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How to Make Money to Travel Project Completed

If you want to travel you need to make money … somehow.

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Saving Money to Travel Project Completed —

I often receive emails inquiring about the ways that I make up my travel funds. Sometimes these readers imply that I am overwhelmingly fortunate or in someway special because I am able to travel. I would answer that I only make around five to seven thousand USD a year — by US standards I am not privileged in this regard — but almost every dollar that I make I put into traveling.

Working as a gardener in Maine

Working as a gardener in Maine

Though the mechanisms by which I make this yearly bundle of travel funds never really sat well with me, as I knew that it would be a little difficult for someone to replicate. For years, I felt that I did not have an adequate answer to questions about how someone could make money to travel:

I predominately made up my travel funds by traveling around the USA doing archaeology field work. I made my bean money in a profession that requires a decent amount of education, training, and experience to get into.

In point, I could not just tell a reader to, “go work as an archaeologist,” because the people asking me the questions were often times not archaeologists. I knew that this would be the relative equivalent of a doctor telling someone who wanted to make a lot of money to “just become a doctor.”

It just does not happen this way.

Even though I would often tell readers how to become an archaeologist and how to find field work, I always knew that for 90% of readers this advice was just dust in the wind: it would not be followed. What I needed was a tried and tested mechanism for saving travel funds that ANYBODY who can work legally in the USA could do.

How to Make and Save Money to Travel

Earlier this summer I faced the prospect of returning to the USA for a relatively extended period of time to get married and for my wife to have our baby. I knew that I would be holed up in Maine for a few months — I needed a project.

I wanted to be able to have a better way to answer inquires about how a person from the USA could make money to travel, I wanted a way to advise anyone with any level of education and amount of work experience as to how they may be able to make and save money to travel the world.

So I began the How to Make and Save Money to Travel Project. During the course of this project I would work jobs around Maine that did not require any particular education to land as well as record how I save the money that I made from these jobs.

I now must call this project completed. I have now returned to working in archaeology and have taken a job that requires specifications, degrees, and specialized experience to do. To do archaeology you need to plan, you need to study, you need to go to university. So after three months the How to Save Money to Travel Project is completed.

And I must say that it was a success.

Farm work for travel funds

Farm work for travel funds

At the beginning of this project I wanted to prove a theory, I wanted to show that nearly any abled bodied person who lives in the United States of America or another wealthy country could save up enough money to travel the world for 18 months off of 6 months of work.

I worked in Maine for three months and saved $3,500.

I did not include the income that I took from working as a geography research assistant or the money that I make off of Vagabond Journey.com in this tally. As these are both occupations that required an advance set of skills, knowledge, or circumstance to reap returns from. Rather, this $3,500 was the amount of money that I saved from working as a farm hand and a gardener — two jobs that only required grit and endurance rather than any special preset of skills to do.

The money that I made working — as well as the the money that I saved through being frugal — left me with a pot that has $3,500 in it. If I were to do this project for the full six months — the originally specified time — I could have surely taken out $7,000.

$7,000 is enough money to travel the world for a year and a half.

Eat Bitter to Save Travel Funds

Eat Bitter to Save Travel Funds

At the conclusion of this project I must say that devising strategies to save money is vastly more important that making money. A lot of people make a lot of money, but few people — almost regardless of income — are able to save money. Making a million dollars a year means nothing if you spend a million dollars a year.

It is my impression that nothing that I do is very special, I have no advantage over any other American. I just want to travel first over every other activity: so I eat bitter, work hard, and do not spend my travel funds.

Each dollar is a measure of time — $15 is one comfortable day of travel. It means more to me to buy travel time than to go out with friends to bars, to have my own private accommodation, to watch cable TV, to have a new car, to eat at restaruants, to go out on dates, to pay money for anything that extends beyond my base neccessities.

Saving money today to travel tomorrow has become a philosophy: the traveler buys time, not things.

You can get the money to travel. You can save the money necessary to travel the world.

If you really want to.

