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how

How have we saved enough money and arranged for the time off to take this 2-year long trip that’s focused on our number one passion of surfing?

The purpose of this ‘How’ section is to talk about how we’ve done it, and hopefully help you incorporate some of the things we did into your own journey to achieve a goal, whether it’s a world tour or saving for a down payment on a house, or just simplifying your life.

How we did it

If you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact date when we first dreamed up the idea of this trip. I keep a sporadic journal, and recently I looked back in it and found an entry mentioning the desire to travel and surf around the world for 6 months, back in 2008. Somehow, the 6 months turned into one year, then one year turned into two.

This won’t be the first extended backpacking trip I’ve taken; I did the requisite coming-of-age Eurail trip for 3 months with my best friend Liisa when I was 19, and then toured around Southeast Asia with my then-boyfriend in 2002. I love traveling and, along with surfing, it’s a priority in my life. But once I started on my career path, it was difficult to to do travel stints of longer than three consecutive weeks. Short trips were fun and exciting, but I kept longing for the freedom that comes with carrying everything you need on your back, and knowing you don’t have a set amount of time to stay in one place.

I read the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicky Robins and Joe Dominguez, and I was moved by the idea of examining my lifestyle and habits in order to end mindless spending on things that gave me fleeting excitement, and to focus more time, energy and money on the things that most mattered to me. Travelling, having more time to spend with friends and family, time to work on creative and intellectual projects, and surfing were the top priorities I discovered through months of reading and reflection.

Luckily, Michael and I agreed on an around-the-world surf trip as one of our priorities. This just left us to figure out how to raise the cash to make it happen.

What were the areas of spending where we could cut down?

Food

New York City is definitely one of the easiest cities to fritter away your money on eating out. Many New Yorkers eat all of their meals out, too busy working and playing to cook at home. With so many awesome dining options available 24/7, who can blame them?

At first, it was difficult to implement our decision to cut down on restaurant visits, since we’re food-lovers and get a lot of enjoyment out of trying new places. However, eating out was our number one expense after rent, and we decided that cooking in could save us a lot of money in several different ways. Here’s the game plan we implemented:

  • We bought several good, versatile cookbooks. Our three favorites were Great Food Fast, Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison, and Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. I also had a subscription to Everyday Food magazine for one year — it’s a great deal at $12/year, and well laid out, with tasty, quick recipes. I stopped my subscription after one year, as I found there were enough recipes in there to keep me busy for a long time.
  • Eating vegetarian can save you money over being a carnivore. I love a good burger or steak once in a while, but I don’t feel the need to eat meat more than once a week, so we were OK with not cooking with any meat at home. Also, buying unprocessed foods is a lot cheaper than ready-made items. It’s also healthier. If you shop mostly in the produce and the bulk food/dried food aisles, your grocery bills will plummet and you’ll be putting a lot less processed foods in your body. Whole foods are excellent for your health! Not to mention the planet.
  • We used marthastewart.com’s Everyday Food page to search and browse recipes. I was already a fan of Everyday Food from my subscription to the magazine, and then we discovered the great search engine that allows you to filter by keyword, ingredient, and meal type.
  • We didn’t bother clipping coupons or trying to buy only what was on sale, although these are valid strategies. We found that we still needed to keep things fun when we cooked and ate in order to stick with our savings plan, and scouring flyers for the best bargains didn’t strike us as fun.
  • We sat down once a week, usually on the weekend, and figured out our menu for the week so that we could put together a grocery list. We took into account which days we had social obligations to eat out, so that we wouldn’t waste food. We made sure to double recipes to make enough to take to work for lunch the next day.

Entertainment

From the time we decided we wanted to take an around the world surf trip, we decided to pare down our costs as much as we could while still having fun and doing stuff we loved. Life in New York is definitely not on the cheap side, but if you are diligent and flexible, there are many great, low-cost options for any kind of activity — probably more so than in smaller cities.

  • We took advantage of free Shakespeare In The Park (Central Park, The Merchant of Venice featuring Al Pacino — and free!!! You can’t beat that!), free outdoor concerts in the park, free movies in the park. We got the Sunday paper and hung out all day with a picnic in Fort Greene Park.
  • We saw movies at the Cobble Hill Theatre for 7$ before 5 pm, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays. New York might be one of the best cities for free and low-cost activities.
  • We stopped buying CD’s, DVD’s and books, and started using our local library. Luckily for us, the Brooklyn Public Library has a huge network of locations, with thousands of books, so that you can mostly get whatever you’re looking for delivered right to your local branch.
  • We invited friends over for brunch or dinner, rather than meeting out at a restaurant. In New York, it’s common for people to meet at restaurants instead of hanging out at home, for a few reasons: sometimes people live far apart and it’s easier to meet somewhere in between, and NYC apartments are often small. If you have space and can convince your friends to come over, entertaining is super fun and cheaper for everyone. You can linger over your meal for as long as you want on a Friday evening without the waiter hovering over you, waiting to give your table to waiting customers. And it’s BYOB!

