Picture this: you’re on a tiny island off the eastern coast of Thailand. You’ve been snorkelling at spectacular coral reefs swirling with tropical fishes, ate the best Pad Thai you’ve ever had, and now… it’s time for a nap. You find yourself a hammock—and as the sound of the waves gently lulls you to sleep, you dream of all the wonderful places you still have left to see.
Sounds nice, right?
But instead, you’re stuck behind your desk kicking yourself for not taking the leap when you had the chance. Arrggh!
Traveling long-term can be one of the most rewarding things you do in your life. Sadly, it’s all too easy to say you’ll do it “someday” and never actually do it. I know all too well, because for a long time this was me!
Having since traveled long-term and gained some of the most unforgettable memories of my life, I want to encourage anyone to also take the leap. Setting off on a big journey might not be easiest at first, but the rewards are completely worth it.
Here’s how you can take the leap and travel for many months or even years.
Step 1: Find your opportunity
The biggest obstacle for many people is to actually find the time to travel. Most of us are locked into 9-to-5 schedules with only limited holiday allowance.
If you’re lucky, you might find a travel opportunity just land on your lap!
For me, such an opportunity came when I was laid off back in 2012. One morning, everyone at my workplace received an envelope, each with one of two possible messages inside. My envelope was of the ‘short end of the straw’ kind. I had been let go in a mass layoff… my heart sunk.
It was terrible news, though thankfully it came with a severance offer. I quickly realized that this was my chance: I now had the money and the time to travel. Later I concluded I was very unhappy with my job anyway, so the situation had been a blessing in disguise.
Of course, maybe such a golden opportunity won’t come to you on a platter. In that case, you’ll have to create your own.
This means you’ll have to be willing to let go of your usual day-to-day life for a while. If you have few commitments at home, this will definitely be easier. If you’re deep into career or family mode, it might mean having to work up the courage to step off the hamster wheel.
I know that being a career hamster can be nice, comforting even. But if you want to travel far and wide, it’s likely you’ll need to quit your job or put your life on hold. Break free of the cage and be that travel hamster you’ve always wanted to be!
There may be other options to consider though. For example, a travel buddy of mine was able to take 9 unpaid months off thanks to a slow period in her organization. It was a win-win: the company could reduce overhead for a while, and she could have her old job back after her world trip was over.
There are also many types of jobs that let you travel, including digital nomad jobs, or ‘analog’ jobs you can do in travel locations around the world.
If such lucky opportunities don’t exist for you, the only way may be to simply save up some money and then hit the eject button. Remember that many people regret not having traveled in their lives, but no one regrets having done it!
Step 2: Get the funds together
There are clickbait articles out there claiming you can ‘travel the world for free’, but the reality is that long term travel is going to cost at least something.
Luckily, travelling the world doesn’t have to cost the world. Having the discipline to set aside money to go into your travel fund is key, as is making smart choices about where and how to spend those funds.
I learned this from experience, managing to stretch my severance pay and some savings into paying for a 2-year round-the-world trip (the start of my 10+ year life of travel!). On average, I probably spent about $1000 per month. The trick is to pick your destinations wisely and to travel “like a traveler” rather than someone on a holiday who is always ready to splurge.
If you’re from a high-income country, you can save up relatively easily and get a lot of purchasing power elsewhere. If may seems obvious, many people don’t seem truly aware of this incredible opportunity! Some countries truly are amazingly cheap, while still being comfortable and safe to travel.
Even if you can’t afford to go somewhere super expensive like Switzerland or Fiji, at least you could travel to some more affordable destinations.
It’s difficult to talk raw numbers as everyone has a different travel style, but I took a shot anyway at answering how much it costs to travel for 1 year.
If you’re on a tight budget, learn how to travel cheaply. When you’re traveling long term, you can often use time to your advantage: with greater flexibility, you can travel in the off-season, go to cheaper or more remote places, and outsmart the average tourist on a shorter holiday.
Step 3: Decide on a type of long-term trip
Long term travel can take different forms. How you structure your trip will affect many things—from packing to budgeting to travel logistics—so it’s good to have a rough idea for what your trip will look like.
This usually involves slow-traveling overland by bus or train, following a continuous route through a country or region. For example, you might snake your way through each country in Southeast Asia in a more or less sequential way. This travel style can be particularly cheap as you’ll spend less money on flights and can avoid expensive cities. Here are some of the top backpacking routes around the world.
