Money Diary: How One Woman Quit Her Job To Travel The World

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennial women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar. (Thanks, New York mag, for the inspiration.)

Today, a former New York woman traveling the world for 11 months, currently eating her way through Malaysia.
Photo: Getty Images.
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Industry: Food writing/wandering the earth. I am a food writer who quit her job working for a New York restaurant group last year and has spent the past nine and a half months traveling. (I am a cliché, I know.)

Age: 25

Location: Anywhere I want to be, but currently Malaysia. So far I've spent four months in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, two months in southeast China, one month in Vietnam, one month in Myanmar, and one month in Thailand. I am currently spending two weeks in Malaysia before flying to Indonesia for one final month. After Indonesia I will be going back to the United States and have no idea what I’m going to do after that.

Salary: I have no salary. I worked and saved for one and a half years. I made $42,000 a year, which broke down to $2,336 a month after taxes, and monthly expenses were rent ($865), utilities ($35), and my monthly Metrocard ($112). I aimed to put away $1,000 a month, leaving me with $326 to spend on everything else. Working in restaurants meant I saved on food by eating at work, but the strict budget was still pretty painful to stick to at times. At the end, I had $14,000 and change saved, at which point I subleased my apartment and moved home for a bit to save that rent money and to get everything in order. Getting back my apartment deposit of $1,730 at the end, right before I left, was a big help, too!

Savings (Current Amount): $8,447.72. I left home with $16,307.16 in my various accounts and have spent $11,219.44 so far (I track every cent that I spend). This amount is for everything: food, booze, shelter, buses, replacement shoes, sunscreen, souvenirs, as well as all flights, visas, and $700 worth of scuba-dive training. Over the course of my travels, I’ve earned $2,500 from my freelance writing and got a much-appreciated tax return of $860.
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0
Loan Payments: $0 (I am very lucky not to have any student loans!)
Utilities: $0
Transportation: $0
Phone Bill: $0
Health Insurance: $0 (I am still young enough to be on my parents' plan)
Spotify: $9.99

Day One – Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

9:30 a.m. — Wake up and go downstairs to the guesthouse’s reception for some free tea and toast. Decide to accompany a group of fellow travelers to the National Park that afternoon. I know I won’t be leaving Georgetown today, so I re-up my bed at the guesthouse for the night. The guesthouse has hot water, Wi-Fi, and A/C, and for the night costs $7.68.

11 a.m. — Walk a few blocks to Little India for more food. (I am a hungry person.) Get a banana leaf thali plate and a mango lassi without sugar. The thali comes with unlimited refills, so obviously I get seconds. Cost for lunch: $2.41

11:30 a.m. — On my way back to the guesthouse, I stop at a halal food market to buy some snacks for the park. I unintentionally begin an hour of tasting dates with the store’s owner and end up walking away with a quarter kilo of some higher-end Mariami dates. $2.23

12:30 p.m. — Meet my guesthouse friends at the bus stop to head to the park, buying a water bottle while we wait ($0.71). The bus fare is $0.96 and takes us straight to Taman Negara Pulau Pinang. We spend the next few hours hiking in the park, swimming at monkey beach (yes, there were monkeys), and visiting the sea-turtle conservation center. At the end of the day, we stop for some passionfruit juice ($1.20) and then hop on that same bus back into town ($0.96). Total for an afternoon in the park: $3.83

7 p.m. — We are famished by the time we get back to Georgetown, and so we head straight to a street stall for dinner. I order a bowl of laksa (Chinese/Malay noodle soup), two popiah (a Southeast Asian fresh spring roll), and pineapple juice. The popiah are really tasty, so I go ahead and order two more. Cost for dinner: $2.93

9:30 p.m. — Too tired after a day at the park to do anything else. After a much-needed shower, I curl up in bed to read on my Kindle until I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $19.08


Day Two – Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

9 a.m. — Get out of bed and get more free tea and toast. Re-up my bed again for tonight ($7.68) and do a crossword. I walk over to the nearby 7-Eleven and buy another water bottle ($0.71). Total: $8.39

