There are a lot of reasons not to travel. “I’m afraid of flying.” “It’s too dangerous.” “I don’t have the time.” But perhaps the most common excuse is money — who among us hasn’t put off a dream trip because we lacked the funds to finance it? The thing is, that bucket-list journey might be easier to attain than you might think. Just ask Anna Mazurek. When she started traveling, she had no money. She hadn’t won the lottery, or taken out a loan, or stumbled upon buried treasure (though wouldn’t that have been cool?). Instead, she financed her trips through smart savings, persistence, and financial responsibility — and she’s since made a career out of making money while abroad.
This past week, Anna released her self-published book, “Good With Money: A Guide to Prioritizing Spending, Maximizing Savings, and Traveling More,” which details the strategies and habits she’s developed to allow her to live the life she always dreamed of. We sat down with Anna to dive into her travels, her financial mindset, and what it takes to fight for adventure.
You talk about ruthlessly cutting out short-term expenses in order to save for a larger goal — which for you, was always travel. Where did that passion for traveling come from? What were the most difficult things to cut out of your life when you decided to live such a minimalistic lifestyle in service of that goal?
I grew up on a farm in South Carolina. My family didn’t travel, except for weekend beach trips and one trip to Disney World in the fifth grade. But all I ever wanted to do was travel. My aunt was always globetrotting, and I loved wearing the t-shirts she would bring back as gifts! Most of all, she always came back with these amazing stories from her adventures. I wanted to be the girl with the stories — and now I am! Eight-year-old Anna would be so proud of 37-year-old me!
When I initially started living minimally, the hardest things to cut out were eating out and buying clothes, especially when I was younger. Now, since I’m on the road most of the time, I can only pack so many clothes. That alone has cut my spending. I also got better at planning meals so that I wasn’t just eating out for the sake of convenience. Now I only spend my money on meals I truly enjoy.
You grew up in a similarly frugal household. Can you talk a little bit about your father’s saving habits and what effect that had on your financial mindset?
My dad is Polish but was born in East Germany in 1946. My grandparents, my father, and my aunt all escaped from East Germany with literally just the clothes on their backs and immigrated to the U.S. when my father was eight years old. They were very poor but made the most of what they had.
As a result, my dad is still very minimalistic. He makes 18th-century furniture for a living and saves the scraps from all of his large furniture projects to make small side tables and nightstands. He is the happiest person I know, which I believe is directly associated with the priorities that he developed as a result of growing up poor. Observing my dad and his philosophy on life has shaped my decisions. He only buys the things he needs, nothing frivolous. His spending habits are directly aligned with his goals. There’s no freedom quite like living below your means.
It seems that the 2008 recession was a major turning point in your life. What effect did that have on both your career trajectory and the ways you thought about finance?
When the economy tumbled in 2008, I booked a flight to Australia and never looked back. Recessions aren’t ideal for freelance photographers. It was a bold move in uncertain times, but I gained one valuable asset — an abundance of free time.
I arrived in Sydney with a work visa, roughly $10,000 in my bank account, no set plans, and unlimited freedom. I continued my usual pattern of working a random assortment of jobs to fund my life and travels. I found a job bartending at an old hotel with an amazing view of the opera house and started photographing bands for the Australian edition of Rolling Stone.
Prior to the recession, I was freelancing full-time and being paid to travel. I went from having Hilton Diamond status to living in hostels. In order to survive and focus on my goals, I had to cut back on my spending habits. There was no other option. I lived like a college student again and didn’t buy any clothes for almost a year. All of my money went toward travel. I drove the Great Ocean Road (the Australian equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway), hiked Kakadu National Park in Darwin, and scuba-dived on the Great Barrier Reef. I traveled solo or with people I met along the way — and made the most of every moment of the trip.
There is a clarity that comes with being 5,000 miles away from everything familiar. My journey in Australia inspired a series of epic adventures that led me to 51 countries — not to mention, the summit of Kilimanjaro — last year. That year abroad gave me the courage and confidence to build the life I wanted — not the life society wanted me to live. In hindsight, the recession was a cleverly disguised opportunity to start living out my daydreams. It was both a wonderful and painful teacher.
After 2008, travel became the focus of my life — and my photography. To this day, I still maintain those frugal habits, which continue to fund my travels.
From bartending to pet-sitting, you’ve spent a lot of time working additional jobs in order to supplement your income. How did those experiences influence your thinking with regard to finances, travel, and life in general?
