It seems like the dream of every millennial is to throw off the proverbial shackles of work and spend time traveling.
The problem is such a plan is two-fold. Firstly, most people can’t afford to drop everything and travel. Loans are the big thing holding them back, but other things matter too.
Leaving a full-time job that pays the bills and then some can be terrifying. Remember, opportunity costs are very real. If somebody takes time off to travel in their 20s, it can really set them back financially for years to come.
Look at it this way. $20,000 put into a retirement fund that grows at 8% annually is worth $434,490 after 40 years. It’s only worth $201,253 in 30 years and $93,219 in 20 years. I don’t want to scoff at $93,000, because I’d gladly sell your first-born child for that much cash. But it’s far less than $435,000.
But after saying all that, I don’t want to discourage your travel dreams. It’s not impossible to travel and be financially responsible about it. Here’s how I traveled around Asia for a year while actually getting richer.
Have a job
Here’s where Joe’s advice to have an anchor job is especially powerful.
While in Asia I worked as a freelance writer, with 90% of my income coming from one source. Essentially, I had a job that didn’t care where I was, as long as I produced. After getting that job, it was just a matter of getting up the courage to travel.
I realize freelance writing jobs aren’t the easiest things to find. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution, one most people can do.
My wife got a job teaching English in Korea, and I mostly just came along for the ride. She made a decent paycheque, got weekends off, and so we explored our new country. And when she worked, I would do my writing and stuff she wasn’t interested in like going to sports games.
Many countries will hire English teachers who just have a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the country, you might not even need that–although, you will get paid a little less for your lack of education.
Keep costs low
Asia is a fantastic spot to travel. Everything is strange and different, and touring cheaply is easy.
The internet is any world traveler’s friend. I would go on Expedia and find the cheapest hotel I could that had half decent reviews. This didn’t work out a couple of times, but for the most part it was fine.
Transportation is another big cost. I wound up taking a lot of buses from place to place in an attempt to keep my costs down. Many had wifi and seats big enough to comfortably fit my giant Canadian ass. It wasn’t such a bad way to travel.
Another easy way to keep down costs is to not go nuts going from one place to another. I’d meet fellow travelers who would be in a place for a day, arriving in the morning and then leaving the next morning. I preferred a slower pace, working at each stop and really taking my time to explore a city. Sure, it might have cost a little more, but I made money as I traveled, ensuring I’d have enough.
The internet is filled with practical advice on how to travel cheaply. It’s not that hard to keep things at a reasonable cost if you’re smart about it.
Would I do it again?
After spending a year on the road, I would probably do things a little differently.
Being away from home started to weigh pretty heavily on me after a few months. The fun and excitement of a new culture had long since worn off and all I wanted was to go to Subway and get the sub I liked, dammit.
I think I would have been happier taking a two or three week vacation in Korea or Japan. It would have been enough to scratch the itch without the drag of long-term travel. I came to realize seeing these things were on my bucket list, not experiencing the culture for months at a time.
That’s by far the smartest way to travel. And remember, a vacation is pretty sweet after you’ve worked months to save up for it. After a while, long-term travel becomes taxing. A larger number of small vacations might cost more, but can end up far more cost effective in the end.