In a recent entry on life after graduation, one tip was to “see the world”. A Get Rich Slowly reader commented:

I belong to that 93% of students who wanted to study abroad but didn’t. I’d love to have a gap year to travel — but where are grads expected to get the money to afford it, if they haven’t already worked for a while to save up?

This is a subject with which I have no experience, so I handed the question off to a close friend (who previously shared tips on socially responsible investments). He writes:

I work in a financial aid office at a public university that provides over eighty different study abroad programs. On my own, I have traveled to Thailand, India, Nepal, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Canada, Mexico, along with several treks across the United States. You have saved yourself a lot of money by not utilizing the study abroad programs. For students that still have an opportunity to enroll in a study abroad program, there are non-monetary considerations that make these programs attractive, but that’s another discussion.

Using the principles of getting rich slowly, I suggest that you develop a plan to travel. This plan will take time to formulate. It is in your best financial interest to save and to pay in cash. One principle of the simplicity movement that aids in international travel, one that I still live by today, is to keep few material possessions. I don’t pay for storage when I travel, and I don’t make payments on other standard American possessions.

Develop a travel plan that is so amazing, so glowing, that you are willing to walk blurry-eyed to work everyday to make the money necessary to reach the light. I don’t recommend a career job (there’ll be time for that later) and I don’t recommend just one job. I worked two full-time jobs, a part-time job, and found free rent in exchange for housing sitting with an elderly homeowner. I had a half dozen full days off in eight months. I did this to achieve a monetary goal that would allow me to travel as long as the money held out. I traveled for almost two years to all of the places listed above — all without using a credit card.

The major expense in travel is the airline ticket(s). I assume there are a number of bloggers that have great ideas on how to obtain discount airline tickets. [Ed.: I'll try to post something on this soon.] I believe that there are other options beyond just deeply discounted airline tickets that you can explore; being a courier is an example.

Once you have touched down, the basic expenses are food and shelter. I chose to travel in countries that interested me, but whose economies allowed me to stretch my dollar. Even in countries with great exchange rates I was frugal with my money. Being frugal still allowed me many opportunities; it was not simply a principle that I held from my pre-travel, working my-ass-off days. I did not have an end date to my travel, therefore I wanted my money to keep me unemployed for as long as possible.

I enjoyed my experience traveling third class. I met wonderful people — very few Americans — and I pushed my comfort levels by traveling in a manner similar to the local population. I was by no means was a charting a new course of frugal travel. I am sure you can find many stories of individuals that made their dollar stretch much further than mine.

I strongly recommend traveling, but I also suggest doing it unconventionally. Get Rich Slowly promotes the unconventional — it provides information that bucks the trend that most Americans follow. Most people obtain what they want before they can pay for it. Credit is a useful tool when used judiciously, but it is not a good way to seize the day.

The daily life that leads to your travel will not be sexy or exciting; it will be a slog if your goal is to save a chunk of change. But the personal rewards — the opportunities for introspection and exploration — are well worth the time and energy required to reach your goal.

Safe travels!

To summarize: Travel when you’re done with school but before you settle down. Plan your route. Work hard for a year or so to save up and then travel as far as you can with that money.

You may also find the following resources interesting:

  • Vagabonding is a “round-the-world travelogue created by Mike Pugh, an optimist from Chicago. Mike traveled on his own through Asia and East Africa from October 2002 to November 2003 and updated this site from the road. The trip is over, but the site remains.”
  • Rick Steves has built an empire on cheap travel. You can find his programs on public radio and public television. His books are also considered excellent. Just for kicks, I recently read Europe Through the Back Door and, to this non-traveler, the advice seemed sound. (And the book certainly made me want to travel!)
  • GlobeTrekker is another public television show I enjoy. From what I can tell, it features young adults traveling around the world to exotic locations on the cheap.
  • The Quiet American features an amazing collection of “one-minute vacations“, audio recordings of various locales from around the world. I’m particularly fond of these field recordings from Vietnam. A couple of years ago, I made a CD containing about sixty or seventy of these recordings all in a row. I may never get a chance to travel, but this site has helped me do so in my mind.

I believe that there are several missionaries who read this site. Perhaps they can share some advice.

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