It is a lifelong dream for countless people to travel long term and see the world. Millions of people say countless times in their lives “I’ve always wanted to pack a bag and see the world!” But you know what? Most of those people never do it.
Why is that? Do they lack the resources? Is it money? Time? Security?
I don’t think so. I’ve heard a lot of people claim those as their “reasons”, but I call bull.
I think the truth is that they may entertain the notion in a day dream, but nobody packs a bag and leaves their life behind unless they need to.
I don’t know if it’s something in the water or being born under a full moon, but there are some people, myself included, who just can’t sit still. We can’t just stay in one place. We can’t just live in one city, vacation in Florida, retire and call it a life.
There’s nothing wrong with that life. I know many people who have lived extremely fulfilled lives like that.
But for some of us, it’s just not enough.
So you think you want to travel long term?
Awesome! Welcome to the club! We’re an exclusive group with a handful of traits that are crucial to us achieving this lifestyle:
- Chutz-pa. Cojones. Gumption. Whatever you want to call it, we’ve got it in spades. I have yet to meet a person living this lifestyle that wasn’t a go-getter, someone who sees a challenge and says “Yeah, I’ll make that happen,” then they dive right into it and, no matter what sharks they wrestle that they may not have been expecting, they just keep doing it, because they said they would, and they love it, so why not keep wrestling those sharks.
- Resourcefulness. This kind of goes hand in hand with #1, if you think about it. If you jump in with both feet, sometimes (often) you find yourself in situations you weren’t expecting or prepared for. So you do the best you can with what you have and call it awesome.
- Open-minded. Accepting. Empathetic. This one is critical. By living a long-term travel lifestyle, you are consciously choosing to remove yourself from the culture you have operated in your whole life, and place yourself in places and cultures where things might be very different. This doesn’t just mean different hand signals for different things. Different cultures often have very different ways of perceiving reality, different rhythms of thought. While one culture might respond to an event with laughter, another might respond with indifference, anger, or even horror. It’s absolutely imperative to be open-minded to other cultures. To understand that there is no one correct way of being. But you probably already know this, because you want to travel long term!
Did you make the mindset cut? Great! Now let’s consider practical matters.
This is the un-fun part of planning for long term travel. Practical stuff.
There are several things to think about when you’re considering embarking on a long-term travel journey, including money, family & friends, relationships, your job, how long you plan to travel, and last but definitely not least, your plans after the trip. The fun part is that all of these things will impact each of the other things. And by fun I mean complex.
What it really comes down to is priorities.
Deciding your priorities so you can plan your trip accordingly
Whatever your absolutely top-of-the-list, non-negotiable priorities are, they will determine the shape of your long term travel plans.
Is financial security a super high priority of yours? Maybe your relationship with your significant other is non-negotiable. What about your job?
Spend some time thinking about what your absolute top priorities are before moving forward with the rest of your planning process. And don’t worry. No matter what your top-of-listers are, there’s a way to make long-term travel work.
Financially preparing for long term travel
This one is the boring one, but it’s really important, so we’ll get it out of the way first.
There’s no avoiding it: you need money in order to travel. For the most part. There are some seriously inspiring people whose whole travel-style revolves around not spending money. But for most people, you’ll need at least some money.
It’s always a good idea to start saving as soon as this notion comes into your head. Because the more you save, the better. In the beginning of my travel life, when I was researching packing suggestions, I read something that said “Pack half the stuff you think you need, and twice the money” or something like that. And in general, that’s pretty good advice. However much you think you need, take more.
I also always advise avoiding going into debt for travel. There are several reasons for this, including a personal aversion to owing people anything, but also, I know from experience, once you’ve caught the travel bug, you’ll want to keep traveling. Best not tie yourself down with debt you have to pay off when you’d rather be on the road. Start with sustainable habits, and you can be on the road more and longer.
Family & Friends Won’t Understand Why You Need This
We know it’s a need. You can’t not do this. But they’re not wired that way, so they won’t understand. Hopefully they’ll at least be supportive, even if they don’t get it. Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky.
The best thing you can do to make this as easy as possible, do your research, plan things out, prepare, save money, and when you’re ready, sit them down and calmly tell them your plans. It’s entirely possible they’ll freak out, worry you’re throwing your career away, throwing your life away, blah blah blah. But hopefully, if you can calmly say, no look, I have a plan, I’m prepared, they’ll realize you’re not being impulsive, that you’re serious about this, and they can’t stop you.
