How We Save Money by Traveling

When we talk to our friends about our digital nomad lifestyle, they will often joke that we must have won the lottery to be able to afford our life of constant travel. It always shocks them to find out that we spend less money traveling now than we ever did when we were living in one place.

How could it possibly be cheaper to travel around the world than it would be to live in one place?

First of all, our digital nomad lifestyle means that we don’t have a house so we don’t pay rent or mortgage. We also don’t have any heating bills, electricity bills, water bills, telephone bills or internet bills. We don’t have to spend any money on furniture, carpet cleaning, gardening, or lawnmowers.

We also don’t have a car so we don’t spend money on petrol, car repair or parking. We don’t even know how to drive, but this doesn’t stop us from getting anywhere. Using public transport when you need it over the course of a year is a fraction of the cost of driving a car and the walking that we do is much healthier.

Trekking in the Jungle, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Trekking in the Jungle, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

We also don’t spend a lot of money on clothing or other possessions, because everything we own has to fit in a backpack so that we can carry it around the world with us. When you live in one place you end up accumulating a surprising amount of stuff over time, which all costs money. While we are on the road, Lee doesn’t have an Xbox (which he would have spent money on and bought games for) or a TV and I don’t have a closet full of shoes or more than one shade of eye shadow. We don’t really mind though, we would rather have a digital nomad lifestyle at this point in our lives than any possessions.

We also don’t have a mobile phone contract that we are tied to for two years, a Netflix subscription or a membership to a gym. We don’t have a dog or a cat so there is no pet food, kitty litter, or vet bills. We don’t have to buy cleaning supplies or pay for repairs or renovations.

When you add up the cost of what we are not spending, you realize that living in one place can get pretty expensive! Since we have a digital nomad lifestyle and make a living online, we can avoid all of these costs and spend our money strictly on traveling. We don’t make a fortune from our online work, we make an average wage but we just use it very differently.

Another reason why our digital nomad lifestyle actually saves us money is because we spend a lot of time traveling in countries which have a cheaper cost of living. We have spend the last two and a half months in Thailand and Malaysia, where we can rent a hotel room for between $10-20 per night and eat a delicious meal for two including drinks for less than $5. When you work online and earn dollars or pounds, converting that money into Thai Baht or Malaysian Ringgit automatically means you can afford a much higher standard of living with a digital nomad lifestyle. We have been traveling and living a good lifestyle here, eating out, having a few drinks now and then, seeing the sights and enjoying the culture, while actually building up our savings.

Dinner in Bangkok - $2.50 each, The Chaotic Atmosphere of Khao San Road - Priceless
Dinner in Bangkok – $2.50 each, The Chaotic Atmosphere of Khao San Road – Priceless

Sometimes we travel in countries which are more expensive, such as in North America, the UK and Europe. In these places, we can still afford our digital nomad lifestyle of constant travel although we might not be able to put as much money into our savings account. In these destinations, we have many ways of cutting down the cost of our travels.

In Portugal, we rented an apartment next to the beach for 3 weeks for only 500 Euro
In Portugal, we rented an apartment next to the beach for 3 weeks for only 500 Euro

We hitchhike and we use to find free places to stay. We look for accommodation that has a kitchen so that we can buy cheap food at the supermarket and cook rather than eating out every night. We look for ride shares, cheap last minute bus and train fares to get us around and any other clever travel hacks to cut down the cost of our digital nomad lifestyle.

For example, when we went to New Orleans from Virginia this spring, we choose to take the bus instead of flying. It was a 24 hour bus ride each way, but it saved us hundreds of dollars on our flight and we also didn’t have to pay for accommodation that night because we slept on the bus. We also save money by traveling slowly and being very flexible with our dates, meaning that we can catch a train or a bus on whichever day offers the cheapest fare.

London is very expensive, so we only stayed 2 days
London is very expensive, so we only stayed 2 days

People ask us why we stay in hostels when we could afford to stay in a fancier hotel, but we know that we could spend a week in basic accommodation for the same price as a couple of nights in a posh hotel. Going for the cheaper option whenever we can means that we can make our digital nomad lifestyle of constant travel sustainable for many months or years. For a great illustration of this, read one of my favorite travel blog posts ever by Wandering Earl about the Currency of Pad Thai.