Necessities, shopping and banking

There are some things you need to buy, like toiletries, contact lenses, etc. We saved even on those things, and we also tried to manage our banking and savings in a way that would help us make and save extra money:

  • Rule number one of credit cards: Never, EVER carry a balance. Interest paid on a credit card is money washed down the drain. Use credit cards only as a way of avoiding having to carry cash around, and also as a way of making money back (“cash back” rewards), or points for things like plane tickets or Amazon purchases.
  • Get and use just one or credit card that gives you cash back. We liked the Amazon Visa credit card. You can get cash back or Amazon gift certificates. Obviously, cash is better.
  • I still had student loans hanging over my head, so we paid them off as quickly as we could. There’s nothing th at squashes the freedom to travel faster than being in debt. Try to pay off your debt as soon as possible.
  • Never carrying a credit card balance means living below your means. A key piece of living below your means is to get an apartment/room/house that you can easily afford. We made sure our rent was below 25% of our gross monthly income.
  • Saving up an emergency fund is helpful for making sure you never have to resort to a credit card to pay for expensive emergencies. It’s also amazing for providing some financial peace of mind and a feeling of empowerment. 6 months’ worth of expenses is the figure most people go by. If it’s really difficult for you to save this much, start with the aim of 3 months, then keep on going towards 6 months. If you can save 12 months’ worth of money, do it. The economy’s bad. You don’t know how long you might need to be living off your emergency fund if tragedy strikes.
  • We calculated how much we needed for necessities, rent and entertainment/pocket money, and then diverted the rest into our savings accounts at each paycheck. We used checking accounts (make sure you are using a free checking account — there are so many out there, it’s crazy to pay a monthly fee to give the banks the privilege of using your money to make themselves money!) for our necessities, and a high-interest savings account for our trip savings. We deposited any money we received above our paychecks (bonuses, gifts, refunds) into our savings account.
  • We made sure to shop around and compare prices online whenever we wanted to buy anything over $10. Google Shopping is handy for this. We would also google search for coupons for anything we wanted to purchase. Among other things, we saved over $100 on contact lenses by finding online coupons. We bought some stuff used on Craigslist.
  • A year before we were planning on leaving, we started selling our excess stuff. It’s good to give yourself a long timeline to sell things, so that you can have a better chance of getting your asking price. We used Craigslist for anything we wanted to sell for over $10, a sidewalk sale for general household items and clothings, and eBay for more specifically-sought-after items.

Time off

How did we manage to get our time off from work? We had to give up our jobs, albeit we both did so on good terms with our respective companies. We gave our employers lots of advance warning (months, not weeks) and trusted that they would understand that we were following our dreams and not trying to mess up their businesses. Luckily, we both worked for really cool companies/people, and were able to time our departures in ways that worked both for us and them. Being honest about your travel plans with your workplace is easiest if you are working for good people; other folks might not be so lucky. I guess every situation is different; you’ve got to feel it out within your own circumstances. There are loads of books on how to try to negotiate a sabbatical or other kinds of time off; a couple are listed below.

We’ve met a few people who are travelling long-term while on sabbatical, or just taking an unpaid break from work and will go back to their old jobs when they return home. We’ve also met a few people (mostly online through their own blogs!) who travel and work remotely while they’re on the road. The bottom line is, you have to want it badly enough to work at finding a way of making it happen. There will always be excuses that you can summon up to scare you off of working towards any big dream or goal. Big dreams and big goals can be scary; don’t let them scare you off of pursuing them. Getting past that fear and those excuses is just the entry fee for following your dreams. Baby steps, but always forward!

Learning and Inspiration
I referred often to the following books and websites for information and inspiration. I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to read and reread the information in order to implement it; reading one book on how to get your finances in order won’t do it (unless you have a photographic memory). I needed to read it a few times from several different authors and bloggers to figure out a way to make their tips and suggestions work in my own life.
  • Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
  • I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
  • The I Will Teach You To Be Rich blog
  • Early Retirement Extreme (the blog and the book)
  • The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs
  • The Simple Dollar
  • A Trip To The Beach by Melinda and Robert Blanchard
  • Escape 101 by Dan Clements and Tara Gignac
  • Six Months Off by Hope Dlugozima
  • Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
  • The Art Of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau (the blog and the book)
5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 25, 2011 12:57 pm

    You are completely inspiring! Congratulations on creating this beautiful adventure. (I found your blog via Marisa Bowe, whom I knew in Minneapolis 30 years ago.) Appreciate your detailed account of “how” and your budget reports; one lingering question remains: What about airfare? I see intercity transportation, but what about inter-country?
    Merry Christmas, and may the waves go your way this new year.

  2. sylvain permalink
    October 20, 2013 2:44 pm

    Hi,
    I read through your entire blog at my first visit and loved. It feels good to read about a girl who saves money to go surfing.
    To my surprise I did not find any surfer posting about his pursuit of financial independence on the ERE forum.
    I am also saving to go surfing full time but it takes me a bit longer than you as I do not want to ever need to work again. I has been 6 years. I should be done in 18 months. I will be 33.

    Max from France

    • October 20, 2013 4:58 pm

      Max, yours is a great story! I have a lot of questions for you — I’ll email you at your personal email address. I’m so glad you found our site and contacted us!

  3. sylvain permalink
    October 23, 2013 1:09 pm

    Hi, I think I came across your blog googling information about RV living in Peru or Chile.
    I’ll be happy to tell you a bit who, why, where and how.

  4. David permalink
    August 25, 2014 4:36 pm

    Hi,

    I am wondering how long you guys were in Peru. I am just graduating college this upcoming year and looking to work and travel abroad for a year or so after college. I am trying to surf wherever I go. I am looking at Wwoofing opportunities (where you live on an organic farm and work 4-5 hours a day in exchange for room and board). I am doing some research on places in Peru, Costa Rica, Australia, and Indonesia. I am from the Washington D.C. area and want to become fluent in Spanish, so am thinking of trying to go to Costa Rica or Peru. Any advice or tips you could offer on where to go or what part of each country you liked the most would be much appreciated. I love that you guys are both avid surfers, seems like a great relationship. I still have a whole academic year that I have to get through before I embark on my journey, but I figure its never too early to start researching where and what I want do. Any advice or tips would be great!

    Thanks,

    David

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