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A Traveler’s Honest Talk on Money

How to Get Australian Visa? The Fast and Easy Way.

Sydney Opera House, Australia. Almost broke but still smiling.

EDIT: This was written in 2016. A lot has changed in my life. I moved to Vietnam, went back to teaching, and lived the expat life. In November 2021, my two cats and I moved to Munich, Germany. You can follow me on Instagram: @jonajournals for more current life updates. I am rolling digital nomad resources, so follow me for more tips and hacks to be financially independent while traveling and enjoying this one precious life.

A big part of me hesitated to do this. After all, our society thrives in paradox: post instagrammable photos of your travel but be mum about your travel fund. We are built on, built in the nondiscussion of taboos: sex and money. A supposed “responsible social media user” must not talk about three things online: salary, love (and sex) life, and family problems.

But how am I supposed to honestly answer my fellow aspiring travelers whose primary dilemma is money?

So many things have been written about it. So many travel bloggers anchored their traffic on how-tos: how to travel long-term with Php40, 000.00 in your bank account, for example.

So I can be dismissive and nonchalant about it, if I want to; the way I handle people who ask me for detailed itineraries. But “Just go. Don’t think about it so much” is as dictatorial as it is snobbish as it is apathetic: the least that I want to be.

For us to talk about travel, we must talk about money. Perhaps this does not necessarily concern first-world travelers soul-searching in third world countries like the Philippines. Perhaps this does not concern fellow Southeast Asian travelers who have moneyed parents. But I believe they come in scarcity. Money bugs my kind: a traveler whose slim savings becomes even slimmer once it is converted into dollars and worse in euros.

Some must have entertained these thoughts: my Austrian boyfriend (now ex but remains a good friend) pays parts—if not most, if not all—of our trips. Yeah. He pays his part. His part. Which is half of the expenses: room, food, transportation. Our daily expenses are well-recorded and well-accounted for in my diary, which we regularly reviewed every week to keep tabs of the money we spent and the money we withdrew from our respective bank accounts.

I believe in financial freedom. I believe women must take full control of their lives. I do not believe in “Forget about money. Go. Travel.” I believe in “Think about Money. Go. Travel.”

READ: Why You Should Stop Calling Us Exotic

Why You Should Stop Calling Us ExoticChiang Rai Night Market

Retirement Plan for Women in Their 30s

With my travel lifestyle, it might come as a surprise to some that I actually have two Variable Universal Life (VUL) insurances: one with AXA Philippines and another with Sun Life Financial. They’re not big, per se: AXA automatically deducts P1, 300.00 from my Metrobank savings account every month while I have a P2, 500.00 monthly premium with Sun Life. Now, if you ask me if I am financially literate, no, I’m not. The sight of numbers intimidates me big time. But the way Menger, my financial agent, explained the figures to the dumb-looking me, my money grows over time, assuming that I keep on paying my dues. And in two years running, I am doing fine. While I do not feel AXA’s auto-debit deduction at all.

It means reinventing the self and forgetting about creative writing. It means embracing the beauty and the flaws of travel blogging.

Why did I get VULs? Maybe because my current lifestyle is too unpredictable, too centered on traveling, book hoarding, and cats that I am wary of my future. Maybe because I always go against the norm: a woman must look for a man to provide security for her.

I am not your existentialist/escapist traveler either. I have financial plans. I have writer plans. I think. I overthink.

I care about my money. And I need money to buy a little lot for my hut that must come with a strong WiFi someday.

Diversifying My Assets

I am seriously considering buying three cows and let some relatives or my younger brother takes care of them in my hometown. We will split the profit. Cow-raising, funny it may sound to urbanites, is a good investment/emergency fund for people who have relatives in the countryside. Aside from that, I dipped my naïve foot in stock market. Unlike my financial plans with AXA and Sun Life, I personally manage my stocks on Col Financial. They have a starter kit of P5 000.00, allowing you to buy small stock amounts from different companies like Jollibee, Ayala, or less known companies. I added another P4000.00 to it. The start was all right, but from December to February, my P9000.00 dipped to P4000.00. I was not alarmed. Rule of thumb in stock investment: only invest your side dish, not your main. The money I put in was part of my salary as a travel columnist on (My kind of rebuttal to those who said that there is no money in writing.) As of late, my stocks’ value has gradually improved; and the little optimist in me thinks that I will get back my paper loss sooner than later.

