How to Travel the World (Without Saving a Ton of Money)

Recently, there’s been a lot of backlash against travel bloggers who claim, “everyone can travel!!!” Can literally everyone travel? Probably not. Can most people travel if they really want to? Yes. I’ve read the blogs of so many people who have overcome major obstacles to live abroad and travel: overwhelming debt, life-threatening food allergies, and a wheelchair, to name a few.

How to Travel the World Without Spending a Ton of Money

But let me tell you right now: This is not going to be one of those articles where I tell you to give up your Starbucks habit and sell your car. Not all of us have cars to sell, or the ability to purchase daily grande chai tea lattes. I’m not going to tell you to move in with your parents, curb your shopping addiction or sell your furniture. Why? Because I didn’t have any of those things to give up in the first place!

This also isn’t going to be one of those articles where I fill you in on my lucrative blogging career. Why? Because I make almost no money blogging. I’m also not going on free press trips to exotic locations.

So, how do I afford to travel so much?

I teach English.

teach abroad

They love me… I think

Now I know not all of you can easily teach English abroad. Maybe you’re not a native speaker, so it’s more difficult for you to get a job. It’s also easier to find teaching jobs in Asian countries if you are white. It’s so horribly racist, but it’s very true over here. That said, if your English is good enough to understand my blog, it’s probably decent enough to get you a job in some countries. Not kidding.

Asia is by far the most lucrative place to teach English: South Korea and Vietnam being the top contenders for salary vs. cost of living. You may also want to consider Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand and Cambodia. There are pros and cons for each of these locations, and I’ll be sure to write a post about it later.

When I arrived in China a year and a half ago, I had $50 USD to my name.

I had saved up a bit of money at my internship my senior year of college. However, I blew almost all of it on my month-long trip through Qinghai, Tibet, Nepal and Hong Kong. When an opportunity to visit Tibet comes along, you just don’t say no. Hey, I didn’t say I was responsible!

Potala Palace

Never pass up a trip to Tibet

Regardless of how I spent all my money, I was broke when I started teaching. As a teacher, I made 5,000 yuan ($800) a month with free housing. This is actually very low for most foreign teachers in China. You should expect somewhere around 8-10k yuan depending on your city.

Since I lived in the middle of nowhere, I was the resident English teacher in my area. My school set me up with a side job at the local primary school, where I made 400 yuan ($60) a week teaching two classes. I also tutored my colleagues’ children. The high school I worked for set everything up for me, and let me use the music room.

I charged 50 yuan ($8) per student, which was a great deal for everyone involved. Since there were no middlemen or overhead costs, I was able to charge a very low price, while pocketing all the money. At one point I had 8 students so I was making 400 yuan ($60) an hour!! With these two jobs I made an extra 3,200 yuan ($500) a month.

Altogether I was making $1,300 a month with free housing. Not bad!

China cafeteria meal

Cafeteria meal of cabbage, potatoes and crab

Low Cost of Living

The cost of living in China is also very low, especially when it comes to food. The primary school I worked for served me lunch in the canteen for free, while the high school served lunch and dinner in the teacher’s canteen for $1 USD. If I wanted something else, I could walk to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and get noodle soup or stir fry for $1.5 USD. For something a bit fancier, I could go to the Sichuan place and get dinner for $3. Every once and a while I’d splurge at get “Western food”, which would run me about $10 USD.

What about transportation? The bus was less than $.50, and the subway was about $1 USD when it finally opened. Taxis were my biggest expense. If I wanted to take a taxi to where all of my friends lived, I would pay about $10 USD, which is a lot in China.

Guilin bamboo raft

Spending a week in Guilin

I Traveled A LOT

While I did budget myself, I also had a lot of fun. I tried to save most of my money, I did have the occasional drinking, eating or shopping splurge.

I also traveled A LOT.

Last year I took so many short trips throughout China. I went to Beijing, Shanghai (more than once), Wuxi, Nanjing, Harbin, Xiamen, Guilin, Yangshuo, Zhangjiajie, and the Yandangshan mountains. I also took trips to Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan!

Despite all this traveling, I still left China with over $3,000 USD in my bank account. Talk about living the life!

ESL China

The girl with the tutu is AMAZING

A Little Part-Time Teaching

This year I’m a full-time master’s student (and full-time blogger… and I dance 4 days a week), but I also have two teaching side jobs.

Last semester I tutored two crazy 5-year-old boys, and I taught four seven-year-olds at an ESL school. Both of these jobs paid me 200 yuan ($30) an hour, so I was making $60 a week, which is more than enough to cover my day-to-day expenses.