A round-the-world trip involves flying around the world either west-to-east or east-to-west, touching multiple continents along the way. Some airlines offer special RTW tickets, though there are several different ways to book a round-the-world trip. An RTW trip can be more costly due to the number of miles travelled (and the need to include certain countries), but it’s a great way to tick lots of items off your bucket list.
Remote workers often use more of a hub-and-spoke approach. Rather than following a continuous travel route, they might hop between specific places that have fast internet, good co-working facilities, and many other remote workers. For example, spending two months on Bali can lead to three months in Medellin and then onto two months on Gran Canaria—each time moving to the next fixed but temporary base. You can read more about how to become a digital nomad.
Each of these trips requires a different approach to planning. Having dabbled in all three, I would say that digital nomading is the trickiest to do if your goal is also to see the world, as the demands of working remotely can put many limitations on your trip. By far the best way is always to travel without having to work, though working as a digital nomad is surely the next best option.
Step 4: Downsize your life
If you’re going away for a long time, you’ll want to reduce your overhead at home as much as you can.
Sub-let or get rid of your place to live, sell stuff you don’t need, and cancel unneeded subscriptions. Forward your mail to a relative or a PO box.
Downsize as much as possible, then put your remaining belongings in storage. I didn’t get this part right when I first went on a big trip on a whim! I kept a whole bunch of IKEA furniture in self-storage (among other things), which meant I had to pay around €350 a month for storage space, creating a constant drain on my funds. I would have saved a ton by just selling and buying new furniture later.
Letting go is difficult, but for maximum freedom, it’s nice to let go of as much as you can, if only temporarily.
Step 5: Ignore the naysayers
Let’s face it, dropping what you’re doing to travel the world isn’t the norm.
Taking a gap year or sabbatical may be much more accepted in some countries (hello, Australia), though in many places it’s quite uncommon, and in a few it even often seems a little stigmatized (hello, United States).
Friends or family who haven’t done a trip themselves might question your plans, but you’ll need to stick to your guns and be a bit of a trailblazer. Keep in mind that once you’re on the road, you’re going to meet lots of people just like you, and suddenly your choices will not seem nearly so outlandish.
Months can pass between deciding you want to travel long-term and actually beginning on your journey. While you’re on your way to actually doing it, pay no heed to those giving you reasons to doubt, especially those who have not travelled extensively themselves.
Step 6: Take care and prepare
Good news: these days, you don’t need to be some kind of hardboiled adventurer type to travel long-term!
But it is true that it’s very different from just going on a holiday, and your preparation may be quite a bit more involved.
I think it pays off hugely to properly prepare for your trip. By prepare, I don’t mean planning every step of your journey in advance, because this is often impractical for a long trip. While it’s good to have a rough plan for places you want to visit, the detailed day-to-day travel logistics are usually much better to work out as you go.
However, it is very helpful to learn all about packing light, dealing with visas, travel health, safety, money and currency exchange, dealing with language barriers, and so many other things. Reading up on these topics before you go can help you avoid many rookie mistakes later.
While there’s a certain romance to the idea of jumping onto a last-minute flight with only a hastily packed suitcase, in reality it’s much better to think about the gear you’ll be bringing and knowing about all the practicalities of extended travel.
Step 7: Get over your fears and go!
When you first get the idea to travel, you’re super excited. I remember this clearly from when I first decided I wanted to do it.
You can easily picture yourself hopping from continent to continent, or backpacking your way through some far-flung part of the world.
In your mind, it all plays out like a big travel highlights sizzle reel. Every day, you wake up screaming “YOLOOOO!” and high-fiving yourself for the amazing adventure you’re going to have.
But after a while, that initial excitement turns into trepidation. The practical realities can easily feel overwhelming, and fear of the unknown can make you spiral into negative thoughts. I get emails from people all the time who also suddenly find themselves in that “oh shit, what am I doing?” phase.
Rest assured, this is entirely normal. The Swedish even have a word for this: Resfeber. It means “the tangled feelings of fear and excitement before a journey begins”.
Don’t let that resfeber get to you. Take a deep breath and trust that things will feel very different once you’re actually on the road.
By the way, to help prepare you to travel long-term (and maybe calm your nerves) I wrote a book called Travel the World Without Worries. It combines structured practical advice with honest anecdotes from the trail. It helps you go from the initial inspiration phase, to the actual packing/planning/preparation, and onto dealing with any adversities while you are travelling.
If you feel overwhelmed at any point, stick with it. Remember that soon you could be climbing epic mountain tops, meeting locals in the strangest of places, or swinging in that hammock on a tropical beach without a care in the world… if you take the leap, you’ll definitely be rewarded.
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