Well, we saved...saved...and saved some more. We're not trust fund babies, there's no inheritance, and we didn't win the lottery. We both had good jobs and once we decided to focus on travel, we found it easy to live a frugal lifestyle.
LIVING ON ONE SALARY
We decided that we could completely live off of Brenton's salary as a firefighter (which wouldn't make anyone rich). There were sacrifices to make this work, but it meant that all of Shannon's salary as a nurse would go into the trip fund. Anytime unexpected money came in, we immediately put it in the trip fund and forgot it was there.
We had a friend move in to split the rent and utilities. We avoided expensive bar tabs and eating out as much as possible. We tried to keep up our social life by inviting friends over for drinks or potluck dinners. We haven't had cable TV in years, but that's usually first to go when budgeting for this lifestyle. Sadly, we did have to stop our regular movie dates at The Alamo Drafthouse. Shannon picked up a second job for a few months and Brenton did odd jobs on the side, even bartering services by building websites for people during free time. We stopped going on unnecessary trips unless we absolutely had to go for a wedding or funeral. This was pretty difficult with our families living on opposite corners of the country, but no one said sacrifice would be easy!
We had to look at every potential purchase in a different way. Of course there's the NEED vs. WANT dilemma, but we also asked ourselves "will we use this on our trip?" or "what could I use this money for in South America?". Usually these questions give us the strength to put down that tempting Justin Beiber poster without spending a dime...there will be plenty of time for regretful purchases after the trip.
PAY OFF DEBT
Luckily we had no debt aside from Shannon's student loans. We could not get them deferred so our options were to pay them off completely or simply continue payments.
We decided to put Brenton's retirement funds into an account and set it up for automatic payments to pay for Shannon's student loans while we're away. The retirement fund will also be there as an emergency "life relocation fund" to fall back on after the trip...at least until we find employment. I know Clark Howard and any sane person would advise against this but we're not waiting until retirement to live our lives. Rather than let the retirement sit in a doubtful market we'd rather invest in Honduran police bribes and bungee jumping in sketchy third-world countries. We've decided a better retirement plan is to have 12 children and guilt them all into supporting us when we're tired, old and broke. At least we'll have interesting stories to drive them crazy with.