Saving Money for Travel and Adventure

And other budgeting advice…

I wrote a really crappy version of this post earlier this year, and have since revived it to a cleaner, simpler version; my aim is to be as practical as possible with my advice. As a young (29 years) father of three little kids, who was in the not-so-distant past, a poor college kid- I suppose it would make sense to write for people who fall somewhere between these categories.

Some items on this list might seem like common sense; that’s because, saving money really boils down to a certain amount of common sense. The reason it is so difficult for some people is because we are always looking for the “magical” quick fix- the one thing to guarantee us money. But life isn’t that simple, and real “hacks” for saving money boil down to tips and tricks to help navigate the short term gratification of our consumer culture. Like exercising an unused muscle, we need to constantly work out our money saving strategies and discipline in order to achieve the long term goals that travel and adventure require.



Spend Less:

Saving money can usually be traced to one skill: spending less money. No matter who you are, or where you are in life, I can almost guarantee you are spending too much money on useless things. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to keep a small note-pad with you for ONE week. Every time you spend money, no matter how small, keep track in your notepad what you spent. Ok, stop reading this, and lets revisit in one week….


<One Week Later>


Ok, now, add up everything you spent during that week.

If you are like me, I’m betting you are probably pretty surprised by how much money you spent. That’s because even if you have mastered the consumer trap of buying expensive items impulsively, you are still losing money in the smaller items; and these are where the expenses that add up.

For me, I spend unnecessary amounts on coffee, lunches, snacks, and beer. This week alone, I lost $70 on useless expenses.

One way to help cut down these costs, is becoming more conscious of them. Recording in the note-pad last week probably helped you with that. Another tip is to use cash for day-to-day expenses like coffee, beer, snacks, or lunches. If you give yourself a $40 budget a week, for example, it is much easier to keep track of that money as it gets spent, than it would be if you charged everything to a debit card.

Cook more meals at home. Eating out is by and far the biggest loss of day-to-day money for the average college kid, or young adult. For the true budget shopper, Costco is hard to beat.




Of course, in order to spend less money, you will probably need discipline. Its easy, in the day-to-day grind, to lose sight of the important things in life, and then the careless spending begins to happen: you find yourself going out to the bar more with friends, or going to the movie theater every time a new film arrives. It really comes down to priorities: what is more important, that short term gratification, or the long term happiness of a big vacation?

To help keep in on course to continue saving for a particular adventure, a lot of times I will print out a photo or use a screen shot on my computer of the destination I am planning to visit, and use the image as inspiration. Even the simple act of seeing my desired adventure on a daily basis will help motivate me to reach my money-saving goals of getting there.




Used Gear:

For most young adults, a big hurdle for funding adventure trips is the fact that most of the gear we use for such trips (think- climbing, backpacking, fly fishing, boating, international travel, etc.) is bloody expensive.

Buying used gear is becoming increasingly more accessible and popular. Some good places to start are:

Pawn shops

Facebook classifieds



But perhaps the most exciting place to find new gear, are the many used gear stores popping up all over the United States. I personally have used Ragged Mountain Sports in Carbondale, Colorado, and Second Wind Sports in Bozeman, Montana. Here is a good list to start with.

In my opinion, the experience of the adventure should always be worth more than the gear used on that adventure. By that, I mean if your priorities are in the right place, you wont be over-come by the vain desire to buy shiny, new items, when second-hand counterparts are readily available. This is especially true if you sacrifice the trip at the expense of not being able to afford the gear.

Example: If you have $500 to spend on a three day backpacking trip in Colorado, and you estimate it will cost you $250 on food and travel, while the cost of brand new gear at REI is $500; Is it better to get the new gear and postpone the trip cause you cant afford it, or do you instead try and use the remaining $250 to buy the necessary supplies at a used gear store? 

For that matter, ask yourself, is it worth it in your daily life to spend your hard earned money on brand new clothing, shoes, or household items- or can you find all of these at Thrift stores?

It all goes back to where your priorities are. 

