But, yes, we didn’t earn any money while volunteering. Which leads to the fact, that all the traveling we have done in these years and all our personal expenses, including also buying things like new laptops and cameras, we have covered with the money we earned in that one year + what we saved in the last 4 months before leaving Latvia in October 2013.
These must have been some crazy well-paying jobs you were doing? Nope, far from that.
We also aren’t that good at travel hacking – getting all these super cheap flights and hotel deals, something you see on TravelFree and similar sites. Actually quite often we have paid more than others. Not because we don’t know how to get better deals. We know and sometimes we do pay attention to it, and fly somewhere on that particular day or next week because it’s very cheap (like, when we flew to Hong Kong without any idea, what’s Hong Kong and how expensive is it; one of the best travel experiences ever!).
We just like to go where we want and when we want. Even if it means eating at McDonald’s for a week, because it’s by far the cheapest food. Like it was in Hong Kong, which overall was way over our budget at that time, but we wanted to go to Disneyland and do some other things, so we made a trade-off. And there have been many more trade-offs during these years.
We also don’t like to plan too far in advance. Quite a few times we have booked plane tickets just a week in advance. Not because they were cheap (they weren’t), but because we needed or wanted to go.
Ok, now let’s talk money!
Year 1 – Traveling and Volunteering
We left Latvia just 4 months after we decided to go on a long-term trip. Read more about how we started to travel! I must add that it’s a very last-minute decision for such a serious trip. But we aren’t the only ones, who have done something like this. This Latvian couple went on a 17 months long round-the-world trip just 3 months after they decided to do so.
We didn’t have any savings back then, so we just did our best and tried to save as much as possible. Few months before that I had paid off my student loan. Because we kind of knew – we are going to leave Latvia soon. And we gave away or sold about 95% of all our belongings just before leaving.
More than a few have told me – you can’t save more than 100 EUR/month with an average Latvian salary. You can. If you want it badly enough.
And so in 4 months we managed to put aside more than 3000 EUR.
I bought a new bicycle. We bought some travel gear. And we left Latvia with about 1400 EUR each.
For 5 months we were cycling across India. On average our monthly budget was about 200 EUR per person, which is very low. But we splurged a bit as well, for a month resting in a nice apartment by the sea. We booked it last-minute and 1 month there cost us the same as 3 months in a cheap budget hotel (like where we stayed for most of the time).
2800 EUR (1400 x 2) we had was enough:
- to travel all the way across India for 5 months,
- flights from India to Malaysia,
- 4 weeks in Kuala Lumpur (inclunding Una’s medical treatment; she fell from a bicycle and fractured a finger)
- 10 days traveling across Malaysia, including a short visit to Singapore (we hitchhiked from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore).
During the time in India I did some freelancing and earned 2000 EUR.
For a little bit more than 2.5 months we were volunteering on Langkawi island in Malaysia. Spending only 150 EUR, to rent a scooter. And later, before returning to Latvia we volunteered in France for about a month.
2000 EUR we now had was enough:
- to rent a scooter in Malaysia for 2.5 months,
- to visit Singapore one more time,
- 1 week in Hong Kong,
- 2 weeks in Thailand,
- flights from Malaysia to France,
- few days in Paris,
- expensive return train ticket across France,
- personal expenses during 1 month of volunteering in France,
- flights from Paris to Riga.
And at the end we still had some money left.
Including flights to India our total costs were about 5000 EUR for 2 persons and 11 months abroad.
Year 2 – Volunteering and Working
We left Latvia 3 months after coming back, with about 800 EUR between us.
For about 6 months we volunteered – 2 weeks in Italy, 1.5 months in France, 4 months in Fuerteventura (Canary Islands). Our costs were very low. In Fuerteventura we spent less than 100 EUR in 4 months, living very comfortable, because we were extremely lucky with our hosts. Not that there weren’t places where to spend more money, for example, in Fuerteventura. We just didn’t have it, and so we explored the island on our own. Hiking, swimming and hitchhiking.
And for another 6 months we worked in the Netherlands.
