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 it’s all too easy to say you’ll do it “someday” and never actually do it. I know all too well, because for a long time this was me!
Having since 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. 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…
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 travelling 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, but I took a shot anyway at answering how much it costs to travel for 1 year (this also includes monthly figures).
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.
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.
This 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.
An 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.
Remote workers 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 requires a 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.
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 a little 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, it’s good to have a rough plan, 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 prepare and anticipate some of the challenges you might face on the road.
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 get emails from people all the time who also suddenly find themselves in that “oh shit, what am I doing?” phase.
Rest assured, this is entirely 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 prepare you for a big journey (and maybe calm your nerves) I wrote a book called Travel the World Without Worries. It combines structured practical advice with honest anecdotes from the trail. It helps you go from the initial inspiration phase, to the actual packing/planning/preparation, and onto dealing with any adversities while you are travelling.
If you feel overwhelmed at any point, stick with it. 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.