Farm for travel funds

Farm for travel funds

I saved enough money to travel for 9 months from three months of general labor in Maine. I could be off base, but it is my impression that almost anyone who is able to work legally in the USA could do this, too.

My words may now seem gruff or even arrogant, but I feel strongly that ANY American can obtain the resources to travel, I do not think that there are many viable excuses. The traveler is in no way special, is in no way any more privileged than their fellow countrymen, they just want to travel over anything else in the world: they want to buy time, memories, and experiences, rather than things.

$15 equals one comfortable day of traveling, but, ironically, this is a comfort that I must eat bitter to obtain.

How to Make and Save Money to Travel


Filed under: Make Money for Travel, Save Money for Travel, Travel Preparation, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3682 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii

7 comments… add one

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  • Mike Crosby September 21, 2009, 5:26 am

    Wade, you say “the traveler is in no way special”, but for want of a term “average American”, which I think I’m one of them, what you are doing is indeed special. I’m thrilled by your passion, and you being able to stretch dollars so far. I just got back from Hawaii with my wife, and I tell you, we consider ourselves frugal. For our week’s vacation, we spent around $2500 USD and our flight only cost $10. You, my friend, are truly an inspiration. Don’t sell yourself short. You have a lot to offer, and I appreciate your writings much. To give you an idea how we spent some of the money, we went to a Hawaiian luau show which cost $250. I know you must read that and cringe, but for the little travel I do, I pat myself on my back for at least going to Hawaii. Sorry to sound like a wuss, but to be honest, even in my limited travels, I think I’m more travelled than 95% of my fellow Americans. And our tour guide told us he’d only been to Hawaii one time, and never anywhere else in his life. We stayed on the island of Maui.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 21, 2009, 8:19 pm

      Hello Mike,

      In no way does your method of traveling make me cringe. To the contrary, if I went on one week vacations to Hawaii I would probably spend a lot more money, too.

      You pay for what you enjoy. I am sure that $250 luau was worth it to you, so it was worth the money. If I did not want to travel for most of the year then I would not have to horde every cent that falls into my fingers. If I was happy working formal jobs for most of the year then I would definitely be far looser with the money I make. In point, if you spend a lot of time making, money you better well enjoy spending it!

      I don’t spend a lot of time making money (well, outside of this website that I make peanuts on), so I can’t afford to buy things for my enjoyment.

      It is all a matter of person choice, and I in no way look down on you or think that my ways are any better than yours. In fact, I would think it silly for you to not pay for the extra extravagances when on vacation — you earned them.

      I just write about a certain way of living (cheap) on this website because that is how I enjoy living — this is my style — and I think that other people may also enjoy this way of living and could perhaps benefit from me sharing my strategies. I do not want to seem as if I am shinning a big spotlight on myself or putting myself on a pedestal because I can travel for a long time off of a little money. This is just the theme of the site, this is just what I know.

      Thank you for sharing your story and for bringing up this point.

      Walk Slow,


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  • baron September 21, 2009, 1:37 pm


    I follow your math, but I still question the feasibility of an average person to do what you did. The biggest hurdle is landing free accomodation and the use of a vehicle. Not many people can manage that.

    Out of curiosity, recalculate with the going rent and utility costs in Maine, and the cost of transportation, and the cost of groceries for the time the in-laws fed you. I’m guessing you would have saved just a few hundred dollars.

    That only means the average person would have to work longer to save for travel.

    Just my thoughts, I have done anything like what you do, so I could be wrong.


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 21, 2009, 8:00 pm

      Hello Baron,

      Good critique. But the project was also about saving money and not just making it. I wrote on this page Free Accommodation First Step to Saving Travel Funds about ways to get a place to stay for free and finding employment that offers free accommodation.

      In point, I too doubt the feasibility of being able to make enough money to travel if you need to pay $500 to $1000 a month for rent. The first portion of this project was about how to strip off expenses so you can save the money you make.

      To this end, I also wrote a page about Building a Free Shelter and Live in Car to Save Travel Funds.

