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Since January 2013 I have been able to travel long-term, either abroad or on the road without having to return to the normal working world. During that time, particularly as my blog has grown more popular in recent years, I’ve gotten questions from readers about how they too can follow in my footsteps to create a life that involves more travel, adventure, or is simply better aligned with their values or interests.
Enter the Super Simple 5-Step Secret Formula (SS5SSF) to Travel Long-Term
Oftentimes, these people seem to be looking for a secret or some little known trick that will allow them to do so as well… Unfortunately, there isn’t actually any secret formula, sorry about that!
But I do have a series of straight forward, simple steps (yes, five of them!) that you can take in order to free yourself from the 9-to-5 and do more of you what daydream of doing if you weren’t stuck at work.
While the steps are simple, they aren’t necessarily easy (an important distinction). The reality is, it will take a lot of effort and sacrifice in order to complete them all…
1. Destroy Debt
For many people in America, debt has become a fact of life. Something that they accumulate as they go to college, start their own independent lives, or just due to the consumerist mentality and keeping up with the Joneses.
Your options in life become infinitely smaller when you are stuck in debt, there is no way around that. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to save money, leave your job, start a business, go travel, or whatever. If it gets real bad, you’ll be trading many hours of your life each week at work to simply service the debt you’ve built (compare your true hourly wage with your interest payments).
Priority #1 for everybody should be to destroy their debt.
If you’re struggling in this regard, I would encourage you to pick up a book dedicated to this topic, like Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey (or any one of these other great financial literacy books).
If you can’t afford to buy a cheap book which will change your life and your relationship with money, then I guess it is time to beg, borrow, or steal it. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea… We’ve still got local libraries, right?
Read More: Conquer Debt Mountain
2. Save Money
That same effort you put into paying off your debt should be then redirected into building up your savings or travel fund. Don’t get too caught up in how much money you make per year and whether you think it is insufficient (we all think we need more, me too)… But focus on increasing the percentage of your income that you can save each month… Can you sock away 10% of your income? 25%? How about 50%?
This is a double-edged sword because not only does it make you reduce your monthly living expenses (and in turn embrace frugality and minimalism), but it also allows you to put more dollars in the bank, which translate directly into more time to travel, especially when you’ve become accustomed to living on a budget.
Every dollar you spend now is one dollar less you can travel.
Those dollars add up into weeks or months of less travel, especially if you take advantage of geoarbitrage and travel to countries where the dollar goes much, much further.
My rule of thumb is to plan on having at least $1,200 per month in order to travel on a budget (more on that later).
Read More: How to Save for a Trip
3. Quit Your Job
An easy trap to fall into during this save money process is the idea that you should “just save a little more” or “next year will be perfect”. It’s not unheard of for someone to fall forever into this line of thinking (I did too, until I lost my job) and you will find that it gets put off one year to the next until it never happens.
Yes, more money is always nice, but eventually you will have to make the leap. Set yourself a hard deadline once you reach a reasonable savings goal. Tell friends, family, or even strangers online, about what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do.
For most, this is the scariest step. Even if it’s something you think you really want, it can be difficult to step into the unknown and take this risk. You’ll find that the worst part is just ripping off the band-aid.
Read Next: Why Doing Hard Things Matters
4. Travel on the Cheap
Alright, now we’re getting to the fun part. First of all, long-term travel is not like a vacation. As we all know, vacations are expensive. That’s where you cram in everything you can within a one or two-week stretch of time to reward yourself for the other 50 weeks a year you spend working.
Vacations are expensive.
Long-term travel is actually fairly affordable. In most cases, a life of full-time travel can be had for less money than you are spending at home and living your current lifestyle. Totally crazy, yes, but I spend way less money traveling full-time than I did while living in Washington D.C. and working full-time.
If you embraced frugality and minimalism during the saving process (Step 2), you also know that you can get by with much less without really missing the things you gave up to save money… You’re not suffering, in other words, and many are often happier living frugally rather than living maxed out in debt, and one bad move away from sending the house of cards crumbling. This entire effect is even more pronounced while traveling.
Getting started with travel hacking can also allow you to get international flights for free or even nights at luxury hotels for free. There are plenty of other tactics that long-term travelers use in order to travel cheap, ranging from VanLife (in my case, truck camping), to house sitting, and beyond.
I even wrote a book called Big Travel, Small Budget about the best tactics to save big bucks and live well (so no, none of that sleeping on the couches of strangers).
Read More: How to Travel the World on a Budget
5. Earn More Money
At the most basic level, long-term travel will only last as long as you have savings in the bank. Therefore, using the expenses talked about above, if you have $7,200 in savings then you can expect to travel for approximately six months. Then you’d be forced to head back home and find a job.
But if you start earning money on the side while traveling, even a fairly small amount, then the calculations can begin to change dramatically…
Let’s say you start earning $300 per month while traveling, that means that you could travel for 8 months on the same amount of savings… A whole two extra months. If you can bump it up to $600 per month, then you’ve doubled the length of your trip to an entire year.
I created an interactive side hustle calculator which allows you to input your own savings amount, estimated expenses, and side hustle income to provide you with a clearer picture of its power.
You could always look for simple jobs upon arriving somewhere, whether it is working in a hostel, a bar, seasonal or temp work, or whatever, which is a strategy that travelers have used for generations. But in the modern, Internet-based world, it is much easier to find these side hustle jobs online, which can be done from anywhere in the world and which travel with you as you hop from destination to destination (so you don’t have to search for something else every time you move).
Freelance writing has been the main side hustle I employ (read more about how I get paid to travel the world), but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different kinds of freelance jobs which can be performed online. You don’t need any special degrees or qualifications online either (and no one cares about your socioeconomic background, where you went to school, your age, gender, sexual identity, or anything else), you just need to be able to deliver what the client needs and at a price that is within their budget.
The long-term goal in this step is to not only reach the point where your side hustle earnings cover your expenses completely (and thus no longer needing to touch your savings to travel), but to reach the point where you’re actually earning above and beyond your travel expenses and can increase your savings, invest, or plan for the future. This is a step that allows you to go forever, or simply have a security blanket for when you stop traveling, settle down, and look for a “real job”.
Read More: 40+ Side Hustles to Earn More Money
There is No Secret Formula to Travel Long-Term
So, yeah, sorry, there is no secret formula or shortcut to do this without putting in the hard work. The steps are all very straight forward and simple, but they aren’t always easy to achieve.
For most people the process of going from Step 1 to Step 5 can take years.
Some people may take years to get past Step 1.
Steps 1, 3, and 5 tend to be the most difficult for most people. If you can do Step 1, Step 2 is basically more of the same. Step 4 also isn’t really that hard in practice, most just think it’s impossible until they actually get out there doing it and start traveling.
That whole “you can do anything you want” idea is pretty real for most everyone reading this, it’s just that we can’t do everything we want.
You could drive a luxury car, you could travel the world, you could own a big house, you could go out to bars and restaurants every night with friends, etc… Any one of those things is fairly easily achievable for most in America, but trying to have ALL of them is where things often go wrong, and we end up with none of them. But I’m convinced that most of us have the means to pursue a life of travel if we really want it.
Don’t spread yourself thin, focus with laser-like intensity on what is important to you.
If you want to quit your job to travel, then make it a priority. Save everything you can, sell everything you don’t need, stop wasting money on things that don’t matter to you or get you closer to your goal, stop buying things and start investing in self-education so you can earn more money as a side hustle which you can continue while you travel the world.
Each of the above steps are pretty simple, but it’s up to you to actually make them a priority and make it happen.
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