How I Saved $13,000 For A Round-The-World Trip In Seven Months


Photo Credit: Kate McCulley

At age 26, Kate McCulley, now a full-time travel blogger at, quit her job to travel the world. The following post has been republished with her permission.

When I started Adventurous Kate, my goal wasn’t to live off my blog (not that I would have objected to that!) — it was to run one of the world’s top travel blogs.

My initial plan was to travel Southeast Asia for seven months.  I budgeted $1,000 per month (in retrospect, I should have budgeted closer to $1,500), plus airfare to and from Asia ($1,500), travel insurance ($800), gear ($700), student loan payments for seven months ($1,232) and some extra financial cushion ($1,500 — should have budgeted $2,000 or more).

My goal was to save $12,800 — which I dropped to $12,500 when I spent $280 less than I expected to on airfare.

I started with very little savings in February, having just paid off debt.  From February 2010 until September 2010, a period of just seven months, I managed to save that money.

I didn't quit my day job –– at least not right away.

I came up with an aggressive savings strategy: $1,000 per month

My first task was to figure out my essential expenses. They were as follows:

Utilities: $100
Student loans: $176
Rent: $800 (half of a one-bedroom in Fenway, Boston)
CharlieCard (public transit pass): $59
Netflix: $10
Chiropractry: $80
Food: $300
Social activities and impromptu food purchases (bars, movies, going out for lunch or dinner, nights out with friends): $200
Miscellaneous Expenditures: $150

Total: $1,965

If I managed to watch my expenses, I would be able to save $1,000 per month. If I changed my lifestyle, I'd be able to save even more.

Then I traded in Whole Foods and my gym membership for long walks and Trader Joe's

I took a look at my spending and saw that I had a lot of ways to trim my expenses. It was easy to eliminate things like trips to Vegas and cocktails at fancy bars with the girls. The everyday things were much harder.

As much as it broke my heart, I gave up my gym membership. This was the only time I have ever been in shape -- I found a gym that I loved, a high-end women's gym with lots of fun classes. It was sad to give it up.

I stopped shopping at expensive grocery stores like Whole Foods and switched to the super-cheap Trader Joe's.

I stopped dating, too.

I used to be on OKCupid and go on dates all the time.

While most of the guys insisted on paying for everything, I'd always chip in for our second round of drinks or more food. That added up quickly.

I changed my social and food habits, too.

Instead of going out for dinner with friends, we'd go out for coffee or just hang out and watch movies at home. Instead of stopping for a burrito on the way home from work, I'd have one of the Trader Joe's eggplant parmesans I'd purchased.

I bit the bullet and moved back in with my parents for seven weeks.

And, most significantly, I decided to move home when my lease ended.

It made sense both financially and logistically and wasn't a huge sacrifice, considering that my family lives just outside Boston.

My lease was due to end on August 31, which meant that my last time paying rent would be July 1 (as I had already paid the last month's rent). I expected the full security deposit back as well ($775). After that, I could move home to either of my parents'.

I automated my savings and threw everything into a 'Travel' account.

I took on freelance work and turned my blog into a business.

A few months back, I found a gig writing about Boston nightlife for AOL Travel, which I found on Craigslist. I wrote short posts five times per week and got paid $20 for each one. After a few months, the job was eliminated, but they soon hired me back for a similar project.

Additionally, shortly after I started my new job, a former boss of mine came to me wanting to hire me for a project. Talk about brilliant timing.

As a travel blogger, you shouldn't expect to make any money for the first year -- but there are exceptions. I was one of them. I started selling my first ads at about five months in.

Everything that was supplemental -- everything from AOL, my side gig, or ads on my sites, went straight into my travel account.

I got most but not all of my security deposit back as well, netting me another $740.

Even when my car broke down, I didn't touch my travel fund.

While I was no longer paying the $59 per month for public transportation, I was paying much more to 1) get my car back on the road, 2) pay my car insurance and 3) pay for gas. Commuting by car from north of Boston to metro-west took an hour each way. I also paid my mum a small amount for rent and groceries.

Within a week of putting my car back on the road, my car broke down. It turned out that it needed $900 worth of repairs. I felt like crying.

I didn't succeed in hitting my savings goals every month. Sometimes expenses creeped up on me, and I didn't always save as much as I had hoped. But I kept going. As for unforeseen expenses, like my car repairs and higher-than-expected bills, I put them on my credit card and used my next paycheck to pay for it instead of taking it out of my travel savings.

I tallied up the items I'd need to travel and used my travel savings to purchase them.

I had a list of items that I needed to buy for my trip (about $800 worth), which I did over the course of several months. Buying some of the more expensive items in New Hampshire helped me save on sales tax.

And then came the biggest purchase: my plane ticket. I spent a lot of time looking at different routes and timetables on Kayak -- Boston or New York to either Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Singapore. Finally, I found a round-trip ticket from New York to Bangkok on KoreanAir for $1220.

(Looking back, I shouldn't have booked a round-trip ticket. I ended up getting it only partially refunded because I chose to fly back via England instead.)

Seven months later, I had saved $13,000. I quit my job and the rest is history.

My job couldn't have been a worse fit for me, and I knew within a few days that taking it had been an enormous mistake.

My original plan was to work until October 15, saving up the maximum amount of money before departure on October 20. But as time and those little notches added up, I told myself that I didn't have to last quite that long. Maybe October 1 would be OK.

But on the morning of September 14, I had had enough. I picked up my belongings and simply walked out. I drove a few blocks away, parked, and emailed my resignation from my iPhone.

I drove myself home and got back to work immediately -- on Adventurous Kate, my labour of love and new (if scant) source of income. I told myself that I would need to make about $1,500 in advertising over the next eight months to make up for the lost income from leaving my job early.

Saving money is not easy. It takes work and it takes sacrifice. I lived a very difficult life for several months. But it was absolutely worth making my dreams come true.

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