How to save enough money to take a gap year or career break trip 1

One of our goals for this blog is to be as transparent as possible with our budget so that readers can see how financially attainable it is to take a voluntary term of unemployment to go see the world. The idea that only the rich and privileged can afford to travel like this is a myth. We are able to take this trip because of two main reasons: 1) we collected millions of miles and points and 2) we busted our butts to diligently carve out an extra $20,000 for this trip. Here’s how:

Credit Cards: Most, if not all, of our flight and accommodation costs will be covered by miles and points, primarily thanks to signing up for new credit cards (we, um, got 51 of them). In addition to flight and hotel specific points saving us thousands of dollars, we collected “flexible points” worth approximately $7,500.  Many of these points can be used in many different ways, including “cash back” redemptions.

  • Flexible Points: (Note: This is not necessarily the total amount of points earned, but points saved specifically for this trip).
    • Citi Thank You: 167,937 points
    • Chase Ultimate Rewards: 146,540 points
    • American Express Membership Rewards: 62,700 points
    • Amex Simply Cash: $450 cash back
    • Barclay Arrival: $2,875.97 in travel statement credits
    • Capitol One Venture: $562 in travel statement credits
    • Redeeming points for travel statement credits is easy with the Barclaycard Arrival.

      Redeeming points for travel statement credits is easy with the Barclaycard Arrival.

  • Put all everyday spending on credit cards to earn points! Total estimated savings since we started churning in January 2013 (not including sign-up bonuses): $2,500
  • Used my personal credit card for work expenses then was reimbursed (Was also able to book all of my own business travel and keep all points, which was a huge help)
  • Always use credit cards with no foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad

Selling my car: Craigslist for the Win!  We sold my sweet Sally (2002 Pontiac Sunfire – Fire Red) to the first inquiry in less than a weeks time. Continuing to drive my car from high school was not ideal, but it was paid off and not taking on a second car payment saved us thousands of dollars. ~$1,400

Second Job: I taught exercise classes several times a week at the gym on campus for the past year and a half. Total income: ~$3,000

It was so easy to list and rent our apartment on AirBnb we were kicking ourselves we didn’t do it more often!


  • Moved into a smaller, cheaper apartment last year: Savings $3,000
  • Moved into friends basement for the last few months: Total savings: $1,000
  • Rented our apartment for a weekend on AirBnb: $200 (wish we had done this more!)


  • Internet: This was hard, but we canceled our Internet for 3 months. Total savings: $150
  • Cell phone:
    • We were locked in 2-year contract with Sprint or else we would have likely switched to a prepaid plan (Refer to Mr. Money Mustache)
    • Fortunately my employer reimbursed me $70 a month for a cell phone, plus $100 a year for equipment (yet I kept the phone with a missing home button): Total savings: $2,090 (27 months)
    • Analyzed our data and realized we didn’t use much data so downgraded from unlimited plan and dropped our insurance. Total savings: $540


  • Canceled cable: We went without cable for 12 months. Total savings: $480
    • We combatted our boredom by signing up for free trials of Spotify, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Audible, Amazon Prime, etc. (HINT: you can get one free trial per email address).  This has actually caused more TV watching than before!
  • Free Books: Check out books (even on your electronic device) from a local library through Overdrive, or sign up for daily emails from BookBub with free or cheap Amazon digital books.


  • Opened two Netspend accounts for 5% APY ($5,000 max in each)
  • Opened an Ally Bank account for 0.99% APY
  • Opened a Charles Schwab Checking Account for no ATM fees
  • Bank bonuses for new accounts: Chase $400 and US Bank $125 (Doctor of Credit has a stellar list of current sign-up bonuses for checking, savings and investment accounts)


  • Amex Offers: Total savings: $1,940
  • Lyft New Driver Bonus: Total Profit: $1,000 (for only giving one ride—could have made more income if I had actually worked as a Lyft Driver)
  • Manufactured Spending/Buying Gift Cards (Mostly at Simon Malls or office supply stores): Total Profit: ~$700
  • eBay/Amazon Bonuses: $300 profit (bought a Kindle and Garmin watch for trip)
  • Shopping Online through a cashbackportal: Total Profit: $191 (We typically use TopCashBack or Ebates).


  • Gym Memberships:
    • I have a slight obsession with Turbo Kick so continued to pay for a gym membership at 24 Hour Fitness despite getting a free one at Mines, but did negotiate a lower monthly price for my last few months. It never hurts to ask your gym, your insurance company, etc. for a lower rate. Savings: $60
    • Caleb utilized the gyms in our apartments or his office building or ran (wanderlessly) outside to avoid a gym membership. Savings: $1,080 (based on $40/month for 27 months)
  • Mint: We used to try to stick to a monthly budget.
  • Followed these 22 tips to save money on parking, gas, groceries and dining.
  • Searched for free events and bought cheap tickets using these tips.
  • Volunteered for beer and wine festivals for free admission. Total savings: $330
  • Ordered wine by the case through wine clubs for deep discounts. Our favorites are Naked Wines and Lot 18.
  • We hardly ever bought clothes. Like wearing clothes well beyond the point of appropriateness never.


    No new clothes for this guy, not even this sweet outfit he found in Steamboat Springs


Even before we dreamed up this trip, we determined that experiences were more important to us than material possessions and started making small lifestyle changes to be able to travel more. Sometimes being cheapskates, making sacrifices, and taking time to maximize promotions and deals was a pain in the ass. But these small things all added up to almost $30,000, which we will more than cover the entire cost of our trip.

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One thought on “How to save enough money to take a gap year or career break trip

  • Mike

    Whets my appetite for the journaling ahead. Amassing travel tokens of whatever flavor at minimal cost and trouble is a nice skill to have, but plenty of blogs forget many readers also want to learn how to spend those tokens prudently. I particularly look forward to finding out how you liquidate the UR/MR/TYP convertible points at a value over .01 each.