The burning question – the one I get asked more than anything else: HOW DO YOU AFFORD TO TRAVEL SO MUCH?
…After that, it’s how do you have the time to travel so much??
The reality is a lot simpler than you might think! And also a lot cheaper… So I’m just going to dive right in and answer the question… let’s go!
HOW DO YOU AFFORD TO TRAVEL SO MUCH?
1. I’m British – that means I’m European
Ok, firstly, I’m a British citizen. English to be exact. We are part of Europe (at the time of writing, but will be leaving in approx 6 months which is a whole other blog post)… anyway, as part of Europe we benefit from having “free movement” across Europe – that means we can live, work and travel without visas or anything like that. For me, if I want to go to Portugal to work I can just decide to go without applying for any sort of work permit.
That’s the first reason – and the underlying reason actually – why my whole lifestyle is feasible. And trust me, I am grateful for it (and deeply saddened that my country is leaving the EU, which again I will cover in another post). .
So, being in the EU means easy travel across the continent, and opportunity to work. Travelling without visas = easy and cheaper travel. Being able to work abroad = more opportunity to travel in mainland Europe. Which leads me to point #2…
2. I moved to live in France
Being in the UK is good but it’s not mainland Europe. So whatever you do it is always going to be more expensive to travel from an island (as you have to pay to get OFF the island) than if you were just crossing a border to the next country by land.
For British citizens living in the British Isles we have to get to an airport (situated all over the country but nearly anywhere you live in the UK involves at least an hour of travel to get the airport) or a boat – which means getting to the south of England to hop on over to mainland Europe. Even if you live in the south it takes hours to get to the port and actually cross… and it can be expensive. Adding that cost on to any journey within Europe can really add up.
Soooo I moved to France. And from France I am now in mainland Europe. Which means cheap travel by bus (I mainly use buses as they are much cheaper although much longer!!), and train. Flights are better for places like Italy or the south of France as a train actually takes much longer than a cheap-ish flight would. Flixbus and Ouibus are the cheapest cross-country bus services and they have taken me almost everywhere!
3. I taught English
I have many professional skills and am qualified in a few different things but the one skill that really gets you a job abroad is teaching English.
Other jobs (i.e more professional jobs) require a hell of a lot of skills – normally a second and third language, years and years of experience etc) which, at the time I was looking to move to France, wasn’t something I wanted to put the time in to looking for, and also wasn’t sure would achieve my goals. I wanted to move away from working in the music industry and wanted to move towards being a freelance writer, but I needed to build up my skills and experience and needed the time to do so.
Teaching English seemed kind of perfect. I didn’t need many skills to be a teacher – well you do, but you don’t need a professional qualification is what I mean. Just being a native English speaker was the biggest asset I had, and so I used it to my advantage.
All European countries are desperate to teach English well to their students as English is the ‘lingua franca’ (see below) across the world, used in business and all European operations – behind Chinese and Spanish. But still, English is the primary business language for international trade, meaning Chinese business people will know English, as will Spanish, French, Portugese and whoever else you can think of. English is incredibly important therefore to the business and financial development of a country, and trade/business relies on their citizens working in these areas to know the language very well.
English as a lingua franca (ELF) is the use of the English language as “a common means of communication for speakers of different first languages”.
For me, it’s a no-brainer. I want to live abroad. I don’t have strong enough skills/enough experience to be hired in a company abroad – and at the time I didn’t want to. I wanted free time to explore. And I wanted to do a job I enjoyed. Teaching English was perfect.
I’ve always loved learning languages – for me I’ve focused on French and Spanish – and I enjoy the fun that comes with learning (actually I’ve always loved learning and doing well at school etc). I thought it would be nice to pass that on to others. And what’s more, there’s a lot of support when teaching English. Some companies help you to find a place to live and they liaise with you to make sure you’re ok.
Working as a ‘language assistant’ in France
Disclaimer: I am not being paid to recommend any of these companies. I just personally had links with them so am mentioning them 🙂
My first year abroad I was a language assistant in French schools, organised by the British Council (there are lot of requirements to get these posts, such as being B1 in your target country’s language, a degree etc). If you’re in the USA or Canada, there’s an equivalent called TAPIF.
I already had the requirements (and did a quick refresher course with the Alliance Française too before I went).
For those who don’t fit the requirements for the language assistants programs , you can do a TEFL certificate. I did a 140 hour course – 120 hours online and 20 hours practice in the classroom. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
There are a few different providers but I did mine with i-to-i TEFL who I think are great because they offer a lot of discounts (especially on bundles of courses) and there’s lots of support afterwards such as a daily-updated jobs board). I think mine was about £250 (280€/325$).
