“How can you afford to travel so much?”

I get this question so often that I could launch into a speech explaining that traveling doesn’t need to cost much. In my case, I actually save money by traveling because I can live more cheaply in most countries than I could if I had stayed in Germany. Of course I need to work a bit, but who says you need to do this in the same country for all of your life?

I could expand on this, but sometimes, when someone tells me yet again how much they would love to see the world, if only they could afford it, I ask them to show me their phone. They pull out a fancy Samsung/Apple/something phone with touchscreen, camera, internet and so on, which cost them 550 $.

Then I pull out my phone and slam it on the table, explaining “that‘s the reason why I have been to 10 countries this year without working much.”

Nokia old phone

“How are these two things connected?” you wonder. I’ll tell you: This phone cost me 6 $ and I have had it since 2009. If you only buy a new iPhone every two years, you have spent at least 1,000 $ in that time. For the 994 $ which I saved, I can get enough plane tickets to fly around the globe.

You may have a monthly phone plan for 50 $, I charge my phone with 6 $ every month. By doing that, I save enough money every month for a cheap international flight or a train ticket across the country. That alone finances six return journeys a year. This March, I flew from Romania to Israel and return for 70 $ for example. Even my boat trip across the Atlantic next month will cost less than your phone did.

Of course, that’s just one example. I also spend less than 100 $ on clothes in a year – and yes, that includes the original Gabor hat I recently bought in Romania. Everything else, I buy from cheap or second-hand shops. As those of you who have met me can attest, I still look sharp. ;-)

Only with my shoes, I may be going a bit too far, literally. I fear they will fall apart soon.

shoes kaputt

My running shoes have even more holes, but I ran five half-marathons with them this year alone. Trust me, it’s really not the equipment or the gadgets that make you faster.

But we haven’t even started addressing the real money-wasters yet. Don’t get a girlfriend. Ok, seriously now: stay away from real estate and from cars.

This is my house

kleines Haus

and this is my car.

Andreas Moser mit Auto

Just kidding. Of course I would never buy a house or a car. I think of both as bottomless pits into which people throw their money. Cars are the worst. When I still had one, I used it maybe 5% of the time. The remaining 95% of the time, it took up space, cost insurance, taxes and repairs. Unless you drive all day and make deliveries with it, a car is the worst investment you can possibly make.

I will stop with the examples now because this article is not about clothes or phones or cars. It’s about priorities and about opportunity costs. Don’t go around complaining that you don’t have enough money to do A, if you prefer to spend/waste it on B! By the way, something similar applies to time.

And now we get to the real luxury. The funny thing is that by needing less money, I have so much more free time because I don’t need to work that much. That’s a real win-win situation, particularly if you have time-intensive hobbies which can be pursued relatively inexpensively, like traveling and reading in my case.

Whenever I see people toiling away at their desk or in their cubicle to save money to travel later, I wonder why they don’t quit their job or at least go part-time and travel now. Most of them are not really saving money to travel the world, instead they are working their ass off to make their landlord, their car dealer and the bank rich. If you want to save for a big dream, you have to really think about your priorities. On the train from Serbia to Romania, I met a young man from Tennessee who was on long journey around the world. He had saved for it for only one year, but in that one year, he had given up his apartment, moved back in with his parents, worked a lot, didn’t go out, didn’t get drunk and didn’t buy a new phone. “It sounds a hard thing to do for a 26-year old to move back to his parents’ house, but it wasn’t, because every day I thought of my trip around the world. I knew what I was doing it for.” In my experience, setting yourself a strict time limit for when you will shoulder your backpack and leave is important.

I don’t claim that everyone can do this. There are millions of people who don’t know how to fill their belly tonight. To them, all of this sounds like mockery. But if you can spend time reading my blog, it shows that you belong to the luckier part of the population. In that case, you can do it, too!

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Economics, Technology, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to “How can you afford to travel so much?”

  1. Dino Bragoli says:

    Excellent. I apply the same logic to being a successful recluse.

    • Ein Mensch says:

      A short question: You wrote in this blog-post that you don’t have a own flat/ house (anymore). Because of that I’m wondering: Where do you stay when you are traveling?
      – I think a hotel would be too expensive.
      – At the same time I think camping woulnd’t be nice for several months.
      – When you would rent a flat/ house in the country you are currently living you wouldn’t be able to live completly spontanic anymore and it would limit the places you could travel to.
      – When you would use a caravan you would also be a bit limited. (parking areas, roads, etc.)

      -> I think staying by friends is a good idea (For example I traveld through two countries visiting and staying by multiple friends.) but also not for more than a few days.

      Somehow I have no idea how flexiblity, basic comfort and less expenses fit together. ;-)
      Expenses: own a flat > hotel > rent a flat > caravan > camping > friends > parents house
      Freedom & Flexibility: hotel > camping > caravan > friends > rent a flat > parents house > own a flat

      BTW I’m impressed by your courage to live your life the way you like it. You are a role model for me in this aspect!

    • Ein Mensch says:

      Ups :O – That should be a new comment not a replay. *monkey with his hands in front of his eyes-emoticon*

    • You make very good points about each of the options, and I have tried everything except owning a house/apartment or a caravan.

      For me, the best solution is renting an apartment for a few months before moving on. This is much cheaper than hotels or even AirBnB, it gives me a temporary base where I can settle down and I can use it as a starting point for further travels in that country.

