Nicholas Kristof’s fascinating recent New York Times article about unwise budgeting by some of the world’s poorest families, “Moonshine or the Kids,” reveals a truth that applies to all classes of humans around the world: We’d each have a whole lot more money if we stopped spending piles of it on silly things.
That in mind, let us take a tour of the stupid things I did and didn’t spend money on during my nine month journey around the world. If you read this article well and use its lessons to plan ahead, you will find yourself several thousand dollars richer than me at the end of your travels!
A.) Stupid Things I Wasted Money On During RTW Travel.
1. ATM Fees. For months before I left, I had at the top of my To Do list: “Obtain credit card with no international fees!” But the Procrastination Beast bit hard and I never got around to getting one.
Thus, if you calculate that I was charged between six and fifteen dollars every time I withdrew money with my standard Debit Card, and that I withdrew money at least every two weeks for nine months abroad… it makes a gal swoon with the fury of waste. Don’t let this happen to you!
On the other hand: your RTW plans and itinerary WILL change. In fact, my plans changed so much and so frequently that I ended up changing or canceling EVERY SINGLE LEG of my seven-leg set of flights over the course of nine months. If you calculate that each flight change is at least $50, my hollered advice to RTW travelers is now always: Buy as few plane tickets in advance as you can!
4. A Phone Contract. When there’s a shiny new phone in front of you that can be yours for just a few bucks if you sign up for a two year contract, it’s awfully tempting to leap into Contract World. However, if there is any chance at all that you will be traveling for an extended amount of time, think again!
5. Little snacks and beverages. I’m such a sucker for little local munchies and sip-ies. Alas, a few dollars a day every day for nine months does add up! However, it could easily be argued that the cultural learning gleaned from eating a new street food a day is completely worth the diminished bank account!
Disclaimer: Despite these lapses of judgement, I did ultimately return back to the U.S. with enough money still saved to subsist on for a while. Yay! All the strategies for saving money before the RTW trip paid off! Now onto some wise choices made overseas:
B.) Stupid Things I DIDN’T Waste Money On During RTW Travel.
1. Souvenirs. Will Uncle Harry really care about that wooden carving of a frog drinking a Thai beer? Unlikely. I recognize that some folks truly believe they will be pounded to death if they do not bring back piles of mediocre gifts for every friend and family member in sight, but the whole practice seems a bit misguided to me. Can’t we just volunteer somewhere and bring back sweet drawings from our students?
2. Expensive Clothes. I had a hysterical breakdown in a Massachusetts bra store the other day because my brain had not experienced the “Shopping” phenomenon for ten months! You save a lot of money when your backpack only has room to fit one new shirt per month! And apparently a part of your brain also becomes dormant.
3. Pricey hotels and expensive forms of transport. For nine months, I did a whole lot of scrimping on lodging and transport, which rather added to the adventurous thrill of the whole journey. Thirty hour bus? Fun!