This semester I’m no longer teaching the little boys, but I got a new job teaching business English to three Chinese men at a German company. Apparently the Germans visited and the design team’s English was deemed “unacceptable”. A few weeks ago I auditioned for a modeling gig at this company (modeling sports and garden equipment!!), but apparently they were more interested in my flawless English than my beautiful smile and spankin’ bod.

This company has me come in twice a week and pays me 400 yuan ($60) for 1.5 hours. With this job and the ESL school, I now make 1,000 yuan ($160) a week!!

While $160 a week isn’t making a huge dent in my $20,000 student loan, $640 a month isn’t bad for a full-time student!

Chinese beauty

Some of my Chinese friends

Backpacking vs Expating

While it might not be your dream to have a monotonous teaching job at a high school in a Chinese factory town, living abroad as an expat is the ultimate “slow-travel”.

While I love backpacking my way through Asia, something about it feels very superficial to me. I can try and learn a few words of the language, and be friendly with the locals, but there’s no way for me to fully understand and appreciate a culture when I’m only there for a month.

Living, studying and working in China for the last few years has really helped me understand Chinese culture. I’m conversationally fluent in Chinese. I have many deep friendships with Chinese people. I understand Chinese jokes and pop culture. I know all of the different regional cuisines. I’ve traveled literally everywhere there is to go in China… except I’m always finding more off the beaten path places.

While living and working in Asia may not be the same as your dream trip to Paris, I think it’s an incredible experience everyone should try. It will open your mind, test your patience and make you a better, stronger, more well-rounded person. Best of all: You don’t need much money to get started!

Chinese children PE

You can enjoy watching children be forced to run laps between classes

Okay, you’ve convinced me. How much money will I need?

Every country has different requirements for English teachers. Some demand a four-year college degree, while others don’t care. Some want native speakers; others just want a foreign face

Japan and South Korea are the strictest countries when it comes to hiring foreigners, followed by China and Taiwan. Southeast Asia is much more lax when it comes to legal requirements, and you can literally just show up and find a job. From my research, Cambodia cares the least about your qualifications. You don’t have to have a college degree or be a native speaker to teach English in Cambodia, however, your salary will be much lower in Cambodia than it would be in countries with higher barriers to entry.

teach abroad China

Aren’t they awesome?

In China, all you’ll need is:

  1. A four-year college diploma
  2. A Chinese visa- $136 (plus another $150 in visa service and shipping fees if you don’t live near a consulate)
  3. A plane ticket to China- $600 (this will be reimbursed once in China, however it may take a few months)
  4. $50-$100 to get yourself through the first month
  5. A TEFL certificate $150-FREE (many companies will pay for your TEFL)

If you’re moving to Asia as a teacher, you won’t have to spend years counting every penny. If you can find a cheap plane ticket (which will be reimbursed), and pay for your visa, that’s all the money you’ll need! Even with a minimum wage job, you should be able to save up a few hundred dollars for your visa and flight.

If for some reason you can’t get the money, consider taking out a short-term loan. You can immediately pay the money back within the first two months of working.

China public elementary school

Would you like some more kids to go with the ones you already have?

This all sounds really great for a young twenty-something college grad, but I’m married with little kids!

What’s your excuse? The kids can come too!

No, I’m not kidding, you can bring your whole family with you to China.

Last year I got a job teaching English with Ameson Year in China. At my orientation there was a family with two small children aged three and five. Ameson had set both parents up with a job teaching at a Chinese kindergarten. Their daughters could both attend the kindergarten for free.

Living abroad is a great experience for little kids. While they may not remember everything, it will be very formative for both of them. They’ll both soak up Mandarin like sponges, which will give them a huge advantage later on in life. Having Chinese classmates will also teach them to accept and appreciate different cultures. They’ll be more compassionate, open-minded, understanding and receptive to change.

Living abroad with your kids for a year, especially in a place as “different” as China, is probably the best thing in the world you can do for them.

Korean BBQ

Consider South Korea!

I really just want to backpack SE Asia. How can I save up money quickly?

Consider teaching for a year in South Korea or Japan. I know a few bloggers who have embarked on round-the-world trips by saving religiously for a year while teaching. Work in the expensive countries, travel in the cheap ones! I know you don’t really want to teach, but travel isn’t free. Suffer through a teaching job for a year and you can backpack the world for a few months afterwards!

Also, consider working in an area near where you want to travel. If you want to backpack SE Asia, try working there, and travel on your holidays. Then at the end of your contract you won’t have to pay for an expensive flight to travel.

Colombia dessert

Sometimes I actually leave Asia. Here’s me in Colombia!

Richelle, I really don’t want to live in Asia.

 SHAME ON YOU! WHY ARE YOU READING MY BLOG?!

Kidding… you definitely don’t have to move to Asia to teach English.

