There’s the $90,000 in annual real estate taxes, and the pub just absorbed a jump Stone on 59th Street, then operated by his dad, an immigrant from Ireland.
What’s it like to “drop everything” and go to Europe/Asia/explore the world?
A bit about my trip
I’m a total Eat Pray Love, Hero with a Thousand Faces knock off, completely unoriginal. I left the corporate and start-up world for a stint to do a bit of cliche soul-searching for 6 months. It has taken me across 4 continents and 6 countries. I traveled alone, as a 30 year-old, single women.
It’s the best investment I’ve ever made in anything, and it was in myself and my own happiness. Whether you are a woman, or man; single or taken; old or young, I promise you the return on investment on a trip like this is worth it.
A bit about me.
Over the past couple years I helped get Little Black Bag, a fashion ecomm site with a social gaming angle off of the ground. Before that I’ve worked in creative doing everything from interior graphics, product development, book design, illustration and international advertising for clients like BCBG, Skechers, Disney, and even the Oprah Network. I worked an average of 50-80 hours a week.
I started getting weary of the grind to work more, consume more and felt an unhealthy balance of workaholism and the American Dream. I realized my motivations were changing and I wasn’t interested in the money, status or having any more stuff. Once my priorities changed, I had a hard time finding the same hustle I once had.
A few wonderful people in my life including my business partner, my mom and a dear friend all suggested a spirit quest or sabbatical of sorts. It was something I had been deeply considering for years but was too scared to do because I didn’t want to or know how to leave my comfy life.
Through some big changes, I finally found the resolve to leave a relationship that wasn’t right, sell most of my earthly possessions, except for some clothes, and move out of the condo near the beach. What I gained was an enormous amount of freedom.
I began a completely unplanned America cross-country road trip and international journey.
Off I went without a real plan. It was more of culmination of 4 years of thinking about doing it, wanting to do it, and then finally deciding to just do it. It turns out all you need to do is buy a ticket and then you kick your ass into gear to do the rest.
It’s been the most important thing I have ever done with my life and I’d love to help with resources regarding how others can do it too.
What kind of skills do you need?
I would say the big skill is finding the grit to follow through on the desire to do it. Once you really decide to do something, you somehow find the way. I don’t know if that’s actually a skill, but it is certainly a necessity to do this kind of journey.
The ability to do some online research will be helpful as 80% of travel information can be found on the good ole internet.
Cultivating openness and building relationships has been a huge part of the success of my trip. I’m open to meeting people in all walks of life and have real conversations. People can be truly incredible. Getting to know people who you might not have otherwise known, was more important than anything I ever saw including the Igazu Falls or the Colca, the deepest canyon in South America which are both profound and awe inspiring.
They’ve guided me through their cities, gave me hugely beneficial advice, introduced me to local food, let me stay with them in their homes and provided me the inspiration or energy to keep going even if I got exhausted on the road. I learned to not be afraid of people of or immediately judge what’s new or different culturally.
Flexibility to roll with the punches is also important. Things change every day, whether its bus schedules from place to place or bad weather messing up your plans. You will get lost, you will get frustrated, you will get sick. This stuff comes and goes and is usually rewarded shortly after with an amazing discovery, the best meal of your life or a new friend that changes your perspective. So just go with it and let go a little. Trying to control every aspect will make your trip a miserable chore rather than an exciting journey.
Language learning isn’t necessary but I’d Highly highly encourage it. Your travels will be more rewarding if you know a little of the language or are willing to learn it. You don’t have to be a pro, although it helps. Start day one. Have a dictionary, learn the basic alphabet and pronunciation, keep a little journal with new words. You have a lot of time on your hands traveling so you might as well learn a little something. Language reflects thoughts and cultures and learning Spanish, and the basics of Quechua, Portuguese and Korean has given me insights about people and belief systems that observation alone would never given me.
Listen to yourself. This one sounds sort of dumb and basic, but I really think getting in touch with instincts helps on the trip. Don’t go down that road that feels wrong. I believe this insight to look within has kept me safe from unsavory environments or characters. I think hearing my needs put me where I want to be when I’m supposed to be there. I asked myself daily what I wanted, what I was learning and why I was there. I kept a journal to focus my energy to better recognize my voice.
How much money you ask?
Where, When, for How long, and How do you travel are the questions you should ask.
