How I Afford to Travel in my 20’s

How do you afford to Travel so much?” I get asked this question all the time through friends, clients, acquaintances and even random emails from people across the world. The famous Vagabond travel writer Rolf Potts wrote an article on how he affords travel as a 40 year old male, a journalist and an accomplished book author. I’m writing as a complimentary response to that, geared to all my female compadres in their 20’s who want to travel but are hesitant. I’ll be honest with you, many females in their 20’s never end up doing it. Some out of fear, others due to lack of money (or the perception of). They think, ‘maybe one day I will travel with my family or when I get older’. I really really, strongly suggest you do it NOW!

How to afford Travel
How to Afford Travel in your 20’s

How to Afford Travel in Your 20’s

I’ve grown up with the curiosity of the world. I was always drawn to the National geographic and Travel channel. But I never really thought of it as a reality until I started to travel with my family in my later high school years. Back then, my mom would find local Chinese tour companies, gather 5-8 families she knows and we’d all hop on a tour bus. Domestically and internationally. We’d stop by 5 landmarks within a day to take photos for a few minutes while spending most of our days on the tour bus. We traveled throughout Europe, and though I was fascinated, what I saw became a blur and I was unclear of it’s significance.

Those tour packages were not cheap. Easily $5000 a person for a 2 week vacation. I think that’s what people imagine when they think of taking off 2 weeks. I have no regrets traveling the way we did as it worked for my parents and their friends. It opened my eyes to a world of travel. It gave me a sense of how humungous the world is and I began to seriously fiend for more.

Since I began traveling in my 20’s, mainly solo, I’ve never spent that much in a month of traveling. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to afford it either. When I graduated college, I had no idea what career path I’d take. I wasn’t worried either. I knew that I’d find my Dharma by following my instincts like the Alchemist. My only plan was to make a few grand from whatever job available and travel to India for 6 months or until money runs out.

Identify your Passion. Then Do Whatever it Takes to Achieve it.

I took on the job which I’m still at today at Ticor Title Company which has provided me a flexible lifestyle. Being at a commission job, it’s anything but stable but it’s the risk I’ll gladly take. Through the years, through all the amazing females I’ve befriended in the industry – Escrow Officers, Loan Officers, married women, women in their 30’s, 40’s, even 60’s, it has all been one clear message to me. Many of them tell me stories of their lives and urge me to follow my passion, to travel, to have fun, and to not worry about making so much money early on. Sometimes later never comes. Especially once a girl gets married they say. And it’s not that you can’t travel with your husband after marriage.

I hate to stereotype, but women are way more pressured to get married earlier than men do. Once they get married, some women lose their drive to do anything but to start a family. I had heard endless heartfelt stories of dreams and passions they had in their early 20’s but because of taking on jobs which lead to consumerism which lead to mortgages and more debt, they no longer could afford to take off time and money to travel. Be self-loving when you’re young. I know that when I become a wife and mother, I will dedicate my life to my family. Until then, I’m going to find myself and learn to love myself before putting anyone else first.

Through books like “Eat Pray Love“, we read about Elizabeth Gilbert who always had a burning desire to travel. But, she succumbed to the comfortable job and married life. It wasn’t until her messy divorce in her mid 30’s did she pull the trigger to take off and travel for a year. Where? To Italy, Indonesia and India. A similar story is told by Rita Gelman’s “Tales of a Female Nomad“. Reading these books in my early 20’s gave me a push to just go. To hustle and then book flights. And you can too! I am doing it for all the women who cannot, and hope that you will too.

how to afford travel
Smoking Shisha in Turkey after arriving at 2am near Second Home Hostel, a lovely place in Istanbul where we stayed.

There’s Not Much of a Secret on How to Afford Travel

I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you all the secrets. There’s no secret to how I can afford to take 3-4 week trips abroad. And if only we had the 2 months a year vacation time like our lucky European neighbors with higher taxes but better benefits. Or better yet, our Australian friends who go for years at a time after university. I will say though that the American culture and mentality does not encourage the global travels as much as the Europeans, Australians and even some Asian countries. Some don’t find the need to leave such a privileged country to live ruggedly in Africa. Well then traveling’s not fit for those.

The mentality in the US is to work until you’re a grandparent so that you could ‘someday’ retire and then travel. Honestly, who knows if ‘someday’ will come. Who knows if you’ll ever be able to retire with the way the direction the American economy is going. Who knows if you’ll have the energy to hike the Inca trails at age 70, stay at 5$ hostels or have the carefree spontaneity to hitchhike. The time is NOW. If traveling the world has lingered in your mind and you find yourself envious of those facebook albums of your friends in certain countries, then do it.

