn

In 2006, Nora Dunn sold everything she owned in Toronto, including a busy financial planning practice, to travel the world. “I had no idea where I’d go, what I’d do, or how I’d make money. I just knew I needed to go,” explains Nora.

Nora’s since trekked through 50 countries, including experiences living on a boat in St. Martin, coordinating cyclone relief in Burma, and spending two years as a shaman’s apprentice in Peru. She’s been able to live without a mailing address for all this time mostly by working remotely, but also picking up odd jobs and creative accommodations wherever she goes.

Take your job on the road

Nora earns her living as a freelance writer, and through her website that teaches people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way. She now spends less money to live full-time on the road than she ever did to live in Toronto.

If writing isn’t your thing, there are still tons of remote jobs you can do from onboard a train in India. Anything digital (like computer programming, graphic design, data analysis, etc.) is a safe bet—just remember your clients’ time zones and that you’ll often need stable WiFi. If you’re tech-averse, you can always opt for the classic travel jobs: teaching English, nannying, organic farming, or under-the-table bar work.

Never pay to sleep

Outside of flights, your accommodations are usually the most expensive aspect of any big trip. Even opting for Airbnb’s or hostels over high-end hotels will still have you hemorrhaging cash quick.

But through a mix of “volunteering, house-sitting, doing hospitality exchanges, and even living on boats,” Nora boasts that she’s saved over $100,000 over ten years. One year, she only spent $173 on accommodation. (Dude, that’s less than a quarter of my monthly rent.)

Check online before heading to any new country to see what kind of resources are available. Often you’ll find craigslist-like sites where many people are seeking house-sitters or live-in volunteers. You’ll probably have to spend at least a few week’s in one place for these kinds of arrangements, but slow travel is way better anyway.