How You Can Take The Leap & Travel Long Term

Got itchy feet? Here are your first steps to traveling the world...

You’re on a tiny island off the eastern coast of Thailand. You’ve been snorkelling 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…

Atacama desert, Bolivia

1. Find your opportunity

The biggest obstacle for many people is to actually find the time to travel. Most of us are locked into 9-to-5 schedules with only limited holiday allowance.

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 a terrible moment, though luckily the envelope also contained a severance offer. 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 blessing in disguise!)

But maybe such a golden opportunity won’t come to you on a platter. In that case, you’ll have to create your own.

This is a huge topic in itself (see: some of the links at the end of this post), but it essentially comes down to your willingness to let go of your comfortable day-to-day life for a while.

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. In many cases, the only way to travel long term is to quit your job.

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 there are many other examples like this, and perhaps more than you realize. While not every company is equally open-minded, many are seeing the benefits of allowing sabbaticals or remote work these days.

The digital nomad phenomenon is also growing fast, with many people creating opportunities for themselves to travel while also generating an income online.

But if such lucky opportunities don’t exist for you, the only way is to hit the eject button, and to hit it hard…

Visiting rural villages in Indonesia

2. 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 then that’s fair enough, but for many it’s simply about not 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 other case studies, as there are so many roads leading to Rome.)

If you’re on a tight budget, learn how to travel cheaply. Keep in mind that having more time than most people lets you travel in different ways: you can travel in the off-season, go to cheaper or more remote places, and outsmart the average tourist.

 

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3. 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 it’s good to have 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.

Each of these trip types takes a slightly different approach to planning.

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.

Iguazu Falls in Brazil

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.

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 challenging.

It pays off hugely 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 these things now can help you avoid many rookie mistakes later.

While there’s a certain romance to the idea of jumping onto a last-minute flight with only the suitcase you hastily packed 30 minutes ago, in reality it’s much better to know what you’re doing so you can anticipate some of the challenges you’ll face on the road.

Palawan in the Philippines

7. Get over your fears

When you first get the idea to travel, you’re super excited. I remember this clearly from when I first decided I wanted to do it.

You can easily picture yourself hopping from continent to continent, or backpacking your way through some far-flung part of the world.

In your mind, it all plays out like a big travel highlights sizzle reel. Every day, you wake up screaming “YOLOOOO!” and high-fiving yourself for the amazing adventure you’re going to have.

But after a while, that initial excitement turns into trepidation. The practical realities can easily feel overwhelming, and fear of the unknown can make you spiral into negative thoughts. I know this because it happened to me, and I get emails from people all the time who also suddenly find themselves in that “oh shit, what am I doing?” phase.

Just know that it’s normal. The Swedish even have a word for this: Resfeber. It means “the tangled feelings of fear and excitement before a journey begins”.

 

Don’t let that resfeber get to you! Take a deep breath and trust that things will feel very different once you’re actually on the road.

By the way, to help calm traveller’s nerves and to prepare them for a big journey, I wrote Travel the World Without Worries. This book combining structured practical advice with insightful personal anecdotes, acting as a trusted guide throughout the whole process.I’ve poured all of my travel knowledge into its 300+ pages: from the initial excitement and inspiration phase, to the actual packing/planning/preparation, and onto dealing with any situations while you are travelling.

All of the topics I briefly touched upon in this post get explained in much greater detail (plus many more), including:

  • 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
  • Honest insights into the personal ups and downs of long-term travel

So if you’re serious about going on a big journey, be sure to grab a copy today. I guarantee it will help you out a ton.

You can 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.

 

More on long-term travel

91 Weird & Wonderful Lessons From Traveling The World For 2 Years
Still need convincing that travel is amazing? This post is guaranteed to give you itchy feet!
17 Amazingly Cheap Places to Travel in 2017
Make travel more sustainable in the long run by going to these cheaper destinations.
How Much Does It Cost To Travel For 1 Year?
Some ballpark estimations based on different regions and travel styles.
3 Ways to Book Your RTW (Round the World) Trip
Airline alliances sell their own RTW tickets, but they’re not always the best choice.
Finding Amazingly Cheap Flights: My Tips & Tricks 
Want to fly halfway around the world for something like $400? Search and you shall find…
Packing Like a Pro and Traveling Light—My Ultimate Guide
The longer your journey, the less you’ll want to actually pack. This post shows how.
Where To Go Backpacking: A Map Of Every Major Route
This map is gold for anyone interested in overlanding.

