This is the second part of a post about how I’ve managed to keep traveling and living abroad these past four years without using up my savings. It’s not a guide on how to save money for travel or a complete budget breakdown, but an overview of how I’ve personally made it work. If you’re just starting, read Part I here.
I stopped teaching English a little over a year after I started. After my first semester at the high school I had switched to part time each at a primary school and language school, plus worked at a preschool and had some private students. Between everything, I felt like I was just riding my motorbike around in circles everyday, I usually made slightly over $1,000 a month. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy teaching and after trying all different types of situations over the previous 14 months was ready to stop. By this time I had met my Thai boyfriend and after I stopped teaching split my time helping in his shop while starting up this site and trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do. I had left home thinking that traveling and experiencing new things and places would help lead me to discover where I wanted to be and what I would be doing but, at that point in time, I was even more lost and confused than ever.
I had a little money saved up from teaching but went through it pretty quickly and did have to take out cash from home (which has since been replaced) while I scrambled to find some random freelance jobs. On a daily basis my expenses were very minimal, spending 300 baht or about $10 but I also rarely did or bought anything that I didn’t need to. I also didn’t travel as much as I anticipated being free from a teaching schedule. This was the time when I started considering freelancing and figuring out how this whole blogging thing worked. I started volunteering for some small companies and projects handling their PR and social media accounts for free (what I had been paid to do in Seattle leaving as an Account Executive) and managed to snag some random jobs here and there such as helping a local professor with some research that was being conducted in English. I was never fully certain whether I was going to stay in Thailand or not and whether I really wanted to freelance or not…I was lost and instead of making any big decisions or really focusing on something I spent about six months kind of scrambling. In other places, there’s often an option of getting a serving or bartending gig, in Thailand, the work opportunities open to foreigners are really limited. Not the best situation. It also wasn’t the worst either though, because I did have a cushion of savings from Seattle to fall back on if I really needed it – thanks to working and saving so much from the very beginning!!
When I made plans to go home for a couple months in the summer I was starting to help selling advertising on a friend’s site and had agreed to monitor email and respond to sales queries for a Chiang Mai company for, wait for it, just over $3 per day. I really didn’t have to do anything and thought of it as getting paid in the equivalent of three meals per day in Thailand…but…yeah…
During my second year away, this was my situation:
Places I went:
I went back to Seattle for the summer and, out of nowhere, started receiving some more work opportunities. I wasn’t 100% sure if I would go back to Thailand because I knew it was time to work and make money and, so far, freelancing wasn’t doing much. However over the summer I started managing the blog and social media for my first real monthly client (who I still work with) which for the first time in months gave me at least a set amount of money per month. During my second and third year abroad I did dip into my savings a bit to make ends meet.
During my time in Thailand I picked up a couple other U.S.-based clients. Though my income wasn’t very high or predictable it was 100% better than the previous year. I also started getting paid to write more for other companies and blogs (I rarely have made any money off of my own site), though the pay was low, usually between $15 – $30 for a post.
My lifestyle in Thailand didn’t change too much although I did move into a nice, new apartment (with big windows and no mosquitos or cockroaches!). For 7,000 baht a month (about $220) plus utilities, I had a small, one bedroom apartment, access to the complex’s pool and fitness center, WiFi and a refrigerator and hot plate that counted as the kitchen. I still helped in the tattoo shop while working on my own stuff and even managed to get some more traveling in. I spent almost month in Italy – which was great but not easy doing, and affording, solo – spent a week on Koh Chang and a week and a half in Bali. By this time I had been blogging about a year and a half and I was able to secure some sponsored accommodation and activities on my travels, however I still paid for most things out of my own pocket. During my time traveling through Italy I had maybe a quarter of my accommodation sponsored, spent about a quarter staying with family and covered the rest myself which was painful – the cheapest room I had was $45 for a bed in a 14-person hostel dorm room. Ouch. Traveling while you’re also working changes things a bit too. I no longer was staying in the cheapest, crappiest places I could find.
Oh, during that time I also got the cutest puppy ever. (I guess my lifestyle did change a bit…)
Then I lost three clients and potential work opportunities within the same couple of weeks and then nothing appeared to fill their place…for months. It was hard, and depressing, and frustrating and stressful. By the time I came home last summer, I was back to living off of one monthly retainer of $500 with no leads in sight.
During my third year away, this was my situation:
Places I went:
Still with me? Because this is turning into The Longest Post Ever, I’ll be posting the third (and final I promise!) part on Friday…
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
Enter your email for a taste of different worlds, must-read posts, and special offers.
(Don't worry, I'll never spam you — just send the good stuff.)