I spent the last two years attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. My first semester in, I agreed to start an internship. Every part of me was thrilled to be in the fashion industry in school, at work, and even at home with homework. I didn't care if I had no free time or spare money (since I wasn't getting paid) because I knew that eventually it would pay off... and it did. After my first semester that internship offered me a job. Six months later, they offered me a promotion. Eight months after that, I was offered yet another promotion and a raise. I went to six classes a week, worked 30 hours, did tons of homework, and sometimes, very rarely, spent time with friends. In just two years I found myself with an Associates degree in fashion, a dream job as a head assistant designer, and my own apartment, which I was managing to pay with the money from work. But there was still something missing. I had to take this spring semester off, since I had finished my degree and I wondered what I should do with all my free time. I knew exactly what I wanted: to travel, so I planned to make it happen.
I split my year into three parts. First, I would spend 6 months saving every last penny I could and working as much overtime as I could manage. Then I would go traveling and, finally, I would go back to school. I stayed late in the office when I could, went early if they needed me. I didn't spend any money on school supplies, bars, or even restaurants at a certain point. Instead I just had friends come over with food and drinks and we would cook at home and eat on the roof. I started buying any clothes I needed exclusively from cheap thrift stores and I made all my coffee at home in the morning (major money saver!). At the end of every week I transferred anything I could, from about $20-$200, from my regular banking account, into a separate account I made exclusively for travel. My rules were I had to put money in every single week and I could never take any out. I knew I wanted to spend 2 months total traveling so I bought my flights 4 months in advanced on studentuniverse.com for major savings. I bought a train pass to hop on and off any train I wanted once in Europe. I bought it all on credit and paid it with my regular bank account. I did this so I could rack up points on my credit card which I then used to buy a new backpack (basically for free) for my excursion. I quit my job, paid my last months rent and left for Europe with $2500 in my travel account.
Needless to say, I spent an extraordinary two months backpacking alone. I slept in the cheapest hostels, found any student discount I could, ate mostly from supermarkets instead of restaurants, and, my favorite, I carried jars of peanut butter and jelly for cheap sandwiches whenever I bought fresh bread. I trained myself to stick to a $30 a day budget (room included). I had to learn how to literally live off the money in my pocket in case someone didn't take card and there was no ATM around. This was hard being a New Yorker and all but saved me a lot of silly purchases. I didn't mind missing out on some clubs and pub crawls, not spending $20+ on museums, and sleeping in a train station or two or three. It took a lot of restraint not to get caught up with everything I saw and could do because I knew every Euro I could save in a day could lead to an even better opportunity tomorrow. For instance, I didn't go to any museums in Amsterdam, but by the third day I had enough saved that I splurged and paid for a $20 boat ride (meal included) out of the city and into rural Netherlands. I did the same thing in Italy when I relaxed by the beach a few days and eventually "saved" enough to take a boat ride out onto the island of Capri where I got chocolates and a gift for my mom.
Saving everything I could to go to Europe and then having to keep a tight budget every single day to make it to the next was a life changing experience. I always used to say money doesn't matter, who cares, it comes and it goes. It is true, money is like water, but if saved and used wisely it can also change your life. I visited 20+ cities in 8 different countries and none of it would have been possible if i hadn't learned to cut back a little each day to save for something bigger and better in the next. Europe gave me a new lens for the cost of things. Now it is so easy to see that I shouldn't spend money on new clothes or shoes or a meal out when I can just eat in. Even though I quit my job to travel, I have been working odd jobs here and there saving every little bit for my next adventure: a road trip across America. Five weird jobs later and I'm halfway to my goal of $2000. Dreams come true, you just have to focus all your energy and funds into making them a reality.