The most important thing to remember is this: it’s not their life. Do not, I repeat, do not let anyone persuade you to not take this leap. They don’t know the need that’s in your heart. They don’t know how thoroughly you’ve prepared. It’s not their life. They don’t get to decide. Take the leap and follow your own path.
Relationships: How To Navigate the S.O. Situation When You Have the Travel Bug
This could be a whole blog post. Hell, this could be a whole blog. But I’m going to be totally 100% honest with you: I’m not the best person to advise on this.
Ideal situation is that either you’re single, or you’re in a committed relationship with a fellow travel dreamer and you hit the road together.
But it doesn’t work out that smoothly for everyone. The best I can do here is tell you to be honest with yourself about your needs, and then be honest with your significant other. Hopefully you will be able to find the answer together, somewhere between the both of you.
Some people love their jobs, and would be devastated to say goodbye to it forever. Personally I’m not one of those people and never have been. My brain is wired for self-employment. But if you’re one of those people, there’s good news! You have options!
- Remote Work: With this option, you keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing for your company, but you do it from your laptop on the beach in Thailand, or from your flat in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Technology has given us so much connectivity with each other, there’s almost no point in people still having to work in an office. Do your research. Pitch it to your boss, emphasizing the benefits to the company. Kick butt. She says yes. Do work, do travel.
- Sabbatical: Exactly like it sounds. Take a temporary leave from work, come back from the road and still have your job. The key to making your employers go for this is to make it as easy as possible for them. Find your temporary replacement, train them, do everything you can. (This goes for the Remote Work option, too).
- Modify your position. Maybe in order to make this work, your position will need to be modified. This would be the case if your job required a lot of hands on work, or on-location work. Talk to your boss. Hopefully she’ll work with you on this.
If none of those work, then it’s time to start asking yourself the tough questions. How much do you love this job? How hard would it be to find a similar position at a different company after your travels? Be honest with yourself. The only person who loses if you lie to yourself is you.
But quitting your job to travel long term isn’t just about how much you love your job. It’s also about money and security.
If security is one of your top priorities, quitting your job and not knowing what you’ll do for work after your trip might be more than you can handle. Think about lining something up ahead of time for after your trip. Think creatively here.
For other people, security isn’t going to be a huge thing. For me, it just depends. I’m moderately comfortable with lack of security in general, as long as I have a vague plan of action. Listen to your instincts, but try to not let fear drive all your decisions. Fear is not a good decision maker.
How to Decide How Long To Travel
One of the most exciting parts of this whole process is planning your trip. We’re not going to go into the actual planning process, but let’s talk about how to decide how long you’ll be traveling. This is important to figure out early on, because it will factor into how much money you save, tickets you buy, and if you’re planning on coming back to your job, they’ll need to know that too.
Questions To Ask Yourself
- How much money do you have? How far can you stretch it? Staying with friends/family members? Couchsurfing (this is an awesome guide from The Savvy Backpacker!)? Hostels? Budget travel can help you stay on the road longer.
- Is your job waiting for you to come back? If that’s the case, you’re not the only one who gets to pipe into this decision. Make sure you work with your employer on this one.
- How many places do you want to see? Do you have a bucket list of “the entire world”? That might take longer than 3 months. Also, are you planning on slow travel or fast travel?
- Most importantly, what are you comfortable with? This is your trip, after all. My first trip to Europe was solo, fast travel, budget and out of a backpack. I did 5 weeks for a lot of reasons, but I’m glad I didn’t go longer because by week 4 I was exhausted and ready to rejoin society.
PHEW! That was a lot. But don’t lose sight of the most important thing.
I know that’s a lot to consider, and you haven’t even started planning yet, but it’s important to think about this stuff early in the process. Taking the time to think about all of this keeps you from making rash decisions and helps you be as prepared as you can be before you head out into the Great Unknown that is the world.
But the #1 most important thing about your long term travel plans?
Just take the plunge.
It’s great to think about all this and try to be prepared, but don’t let any of this bog down your brain, overwhelm you, and then you just don’t even go because it feels too difficult. If that’s what’s happening to you, and you know that you won’t be able to die happy unless you take this trip (it’s a real thing), than just freaking go! Throw off the overwhelm and embrace the chaos! You’ll figure it out as you go, anyway! Because you’re a traveler, and that’s what we do.
I made this awesome worksheet to help you out!
If everything I just listed out sounds really overwhelming, don’t worry. I made an awesome downloadable worksheet to make it nice and easy for you to think through everything you need to before you start planning your long-term trip of a lifetime.