What holds you back from traveling?
I’ve received a lot of questions from people wondering how I make a life of indefinite travel work. Where does the money come from? What will I do when it runs out? What about getting married? I answer the five most frequently asked questions here to demystify the (very attainable) lifestyle of nomadic backpackers.
1. How can you afford to travel?
Travel as a budget backpacker is a different world from vacation travel. It’s in a galaxy far, far away. For the last year of traveling through Southeast Asia, I typically paid $5/6 per night for accommodation. My total expenses for each day, all flights and everything included, usually racked up to no more than $20. I’d say this life is pretty affordable. It’s certainly many times more affordable than the typical lifestyle in the USA. I’ve broken it down a bit and did some cost comparing in my post called A Year’s Expenses: USA vs Abroad.
Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. […] Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing [stories] on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.”
~Nick Miller, Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? (edits are mine)
2. How do you have enough money to travel for so long?
I’m not sure if people are expecting me to tell them that I had a rich uncle who died and decided in his will that I was his favorite niece, or that my mom pays for everything, or that I won the lottery. Turns out my story just isn’t that interesting. I earned money the same old fashioned way most people do, I had jobs and worked- a lot. Now I have savings. I also chose to study independently through courses online instead of plop down my thousands on a US university.
Katie is in a travel group that I belong to on facebook. She managed to travel for two years with only 1000 pounds!
3. How do you work out having relationships when you are on the move all the time?
Haha, now that it has been 14 months on the road, I’m hearing this question more often. First of all, finding a boyfriend isn’t a priority for me and no, I don’t sleep around. (You’d be amazed how many times I’ve had to correct people and let them know that Americans aren’t actually the way Hollywood movies portray them. Or MTV for that matter.) If I do meet a wonderful man someday, then chances are that he will be a traveler, but even if he’s not, we will work it out. Plan B is to get a cat. I’ve always loved cats.
My kitty friends in Israel, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Jordan.
4. So you’re traveling forever? What are you going to do when your money runs out?
Well, guess I’ll have to work again. Either that, or take my last thousand to India and live on $1 a day, as they say you can do. (Unless one of my uncles decides to turn into my benefactor, but I’m not banking on it. And okay, I actually wouldn’t go live in India like that, probably.) I like this question, because knowing what opportunities are out there opens up your world of options. I’m just one of many travelers working abroad. You can read about my month experience working in a hostel in Jerusalem here. It has been tested and tried, as you heard a bit about from Katie.
I have experience working with children, the elderly, animals and housesitting. So I could pick up any of those things again. I could also become an English teacher, become crew on a boat, work on a farm, or volunteer for a variety of businesses in exchange for food and lodging.
One hugely popular option, before the age of 30, is to obtain a work visa for Australia and work there for six months to a year (or maybe longer!). Everyone I’ve met who has done it told me jobs are easy to find in any of the major cities, so long as you aren’t too picky. Jobs like bartending, waitressing, or working in a call center hang low on the branches and since the minimum wage is so high and apartment sharing options plentiful, it’s a good way to save up cash. You can certainly find more exciting opportunities, especially if you are specialized in a particular field. Australia also depends heavily on backpackers to volunteer on farms. In volunteer positions, usually you aren’t making any money, but you save on accommodation and food costs, which, if done in a place like Australia, saves you a ton.
I’ve met some traveling Argentinians who simply showed up in New Zealand, scanned the newspapers and asked locals where they could find work. In no time, they found work picking cherries on an orchard from 6-12pm. After work, they had ample time to explore the country. They also worked in packaging factories and with dairy cows. It may not sound too glamorous, but you learn new skills, cultivate a high work ethic, and ultimately, make money to help you travel longer.
Kiwis (New Zealanders) joke that they depend on poor backpackers to fill the low wage jobs. Backpackers depend on those short-term, low wage jobs to afford traveling through and seeing the gorgeous, but ridiculously expensive, New Zealand. Win-win!
Housesitting is also a great option for Australia and New Zealand, as well as much of Europe, and even all over the world. Although, beware that this ideal option is growing increasingly competitive.
I could list the websites that I like best for working abroad, but Nomadic Matt thoroughly, yet concisely, placed all the top hitters organized in different articles on his blog. To find them, start here. Check them out and see if there’s something compelling enough to send you somewhere new!
5. Aren’t backpackers mostly partiers?
There are two stereotypes for backpackers. Chances are, when you hear the word, one of them springs to mind. We’ve got the hippies with their dreads, baggy elephant pants, and mellow moods, slowly strolling through the world reeking of pot and strumming a guitar or ukulele. They can usually be found on a beach or in a hammock and are mostly friendly and harmless.
Then, yes, we’ve got the partiers, I admit it. Aussies in Bali, Israelis in Thailand, Russians in Vietnam, teenagers straight out of high school, thirty year-olds who wish they were twenty, thank you all for drenching a perfectly good name in your infamous buckets of booze. We’ve all likely heard of the shenanigans of the backpacker hub of the world, Khao San Road, of the dangerous mixture of cheap buckets of alcohol and hulu hoops on fire at Thailand’s full moon parties, and of the partiers who took over the Lao town of Vang Vieng, days spent between the bars and perilously tubing down the river.
Those two groups have made big names for themselves, grand, but not great, reputations.
Thank goodness I’m here to let you in on what the majority of backpackers are actually like: intelligent, curious, motivated, problem-solvers, creative, spontaneous, hard-working, flexible, easy-going, good with money, adventurous, innovative, spunky, high-spirited, driven, out-of-the-box thinkers who either broke out of the norm or never fit into it. They are people who inspire me and spur me to reach higher and to think and see from completely unique angles.
That’s not to say that the hippies and partiers don’t have these characteristics too. But while some seek to just chill or “have a good time,” travelers who travel for traveling’s sake are a different crowd. They like their coffee, good conversations and books. (There’s a reason that book exchanges are popular in hostels.) They are quite likely to be found engaging locals in conversation and asking a slue of questions. They like maps, museums, and learning. They want to understand the cultures they visit and the complex, twisted histories of the countries they go to. They are full of information and random facts, are adept planners, competent and confident.
I’ve noticed that the main goal for most travelers is to connect with others. They prefer hanging out in common areas and sharing dormitories in hostels instead hiding in lonely hotels. They sit down in plastic chairs where the locals are to try that strange thing they are eating. They like walking around just to look at the way things are and take an hour to sit in a park to watch how local families interact. For them, the best part and biggest take away from every trip stems from the people that were met.
Overall, I’d unbiasedly say that they are the most educated, intelligent, and openminded group of people I’ve ever met. They’ve been educated by the world, by trial and error, by hands on experience. Many have their college degrees, but they haven’t seemed to have lost their common sense, as too much higher education can make people lose.
Come join the crowd! If you think you are too young or too old, we will tell you it’s not true. If you have some type of medical ailment that discourages you from going, read here for inspiration. A group of girls with a variety of ailments teamed up to write a post about how they deal with medical issues as they travel.
My mom picked up a book called How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matt Kepnes. It was that book that introduced us to this way of affordable travel. I’d highly recommend both the book and Matt’s blog to anyone wishing to start out on their own backpacking adventure, but aren’t completely sure how.
If you’re already a traveler, I’d love to hear what questions you get asked most (and how you cleverly respond to them)! 🙂
Thanks for reading and happy trails!