Grow: How this couple in their 20s saved up and spent a year in Europe

Our 2015 Costa Rica honeymoon marked the first time my wife Vanessa and I had ever traveled outside the country—and the start of our wanderlust. The lush rain forest, dreamy waterfalls and exhilaration of being somewhere new prompted one big question: Could we travel the world before starting a family?

We made it our mission to do just that, saving up $27,000 in the following 10 months for a yearlong trip. Here’s exactly how we did it.

Breaking it down: defining a goal and creating a budget to match

At home, Vanessa and I started unpacking the details. We began by listing our bucket-list experiences—from sipping wine in Rome to connecting with relatives in Romania. We wanted to take our time in each place and soak up the culture, which led us to our goal: Jet off for an entire year of European travel.

Just one snag: I was a manager at a local retail store, and Vanessa worked in marketing at a casino. Together, we earned $68,000 a year. So we didn’t have a boatload of disposable income to fund our adventures. We needed an airtight plan, and lots of discipline, to make it happen.

Step one was figuring out the cost. We scoured blogs, Airbnbs and discount airfare websites to build an accurate budget, which also included regular expenses we’d still need to cover, like student loans and insurance.

Fortunately, I was no stranger to squirreling away money—I started at 17, diligently saving money from after-school jobs. By 21, I’d saved $38,000, which I used to buy my house outright. (Yes, you read that right. I snatched up a small, very affordable home at the housing market’s lowpoint.) This meant we didn’t have a mortgage to worry about. Aside from a modest personal loan, we had no debt and an emergency fund, plus our monthly expenses were usually only around $1,800.

We did our homework, and learned that our money would go furthest in Eastern Europe—it’s cheaper and we had relatives to crash with—so we planned on staying there for several months and cutting our travels shorter in more expensive destinations. (We stayed in Paris for three weeks, by comparison.) We estimated our adventure would cost at least $25,000.

Hustling to hit our target in under a year

Hitting our goal hinged on two things: upping our income and reducing expenses. Immediately, we found side gigs that brought in an extra $1,000 a month: I drove for Uber and Lyft; Vanessa worked at a bridal salon and did wedding videography on the weekends. Working extra hours required stamina, but we looked at it as a temporary sacrifice to get us to Europe faster.

We also revamped our budget, spending less on food, canceling our gym memberships and Amazon Prime and embracing a zero-spend Christmas—saving about $500 a month. Before long, we were socking away between $2,700 and $3,000 a month. We even had enough, on top of that, to cover our airfare ahead of the trip and top off our emergency fund. We crossed the finish line a few months later—saving a total of $27,000 in 10 months’ time.

Another bright spot: We found a renter, which secured an extra $1,000 of monthly income while we traveled. In April 2016, we quit our jobs, and boarded a flight.

Our incredible year abroad

We began with three months in Italy before heading to Romania, my parents’ homeland, where I got to spend time with family I’d never known. We spent a total of 11 months traveling everywhere from Croatia to Germany and Switzerland, ringing in Christmas in France. We traveled at our own pace and immersed ourselves in the different cultures.

But make no mistake, we were budget travelers. We booked Airbnbs, used a debit card without international fees and were choosy with our itinerary. In pricier locales like London, for example, we skipped tour buses and walked instead (a great way to see a city). But overall, our tight-ish budget didn’t hold us back. We actually came home with a few hundred left, and quickly locked down new jobs without having to dip into our emergency fund.

On top of an amazing experience, our year abroad really boosted my financial confidence. If we could save up that kind of money in such a short amount time, what else is possible? I can’t wait to find out. We’re currently looking into new ways of creating passive income—from rental properties to growing my personal finance vlog—to fund our future travels.

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