This book is all about helping you achieve your great travel ambitions. If you ever dreamed of going away for longer than just your typical holiday—if you want to travel the world for many weeks, months, or maybe even a year or beyond—then this guide is for you.
Whether you are planning a round-the-world trip, a career break, a gap year, or a backpacking trip, this book will show you how you can travel further and longer for less. It will guide you step-by-step through all the pre-trip planning and preparation, and it will arm you with a wealth of trail-tested tips and techniques that you can use to make your journey more adventurous and fulfilling.
Going on a big trip abroad is very different from going on a regular holiday. It’s more challenging, but it’s often also much more rewarding. Going on a big journey can seem a little daunting at first, but once you push through, you will gain unique experiences that you won’t get from a brief vacation.
If you have done it before you will already know this, but it’s amazing to go deeper on your travels. The difference between short-term and longer-term travel can be hard to explain, though it reminds me a bit of the difference between snorkelling and scuba diving—two activities that I’ve often enjoyed while travelling in tropical destinations.
A regular holiday is a bit like snorkelling… it’s a lot of fun, but it also has certain limits. You might be able to see some wonderful things on the reef down below, but you are always at the surface level, and you are always on the outside looking in. There might be some amazing things just at arm’s length (like obvious tourist spots), but you know that the true wonders lie deeper down below. That is, to me, what being a tourist often feels like. You can only ever dip in a little bit, but you can never go all the way. It’s often more difficult to go to places that are a little off-the-beaten-track, and it’s more challenging to slow down and get to know places more intimately.
Long-term travel is more like scuba diving. It takes more preparation, and it’s maybe a little scary at first. But when you do it, you unlock a whole new world. You can dive down and truly immerse yourself in all the places you go. A bigger trip lets you go deeper, stay longer, and see things that people at the surface will never see.
If you are planning a shorter trip, that’s okay; you will still get a ton of valuable travel advice from this book. But if you want to travel for many weeks, many months, or even longer, then the advice in this book will apply perfectly to your situation.
Although I travelled for well over a decade on shorter trips and weekend breaks, it wasn’t until my first-ever backpacking trip that I truly I fell in love with travelling. I have been going on big trips ever since. One of these trips lasted an entire two years, taking me gradually through every country in Southeast Asia, and then from Mexico all the way down to Argentina overland. While much of my travels have been in the developing world (as you will notice from many of the examples and anecdotes to come), I have also travelled extensively all over Europe as well as in the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. Throughout my travels I’ve kept a blog called Indie Traveller (www.indietraveller.co) where I regularly share inspiration and advice, and which quickly grew into one of the Top 30 most visited travel blogs.
Travel The World Without Worries is essentially the book I wished I had before my first big trip. While it would be silly to claim that you need a book like this to travel the world and come back in one piece, you’re likely to make costly, unnecessary, or embarrassing mistakes if you are not adequately prepared.
I myself had to learn some of the lessons the hard way. I once got stranded with a broken car on a mountain in Guatemala at night. I got robbed in broad daylight in Rio De Janeiro. My debit card got swiped and cloned in Honduras and more than $4000 disappeared from my bank account (which thankfully I could still claim back). I once spent the night in a pay-by-the-hour “Love Hotel” thinking it was just a normal hotel, which was just a little awkward. At an airport in Australia my taxi drove off with my luggage still in the trunk, and when I ran after it with my arms flailing the airport terror alert got triggered causing police to swarm on my position (I got my luggage back eventually). I lost my smartphone in the jungles of Laos, got scammed a dozen times in Vietnam, and got a nasty ear infection in Thailand for which a village doctor inexplicably gave me a jab in my butt (somehow I was concerned that he’d not noticed me frantically pointing at my ears).
Of course, these are just a handful of extreme anecdotes from several years of constant travel. The challenges you normally face will be no more extreme than figuring out which bus to take next, or finding a place to sleep for the night. But even such basic challenges can seem difficult, especially if you haven’t had to deal with them in foreign countries before (or maybe just not for many weeks or months on end).
This book incorporates all the lessons I’ve learned, as well as many insights shared with me by the countless travellers that I’ve been so fortunate to meet on my journeys. By the end of this book, you will be able to hit the ground running and travel with confidence. While you will no doubt still feel giddy when you get off that plane and set forth into the unknown, you can feel assured that you have thought of everything.
The chapters in this book are mostly self-contained so that you can jump around to find specific answers if you’d like, though it is best to read the book sequentially. It roughly follows a chronological order, starting with pre-trip planning, onto life on the trail, and finally coming back home.
Good luck, and bon voyage!