My friend based in India did a CELTA which is recognised by Cambridge University and is known to be a more in-depth and professionally-recognised qualification. I wanted to do it but it was far too expensive a choice for me… TEFL is in the couple of hundreds whilst CELTA is in the thousands. I think if you want to make teaching your profession a CELTA is a great choice but for me, TEFL was better.
If you speak fluent English these are the best routes to go. However, there are also so many opportunities with ERASMUS – I wish I had known about all these opportunities when I was a student, but with my music course we didn’t have much requirement for time abroad so I didn’t really look into it… anyway, if you’re a student you can totally make the most of these programs!
4. I live cheap
It sounds simple but it’s true. I don’t buy expensive food (I’m actually vegetarian so I eat lots of lentils and stuff like that). I always cook from scratch, I make the most of farmers markets (so cheap here in France), and I really don’t buy myself anything. I love fashion but I don’t spend money on it because I just think how that €20 top could’ve been a day trip to Amsterdam 😂.
I’m not perfect and sometimes I buy stuff I don’t really need but the majority of the time I’m quite good at not spending my money on stuff I don’t need.
5. I take more than one job
This for me was the difference between just ‘surviving’ and actually affording to do stuff.
My day job (the one I worked the most hours in) gave me enough to live off but I wanted more than that to be able to go out and explore Europe. So I took a second job, which boosted my income by a third. I was working a LOT but I always made sure to keep my weekends free so I could travel on the weekends at least. It’s not always easy to make this kind of schedule happen but it is possible.
6. Day trips/weekend trips only
Yes I take day trips more than anything! Closely followed by weekend trips.
For me, it’s far less commitment if I go away for a day than it is to try to manoeuvre a week off. And I can explore A LOT in a day or two.
Where I live in France I can travel to most major European cities within 1-5 hours. That means if I set off early and leave really late, I can get there with a whole day to explore (more if I go for longer) and I don’t have to pay for accommodation. And setting off super early/super late means the ticket prices are cheaper too. For me, it’s a win-win, even if I do sometimes wish I had more time to spend.
7. Local travel groups/associations
Local travel associations such as Paris City Vision and CICE are honestly just so great for taking little trips. What they do is hire a a coach for lots of people to go, and with more people paying, this means they can lower the prices a lot to get you to your destination. This is how it works: you set off early on the coach. They drop you off in the destination city (you get there super early, enough to spend a whole day). Then they pick you up later that evening ready to take you home. It’s a super early start and a super late finish, but seeing as most of their trips happen on Saturdays, this means you can take a whole day in somewhere like Amsterdam and just have a lie-in on Sunday morning!
To be honest, I think this is something that only really happens in mainland Europe due to the countries being easy to travel between, however, just because you’re not in mainland Europe doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of it. If you have a trip planned to go to somewhere like Paris, you can book a day trip with a local association for sometime in your stay. From somewhere like Paris you can go to Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, even London. Also some universities have these groups too!
8. Cheap deals with travel operators
I’m subscribed to all mailing lists for travel operators – buses, trains, airports, flight providers etc. Literally everyone I’ve ever used on my travels!
This means I get mailing list privileges such as discount codes, cheap travel offers, priority booking, first-offer tickets and all those kinds of things. They’ve helped me countless times and in some cases slashed the price by a half.
Some train operators provide cheap subscriptions or discount cards for certain ages and professions too. Make sure to research fully! you could save a ton!
9. Stay with friends abroad
Having friends abroad who are willing to give you accommodation can be a massive help. It can bring down the price of your travelling hugely. I have taken advantage of this tip many times 😀
Something else I’ve heard of:
Sounds like a great idea if you’re travelling with others but for me I normally travel alone or with just one friend and if I’m entirely honest, I don’t always trust random people, especially being a female.
Call me crazy or whatever but I’ve seen, heard and unfortunately experienced for myself far too many times awful things and I won’t take the risk anymore of staying with people I don’t know. It’s just not worth it (none of these experiences were related to Couchsurfing but just staying with strangers).
Also after a day of exploring I just wanna be able to relax. I’m not a party-girl; I prefer to relax by myself or with one or two people and have a good conversation or discuss life. I want and need my own space and I don’t want to have to rely on others for accommodation knowing that they control where I’m staying… I’d rather just get a cheap hostel for peace of mind.
So no couch surfing for me but that doesn’t mean it’s bad! I have a friend (who is female by the way) who travelled a whole summer around Spain through Couchsurfing and she loved it! Just – if you’re a girl – take extra care PLEASE. 😬
I think that’s really the main basis of HOW I afford to travel so much. Basically, I make the most of the opportunities I have and I try to find a way to do things. It’s not always possible, and I would argue that I have two major “privileges” that help me – first speaking English natively and secondly living in mainland Europe.
But where there’s a will there’s a way – I still found ways to travel a lot (for cheap) when I lived in the UK so if you want to make it happen you can! But you may need to be patient and wait while you save money or figure out how to do it.