Budget completely depends on where you go, how you travel, the duration of the trip and if you can work while you are on the road. Costs will will range enormously depending on if you want to do excursions or tour adventures, meander across countries or continents, or just live somewhere new. It will also vary if you research costs and can negotiate.
Are your tastes higher end or are you happy living in a 6-person dorm hostel eating street food? Can you work on the road to supplement your living or are you going to be draining savings? These are questions you need to ask yourself to start developing a budget or a plan.
Regarding my trip, here are some cost benchmarks.
South America is relatively cheap. I opted for Peru, Boliva and a bit of Brazil for my trip. Peru cost me about $25-35 a day to live more than comfortably at $12-15 hostels a night, Bolivia cost about $12-15, where hostels ranged from $8-10 a night, and Brazil which cost substantially more cost about $40-50 a day because I went out more, did more tour activities and the cost of living is higher.
If you are brave enough there are a lot of places around the world where things aren’t commercialized, and you can do some incredible adventure activities for next to nothing. This can be affected by your language ability because it becomes much easier when you can communicate with locals.
Some of the most beautiful hikes I went on cost nothing. I’d take a car through the Andes which cost 33 cents and the hike was free. The cave entrance at Huagapo Peru was 5 soles or less than 2 dollars including the tour guide, and I got to stay in huge, mostly undiscovered the cave named after the tears of the mountain gods, alone to meditate in the darkness and write by the river for hours.
Where tourism has become an organized industry, expect to pay more- Ex: Uyuni in Bolivia cost $100-120 bucks to do a 3-4 day all inclusive excursion into the salt flats and the volcanic desert via SUV with 5 other travelers. Machu Picchu Camino Inka trek cost more like $400 for 4 days and 3 nights in tents with 15 internationals.
In many places in South America, standard buses can only cost 20 bucks to drive across the country. As I briefly mentioned, if you travel in a localized region you can take collectivos/combis/micros (locals who own a vehicle and do a bus-like service privately, simply arrive at the terminal area, put a sign in their window and wait for their car to fill up) for less than a dollar for a hour ride into the country side. Note that this kind of transportation can leave you smashed in a small conversion van with 20 other locals or in a station wagon filled with 9 people for 15 min – 2 hours. They may or may not have showered in a couple weeks, but luckily there are always windows you can roll down.
It is important to note here, that I did specifically avoid some countries like Chile and Argentina for monetary reasons. The US charges huge fees and tariffs for everyone to visit us, so the rest of the world has reciprocated this, which means only Americans have to pay an extra 100-200 dollars to enter a country even if it’s just a bus ride through. I totally understand the reasons on both ends (the US fee and the countries reciprocity) but this is such a short-sited policy, its infuriating. If anyone needs a good global education, its us, Americans, the superpower that exports a ton of awful, dumb, misinformed culture. And 200 dollars, which could be the budget for 1-2 weeks of travel just to enter a country is ridiculous, especially when that money could be going to the local economy. My only rant 🙂
Once I got to London, it obviously cost a lot more to live. Same with the developed portion of Asian, namely, S. Korea. (This part of the trip came about because of a lucky chance. I couldn’t find a one-way return flight to the States for less than $2000 from Rio at the time, but I got a round trip from Rio > London > Seoul > London > Philly for $1200. Thanks )
I decided to give CouchSurfing a whirl. Through Europe and Asia, the short part of my trip (only one month combined) I stayed in 4 places total for no more than 3-4 nights at a time. It was one of the greatest and sometimes most random experience of my life. You learn that people can be good and open. Every experience was completely different, so if you try it once and aren’t sold, try it a couple times more to give it a fair shot. Sometimes it can be slightly uncomfortable based on a personality difference or strange living arrangement.
Not paying for a $20-30 hostel a night was a great way to save some money. You also get an insider view of the country which was a lovely bonus gift. I got to explore new neighborhoods I wouldn’t have otherwise found, was introduced to new cuisine I didn’t even know existed or may not have been gutsy enough to try, and got to ask some questions about the culture to someone living locally for an extended period of time.
It was a wonderful way to travel, though I wouldn’t want to do it the entire sabbatical. Having privacy in nicer hotel rooms from time to time helps you recharge your batteries. Staying in social hostels can be absolutely fun and rewarding and you can find travel buddies to explore when solo wandering gets lonely or boring.
Food in Europe and Asia range enormously. You can find street food vendors, shop in grocery stores and markets and cook for yourself which is the frugal way to go 2-3 dollars a meal, or you can go eat a dinner for 50-200 dollars. It’s totally up to you. I’d encourage a little bit of both to get a full sense of a place if you can.