Dear international reader
This book makes no assumptions about where you are from. I myself am Dutch, speak English with an American accent, but live in the UK. I typically use US Dollars when I travel, but use British Pounds or Euros at home. This book features a mish-mash of currencies, its spelling is Brit-ish, but some of the measurements are metric. I know, it’s a mess, though this is what happens when you become a world nomad!
I have tried to include conversions where possible, though truly this book is intended for anyone from any country. If nothing else, it might help you get accustomed to dealing with such international differences, as you will no doubt have to on your travels… (By the way, if you ever need to convert units or currencies, you can simply use Google. For example, try typing “100 dollars in euro”, and you will get the answer straight away.)
Chapter 1. The world is your oyster
Chances are that you can travel further and longer than you think.
When I talk about my travels with people who have never spent more than a week or two at a time abroad, I always hear the same things: “well, you could do that, but my situation is different”, or “I would travel too if only I had the money.”
More often than not, these are people who could easily go on a big journey if that’s what they truly wanted.
All too often, limiting beliefs hold us back from being as ambitious with our travel plans as we would really like to be. The truth is that you can achieve great things even on a modest budget, and that you can travel far and wide despite the obstacles seemingly in your way.
If you are reading this book, then you surely are already dreaming about exploring the world. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to plan, prepare, and pack for a trip, perhaps we should first examine those limiting beliefs. After all, who knows? Maybe you are still setting your sights a little too low…
Finding the time to travel
If you are a student or graduate, count yourself lucky because you are in a life phase with fewer commitments than most. For you, money is probably the main limiter rather than time, so simply try to travel for as long as you can or want to. Go with the wind, young grasshopper!
If you have bigger life commitments, then these might seem like difficult obstacles in the way of travelling for a long time.
Your job is likely to be the main obstacle. In some working cultures it is not too uncommon to take extended time off (for instance, in many countries in Europe). In the US, this can be almost unheard of. However, trying to get a leave of absence is always worth a shot.
Some long-term travellers make agreements with their employer allowing them to take unpaid time off and return to their jobs after their trip. This is not just possible within, say, cushy internet start-ups eager to please their star employees; for example, I met a psychotherapist who got three months of unpaid leave, and a call centre worker who was able to get away for six weeks. Usually such arrangements take advantage of a slow period within the organisation. It’s a win-win, as the employer can reduce their overhead for a while, and will get you back later fully refreshed and already trained on the job.
If you are trying to get away for a not-too-crazy amount of time, for instance a month, this can potentially be done through a combination of paid and unpaid leave. While on a permanent contract I once managed to double my time off by requesting additional unpaid leave on top of my accrued holiday. I made the argument that I had a unique travel opportunity (but that I didn’t want to quit my job over), and that I had gone beyond the call of duty at work in recent months. It’s somewhat gutsy and you clearly have to be tactful in discussing such options, but you will never know without trying.
Some people manage to actually take their job with them on the road. Increasingly it’s possible for knowledge workers to continue working while they are abroad, so long as they have a laptop and an internet connection. We get into this topic a lot more in Chapter 3: Financing your travels.
In some working cultures it’s entirely acceptable for someone to take a one-time career sabbatical, though you have to be lucky to live in a country where this is expected and supported (hello, Sweden!).
The ultimate way to travel long-term, however, is to not have a job at all. This might sound extreme, but it’s the only way to be truly free. Many world travellers either ditch their jobs, or were laid off and found in this the impetus to travel.
Admittedly it can be difficult to even imagine quitting your job to travel, and doing so might not be right for everyone. That said, often the fears associated with quitting have little to do with the realities. If you managed to get your current job, chances are you can find another one like it in the future. Keep in mind that in an increasingly globalised world, having some international experience can be a real asset. Travel can look great on a C.V., so long as you frame it as a valuable experience. Don’t just make it sound like you were sipping mojitos on a beach the whole time; focus on the valuable aspects of travel such as budgeting, negotiation, or soft skills like self-reliance and communication.
While only you can make an informed decision about whether to quit your job, do make sure that you consider the risk of future regret and weigh this against any perceived risks to your career now. Will an entirely safe career path still make you happy many years from now, or will you be wondering why you never went on that big travel adventure when you had the chance?
The problem is that it’s all too easy to become over-invested in your career, always hanging on for the next promotion or that next pay-check. With career blinders on, things that ultimately don’t matter so much seem to matter the world to you then (such as that next project, your next employee evaluation, or next year’s financial targets). I constantly meet travellers around the world who are thankful to have stepped out of that treadmill, at least for a little while.
Think of travel as a regret avoidance strategy. I know quite a few people who have regrets about not having travelled when they had the opportunity, but I have not spoken to a single person who travelled and had any woes about it afterwards. Imagine what you’ll be telling your grandchildren about one day: will it be that time you were still working in that soul-destroying job… or the time you were on a grand adventure filled with magic and wonder? (Hint: one of these does not make for great story time material…)
Dealing with life commitments
Besides a job, there might be other commitments keeping you from travelling longer.
