How Travelling Changes Your Mentality Around Money
Some say travel is a waste of money, but a stint on the road can help you form good financial foundations for life.
As I packed up my apartment ahead of an open-ended overseas trip, in my mind cartoon dollar signs hovered above the boxes of stuff I’d bought over the years that I was now about to give away or throw out. The decorative cushions that made it look like I had my shit together. Cha-ching. Books I’d never opened because I’ve replaced bedtime reading with Instagram scrolling. Cha-ching. Clothing – cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. Seeing all the things I’d once thought worthy of spending my money on suddenly worthless made me feel like I’d taken a pile of cash and set it on fire, like the Joker in The Dark Knight. I tried not to think about how much healthier my travel fund would be if I hadn’t been such a big – or really, thoughtless – spender.
It was just the beginning of the transformation of my financial habits and values that happened over a year of travelling. Which is why when people tell me I could have put a deposit on a house with what I’ve spent seeing the world, I explain, in a voice with just a hint of condescension, that travel has taught me many invaluable financial lessons.
Feel free to borrow my argument the next time someone is hating on your travel addiction and sarcastically asks you if you’ve secretly won the lottery.
You become less of a consumer
Back to the decorative cushions, new-when-bought books and wardrobe full of clothes. The experience of seeing where the thousands of dollars I’d frittered away over the years had ended up – in the Salvation Army donation bin – was a wake-up call I doubt I would have had, had I not been forced to do such a drastic cull.
Now I see buying things (especially brand new things) as throwing cash on a bonfire – exciting for a minute, followed by regret. Living out of a backpack for the good part of a year only drove this idea home further: I wore the same few outfits over and over, swapped one book for another in hostel common areas, and was the happiest I’d ever been. ‘Things’ lost their value to me, and I know realising this has stopped Future Me from spending thousands on ‘wants’ I would have once seen as ‘needs’.
I haven’t bought clothes beyond necessity in 18 months (example: I got married and spent $25 on my dress), and as I prepare to rent an apartment in New York, I’ll be going to Goodwill to fit it out with the discarded possessions of people like Past Me.
You learn how to be frugal
I once laughed when an older relative who, upon hearing me complain about being forever broke, suggested I start making Vegemite sandwiches to take for lunch. She didn’t mean I had to eat our national spread on bread day-in-day-out, what she meant was, bring your own lunch, take the bus, and get into the habit of being frugal – something her generation, raised in a post-war world, is much better at than mine.
Sacrificing indulgences like buying lunch, taking taxis or going out for cocktails was boring but worth it as I saved for my trip. But while traveling, my perspective changed even more – spending money on those things is downright outrageous. Every day I’d divide my bank balance by the amount of days left that I wanted to travel to determine my daily budget (shout out to my friend Kimmy G for that advice).
If I over-spent for a few days, I’d lose a week off my trip. Poof! There goes climbing Machu Picchu or visiting a Caribbean island. Never before had I seen the direct value of my savings so clearly, and it motivated me to become more money mindful than ever.
Sitting down at a restaurant for a meal became an indulgence when I could eat from a street cart for a 10th of the cost. Passing on the overpriced organised tour and making my own fun with other tight-arse travellers led to adventures not listed on Tripadvisor. It’s a perspective I’ve carried back into life as a city dweller.
I know that the amount of fun had does not directly correlate to how much you spend, which has been a particularly important lesson having just moved to NYC; the kind of place where you could accidentally spend your life savings before lunch.
You get creative
I met people on my travels who offered their spare room should I ever be in their city, or gave me the name of their favourite restaurant that’s way better than the places on the main strip and a third of the cost, or warned me not to go into the main door of the museum but the other door around the corner, on Tuesdays, for free entry. And obviously, I’ve offered the same in return.
It makes you realise that as a tourist people get dollar signs in their eyes when they see you, and that there’s usually a way to do things cheaper – or free – with a bit of local knowledge, creativity or confidence. Some might call you a tight-arse, but at least Aunty Joan can’t say you’re a wasteful, financially irresponsible, Gen Y travelling so-and-so when she’s had too many bourbon and cokes at Christmas Lunch. Where, obviously, you’ll fill plastic containers with leftovers to take home. Free meals for days.
Erin Van Der Meer is a freelance writer currently travelling the world. Right now, she’s in the USA drinking too many free refills of Dr Pepper. She has edited the websites of magazines DOLLY, CLEO, Shop ‘Til You Drop and NW, and written for Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Dailymail.com and News.com.au. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @erinvandermeer.