Spain is a really popular destination in Europe for English teachers. If you’re interested in this, be sure to check out Curiosity Travels and Young Adventuress who both taught English there.

South and Central America have a lot of great opportunities for English teachers as well. While the pay isn’t as high as it may be in Asia, if you really want to explore that area of the world, go for it! Anna Everywhere taught English in Argentina and Mexico. She’s from Poland, which just goes to show that you don’t have to be a native speaker to teach English.

Richelle… my English sucks. I can read your blog but I can’t speak it very well.

What language do you speak? Consider finding a place to teach your native language abroad! I know a few people teaching French and Spanish in China. It’s a bit harder to find a job, but there are always opportunities available.

teach english little kids

How could you hate this little guy?

Richelle……… I hate kids

UGH, God. ME TOO!

Just kidding! I love my little monsters. But if you hate kids you can always teach to adults. Like I said before, I teach business English to three men in their late twenties. You can also tutor college students or get a job teaching at a university.

Richelle………………….. I hate teaching.

If you really hate teaching, there are plenty of other jobs abroad. Consider working on a cruise ship, leading tours, getting a working holiday visa, bartending, or working in hostels. You can even become a divemaster through indentured servitude. LITERALLY THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER.

girl coconut Thailand

There’s no way this will help my career

But what about my career?

So many people last year saw my teaching gig as a fun gap year. But it was honestly so much more than that. I learned so many things that I can apply towards my career, it’s incredible.

Here are all the skills I gained:

  1. I’m conversationally fluent in Chinese
  2. I understand how the Chinese education system works
  3. I have incredible public speaking skills
  4. I can manage and entertain up to fifty people who don’t even want to be there
  5. I’m a good leader
  6. I know how to negotiate with my boss
  7. I understand Chinese work culture
  8. I know how to communicate effectively with Chinese people
  9. I can think on my feet
  10. I can handle immense stress and pressure
  11. I’m open minded
  12. I can adapt to new situations
  13. I’m independent
  14. I’m passionate
  15. I “get” China

BOOM! Who wouldn’t want to hire me?

white house graduation

If this doesn’t scream “employable” I don’t know what will

All jokes aside, once you get me talking about China, it becomes obvious how much I know and understand the culture. I’ve even gotten a few not-so-joking job offers from people back home who work with Chinese factories. China is such an enigma, understanding China is one of the most valuable skills you can have in today’s job market.

Living abroad will not hurt your career in any way. It will only help you! People who live abroad are more interesting and well-rounded. They can adapt to new environments, they’re accepting of other people and cultures and are open to new ideas. While not everyone who lives abroad has these qualities, you can definitely play them up in an interview. Just be sure to actually experience the culture while living abroad. If you spent all your time in expat bars, you’re not going to learn much.

So there you have it: How you can afford to travel and live abroad if you have no money.

teach english china

Best job ever!…. kind of.

In Conclusion…

It all comes down to desire. How important is living abroad and traveling to you? We all have different priorities in life. Some people want a thriving career. Others want a loving family and a nice home. Some people have a passion for the arts, others love hiking and the outdoors. You don’t need to travel abroad to be a well-rounded, interesting, passionate person. I really hate it when frequent travelers judge those that choose to stay home.

My goal through this article is to show you another way. If you’re passionate about going abroad, but just don’t see how it’s possible, I want to show you a way you can live abroad and travel without spending years saving up money.

If you’re still coming up with excuses after reading this, maybe it’s a sign that you don’t really want to travel and live abroad. Or maybe you do want to travel, but only for short periods to specific places on vacation. You know what? That’s okay! But for those of you that do really want to go, there’s always a way to make it happen.

Teach English China

What are you waiting for??

If you’re at all considering getting a TEFL before you teach abroad, I 100% recommend MyTEFL. Get a 35% discount with my code ASIAADV

What’s a TEFL? Do you really need one? Here’s why you should get a TEFL before you teach abroad.

Chat About China

I’m sure many of you still have a lot of questions and concerns- I know I did! If you want to talk with me about your individual situation, ask a bunch of questions, get more in-depth resources and even have me look around for jobs you can apply for, why not Skype me for an hour (or two)? I now provide a Chat About China service where you can talk with me about anything related to living and work in China.

I want to know: What are your roadblocks to travel? What’s holding you back? What didn’t I address above? Lay it on me!

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

31 comments on “How to Travel the World (Without Saving a Ton of Money)

  1. “SHAME ON YOU! WHY ARE YOU READING MY BLOG?!” Hahaha. I love your style. This was great. I fully agree. If people want to stay home, great. If they want to travel, they can.

    Only thing holding us back from traveling more is that minor detail called med school for the hubster. Once that’s all figured out, we’re set. Know any doctor openings?! ;) I can take my writing anywhere. This was a great post!