10 a.m. — Head out to Georgetown to look at the street art and browse some boutiques. The neighborhood is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for its art scene, so I figure this would be a good place to buy souvenirs and gifts for people. I end up getting a pack of postcards of the street art ($1.44) and splurge on a very nicely painted tiffin lunch box that I swear I will use one day ($14.40). In between all the shopping, I get hungry and head to Little India for a vegetable biryani set and ginger juice ($2.69). Total: $18.53

2 p.m. — I’m tired from all the walking, so I find a nice café to rest at for a while. I order an iced nutmeg juice ($0.36) and read my book for a bit. As I head back to my guesthouse an hour later, I grab a cone of durian soft serve ($0.96). Total: $1.32

3 p.m. — I rest at the hostel for a while and take the time to do some work. I still have some of the dates from yesterday, so I snack on them as I do research and catch up on emails.

6:30 p.m. — I head out to dinner with a group of people from the guesthouse. We go to a dim sum place and share 12 dishes and three liters of beer between the four of us. We split the check four ways. Cost of dinner: $3.12.

Daily Total: $31.36

Day Three – Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

9 a.m. — Wake up, grab tea and toast, and pay for my bus ticket to head to Cameron Highlands, an agricultural area southeast of Penang. Bus with pick-up is $10.32.

10:30 a.m. — Head out for an early lunch in Little India again. Get a masala dosa and a chai ($0.96). After my meal, I take one last walk through Georgetown, grabbing some Indian sweets, a bag of peanuts, and a fresh mango as snacks for my ride ($1.20). Total: $2.16

12:30 p.m. — Bus pick-up at 12:30 sharp, as promised, and I start my journey south.

9:30 p.m. — Finally arrive in the Cameron Highlands. What was supposed to be a six-hour journey became a nine-hour one due to a flat tire and bad traffic. But I still arrived! I immediately start my hunt for a guesthouse (for convenience and price, I’ve stopped booking things, including accommodation, in advance). I have good luck at the first place I stop and grab the last bed available for $7.20.

10 p.m. — The guesthouse owner invites me to a Bengali dinner he just cooked. He says it's free, but I give him a little money to cover his costs. Myself, two German girls, a Vietnamese couple, and the guesthouse owner all eat and lounge on the kitchen floor for the next hour or so until we head to bed. $2.40

Daily Total: $22.08

Day Four – Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

8:30 a.m. — Wake up and partake in some of the toast and tea that is also free at this guesthouse. I have my bed for the night again and pay another $7.20. Chat with people for a while and decide with an Australian couple to trek on Trail 1 later that day. We plan to leave by 11. $7.20

10:30 a.m. — I go out and buy some snacks for the day’s hike: coconut-fried peanuts, more dates, fresh bananas, and a liter of water. $5.18

11:30 a.m. — We finally get ourselves together and leave the guesthouse by 11:30. The trailhead is about 6 km away, so we hitchhike to the bottom and begin walking. The 3.5 km trail is steep, at times almost a sheer vertical through the jungle that involves lots of mud and ropes and upper-body strength. After an hour and a half, we reach the top and are greeted by a lovely viewpoint and mist-filled mossy forests. We rest for a while and take some pictures.

3 p.m. — We head back down on the road and it takes us through a tea planation, one of the crops the Cameron Highlands are famous for. We stop at the café in the center of the plantation and enjoy a very soothing cup of tea with a scone ($1.54). It starts to rain almost the moment we leave the café, but not a minute later a Malaysian family lets us pile into the back of their car and drives us back to town. They also invite us to go strawberry picking with them, which we accept. I proceed to pick and eat a whole lot of free strawberries. $1.54

5:30 p.m. — We are still a few kilometers away from our guesthouse at the end of the strawberry picking, and after saying goodbye to the kind family, we start walking again in the rain. Within a minute, another car stops and picks us up, driven by a Malaysian girl who lives just around the corner from where we are staying.

6 p.m. — We are famished, so after returning to the guesthouse and dropping off our wet stuff, we immediately head to a restaurant for dinner. I order a thali, a biryani, and a mango lassi. $3.84

7 p.m. — Back at the guesthouse for a shower and to hang out. I play cards and then read a bit, nodding off by 10.