Filipinas Who Travel Solo
Trekking Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

When Not Traveling: My Actual Monthly Expenses

Jboi, the second brother I sent to a local university, graduated last Thursday. I was not able to attend his graduation as much as I wanted to: I had work to attend to. He did not have any formal high school education at all; he bypassed it through the government’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) program. His success is my success. From here on, I have one less monthly responsibility : no more tuition fees and allowances to think about.

READ: Poor But Want to Travel Abroad? Talk to Your Family!

My expenses now gravitate around my little place’s monthly rental (Php3 500.00), my food and grocery allowance (Php 4 500.00) and cat food for five (Php1 000.00): a total of P8 500.00—which is the minimum wage of most Filipinos. On top of these monthly expenses, I sneak a day trip or a weekend trip to somewhere both familiar and unfamiliar, which cost me from Php1000.00-Php2500.00. Plus, saving for my month-long trips abroad with T: a five-week trip across five countries, of which three were spent with him last June-July 2015; a four-week trip to Indonesia last December 2015-January 2016; and this coming July, to India for three weeks and Sri Lanka for a week.

I believe in financial freedom. I believe women must take full control of their lives. I do not believe in “Forget about money. Go. Travel.” I believe in “Think about Money. Go. Travel.”

Perhaps the figures I presented above are peanuts to some. But for most relatives, I am financially stable, a euphemism of “rich” in the place where I come from.

Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World

How Do I Manage My Expenses?

After debating with myself for the past four months, I finally decided to buy an 11-inch MacBook Air (on a 12-month installment payment) to replace my three-year-old charger-dependent Asus netbook (I won’t mind product/gadget sponsorship at all!). T joked I could not say anything about him buying yet another lens for his camera anymore. Did I get the Macbook Air on a whim? Maybe. Did I feel guilty of getting one? No. But I am already thinking on how to pay it without touching my savings and my current finances. It means finding or getting (depending on which comes first) yet another writing job every month.

I may be a farmer’s daughter, but I drink Americano three times a week. I have a coffee shop as a second office. I spend about P150. But it is purposeful. I have daily goals in mind. My mantra is: I am willing to spend P150.00 to earn P4500.00. When I am in a café, I am more productive: there are no cute cats to pet; there is no bed beckoning me to nap.

I constantly chase deadlines.

So What Are My Jobs?

If I tell you, I write poetry, short stories, and essays that sound so different from this very piece you are reading, would you believe me? Of course, you would if you knew me personally. But if you only knew me through BWAB, most likely you would raise your brows and ask “Do you earn money from writing poetry?” Writing poetry is already marginalized. Writing poetry in my native language—Cebuano—is doubly marginalized. And you are right, there is no money in it. But there is soul. But my love for literature landed me a job that asks me to talk endlessly about poetry, short stories, novels, and essays dear to me. Not a bad thing, right? My salary covers all my monthly expenses; and when I limit my stays in cafes, cook for myself, avoid taxi rides like a plague, I can actually save up to P8000.00, which I withdraw from my Landbank (work account) and deposit to my Metrobank: my travel fund account and where my writing salary from and gets in. I haven’t mentioned the mid-year and year-end bonuses yet.

Novice as I am, I am sometimes invited to give talks on creative writing. These are paid speakership gigs. I sometimes take prenuptial photos [Hire me, I am affordable!]. I find ways. And sometimes ways find me.

Cameron Highlands Itinerary, Budget, and Accommodation
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

How About My Long-Term Travels?

If T and I can survive each other’s demons (my demons are way madder than his, unfortunately) before the year ends, we are going to embark in a crazy year-long trip to somewhere we do not know yet. So aside from saving for our India and Sri Lanka trip, there is a lot of saving to do for that year-long trip. On top of the monthly expenses and monthly VULs.

As of now, I only have $2000.00 (Php80000.00) on my Unionbank, my long-term travel fund account. How did I get this? I work my ass off. For the past fifteen months, I have been content-writing for, an American travel booking site targeting the millennial American professionals.

It means reinventing the self and forgetting about creative writing. It means embracing the beauty and the flaws of travel blogging.

READ: Why I Felt Embarrassed Being Called a Travel Blogger

Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World

Becoming a Digital Nomad

How did I find this job? Out of luck! One of those travel groups I randomly joined, someone posted about it. If you plan to travel-blog your way around the world, go for it. But my blog is not built for that. My travel fund although related to traveling is never directly linked to BWAB. I bank on my skills. I diversify my skills. I hone them. Brian Scott is my morning affair. I check PeoplePerHour [affiliate program] for work. I check new payment methods like Payoneer. Because they will become handy eventually. Easier said than done, I know. Because it if it were that easy, I would not be paranoid about my savings and the bleak future.

