how to travel when you're unemployed

It is possible to travel if you’re unemployed. Just because you’re unemployed doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy traveling but it does mean you have to be smarter about how to do it.

Let me share a story with you. The year 2017 started out fairly plain and quickly went downhill from there. Yeah yeah, life is what you make it. Just hear me out. I had a family tragedy early on in the year, quit my comfortable and decently paid job with A LOT of vacation time on an idea (a.k.a new job) that looked beautiful and great on paper but once I started, the reality of the new job didn’t match what was written about it. With that job, it included a move to Italy and I was not happy. I wasn’t even excited about it. I didn’t even particularly like my new job. Maybe it was because for almost three months I was never properly on-boarded, and never had any substantial work to do. In other words, I was bored and unhappy.

I wasn’t surprised when my boss let the hammer fall and let me go. In truth, I was happy that the mundane was soon to be over. I moved back to Germany in mid-2017 and since then have been experiencing life unemployed. It’s a strange feeling, I suddenly feel tied down, unable to do anything or go anywhere when I’m not employed and when I have no steady income. I realized that I’m not alone in my situation. There are also hundreds of people who feel they are unable to travel because they just don’t make enough money. I’m here to tell you that travel is possible when you’re unemployed or have limited funds.

Ok so now what, you ask? 

Well, let’s be real here. A girl’s got to eat too so always think about yourself first before you board a plane with no backup plan. I’ve compiled a list of things to you can do find some income while you’re unemployed (or limited on cash) and later I’ll explain how to utilize certain assets on the internet to make travel possible for you.

How to Make Some Extra Cash:

Register with the Unemployment Office – if you’ve gotten the boot from your job, your first priority should be to head over to the unemployment office and apply for unemployment benefits. Sometimes they work out and sometimes not, but you won’t know unless you apply and doesn’t cost you anything. If you quit your job, on the other hand, you’re not eligible for unemployment benefits. At least in most U.S. states. In other countries, it may be different. Either way, check in with the unemployment office anyways and see what they say.

Start a Business – are you good at photography? are you a master chef? can you translate documents? if you have any special talents and/or passions why not try to make it into a side hustle? If you’re able to translate legal and important documents, getting a certification is easy and doesn’t cost so much. If you’re a photographer you can upload your best shots onto sites like Adobe Stock and similar to sell licenses for them. Even if you’re a fabulous cook, start cooking classes from your kitchen (just be sure to check in with your local government on how food safety and your business can be possible beforehand).

Learn a New Trade – I have a very specific career that is not marketable everywhere but isolated to certain areas. If you want a career that’s more marketable and available but also something you love, get a certification/diploma/degree in it. There are hundreds of courses online that can teach you a new trade.

Tutoring – education is important and many of us struggled in certain subjects in school. Why not brush up on your favorite school subject and apply at local schools and tutoring centers to help young people learn?

Busking – If you live in London this is the only place I know where you can legally be a busker, even parts of New York City. You’ll have to apply with the city you’d like to busk in but it’s also nice that London supports it. If you choose to busk in areas where it’s frowned upon, you take the risk upon yourself as I’m not one for rule breaking.

Catering/Ad-Hov Bartending – catering and ad-hoc/promotional bartending are a great way to get some work during your unemployment. Most times if you’re in a catering companies database they’ll send you an email or call you in advance and ask you if you’re free to work the events on their calendar. Setting yourself up as catering or bartending help with one or two (sometimes three) catering businesses can be a great strategy to keep busy and line your wallet.

Bounty Hunting – ok, so this may be a bit extreme but actually, people are able to do this. If you’re in the U.S. check with your local state and see what the qualifications are and what you need to do. Keep in mind that some U.S. states refer to Bounty Hunters as Bail Bondsmen or may work with them.

Rent Out Spare Bedrooms – if you’re in a position to rent out unused space, for example,  your home office, spare bedrooms or a mother-in-law suite in the basement. Airbnb and Homestays make it easy to upload and advertise your rooms and put a little more cash in your bank account. Don’t forget to promote your rooms! Or, you can also look for a cheaper place to move.

