How To Travel Like We Did


One of the most common questions we get asked is “How did you manage to do this?”.  The second most common variation is “What was your budget?”.

It all started with financial preparation.  We did two major things during the lead-up to our trip.

  1. Saving
    1. We saved about 50% of our income for almost a year before our trip.  Before that we were saving 30% of our income.  This is possible if you budget well and live somewhere cheap like Memphis.  The point is, save as much as you can.
    2. In the end our budget was about $100/day.
  2. Travel Hacking (
    1. Travel Hacking is the idea of accruing miles/points using credit cards.  This is directly related to effective budgeting.  You should only use credit cards for normal expenses and pay them off completely every month or more frequently (we did it every Friday).
      So how does it work?  Find a credit card with good travel rewards, either miles or points that can be used to buy travel or be converted into miles, but not just any card.  You want one with a nice big initial bonus.  We used two Chase cards.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase British Airways cards.  Each of those had a nice big initial bonus which you got if you spent $2,500 or $3,000 in the first 3 months of having the card.  Not hard to do if you use it for all your daily expenses, especially if you can get rent/mortgage on there.
      Once you get the bonus pay it off one last time (you’ve been paying it off every week, right?) and stop using it.  
      Open a new card with another bonus and repeat.  Or call up and ask about cancelling the card.  They’ll probably ask why you’re cancelling and why you got it in the first place.  If you tell them you only got it for the sign-on bonus they might offer it to you again.
    2. We accrued enough points and miles that we did not pay full price for a single flight during our trip.  British Airways miles still require you to pay “taxes and fees” so our flight over was $400 (Seattle to London direct, for both of us).  We flew all over Southeast Asia on our BA Miles for $12-$20 (for both of us) per flight on Malaysian Air.  Our flight home used our Chase points and cost us a total of $26 because we didn’t have quite enough points.


Next up are the tools we used while we were out there.  How do you figure out where to go?  Once you decide that how do you get there, where do you sleep?

  1. Travel guides / Deciding where to go
    1. Don’t pack around books.  Get eBooks.  Your local library probably lets you check out eBooks, if you’re lucky they have travel guide eBooks for you.  If not you can get eBook Lonely Planet guides from Amazon.  The old ones (2013 editions) were included in Kindle Unlimited, so for $10/month we got all the Lonely Planet guides we could download.  Fantastic tools.
    2. – Search it for a country or a town, it’ll give you suggestions on things to do and places to visit.
    3. Google Maps – We would sometimes just zoom around a map and see what was nearby.  This would give us ideas on where to go next.
    4. Google it – Seriously, type “Best things to do in Vietnam” into Google right now and look at all the links that come up.
  2. How to get there
    There are different tools available in different areas, so some of these work better in different parts of the world than others.  Give them a try and see if they work for your trip.

    1. Rome2Rio – This site often has good advice on how to get from A to B.  It’ll combine busses, trains, planes and even rideshares to help you find the cheapest option.
    2. Skyscanner – This site is great for finding cheap flights.  It also has nice flexible date searches and even “from here to anywhere” style searches for flexible travelers.
    3. Check all the travel sites before booking a flight.  Skyscanner is great, but sometimes other sites have promos.  First try the official site of the airline, then go through all the standards (Expedia, PriceLine, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, whatever else).
    4. Busses – In many places busses are your best and cheapest option.  Rome2Rio might help with this, especially in Europe.  Googling “Bus Oslo to Stockholm” will also often yield good results.
    5. Rideshares! – Especially in Europe this concept is popular and worked out great for us a few times.  BlaBlaCar and (HELP) were our two favorites.
    6. Trains – You’ll need to find the website for the country you’re in.  I would usually google “trains in (insert country name here)” and find the website.  In Europe this will get you a nice website where you can book your ticket online and get timetables and etc.  In Asia you’re probably out of luck and are best off going to the train station.
    7. Rental Cars – If you’re going in a loop a rental car can sometimes be cheap enough, especially if you sleep in it or have camping gear.  Expedia is nice for this because they have free cancellation.  Call or log in any time to cancel with no fees.  Also, just google “car rental (insert town name here)” and see if any local “rent a wreck” places will give you a cheap car.
  3. Where to sleep
    Hostels are the standard accommodation for budget travellers and we aren’t sure why.  We find that with 2 of us a private room in a guesthouse, AirBnB, hotel or whatever is generally comparable to or cheaper than two beds in a dorm.  

    1. We LOVE couchsurfing.  You get to stay with locals, see their neighborhood, their lifestyle, talk with them, learn about their culture, answer their questions about yours and maybe go out and do something with them.  Plus, it’s free.  Safety is of course a concern when sleeping in a stranger’s home.  Couchsurfing uses a reference system to help you with this.  We only stay with people who have some good references.
    2. AirBnB is also great.  Some hosts are very interactive and give you as good a cultural experience as Couchsurfing.  Others are very professional, others are somewhere in between.  The point is you can find great places to stay for good prices.
    3. Failing these options you’ll need to go the more traditional route of hostels, hotels and etc.  For this we generally use tripadvisor to find well rated places.  We book them with or or whatever is cheapest.
    4. If a place to stay is listed in a travel guide ALWAYS check for the latest reviews on tripadvisor.  Some places get listed, know they’ve got guaranteed customers and let their standards take a huge dive.



We did two volunteering stints with Workaway and would definitely do so again.  There’s one in Italy that our dates didn’t work out for that we might still go do!

The basic idea is that you get room and some or all of your food in exchange for a fair amount of work.  For us that was 30 hours/week or less.

Our two workaways were a hotel in The Black Forest in Germany and a pre-school near Krabi, Thailand.  Both were lots of fun in their own ways, certainly unforgettable.

Before committing to a workaway make sure you understand what you’re getting into, read some reviews, and if necessary communicate with your hosts/bosses to make sure you both agree on what your work schedule and load will be like.


Pack Light

When you’re on the road for a long time you do not need a large bag.  It’s essential that you be able to walk around with your bag.  Seriously, take your bag and walk a mile with it.  If you can’t do that go get a smaller bag.  You should also be able to hoist it onto a luggage rack above your head, carry it up a couple flights of stairs, or have a travel buddy who can do those things for you I guess (for the record: Sarah didn’t need my help for these things).  Preferably be able to hike up a mountain with it but that last one is just cause I like hiking up mountains.


We each had one of these convertible rolling bags/backpacks.  They were great.  We each had a day bag and enough room for our stuff.

Also, packing cubes are great.  We got ours at TJ Maxx for cheap.  They don’t save you space, but they keep your bag organized.


We found ourselves checking bags everywhere we flew.  Most budget airlines do not consider our “maximum carry-on” sized bags to be carry ons and it’s nice to be able to have big bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a knife and a bottle opener.


General Notes

Be flexible.  We had a general plan and a few specific dates when family were meeting up with us.  Our general plan got us through the first 3 months with only a few major adjustments, then we got to Asia with no plan and loved it.


Make the cheapest decision that will make you happy.  We tried to think of things this way when deciding between two options.  For example… Would it be nice to have a balcony for 10 more dollars?  Yes.  Would we be happy without it?  Yes.

The same idea applies all over.


If you want help planning a trip let us know!  It is achievable!

One Comment:

  1. Forty years ago (!) we did a camping journey around the American West. Your first bit of advice was spot on. Save half your income. After that, money was not a worry.

    Nature was beautiful, people were engaging. Memories for a lifetime.

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