How I Saved $15,000 to Travel for a Year in Southeast Asia

How I saved $15,000 in one year to backpack through Southeast Asia

One of the first questions I seem to get asked these days is, “How are you going to afford to travel through Southeast Asia for a year?” People seem absolutely baffled by the idea. I wasn’t born rich. I don’t have a trust fund.

That being said, I have had really fortunate circumstances over the last several years. I scored a well paying job right after graduation, and was able to pay off my debts (for state college) while living in my uncle’s apartment for a year. I was also fortunate enough to live rent free on two separate occasions over the years by staying with others. Not to mention, my parents taught me to save money from a young age. I was encouraged at the age of 5 to put money into my savings every week. My parents told me that even if I could only put in one penny, it was still better than not putting anything in.

Starting out without debt has been a huge advantage. Plus not having paid rent for a portion of my adulthood has been unbelievably helpful. Although I didn’t have to pay rent, all of my income for the last four years was invested into my business startup, which I recently closed due to lack of funding. The business didn’t turn a profit in time, and I ran out of money to invest. Luckily, I ended up breaking even. I didn’t make any money, and I lost what I invested, but I didn’t accumulate any debt from it.

Traveling has become my new obsession. When I set my mind to something, I’ve been known to will it into existence. I’m not good at taking no for an answer, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make my dreams a reality. Making sacrifices for my dream trip has become a part of my daily routine. If you don’t make traveling (or whatever you’re saving for) a priority, then you won’t be able to save up this quickly.


1.) No more brand names

I used to be a brand name snob. If I was buying American cheese it had to be Kraft. If I was buying cereal it had to be Special K. Long gone are the days of brand names. Now I purchase whatever is on sale or the store brand. To be honest, I really can’t tell the difference. That’s right mom and dad, I admit it. I save at least $10 a week this way.

Total savings per year- $520


2.) Become low maintenance

I dye and cut my hair about four times a year. Yup, I’m not a natural red head. The illusion is shattered. In New York City, getting my hair done cost around $300 each time! Mani pedis cost about $25 each time and I used to get those done about five times a year. Now I get my hair trimmed for super cheap ($40) plus I dye it out of a box at home ($5).

Total savings per year- $1020


3.) No more cable

I’ve decided to use Netflix in lieu of cable in an effort to save money. I haven’t missed cable much as I don’t watch many TV shows. I also figured it’s good practice for when I’m on the road and won’t have a TV. My old cable bill was $115. Now it’s $50 (internet) plus $9 for Netflix.

Total savings per year- $672


4.) No more Starbucks or Juice Generation

I’m not a huge fan of coffee, but last year I went on a juicing binge. I justified it because it’s healthy. It’s not so good for your wallet though. If you get Starbucks 4 times a week at $6 a coffee, you are spending $1248 a year on coffee. In my case, I was getting cold pressed juice three times a week at $8 a juice which also equals $1248. This was actually the easiest to cut out since it was a completely unnecessary cost.

Total savings per year- $1248


5.) Cook instead of eating out

As someone who has limited skills in the kitchen, I’ve had to learn at least some basic cooking skills. I used to buy lunch out every weekday. On average my lunch cost $12 a day. For dinner, I would order out a couple of times a week at about $20 a meal. This equals a whopping $6240 a year! Now, I spend about $75 a week on groceries.

Total savings per year- $1740 (I’ve deducted an additional $600 because I do still go out to dinner on occasion)


6.) No more alcohol

What?! Ok, you can still have alcohol, just not out. Buying a bottle of vodka in a store cost $19.99. One drink out in Manhattan is $14.99. Pregame before you go out and save yourself a ton of money. If you spend $30 on Fridays and $30 on Saturdays all year, you have spent $3,120 on drinking out.

Total savings per year- $3120


7.) Workout for free

I should admit that I have actually done the opposite of what I’m suggesting here. Instead of getting rid of a gym membership, I’ve actually signed up for one. Sadly I don’t have room to workout in my apartment because it’s NYC sized. If you live in a home where you can workout inside or live somewhere with a nice climate year round, you should take advantage of that. Outside of the city you may have luck with a Planet Fitness or another gym with a cheaper rate. My gym membership at New York Sports Club is $59.99 a month.

Total savings per year- $720


8.) Cut back on unnecessary purchases

For me, this means clothes. I love clothes, so cutting back was hard. For other people this might mean cutting back on going to the movies, buying music, or getting fancy electronics. Each time I think about purchasing something I have to outweigh the cost. A day in Thailand costs about $30 including three meals, a place to sleep, time on the beach, etc. Is that $30 shirt worth a day in paradise? Usually the answer is no. I’d rather be in Thailand than have that shirt.

Total savings per year- $1500 (estimation of what I used to spend on clothes, movies, etc.)


9.) Save your tax return

I take zero deductions on my taxes so that I never have to worry about owing at the end of the year. This also means that I’ll get money back that I didn’t miss during the year. As soon as I get my refund check, it always goes straight into my savings account.

Total savings per year- $1200 (estimated for my tax return)


10.) Drink from the tap

I’m not a fan of the taste of New York’s finest, but I’d rather save money and drink from the tap. Get a water bottle to refill instead of buying bottled water. If you spend $8 a week on water bottles, you are spending $416 a year on something you can get for free. Plus it’s better for the environment!

Total savings per year- $416


11.) Walk or ride a bike

I used to be guilty of taking cabs everywhere. Finally, I started committing to the subway. Now, I’m able to walk almost everywhere. Even if I’m going 20 to 30 blocks I’ll walk to save some money. Plus, it’s a good way to get in shape. Obviously, this isn’t realistic for everyone so riding a bike or carpooling is an option. Even if I only save $10 a week, it adds up fast.

Total savings per year- $520


12.) Selling things you don’t use or need

Since I’ll be traveling for at least a year, there’s a lot of stuff I won’t be taking with me. Everything I keep has to be moved and put into storage which costs money. Therefore, anything I don’t need or use anymore should be sold. I’ve consigned clothes over the past year and received about $400 for stuff I no longer wear. I also plan to sell more stuff right before I move.

Total savings per year- $400 (thus far)


If you add these items up, you’ll see that I estimate to save a total of $12,356 (not including the gym) before I leave. I will actually save closer to $9000 since I don’t spend the same exact amount every week on all of the items mentioned. In addition, I try to put $100 a week into a savings account as soon as I get my paycheck. This adds up to a little over $5000 a year, which brings me to a total of $14,200. Throw on top of that any additional money I make doing freelance work, birthday and Christmas presents, etc. and I’ve reached $15,000

All of these things add up quicker than you could imagine. I’ve definitely had to change my lifestyle from one of comfort and ease to one of being stingy and making smart choices. I often stay in instead of going out with friends, but I remind myself that I have an entire year of epic adventures ahead of me. To me it’s completely worth it.


What are your money saving tips? Let me know in the comments! I’m always on the lookout for ways to save up quickly!

How I Saved $15,000 to Travel for a Year in Southeast Asia

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