      This is just my model, it is not for everyone. I am sure that many people could move back in with their parents of friends rent free for a few months while they save money — as I did in Maine — or find people who would offer a place to stay in exchange for a little work (in Bangor we actually had a guy offer us free reign of his house and $500 if we would move in and watch his cat for two months). In the USA alone, I know of many people who would gladly let me live with them rent free or set up a tent in their backyard if I cleaned their house.

      You wrote: “Out of curiosity, recalculate with the going rent and utility costs in Maine, and the cost of transportation.”

      Doing this would be irrelevant as the project was just as much about ways to NOT pay rent or utility costs as much as working to make money. It is my impression that saving money in this way is a two sided coin, as I know that I need to find ways to not spend the money that I make.

      We also paid for or scavenged our own groceries (I was working on a farm that grew food).

      I have also been doing this for many years, so some of these posts are conglomerations from past experiences and not just from the time that I was in Maine. In the ten years since I left my family’s home at 18, I have paid a month of rent in the USA on only two occasions — and it was very cheap rent at that.

      Though you do have a point with the car: it was a wedding gift from Chaya’s grandfather. But I usually buy an old car upon entering America for a work season and then sell it for the same price as I paid for it when I again leave the country, so the cost for a vehicle usually balances out at around $0 or another negligible amount. When I sell the car that we were given, this amount of money will not be calculated into this project.

      Need a Car to Work in the USA

      Thank you very much for bringing these points up, as I am sure that other people thought the same thing. Thank you for driving for more clarity.

      I know that I assert that anyone could do this, but I admit that I could be wrong. Maybe there is something that I just do not get.



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  • fruugal September 22, 2009, 9:32 am


    What you are doing is indeed special and by blogging about it in detail you are teaching us. To all the cubicle kids working now and not saving, I hope a light bulb goes on in their heads. There is a better way to live.

    One of the tenets of “Voluntary Simplicity” is that for every dollar you spend was it worth it in your time expenditure to earn that dollar. Exp. $5 Starbucks= how many .hours did that cost in the cubicle?

    When you start to calculate the working time cost for your purchases before spending your money, it really does change your perception.


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 22, 2009, 7:58 pm

      Hello Heidi and Fruugal,

      Yes, you are so right. being able to save money for traveling requires a change in perception — it is not something that can be just turned on one day. Perhaps this should be another part of this project “How to prepare for preparing for travel” haha.

      I think this may also have been what Baron was getting at as well:

      To someone embraced in the round of conventional living, it is very difficult to break out of it and all of a sudden start saving all of your money, living in a tent in someone’s backyard, and looking for work all around the country rather than just in the city they live in.

      I suppose this does require a revolution of perception that I went through while I was still in high school and before I ever made any big commitments of my resources. I was fortunate, as I never really built walls up around myself. For me to tell someone that they can just throw up their arms and leave the world that they created for themselves behind is presumptuous.

      I believe fully that anyone can physically save up money to travel . . . if they knew they could . . . or if they really wanted to. But on the other hand I realize how difficult it is to change your pattern of living. Just spending 4 months in Maine was very hard for me to do — it was a change in lifestyle, I was not moving, I was not psychologically equipped for the role that was expected of me. I understand that lifestyle change is more than the physical elements, there are mental ones as well that need to be addressed.

      So even though I feel that anybody COULD save up money in this manner, few people are perhaps actually able to do it as it requires a complete shift in perception and personal values.

      Thank you for stating this very good point.


      But I can

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  • Heidi September 22, 2009, 5:51 pm

    Hey Wade,

    For 2 years I survived on an awful lot less than that per year, and in Europe too!, but it’s something I deffo would not want to revisit. What I learnt is that it’s possible to survive on almost nothing, but it requires an enormous mind-shift from the traditional Western mentality on supposedly how to live and how we can live.

    IMHO it’s about how much you are willing to deviate from a conventional life and how much you’re willing to embarass yourself!

    Hope Number 3’s doing well.


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