At the end of the day travel can cost as much or as little as you want it to. You have to know what you are looking for and what is comfortable to you. There were times I wanted to really live at the minimum I could spend (a 5 dollar hostel and bought 3 dollars worth of food at the market.) There were other moments through the trip I realized I have an appreciation for some luxurious comforts and the finer things in life and I’d stay a couple nights at a beach front 5 star place and spend 150 dollars on dinner. It was a balance for me. I didn’t have a hard set budget, instead, it was a range I wanted to spend and an idea of what I wanted to have left over at the end of the trip. I’d spend more some days and then pull back others. It all ended up working out just fine.
How I Paid for My Trip
For me, I used the money from my savings, my retirement, the money from selling my belongings and my tax return. I wrote a full blog post about how I had the money do what I did if you are more interested in exactly what I did to save for the trip by all means pop by the blog and read more. I didn’t save specifically for the trip but I also don’t have much to go home to financially. It can be a risk you take with this.
The funny thing you realize when you are traveling, is that you really only NEED food, water, transportation and shelter. Those things are all things you can get cheaply or even free. Everything else is just gravy.
There are a lot of wonderful volunteer and work options on the road to help fund the trip and cover the basics. Many backpacker hostels allow you to stay for free if you work for a stint. Some friends in Rio and Cuzco lived in a hostel, set up events, worked the bars, answered emails and other administrative jobs.
EcoTrulyYoga camps will feed you vegetarian meals, give you 2 yoga classes for a day and give you housing for 30 USD a day. This was a great opportunity to get fit and healthy and meet some very interesting people. These camps are all over the world. I stayed in one in Lima Peru and it was wonderful.
I stayed at a the Beopjusa Buddhist Monastery and Temple in central South Korea and ended up helping them with basic marketing. I helped out with SEO, built out a wikitravel page, photographed the grounds, wrote reviews, updated their site, and reached out to vegetarian and volunteer travel databases for them. It was supposed to be cleaning and other odds and ends, but once they found I out I could use a computer and write in English they were happy to use my skills accordingly. The gave me starlit chanting sessions, tea with monks, hikes, 3 vegetarian meals a day, and even paid me at the end. (a normal stay is $50USD a night.) I stayed for a week for free.
There are a ton of other options like this. A lot of Americans decide to teach English in China or Korea for a year. The pay is actually reasonable and I’ve met some folks paying off their entire debt from private university education because the cost of living is low and the job pays for housing.
The best thing I can tell you for finding out options is start with a google search like: with “Volunteer in ‘Country you’d like to Visit'”. Yup, that easy. Read, cross reference, and then reach out by email to find out what your options are.
Learn other ways of making extra money.
Some people put their homes up on AirBnB or Craigslist to do short term rentals. Just have a trusted friend around that can handle some of the details like welcoming people and providing a key. Also you might not be available because wifi in certain areas can be sparse.
Monetize a current blog you keep, sell assets online like stock photography or illustration, or review hostels on the road. If you are willing, there are always ways to make moola. Abroad, what would be seemingly worthless in the western world goes very far. When you talk to other travelers, you learn a lot of ways people have made money while traveling, so while it’s a huge risk to some, just go and have the faith in yourself that you can figure it out. Most of this, I learned on the road.
Remember that if you are a writer, a lawyer who reviews contracts, designer or have any other such online, projects-based job you can freelance and charge their US rates and live on international costs of living. I did a bit of writing, designing and other creative consulting services while on the road. This takes prep work while you are in country, you can’t just magically have a freelance career. If you want one, do it already.
When saving for the trip many people take on a second job whether it’s freelance or waitressing during the weekends. This hustle can be humbling and the best thing is to not have an ego about how to make it happen, You may think, I’m a Sr. level person, I can’t be seen working at a coffee shop or be found moonlighting. Well, then, don’t go on a trip then. If you want to make extra money, do it. Or don’t spend the money you make. Its that simple.
I think many of the professionals on this site would be astounded at how little you need to travel and live. Most kids I met on the road who saved enough to travel worked jobs not much more than minimum wage, but moved in with family or friends and just cut their bills so they could save. I personally liked the reset button of what I think life costs.
