You stood there in the shop on Market Street, in a seedy part of town. It was an army-surplus-meets-sporting-goods shop, where the wayward and semi-homeless ambled up and down the aisles, looking for cheap gear. Unfortunately, the gear was too cheap, and the visit amounted to little more than mental masturbation. Your departure, after all, was still many, many months away.
“So, you’re going to be away for how long? A couple weeks? Months?” the clerk asked.
“More like years,” you replied.
It no longer surprises you that people don’t immediately grasp how someone can just pick up and leave their life and travel indefinitely. But it’s really simple; and it can be broken down into five steps.
Step 1) Save enough cash for inescapable essentials: plane tickets, visas, inoculations, network fees, site-seeing tickets, and food.
Let’s face it. Sticking out your thumb will only get you so far. You aren’t going to hitch hike your way across oceans, and for that reason, money should be saved for essential air-fare/ferry tickets where applicable. Depending on where you want to go, this can amount to a substantial sum. Transportation is an enormous travel expense, and while you can thumb your way on land, getting to the continent is expensive, especially if you need to renew your passport (110 bucks?!), get your immunizations (typhoid, yellow fever? $200+), and apply for any visas ($25 here, $80 there…). But then once you get there…. ahhh, once you get there… it’s smooth sailing and all you really need to cover is the cost of food. If you’re in a country where hitch hiking truly isn’t advisable, chances are the public transit is so cheap that it’s a negligible cost.
Okay, and occasionally there’s a network fee in there. For example, if you want access to farm stays, you’re looking at $35 per country. If you’re savvy, you can get around network fees with a little investigative googling and contact farms directly. You can also work through word-of-mouth. Volunteers typically know of places accepting volunteers, and can refer you.
Under “network” also falls the cost of internet cafes and any other costs required for online access. Getting access to free, share-able resources in this modern, digital world without online access is more frustrating than trying to activate an international calling card on a foreign payphone in a language you don’t understand. Again, once you are inside a network, it’s easy to stay in it. Once you have access to a host’s computer, you can hop to the next host and their computer.
If you actually want to go inside certain sights or museums, those too, will come at a cost. But those costs are small and only occasional, considering the scope of your trip. If you’re lucky, someone will treat you.
- COST OF DEPARTURE = $1,000
Step 2) Invest well into high-quality gear.
This cannot be overstated You are investing in gear that is meant to last. It will be your second home, your entire wardrobe, your kitchen, your comfort. If you are not comfortable, then long-lasting travel isn’t going to suit you. If you’re cold at night because you wanted to save a few bucks on a sleeping bag (*guilty!), you will dread the night and not last long. If you think you’re rugged and don’t need a sleeping mat (*guilty!), fine–until the cold of the winter months creeps into your bones. If you think you can make do with your sneakers instead of getting sturdy weather-proof boots (guilty*!), don’t be surprised if your feet and back hurt, and don’t complain when your feet get wet. Your backpack needs to be comfortable. Your shoes, comfortable. Your sleeping gear, comfortable. Your clothes, durable and comfortable.
Comfort is important, because you will be far away from home, and you need to feel at home.
High quality gear isn’t cheap, but the amount of money you will save while traveling due to increased self-sufficiency and decreases in replacement and breakage costs is unbelievable. Staying in a hostel night after night is unafforable in the long term. Crashing people’s couches and floors (that’s why you want a sleeping mat), back yards, and nearby fields is free and sustainable.
Homeless people don’t pay money to live. You’re going to be homeless. Comfortably so. Invest in what you need to survive. Invest the time to find what you need to survive. Look for the bargains, then stop spending money.
- COST OF GEAR = $1,000
Step 3) Get in shape and prepare the body.
Travel is exhausting. Period. It’s a lot of moving from one place to the next. Sure, you might walk miles and miles a day, perform manual labor for others, or struggle with lifting your bag in and out of cars. But it is also mentally exhausting, as you are constantly trying to navigate the ins and outs of languages, cultures, foreign environments, and people. When your brain has nothing left to give, at least you can rely on your body to push onward. The body has an incredible capacity to work. It is usually the mind that stops it from doing so.
