Matthew Karsten once believed traveling was a hobby reserved for the rich.
Having spent the past seven years as a full-time travel blogger and photographer, Matthew now knows that traveling is accessible to anyone—so long as they’re responsible with their money.
Matthew’s travels began as a much-needed change of pace: he was passed up for a promotion at his unfulfilling freelance photographer gig and decided he’d do some soul-searching by heading out to see the world.
By spending less, saving more, and seeking out extra cash opportunities on the side, Matthew was able to save $7,000 in just 12 months.
For Matthew, the biggest challenge of saving up to travel was sticking to a plan. It was crucial to get his finances in order, but money management is an acquired skill—one that requires discipline to master.
“There are so many outside forces—and internal ones—trying to stop you,” explains Matthew. He lists them out: “Social pressure to spend money on going out every weekend, marketing pressure to buys stuff you don’t really need. A lack of willpower to make the tough decisions. Downsizing to live a simpler lifestyle is tough, especially if you’re used to a certain quality of life. The key is to keep reminding yourself what the goal is—and the payoff.”
Learning to take financial responsibility was key in Matthew’s savings journey. He came to the realization that nobody but him could control his finances, and began to budget ruthlessly, adopting new, more cost-effective habits.
“I’m a lot more careful with my spending than I used to be and take a lot of time to think about every purchase. Will I use an item on a regular basis? Will my life really improve greatly if I have it? Or will I be better off saving that money for a cool travel experience that will create unforgettable memories?”
He traded in pricey nights at the bar for hikes or at-home movie nights and began to master the art of cooking. He actively separated out his wants from his needs — and even moved into an apartment in a cheaper neighborhood.
“You have to get your head around the fact that social pressures are always going to be there. Remind your friends how important saving money is for you right now. Resisting temptation to spend is tough, and you will have good days and bad days, but don’t let the latter distract you from your end goal,” he said.
“Whenever I feel social pressures to spend, I go back to remembering my ‘why’. I focus on picturing myself lounging in a hammock on a beach somewhere, without a care in the world, all because I was able to stick to my plan.”
Once you’ve taken the plunge and bought your flight, Matthew insists that long-term traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.
Travelers can take advantage of the incredible budget hostels that exist around the world, as well as travel rewards credit cards, which allow you to earn points and miles as you travel. You can also save by eating at street food stands (often favored by locals) and skipping overpriced group tours. With a Varo Bank Account, travelers pay no foreign transaction fees and can manage their money through the app.
While Matthew doesn’t have a single favorite destination, some of his favorite travel experiences include road tripping around Iceland’s Ring Road, seeing lava up close on the Big Island of Hawaii, and backpacking through the mountains of Afghanistan.
“Travel really opens your eyes to what’s possible. You realize your own country isn’t as perfect as you thought it was. You see what other cultures are doing well, and what problems they need to work on. You realize that the world is a safe place for the most part, with friendly people just trying to survive and take care of their families — we all have a lot more in common than we think.”
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Cortnay Cymrot is a contributing writer for Varo.