Easy Ways to Save Money

Stop Eating out and Avoid Drinking Nights – these nights are fun, sure. However, when you need money for more important things, you’d wish you didn’t go out or buy those rounds of drinks. Honestly, just skipping out on eating out or buying a few coffees every day will save you a lot more money than you thought. If you miss social nights, why not host one at your place and ask someone to bring something to eat or drink, instead?

Cancel All Unnecessary Subscriptions – yes, you can live without Amazon Prime and what could you possibly need when you most likely have all the necessities? When you make a new purchase, ask yourself if this item is a need or a want. If it’s a want, put it away and don’t think about twisting excuses to make those sexy new shoes into your “need” column. Spotify, paid phone apps, gym memberships, cable TV, etc. are all things I would consider canceling as you can still listen to Spotify without too much difference, paid phone apps aren’t necessary and gym memberships are costly. An easy way to figure out how much a subscription is costing you is to take the monthly cost of the subscription and divide it by the number of how many times a month you actually use it. That’ll give you a per-use cost.

Don’t use Your Car Often – take public transportation instead if you have to commute to the city or go anywhere. It’s a pain sometimes, I admit, but even a monthly unlimited public transportation ticket will cost you roughly one fill-up of your gas tank.

Sell Unwanted Things – we all have too many things and sometimes our hoarding treasures can add a little more jingle in your pocket. Sell clothes and shoes that you haven’t worn in the last year that are still in good condition. If you’ve got designer threads or some cashable electronics, consider consignment and sell-back options.

Sign Up for Customer Rewards at Supermarkets – I know in Germany and in the U.S. there are many customer rewards programs out there. The ones I find beneficial are the ones at supermarkets I frequent as I get tailored coupons to what I’m likely to buy based on my previous shopping history. I also shop at Trader Joes and limit stops at luxury grocers. Getting a Brita water filter instead of bottled water for your house eliminates unnecessary purchases but also reduces the carbon footprint.

Talk With Your Credit Card Company – if you hold a balance on a credit card, your first worry when unemployed is how the heck you’re going to make payments. The earlier you inform the bank of your situation and asking them how they can work with you, the better chances of them actually offering you a plan during your unemployment. Whatever you do, avoid, at all costs, using your credit card. That means you should also be removing your card information from websites to avoid easy spending.

Change your Insurence Policy – If you’re in the U.S. call up your insurance provider and ask them to tell you about shorter or “term” policies which can be cheaper. Insurance costs are not cheap, but when asking your provider also ask them if they offer coverage outside of your country. <–more about that later.

Keep note: these are just some ways you could make and save money when      you're in between jobs.

Onto the good stuff…

How to Travel when you’re Unemployed

As an unemployed citizen, I have been to several places every month this year. While my strategy on how I manage this may not work for everyone. Here are some general tips on how to manage traveling:

Talk with the Unemployment Office – if you are collecting unemployment checks and benefits, they may have a strict policy about traveling (vacation/holidays) using unemployment money. Always check with the office to see what their policy is.

Master Sites like Skyscanner and Momondo – Skyscanner has the lovely features of going “everywhere” and searching dates for the “cheapest month”

Skyscanner screenshot of features

By searching this way the search results will show you what are the cheapest destinations and the cheapest dates to travel. Momondo has very similar features but also has a “trip Finder” depending on the country you are searching from and others have an “inspiration” tab that gives you some travel ideas. Personally, I found Momondo to be a great resource for European based people as there are more features and options. For example:

Momondo screenshot of features

Travel During the Week – Take a three-day getaway in the week instead of a week or more. You’re less likely to spend a lot of money and a three day holiday may be enough to just help you relax from the stress of not having a steady income.

Do a Blind Booking – Don’t know where to go? There are travel booking sites, airlines and online travel agencies that offer a “Blind Booking” feature. Some are more sophisticated than others but generally, you input your airport and select a few dates when you’d like to travel and for a fixed price you’ve got a roundtrip flight. Some even have features like beach, culture, or city breaks which is a nice offer but remember you need to book your own accommodation.

HomeStays – Homestays are a great way to experience a new place by staying at a local families’ home. You get to make new friends, possibly have a nice regional meal, and a cheap place to crash for the night.

