(Header image: Admiring the view at the Komodo Islands in Indonesia)
Are you longing for a gap year, round-the-world trip, or career break? Want to get away for more than just your typical week-long excursion and instead travel for many weeks, months, or maybe even a year? Such grand travel ambitions may feel like they’re always out of reach, but take it from me: with the right mind-set you can make them happen.
Going on a big trip can be an amazing life-affirming experience. (Heck, it’s why I ended up blogging about it!) You get to see things with different eyes and really go the extra mile—both literally and figuratively. Read my inspiring post 91 Weird & Wonderful Lessons From Traveling The World For 2 Years for some idea of what it can be like.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be filthy rich (by Western standards), nor some kind of hard-boiled adventurer type, to go on a big journey abroad.
It’s a cliche phrase, but every journey starts with a single step. If you want to go on a RTW trip or to go backpacking long-term, the first thing you need to do is to get serious about it. Too many people try to convince themselves they’ll do it “someday”, but then that day never comes. So whether you want to inter-railing in Europe for 2 months, or maybe go backpacking through Asia for 6 months, or even trot the whole globe for a year, the first step is really to commit to the idea—as everything else will flow naturally from this. When you’re focused on a goal, the solutions and answers to your questions will come to you.
I remember from my own early travels that it can be daunting to even begin to plan something like this. There’s probably a lot of questions swirling through your mind. How to plan such a trip? How do you get the money together? How do you survive life on the road? While there’s a whole heap of practical necessities to tick off the list, it’s also really a personal process of gaining confidence.
If you’re just at the starting point of wanting to travel long-term, here are some of the first steps to take…
Atacama Desert, Bolivia
Step 1: Overcome Your Fears
I believe fear of the unknown is the main obstacle to actually going on a big journey. If you haven’t travelled long-term before, it might feel a little intimidating.
If you’re going on holiday for maybe just a week, you might be staying in just one location, or you might go on an organized tour or perhaps work out some kind of detailed day-by-day itinerary (giving you a very clear plan). When you’re travelling longer-term, it becomes a lot harder (or even completely impractical) to make such detailed plans in advance, and so you have to rely a lot more on working things out as you go. That can be a little scary.
There’s also a lot of uncertainty involved in going to new and unfamiliar places. Before I went on my first big trip, I read every travel guide I could get my hands on, and I still didn’t quite know what to truly expect. It’s just hard to imagine if you have never been to certain places before.
Fear of the unknown can be big obstacle to overcome. As I write this, a friend of mine is flying to Bangkok in two days to go backpacking. It’s his first time, and he told me he’s actually having nightmares about getting robbed. Of course, usually such fears are unfounded, and you may even fully know that rationally, but that doesn’t mean that going on a big trip won’t still feel like jumping into the deep.
That’s why I think the first step is really to get comfortable with the idea that it doesn’t have to be scary or dangerous, and that you can do it too.
One of the cool things I really like about travel is just seeing all the different kinds of people that are travelling. I’ve met people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds, travelling either together with their partner or friends, or on their own. I’ve met shy people and really outgoing people. I’ve met people travelling for all sorts of reasons and at different stages of their lives. All of them overcame any worries or concerns they may have had, and finally just went out there to see the world.
By truly investing in your travel goals, and reading about the experiences of other people who have gone before, you can get yourself into that can-do mind-set.
Visiting rural villages in Flores, Indonesia
Step 2: Save Money
Money is what makes the world go round, and it’s also what makes you go around the world. The second obstacle to a big trip is purely financial. But even though it’s much more of a practical issue, overcoming it nevertheless also requires a belief that you can do it, because many people mistakenly think that a big trip is financially out of reach when it actually isn’t.
Of course, not everyone has enough savings in the bank to just go on a world trip on a whim, and so for most people it means having to save up. The key here is having the discipline to set aside money to go into your travel fund. (I talk a lot in my book on how to use various money-saving strategies.)
Granted, I’ve met people who were in fortunate positions to go on a big trip. Recently I met an investment banker who was very well off, but became disillusioned with his career and so decided to go backpacking.
I myself was fortunate enough a few years ago to already have some savings as well as a generous redundancy payment to start off my travels. But even if you don’t have the money already, you can save up quickly by being dedicated. You might have to set aside money every month, sell things you don’t really need, or be resourceful and make money as you travel. These are some of the ways I finance my trips now, as well.
The other way to save money is by not travelling in the most expensive countries. Learning how affordable some destinations are can be eye-opening. There are lots of places where you can travel comfortably for a full month for under $1000 / €900 / 650 GBP. By travelling frugally and in smarter ways, you can also extend your trip dramatically.
If you can’t afford travelling in expensive Western countries, go to low-income countries. For instance, go to Asia, Latin America, or the Balkans in Southeastern Europe, and you’ll find that prolonged travel is all the more attainable. Going to cheaper countries is not only easier to get the funds for, it also puts you in a different mind-set while you’re on the trail: when everything is relatively inexpensive you start to think more in terms of sheer possibilities and less in harsher terms of cost versus reward. It becomes much easier to follow your whims and passions when you don’t have to be as calculating. Of course, you don’t have to go to cheap countries, but it makes things easier, and many long term backpackers end up at least adding some to the mix.
Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Step 3: Make Time
The final obstacle is simply making the time to travel. This can be tricky depending on where you live or what your life/job situation is.
There are some clever ways to save up holidays to go on a big trip, get your employer to allow you a sabbatical or make use of some time in between jobs. Though the longer the trip the more committed you need to be: for instance, if you want to travel for a year you will probably have to quit your job and maybe give up your place (either renting it out, or giving it up entirely and putting your belongings into storage).
That can feel like quite a radical decision, and might prompt all sorts of questions about what this means in terms of finding a job again when you get back, or wondering what others think about you taking a break to seek different experiences abroad. This is something that perhaps takes a bit of courage, though these are the kind of bold decisions that are ultimately the most rewarding ones. Keep in mind that essentially no one regrets going on a world trip, while many regret not having done it when they had the chance.
I keep meeting people in backpacker circles around the world who speak with a glint in their eye about how happy they are to have stepped out of the regular life/career hamster wheel for a while. If this is something you want to do too, I can tell you it can be extremely rewarding end re-energizing.
Going on a big journey, whether it’s for a few weeks, months, or even years, does take some preparation and a bit learning… and ultimately a leap of faith. I’ve tried to answer some common questions in my posts on Indie Traveller, which I invite you to dig into. I also wrote an in-depth book on long-term travel, which multiple readers have called “the single most helpful resource” for planning an RTW trip. I know it’ll be the best book you’ll read on this subject, so if you’re serious about taking the first step towards your journey, be sure to get a copy!
Palawan, The Philippines