READ: Leave everything behind and travel the world? What’s wrong with it?

I am not quitting work. I am going to bring work with me. I am working on my poetry manuscript. I am still writing stories in Cebuano. I am editing my essay collection. I am meeting Hipmunk deadlines. I am still pitching stories to Rappler and Interaksyon. I am trying to complete an essay on Japan for Sun.Star. I am taking photos of couples, if given the chance. BWAB is shaping up and is going to be a community of creatives.

Funding one’s passion is not a leisure walk. There are days I only sleep for three hours. There are days I forget that I have a boyfriend. I only see my family once a month.

What you can see online is the beautiful, the filtered version of the everyday life of a traveler/writer/teacher/reader who doubles as a blogger.

So there it was, the finances behind a self-made woman traveler from the Philippines. Here is hoping that you learned a thing or two.



DISCUSSION BOARD: How about you? What are your struggles in funding your trips? What are your saving techniques? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. Claire says:

    Honest and detailed. =) Hats off to you, Jona, for writing about such a sensitive topic!

  2. Anne-Di says:


    Your determination and discipline are admirable. Thanks for sharing this especially to those who would like to travel long term someday and somewhere out of the country in the not-so-distant future. Keep on inspiring.

  3. Ferna says:

    oh geez! why is it that we have the same thoughts as this? or the same way of creating and building our own finances. I also confessed that in my blog, I do not share how I created or build my finances in order to travel or in order to invest into something else, that’s one thing that I’m learning on how to open myself in that aspect, coz like you, it’s one factor of giving an information to our kababayan on how we took risks or how we work hard and manage financially in order to get that dream of “traveling” and this doesn’t only goes to “travelers” as well, this is for everyone depends on what goal they have in their lives.

    • Hi there, Ferna! I totally agree with you! Financial literacy is something that is greatly missing in our culture. I do not know, but I come from a family who does not really have a savings culture. Well, it is changing among us siblings. I’m going to write about the steps I’m going to take before traveling long term: from stock investment, emergency fund growing, VULS, and growing my work portfolio. Thank you for dropping by. I appreciate it a lot.

      • Ferna says:

        My pleasure, and this is worth to share by the way. Will keep reminding people especially our own to know the importance of finances. I, on the other hand, unfortunately, recently experienced being robbed where all my personal belongings and money were there, should take note on how to survive after every circumstance. And yes, emergency fund is a must for us Filipinos. I think we are on the same way how our parents or family raised us, I don’t blame them, they work hard for the future of their children, our generation I guess changed that, as we see how life is after what? in their 50’s or 60’s no pension (there is from SSS but not enough), no emergency fund, no VULs no insurance, nor stock investments. hehehee.. I’m looking forward of your article about money, and perhaps encourage us writers (ahem! i’m new by the way) on how to strongly write about this for the benefit of our kababayans too (and friends and family and so on.. ) Will be sharing this. All The Best Jona!

  4. Tagay, BWAB! This is my first attempt to interact in your beautiful blog.

    Your writing is so authentic and value-adding to me, as your reader and an aspiring writer. Thank you for sharing bits of your personal life to us! <3

    I agree that we, Filipinos, are not open to including money as usual conversation topics except when parents are asking for it because as we know, they try to be involved to what we are earning and where we are spending it. I am speaking for myself, especially if they're seeing me travelling which is not a lot and are always on a backpacking budget.

    We're on the same page on preparing for the future through investments and spending on experiences to live in the now. It's just that we, as travelers, opt to spend it mostly on trips which are interpreted as a very luxurious interest. Sometimes it is, but mostly it isn't.

    Carpe diem!

  5. Gel says:

    This is so true, especially the part when you highlighted the women take their part in the travel fund. I also agree with the fact that some do not disclose money matters on social media but really, thankyou for publishing your insight.

  6. Karla Macasaet says:

    You truly inspire me, Miss Jona. I used to put on hold my dream of travelling but when my mom passed away, time becomes more precious and short. So I started booking flights and planned itineraries. This March I’m going to Hong Kong and on April in Korea. Thank you for your writings and adventures. I’m a big fan! ?

  7. dakota says:

    tagay! there must be a reason why i found your blog .. this is nice ..i love your shots by the way tagay!cheers !

  8. […] popular travel personalities said don’t worry about money, go, travel, I maintain my stand on “worry about your money, go, travel.” I never intend to travel until I turn seventy. I expect myself to retire from traveling sooner or […]

  9. […] As I said, for us to talk about traveling, we must talk about money. […]

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