During this year we traveled very little. Because we didn’t have money for that. But still we saw few cities in Italy, including Rome and Milan, few cities and villages in France, we visited Barcelona on our way to Fuerteventura, saw quite a lot of Fuerteventura in 4 months there and spent a week living in Amsterdam, while looking for a job.
We had an offer to do a cool job. It didn’t work out. And we made yet another last-minute decision and went to Amsterdam. To try and find a job there. We needed one as fast as possible. So we were ready for more or less anything. One week later we started to work in a meat packing factory. It’s one of the lowest-paying jobs in the Netherlands. But anyway after quick calculations we understood that there we will be able to earn at least 2.5 times more than what on average you earn in Latvia.
In 6 months we saved about 12 000 EUR.
It was tough. Very, very tough. All of it together – hard work, that environment, living with the same people you are working with, and frugal living, saving as much as possible. In fact, it’s the toughest thing we have done for such a long period. After a few weeks of working there I started to understand people, who start using drugs and alcohol, when there are difficult times. Oh, yes! Not that I was about to become one of them. I would just quit the job, becoming it too hard.
At the same time it showed us how strong we are.
Year 3 – Traveling and Trying to Work Online
So in the Netherlands we saved about 12 000 EUR.
We returned to Latvia for a month, on our way visiting a friend living in Germany. And left for India afterwards.
For 3 weeks we were traveling in India together with my parents. I covered all of their travel costs – in total about 2000 EUR.
We spent a little bit more than 2 months in India. Then about a month in Malaysia. We went on a short trip to Thailand. Spent a month traveling in Cambodia. We bought a motorbike in Cambodia, and we crashed it… Went on a 1 month long hiking trip to Nepal right afterwards. Few days later – we flew to Moscow and for a month we traveled across Russia, which included also a few long train journeys more than half-way across the country, hiking, camping and rafting in Siberia with friends.
Oh, and just before the trip to Nepal we went to Kuala Lumpur for 2 days to buy some hiking gear. Funny fact – I didn’t have any shoes at that moment, only flip flops. Yeah, I know, that’s not how you prepare for a few week hiking trip in Himalayas.
All of it together wasn’t cheap. But it was fun. And now we have a lot of beautiful memories
The thing is we tried to find some remote work for Una. And we tried to find a way, how we could earn money with our blog. But we (kind of) gave up pretty fast. And decided to travel more. Actually it wasn’t really a decision. We just tried to do all of it at the same time – traveling, looking for a job and learning more about blogging as a business. And the traveling part was working, but working and money earning part – wasn’t.
During these 8 months, however, I still managed to get a few small gigs and earned about 1500 EUR.
At the end of summer 2016 we came back to Latvia for 2 weeks. We had made a plan to get a New Zealand’s Working Holiday Visa and to go to New Zealand for a year. But before that – to earn some extra money quickly – to go to the Netherlands again. Not to the same place, though. And before going to the Netherlands we came back to Latvia for a quick visit.
New Zealand thing didn’t work out.
We were too late. All of the visas were gone. There are only 100 Working Holiday visas given to Latvians per year.
But we went to the Netherlands, nevertheless. To try and work as long as we will feel like it.
It didn’t work out. We left our job in Amsterdam on the second day.
And so we left the Netherlands with even less money.
But just a day earlier, before we decided to quit the job and leave the Netherlands, Una got a job offer from a company I had worked for in the past as a freelancer. It was remote position. The problem was I knew the company, and I knew, that with them you never know, how much work there will be. Sometimes they gave you very few working hours (thus you earn very little). Anyway, Una took the offer. And we decided to move to Portugal. Because it’s warmer in Portugal.
At first we wanted to find some volunteering work there. So we could save money on accommodation and food. But then we decided to ask our friends from Portugal, whom we met in Goa, India, 9 months earlier, whether they could recommend us something. Some place, where we could rent a room or apartment cheaper. And they said – we will help you, just buy that plane ticket and come to Lisbon!
Few days later we arrived to the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, for the first time.
