How This Couple Saved $40,000 in 2 Years and Quit Their Jobs to Travel

how to save money to travel
David Becker under Creative Commons

How many stories have you heard about people saving up enormous amounts of money and setting off for epic adventures?

Logically, you know they didn’t inherit the cash or sell a company to pay for those dream trips, so technically you could do the same thing. But you also have no idea how to build up that kind of account balance yourself. I’m with you — I’ve always wanted to save up for a trip around the world, but wasn’t sure how to get started. Luckily, we don’t have to figure it out on our own.

Mark and Britnee Johnston of One World One Year, who saved $40,000 in two years so they could quit their jobs and travel the world, have plenty of advice to share. I picked their collective brain to learn just how they managed to put away that kind of cash and prepare for their trip.

Ready to follow their lead and start saving for the adventure of a lifetime?

Before You Go: Savings Tips

If you’re just starting out, look at what you earn each month, and figure out how to put some of that money toward your trip. As you have more free cash, bump up the amount you’re adding to your vacation account and watch the total grow.

This is possible even if you’re not bringing home a ridiculously high salary. Before they left on their trip, Britnee worked as the communications manager at Thanksgiving Point, a nonprofit farm, garden and museum complex in Lehi, Utah. Mark worked as the Photo Editor at the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah.

Pay Off Debt First

“The first big step was to pay off all of our debt,” said Britnee. The couple pulled from their savings to eliminate two car loans and some credit card debt. “It hurt to see our savings of several thousand dollars disappear so quickly, but doing so freed up $500 [a] month. The money saved from paying those bills then transferred directly into our savings account.”

To pay it off faster, y0u may want to think about consolidating you debt (here’s how to do that). Instead of drowning in 20%+ credit card interest, you’ll save a ton of money if you move your debt to a personal loan (where interest rates are as low as 5%).

Make More Money

If your monthly expenses are pretty set in stone, boost your savings by earning more money.

One great option is to look for freelance work related to your skills. On top of her day job in communications, Britnee found clients to hire her for social media and writing projects. “Even though it meant a lot of evenings and weekends were spent working from my dining room table,” she said, “it was worth it knowing it would finance my dream of traveling.”

Pare Down

Eat out less, stay in more. We’ve heard this a million times, but what does it look like day in, day out?

For Mark and Britnee, it meant tuna sandwiches for lunch and cooking extra food for dinner so they could take leftovers to work the next day. It meant watching Netflix instead of going to the movies. It meant inviting friends over for dinner instead of heading to a bar.

“Thankfully,” Mark said, “we’re lovers of the outdoors — hiking, climbing, mountain biking and camping — and those activities were already free or affordable.”

Keep Your Finances Separate

Unlike many married couples, Mark and Britnee decided to manage their savings goals separately. Doing so made them responsible for every penny they each saved and spent. Britnee said this required “us both to keep up with each other, working toward saving $20,000 each.”

The result was less nagging and greater fiscal responsibility. “We agreed to put at least half of our paychecks into travel savings each month and then divided bills and grocery costs between us. Whatever we had left, we spent as we chose,” she explained.

Change Your Outlook

Mark and Britnee used a cool mindset trick to motivate themselves to save. We all know you can save money by swapping your daily $4 Starbucks for brew-at-home coffee, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make the switch.

To increase their incentive to save, they thought about what certain amounts of money would represent on their trip. “Each time we were tempted with a purchase — say a $40 shirt — we would consider what that money would buy us on our travels — four nights in a hostel in Nepal,” the couple told Adventure Journal. “Then it all got much easier.”

On the Road: Make Your Money Last

Heading off on your adventure? Use these tricks to stretch your savings further.

Find a Better Bank or Credit Card

The last thing you want to do is waste your hard-earned money on bank fees and exchange rates. Call your bank or credit card provider and ask about how your card benefits travelers. If it doesn’t, shop around. Here are some of the best credit and debit cards for travel.

“I can’t stress enough how beneficial the Charles Schwab high yield investor checking card has been to us on this trip,” said Mark. “It refunds all ATM fees and doesn’t charge for foreign transactions. I can’t imagine how much money we would have spent this year on fees alone without it.”

Move Less

Not only do you have to pay for food and accommodation while traveling, but you’ve got to cover the costs of physically getting from place to place — and they add up quickly.

When Mark and Britnee arrived in Europe, they cut some of their original destinations so they could spend more time (and less money) in fewer places. This decision also meant they could better experience each of the cities they visited, since they had more time to explore.

Offset Your Costs

Once Mark and Britnee realized properly experiencing some destinations, like Paris, would require significantly more money, they offset those higher costs with six months of an affordable lifestyle in Nepal and Southeast Asia.

“For example,” Britnee told me, “we spent only $36 total on a month’s worth of accommodation while trekking in Nepal’s Annapurna region.” That said, she added, “Don’t let your budget keep you from enjoying the vacation you worked so hard for.”

Returning Home: Save a Little Extra Money

Unless you’re planning on making money on the road (or never plan on coming home), you’ll need some cash to kickstart your life again once you return from your travels. Mark and Britnee saved a little extra on top of the $40,000 for their trip, enough to cover living expenses for at least three months when they return to Utah. “We hope to have full-time jobs, but it’s comforting to know there’s something there just in case,” said Mark.

What Are You Waiting For?

As Mark and Britnee’s story shows, it is possible to save up a enough cash to travel the world. It’s not a short road, but the good news is saving for a big trip like this will create strong money-management habits and give you a better sense of control over your cash.

“Saving for this trip and carefully managing a budget while traveling has instilled a habit we’ll continue back home, whether it’s for the next vacation or buying a house,” said Britnee. “It’s hard to say what life will be like when we return, but we’ll be grateful to be surrounded by family and friends again and will look back fondly on this year of adventure.”

Your Turn: Do you think you could save this much money to travel or toward another big goal?

Marian Schembari is a writer, blogger and community manager based in San Francisco.