Daily Total: $17.76


Day Five – Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

9 a.m. — Out of bed and grab some free toast with blueberry jam and tea. Pay for my bed for one last night, still $7.20.

10 a.m. — The new folks at the guesthouse are all doing the trail I did yesterday, so I decide to head out on my own to visit the two other tea plantations nearby. The first one I walk to by myself and take a few pictures. I continue down the road to the next plantation and eventually manage to hitch a ride with an older Malaysian couple, who go out of their way to drop me off at the plantation entrance. (Thank you!) I spend the next few hours hiking around the beautiful tea plantation, the biggest one in the Cameron Highlands.

2 p.m. — I share what remains of my snacks from yesterday with two Norwegian couples who are also hiking the planation. They have a car and agree to take me back to Tanah Rata, the town where my guesthouse is. I arrive just minutes before it starts raining again, but manage to buy myself another water bottle before the downpour starts. $0.60

5 p.m. — I head to dinner with the Syrian guy who is volunteering at the guesthouse. We head to an all-you-can-eat South Indian buffet and go to town. Total cost for dinner is $2.52.

8 p.m. — After heading back to the guesthouse and catching up on a few emails, a group of us decide to head down to the local bar for some drinks. I end up getting two beers and a cocktail and am out until 1 a.m. $2.40

Daily Total: $12.72


Day Six – Cameron Highlands to Taman Negara, Malaysia

7:30 a.m. — Get my slightly hungover self out of bed, pack my bag and head down to the bus station by 8 a.m. I paid for my bus/boat to Taman Negara, one of the biggest and most famous national parks in Malaysia, the night before. It was $15.60.

8:15 a.m. — The bus leaves Cameron Highlands and it’s a three-hour journey to the ferry town where we need to catch the boat. We stop for a break in between, and I buy crackers and an energy drink. $1.75

11:30 a.m. — We arrive to the jetty, get our transfer tickets, pay our park fees ($1.44), and hang out until the boat leaves at 1:30. I grab a lunch of nasi goreng (fried rice) at a nearby restaurant ($1.44) and pass the time talking to a Malaysian girl visiting the park from Kuala Lumpur. $2.88

1:30 p.m. — All aboard for the boat trip through the rainforest and into the national park! We arrive around 4 p.m., at which point I disembark, get a small briefing about the park, then hop on a free shuttle to a guesthouse that looks promising. They have room available, and I book a bed for the night for $6.

6 p.m. — After catching up on emails and other internet things, I wander into town to grab dinner. Ramadan has just started, so there is only one restaurant open this early, and it’s on the pricier side. I order the special of the day, which is an Indian/Malay vegetable banana leaf, and a pineapple juice. Despite my trepidation about the cost, the food is fantastic! I even chat with the chef for a while, and after I tell him how I can’t put down my current book, he gifts me the book he has just finished for my next read. The cost for this meal, book included, is $5.52.

Daily Total: $31.75

Day Seven – Taman Negara, Malaysia

10 a.m. — I sleep through my alarm and finally rouse myself around 10. (I guess I needed the sleep!) Ready myself for the day, make sure I still have my bed for the night ($6), and then walk to the boat dock, grabbing two mangosteens, a pack of crackers, and a water bottle along the way ($1.44). The national park is across the river from where I’m staying, and I pay $0.24 for a boat taxi across. $7.68

11 a.m. — The boat ride is maybe a minute long, but I manage to make friends with the only other person on board, an Australian girl also traveling alone. We set off into the park together and hike around the rainforest for a couple of hours, spotting two troupes of monkeys and a pair of blue-headed birds we can’t name. In the afternoon, we head to a beach along the river to swim and snack and lounge amongst the butterflies.

5 p.m. — Head back to my guesthouse, taking the taxi to the other side once more. $0.24

7 p.m. — I loaf around reading my book until I am hungry and head to a restaurant nearby with the two Argentinian girls in my room and order friend noodles, fruit salad, and a pineapple juice. $4.08

9 p.m. — I’m even more tired from today’s hiking, so I decline to join my new friends for a drink, deciding to head to bed instead. One more day in the park tomorrow, and then off to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur the day after!

Daily Total: $12
Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women’s experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.


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