HotelTonight App – This app isn’t for everyone as some room rates can be quite pricey. But if you have the extra cash you’re willing to spend or traveling with someone to split the cost, then HotelTonight is perfect. You can find last minute hotel deals up to a week in advance to day-of at seriously reduced prices. I’ve gotten seriously lucky and love using this app when it’s a viable option for me. – Hostels can inspire a range of feelings for each traveler. Some love them, others hate them. I’m on the fence. I’ve stayed in great hostels before and currently writing this one that I am slowly starting to loathe. However, not every hostel is created or priced equally. They may seem like a steal but always look at if bed linens or towels are included or if they have a curfew or lock-out times.  If you’re going the hostel route, never ever forget to pack a padlock you never know when you’ll need it. However, staying at a hostel is also a good way to save on eating out. Most are equipped with self-serve kitchens and you can actually cook your own meals. – There are hundreds of meetups in large cities that are free or super cheap. If you’re into walking tours, ghost tours, dinner parties, photography, yoga, reading, etc. There is most likely a meetup group already in existence. Check ahead of time and see if there are any interesting events coming up when you’ll be in town.

Travel by Bus – traveling by bus can be a really inexpensive way of traveling. If you plan it right and don’t get motion sickness this may be a good option for you. I’ve managed to find bus tickets for 3 Euros each way by traveling at night and arrived at my destination in the morning. Taking a bus in Europe isn’t the stupidest idea, on the contrary, it’s quite easy if you’re keen on traveling and saving money. However, for the best prices, check in advance and buy them then when you’re sure and able to go and plan your trip around that.

Stay with Friends – If you’re good at making friends across the globe, reach out to them early on and say your planning a trip to their city and would be lovely to see them and if they could put you up for a few nights. I have rarely been turned down by my friends and I even managed to house-sit for a month while my friend was traveling on his own. Since this type of accommodation isn’t costing you anything, I try to offer to cook dinner for one or two nights or buy a round of drinks/bottle of wine for dinner as a gesture of thanks.

Pack only a Backpack – when you travel as much as I do, you learn that you hate schlepping a heavy bag everywhere. Learn how to pack a backpack properly for each trip (I’ve managed to live out of my backpack for a month) by being smart about your clothing choices. Pants and sweaters are bulky. Tshirts, scarves, and leggings are lightweight. I usually pack one pair of pants for a week of travel and one semi chunky sweater that I can wear under a mid-weight coat and layer. Traveling with a backpack also works as my budget planner as well as I’m less likely to make impulse purchases while on the road.

Go for a Day – If you’re close to a major city by way of early morning and evening flights, take advantage of them. Sometimes you can take a day trip to Copenhagen or Berlin and be bak home to sleep in your own bed. These kind of flights aren’t as expensive as you may think. Just keep in mind to fly mid-week instead of the weekends.

Offer to be a Tour Guide in a new Destination – sometimes, if you’re lucky you can pitch to a tour company to be a tour guide for a day or fill in for an employee who is sick or can’t come in. Call them in advance so you can know the route and get more details. It may or may not work. I got lucky to do several walking tours in London because there was an overbooking of people and not enough tour guides.

Last Minute Booking Deals – sites like Travelzoo and TravelPirates and offer package holidays and last minute offers. You can usually set a maximum budget cap. While this option doesn’t always return great results for lower budgets, it does work and I’ve gotten some great all-inclusive deals by just checking these kinds of sites daily.

Just remember that you don’t have to travel in luxury to have a good time. These ideas are just skimming the surface of different ways to travel, save money and make money when you’re unemployed. Trust me, in dire circumstances, people will find creative ways to make things work and traveling is no different.

Travel Insurance – earlier I mentioned reducing your insurance policy. Ask also whether your insurance provider has an option for travel insurance. I managed to reduce my policy to term and also added on a travel policy for an addition 10 Euros a year! Be sure to read about whats covered in each travel insurance policy as they differ. Try to find coverage for serious issues as well minor doctor visits.

how to travel when you're unemployed

Do you have any tips on how to travel when you have no steady income? I’d love to read them in the comments section.