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1. Tell us about yourself and sum up your travels for us.
My name is Sebrin Elms and I am a travel-loving, flower-crown wearing, cat lady who has an affinity for writing and binge-watching Netflix with my husband. My first major trip was in 2007 when I sang at the Sydney Opera House in Australia with my choir, but it wasn't until I studied abroad in 2010 that I really got bit by the travel bug. Now I've visited 5 continents and 27 countries with a goal of hitting a total of 30 before my 30th birthday.
2. How have you funded your travels?
Despite traveling to Australia and Sweden later for study abroad, those were helped by loans and my parents. My biggest and longest trip abroad was my 3-month long honeymoon with my husband in 2015. We were planning on visiting Norway, Germany, Morocco and backpacking throughout Southeast Asia for 6 months. Unfortunately, a volcano eruption in Bali forced us to redirect or travels to Australia (no regrets), which dwindled our savings quickly since Australia is so much more expensive than Asia.
As you can imagine, saving for a wedding AND a long honeymoon is incredibly challenging. We didn't plan on skimping on any of the bells and whistles of our dream wedding either. We gave ourselves TWO YEARS to save for both our wedding and our honeymoon and we did a variety of things to reach our goals. Our dream wedding was about $35,000 (which isn't too bad for a French-themed wedding in Malibu) and we estimated to save $15,000 for our honeymoon with the option of picking up odd jobs along the way. During those two years, we cut a lot of our expenses. First, by not going out–like at all. Friends would come over and we would cook dinner or watch a movie. We stopped paying for as many "luxuries" as we could: no more cable, going out to restaurants, we stopped drinking alcohol, no weekend trips or excursions, I stopped most of my spa treatments (and would push dying my hair as long as possible), we would carpool, we avoided Whole Foods, and we stopped buying clothes for ourselves.
We also picked up two jobs each. My husband was already a server at a very famous gay bar in West Hollywood which is where a majority of our money came from. He also started selling things on eBay (not necessarily our belongings, but he would sell comic-related items for other people and receive a commission. Eventually, he invested in his own paraphanalia and would flip items online. A long story, but a lucrative endeavor). I was originally working a 9-5 job, but the pay was just okay and I was hating my life. I started writing freelance for a couple of websites in the day and became a server at a restaurant in Beverly Hills at night. I was making about $17/hour at 15 hours per week with my writing jobs and made minimum wage with pretty good tips while serving. Usually somewhere between $100-300 per night.
We were able to accumulate about $45,000 between the two of us in those two years. This was through a combination of selling our belongings, avoiding a social life, working all the time and saving money on useless expenses. It I as hard work and we definitely got sick of that lifestyle for two years, but that long honeymoon and amazing wedding was amazing and we don’t regret it for anything. We didn’t quite reach our money saving goal, but we were surprised just how little money we needed in Southeast Asia. We would spend $25-30 a day and live very comfortably.
One thing that was really valuable was getting travel credit cards. We treated them like debit cards and didn’t spend money we didn’t already have. But we would get sign up points for each card we had (which was two) and would put all of our wedding expenses on it. So meeting the minimum spending requirement wasn’t too difficult.
We didn’t want to work during our honeymoon so we did go into a little bit of debt on our trip with those credit cards. But it was easy to clear that out within the year after returning home.
3. Tell us about your budget.
Budgeting is incredibly important when I travel. In a collaboration I did with Mint, I broke down my expenses on my birthday trip to Peru and how I do it in a detailed series for their blog. It all starts with looking for flights. I find the cheapest flights and when they're flying (since I want to go basically EVERYWHERE, picking a destination isn't really the hard part). I find the top 5 or so and before booking, look up cheap accommodation and food in the area to see if I can afford the place. Once I find some great deals, I book the flight!
When tying to save for the trip, I use a few tools like mint and google sheets to help organize what I need, how much everything costs and what my income is. This helps me set realistic expectations of my spending. It takes quite a few hours to research but I always find this part to be exciting!
