How a Full-Time College Student Saved $24,000 to Travel the World

How to save money to travel
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College students have a great reputation for being thrifty — and broke. Even if you’ve got a job, as a full-time student your time is limited. Plus, you’re probably short on work experience, so you’re not likely rolling in the dough with your student job.

But even as a college student, Lauren Juliff saved enough cash to fund a post-graduation, around-the-world trip. The $24,000 she saved kept her afloat traveling the world for two years.

Did she save for her travel fund by selling poop or mystery shopping? Nope. Lauren worked part-time retail jobs while she completed her degree. Between her jobs at a garden center, in a pharmacy and at a supermarket, Lauren worked about 20 hours a week and made about $14,000 a year.

Though she wasn’t making tons of money, she managed to save more than $20,000 in five years. Here’s how she cut costs as a student and saved for her dream trip around the world.

1. Set Your Eyes on the Prize

When it comes to saving for a big purchase or trip, two motivators are important: a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and exactly how long you have to accomplish it.

Lauren knew from day one of college that when she graduated, she wanted to hit the road to travel. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been happiest when I’ve been away from home,” she said. “Vacations never felt nearly as long enough, and definitely not as frequent as I’d like them to be.”

Since she set a specific goal early on and had only through the end of her college career to work toward it, Lauren started putting money towards her goal immediately.

2. Maximize Your Student Loan Grace Period

If Lauren had student loan payments looming the second she accepted her diploma, she may not have been able to afford jetsetting around the world.

Since she’s from London, England and attended school in the UK, Lauren wasn’t required to start paying student loans immediately post-graduation. She wouldn’t need to start payments until she had landed a job and was making at least $30,000 — making post-college a prime time to travel. She wouldn’t yet have a job, so she wouldn’t need to start paying off the loans.

3. Break Your Savings Goal into Baby Steps

Setting a savings goal that you know will take years can seem daunting, so Lauren broke her saving goals into monthly increments. Every month, she aimed to stash away $500 in her travel fund. On average, she was able to save about $400 each month.

Open a dedicated savings account and set a goal of how much you want to contribute every month towards your goal. To keep your accounts separate and that money out of sight, consider using a different bank than the one you usually use for day-to-day banking.

There are a bunch of great online banks, but my favorite is definitely Chase because they’re currently offering Penny Hoarder readers $250 just to open an account.

4. Stick to the Bare Necessities

Saving $400-500 a month was no small feat. Lauren restricted her spending only to what was necessary. Every extra penny went straight into her travel fund.

She tried not to spend money on new clothes when she already had plenty (and could only take so many while traveling anyway.) Instead of nights out with friends, she organized movie nights at home. She always packed lunches; eating at home saved her $2,500 each year. Cutting out her daily $5 cup of coffee saved her $2,000 a year.

Lauren even got extreme about reducing her bills. “One particularly memorable moment was sitting inside on a snowy day with my heating turned off, wrapped up in five blankets to try and keep warm.” But it was all in the name of her travel fund.

“At times, it definitely felt like I was living a horrible quality of life,” Lauren admitted. “But from the moment I got on the road, I realized it was absolutely worth it!”

5. Reframe Every Dollar

Lauren admits she was often tempted to buy shiny new things, so she came up with a trick to prevent herself from giving into temptation to splurge. She reframed those purchases in terms of how she could spend that money while traveling.

For example, she knew traveling throughout Thailand would cost around $15 a day. “If I wanted to splash out on a $50 pair of shoes, I’d remind myself that if I didn’t buy them, I’d have an extra three days to travel in Southeast Asia.”

6. Sell Everything

As graduation and her departure date approached, Lauren implemented part two of her travel fund plan: Anything that wasn’t coming with her in her backpack, she sold. That included all the clothes, plus all her books, CDs, DVDs, college textbooks and guitar. She even sold random junk she found in her room.

“My rule was that if I could make a minimum of $5 selling something, it was worth doing,” Lauren said. Everything else, she donated. She estimates that by selling all her possessions, she made about $5,000. “Getting rid of all the junk I’d managed to amass over the years was a liberating experience and helped keep my funds high,” she said.

While Lauren recommends selling things you don’t need as a good way to build savings, she wishes she had started listing items sooner. “I left the bulk of it until six months before my departure date, which made for a stressful time as I battled to clear as much as possible in a short space of time,” she said.

7. Cut Out Rent

Before leaving to travel the world, Lauren wanted to invest in a few big-ticket items such as a heavy-duty backpack and a camera. She also needed to buy travel insurance and get all her vaccinations. So as not to make too large of a dent in her travel fund, she moved back in with her parents. “Saving on rent made a huge difference to my travel fund,” she said.

Enjoy Your Trip!

Lauren’s $24,000 kept her going for two years. Along the way, she learned how to make an income while traveling through her blog Never Ending Footsteps. She’s been traveling full-time for the past four years and has visited 45 countries.

Does she regret turning off her heat and missing out on nights out with friends to fund her trip? Though Lauren still would have scrimped and saved, she says if she had it to do over, she may not be as extreme with her savings. “I wouldn’t have tried to be so strict with saving money on bills, and I would have seen my friends more often, too,” she said.

Your Turn: Have you ever saved a lot of money toward a big goal? What was your best strategy?

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Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.