In 2010, Ron Tipan left his job as a building technician in Chicago to set off on a 12-country, two-year trip through Central and South America and Asia, looking for opportunities to volunteer and help communities in need.
He did it all on $US12,000.
“It took me about ten years to save that much money,” he says. “I opened a savings account and set aside about $US200 from my biweekly paycheck.” He explains that he kept himself from touching the money unless it was an emergency, although he did have a few that necessitated a raid on the account, into which he also put a portion of his tax refund.
“A year before I left for my travel, I decided to cut down on bills,” Tipan says. “I sold my car, since I lived in the city, and paid off my all my credit cards. I ended up only having one credit card — American Express, which you have to pay all right away — and a bank card.” He also did a little fundraising for an organisation in Peru he planned to visit.
“I started in Argentina, then I would visit nearby countries such as Uruguay, Chile, then Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru,” he says. “Then from there, I jumped to Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Nepal, Malaysia, and then I went to visit friend that I met in Peru in Belgium. I would generally stay for about a month or longer per country, depending on what I planned to do there. The longest that I stayed in one country was nine months, in Peru, because I volunteered for two different organisations there.”
“I still surprise myself that I was able to make my money last that long,” Tipan says. Largely, he did it by Couchsurfing, cooking his meals at home, and passing up expensive side trips that would drain his budget. When asked about his best advice for others who want to travel without spending a fortune, Tipan provides the following list, in his own words:
• Be prepared to avoid the food and things you’re used to. I miss peanut and cookie butter, because I end up just skipping on buying them to keep within my budget.
• Enjoy the local food from every country, but don’t try to overindulge. Street food has been great, but just be careful with it so you don’t get sick.
• Try to cook your own food. I can always cook three meals for less than $US3. Of course, it varies by country.
• Find the local market. They sell cheap produce.
• Prioritise what you want to do and where you want to go in each country that you visit.
• Find people to travel with. Oftentimes it is cheaper with a group.
• Always negotiate or haggle. A lot of the locals always try to take advantage of tourists and it gets annoying.
• If you can travel using local transport safely, do it. You get to experience it and you save money.
• Don’t buy anything you don’t need. Often times, some things are cheap and you end up buying them even if you didn’t need it.
• When I go out dancing or go to bars, for security reasons, I don’t bring my credit/debit cards. But it also helps me control my spending. So I always brings cash with me. A lot of places won’t accept credit cards anyway.
• In terms of accommodation, don’t try to settle on the first thing that you see. Most of the time, you’ll find the best one if you keep looking.
Tipan has spent the last year in in Panajachel, Guatemala, where he currently works as a database and website coordinator for Mayan Families. “I feel like living in different countries, even if I would only earn enough to get by, would be great just so I can have plenty of time to explore,” he says. “I can’t find a job that would let me travel, so why not just live there and be a part of it?”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.