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1. Tell us about yourself and sum up your travels for us.
Hi! I’m Shelly Madan. I’m 23 years old and born and raised in Los Angeles, California. After I graduated from college, I was in a bit of a “lost” phase. I didn't know what I wanted to do and definitely wasn't ready to move back home after being independent for so long, so I chased my dream and started traveling.
I saved my money for four years and had two jobs while in University. No one prepares you for reality. Even with a bachelor’s degree, it's so hard to find a job that can provide you financial freedom to be independent.
I decided to start traveling solo to South East Asia and discovered how exciting and fulfilling seeing the world and experiencing different cultures was to me. I’ve been to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Italy, Vancouver, England, Seattle, Portland, Israel, Miami, New York, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland so far. My next trips includes Havasu Falls in Arizona and a year long trip to Australia.
2. How have you funded your travels?
Last year was when I first started traveling full time. Before that, I was working two jobs while in university to save up for my travels. Before I left on my adventure, I had $4000 USD saved up in my bank account.
In South East Asia, I started running low on funds around my second month and decided to start working at hostels. I was a party coordinator and got paid with free meals and accommodation to coordinate events and socials for guests staying at the hostel. This allowed me to extend my stay in South East Asia for a couple more months and was also a fun way to meet more like-minded individuals.
After my South East Asia trip, I went back home to explore LA, my hometown. I worked as a hostess and in retail, and now I work at a school with autistic kids, which allows me the freedom to travel on weekends and any holidays. This year I traveled to Vegas, Utah, Arizona, Toronto, Vancouver, and San Francisco.
At the same time, I have been saving up for a Working Holiday Visa in Australia. I’ll be staying there for a year and will fund my travels by working throughout different cities. Many people who go to Australia tend to work in a farm and fund there travels that way. I’ll be searching for jobs on Gumtree (Australia's version of Craigslist). This will allow me to find jobs in the cities I am staying in, but will also give me the freedom to explore Australia as I can move on to the next place and find a job there.
3. Tell us about your budget.
My budget always varies depending on where I go. On my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I stuck to an average of $1,000 a month as food was about a dollar to three dollars, transportation was 3 dollars, and accommodation was about 10 dollars a night at a hostel.
I planned my activities I knew I definitely wanted to do beforehand so I could budget correctly. For instance, I knew I wanted to get my padi license, which was $300. So the month I got my padi license, I accommodated my budget by eating at local shops instead of Western shops and didn't go out as much so I could stay within my budget.
In order to track my budget, I move the exact amount I’m allowed for the month from my savings account to my checking account and stuck to the budget that way. This allows me to be strict with how much money I spent on tourist attractions, partying, and even flights.
If you are good with Excel, I’d suggest making a spreadsheet to help you see where you are according to budget, as each person is different.
4. What have you learned about money since hitting the road?
When I first started traveling, I wanted to go out every night since I met so many amazing people. After a couple months of this, most of my funds were disappearing due to partying excessively. Once I realized this, I stopped drinking as much and got to spend more money and time on other activities and attractions I wanted to see.
I would also try to get everyone a gift, but realized they either wouldn’t use it or it was a waste of money to begin with. So now instead of giving gifts, I send postcard back home so my family knows what I am up to but it also counts as a journal for me for my travels.
I also try to only buy one souvenir in each country I visit instead of buying a bunch of little ones. This makes it easier for me to actually stick to my budget that I created for myself. I think when picking out a budget make sure its a good one for you and only you.
5. What's your top tip for someone trying to figure out how to make long-term travel financially possible?
My biggest tip would be to try and work in hostels while traveling. I got my hostel job simply because I was talking to the owner, saying I was bummed my funds were low already, and he said they were looking for a social coordinator. I volunteered to work for 2 months in the same location so I could afford to travel for longer. If you are looking for a similar idea don't be afraid to ask the hostel you’re staying at if you could work for free accommodation or if they are hiring.
I’d also suggest looking into Working Holiday Visas. A working holiday visa allows me to be flexible with where I want to travel next while still providing myself income to continue my travels. If you are running low on money, go to places with working holiday visas, as you can travel and see the country while still making a steady income.
6. If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, are there any online resources you’d recommend?
If you have a skill like building websites, check out Fiverr or Upwork. These are amazing websites where you can find freelance work to help fund your travels. At first I started using Fiverr by helping people grow their Instagram, but then I realized that I could fund my travels by having a Working Holiday Visa.
I also like the book The 4-Hour Work Week to help you get the inspiration and motivation to continue funding travels.
7. What's some of your favorite travel gear that enables you to do what you do?
Microfiber towel: This towel is tiny and compact and dries completely in less than 2 hours. I always bring one for the beach and one for the shower when I’m traveling.
Gregory Deva Backpack: This backpack opens up like a suitcase and allows me to find everything I need super easily. This backpack also has a bunch of small pockets to allow me to store things like my battery charger in easy accessible spots.
Belkin Power Strip: Since I stay in hostels this allows me to have more than one plug to charge my electronics on the road
Pacsafe: I use this to lock my bag when I am waiting for a train or even sleeping at an airport or on an overnight bus.
Packing cubes: This saves my life when I pack as everything is sorted and it allows to me to easily find things.
All in One Travel Adapters: This is essential for when traveling to a lot of different countries, as you don’t have to fidget to find which one will fit in the plug. This comes all in one and is super easy and convenient to use.