I’m currently sitting in the library at uni, pretending to revise for my upcoming exam while secretly peeking out of the window, thinking about escaping to somewhere. Thankfully, I’m about to head off to Wales in a few hours for one last trip before Christmas and the busy exam period.
Less than two months ago, I came back from a trip to Belarus, my 60th visited country.
I’m 22 years old and I study full time. But I still manage to travel the world every year. Some months I just go on a small trip in Denmark or Sweden, but most months I’m off for several weeks to new destinations or old favourites such as the Faroe Islands, which I just came back from a few weeks ago. In 2017, I’ve already visited 11 countries and I have plans for two more before the end of the year.
Yesterday, I got an email in my inbox from a reader, asking me how I afford to travel so much while studying. This is the one question that I get asked the most, from my family, friends, teachers, colleagues, readers and even other travellers. And I get why. I DO travel a lot, more than the average person, especially considering that I’m also studying full-time at the same time. But most people seem to think that travel is something only the rich can do, or pensionists with oceans of time. But I am far from rich, and I don’t magically have more time than others.
So how do I manage to do all of this exploring around the world at the same time as studying full-time?
Sometimes I wonder that myself, but I’ve realized that if you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. I have so much wanderlust in my body that not travelling is simply not an option for me.
As I will try to prove with this post, you don’t have to be rich or have much time to travel the world – it’s all about prioritizing and wanting it enough.
My Danish Privileges
I live in Denmark, and I was born and raised here. It’s not the cheapest place to live, but there are so many benefits living in this tiny northern country.
The fact that I live in Denmark is actually the most important factor. It may be an expensive place to live (especially Copenhagen, where I’m currently living), but Denmark has a great economy and even the minimal wage is much more than you’d make in most countries. But the best part is that in Denmark, we get paid by the government to study. Yes, paid to study! How awesome is that!!? I get around 6,000 DKK each month, which is just enough to cover my rent and food.
Another important factor is that university courses are free in Denmark. In many other western countries, young people have to save up for many years to study at uni, and some spend their entire gap year working to pay for it, but that was never something I had to worry about. All of the money I’ve ever made from my many part-time jobs has always been spent on pleasure.
Also, I have amazing parents, who are very supportive of my life choices (even if they’d rather keep me home at all times, haha). I know that if I’m ever in desperate need of a place to go, I can go to them. They will never let me live on the street or go without food. That gives me a great safety net, so spending all of my money on travels doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me – because I know that I always have a place to live, and there is no shortage of jobs in Denmark, so I can always just make more money. That’s an extreme privilege to have, and I’m very thankful for that.
I am far from rich – and trust me, I pay for all of my travels myself. Many of my friends have asked me if my parents pay for my travels – and some people even assume it – but I can assure you that they do not. I work hard for the money that I travel for. I earn all the money myself and I spend it all myself. My bank account is very often at zero.
I’ve worked part-time since I was 13. I had two gap years in between high school and uni, where I worked full-time for several months at a time, and I was able to save up so much money that I got to visit over 30 countries in those two years, and some more than once.
Now that I’m studying full-time, I don’t have time to work full-time as well, but I do have three part time jobs. One is a summer job at the Land of Legends, an open air museum, which will begin again in April. A month ago, I started working at the publishing company Bonnier Publications, where I now work 14,5 hours a week. And a week ago, I got a new job at the National Museum of Denmark (so exciting!), which will start in February and be 1-2 times a week.
Working this much (and also all the travelling) does mean that I miss out on some lectures at uni, but archaeology is a course that’s easy to read up on, and I do do that (and I do it a lot), and I do well in my exams. So I choose this way of studying, because I’m lucky enough to be able to. But of course, I prefer to not miss out on lectures, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to be on the road.
So as I wrote further up, the money that I get from the government every month for studying pays for my rent and food. I buy my food in the cheapest supermarkets and spend only 1,000-1,500 DKK per month on food, clothes and other necessities. I never eat out, I party cheap and I only go to entertainment places if I can get in for free (which I often can because I work at two museums – yay for partnerships!).
All the money that I make from my part-time jobs, I put away for my travel savings account and I only spend it on travels. Often there’s not much on that account, but that’s because I will have spent it already on the next flight tickets.
