How I Saved Up for Travel on a Third World Budget

I woke up on Friday feeling inspired and ready to write. Unfortunately, I had a to-do list a mile long that stretched into the weekend. Now, the weekend is technically over, and not only am I late to posting, but I’ve forgotten the topic I felt so inspired to write about. I hate when that happens and really should have written it down at the time, but alas, I did not.

So, instead, I’ll discuss a topic a lot of people have been curious about. When First Worlders learn of my travel adventures, I am often called “lucky” or they say they wish they had as much money as I did to travel. Sometimes, I let this slide. Other times, I point out that I started my travel adventures on a Third World salary.

When I lived in Jamaica, my annual take-home pay was the equivalent of roughly US $8,640 per year. Yet, not only did I spend my last few weeks on the island travelling around without a care in the world; I also booked my flight to Atlanta and continued my adventuring there. So, how did I pull that off without robbing a bank and ever owning a credit card?

Re-Homing My Pets

Next year, I’ll be moving across the country. When I do, Shadow will be riding shotgun in the car with me. The idea of leaving my cat behind — though Mom has repeatedly offered to watch him — would not sit well with me. Yet, there was a time when I had to make the difficult decision to part with my pets in Jamaica.

At the time, I had a black labrador retriever named Skittles and a cat named Saosin. Five months before I left, I allowed one of my close friends to take Skittles home with her. It was tough saying goodbye to my dog, but that decision saved me a lot of money. Those dollars and cents went toward getting me set up to leave corporate behind.

Giving Up My Apartment

Giving up my dog saved me money, but the biggest expense I had was still my apartment. Paying rent accounted for nearly half my monthly salary, which as you can see, was already not enough. So, I spoke to one of my close friends and she told me to give it up and move in with her.

I bartered and sold almost all my things, I re-homed my cat with my grandma and then moved in with my friend. She had a small studio apartment, but we made it work. That was almost half my paycheck back in my pocket.

Relying on Friends

That friend was not the only one who offered to put me up. In fact, I had offers from friends even in the U.S., who were fascinated with my seemingly reckless decision and wanted a hand in it. I ended up bouncing between apartments, never staying anywhere long enough to need to pay rent.

I was glamorously homeless! Still, I made myself useful. I bought groceries, cleaned up, and offered to help out however I could. When my parents’ apartment in Atlanta got added to that list, I chipped in for a bill or two as that became my home base.

Focusing On Business

When I finally decided to settle in the U.S. for the long haul, I had no work permit. That meant even my U.S.-based clients could pay Third World pay and almost all of them did. Some months, I was lucky to walk away with $1,000. Other months, I was looking at $450. Most of that money went toward the now $5,000 in immigration fees that I’ve paid to USCIS.

I will never forget one wealthy tech client in particular who terminated my contract after I asked to be paid the U.S. minimum wage. When I got my work permit after 15 months of this, I terminated all remaining contracts. That time spent building my business on U.S. soil was not in vain though. Now, I have clients who actually value my time. My work pays my bills and I can work from the road.

Purchasing a Micro Home

While I was still playing the waiting game with Uncle Sam, my Mom and I bought a home together. My parents kept the two top floors and the attic, while we kept the semi-basement floor. My share of the mortgage for the 628 feet we occupy in the house is barely worth mentioning. And, when we leave, my parents can rent it out on Airbnb for extra income.

Over the past few years, living in that space — even factoring in the cost of renovations — has saved us a lot of money compared to renting. You can’t beat paying into something you own versus paying someone else’s mortgage. I don’t care what economists say about how much cheaper rent is this year. It’s almost always better to buy.

I’m no longer on a Third World budget. My salary is several times what it was in Jamaica. Still, I don’t make a killing. Much of the work I do are pet projects as opposed to moneymakers. This … is an excellent example! But, as long as my business can afford to give me several more years of 21 days’ worth of paid vacation time for international travel, you won’t hear me complaining.

I also want to point out that had family and friends not stepped in, I’m not sure I could have managed. They all roll their eyes when I say this and point to my tireless determination as proof of otherwise. But, in my opinion, they don’t give themselves enough credit.

How did you save up for your first big adventure? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

26 thoughts on “How I Saved Up for Travel on a Third World Budget

  1. I was in my last year at university as an international student in florida. I worked 3 jobs plus an internship to pay all my bills including tuition. A friend of mine invited me to come to costa rica where he live and I thought about it did the math, did some belt tightening and I booked a one week trip there for $250 plane tickets and the cheapest Airbnb I could find. To this day the only thing i regret is not staying there longer.

    1. Wow! That sounds amazing and I’m glad you made that sacrifice. Working to survive is essential, but we all need a little treat sometimes. Thanks for sharing. ☺️

  2. I think its crappy you rehomed your pets for personal travel. You should never have gotten them. So many pets end up getting euthanized because of this. Unfollowed.

    1. 1. Neither of my pets was euthanized.
      2. You are welcome to your opinions.
      3. You are more than welcome to leave.

