Thanks to extreme saving habits, photographer and travel writer Anna Mazurek is on the road nonstop. Here's how the millennial travels the world on a budget.
Many think you have to be a millionaire to travel the world.
But for Anna Mazurek, a thirtysomething digital nomad, the answer is in extreme saving.
The travel photographer and writer spends most of her time on the road, filing stories and photos for organizations like Wall Street Journal, AFAR and Rolling Stone. She estimates that she’s made on average $30,000 a year for the past ten years following her dream. What’s even more impressive is that she typically saves around 50% of her income - something that Mazurek acknowledges is extreme, but allows her to travel nonstop.
How she became a digital nomad
When her first paid internship for a Time Inc. magazine wasn’t paying her bills, Mazurek turned to bartending. The lucrative side hustle was something that she relied on in the next decade - either when she was in-between traveling the world to earn some extra money or when she decided to be a bartender as part of the working holiday visa program in Australia.
But more than that, it taught her an important lesson: if you need more money, you have to make more money.
Here are seven more money lessons from Mazurek’s book, “Good With Money: A Guide to Prioritizing Spending, Maximizing Savings and Traveling More.” The following has been edited and condensed.
1. Get a free, no-fee bank account.
The most important thing for any long-term traveler is to have a bank account with no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees. Ideally, it’s best to have one that also refunds fees charged by the ATM itself. On average, I save at least $80/month when I’m traveling just from ATM withdrawals alone.
2. Invest in quality travel gear and clothing.
Investing in high-quality travel gear and clothing with lifetime warranties always pays off and saves money long-term. I’ve found end of season sales as the best time to stock up on these items.
If there’s a defect or quality issue, a high-quality brand will repair or replace your gear with no hassle. I’ve had gear replaced under warranty by all of the top outdoor brands: Osprey packs, Marmot rain gear, Patagonia clothing and Keen boats. This goes for electronics and electronic accessories as well.
3. Do the math.
The first step to understanding your finances is to understand how much money you have coming in and where it’s all going. While this might sound as fun as scrubbing your bathtub, it doesn’t have to be that hard. This is even more critical if you are traveling without any income.
I use the free Dollarbird app to track my spending when I travel. Once you start to get an idea of where your money is going it’s easy to set spending limits and ranges for categories like accommodation or food. Focus on investing in your priorities and slashing ruthlessly in other categories.
4. Cut out all your bills.
You should have almost NO monthly bills at home while you travel long-term. Cancel your gym membership, Netflix, Amazon Prime. Rent or Airbnb your house. Many cell phone carriers will allow you to suspend your service without billing or for a small fee. (It’s always cheaper to buy a SIM card abroad than keep an international plan on your phone.)
5. Build a cushion fund.
At some point, you might decide to go home. Don’t worry – you don’t need a detailed plan, just a cushion fund to cover a couple months of living expenses when you return. Ideally, this is one to six months’ worth of expenses minimum. If you have a job lined up, then you can get by on less. What’s your target savings goal? When I first started traveling, this was $5,000-2,000. Now, I’ve got enough to cover a year or two in my cushion fund.
For digital nomads working from the road, focus on a cushion fund in case your income drops unexpectedly. Retirement savings and investments should also be a priority.
6. Don’t skip travel insurance.
The key to insurance is simple: you insure what you can’t afford to pay yourself. Invest in a good travel medical insurance plan that covers emergency evacuations and adventure activities. Travel insurance is very inexpensive and will save you a fortune in the long run. Make the most of credit card insurance benefits like trip delay, lost luggage and rental car coverage. (I never pay for extra rental car insurance since my Chase Sapphire Reserve card has excellent coverage.)
Other notes: if you have a serious preexisting condition, research your options thoroughly. Some policies will cover an “unexpected” occurrence of a pre-existing condition.
Also, electronics are usually only covered at $250 per item max so consider separate insurance for high-end electronics. Many policies will not cover smart phones, which is why I paid for Apple’s warranty that covers theft.
7. Travel slower.
Traveling for seven months in South America is significantly cheaper than making multiple two-week trips from the U.S. to see the same places. It cuts down your costs while significantly enriching the quality of your experience. Focus on a long-term trip in one part of the world instead of jetting off to every continent.
An added bonus: traveling slower is also a more authentic experience because you take public transit, eat street food and have more conversations.