I don’t mind when people curiously ask me, “So what did you have to do in order to live this lifestyle?” I do however mind when people make the ignorant claim, “You’re so lucky you get to travel.”
I’ve been asked by my own family members, friends, and people I’ve met while traveling the same question, so I figure it’s time I dive into an honest, detailed response.
First of all, it’s not luck. I’m not living off a trust fund that Daddy gave me. The job fairy didn’t magically appear and give Chris his own company, skills, and customers. To call it luck belittles all the decisions, preparation, and planning dedicated to making it all happen. As a female minority with immigrant parents living in the United States, the only luck I have is my birth in this country to have the passport I have and fluency in the most popular language in the world. So that’s my luck: U.S. citizenship and fluency in English. Almost all of my friends are pretty damn lucky.
It all comes down to lifestyle choices and 5 major milestones:
- Don’t have debt.
In my early 20’s, I never made the common mistake of hitching myself to a short-lasting career that would require hundreds of thousands of dollars for years of law, business, medical, or graduate education. Many of my friends who went to graduate school are currently attached to a ball and chain of debt well into their 30’s and regretting their career choices. While working I also never blew my credit card on shopping sprees, crazy parties, or cars; the idea of filling my small home with more useless shit pains me. Many Americans are hoarders, and many Americans love to waste money on frivolous material crap. I only had $10,000 in debt from my undergraduate studies, which I paid off at 23. Debt forces you to work more hours, not so that you can decrease your debt, but so that you can create more debt. Once I had zero debt, I was FREE. Forget anything else, forget that stupid ring or wedding or house or new sofa. Your #1 goal should be to pay off that debt instead of racking up more debt! (Or if you’re lucky unlike me, you can ask your rich parents to help you with your debt.)
2. Spend less.
I often hear people say, “The solution isn’t to spend less money. The solution is to make more money.” I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement for the average American because the truth is that the more money you make, the more money you spend. And if you keep spending more money, you’re never going to have more money. The only way to have more money is to make more…and spend less. I’ve saved enough money to travel for several years, and I am currently living off of my personal savings and investment income. I love to cook, and I also don’t drink, and that alone saves me hundreds of dollars per month. The less I spend, the more money I will have in order to travel longer, hence my enthusiasm for budget traveling.
- Leave the job.
Unless you’re Chris and you’ve established your own name and company and can work part-time from the road anywhere in the world, it is impossible to leave a regular office job if you have tons of debt. Having a high-paying job and high bills are intertwined into this never-ending vicious cycle of American misery…work more to pay for all this shit you don’t need. Other than that malicious debt, what else do you need that job for? Food, water, shelter? Those are hell of a lot cheaper oversees. Once you’ve broken free from the brutal cycle of debt, it is easy to bid farewell to the biggest time suck of your life: your damn job. Don’t get me wrong. Not every job sucks. I left an amazing dream job that I loved because I was over the 9-5 office thing and I wanted to prioritize traveling.
- Sell the car.
I’m going to assume you own a car because almost 90% of Americans own a car. I don’t care how much you love your car; if you’re going to be traveling internationally for an extended period of time, you don’t need your car. And once you return and you’re ready to live a “normal” life again and need a car, you can always get back into your cycle of debt for a car. Or, commute by bicycle and public transportation. There’s nothing I love more than riding my bike and reading/catching up on errands on the bus or train. (If you’re the type who wouldn’t be caught dead on a bike or public transportation, then long-term travel isn’t for you.) It was difficult to give up my beautiful, yellow Honda S2000 (I loved that car!) but I got $18,500 for it. And 5+ months in Southeast Asia only cost me $6,000…
- Move out, rent out your house, or sublease your apartment.
The point is you don’t want to be paying rent or mortgage while you’re gone. Along with debt, rent/mortgage is the main reason why you have a job in the first place! The easiest solution, though not always possible, is to just sell everything and move out. Bam. No attachments. I’ve heard of people selling their homes or even renting out their house. (Don’t trust strangers? Then international, long-term travel probably isn’t for you.) Chris and I ended up subleasing our apartment for two reasons: we like to return to San Francisco for periods at a time before embarking on our next adventure, and it would be stupid to give up our rent-controlled apartment in a beautiful neighborhood in San Francisco. The San Francisco rental market is so fucked up we wouldn’t be able to find let alone afford a new place once we returned from our travels. Our 2-bedroom apartment is rented out as a furnished 1-bedroom with “sometimes roommates.” While we are gone our roommate pays for 2/3 of the rent, and Chris and I split the other third to keep our bedroom and all our crap there. When we are all there together, we split the rent evenly 3 ways. Yes, it’s quite the hassle, but to us having a place in San Francisco to return to is worth it.
One huge bonus that makes traveling easier is travel hacking. Learn to travel hack. Read www.thepointsguy.com and www.millionmilessecrets.com, learn to game the system, save thousands of dollars on flights, and travel luxuriously. Thanks to credit card sign up bonuses I’ve flown international first and business class flights from San Francisco to Hanoi, Hong Kong to Tokyo, Tokyo to San Francisco, San Francisco to Santiago, and Quito to San Salvador all for no more than $120 for each flight. If you plan on traveling internationally for at least a year, it would be a shame not to take advantage of a system so easy to pick up.
Simply put, I paid off and never racked any more debt, spent less to save more money, left my job, sold my car, subleased my apartment, and travel hacked. If you do all that, you can live my lifestyle, assuming you don’t have any major baggage (children, health issues, family commitments, etc.). This process takes years, and it is not easy. Deciding to travel also wasn’t easy; it’s not like I wanted to run away from a life of misery. I left a job many dream to have, I bid farewell to many amazing friends, and I put my love for triathlons, skydiving, and cooking/baking on hold to pursue several years of life travel. Once you make travel a priority, you will find yourself knocking out each to-do one by one, and everything will gradually fall into place.
Long-term travel is not rocket science. People have been doing this for who knows how long, and with technology in this day and age (internet access, apps, etc.) I feel like I have no excuse to not do what I’m doing. Traveling is so damn easy now, comparatively. I’ve met and befriended world travelers over the past 1.5 years, both singles and couples alike. Not one of us is lucky. We’ve all just made similar lifestyle choices.