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24 comments

  1. Bandar Judi Indonesia Reply July 8, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Hmm it seems like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any tips and hints for newbie blog writers? I’d definitely appreciate it.
    Bandar Judi Indonesia recently posted…Bandar Judi IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Marek Reply July 8, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      Hi, I’m sorry your comment got eaten! Sometimes my comment filters get a bit overzealous. Thanks for your kind words 🙂 I wrote a few tips (a lot time ago now) for newbie bloggers here. But I’m also working on a couple of YouTube videos on the topic, so you might want to subscribe. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some meaningful tips soon.

  2. Ashley Reply July 1, 2017 at 1:50 am

    Great advice!

  3. Christine Reply June 3, 2017 at 8:19 am

    I’ve got one more to add to your list, take your family/kids! Of course it makes everything else far more complicated, as I have discovered in the planning process!
    We are leaving in September, taking 2 teenagers out of high school for a year. My husband needs to be in Europe and China for work, so we will split our time between those general areas. Starting in Barcelona for 2 months, then Bangkok for a week, Cambodia for a month and finishing 2017 in Bali. Come mid January we hope to cover more of SE Asia, Morocco & Jordan, before heading back to Europe.

    If naysayers are a problem for one person, I get looks of shock, mixed with comments of “that’s cool”. I’m not sure if what their face says or their words are to be believed. Anyway, we are booked until the end of 2017 – the wheels are in motion!

  4. Hayley Reply May 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Hi Marek

    Just finished reading your article, brilliant. Ive just come back from a 6 week trip in Peru and Bolivia, and loved every minute. I now have the travel bug and wanting to do a long term journey. Have a property in Australia that i can sell and make some cash that would fund the trip. Im 43 and have begun telling my friends and family my plans, and they all think ive gone mad, and having some kind of breakdown or mid life crisis. The trouble is im in job that i no longer enjoy and tired of being stuck in the rat race. Your story is inspiritional and the more i research and think about the idea the more bigger the YES gets!!

    • Marek Reply May 26, 2017 at 7:25 pm

      Love to hear this! If you feel stuck in a rut there’s nothing to stop you from changing course and going on a long term journey. Good luck and hope you’ll make it happen!

    • Christine Reply June 3, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Hayley – I’m 47 and I wonder if I am crazy to do this travel thing. I retired from my career of 25 years at the end of 2016. My husband is able to work from Europe and China, so we are taking our 2 teenagers out of school to travel for the year. No point in sticking around one place, my husband will come and go as he needs to. But the kids and I get the full adventure immersion!

      My choices have made the trip far more complicated than a solo trip. There is complete freedom in that. So I don’t think you are crazy!

  5. Ballal Reply April 30, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Hi there
    Do you have any posts on people travelling long term in a vehicle / camper van? This is our preferred method of travel for a couple of years (hopefully). Mostly concentrating on Europe.
    Are there some massive downsides to this that i’m not seeing? obviously there are fuel costs, but we’re cutting out ticket and a bit of accommodation.
    I say a bit of accommodation because we don’t plan to live in the Camper van all the time. Perhaps when we find an area we want to spend more time in we would like to rent out a place etc.

    Cheers

    • Marek Reply May 2, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      I haven’t covered this topic as I don’t have that much personal experience with it. In Europe I’d say there are few if any downsides. Elsewhere in the world the paperwork/stress when crossing borders could be one. But really, it seems like a great way to travel. One day I’d like to travel the world in a converted minibus!

  6. Carl Kruse Reply April 25, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Two rock-solid tidbits from your post that should be ingrained in any long-term travel manual:

    1. Downsize your life.
    2. Ignore the naysayers.

    Loved the post Marek.

    – Carl Kruse

    • Marek Reply April 25, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      Thanks Carl, glad you also recognize these key points 🙂

  7. Chrys | Women Digital Nomads Reply February 14, 2017 at 4:23 am

    This is a really comprehensive guide Marek. I’ve been lucky to be able to be a long term traveler with a means to support myself while traveling, but I remember when I first started out I was nervous about how I was going to support myself, if I would be safe, where to go etc.