Find the cheapest options:

The most expensive factors of a trip/adventure are usually put in this category:

$$$$ Transportation

$$$  Sleep

$$ Food

Usually, each category has their own sub-categories of cheaper options. I often share the example of how I had always intended on paying a $2000 bush plane flight to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but found I could take a shuttle bus off the Dalton highway for $330 instead: with the downside that I had to walk much farther to get way into the wilderness. Take a look at each one and ask yourself is there a cheaper option available?

Transportation: Is it cheaper to fly to a destination and then rent a vehicle there, or is it more cost efficient to drive there with your own vehicle? Can you reach a spot by more than one means- like airplane, bus, train, boat, or car- and if so, which one is the cheapest option?

Sleep: Hostels, and Bed and Breakfasts are cheaper than traditional hotels. Camping is the cheapest option of all. Can you get by with a cheaper sleeping option?

Food: Buying groceries will almost always be cheaper than buying each meal at a restaurant.

Use your adventure to make extra money:

Your adventures and vacations are usually nonreturnable investments; that is, when you pay for them, you don’t expect to get that money back. So that means, if there were a way to make a little extra cash while doing your adventure, that money becomes an extra bonus to go toward your next adventure, right?

There are a couple of freelance avenues to earn a little extra cash from your experiences:

Magazine Articles





If you have a knack for writing, you can probably sell a story about your travels or a particular adventure. Most of todays popular print and online outdoor magazines accept freelance submissions. Some of the bigger titles like National Geographic, Outside, Travel and Leisure, etc., might be very difficult to get into (and probably offer a good amount of pay). There are also other smaller magazines (and local prints) like Outside Bozeman, Big Sky journal, Backpacker, etc.., and even online sources like Matador, or Go World Travel, which all offer lower pay, but might be easier to pitch to. From past experience, I have sold stories ranging from $75-$600.

If you are like me, you probably like taking photographs of your outdoor adventures for your own personal enjoyment. Why not make money off of those photos? You don’t need $50,000 worth of camera gear to take beautiful scenic and wildlife shots, in order to sell a few prints at the local farmers market or art fair. As an idea, say your budget for prints is $300, and you can get 30 prints for that price. If you then sell your photos for a cheap, but profitable range- like $20 each for example- that would mean you would only need to sell 20 in order to make $100 profit. That’s an easy $100. 

You can use your writing and photography material together to make money as well. I invested $1500 in camera gear for personal use a few years back, and then had a half-a-dozen magazine articles published using my own photos to help illustrate each of my stories. Within the first couple of magazine articles sold, my camera gear was easily paid off (Not to mention, I have many wonderful photos for my own personal memory-collection now). In the future, when I plan on selling my prints at art shows and galleries, my quickly evolving camera gear will always be worth its weight in gold.

International Travel:

Entire books can be published on the subject of budget international travel, and the advice given can change depending on where in the world you will travel. But as a general rule, these vague options are a good place to start:

Eat like a local (Just like at home, its probably cheaper to eat at street venders than fancy restaurants aimed at expats and tourists.

Sleep like a local (Hostels and backpacker sites will be way cheaper than luxury hotels)

Use public transportation (Public buses, trains, and taxis will usually be much cheaper than guided tours and/or private flights and shuttles)

Buy a Lonely Planet guide book about your destination (There are plenty of travel guide books out there, but Lonely Planet is one of the most popular and easily available. Inside, they will list all logistical options for getting around a place, from the cheapest to the most expensive options available).

Get an airline quote from a travel booking agent (It never hurts to get a quote from an agent. Usually, they charge a flat fee- like $100- to book your international flight, but they might have access to itineraries that are hundreds of dollars cheaper than anything you will ever find in a google search. Trust me, I’ve tried it. I once found an agent that booked a round trip flight to Africa for $2200, while the cheapest I could find in my own search was well over $3000.)



After I wrote this post, I also discovered more practical advice from the reputable adventurer/author Alastair Humphrey in his popular blog, with a post about saving money specifically for a big adventure. He had similar advice, as well as tips of his own. And, his book Microadventures also (even indirectly) inspires budget minded adventure. I have not yet seen his new book, Grand Adventures, but it seems as if he has more in depth advice for funding expeditions in there as well.


(tags:  adventure ,  travel  , budget )


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