Summery: paying for your trip
Do some research about where you want to go, the cost of travel, save for that amount of time and add 20% to stay on the safe side to give yourself wiggle room, then save. When you get there, stick to your budget 🙂
If you are scrappy like me, just make it happen, freelance, couch surf, make friends, volunteer or whatever you want to do to make it more of an adventure
Consideration in your budget
- Accommodations (couch surf, volunteer, hostels or hotels)
- Food (markets, street food or going out)
- Activities (planned excursions and general going out),
- Transportation (from country to country (flights/trains), city to city (flights/ buse/boats or even cars) or within a city (metro/taxis/buses)
- Gifts – small hosts gifts like pens in South America, or coffee in Asia go far
- Gifts for friends and family back home
- Laundry (services – usually only 1-3 dollars a load), most times I hand washed
- Lost or stolen replacements (I lost 2 cameras. yes 2- 1 lost battery that was irreplaceable and one camera was stolen on a bus. You Will lose things on the road. Not having a place for your things, missing daily rituals, matched with having to move from hostel to hostel, being jet lagged and or rushed to catch last minute buses makes even the most responsible person lose some basics from time to time
- Unexpected activities (like a last minute unplanned trip through the Bogs of Pantanal in Brazil or a Salsa Club entry fees.)
- Toiletries on the road rather than carry around huge heavy plastic bottles.
- Emergency money for health or travel problems
I kept a daily budget. I just noted down what I do, where, when and calculate how much it is in American dollars using the XE currency app. It’s easy to lose track when you are using play money and exchange rates shift from 1USD :7 Bolivians to 1.5 Pounds to 1 USD. Cost of things become very relative so this practice was grounding and became a nice little chronological diary of my activities.
Remember that bills continue existing so look at deferring loans, getting ahead of them and saving. Turn off things like hulu, netflix, smart phone plans. In your savings process, pay off the high interest loans so you don’t have to worry about them. Pay off your credit cards.
How much planning is really necessary?
There are a million things you can do to plan but I don’t recommend overdoing it.
Pretrip, do research to find the best plane ticket price and get general sense how much it will cost to live. Look at your air mile or hotel points, see if they get you a free ticket or a stay somewhere. This sounds ridiculous, but look at the world map and really see where things are located. Most peoples international geography knowledge isn’t quite honed so you should have an idea of what countries are next to each other and how far away things really are.
I got also on Pinterest and and did some Google image searches to check out really beautiful places I didn’t want to miss and those spots created a general framework for where I wanted to go.
Big activities like Machu Picchu require reservations. They only allow a certain amount of people on the trail a day and it fills up fast. It’s also closed for a couple months of the year for rainy season and maintenance. I wanted to climb Machu Picchu for my 30th birthday, so I had to book it 2-3 months in advance.
Check out immunization needs and visa requirements once you choose countries. You don’t want to get to a country to be turned away. Notify banks about your exit. Make copies of important documents. Just try not to miss the basics that will make your life easier.
During the trip, to plan my week I hang at a coffee shop for an hour or so the day I get somewhere new just to get a sense of where I what I want to check out, what’s available and a note few things I absolutely don’t want to miss.
Booking a day at a hostel when I travel somewhere new, just to get my bearings, can be helpful. I usually do this only the day before. This will keep you from feeling stranded somewhere without a place to stay or getting in late and trying to wake someone up to give you a room. Otherwise, I don’t like to prebook much of anything.
I like to explore the area once I’m there to see if I want to move neighborhoods. It’s great to stay at hostels off the main path once you get a sense of a new town. The managers of these places are always local small business owners. Not only do I love supporting the local economy rather than the corporate conglomerate as a general rule, but people who’s heart (and savings) are behind a place will make the stay really intimate and go over and above to make sure you are comfortable.
You could also look into staying with friends or CouchSurfing (which I mentioned earlier) ahead of time which will take some planning and correspondence.
Another major thing I do during my trip, is get a local map of the transit system, city and region I’m in as soon as I get there, which can be found at hostels, tourist or information offices. I also preload Google Maps of the area on my smart phone so if I don’t have wifi, I can still see where I’m located and use the compass because GPS works without internet. This trick is amazing, I found out about it the first week of my trip from a smart Danish traveler who had been on the road 6 months.
I am an example of not planning much. Generally, I just wander or ask questions to locals about where I should go next. A trip like this is about freedom and adventure, not a to do list. I haven’t had a guide book, itinerary or travel planner and I don’t think you need one. It’s been incredibly fruitful leaving things really open.
My favorite way to travel to do is jump on a bus and see where I end. I also love riding the metro, popping up and seeing if I want to stay and meander. It’s important to remember, that if you got somewhere, you get always come back the same way, so fearless exploration is the way to go. Unplanned venturing becomes easy with some street smarts and openness to going along with things you might not normally do, like hitchhiking on the islands of Korea or going to a tango club with a local girl you met while working at a Buddhist monastery.
I will reiterate, the most important part to mention about planning is that the only thing you actually NEED is a ticket there. When you decide that, you just figure out the rest.
To make life a little easier, do some research about what to pack will help you be a little more prepared on the road. Your belongings become very important when you have to carry them and they are all you have. You can always buy things on the journey but the basics below have been a huge help to me. This is a general list, so when planning your own adventure take into consideration weather, altitude, cultural norms and activities.
Here’s my Basic PackList –
I’m an LA girl who managed to travel with only a carryon and a very small backpack.
- Notebook & pen
- 2 debit cards (yes two. have a backup, international arms infamously eat cards and banks make it miserable to send a new one)
- Smartphone/tablet with music and content loaded (you can’t stream like you can in major US cities) international wifi-ready
- Knife/multiuse tool
- Earplugs – for loud hostels and long loud bus rides
- Padlock and Key -for lockers
- Universal Charger
- Travel Towel- microfiber
- Exfoliating synthetic washcloth (microfiber cloths don’t scrub you dry like terry cloth so you’ll want something with a little grit. Plus, sometimes you get dirty on the road
- Reusable water bottle – I like the collapsible kind because it takes up less space
- Bug Repellent
- Basic medkit (simple stuff, bandaids, neosporin, a wrap and some advil)
- Lighter /Matches – for candles, or starting a fire or in my case lighting incense in stinky hostels.
- Hat (s) – winter and or baseball cap
- Layered clothing – make sure it can mix and match and synthetic so it dries fast
- thermals, leggings, light jeans, clothes that can go from day to night (button downs for guys, light dresses for girls) something you can wear in a range of settings.
- Minimal underwear – wash it on the road.
- Rain jacket
- Wool socks
- Hiking shoes/sandals/ a pair of shoes that can be worn in a range of activities (ballet flats for girls, dark shoes for guys) so you can go out to a nice restaurant or bar or walk around a city without looking like a total tourist.
- Day pack
Optional /Activity based/ gender specific
- Baby wipes
- Cipro (flaxen)- I’m not big into antibiotics, but this has saved me a few times! Its a cure all travelers sickness pill and you only need one.
- Pashmina scarves – 1 light one heavier can be used in 100 ways.
- Aluminum mug and spork
- Makeup – minimal
- Eye mask – to catch up on sleep. sometimes 18 hour bus rides require some shut eye or when you need a good nap mid day. (the freedom of being able to take a nap is just amazing. Yeah for sabbaticals )
- Toiletries – minimal
- Basic food – you can get it on the road but i liked having some nuts, granola bar or drink mix when the water tasted foul from a potable table
- Water potable tablets or UV water cleaner
Read up on some travel blogs. These people are professional travelers and they’ve been most places and faced most obstacles all over the world. They’ve been a great resource for packing, getting from point A to point B or advice about what to do if you are in a jam.
TravelWiki has been a good resource as well. I tend to stay away from Trip Advisor. I think most of the reviews are pretty generic and point you to the same corporate Lonely Planet places.
Looking back, small trips also really helped me prepare for a long solo one. Start with small bites- take an unplanned road trip away for a long weekend. Camp, or CouchSurf. Pack as little as you can and see what you don’t use. Get a taste of the travel life see what you really need to live on; it’s surprisingly less then you’d imagine. See how you travel. Travel with a friend and see what it’s like to travel together (a good travel partner can make your break your trip.) See how you handle the stress of jet lag, not knowing the language or being unfamiliar with a culture somewhere. Every person is different so you have to know yourself to plan for something like this.
You asked what this was like giving up everything and doing it.
It’s terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. Leaping into the unknown is scary as hell, but with the biggest risks comes some of the greatest rewards. New business ideas, new skills, new inspiration, new friends, new beliefs in yourself come to you easily and openly. Grand stories happen on the road, that’s why there are so many movies, songs, books and poetry about it.
Widened perspective, new found appreciation for the small things and being able to be proud of the fact that you did something most people just talk about are all game changers. The best and the brightest have done it. You become the Hero and one of the thousand faces is yours.