For most of the last 3 years, I have been traveling outside of the U.S. The first year was off of savings, but the last 2 have been spent between jumping back and fourth between the States and Latin America, while figuring out how to make money on the fly.
It has been a ton of fun, and I am happy to see that my galavanting has started to inspire some other folks to get out there and do the same. So, this is simply some basic advice to help get you all on your way, while also shooting down all your lame excuses in one fell swoop.
Cut costs and save money
When I first left the country, it was my goal to be out of the country for 1 year straight. To do this I knew I would need to save up a big sum of money and then stick to a budget while on the road. I worked like crazy and cut any superfluous expenses, including ridiculous bar bills at late night hours (which is a total cash burner).
After reaching my goal and having 10K in the bank, I became nervous that this wouldn’t be enough, so I continued saving and living a fun life in Durango, when I hit my next goal of 12K, I decided that wouldn’t be enough either and stayed at work and living a frugal life. Eventually, I realized that this worry would continue, and if I kept overthinking my travel plans and budgets, I would never leave.
Immediately, I looked up travel tickets and booked the cheapest one-way flight to Central America that I could find. This happened to be a $130 ticket from Denver to Belize… and I was leaving within a month.
Having the ticket is what finally kicked me into gear and made me get serious about leaving. I sold all my things and quit my job. Before buying the ticket I was completely comfortable and would talk myself out of accomplishing the goal that I had spent so much time preparing for… so that is how you should start after gathering some savings – JUST BUY THE DAMN TICKET. Here are a few other money-saving ideas for you if you are still working on the saving part.
don’t read travel books
Similar to how I was over thinking my budget and coming up with every excuse in the book to not leave home, some people will overthink all of their travel plans and make a (what should be fun) journey an over-scheduled nightmare. If you book everything in advance, you have no freedom to use new information that you will gather from locals and other travelers along the way. Long story short, if you’ve already bought the Lonely Planet, throw it away immediately, book your first hostel, airbnb or hotel so you don’t have a freakout on the plane about being homeless (some of us are better with this feeling than others) and then figure it out as you go.
This may sound insane, but I guarantee that if you plan out everything, you will have much more stress in keeping to your reservations, plus you will meet some amazing people that you will have to abandon just because you’ve already paid for your hotel at the next spot that you read about in the Lonely Planet.
Also, if you are all reading the same book, you will be surrounded with other travelers everywhere you go, which is fun, but you really ought to meet some locals and see what normal life is all about. The locals will still be able to tell you about the must-see attractions that you should stop by while you are in town.
Don’t wait on friends
While it is undoubtedly better sharing experiences and traveling with others, sometimes you just can’t wait for other people to get their stuff together. Long-term travel is a feat that not many will accomplish and you will have to be independent and strong-willed to make it happen. If you can find a travel buddy, all the better, but if they get cold feet or keep pushing back your exit date, just head out on your own.
Yes, I recommend this for anyone. While ladies do need to take extra caution, it is quite easy to stay safe no matter where you are, just as long as you use basic common sense. You will meet plenty of other solo travelers, and realistically, you will spend very little time alone unless you make it a point to do so. Backpackers take care of each other on the road, plus being alone will force you to rely on complete strangers on some trying travel days, forging lifelong friendships and a global network.
Be open to spontaneous ideas
Always have your goals and major sights that you would like to see, but don’t leave a good opportunity behind. Did you just find a job in a place that you just arrived in? Give it a go and stay a few weeks. Did you just find a ticket to Argentina for $300? Forget your plan and head south! You can always come back later, but certain opportunities need to be taken advantage of. I have lived months at a time selecting my next destination by the price of plane tickets. I have also gone to completely random cities in the middle of nowhere due to finding great deals on nice apartments on AirBnb. I realize this may seem a little intense and perhaps absurd, but if you are on the road for a long time, letting good deals navigate your path could help you see a lot more for a lot less.
All this is to say is… just do it already
I know I know, you haven’t burned your Lonely Planet yet (you should), and if you’re reading this you’re probably reading a million other travel blogs with a bunch of opinions, critiques, horror stories and complaints which will poison your mind and keep you at home… But! I say, dear fellow or madame, STOP and just buy your ticket already, or you may never leave. Everything else will fall right into place, I promise. If you need any direct advice or nerve calming, please write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is tough to get going, but maybe I can help you start a 3 year adventure of your own as well…