When I started out on my new lifestyle of traveling the world and living in my campervan, I was in debt. By some peoples standards it wasn’t a lot but it was debt none the less. I struggled in the years before I left when there would seem no end in sight to the payments. But I still went off and followed my dream despite it. Was I right to? Well hopefully by sharing my story you can answer that question for yourself.
WAY BACK WHEN
I got into debt by being careless with credit cards, being lured in during my teenage years spending sums of money I couldn’t afford to pay back. I spent years and years scraping by paying the minimum amount each month only for the following months interest to wipe away any small reduction id made. It was a never ending circle and one that was beginning to get me down.
…when I shut the door to my bricks and mortar house for the last time and jumped in my campervan, I was almost £4000 in debt….
Now I believe I have always worked hard. I’ve been employed constantly, one way or another, since I was 15 years old and still in school. As I got older the jobs became better paid but no matter how much I earnt I could never afford to even start to make a sizeable dent in the amount I owed. The interest rates I was being charged ensured I was always chasing my tail. The money I earnt seemed to all go towards living expenses, rent, water bills, gas bills, council tax, food etc. and by the end of the month I’d have little to show for all those hours worked. What I did have I passed onto the credit card companies. It was in fact this endless cycle that was a major factor behind my wanting a new life.
In 2011 when I shut the door to my bricks and mortar house for the last time and jumped in my campervan, I was almost £4000 in debt still. To some it’s not a lot but debt is a personal thing. You can owe just ten pound but if you only have six to your name, it’s impossible to pay. On the other hand you can be £100,000 in debt but have an income of £50,000 a month, so the debt doesn’t seem bad at all. The savings I’d made for the trip totalled under half of my debt, a little more than £1000 and I had no idea how I was going to earn money whilst I was away. It seemed I’d set myself up only to be destined to fail. But I’d made the decision months ago and knew it was too late to change my mind, even had I wanted too. And you know what? Not only did I never miss a payment, I’m now completely debt free having paid off every penny and I’m certain I done it quicker than I ever would of had I stayed at home. How? By believing in myself that I’d make it work and making getting rid of my debt my number one priority.
MAKING IT WORK.
I left £300 in my UK account and loaded everything else onto a pre paid travel card. That £300 was to cover the first three months of payments should I fail to find work quickly, after that I’d be out of money. I knew I wanted to give myself the best shot possible at maintaining my new lifestyle which meant I also knew I had to work on the road. But how?
The first year or so I spent indulging in my passion of climbing as I made my way around Europe. I would stay at campsites or in forest carparks full of other climbers and it wasn’t long before I hit upon my first idea of how I could make money.
For almost a decade I worked as a climbing instructor, teaching everyone from beginners to coaching advanced climbers for competitions. I soon realised my skills and experience could be very useful in earning money, after all I was surrounded by climbers. So I decided to start advertising from the van window coaching sessions and within a day I had my first booking. I repeated the same tactic at all the climbing spots I went to and hey presto, the bookings kept coming in. The money I earnt wasn’t huge sums, but I would immediately bookmark as much as possible towards paying off my debt. Now I never earnt enough to clear it but I was able to maintain a life on the road and keep my head above water with the payments. Which was great, I felt like I was winning but still the debt remained, albeit a slightly less amount. I needed to find a away to earn more.
In 2014, after seeing a lot of Europe and still feeling held down with debt, I sold my campervan and went off to Australia. I used a small amount of the money to pay more towards my debt but I also needed most of it to buy my new home once I landed. By the time I touched down in Perth I was still around £2800 in debt. But I had a secret weapon. I had come to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa which enabled me to work in the country from anything between 1 and 2 years. I had heard wages were good if you can land the right job and were prepared to work and my plan was to do whatever I could find until I was debt free. With my new campervan sorted I set off in search of some work and it took me less than a week to land a job at a vineyard. I was to be paid hourly which was a bonus as a lot of the work was piece rate in this industry – Jackpot. And best of all, the wage I earnt was almost twice as much as I did back home, despite the fact the work was half as hard.
In Australia, on the Working Holiday Visa, you can work for the same employer for up to six months in any one year. In the end I only needed to work for four. Id turn up everyday and get as many hours in as I could. By the time I shook hands with the owner and said goodbye, I had not only earnt enough money to keep traveling for another few months without tapping into my savings, but I could now, finally, afford to pay off my debt. On July 26th 2014, I pressed the button on the website to confirm my transaction to pay off the remainder of my debt and that was it, debt free! The cards were cut up and for the first time for as long as I could remember, I felt totally financially free.
Its important to be disciplined when it comes to spending money on your travels.
Working why you travel might not be for everyone but you get more than just money for your time. Your get great experiences too. Over the years I’ve done many jobs. I’ve built eco homes in the mountains of Spain, worked on a bush retreat in the middle of the Australian outback and helped French farmers gather in their crops to name a few. All of which where enjoyable experiences that I never thought id have and all of which helped to keep me traveling longer.
TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH DEBT
Its important to be disciplined when it comes to spending money on your travels. What ever you do, don’t go adding debt to your credit cards by splashing out on things you cant afford to pay cash for. Your only stay in the red for longer. If you’re staying in campsites the whole trip, then keep your eye out for free spots as you travel. Lets say you budgeted €20 a night for camping, that’s €140 a week. Picking a free spot just twice a week is going to allow you to save €40 a week. Add that up over a year and that’s over €2000. Have a think about what you’re good at or have qualifications in. Can you offer those skills as services online and earn money that way. Maybe you’re a wizz at web development or you know everything about knitting. You can set up a website for free online and start advertising your skills.
So, can you still travel if you’re in debt? I would say yes, indeed you can but only if you plan well and remain disciplined. If your aim is to get yourself completely out of debt while your traveling then I’m living proof its possible. If you’re aiming just to keep the debt collectors off your back then it will be even easier, so long as you plan well and stick to that plan. It is however going to be a personal decision and will depend on how much you owe in the first place, how much your monthly repayments are and how comfortable you are to grab any work that comes your way. After all, by living in your van you have already got rid of the large bills associated with home owning and your outgoings will be considerably less if your careful with your expenditures.
So don’t let debt stop you living your travel dreams, it really doesn’t have to.