Ep. 157: How to save smartly to budget for long term travel with Lauren Gabel
In this episode, I speak with Lauren who is a digital marketing professional by day and travel blogger by night.
She shares her adventures across Out of Office Gal – a blog and Instagram account dedicated to helping women travel more….even with limited vacation, budget, and friends to go with!
She truly believes that travel is the most educational thing people can do for themselves and there is a trip for everyone.
Listen on to find out how Lauren helps women travel on any budget.
Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to speak with Lauren. Hey, Lauren, how are you?
I am fine. Thank you for having me.
Thank you for being here. So before we got to your incredible tips and tricks, can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
I’ve always loved to travel ever since I was a little kid. I was begging my parents to take me places. I left the country, I think, for the first time, when I was around 12 or so and we did a number of trips in my teenage years.
And then I had a little bit of a break during college. I was really, really caught up in getting my degree and I was obsessed with the idea of not falling behind, my classmates forgetting about me, and missing out on internship opportunities or Toledo job opportunities, which would lead to success.
And it was like this whole streaming thing that I just felt like if I wasn’t there all the time I was going to miss out on something. So, probably, I went a couple of years without leaving the country. and then, after college, I was trying to travel and nobody was ever available – they didn’t have the money, there was always some barrier to getting them to come along traveling with me.
So, finally, I went on my first solo trip and I think that was like in 2011 or something. And it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. I learned so much about myself: I felt I grew so much, I felt so empowered just figuring things out on my own in a way that I never had before.
I’d always been traveling with family members who are kind of like taking a lead and here I was just kind of all up to me. And it was also very freeing because you can just do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it. I listen to anyone else’s opinion or anyone else has a say, it’s just kind of how you feel in that moment.
And it was just such a cool feeling especially for someone who had grown up a lot of their life being like a mega perfectionist, worried about falling behind, stressing out about work like kind of on a daily basis.
So, it was a very wonderful thing and I think it also taught me to take a step back, listen to myself, my body and my mind, and what I need. It helped me calm down and relax in a way that I was like such a high-strung kid.
So, that’s kind of where my love for travel stemmed from. And I went and I got a regular office job, but I tried to travel as much as I could. People would often tell me when they see me on Thanksgiving or Christmas, “Oh my gosh! You’re traveling all the time,” and I’ll be like, “Well no, I only take like 2 international trips a year.” But to a lot of people that look like a lot.
And I always knew, in the back of my head, I wanted to be traveling more. And a few years ago in Brazil, I met a girl at a hostel who was a digital nomad, and at the time I didn’t really know what that was but she explained that she traveled full-time. I just thought this was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of and from that point, I was kind of like, “Alright, how do I get to that at some point.”
At that time it kind of felt like it could never happen. I was in an entertainment field, I went to USC as a film student and then, I was kind of working in branded content. And there were a lot of on-set responsibilities which you obviously need to be physically present. But a few years ago I transitioned to more of a digital marketing side of things. It was still related but we weren’t really on-set.
So, how did you actually get from being in the entertainment industry? You’re from L.A., you went to school there and now to doing this as a digital nomad because you were really inspired by someone, right?
And that’s a huge step. How did you prepare for that Journey after to make this huge leap?
Yeah, definitely. So I had kind of been sidestepping away from entertainment since College a little bit. I love movies and it was fun to work on them but the business itself didn’t really resonate with me. Like I think that there’s a lot of people at the top making all the money and people at the bottom who aren’t necessarily treated that great.
That didn’t really sit well with me. I didn’t really want to be a part of that. So I kind of sidestep to a more like branded content world and I was still kind of on like the producing side of that. I was at the company for like 5 years, at the same time, influencer marketing was kind of like rising up.
So, partly, we were getting some content that the brand wants us to produce for them. As well as some content where they were like, “Well, we want to work with an influencer to create this content.” So, I would say back then my job was probably like 80% content we were producing and like 20% influencer marketing content that was actually being produced by influencers.
I kind of took that experience and when a recruiter reached out to me to work at a marketing services company that where, instead of 80% premium production, 20% influencer marketing, it was like 95-98% influencer marketing.
The company was cool, they’d actually reached out to me a couple of times in years previous but like the timing just was never right, the role was never right. And this time, I was really ready for change.
So ,now Lauren what are you currently doing to become a digital nomad? Is this what you’re doing right now?
This is a long story. Back in March, the marketing service company I was working for announced that they were closing. And while this may seem like a terrible thing for most people. It actually ended up being an amazing thing for me because as part of my negotiation with them, I was one of the few people requested to stay on for about six months to help wrap up existing business and part of my package was, “Okay, I’ll do this but I want to be able to work remotely from anywhere.”
So, my boss was like, “Yeah, totally fine. That’s all great.” So, I started doing travels while working and the first thing I did was look up the girl I met who was a digital nomad several years ago. We’ve done a little traveling together at the time, but I haven’t seen her in three years and she was going to be in Lisbon.
So I went to Lisbon and I met a bunch of her digital nomad friends. Europe is amazing for digital nomads who are working L.A. hours because you can basically have a full day of sightseeing and then, start working at like 5 and then work ‘till like 1 or 2:00 a.m. which is, for me, pretty doable.
