A couple who quit their jobs to travel the world reveal how they stretched their small budget across 13 countries

Kathleen Elkins
Friday 08 April 2016 16:20
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In spring 2014, Michael Gallagher and Alexandra Carson were poolside in Santa Monica, California, talking logistics for a month-long vacation through Europe.

"We thought we'd do all of Italy, all of Greece, and all of Croatia,” Gallagher recalls — but then they started crunching the numbers.

“We realized it could easily be a $10,000 or $20,000 trip,” he tells Business Insider.

That's when the idea of living, rather than vacationing, abroad surfaced.

“Alex said, 'Why don't we move to Florence?' We were literally laying outside by the pool having this conversation and all of sudden it went from this pipe dream to, 'Let's do it.' We were entirely set on it, immediately.”

A year and $8,000 worth of savings later, the couple, who've been together for nearly three years and are now in their mid-20s, boarded a one-way flight to Italy.

“We quit our jobs, sold virtually everything we owned (which wasn't much), and set out to live our lives for no one other than ourselves,” they write on their travel blog, “Couple's Coordinates.”

What started as a plan to move to Florence for the year evolved into a seven-month adventure that took them to 13 countries.

“We got a little spontaneous,” Gallagher says.

Business Insider spoke to the couple, who moved back to Santa Monica in late December 2015, about life on the road, how they managed to stretch $8,000 for seven months of world travel, and how you can also make your dream trip a reality.

After that day at the pool, Gallagher and Carson started making “soft plans,” talking and dreaming about the places they would visit.

Come the fall, they started socking away as much money as possible. Gallagher was working in sales for an IT consulting firm and Carson was teaching yoga, modeling, and acting.

They cooked 90% of their meals at home, cut back on weekend trips to save on gas and other travel expenses, and eliminated their biggest vice: Starbucks. They started to put each purchase into perspective, Gallagher says: “Say we wanted to go somewhere an hour away, which is about $20 in gas money. That $20 is a night in a hostel, or the best pizza in the world sitting over the Arno River in Florence, or a full day's worth of food in Bali.”

(Michael Gallagher/Instagram

About six months of conscious spending and diligent saving — plus selling Gallagher's car and TV — amounted to an $8,000 travel fund.

“We really didn't have that much money to travel with,” Gallagher recalls.

“Two months before we were about to leave, we said, 'OK, let's make this real. Let's buy our one-way tickets and that will make it real,'” Gallagher tells Business Insider.

To save money, they also booked all of their flights and accommodations through October.

“During high season, buying flights and hotels last minute can double or triple your costs,” they write on their blog. “To avoid this, we decided which countries outside of Italy that we wanted to visit and purchased flights and booked accommodation ahead of time.”

These preparations cost about $4,000 overall, which they bought gradually, as biweekly paychecks came in, rather than drawing from their $8,000 travel fund.

They also took advantage of travel-rewards cards.

“Before we left, we each opened a British Airways credit card from Chase,” they write. “After spending just a few thousand dollars over a period of three months, you get 50,000 bonus miles. For us, this was enough for flights from Milan to Qatar and on to Bali, and additionally, from Tokyo back home to LAX."

It took awhile to strike a balance between living spontaneously — soaking in the simplicity of their new lifestyle and embracing the lack of a set schedule — and establishing a foundation.

“For the first month or so, we were mostly exploring and not really grounding ourselves,” Gallagher says. They tackled all of Italy in the first month, traveling from Florence to Milan, Rome, Cinque Terre, Naples, Pisa, and more.

“As nice as it was to be nomads for a bit, we realized we needed more of a regimented schedule,” Gallagher says. “We needed to segment out our days so we would have time to blog and build our brand. We're both big fitness addicts as well, so we needed t0 set aside time to go to yoga, go to the gym, and go grocery shopping.”

The longer the stays, the easier it was to establish a routine and create the feeling of being at home, Gallagher says: “We were in Florence for four months, Nice for a month, and Bali for two months. We had good schedules — we would do our grocery shopping, interact with the locals, and do things that helped make it feel more like home.”