One of the best jobs I had was waiting tables at a live music venue in Birmingham, Alabama, called the WorkPlay Theater while I was interning at a Time Inc. magazine after graduate school. It taught me that life is about the hustle. What pays the bills doesn’t define you — just as long as you keep working toward a larger goal. The people who go after the things they want are the ones who succeed. My time there helped me build a solid music photography portfolio that led to me freelancing for Rolling Stone in Australia.
Above all, WorkPlay and the various retail jobs I’ve worked taught me that the more income sources I have, the better. I started working multiple jobs to avoid taking out student loans in graduate school, which was also a lesson in self-control. Since I had to work every morning, I couldn’t go out every night after finishing at WorkPlay. I also couldn’t afford to blow my hard-earned money on drinks after my shift, or to buy clothes with my employee discount. I developed a habit of never buying anything I didn’t need. Anything else would have been impractical.
You must constantly hear people say, “I wish I could travel like you, but I don’t have the time or money.” What’s your response to that?
That comment is exactly why I wrote this book! The secret to my travels comes down to three things: priorities, relentless persistence, and courage.
I am able to travel constantly because I make the time. Even though I didn’t grow up traveling, I found a way to make it happen. The first time I stepped on a plane, I was 19. The next year, I moved to England to study abroad. Fast forward over a decade, and I’ve been to six continents!
If I want to do something, I do it. It might take months or years, but I make it happen. One summer, the idea to travel long-term in South America crept into my brain, and after a year and a half of relentless planning and saving, my bags were packed. Most of my long-term trips have taken me years to plan and save for — it’s never just an overnight decision.
As for money, I don’t have a trust fund. I’m not rich. I don’t sell drugs. And I haven’t won the lottery. My average gross income (before taxes and deductions) from the past six years was $30,492. The point is, if you have a goal: find the courage, get your priorities in order, and be relentless in your pursuit of it.
The aim of this book and of my blog is to shatter the most common excuses people give to explain why they can’t travel. I talk about how to cut costs on travel expenses and how to find the time to travel. I even tracked every single dollar, peso, and boliviano I spent on my first trip to South America to show people the “real” cost of travel, complete with charts! I do everything I can to show people it’s possible to find both the time and the money.
Even though a large portion of your income derives from your freelance writing and photography, you’re careful to point out in your book that these are not short-term ventures, that it took years to get to a point where you could make a living from that work. What are some more surefire ways people who want to travel can produce income while abroad?
The easiest way is to teach English abroad. I taught English in Thailand briefly and seriously considered similar opportunities in both Korea and Japan. A bachelor’s degree is required by many programs, but most prefer that you don’t speak the native language. While the highest-paying teaching jobs are in Korea and Japan, there are opportunities to do this all over the world. Dave’s ESL café is a good resource for those who are interested. I’ve also considered VIPKID, an online platform for teaching English to kids in China.
Becoming a flight attendant is another great option since you can fly for free. Or, for people who work in medical fields, there are a plethora of travel healthcare positions across the world. Other options to consider are tourism jobs like working as a tour guide, in a hotel, or on a cruise ship. Personally, I ran photo trips for high school students in Southeast Asia for five summers.
From investing in a water filter to utilizing libraries to skipping A/C, you offer countless tips on ways to save money — both at home and abroad. What are some of the simplest fixes the average person can make in order to cut down their daily expenses?
Here are three easy tips:
- Plan your meals. The simplest fix is to be conscious about eating out and meal planning. Eating out too much is both expensive and usually unhealthy. Of course, you should treat yourself on occasion (taking advantage of happy hour specials helps), but for the most part, try to cook a big meal once a week and eat the leftovers for the next few days.
- Return things. Remember that jacket you bought that you haven’t worn and still has the tags on it? We all have items like this tucked away in our closets. If you’ve had something for a while and haven’t used it, simply return it. Depending on the return policy, you might still get a refund or at least store credit to buy something you actually need.
- Understand your insurance. It’s extremely important to fully understand any type of insurance policy you have and confirm your benefits to make sure you aren’t paying for things you don’t need and ending up with surprise bills. I devoted an entire section in my book to cutting costs on medical bills because it’s a large source of debt for many Americans.
In this digital age, one of the easiest ways for people to make money abroad is to simply keep their current job but switch to remote work. What advice would you give to someone thinking of proposing this to their boss? And, once they make the switch, how do you suggest they go about managing their time abroad?
Planning and timing are key. I spent two-and-a-half years teaching part-time at Texas State University on-campus, and last May, I sat down with the assistant director to discuss the idea of teaching online. I explained my goal to be abroad most of the following year. He didn’t think the main courses I taught would work well online, so I proposed a new course to teach virtually. I wrote the proposal, and it was approved four months later.