Very soon working part started going pretty well, much better than in my previous experience with that company. We had a really good time in Portugal. Our friends have a band. They were playing every week, and we went to most of their gigs in local bars. That was awesome! We tried to find some fruit picking job, to earn more money, but had very little success with it. However, 2 months later we started to think about moving on again and… booked flights to Malaysia another month later.
But then just before leaving for Malaysia we both got an email saying, that we have been laid off.
We lost our main source of income. And our savings were very little – less than 2000 EUR.
So we went to Malaysia knowing – we must make it in a month or go back. We must earn at least the same as much as we spend. Because otherwise we will not have money for a flight back.
This year we also bought new laptops, a camera and a GoPro. As we were seriously thinking about focusing more on our blog and wanted to try and earn money online.
Year 4 – Year of New Experiences and Challenges
I don’t remember exact numbers, but we had less than 2000 EUR, more like a 1500 EUR, when arriving to Malaysia.
Arriving to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) we learned, that unlimited WiFi at our place, half of the house we rented for a month through Airbnb, is… 7 GB. Unlimited, huh? I would say very, very limited.
On the first week in KL I fell in a gutter, cut my leg badly, ouch, and was struggling to walk for about a week! It didn’t help to focus on job search either.
2 weeks in, after our internet quota ran out again, we started to think – ok, we aren’t getting anywhere with this. But we don’t want to leave for Europe. How we could stay in Malaysia longer? Here I must add, that at this moment we had also learned about other options, how you can earn money from a website. We wanted to try it out with our blog. But our internet was, well, sh*t. Or there was no any internet at all.
What to do? We knew the answer. We can find a volunteering gig, where they have internet (!) and try to work on our blog in the afternoons and at nights.
We found one a few days later. On Langkawi island. Again.
Knowing that we are staying in Asia for at least a couple more months we decided to try out something else we had been thinking about for quite a time – to organize and lead a trip in Asia. We prepared an itinerary, cost estimates and published our idea on Facebook. Less than a week later we were a group of 8 people. Less than 2 weeks later everyone had booked flights. And in February all of us met in Bangkok.
The trip was awesome! One of the best 2 weeks of traveling in our experience.
And less than 2 weeks after finishing this trip I already lead the next trip – a hiking trip in Nepalese Himalayas.
What about work and money? It didn’t really go the way we wanted while we were volunteering in Langkawi. Yes, we spent only about 150 EUR in 2 months there. But we didn’t earn anything. Internet again was far from the best to say the least. However – we saw that there is an opportunity. We only need a good internet and we need to focus on work, that’s how we though. And that’s why we made a decision to return to Latvia in spring 2017, after the trip to Nepal. To focus solely on working on our blog for a while.
Since April we are in Latvia. And after a few months of some serious amount of work (I don’t count in here the work we did in last 3 years) it looks like this time it’s gonna work. That we will start earning money from our blog, probably enough to live of. But that’s already another story.
What can I already tell you – yes, you can make a blog in a few minutes. But – no – you can’t earn thousands of it right after you start.
Speaking about the first 3.5 years it was mostly as simple as working and saving – traveling – volunteering and spending very little – repeat.
If you are seriously thinking about becoming a long term traveler or digital nomad, I will highly recommend you to think through one more time, how are you going to sustain it financially. Especially if you already feel like, that’s really something for you. So make a plan before you leave! No, actually, not a plan. Have something that already works for you. Build a source of income that can support at least your very basic needs before you leave.
Do it in your free time! Don’t have time for that? Make it! Stop doing things that matter less and work on building another source of income while still working full time.
It’s WAY easier to do it, while you have a steady income and you don’t need to think about things like, when your visa finishes and if that hostel or hotel will have an internet connection at all.
How much money do you need? It’s possible to live in Thailand, Malaysia or India for about 300 – 400 EUR/month. Better think about something like 600 EUR or 20 EUR/day at least.
But don’t take it just like that – understand your needs and research how these things cost in the place or places you are going to. There are many who will tell you that you can’t live on less than 1500 EUR a month in Thailand, and I can see from where it’s coming. We have different needs and expectancies. Remember that!
Do you have any questions about traveling? Or volunteering? Working abroad? Do not hesitate to contact us!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.