Hence, get rid of any excuse the mind might have to prevent you from doing something. If you’re worried about your feet, get proper shoes or insoles. If you’re worried about your asthma, increase your cardio-respiratory fitness. If you have a tricky back or neck, pack the things you will need to manage your quirks. If you’re worried about your health in general and and feel you cannot control what may happen to your body, then perhaps you shouldn’t be traveling yet.
You’re body will, in the course of time, become conditioned to the lifestyle. But getting yourself in shape will give you confidence. If you can control your body and your health (treating it with respect, properly nourishing it), you can control much of what happens to you.
- COST OF FITNESS = $0
Step 4) Free yourself of liabilities: debt payments, mobile phone bills, leases, non-essential subscriptions, and anything else considered a “bill.”
This is where people get stopped.
Stuck in a lease? Call your landlord. See what it takes to break the lease. Pay the costs, if neccessary. Find out if you can sublet. Or use the time to save up more capital.
Mobile phone contract? Again. See what the costs are for early termination. State that you’re moving out of the country, and show them a one-way ticket. Some providers will absolve you of the commitment. Freezing your mobile phone account only buys you a few months. Monthly payments of $50-$100 over the course of a year is anywhere from $600-$1200 for something you won’t be using. That’s a round-trip ticket to the other side of the world! That’s half a year of food if you never ate a free meal–and you will, lots of them.
Have debt? Call your creditor and ask to re-negotiate. You may be able to suspend your payments. Re-finance. Find someone else to assume your debt. Obtain a private loan. The world economy is one of debt; it’s debt piled on debt piled on debt. Shifting debt is normal.
Cancel all monthly subscriptions to anything you have that will not be unquestionably worth the cost. Yeah. That’s everything.
If you have a pet, find someone else to care for it.
If you have children, you can forget about indefinite travel right now. Children are liabilities you can’t shuck flippantly without being a bad parent. This post is not for you. Don’t envy the people who can drop everything and leave. Keep yourself well and healthy until they’re out of the house, and then do it. There are plenty of mid-lifers on the road.
Step 5) Quit your job, consolidate your things, and fly away.
Have a job you can’t quit? How did you get there? Why can’t you quit? What are you afraid of? Are you insecure about your ability to make money to lead a comfortable life? If you are, then maybe off-the-beaten-path travel isn’t for you.
There isn’t a single job you can’t quit. No one is forcing you to work so you can pay bills and consume-consume-consume. The only reason you work is to make money for other people, or for yourself, in order to pay off your liabilities, which in theory, you should have eliminated by this step.
If you quit your job, you better know you can obtain another one. If you have any self-doubt, forget about it. If you are afraid of not being able to re-enter a system you’ve known your whole life and have left willingly, then don’t leave it. The system is a cattle grate. You can be a sheep and turn away, or you can nimbly tip-toe your way across, and know how to sneak back into the pasture whenever you want.
Get rid of your shit. You have too much stuff. You don’t need it. Why? Because everything you need to survive comfortably can be carried on your back. The rest is superfluous. Have nice things? Loan them to your friends. Give them indefinite access to them. They’ll be happy to use your nice things while you’re gone.
The more you lend out, the less you have to store. Do NOT pay for storage. That, like a recurring mobile phone bill, will break your budget. Find someone’s basement. Shove it all in a box and thank them for the favor. Friends like helping their friends accomplish their goals.
People think traveling costs money. It doesn’t. Not if you organize your life correctly. In a perfect world, if you have no liabilities and had a cash surplus, you would invest that cash into something that could generate income for you while abroad.
But to keep things simple, it is leaving a country that costs more money than floating around the world.
Set aside $2,000 for the gear and your travel passes.
Set aside $1,000 for a return-ticket home, no matter what.
Set aside $2,000 a year for food and general expenses. That’s about $10 a day to live when you’re actually out and about, and the rest is saved during periods of “hibernation;” 80% of humanity lives on less than than $10 per day, and they don’t have the option to do anything else. You do. A budget like that will teach you lessons about what you need vs. what you want. The best things in life are free; love, memories, wisdom, shared experience.
If you want to set aside more than that, fine. Do it. Call it $2,500, or even $3,000 to be comfy. Most people are already shocked that a year of their life only could only cost $2,000. That’s a two-week pay period in the West.
Sound abysmally low? It isn’t. The cost of your sedentary life is astronomically high.