Apart from a few pieces of BM a year, I don’t spend much money on clothes. And if I need something, I find it on sale. I eat cheap, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink much alcohol. I save on stuff that most young peope spend all of their money on.
Now, this is the most important part.
Travelling around the world can be very expensive, but it’s honestly not as expensive as most people think – if you seek cheapness, that is. If you can live without luxury, you can save a lot on accommodation, and if you search around, you’ll often be able to find great deals on flights.
In order to travel as much as I do, I have to do it as cheap as possibly! That means budget flights (often with 20+ hour stopovers, which is a great way to explore a new city almost for free), sleeping in the cheapest available hostel, eating from local supermarkets or street food and walking everywhere or taking public transportation (not tourist busses or taxis for example, but local transportation).
Sometimes, when I have an early flight, I choose to sleep in the airport. First of all, to save money on accommodation, but also for convenience, so I don’t have to get up extremely early and in that way I’m already there! If there’s nowhere to sleep, I’ll stay up all night and crash out on the plane!
I also use every opportunity to go on sleeper trains or overnight busses, and I’m lucky that I’m able to sleep anywhere and in any circumstances, as I’ve saved a lot of money that way. In the USA this August, my friend and I slept in our rental car most nights! That saved us a lot of dollars.
In the Nordic countries, I really like to camp in the wilderness, mainly because it’s awesome, but also because accommodation there is so extremely expensive! I’ve also used Couchsurfing in the past and stayed with locals who I’ve met while on the road. I also look forward to start using Workaway soon!
For finding cheap flights, I use momondo.com, where I can always find a good deal. For example, I just recently booked a weekend trip to Skopje leaving from Malmö for just 329 DKK. Getting to and from Malmö will cost me 200 DKK on a bus, and my hostel costs just 74 DKK for the weekend. So that’s just 603 DKK for an entire weekend in Macedonia!
For cheap hostels, I always use booking.com. They have accommodation in just about every place in the world in all price ranges, and I always click the “lowest price first” button and usually choose the cheapest option, as long as there’s free wifi, a 24-hour desk and it’s somewhat central. I love hostel life because it’s a great way to meet like-minded people, but I also hate sharing a room with snorers (thank god for earplugs) and having to lock away my stuff all the time, but it’s part of the experience as a budget backpacker!
I always have a daily budget when I travel, and I usually end up spending less. I set my budget to 150 DKK in generally cheap places (and always have leftover money) and to 200 DKK in more expensive countries (where I really have to think about what I spend it on). This is not including accommodation for the most part.
The fact that I do most of my travels solo gives me the freedom to choose when to go, where to go and how much to spend on the trip.
You might think it would be cheaper splitting all costs with someone else, but I’ve found that most people aren’t willing to go that extra mile to save money (like sleeping in an airport or camping). When I travel alone, I cheap out big time – I walk everywhere, I eat cheap and I sleep cheap or for free. When I’m with someone else, I feel like I always have to compromise and that pushes up the prices of things.
So until I find that perfect like-minded man, who wants to travel on a shoe-string with me, I’m doing most of my trips solo!
Making Time to Do What Makes Me Happy
I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to work part-time, and very few people in the world get paid to study. I’m very lucky and i recognize my privilege. I realize that taking a gap year or two isn’t possible for everyone, but for those of you who can and want to see the world, just do it! What’s holding you back?
I choose to live this way, because travelling means the world to me. Travelling is when I’m the most happy, and I love having something to look forward to and to plan for. Some people would rather live a ‘normal’ life with a 9-5 job and going on a holiday once a year, but that life is not for me. I don’t want to ever be stuck in one place, and fitting into society has never been a priority of mine. I just want to explore and be free!
This is going to be a post that I will refer to often, when people ask me how I do it. As I wrote in the beginning of the post, it’s the one qustion that I get asked the most, and there really is no easy answer for it. It takes a lot to give up a ‘normal’ life and to chase your dreams. It’s really hard to study all the time and work all the time in order to afford to travel. It’s a struggle every day, but I manage, because it’s what I love to do.
Not everyone will be able to do it the way that I do, but if travel is THE dream for you, I suggest you do anything you can to make it happen. If it makes you as happy as it makes me, you need to seek it and live it! And if you haven’t yet travelled, get out there! The world is beautiful and there are so many beautiful memories to be made out there.