  8. Meaghan Janisse Reply February 6, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Awesome article! Your points about not being phased or stigmatized by the people back home who’ve never traveled before is really important! Most of the time, your family of course has the best intentions but unfortunately, they don’t understand what it’s like to be backpacking and often give misguided advice. Stick to your guns, read travel blogs, get advice from other travelers and most importantly, figure it out for yourself! It’s also so true what you say about having serious doubts before your trip and as soon as you actually do it, you realize there was nothing to be afraid of. The feeling is so liberating when you realize there are so many other people just like you out on the road but when you’re back home and you seem like an oddity, it can really create a lot of doubts in your head.

    Love your blog!

  9. AlicevstheWorld Reply January 21, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I’d love to take the leap and head off on a round-the-world trip! I need to sort out funds and finances first, but it’s a definite ambition of mine to do this.

  10. Lucy Reply August 5, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    Great read Marek! I travelled Europe extensively in 2014 and plan to see South America in 2017. Even though I conquered all of my fears 2 years ago and took a leap of faith I see myself in the same fearful mindset right now heading into my next big trip. Am I too old? (30), should I be spending the money on a house deposit? Should I be settling down with a partner by now? My brain thinks weird things haha, and I know the answer to all of them I just keep relaying these questions over and over for some reason. Perhaps it’s because at my age I feel the pressure from society to settle down and be an adult when my heart is still so free and wild. Regardless the reasons behind my insecure mindset I loved reading your blog and it’s given me the inspiration I did to do it all over again 🙂
    Keep up the amazing journey!

    • Marek Reply August 13, 2016 at 11:45 am

      Haha well if it’s any consolation I have those exact same questions often enter my thoughts as well! The pressure is real but I think it’s also important to enjoy what you’re doing in the moment, and to let things happen when they happen. That’s my philosophy at least… hope I’m right! 😉

  11. Daniel @ Path Finder City Reply November 17, 2015 at 7:06 am

    I am doing some research on this exact topic and you basically just raised the benchmark of the topic “how to travel the world”, Marek! Damn… lol.

    Bookmarked your wbsite and will dig up some older posts to read during the weekend!

    -Daniel

  12. Barry Reply October 16, 2015 at 5:43 am

    I was in exactly the same position in 2008. I quit my job, sold everything unimportant on eBay and jumped on a 25 hour flight with backpack. No idea how I was going to make money and didn’t even a place to stay.

    My friends and colleagues thought I was reckless and questioned my decision at every opportunity. Yet many of them secretly told me in confidence that they were envious of what I was doing.

    This year I have been living and travelling in 8 different countries. By the end of the year it will be double that. Do I regret it? Hell no 🙂
    Barry recently posted…The Non Free Ride And Why You Need Money To TravelMy Profile

  13. Soumya Shetty Reply September 15, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Hey Marek
    Your blog on taking the first step, towards a fulfilling travel dream is just the best I have read. Your encouraging words on conquering your fears, and that of saving money right away made me sit up and plan my next trip.

  14. Clelia Mattana Reply May 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Great post!

    That’s what I did: I decided to quit a well paid (oh SO WELL PAID) job, I sold everything I owned and I saved for 6 months straight. I left with 16.000$ and 1 year and 3 months later I still have enough money on my bank account to be able to stay on the road for at least other 6/7 months. But I decided to go back home for a few months to seriously work on my blog and save the money I’m finally earning with it. When the income will be stable (now it varies a lot), I wll start traveling again and I will finally become location independent. The dream of a lifetime 🙂 You give very good advice on this post. Especially “don’t travel as you were on holiday”, so true. But sometimes when you travel slow you can even afford to splurge a bit. I found an amazing resort on the beach for 40 days and i paid less than 400$, including meals. Yep. True story. Doesn’t happen very often but if you are patient and find the right deal, it’s paradise!! Traveling long term is so worth it! but not for everyone i guess…

    • Scott Adlhoch Reply June 7, 2017 at 11:58 am

      hi clelia i read your article too, you are doing great fun.
      this blog is worth read, know alot of things about long run for traveling, i would love to start the same as you did.

  15. Graeme Voigt Reply December 4, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Awesome post man!!!

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