  3. years ago, i planned a climb of Denali in Alaska. it was a team of 4. they all dropped out and left me. to get the money for me to go climbing, i quit my job to get the money to go climb. i spent a little over a month in Alaska and on the mountain. many things happened on that trip that i will not forget or had a chance to do again. though i may consider it my last big adventure, it was and will not be my last adventure. btw…i did not make it to the top. none of those i was climbing with, made it to the top that year. it was the coldest may in Alaska up to that time.

    1. I can’t believe your friends bailed on a trip like that! But, look who’s talking. Me, who had mine bail on me for South Asia this year.

      You took some serious risks to go on that trip. I’m glad you made it, and even happier that you made it back! Alaska was such a beautiful place when I visited. Those mountain hikes were tough. I can just imagine the climb.

    1. Thank you, Charles! I absolutely believe in the power of hard work and perseverance, but also creativity and support! 😅

      Wishing you all the best as well.

  4. Love this! You had to make a lot of sacrifices, but they were to do something you loved! If travel is something someone wants to do, sometimes we have to give up some things and lean on other people.What you’ve done is so brave but so awesome!

    1. Absolutely! It was nerve-wracking, but I didn’t really feel like I had anything to lose by trying, so I went for it. I’m glad I did. Couldn’t have made it this far without support though. Forever grateful for the people who volunteered to be my rocks when I needed it!

  5. Most of my travel when I was your age was nearly free. Of course it involved a tent and a tank of gas. Our sleeping in the car. Or sleeping with friends on the road. Never stayed where it cost anything.

    1. Most of my traveling before 2017 was nearly free as well. I mostly stayed with family and friends that were spread out in Jamaica and then the U.S.

      That 2017 trip to Vegas was the first time I booked a hotel room. The further away I go and the more unknown the area, the more likely it will cost me.

      Also, sleeping in the car is illegal now and enforced in most states. I think it’s a stupid rule and they need to get rid of it. I checked if I could do that for the trip on the way over, but there are so many state law complexities that I’d rather not risk a charge for a few hours of shut-eye. I think you can still sleep in most Walmart parking lots though.

      1. What? Illegal to sleep in a car? I suppose it is now also illegal to be “intimate” in a car. Both are significant losses!

      2. LoL! It is illegal to do both, and I do agree, what a loss! I think the charge is public indecency or something of the sort for being intimacy. I’m not sure what the charge is for sleeping in the car, but I was really shocked to head there are rest stops that don’t allow car-sleeping. They might as well call it something else.

  6. I find that in this country the biggest impediment to advancement is healthcare costs. People just don’t realize that paying a set percentage of taxes to pay healthcare is less costly in the long run.

    1. I agree.

      I don’t think it’s not because they don’t realise though. People who don’t need subsidized health insurance resent paying for those who do. Those who need it but opt not to have it believe if they can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” others should too, with no government support. In short, people are selfish.

      That’s what happens when a culture focuses too much on capitalism and individualism. We lose our community values and people become focused on their own best interest and pocketing as much of their own dollars as possible.

      Here’s to hoping for change!

  7. Brave moves, all of them, but when needs must, we simply don’t have a choice and are forced to keep only what is dearest or vital to us.

    My first rented property had the kitchen where a hall should have been and a tiny lavatory on the side before you reached the bedroom. There were holes on the kitchen floorboards covered with old lino and often got mice in. We had to share a shower room with another tenant who was a drunk and stank to high heaven. I don’t know how I did it, but lasted 3 years there while saving to buy my first flat. You’ll get there, you’re doing lots of things right. 👍

    1. Oh, goodness! The closest I experienced to this, it’s sad to say I owned the place. It’s where I went after Judas lost custody of me and I was on my own. It was either that or live with family and I really just wanted to be alone and on my own. Rats sometimes came in through a hole in the floor and did summersaults in the ceilings, but it was mine and that counted for something. I spent 2 years there for college, before moving across the island for university.

      I’m glad you think I’m doing lots of things right! Everyone seems to think so, but I most certainly have that little pocket of butterflies in my tummy. I often wonder why I can’t just be normal and feel content with a nine-to-five, a 2000 SF home and 2.5 children! I don’t think I’ll ever be cut out for that life. I wonder if anyone really is or they just convince themselves to settle for that because it’s easier than actually living our dreams. Who knows?

      1. I don’t know what’s normal as I never did what I was supposed to. Working with children with specific educational needs for 17 years convinced me even more that normal doesn’t exist. Most of my friends and family consider themselves either weird or mad, but I love them all for who they are. Just do what feels right for you and don’t worry about what other people expect you to be or do. There’s only one you. ❤

      2. Haha, I am without a doubt the black sheep in my family, so normal for me is what I do versus what all the rest of them do. They all follow a similar pattern in terms of career choices, goals etc. Those come back to a focus on stability. I, on the other hand, will throw stability right out the window if it gives me a clear shot at what I want or having an adventure.

        You are right that it’s better to focus on myself and what I want. However, I don’t want to adopt a too-individualistic mindset that’s so easy to pick up in First World countries. There is value in paying attention to the people around us, even when they leave us scratching our heads, rolling our eyes and wondering what kind of drugs they’ve been taking lately. 😂

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