If you own a house or if you’re on a tenancy contract, this can almost feel like this is physically tying you down. Wouldn’t it be great if you could tie 20,000 balloons to the roof of your house and fly away like Carl Fredricksen in the movie Up? Sadly, this is not very practical. A better solution is to sub-let your place, or to move out and temporarily put your belongings into storage. The pros and cons of doing so are covered further in Chapter 3: Financing your travels.
You would think that in certain situations you would be absolutely mad to go on a big trip. I once thought that once you have a family with kids you’ll definitely have to put any grand travel ambitions on ice until the kids are grown up… but then I met a whole bunch of travelling families and my perspective of what’s possible changed completely.
For instance, I met a family with three children travelling for a whole year. In Panama I met a family who sold their car, bought a boat, and went sailing around the world (their plan was to sell the boat again when they get back home). I even met a couple who were backpacking through Vietnam for two months with an infant. I imagine this must not be particularly easy, but it just goes to show you that people out there are doing things that many people would not think possible.
Of course, maybe you don’t have a family or any dependants. The broader point here is that if people with huge life responsibilities can travel the world, then surely so can you. Whatever is keeping you fixed in one place, there are always creative solutions that still let you travel.
Trip financing: where there’s a will…
You don’t need to be rich to travel the world. You will, however, need a willingness to save up and to travel in smart ways.
If your funds are limited, your best bet is to go to countries that are cheap. It’s no accident that this book focuses a lot on Asia and Latin America, as travelling in many countries there is inexpensive (especially for anyone on a Western income), making them ideally suited to long-term travel.
Costs vary per country, but there are many places around the world where you can travel comfortably for around $1000 a month, sometimes even less. By avoiding expensive destinations in more developed economies, you can increase the length of your trip dramatically.
The other option is to travel to more expensive countries, but to use all sorts of cost-saving strategies and travel hacks to still make this sustainable in the longer term.
A trip lasting a couple of months might require at least a couple of grand. This is not nothing, but it’s within range of most people who can set aside a little money for their travel fund every month. Maybe not everyone will be able to finance a big trip as quickly or as easily, but where there’s a will there’s always a way.
I’m often asked how much it costs to travel for a whole year (as travelling for roughly one year is a common goal for a big round-the-world trip). However, asking “how much is a year of travel?” is kind of akin to asking “how big is a fish?”. It all depends… are we talking about a dwarf goby, or a whale shark? A year-long journey can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. Though if you target budget destinations only, you could travel for a whole year starting at about $10,000. (And there are some exceptionally thrifty people who do it for even less.) Again, this is not nothing, but it’s far from the millionaire status that some people think you need in order to go on a very big journey.
In Chapter 2: Getting inspired, we’ll discuss the financial pros and cons of travelling in different parts of the world, and we’ll look at some popular trips of varying lengths (from about a month up to a year or more). In Chapter 3, we’ll cover how you can determine your budget, use a plethora of methods to save up money, and how you can use all manner of creative ways to finance your trip.
Is long-term travel a wise investment?
Wait a minute—is it a good idea to spend a lot of money on what are ultimately just fleeting one-off experiences? Isn’t it better to invest in more tangible or material things that will continue to benefit you for many years? It only seems logical that buying a physical object that lasts longer will pay off much more.
Numerous psychologists have actually studied this issue and have come to one conclusion: while buying things doesn’t make you unhappy, it doesn’t make you happy. There is a brief period of satisfaction after buying a new thing, but you adapt to this new thing very quickly, after which it becomes normal to you.
Experiences, on the other hand, become a bigger part of ourselves than any material objects ever can. They give us lasting memories, which can never be taken away from us. Experiences also become part of our identities, and we can share and talk about them with others for the rest of our lives.
While it’s true that much of the enjoyment of your trip takes place during your trip, you’ll still be enjoying the afterglow for many years to come. So, to answer the question, travel is definitely worth the investment!
Why you should travel independently
Going on an organized tour is easy and convenient, but it’s not the same as doing things on your own.
When it’s just you on the open road to destiny, your journey truly becomes your own. You can go to places that tours never go to, tailor your trip exactly to your interests, and stay longer or shorter in places depending on how you feel.
If you haven’t travelled independently before (or just not on a big journey), it might seem a little daunting to have to do everything on your own. Independent travel is admittedly not without its challenges, but that’s also what makes it ultimately so rewarding. Even the little setbacks along the way can later turn into good stories.