      Of course this works best in countries/cities where apartments aren’t expensive. That’s one reason why I like smaller towns. I would much rather spend 200 € on an apartment in a smaller town (this is the price for my current 60 sq.m. apartment in Targu Mures, for example) and use Couchsurfing when I make a 3-day trip to the capital or nearest larger city than pay 500 € for an apartment in a bigger city.

      After having tried flatshares a few times, I noticed that this is not a good long-term solution for me. I just don’t like it when there are always other people in the kitchen, stealing my food from the fridge, partying all night and not giving me any privacy. So I would rather move to a smaller town where I can afford my own place than rent only a room for the same money in a bigger city.
      Particularly when I want to write, it’s much more helpful to have my own place. Or, if it has to be a flatshare, it should be one with other adults (I had one very good experience in London; although financially that still didn’t make sense), but never again in a house with Erasmus students (after my experience in Bari).

      I do like camping and Couchsurfing, but I need a break from it after a while. After camping a few days, I want a shower again, and after Couchsurfing a few days, I sometimes want to be alone again. Also, because I like to travel very slowly and prefer to stay in one place for longer, Couchsurfing doesn’t work too well because I can’t really ask people to stay with them for two weeks.

      Now that I am about to make a big move from Europe to Latin America, I will have to change my way of life because I can only stay for 3 months in most countries and many of them are too big to explore from one base. So I will probably rent apartments for only a month and then move on to another part of the country. The ideal thing would be to find friends where I can stay for a week, then leave my heavy/bulky stuff (computer, books) and go hiking/Couchsurfing from there to explore that part of the country and then return after two weeks.

  2. Clara says:

    I totaly agree with you. I still have one question: Where did you find a flight to israel for only 70$?

  3. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

    (ouch at the girlfriend bit) Girls, don’t get boyfriends either! LOL Agree with the post- I get furious everytime somebody tells me I’m so lucky to be able to travel- d’uh! I wrote about this many moons ago https://sukanyaramanujan.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/choice-not-luck/

    • Yes, I am also so tired of hearing “you are so lucky to be able to travel” – often from people who earn much more than me.

      And the girlfriend bit was not completely serious. There are some cool girls, after all. I hope.

  4. ZaCook says:

    Great article, as usual!

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  6. Lou-ter-Lou says:

    It was a true joy reading this blog. I could dream of living that way, but I won’t because I have two young kids (and a boyfriend :-P ) who constitute my world as it is. However, I wonder about one thing (the rest is totally clear to me :-) ). Where and how do you pay taxes and insurance? Not that I’m curious about what you pay where, but because I’m ‘merely’ in the EU and already have difficulties with what I’m paying where. You say you do work and you do have a temporary base in a certain country. I currently have two companies in two different EU-countries (NL and D) and I live in a third (A), but I haven’t found anyone yet, who can clearly tell me where I should pay income taxes or e.g. health insurance (yeah, in the country (A) I ‘mainly’ live in (just a bit more than 50% of the time, the other near-half I’m in NL), but my main income is generated in NL. EU legislation does not cover this properly (as far as I know). When I read about your living circumstances (working and living everywhere, moving from one (even non-EU) country to another), how do you arrange these issues? Or aren’t there any, in your case? Do you still have your ‘tax and insurance base’ in Germany? Well, seems I’m just very curious after all ;-) If you have any expat tax/insurance tips or maybe the name of a specialised accountant for me, please share :-P I would be grateful.

    • Exactly because of the issues you point out, I don’t pay any income taxes. I don’t feel too bad about this because my income is so low that I am below the minimum threshold in most countries (and I could deduct all my travel expenses because I might sell an article or a photo from any place I travel to). And by the time I would have set up a company and a bank account and a tax number, I would already have moved on to the next country. I really wanted to try it once in Italy, but it was so complicated that I gave up. Only in the UK did I pay taxes because there the process was really simple.

      I don’t have any health or any other insurance. I don’t like the concept of insurances, somehow. I am more of a risk taker. (Which cost me all my savings when I had to go to the dentist in Lithuania.)

      But, to answer your questions objectively and from your more law-abiding view:
      – You would have to check the income tax laws of each country where you are active to determine if you fall under their tax law. You may well fall under more than one. If that is the case, you will check the double taxation agreements which should prevent that you end up paying more in total than if all your income would be taxed in the highest-taxing country.
      – Health insurance is not too tricky in the EU because you only need one, you will ask for an EHIC and all emergency care in any other EU country will be covered at no extra cost.
      – I often hear that people “decide” to keep a “tax base” or to “register” somewhere as a taxpayer. It’s important to note that this is legally of not much relevance. People cannot pick their tax base, they have to pay where they live and work and generate income. They can’t pick their home country or any other country, just because it’s convenient.

    • Lou-ter-Lou says:

      Your last point is exactly my problem: I have to pay where I work and generate (more than 75% of) my income and I also have to pay where I live, but those are not the same countries. But where I ‘live’ is the problem: It’s about 50% A and 50% NL (legally not even a cross-border-worker because I cross two borders in this case). There’s no clear EU legislation for that. But your way of doing ‘it’ is clear to me now :-) Thanks!!

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  18. I do not want to travel like this
    I do not have the stomach for nasty chairs or 3$ meals.
    I want to see the world in a comfortable manner
    Look at your shoes. Come on, you clearly need new shoes .
    You have to be a type of person to want to live this way.
    I own over 40 pairs of shoes alone
    I would be so unhappy traveling the way you do.
    I have only used an air bnb once. I love the luxury of hotels.
    So your article makes sense, but this would not work for everyone

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