I did a couple of weeks in Europe then I came home for a little while ’cause I had some commitments. Then, I went back out and I did like a couple more weeks in Panama then I went home for a bit. I had to travel to the U.S. for work for a few weeks. And then, I spent like a month in Asia.
So, Lauren, let’s talk about some of the things that you had gone through while you were actually trying to transition from your day job to now being a digital nomad. What were some of the setbacks that you actually encountered when you are pursuing this new career that you have?
I think that the biggest thing is probably trying to figure out how to be connected and available and make sure that your clients and colleagues don’t feel the effects of you traveling at all. In fact, I didn’t even tell.
Outside of my boss, nobody even knew I was traveling. I didn’t want the client to know not because I necessarily wanted to keep it a secret if they’d asked me, of course, I would have said yes. But I just really wanted to prove to myself, most of all, that this was like a viable way to work and no balls would be dropped in this process.
So I think that just making sure I had a really stable Wi-Fi connection all the time, making sure as my phone worked. I put a lot of time into research into options for where I was going to stay. I always neurotically check TripAdvisor; you can search for reviews by specific word and I would always search for Wi-Fi. If a place either has bad Wi-Fi or nobody talked about the Wi-Fi., I would just automatically not go with that option.
You can search on AirBnB as well for Wi-Fi. So, that’s a really, really important thing I would say for digital nomads. And the phone also, Google Fi I think is a terrific option. I think it’s only available for the U.S., you have to be in the U.S. to activate it. I don’t actually think that you have to be a U.S. citizen or anything but you have to be in the U.S. in order to activate it.
That’s a really really good option because it has the same rates domestically versus internationally except calls, calls are a little different but data and text are the same.
Those are a lot of things that you definitely have to look out for especially when you’re traveling around because it’s not like you’re just around the neighborhood or the area – you’re actually in a different country. And there are so many new things that you have to not only look forward to but to look out for especially if you are not there to travel – it’s working. It’s so much more different, right?
What were some of the things that you found that you didn’t expect when you finally started this lifestyle?
My first trip was to Lisbon where I was basically meeting up with digital nomads so everyone is on the same schedule. So that was not very difficult. But when I started to go to places and meet other people who weren’t digital nomads who were out exploring and sightseeing and I had to go, buckle down and work. That was something that was really hard.
And I would say trying to work in Panama because the time difference is only a 3-hour difference. I would say that was a bigger challenge than I realized just because I would have like three hours in the morning to kind of explore a little bit. It was sometimes hard: having to force myself to buckle down at noon and everybody else was out like sightseeing in exploring this new place. I would say that was like something that I definitely found to be a challenge.
I know a lot of people when they’re going into this lifestyle because there are so many things that we don’t anticipate. One of the biggest things is your mental health. You will face a lot of loneliness, you’re not going to be in the same type of community that you had and support when you had at home.
What was that like for you when you were traveling around?
Totally. I’m really glad you asked that. I have a boyfriend and a dog at home – like a long-term boyfriend of 5 years. So, one of my biggest challenges is missing them including a really close friend group at home. A lot of the reason I don’t travel for longer spurts at a time is because of my boyfriend and my dog – wanting to go back and see them.
And there were absolutely times of loneliness, especially when I started to get into like a month of being away. It can definitely be a lonely road depending on how you kind of set the tone when you first arrive in a place. Obviously, if you’re staying in hostels that’s going to be like a little bit more social environment, a little easier to meet people.
A lot of times I try to sign up for like AirBnBexperiences because I feel like the demo of those are going to be a little bit younger and I feel like some tourists can be like an older crowd and maybe not like necessary people you have as much in common with. But Airbnb experiences tend to attract a younger crowd and I’ve made a lot of friends in new countries just by signing up for something when I first arrived.
And then I meet a few people and we go on to do other stuff together that can be kind of nice as well so you don’t feel so alone. I also think the signing up for free walking tours when you first arrived in a place is a really good thing to do not only to orient yourself but if you know a person who gets lonely asking somebody how his day is going or what they’ve seen in the country so far that’s been really cool and starting up a conversation and just seeing where that leads to.
There’ll be days where I would go without talking to anyone when I’m a digital nomad like just on my own in a country. And I think just like finding somebody to talk to can even be helpful sometimes. And obviously there are things like FaceTime and WhatsApp to stay connected with people back home. But you know talking in-person to somebody can be a really nice thing.
Yeah. That’s so true. There’re so many things that you don’t anticipate because you leave a lot of the people that you love at home if they can’t go with you and then you miss out on so many different things: milestones, birthdays, anniversaries, and all of those things. And it can be really hard and I think we don’t think about that enough when we actually leave and go into this type of lifestyle.
So that’s always great to hear from someone like you, Lauren, who can give us their take on how you have been able to handle something like this ’cause that is really tough.
It is. I’m kind of like the planner in my friend group too so I feel like when I’m gone the group gets together less and that’s kind of sad. They still hang out, they still have fun but I think I do a lot of birthday planning and stuff like that. I’m going to be gone for like 6 weeks so I was through with Friendsgiving a little bit early this year. But we celebrated everyone’s birthday that fell in like November and December.
