travel: the frugal adventurers
By Kelly Westhoff
Soon after we got married, my husband and I quit our jobs and hit the road. We traveled through eight countries in six months—Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. We dubbed our trip "Kelly and Quang's Global Roam."
We figure, on average, we spent $3,000 per person per month we were away. This monthly dollar amount covered hotel rooms; daily food and bottled water; personal needs (shampoo, soap); hours at internet cafes and phone calls home; museum entrances, day tours, movie passes; guidebooks and books for pleasure, daily transportation and cross-country transportation (ferries, buses, intercontinental plane trips.)
We also spent money pre-trip. We purchased some of our international plane tickets months before leaving home, as well as travelers' health insurance, two backpacks, shoes, some clothes and other supplies. We made sure we had enough money in our account to cover mortgage payments and utility bills back home as well.
We also wanted to make sure that we wouldn't be completely destitute when we finally did come home, so we tried to squirrel away a little extra on top of it all.
When we got married, we were 31 years old—not old, but not just starting out. We didn't have kids or pets. We each owned a home. My house was put on the market. I made a profit and we kept the money, but we also added to it. To make more money for the trip, we worked hard. Before leaving, I worked three jobs and my husband put in about 60 hours a week too. We traded in a nice car with a hefty monthly payment for an older car that we bought with cash. The older car earned us a refund in car insurance.
We looked at our lifestyle and figured out ways to save money. We lived without cable. We cancelled the home phone and just used cell phones. We had a garage sale. I took clothes we never wore to a consignment store. We ate at home more than we ate out. Just before we left on the trip, we switched our car insurance to storage mode. We set the furnace on low.
We didn't pack one traveler's cheque. We used our instant cash cards. ATM machines are available worldwide. There were times when we headed off the beaten path and spent a week in various small towns. We planned ahead and withdrew more money before heading down those roads.
We preferred to deal in local currencies instead of dollars. We also preferred to use cash. In the U.S., it's illegal to charge customers more because they pay with credit cards; not so in other countries. While Visa or American Express was accepted in many places, we avoided charging tabs. This also kept large bills from coming due while we were away.
Because our bank placed a limit on how much cash we could withdraw per day, on several occasions we withdrew money two days in a row so that we could have enough cash in hand for airfare or an expensive tour.
Before we left home, we called our bank and credit card companies and told them we would be traveling. We named countries we planned to visit so there was a record that we planned to be there. We didn't want to find ourselves in Cambodia with cancelled cards due to suspicious activity.
We set every account we could on automatic withdrawal. This eliminated paper bills coming through the mail in exchange for email notices we could access anywhere with an internet connection. For random bills that would come due while we were away, we left a trusted family member back home with blank checks.
People have asked if we ever worried that the computers we used in internet cafes were tracking our keystrokes and stealing user names and account passwords. Honestly, that never crossed our minds. Perhaps it was naïve of us to blindly trust all those communal computers, but we have never had any problems.