Travel on a budget: clothing and necessities

At Humantay Lake with my 50 cent rain pants.

I’m always asked one question over and over again, “How do you have the money to travel so much?” I also recently did a highly-scientific poll (aka asked all my friends on Facebook), what it is that keeps them from traveling, and the number 1 reason is money. For some reason people have it in their brains that traveling is insanely expensive. There are definitely cheaper hobbies, but unless you’re planning on traveling in the style of the Kardashians, anyone can afford to travel. Over the years I’ve developed many different strategies for saving and making money to pay for this hobby of mine, and today I will talk about a big one: thrifting.

Thrift store finds to save for travel.

I love fashion. I love getting dressed up. I love buying new clothes. I love following instagrammers like Aimee Song, Olivia Palermo, and Camila Coelho. But I’m also a realist and know I could never afford any of the things those people are peddling. What I can afford is to be super creative with thrift store finds.

LL Bean Hoodie and Eddie Bauer Polartec pants for 50 cents each!

When I lived in Kansas City I found out the Salvation Army stores had 50 cent Mondays. This meant that all tags of a certain color were only FIFTY CENTS! Y’all I would walk out with trash bags full of treasures every week! Eventually, as my closet and dresser overflowed, I started to get more selective, and now I always have a list of specific items I’m looking for before I go in - because yes, even though I now live 3 hours from Kansas City, I still drive up there every few months to go wild at Salvation Army on a Monday. When shopping, my rule is that the item has to be on my list, and it has to be one of the fifty cent items - I don’t even look at anything with a different colored tag unless I find an item I’ve already been searching months for, or if I’m looking for a specific item for a trip I’m taking very soon.

Finding travel gear at thrift stores saves tons!

When I found out I was going to do The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, I knew that I was going to need some very specific hiking clothes, such as: moisture-wicking base layer shirts, rain repellent pants, a fleece jacket, and long john type pants to wear over leggings. So with list in hand, I took a trip to KC, and was able to find everything at Salvation Army, and spent less than $5! Both the rain pants, and the long john pants were by Eddie Bauer, and the fleece was LL Bean - all in excellent condition.

A couple years ago I was reading all these articles about how airlines were going to start charging for carry-on bags. Luckily this hasn’t really caught on in the states yet, but it has caught on in some of the budget airlines in Europe. Basically you can’t put a bag in the overhead bin for free anymore, but you can put something under the seat in front of you. With this in mind, I was on a mission to find a roller bag that fit the new measurements. After a couple weeks of searching every Goodwill and DAV within a 20 mile radius, I found one! (And then I proceeded to pack it with 9 days worth of stuff for a trip to Greece, and it was perfect.) I think I spent $5.99. The cheapest I’ve seen one of that size at TJ Maxx is $39.99.

Another time, I was searching for a small black backpack. I just wanted something super simple that I could dress up or down, and be small enough not to be in the way of my getting down in the club, but large enough to carry all my beach essentials. After a few weeks of searching, again Goodwill came through for me. I found a real leather backpack that fit my beach towel, a bottle of water, my cell phone, money, keys, a book, and sunblock, but was so small people always thought I was Mary Poppins when they watched me pull everything out of it. It cost me a whopping $9.99, and served me well for at least 3 years of carrying it almost every single day. (I’m devastated to say that I had to leave it behind in Argentina because the handles completely ripped out of it after I packed it way too full for a 3 hour bike ride. RIP little backpack, you were the best there ever was. I was sure to thank it for its service, Marie Kondo style.)

The best little black backpack for traveling!

In addition to finding items I need for travel, I also find items that save me money to do more traveling. I’m required to wear tennis shoes when waiting tables, and I always manage to find some at Salvation Army, instead of having to buy them new. Each time a pair wears out, I go and find another one - always a different brand or color, but always my size, and always brand new, or at least looking brand new. My absolute fave was a brand new pair of New Balance trail running shoes. I got TONS of compliments on them, and they were $4.99. (While looking for an image to share with you, since I don’t have mine anymore, I saw that multiple people are selling them for $65! Aren’t they rad?!)

new balance.

Aside from saving me money on items I’m going to have to buy anyway, getting most of my clothes at thrift stores helps me keep a more organized closet. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but when I’m only spending fifty cents on each item, it is sooooooo much easier to get rid of something than it would be had I spent fifty dollars on it. So basically any time I buy something, I make myself get rid of something I don’t use or wear much anymore, and then everything remains in balance.

Of course there are times too that Goodwill and Salvation Army let me down, and I can’t find something I need so I have to go to a regular store and buy it, but honestly, that’s rare. In the end I can’t even begin to fathom how much money I have saved by shopping at thrift stores - at least enough for multiple trips to Europe, I’m sure, so I always suggest looking at thrift stores first when you have specific items in mind you’re looking for!

Thoughts on thrifting? What’s the best thrifting deal you’ve scored?