So I made sure there was like a little something that made those people feel special while I’m gone. And that’s just one of the things that I kind of obviously do miss a lot, but hopefully, you’re there for all the really important things. And one of my friends is going through some medical issues right now. I was actually going to be doing more travel this fall, but I came home and should be there for that.
It’s a balance for sure. I mean, you’re going to miss some birthdays, but hopefully, when somebody really needs you, you find a way to get back here and be there for them.
I think that’s the beautiful thing about being a digital nomad – you can have that time to come back whenever you need to because you don’t have a steady solid job that you need to be on the ground for. You can travel whenever you have to be.
Let’s talk about what you did in order to prepare or even save before setting off to become a digital nomad and to be a location independent. How much money did you actually save and how are you able to budget that to last?
I’m not the best saver, I will say that right off the bat. I’m pretty good at traveling cheaply, that’s one of the things I am really good at. And I generally have not had to pay for my flights because I have used credit card points. So I kind of like taking care of the flight with credit card points.
In terms of accommodations, I’m generally choosing cheap countries where my money will go further. I did visit a few more expensive places this year, but I was there for a short amount of time. If you can get your flight taken care of, you can get your accommodations taken care of – that’s immensely helpful.
Another thing, I always look for free walking tours. I think that’s a really good way to see the city and if you’ve done one, you just tip your tour guide. I think that’s like a really nice thing you can do. Another thing I’ve done is like I find a cool experience on Airbnb experiences and they list their Instagram handle.
I’ll go around AirBnB and reach out to them on Instagram ‘cause a lot of time AirBnB takes a big cut. And if you reach out to them directly, they often give you a lower price just because you’re not having to pay for an upcharge and that’s like a really nice thing you can do.
In terms of just saving money, I used to eat out like every meal and that’s been cut down like extremely, drastically. I do a lot of my shopping now at Trader Joe’s. I also used to do a lot more shopping and I’ve cut that out almost entirely because at the end of the day, I would so much rather spend money on experiences than things and everytime I’m about to make a purchase, I literally think about that and I’m like, “All right, so do I want a pair of pants or do I want to go on a boat trip in Tanzania?”
And I feel like when you put it that way, it’s so easy to know exactly what you want. If you really do need a freaking pair of pants, you just go for it but a lot of times it’s like, “No, I don’t really need this.”
It’s just putting things into perspective because if you put it that way then, yeah, you definitely have an easier decision.
Now, let’s fast-forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave? And what do you want to be remembered for?
I definitely hope that my grandchildren see this adventurous free-spirited soul who lived life as much as humanly possible. I do not sleep a lot because I am so excited about life and experiencing things and trying things out and always saying yes. There can be a tendency to like hole up in your house and watch Netflix and not leave but at the end of the day like that’s not going to be something that’s like charted to your memory.
And I just hope I have as many amazing memories as possible and I hope that I continue to share those memories with the people that are closest to me. And I think I’d give off this behind already but I hope that even as I get older I continue to give off the adventurous, free-spirit persona.
Do you ever get tired when you’re constantly going all the time for a long time?
I can go for a long time. I have naturally a ton of energy and I don’t need a lot of sleep. I think that’s a little bit unusual but I love it. I think a lot of it is just what you tell yourself. I’ve always told myself, “I can do things. I can push through. I can stay up till 10 p.m. because I don’t want to be jet-lagged and wake up at 2 a.m.” I just tell myself I’m fine. I drink some coffee,I keep going and I think a lot of it is like my willpower.
Eventually, you do need to sleep, you do need to rest, you do need to take a break. And I think that being kind to yourself and your body is really more important than just knowing when you’re kind at that point where you should take care of yourself.
Are you currently working on anything today that is really exciting to you?
Well, I’m working on a blog where I try to share things like tips for the places I’ve been to and sample itineraries. The focus of my blog is like trying to help people travel more even when they’re working with limited vacation, limited budget, no one to go with, like solo travels and everything we’ve talked about.
Some of those really obvious things that people consider barriers to travel and trying to kind of debunk some of those and make things a little easier. Whether it’s providing them with a really straightforward itinerary that is going to show them the coolest thing the city has to offer in the shortest amount of time, to things like credit card hacking, using points to travel more or finding direct flights from your home city – that sort of thing.
That’s something that has been really fun for me and I only started it like this summer. So it’s been a fun, creative outlet. I also have like a travel Instagram that goes along with that’s been really, really fun to work on.
I think I mentioned that I was a film production student, but I haven’t been on the content creation side for a while. And that’s kind of giving me a really fun, creative outlet and a way to kind of work with visuals again and photo editing and coming up with captions. Short ways of story-telling have been really fun for me as well.
I got a really good response and growing really fast. Yeah, it’s fun to work on something and actually see success with.
If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
You can find me on Instagram @theoutofofficegal, the blog is outofofficegal.com.
Perfect. Thank you so much Lauren for speaking with us today. I really appreciate all of your journeys that you shared with us.
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Audio Engineer: Ben Smith