Break Free of the Typical American Fear to Travel the World

The first thing is the whole misconstrued connotation that ‘traveling must be expensive’. It must cost at least 5,000$ for a 2 week vacation through these tour packages they try to sell. So instead, many friends (especially in their 20’s) decide to go to Las Vegas, Miami or Cancun a few times a year because it’s “cheaper”. Because a trip may cost $700-1000 each. Let’s put that into perspective. Many friends do these quick fix short trips about 3 long weekends a year. That’s easily 2000$ you could save if you did not go. Some women say “Well, I don’t spend much money in Vegas. Guys buy the drinks and we split the gas to get there.” The hotel, gas, food, poolside drinks will still cost you a few hundred bucks. A new dress and swanky heels will cost you another few hundred bucks.

I have saved thousands of dollars by not going to Vegas or Cancun more than once a year. Well I also don’t find a smoke-filled casino as a proper vacation. Certainly 0 enlightenment to be found there. And I use this example of Vegas because it’s what I encounter the most with all my lovely friends in their 20’s.

Is the World a Safe Place?

Another major fear is whether or not the world is a safe place. There’s definitely certain countries that are considered war zones, have higher crime rates or are known to have a more chauvinistic cultures. Some of this is media hyped, some are true. But even in some places with bad reputation, perceived from the media of your women country can have some delightful surprises. Some of these places have been my fellow traveler’s favorite places. Why? In many cases, those places are less traveled, more authentic in culture and the locals are more hospitable. They’re not all there to profit from you. In some cases, they want to learn about you and the culture you come from.

I’ve had a few friends who have been to Kashmir, India (the Pakistan & Indian border which has been a “war zone” for years). They say that it’s one of the most beautiful places they’ve seen and with the nicest people they’ve ever met. Israel may seem scary to some people because of it’s massive conflict with Palestine in certain parts, but those areas of conflict is so minuscule compared to the rest of the beautiful country. Mexico has been noted by the US as a country with a travel warning for “kidnapping and drug wars”. But tons of friends still vacation at various locations such as Cabo San Lucas or Cancun and come back with beautiful experiences.

Ok so you don’t care to put your life at risk at edgier countries. There are many safe countries. For those that have traveled, I’ve never heard of one person saying that the world is not a safe place. Anywhere you go, people are living day to day as we do. To look out for their families and friends, to live a comfortable happy, meaningful life. When they encounter travelers, they all want to help. I have so many heartfelt stories of strangers I met across the world. Locals and backpackers who will forever be in my mind.

how to afford travel
Snorkeling in Belize

Manage your Money so You can Afford Travel

Travel Cheaply. If I bought tour packages from American tour agencies, I couldn’t afford it either. I decide on the country I wish to go. Then start doing my research online for the cheapest flight from booking sites like Skyscanner. I sometimes consult with travel agencies on their price. Usually, I am able to find flights, accommodations and experiences online for the same price or better. Sometimes travel agents will even offer you the more expensive flight so they can make a higher commission. Unless you mention to them that you know of cheaper flights. “Oops! Must have missed that,” they say. So I book it myself. There is more control that way too, you have direct contact with your airline company, with mileage points, etc etc.

Budget Travel

I travel on a major shoestring budget. I stay at hostels and home-stays which can range from 5$ – 20$ a night. Many people may have this idea of 100-200$ Hilton hotels abroad. Those 3 star+ hotels are great for romantic getaways or when you have that money to spend. I don’t find it necessary. Here are some more tips:

  • Look on for cheap hostels
  • Sign up for a list of hosts from for 3 day/2 nights cultural exchange/home stays for free
  • Buy a Lonely Planet guide book and start the research a head of time. LP will offer high-end, mid-range, and budget accommodations.
    • I usually go with the Budget tips. To save even more money, I use those recommended hostels as starting points when I arrive at the destination.
      • In Cambodia, we would show up at a suggested hostel and price shop. They would tell us 15$/night for a double (which was very likely 8$ a night before it was listed on guidebooks and became popular). Then I would go 2 hostels down to one that’s not as popular. It would have the same amenities and cost 5-7$ a night. Those few dollars here and there allow for longer travel times. Especially compared to a 100$ hotel down to a 7$ hostel.

Eat Locally

You’re traveling to gain perspective and to learn about their culture. Why wouldn’t you eat the local food? Ok ok, I understand you have concerns with the potential infamous bowel movements that you hear about or have even experienced. So that’s why you pack your Pepto Bismol and take your vitamins! I’m not telling you to eat from street carts, although I do and I usually love it. I do have a stomach of steel and rarely get sick. But that could be from my early childhood training from eating everything and anything. And all my late night bacon-wrapped hot dogs in Hollywood from unregistered boxed carts who flee the scene when the po-po pulls up.