While they spent the bulk of their time in Italy, France, and Indonesia, they managed to travel to 10 other countries over their seven-month adventure.

They generated income abroad, but not much. Initially, they were making about $350 a month by freelance writing for various travel companies and eventually increased their income to $1,000 t0 $1,500 a month. From October to December, Gallagher worked remotely for his old company, as a recruiter, and Carson leveraged her strong Instagram presence to make $50 to $100 on posts by partnering with brands.

Their day-to-day was completely different from the routine they left behind in Santa Monica. Some days they didn't work at all. Others, they dedicated 30 minutes to a couple of hours blogging and branding. When Gallagher picked up contract work, he was logging more consistent hours — at least two a day.

While a “typical day” is hard to define, Gallagher described a day in the life while they were in Bali:

Alex was doing a yoga teacher training from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, so I would get up around then, go drink coffee and eat breakfast while doing a little work. I'd then come home, work for a couple hours, and then sometimes blog while laying by the pool or at the beach.

It took awhile to adjust to this more simplistic lifestyle.

Gallagher says: "It's such an American thing for us to be so accustomed to being overly busy. We completely ripped our schedule out from underneath us — we could literally go eat gelato and have a panini by the river whenever, and no one was going to give us any slack for it. I think finding the balance there was the most difficult part, but we ended up finding that after a couple of months."

In terms of spending, their biggest expense for the first half of the trip was food, since they had already booked their accommodations, flights, and Eurorail passes through October.

In general, European prices were fairly comparable to prices back home.

“We got really lucky because the euro has been down all year,” Gallagher says. “While we were traveling, we had an average of $1.10 to one euro. In LA, our sales tax is 10%, so we looked at it as we're not paying anything different — it's just LA prices plus sales tax.”

Accommodations, which they booked mostly through Airbnb, became the biggest expense for the latter half of the trip, averaging $1,000 t0 $1,500 a month — just about the same as their income.

Come mid-September, with minimal income, a dwindling savings account, and no prepaid flights or Airbnbs, they had to make some adjustments.

“We had to start making little cutbacks and living as frugally as possible,” Gallagher says. “We started going to the grocery store more, buying our own food, and cooking at home. As much as we wanted to eat out, we'd eaten out enough and enjoyed the cuisine and culture as much as we could.”

They had a trip planned to Stockholm at the end of September that they decided to cancel.

“We had already bought the flight during that spring planning period, but we had to cancel it because we didn't have the funds to go,” Gallagher says.

Their funds — the $8,000, plus about $5,500 that they earned on the road — lasted until late December.

“We were entirely out,” Gallagher says.

They made it back to Santa Monica using miles from their British Airways cards.

“We had so much more we wanted to do,” Gallagher says. “We really wanted to round out a full 12 months, but at that point, the logical thing to do was to go home and start saving money again.”

Gallagher picked up where he left off at his old company a week after they got home, and Carson has continued to teach yoga and pursue a modeling and acting career.

While a trip of this one's magnitude isn't in their short-term plans, Gallagher and Carson aren't done traveling or blogging.

“We made a decision very early in our relationship that we would invest in experiences as opposed to things,” they write.

As they did before jet-setting to Italy in June, they'll continue to take advantage of weekends, holidays, and vacation days to explore their area and the States as much as possible.

“Right now, we're going to continue to build the blog from the perspective of doing local weekend trips,” Gallagher says.

They've also continued freelancing for various travel companies.

What would they tell would-be travelers?

“It sounds cliché, but just go,” Gallagher says.

This kind of life is more than possible, he emphasizes, even on a tight budget.

“You can be poor anywhere,” he points out. “People are so scared to take a step back. They refuse to impede their career at all. And for what? So maybe instead of buying a house at 30, you buy one at 35. If you want to do it, do it, because you seriously can.”

Another tip: Budget liberally and pack lightly, he says: “It's like the old quote, 'When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.'”

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Read the original article on Business Insider UK. © 2015. Follow Business Insider UK on Twitter.

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