If you’ve never worked remote before, try to start by working from home at least one day a week, which is becoming more and more common. Then, gradually try to add more days. And focus on making sure your productivity isn’t affected.
From there, write out a detailed plan for your boss. When would you leave? What time frame would work best for the company? Brainstorm solutions to every concern or objection your boss might have. Start with a short trip. Offer to come back to the office during the most pivotal times of the year. The goal is to ensure that your being abroad will have no negative impact on your company. The more prepared you are, the more likely your boss will agree.
Depending on your job, you might still have to work during your home country’s normal business hours, even if you are 12 time zones away, so try to figure out the routine that works best for you. Focus on finding a great working environment, like a coworking space or an apartment with a separate office space. Set goals and make a calendar to ensure your work performance doesn’t falter. Ask for feedback from your colleagues and always strive to find ways to improve your ability as a team player despite your location.
I thought one of the most interesting sections of your book was the one on “fear setting.” Can you elaborate on what this means and what role it played in your personal trajectory?
The term comes from Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which helped inspire my initial move to Australia. Ferriss talks about a tactic called “fear setting,” in which you define fears instead of goals and analyze the cost of inaction. You weigh your fears and come up with possible outcomes and ways you would deal with the worst-case scenario. I did exactly that.
As I’ve discussed, I went back to living like I did in college. I ate cheaply. I hardly bought any new clothes for almost a year. And guess what happened? Nothing horrible. I know I can live like that again if I have to. While it wouldn’t be the most fun, I could handle it.
The idea of taking risks is easier when you know you can handle the worst possible outcome. I truly believe that the things that scare you are the things you would most benefit from accomplishing. Fear setting makes that possible.
What made you choose the self-publishing route? What were the greatest challenges you faced throughout the process?
Since this book is about living unconventionally, self-publishing seemed like the appropriate path. I’m open to working with a traditional publisher for future projects, but self-publishing suited this topic best.
Writing a book is a very tedious process. I’m a perfectionist, so there’s always some small tweak or change to make or new material to add. I couldn’t have done this on my own, so I hired a copy editor and an illustrator to help out, which I would recommend to anyone tackling a similar project. The most important thing is to have a solid copy editor! Even though this was a self-published and self-funded endeavor, I still wanted to ensure the quality was top-notch.
You clearly draw a lot from self-help gurus like Tim Ferriss and Dave Ramsey. What other works or people have influenced your writing?
When I quit my many jobs in 2008, I had many doubts. Nearly all of my friends and family thought I was crazy. And in many ways, I was seeking permission, or at least, someone who would understand my motives.
In “The Four-Hour Work Week,” Tim Ferriss mentions a book by Rolf Potts called “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel.” This book changed my life because it was proof that I wasn’t alone, that my plans weren’t crazy. It gave me the courage and permission I was so desperately seeking.
Pico Iyer is another one of my favorite travel writers. No one can get to the soul of a place as eloquently and thoroughly as he can. He uses the most minute details to reveal it. Simply put, his books have changed the way I travel — and the two most influential have been “The Global Soul” and “The Open Road.”
Finally, you mention that every time you talk with your 78-year-old aunt about a new adventure, her response is: “Go now. I would if I could. I have the money to travel first class but don’t have the health.” What do you tell people who subscribe to the idea that they should work hard now so that they can travel when they retire?
Go now while your knees are still good — and I’m only half-joking. If travel is important to you, then try to fit it in as much as possible throughout your life. My travel style is extreme, so I certainly don’t expect everyone to quit their job and travel for a year. Rather, take advantage of any gaps while switching jobs, after graduation, or when your children graduate. I only hope to inspire people to be creative and find ways to work travel into their lives as much as possible, even if it’s just weekend trips.
The way you travel also changes as you age. It’s completely different to experience a place at age 22 than at 62. If you can’t spend three months backpacking through Europe, then try to go for two weeks.
Other people’s regrets have fueled a lot of my adventures. My parents were hesitant about me studying abroad in England six months after 9/11 — until my dad’s friend Jim mentioned that his parents wouldn’t let him study abroad, and he always regretted missing the opportunity. Then, my dad instantly said, “Go and enjoy yourself.” Before my Australia trip, my doctor confided in me that she always regretted not taking the opportunity to work as a cruise ship doctor when she was younger. And countless strangers on planes have confided similar regrets to me over the years.
No 80-year-old ever says, “Man, I regret that time I drove across Australia.” The best way to limit your regrets in life is to say “yes” more than you say “I’ll do it later.”