Ok, back to eating locally. When I use to go on those expensive tour trips with my family, they would always feed us Intercontinental buffets from the hotels. They’d also take us to semi-fancy Westernized versions of the local food. Yuck! I’d rather eat fried crickets from a Vietnamese bus stop if that’s what the locals eat for 10 cents each! Those tour-arranged restaurants would cost at least 5 times the cost of eating at a local restaurant. No wonder the tour packages are so expensive! And who wants to eat Hometown Buffet food when you’re in Thailand?

how to afford travel
BBQ Skewers at the Night Market in Inle Lake, Myanmar

Perks for Travelling in your Early 20’s

If you’re under 26, you can apply for an international traveler’s student card from You’ll save at least 10% or even gain free access to many museums and famous tourist attractions! Certain lifestyle changes will have to be modified if you’re serious about traveling. If a 3000$ Chanel purse is more important to you than taking a 3 week vacation abroad, then I can’t change you. But cutting down on some shopping, from eating out, driving hybrid cars to saving on gas (which I have reduced 400$ a month from downsizing from a SUV to a Prius).

I sacrificed living in my eccentric studio in West Hollywood to move home with the parents so I could save another 1500$ a month. That may not be an option for certain people, so I do feel blessed for having that option. For others, it’s just a matter of some tweaks in lifestyle change. I sucked up my pride and figured after 3 months at home, I could afford to travel for a month somewhere. So in retrospect, I could travel for 4 months straight if I lived at home for a year.

Travel to Countries with Lower Standards of Living

The countries that you choose to go will also make a difference in how long you can afford to go for. If you choose France or Japan, you will expect to spend triple than if you went to Southeast Asia. But you can stay at hostels in France and take public transportation to cut down on cost. I have shied away from the more expensive places for now, partly because of the cost. Also because the more developed places, I feel can wait. Developing countries will not be the same in 10 or 20 years. China and India is not the same as it was even 5 years ago. I feel the need to go before Globalization or Tourism changes their culture.

I took a month vacation through SouthEast Asia summer of 2009. SE Asia has been known to be among the cheapest places to travel through. My whole cost including the flight that whole month was only 3000$. Many friends asked how I was able to afford to take off 1 month as a 24 year old, like it was some kind of secret. My expenses living in the US can be easily 2000$ a month. That extra 1000$ can be saved if you choose to.

I am fortunate to work a mainly commission based job that allows me to take off more time if I have good months. But even with the typical 2 week vacations per year, if you cut down on the domestic trips and sick days, you could take that 2 weeks to somewhere exotic. Most Americans love going to Mexico for a short vacation or Europe. But there are other beautiful places to see, and cheaper.

Go Off the Beaten Path

And once you go to the less expensive destinations, also make the effort to go off the beaten path. Thailand is a beautiful country I’ve been to 3-4 times. It will always be beautiful, but there are certain parts like Bangkok or Ko Phi Pi Island that are over-saturated with Tourism that a lot of authenticity has been lost. Many locals live to extort your money. Though, Bangkok itself has spots that mainly locals and expats go too. There are tons of islands that are untouched waiting to be discovered.

how to afford travel
Buying fruits from the friendly local vendor in Rishikesh, India

Traveling will make your Life more meaningful
and Reveal your Dharma (Your Life’s Path)

If this blog post even inspires 1 young female to travel, I would be ecstatic. I truly believe that each time someone travels, you are opening your mind to what’s out there and become more loving. I am here to tell you that the world is a safe place. That crimes that may happen like theft or worst things can happen here in Los Angeles. In many cases, even more likely. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve traveled with other females, I’ve traveled with a friend. Any way you choose, it will work itself out. You will come home with stories and tales that seem but a myth. Or a faint memory that you share with your family and friends. You will get the travel bug that will only get itchier through time. And be forever changed, I promise you.

You will begin to appreciate the different cultures and religions here at home. You’ll understand your friends and why they do what they do because of their upbringing and the generational traditions they still practice from their native country. I have appreciated my country, the United States of America, more than I could have ever if I never left. The US government has their flaws, like everything in life, where there’s Yin, there’s Yang. I choose to see the beauty in our country that 95% of countries don’t have especially when it comes to choice and realizing that we really are a “Free Country”.

You may think that you can’t afford to travel and that “one day” you will do it. Just remember the older you get, the more ‘baggage’ you will accrue. Tying you down to the point where you’re just a product of the rat race and the hopeful 401k supporting you when you retire. Get out while you’re still young. Explore the world and see what it has to offer.

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“The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page”
– St. Augustine


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