    • Thanks Caroline!!

      Med school is always a good excuse for not traveling haha. I know Rachel from Hippie and Heels was a travel nurse for a while. Maybe he can use his expertise somewhere it’s needed? Maybe doctors without boarders has some cool placement options as well. Good luck!

    • China is awesome! You can definitely find a job here without all the official requirements if you want to. Like I said, right now I’ve got two side jobs teaching English. They didn’t ask for my visa or TEFL, they just wanted to know about my experience. Good luck!!

  2. If someone had told me when I was in high school that having a college diploma would make it possible for me to move to China to teach English, I might have actually applied to any college. There are so many bloggers who afford their travels by teaching English that it really is one of the greatest ways to do it.

    • A diploma is a great way to get a good job in East Asia but it isn’t actually necessary! I’ve gotten side jobs teaching English under the table here and they’ve only asked me about my teaching experience, not my degree. Also, SE Asia is much more lax :)

  3. Great post! I think for the hardest thing is just taking that first step and leaving behind family and friends…. GET OVER IT!!! hahaha…
    Had definitely considered Asia, and had a few other questions about other places but you have answered those. Not really considering China though, but you make it sound appealing!

    • Oh, I did have another thought/question… I’m heading on 36, would I be considered too old?? Do they prefer young teachers? (I am actually a teacher by trade as well, am sure that would help?)

      • Zita, that’s definitely not too old, especially if you have experience! Some programs might have an age limit like the government run programs in Korea and Japan (don’t quote me on that, I actually have no idea), but with a real teaching degree, you can teach anywhere! You’re actually really lucky because you can get a job at a great international school and make an amazing salary with great benefits (if that’s what you want). Definitely don’t worry about age. The more experience you have teaching, the better!

  4. This article cracked me up serval times. It’s inspiring to hear your story and to see you work so hard to convince others to travel as well. My husband and I are moving abroad in the next year, he won’t be teaching, he works in technology and his company has offices abroad (score)! I however, have thought about getting certified to teach but I suppose i’ll just take it one day at a time. Again, great article I really enjoyed reading it!

    • Thanks so much Alexandria! That’s so cool that your husband was given that opportunity. If you want to work abroad you should look into teaching. You can always start part-time and then if you like it, move to a full-time position. Not sure where you’re going and how strict the rules are, but I’m sure you can make it work :)

    • I used to love going shopping and buying new clothes. I still do, but now every time I consider buying a new pair of shoes I think of all the amazing things I could do on my travels with the money. I may have to actually do some shopping soon though because all my clothes are falling apart! hahaha

  5. So I just need to say that since I’ve started reading your blog I have become obsessed! I’ve been debating for a while, and I still have a few years to go before graduation, but I know that once I get my teaching degree I am headed to Asia to teach for at least a year. It looks like an incredible experience; and a great budget/slow travel option :D

    • That’s so awesome! If you have a teaching degree you’ll have tons of options (and you’ll get paid more). I think living abroad is the best way to see a country. You have so much more of an immersive experience that way. Good luck!

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  7. Very interesting article, you definitely got me pumped up for a potential trip to China ! I feel very stuck in a rut in my life, dreaming to travel abroad and meet different cultures. Your article brought back some hope, thank you :)
    I was wondering if you had to understand/speak/read just a tiny bit of Chinese in the first place to get the job and the accommodation, or if English just does the job. If that’s the case, I’ll start learning from today !

    • Victor, if you feel stuck in a rut and want to move abroad, teaching English is the perfect way to make that happen. You’ll have the opportunity to make money, travel, and experience a new culture in a very immersive way, while almost making deep connections with locals and enriching your students’ lives. You definitely don’t have to speak or read any Chinese to teach in China, and they actually usually prefer you don’t! A lot of kids classrooms will have a Chinese teacher there to help you translate, and the older kids speak Enough English to get by. GoOverseas.com is actually a great resource for teaching in China info, and I’ve actually written a few articles for them on their site :D

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  11. Richelle, your post helped a lot, my dream is to travel the world but I was afraid to take the first step and find it a way to do it, I’ve read so many articles about travelling, selling all my stuff and restricting myself from “having a life” wasn’t an option. Your article has inspired me to sign up to a TEFL teaching course, having a design degree I think it will help wherever I go! Thanks

    • Wow Fabio thanks so much for your kind words! I think that’s great you’re considering getting your TEFL. You definitely don’t have to deprive yourself to make enough money to go abroad. If you want to get your TEFL I actually recommend MyTEFL and I have a 35% discount for them if you use my code ASIAADV

  12. Richelle i loved this post and will definitely consider travelling to China to teach english but in order to teach there do you have to speak/write mandarin/cantonese?

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