When I’m on the road, I give myself an allowance. It helps when I look up cool restaurants ahead of time or train prices so that I won’t be too surprised when I get there. I’ll give myself an overflow allowance for fun, but try to stick to my budget the first half of the trip. I use my mint app and wrote down all of my expenses in a small travel journal all day, everyday.
If I’m traveling on my own and am merely traveling for work or because I got a good deal, I try to stick between $25-50 per day and attempt to get comped hotel stays. If I’m planning a grand vacation with my husband or girlfriends, I’ll go a little crazy with $100 per day not including accommodation. These trips are very rare and might occur once every couple years.
4. What have you learned about money since hitting the road?
There have only been a few instances where I broke my budget and most of them are emergency situations. One for example was when a volcano had erupted in Indonesia during our honeymoon, forcing us to stay longer. It ate into another country’s budget and ultimately cost us money. Another time, we had a flight mishap in Peru and had to buy last minute flights that had gone up 500% in price! Both of those instances we had travel insurance so we were reimbursed much later. We also had our car broken into in Puerto Rico and did not have insurance for that. That was a serious bummer and cost us money.
There are also those occasions when you just wanna splurge. Based on my accident-prone history and my occasional luxury-spending habit, I always give myself an “emergency fund.” I pretty much know I won’t end up bringing it back with me so if I go through the whole trip without an accident, I’ll go shopping! Otherwise, it’s nice to have backup money for when things get expensive or something goes wrong.
I always try to bring an extra $500 for short trips and a couple thousand for longer trips. And of course credit cards for severe emergencies.
5. What's your top tip for someone trying to figure out how to make long-term travel financially possible?
First of all, let me start by saying almost anyone can travel long term. With the exception of a few cases, if you’re willing to sacrifice your normal levels of comfort, work really hard, and save a ton, you can definitely travel long term!
I think the best advice I can give for people wanting their own long term adventure is to start reading! Look at blogs, read travel books, look into travel hacking! Read personal stories and become inspired! I once read how a guy had accumulated thousands of points (which cost him next to nothing) which equaled a RTW ticket (which means a ticket that goes across the entire globe with multiple stops). I thought I could never live a life of travel because I worked a boring job and made a below average income. Once I started learning, I found out that as long as I was willing, I could travel ANYWHERE! Honestly, you really need a positive attitude and never give up!
But I think the most valuable tool to make your dreams happen is travel hacking. In addition to credit cards with airline points, you can also gain points through online shopping portals, taking surveys, joining an airline dining club and more. Start by looking up travel hacking blogs and you’ll be SHOCKED!
6. If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, are there any online resources you’d recommend?
It wasn’t until after my honeymoon that I realized I could blog in exchange for comped services or money. It took me about 6 months to start getting free hotel stays and about 1 year before I started making any money. I’ve just now started to make enough money where this could be a full time job (albeit a low paying one) and it has been 1.5 years since I treated my blog like a business. I learned everything I know from Travel Blogging Secrets ebook by Kelly Ella Maz. I also attended conferences like Social Media Marketing World and Create + Cultivate to learn how to start my business. Everything else I have picked up from trial and error as well as jobs I’ve taken on outside of my blog for my writing career.
My favorite sites for saving money on travel-related expenses include:
- Skyscanner.com (flights)
- Airbnb.com (accommodation)
- Booking.com (accommodation)
- Hostelbookers.com (accomodation)
- Wanderu.com (transportation)
- Rome2rio.com (transportation)
- Megabus.com (transportation)
- Yelp.com (dining)
7. What's some of your favorite travel gear that enables you to do what you do?
As a blogger, I use my Sony A6300 camera with a Sony e mount lens 10-18 mm f/4 and Sony e mount lens 35 mm f/1.8 lens, GoPro Hero 4, underwater dome, and MacBook Pro to deliver work while on the road.
My favorite luggage includes the Hylete 6-in-1 Backpack, Herschel Little America Backpack, and Lug Puddle Jumper Carry On. All of these items are big enough to pack my equipment and clothes, but small enough to remind me to pack as light as possible. They’re all affordable, reliable and trendy!
8. Where can people follow your travels?
Feel free to follow my journey as I travel the world (and have a clumsy story or two) here: