You’re on a tiny island off the eastern coast of Thailand. You’ve been snorkeling at spectacular coral reefs swirling with tropical fishes, ate the best Pad Thai you’ve ever had, and now, it’s time for a nap. You find yourself a hammock—and as the sound of the waves gently lulls you to sleep, you dream of all the wonderful places you still have left to see.
Sounds nice, right? But instead, you’re stuck behind your desk kicking yourself for not taking the leap when you had the chance. Doh!
Traveling around the world can be one of the most rewarding things you do in your life, but I know it’s all too easy to say you’ll do it “someday” and never actually do it.
Having travelled long-term and gained some of the most unforgettable memories of my life, I want to encourage anyone else to do it too. While setting off on a big journey might not be the easiest thing at first, the rewards are completely worth it.
If you have dreamed of not just going on a regular holiday, but of travelling for many months or even a whole year, then read on…
1. Decide on a type of trip
A world trip can take different forms. How you structure your trip will affect many things—from packing to budgeting to travel logistics—so start by getting a rough idea for what your trip will look like.
- Backpacking usually involves slow-traveling overland by bus or train, following a continuous route through a country or region. For example, you might snake your way through each country in Southeast Asia in a more or less sequential way. This travel style can be particularly cheap as you’ll spend less money on flights and can avoid expensive cities.
- A round-the-world (RTW) trip involves flying around the world either west-to-east or east-to-west, touching multiple continents along the way. Some airlines offer special RTW tickets, though there are several different ways to book a round-the-world trip. An RTW trip can be more costly due to the number of miles travelled (and the need to include certain countries), but it’s a great way to tick lots of items off your bucket list.
- Digital nomads often use more of a hub-and-spoke approach. Rather than following a continuous route, they might hop between specific places that have fast internet, good co-working facilities, and many other remote workers. Two months in Canggu on Bali can lead to three months in Medellin and then onto two months on Gran Canaria—each time moving to the next fixed but temporary base.
2. Find your opportunity
If you’re lucky, life might present you with a unique opportunity to travel.
For me, such an opportunity came when I was laid off back in 2012. One morning, everyone at my workplace received an envelope, each with one of two possible messages inside. My envelope was of the ‘short end of the straw’ kind. My heart sunk. It was terrible. But luckily the envelope also contained a generous severance offer, and I immediately knew this was my perfect chance to see the world. (I later realised I was unhappy with my career anyway, so this whole thing had been a huge blessing in disguise.)
Maybe such a golden opportunity won’t come to you on a platter. In that case, you’ll have to create your own. If you have few commitments at home, then this will of course be easier (this is true for many graduate and gap year backpackers). For others, it might mean having to work up the courage to step off the hamster wheel.
Though before you quit your job to travel, consider if there are other options. For example, a friend of mine was able to take 9 unpaid months off thanks to a slow period in her organization. It was a win-win: the company could reduce overhead for a while, and she could have her old job back after her world trip was over. That’s pretty amazing, though I can tell you tons more specific examples like this. While not every company is equally open-minded, many are seeing the benefits of allowing sabbaticals or remote work these days. You have nothing to lose by talking about it.
The digital nomad phenomenon is of course also growing fast, with many people creating opportunities for themselves to travel while also generating an income online.
3. Get the funds together
Some blogs try to sell the fantasy that you can somehow travel the world for free. There might be some specific situations that let you do that, but for those of us who want to travel in reasonable comfort (and see or do plenty of cool things along the way), some actual travel funds are almost certainly needed.
But traveling the world doesn’t have to cost the world. Having the discipline to set aside money to go into your travel fund is key, as is making smart choices about where and how to spend those funds.
If you’re from a high-income country, you can save up relatively easily and get a lot of purchasing power elsewhere. If that seems obvious, many people don’t seem truly aware of this incredible opportunity. If you truly can’t travel for financial reasons that’s fair enough, but for many it’s more about seeing the possibilities.
Even if you can’t afford to go somewhere hideously expensive like Switzerland or Fiji, at least you could travel to some more affordable destinations.
It’s difficult to talk raw numbers as everyone has a different travel style and expectations, but I took a shot anyway at answering how much it costs to travel for 1 year (this also includes monthly figures).
Even if you’re planning to work from the road, it’s a good idea to build up some financial cushion before you go. For tips on how to save up, check out blog posts like this or this one. (I’ve written about this topic too, but I like pointing to these examples of other bloggers as well, as there are many roads leading to Rome.)
If money is a concern you should of course learn how to travel cheaply. Keep in mind that having more time than most people helps a lot as it lets you zig where others zag. You can travel in the off-season, go to cheaper or more remote places, and outsmart instead of just outspend.
4. Downsize your life
If you’re going away for a long time, you’ll want to reduce your overhead at home as much as you can. Sub-let or get rid of your place to live, sell stuff you don’t need, and cancel unneeded subscriptions. Forward your mail to a relative or a PO box.
Downsize as much as possible, then put your remaining belongings in storage. I didn’t get this part right when I first went on a big trip on a whim! I kept a whole bunch of IKEA furniture in self-storage (among other things), which meant I had to pay around €350 a month for storage space, creating a constant drain on my funds. I would have saved a ton by just selling and buying new furniture later.
Letting go is difficult, but for maximum freedom, let go of as much as you can.
5. Ignore the naysayers
Let’s face it, dropping what you’re doing to travel the world isn’t the norm. Taking a gap year or sabbatical may be much more accepted in some countries (hello, Australia), though in many places it’s quite uncommon, and in a few it even often seems stigmatized (hello, United States).
Friends or family who haven’t done a trip themselves might question your plans, but you’ll need to stick to your guns and be a bit of a trailblazer. Keep in mind that once you’re on the road, you’re going to meet lots of people just like you, and suddenly your choices will not seem nearly so outlandish.
6. Take care and prepare
These days, you don’t need to be some kind of hardboiled adventurer type to travel long-term. Basically anyone can do it.
But it is true that it’s very different from just going on a holiday. Since you won’t be returning to a fixed base any time soon, your preparation becomes a lot more involved. And during your trip, you may face issues that a regular tourist never has to worry about. Long-term travel is not always glamorous; in fact, sometimes it can be exhausting and personally challenging.
It really pays off to properly prepare for your trip. And by prepare, I don’t mean planning every step of your journey in advance, because this is often impractical for a long trip. Sure, have a rough plan for your route, but the detailed day-to-day travel logistics are usually much better to work out as you go.
But it is very helpful to learn all about packing light, dealing with visas, travel health, safety, money and currency exchange, dealing with language barriers, and so many other things. Reading up on this stuff now can help you avoid many rookie mistakes later. (I had to learn many of them the hard way!)
7. Get over your fears
When you first get the idea to travel, you’re excited. You can clearly picture yourself hopping from continent to continent, or backpacking your way through a region. In your mind, it all plays out like a big travel highlights sizzle reel. Every day, you wake up screaming “YOLO!” and high-fiving yourself for the amazing adventure you’re going to have.
But after a while, that excitement can turn into trepidation. The practical realities can easily feel overwhelming, and fear of the unknown can make you spiral into negative thoughts.
Just know this “oh shit, what am I doing?” phase is very normal—in fact, most veteran long term travellers will confess to having felt it! It happened to me, too. It even happened to me the second time I went on a world trip, even though by then I would have known better.
But trust that things will feel very different once you’re actually on the road.
If you’d like some structured help with your trip, I’ve written a book titled Travel the World Without Worries, which acts as a trusted guide throughout the whole process. From the initial excitement and inspiration phase, to the actual packing/planning/preparation, and onto dealing with any situations while you are travelling: I’ve poured all of my travel knowledge into its 300+ pages. Some of the topics I talk about at depth include:
- How to quit your life to travel the world
- Budgeting and funding your trip
- Recommended planning resources & long-term travel routes
- Saving money while you travel (so you never pay more than you have to)
- Avoiding rookie mistakes and dealing with travel adversities
- Dealing with the stresses of being away from home
- Always staying safe on the road
- And much much more
I brought together a ton of practical stuff, but my goal with the book was also to share with you real stories and anecdotes to prepare you for some of the personal ups and downs of long-term travel. If you’re serious about going on a big journey, be sure to grab a copy today, as I guarantee it will help you out a ton.
You can also sign up to my newsletter (scroll up for the sign-up box above) for a free sample from the book, as well as my free 10-part travel tips e-mail series.
If you feel overwhelmed at any point, stick with it. Breaking from routine and planning something epic is going to take some determination. Remember that soon you could be climbing epic mountain tops, meeting locals in the strangest of places, or swinging in that hammock on a tropical beach without a care in the world… if you take the leap, you’ll definitely be rewarded.