The Singapore-born professional quit her job in the finance industry in 2015, and went on a solo, two-year-long trip around the world. She funded it all on her own. In fact, Chua had saved money for a one-year trip, but stuck to her budget so well that ...and more »
Xin En Lee | @entinomy
Chua Xinen may seem like your average young professional living in Singapore, but the 29-year-old has ticked a massive item off of her bucket list.
The Singapore-born professional quit her job in the finance industry in 2015, and went on a solo, two-year-long trip around the world. She funded it all on her own.
In fact, Chua had saved money for a one-year trip, but stuck to her budget so well that she decided she could travel for a second year.
In two years, she traveled to more than 40 countries, seeing parts of Europe, North America, South America and Africa.
Solo female traveler Xin'en Chua trekking in Huaraz, Peru as part of her two-year travel trip.
She spent much of her time in South America, learning Spanish, exploring the great outdoors and getting familiar with Latin American culture for eight months.
"I didn't want to spend my 20s hanging out in a cubicle," she said.
She decided to head out at that stage in her life because she was passionate about traveling and she did not have that many financial responsibilities.
Traveling full-time made her more resourceful and better at problem solving, she said. And, when she returned to Singapore in September last year, prospective employers were intrigued.
"A lot of them were very wistful and said they wish they had done it when they were younger," she said.
She found a job in a hedge fund after three months.
On top of that, she now runs a blog on the side. Called Koala Travels The World, she collaborates with tourism boards and writes guides to countries such as Bolivia, Swaziland and Uruguay.
Here are her best tips for going on a long traveling trip.
1. Set a savings goal
Most fresh college graduates get excited about their first paycheck and spend it on brunch, taxis, shopping or parties. But Chua knew she wanted to be able to travel full-time and started saving from her very first paycheck.
In Singapore, it's also common for young people to live with their families, so she was able to save on rent by staying with her parents.
However, she emphasized that part of saving was about doing a lot of research.
She read many travel blogs about the experiences of full-time travelers and used that research to set a budget of about $50 a day for her big trip.
2. Break up a big goal into smaller ones
Chua put her project management skills and finance-savvy into travel budgeting.
First, she charted her spending to figure out exactly what she was spending money on. She then decided on her budget, and made small savings goals for each quarter.
After that, she broke that down further into months to make her mini-goals easier to achieve.
It wasn't easy for her: It took four years to save about 50,000 Singapore dollars ($36,000).
"It was definitely a challenge to save that," she said. But, she added, if you have a goal that you're working towards, then it's easier to find motivation to work toward that goal.
3. Make your spending work for you
Travel hacking has become popular, especially in the United States. It's essentially accumulating points on credit cards and turning miles into free, or very cheap, flights.
Chua said it has been "a bit difficult" to travel hack in Singapore compared with the United States, but it's still possible.
Once again, she researched the best credit cards for her needs, and spread her spending across three cards.
With that, she racked up enough points to fly around the world twice.
She cautioned, however, that people need to be very familiar with the cards' billing cycles so as not to end up paying more in late fees.
4. Be flexible about your travel plans, but not your budget
Chua said that she was pretty easygoing with her travel plans — stopping in unexpected places to see friends and extending stays when she found places that she liked.
"Don't overplan — that takes away the whole fun of travel," she said.
Solo female traveler Xin'en Chua hiking in the Italian Dolomites.
However, she was disciplined about sticking to her budget.
"I had to tweak how I managed money depending on the country," she said.
Her advice for travelers? "It's easier to manage money according to the country visited and per month, rather than on a strict day-to-day basis."
Chua added that she tracked her expenses using a Microsoft Excel sheet because it's important to be aware of expenses.
"When I'm traveling and I don't track my expenses, I spend more."
5. Spend less on accommodation and souvenirs
After recording her expenses, she realized that accommodation took up the biggest portion.
Chua decided to "sacrifice a little bit of comfort for the experiences I get around the world."
That's why she stayed in hostels, and even in a tent when she traveled through Africa.
Solo female traveler Xin'en Chua camping while on her two-year-long solo trip.
"People might think that's so crazy, but it's actually really comfortable and you have a mosquito net, and all the privacy in the world."
She even has a novel idea for saving money on souvenirs: saving the labels of beer bottles and putting them in a scrapbook.
"Interesting souvenirs don't have to be expensive," she said.
After two years of traveling, Chua said, the biggest change in her life is that she can now "live more simply."
"I don't go window shopping. I just buy the things I really need, like daily necessities," she said.
"I crave experiences more than checking countries off a bucket list," she said, adding that she would "love to visit Antarctica one day, ride the Trans-Siberian Railway, learn to snowboard, live in a van or get lost in the mountain trails again."
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