When you realize people die with the regret of not doing more, it drives you to live life to the fullest. Even before death, if I waited until I was retired to hike the Annapurna Circuit, would my health be guaranteed? If I waited 50 years to see the glaciers in Torres Del Paine National Park, would they still be there? Who knows. Walk into an old folks home and have a conversation with someone who’s time is running short. By the time you leave, you will be ready to make shit happen.
I want to travel and I am doing everything I can to make that happen.
In 2015, with a wild idea in my head, I resigned from my job to travel the world for five months. Now, almost 2 years and 17 countries later, I am still on the road. Something inside keeps pushing me to keep going, keep exploring.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
I always get asked how I pay this wild adventure. Hearing my stories and seeing photos of exotic places makes it look expensive. Perception vs. reality. It’s not that expensive to travel long term (or permanently) and there are a lot of opportunities to work abroad.
I also have a trick or two that save me a lot of money.
As a backpacker or traveler, my life is simple. No mortgage, no car payment, no cable bill. No need for that new gaming system or latest million inch TV. Forget the new couch and recliner. Everything I use on a daily basis is in my backpack. Simplicity.
Free Airline Tickets
A few years before I began this trip, I started earning airlines miles to use towards free flights. Now I didn’t just get one card and put all of my daily expenses on it. I got multiple and collected all of the bonus miles. After taking 4 free flights, I got the hang of the point system and by the time I left for this trip, I had 3 free international flights waiting to be used! It truly surprises me when people think they are maximizing the power of their credit cards by earning a “mile for every dollar”. It is easy to earn the bonus, then cancel the card, get a new card and repeat. I rack up the miles and get free flights without spending a dollar in interest or annual fees.
Now, this isn’t for everyone, you must be good at managing your money and obviously have the means to pay them off every month. If you are paying interest, or fees, the credit card company is winning.
I keep a close eye on my money and expenses but that doesn’t mean I pass up great experiences simply because I will go over budget. In most Asian countries, I spent about $30 per day, sometimes more, sometimes less. Excluded from this is the cost of big activities, like getting my SCUBA certification in Koh Tao, Thailand. (SSI certification and 4 days accommodation for less than $250, not bad eh?)
One piece of advice I always give is to download a money management app like Mint, sync your accounts and after a month, analyze your spending and you may be surprised where your money is going.
Traveling in cheap countries
My first 7 months of this adventure were in Asia where prices are much cheaper than back home in the USA. Imagine being able to travel for $30 per day. The truth is, that’s about all it takes to travel on a budget and sometimes even less. I traveled in India for an average of $20 per day. I may not have been staying at a five-star resort but a nice hostel can be found for $3-$5 per night with great atmosphere and travel community. I also ate curry and naan bread until I simply couldn’t eat it anymore. But, I still dream about the food in India.
I have slept in many interesting places ranging from an airport floor to one of the most expensive hotels in Sydney at $1000+ per night (free of course, gotta love those rewards). But most of the time I stay in cheap hostels, guest houses and hotels with the occasional AirBnb when the price is right. Even though I say “cheap” that doesn’t mean it’s the Bates Motel, it’s more of a comparison to the prices back home.
I once stayed in a hostel for $5 per night, it included a buffet breakfast, free beer for an hour a night and on Tuesdays, the tattoo parlor gave free tattoos for guest. I miss Vietnam.
Although hostels are not very popular in the US, around the world they are incredible. Get rid of that Lonely Planet book, the social community in a hostel is where you can learn about the area and what to do. It’s like a live travel blog sitting right in your living room and the information you can get from your peers is invaluable. I have also met many amazing people in hostels who have become great friends!
In Asia, going out to eat was so inexpensive that I don’t think I cooked more than a couple of meals in the 7 months I was there. $2 bought the best curry I have ever tasted when I was in India. $1 bought me a massive bowl of fresh Pho in Vietnam many of times (And 20 cents bought a beer!). Of course, there are many fancy restaurants that are much more expensive but why bother when the small local restaurant is packed with LOCALS? It’s an easy choice when the idea is to taste the local flavor which is usually much different than the westernized versions. And then there is street food, simply awesome and perhaps my favorite place to get a meal. If it’s busy, it’s safe. That’s my rule!
There is nothing like taking a seat in a kid size red plastic chair on the sidewalk and eating a delicious meal while watching the world go by.
My first experience with working abroad came out of nowhere. I was in Jodhpur, India on the roof of a hostel when I received a phone call asking if I would like to be an extra in a film. Without knowing any details, I accepted. Next thing I knew I was outside of the Umaid Bhawan Palace being dressed for the BBC film “The Viceroy’s House”. It didn’t pay much cash in US standard, but food and accommodation were also paid for and the experience was priceless.
Then, after 7 months backpacking across 10 Asian countries, I was ready to get into a routine and work for a while, but not ready to go home. So, I applied for a Working Holiday Visa for Australia. Within a month, I went from Vietnam to Sydney, Australia and began working construction. I earned about $27 an hour to work a construction job with little commitment. I could take off and travel for a few months, come back and go straight to work.
For three months I was working in a 15 million dollar apartment that overlooked the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. A couple weeks later I was working on a house next to Prime Minister Turnbull’s home. It’s hard to believe really, but there are heaps of opportunities in Australia. By the time I was ready to leave I had put an extra 10k in my bank and had a plane ticket to Mexico. (A FREE ticket of course)
Blogging can be a great way to bring in extra income and negotiate influencer discounts while traveling as well. Although it is not easy to make money blogging, if you enjoy writing and sharing your experiences with others then it really isn’t much work anyways!
Read my simple guide on How To Start A Travel Blog
Where I am now
My journey since has led me down into South America where I am currently hiking in the Patagonian Mountains past massive glacial ice fields. The other day I watched a building size chunk of ice, 230ft high, break off and crash into the water.
This is the energy that keeps me going.
How you can get started:
The big hold up, money. If you don’t have money saved, try earning a free flight and fly to Australia or New Zealand with a Working Holiday Visa to work and travel for a year. Maybe teach English in Thailand, South Korea or Vietnam. There are so many opportunities available. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be making several thousand a month, it’s much cheaper as a traveler in the right areas.
See where you can travel with that beautiful free ticket.
Compare destinations, check your budget, see what’s possible.
No savings? Find a job in a foreign country and work & travel at the same time.