If you are wondering how to go about making your day-to-day decisions, how to book things, plan things, get tickets for buses or trains, and all the other practical on-the-ground aspects of travel, all such issues are covered in Chapter 4. Finding your way.
Besides giving you the freedom to do whatever you want, travelling independently also lets you make dramatic savings over any packaged tour or holiday. The prices advertised by the travel industry are not the kind of prices you should expect when travelling entirely according to your own plans.
To illustrate, I just looked up a 30-day tour through Peru, Argentina and Brazil with a budget oriented group tour operator. The price? A dizzying €5160 per person, excluding flights (that’s about $6000 or £3600). For that kind of money, you could easily spend half a year backpacking through South America (in other words six times longer!). Suddenly this tour operator does not seem so ‘low budget’ anymore. While pre-packaged tours are nice if you want to have everything arranged for you, they come with a considerable price tag.
Overcoming your fears
It is easy, and in a way even logical, to fear the unknown. If you have never been to a particular country or continent before, you will have almost no frame of reference. It’s no surprise that a lot of the e-mail I get from readers of my blog have an air of nervous excitement. Many of the questions I get essentially boil down to “I really want to do this, but I’m also a little scared… what should I do?”.
To go on a great journey you will have to get past those initial fears, or at least be willing to take a leap of faith. What can help you in getting more comfortable is to research and absorb a lot of information, as this can turn your travel goals from an abstract and distant idea into something much more tangible that you know you can actually do (reading this book will certainly help with this!).
Besides the purely practical aspects of travel, you might also wonder about safety. Fortunately, the reality is that most countries are perfectly safe to visit. Even in countries that do have some safety issues, the concerns are usually limited to a few specific and easily avoidable areas. Many tips and tricks on how to stay safe and travel responsibly can be found in Chapter 8: Personal safety and security.
Another common fear is the fear of travelling solo. Since it can be difficult to find a travel buddy for a longer trip, many people will set out on their own. But this can raise all sorts of questions about whether you’re going to meet any people or whether things will be lonely. If these are issues you’re facing, the last couple of chapters in this book can really help you along, as they are dedicated to all the social aspects of travel as well as offering specific advice for travelling solo.
While deciding to travel can be a little scary, once you are on your trip you will surely find that travelling itself is not scary at all. Going on a journey can be a fantastic life-affirming experience, and with the right knowledge and preparation you can ensure you’ll have a successful trip.
You can go anywhere… but it’s not always easy
While independent travel is unquestionably wonderful, it should be said that it can also be hard work at times. Sometimes you are stuck on an uncomfortable creaky bus for hours on end, spending ages just figuring out how to book a ticket, or cursing to yourself while hauling a heavy backpack around town. This is all part of the adventure, though it can also wear you down.
Of course, travelling is not hard work in the same way that working in a coal mine trying to make an honest living is hard work. But it does take a bit more effort than a regular holiday. If you want to only relax all the time, you might not like life on the road. Sometimes you have to deal with long transit times, delays, and other frustrating challenges before you can ultimately reap your rewards.
That said, the hardships of backpacking are also often exaggerated. Many travellers emphasize only the extremes as it makes for better stories. Will you tell people about the days you just spent lazying in your hammock, or the time your bus broke down and you had to plough through a thunderstorm with 15 kg on your back? Clearly, the stories that get shared the most are all the cool “war stories”, not the times that people had it easy.
Travel blogs and other media further reinforce the image of world travel being necessarily very hardcore. A good example is the movie The Beach, which is often a prime source of inspiration for those wanting to go to Southeast Asia. In this movie, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character finds himself in a hostel in Bangkok that frankly looks terrifying, with dirty mattresses, graffiti-covered concrete walls and no windows anywhere. It seems even a North Korean prison cell would offer a more uplifting atmosphere than what is depicted in this film. While rooms like this do surely exist in some places, you will generally find clean, comfortable, and homely accommodation in a country like Thailand, sometimes for as little as five dollars a night.
In other words, while world travel won’t constantly bathe you in luxury, you also won’t have to travel like you are Bear Grylls on a survival mission, subsisting solely on a diet of dung beetles. Just make sure you are the kind of pragmatic person who would enjoy travelling on a budget.
If that sounds good to you, then try to carve out as much time for your journey as you possibly can. Find creative solutions to anything that might stand in the way of your travel ambitions, because once you’re on the trail you will surely wish you could travel longer.
Ultimately, how long you could or should go away depends on numerous factors, all of which are very personal. But no matter your circumstances, consider all your options and find out how long you want your trip to truly be. For some, the answer may simply be to travel as long as they can before their money runs out. For others, there will be a specific beginning and end date.
Once you know how long you want to go away, you can start thinking about where exactly you want to go. Conveniently, this is covered in the next chapter…
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