Travel is always perceived as being so expensive, so it can be difficult to imagine how our adventures around the world are actually costing us less than living in one place. However, the digital nomad lifestyle really works for us as a way to travel the globe while still saving money for as long as we want. You CAN have your cake and eat it too, you just have to be willing to live a life which is a little bit unconventional.

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. Great article, Kelly. Living in one place definitely can be expensive. Especially when it’s Vancouver.

    I spent most of three months living away from home this summer, and I was honestly a little shocked and overwhelmed to rediscover how much STUFF I owned when I returned home. And I’m a guy who lives alone in a single-room accommodation.

  2. I appreciate the mention above!

    Travel really is so much more affordable than most people imagine. I’m always telling friends back home that what they for rent, utilities, transportation, etc. each month is about what I spend in 2-3 months while traveling the world. They still don’t believe me!

  3. I totally agree that living in one place can cost you a lot of money. If you’re free and willing to move from place to place you can save on those kinds of costs. There’s something freeing and really simple about living off what you can carry on your back. That’s half the reason I love camping so much.

    But I can’t really imagine my life without my dog and cat! πŸ™‚ Silly to say, but I need them to keep me grounded. I don’t mind leaving for a few weeks at a time because I know that they get spoiled at my parent’s house, but I couldn’t leave it all and become a digital nomad.

  4. You make interesting points on how living in one place can be very costly. I knew you could live cheaper in Southeast Asia than in North America, yet like all the extra stuff you’re doing to save money in both cheaper and more expensive countries, and how flexible you stay to save even more.

  5. Most people are unaware of how affordable travel can be if you choose budget destinations and backpack frugally. I know personally that I spend less than half of what I would be living back home on the road.

  6. Wonderful article, I enjoyed it greatly!

    A few of my friends are digital nomads, but they choose to live out of their campers or RVs. While they don’t travel overseas, they enjoy venturing across the United States and have many awesome and exciting stories to tell. Yes, they have stayed in hotels on occasion, but always got a good deal while searching online (taking advantage of free WiFi of course!). I’ve been intrigued by this type of nomadic lifestyle, and hope one day that I will be able to do this, as well.

  7. What an interesting idea! I definitely love the idea of traveling the world and not being tied down to one place. Maybe after our babies are grown we can do some traveling of our own!

  8. I commend you on being brave enough to hitchhike and sleep on random strangers couches. You must be very fearless individuals :). Thats great you can travel the whole world though. I’m sure you save a lot of money in the end but do you ever get overwhelmed and you just want to relax and chill somewhere without always moving?

  9. This is a great article. I 100% agree that living in one place can be expensive. I just bought a house and am now feeling that firsthand. Also now that I bought a house I am kind of tied to it. I can’t really just go and travel for a long time or I won’t be able to make my house payment. I did at least buy sometime that I can afford and something that is going to allow me to save money still so that I can go on some vacations.

  10. I agree to everything you said, I haven’t backpacked US but I traveled Europe by working on a cruise ship. Traveling can save you money as opposed to how most people perceived things(of course, blame it to the marketing people) so for backpackers like us, we would have to explain things, tell our stories, or write a blog to let people know that it is true. That traveling doesn’t need to be expensive and will surprise them that it can also save them money! Keep up your great blog, I love it! πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you Lindsay, I hope the perception will change, however gradual that change may be. I still think it is a shame people dream of travelling but think it so inaccessible.

  11. I totally agree. I’ve been living the life of travel for the past 3 years now, and whenever I tell friends back at home how much I spend a year they can’t believe it. I don’t blame them though, as I have learned through trial and error how to REALLY simplify while on the road, and my budget now is a LOT lower than it was when I first started. Thanks for putting this common experience into words!

  12. Glad you guys made it alive out of the Cameron Highland treks.

    Do you know that Jim Thompson was disappeared mysteriously in the highlands — and no one really knew what happened ?

  13. hi it was interesting to know that living at one place could be expensive than traveling the world, i desperately want to earn online and spend my whole life while traveling.

  14. I totally agree with the points you made: depending on where you’re traveling, it can be so much cheaper than real life! I’ve been traveling in Colombia for over a month, and I’ve spent three weeks either sleeping in a tent very cheap, or crashing at friend’s houses I’ve met or meet along the way. For some reason, people can be surprisingly hospitable if you make a good impression! Keep up the awesome writing fellow canucks!

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