Laura and I started traveling together back in our college days. After a few initial road trips, we decided to save up and backpack through Brazil and Europe. At the time, we had very little money. I was making about $6,000 a year as a graduate student-instructor, and Laura was making a little more than that as a part time high school ceramics teacher. And yet we made it work.

Our rental car this summer in Iceland.
Our rental car this summer in Iceland.

Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to have more means than we did at the beginning of our relationship, but we still save money and try to travel inexpensively. Here are a few of the things that have worked for us as along the way:

1. We’ve chosen to live near one of our jobs.

If you’re in a relationship with someone, the key is being able to ditch at least one car. I know a lot of couples who for a variety of reasons live halfway between their two jobs. That results in the short term benefit of less grueling commutes, but long term it often means couples have to own two cars or pay for two transit passes.

These car commuters are burning money that they could have spent instead on traveling the world.
These car commuters are burning money that they could have spent instead on traveling the world.

If you can cut the costs of a second commute out entirely, you save vast amounts of money. More than anything else, I attribute our ability to afford travel to the fact that we’ve never owned two cars and have always lived close to one of our jobs. In our case, even paying higher rents and mortgages to live in more centrally located, transit-connected neighborhoods hasn’t come close to the cost of owning a second car.

2. More recently, we got rid of our only car.

The average cost of owning a car for a year in the U.S. is more than $8,000. For that much money, you could spent a month in Europe. In fact, our first trip to Europe together was longer than a month and cost less than $8,000.

Even in car-oriented L.A. it's easy to get around without owning a vehicle.
Even in car-oriented L.A. it’s easy to get around without owning a vehicle.

Car ownership is unique because it’s a major expense (similar to housing), but it’s also something that can be cut out. Of course, it’s not something most people (including us) can cut on a whim; doing so requires major lifestyle strategizing, including figuring out a way to live in a walkable place with good public transit. But if you can cut out a car, it saves a ton of money.

We cut out our car this year, so we no longer have to worry about gas, parking, maintenance, or car insurance. And even without taking into account a potential car payment, we’re saving enough to do quite a bit more traveling.

Keep in mind also that we don’t live in New York or some other stereotypically walkable city. We live in Los Angeles, which is to say that going car-less is realistic even in places where most people think you “have” to own a vehicle.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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