After college I had three friends who, all separately, quit their jobs and set off to see the world. Following that time-honored tradition of taking selfies with the Mona Lisa, skinny dipping on Brazilian beaches, and stumbling around Amsterdam’s Red Light District’s smoky haze.
That kind of drop-everything-and-go travel has become so commonplace in recent years that I would be surprised if you didn’t know someone who’s also taken a similar path. Heck, they’re as American as apple pie and the Electoral College!
Now in our early thirties, my fiancée Lori and I began to yearn for that adventure, too, albeit in a more PG-13 sort of way.
Struck with a palpable desire to experience life beyond the daily grind of emails, meetings, and PowerPoint presentations, we made a pact one warm Northern California day in February 2016 to figure out how we could create lives based around world travel.
Wrapping Our Heads Around it All
A big change like this becomes exponentially harder to make as you get older, given career aspirations, the desire to have children, and the various other factors. I’m sure you know a handful of friends (and maybe even yourself?) who tossed around the same idea but ultimately chose to continue grinding things out at work.
In our case, we knew that travel was integral to our happiness and that revamping our lifestyle would require a comprehensive budget planning process to instill the confidence we’d need to make this life-changing leap work for us.
As a couple, Lori and I had all the trappings of a brick-and-mortar lifestyle: an overpriced San Francisco apartment, a car payment, employer-sponsored health insurance, etc. – all things that would need to change if we were going to press pause on our careers and go travelling full-time.
We also both felt that if we were going to quit our jobs and travel the world, we would need to do it for at least two years – if not longer – in order to justify to ourselves this major change. This needed to feel less like a sabbatical for us, and more like a total lifestyle transformation. Hence, the budgeting aspect was uber important.
How Do You Budget For Years of Travel??
In the beginning we were beyond puzzled. Most travel bloggers told stories about how they saved a few hundred dollars, bought a one-way plane ticket to Vietnam, and figured it out from there.
That plan didn’t appeal to us for a number of reasons – most notably because we would be leaving behind upwardly mobile careers into which we’d invested energy, passion, and years of our lives. So we wanted to make sure we were designing our new travel lifestyle with plenty of intention and forethought.
Compounding those fears, we were also unsure how to identify a target savings amount that would allow us to get through two years of plane tickets, Airbnb stays, and an insatiable hunger for Thai food? (Fact: I will never say no to Pad See Ew, which is a popular stir fry featuring delicious wide flat rice noodles).
So what did we do first? We sketched out the costs we expected to incur over the next two years regardless of travel, or what you could consider the “fixed” costs associated with day-to-day living, such as our cell phones, car payment, health insurance, food, and more.
To create even more budget flexibility, we opted to slash our housing costs by ditching our West Coast digs and moving in rent-free to the basement of a generous family member’s home, where we could live in-between trips. We decided to keep our car even though it would sit in the driveway during our overseas excursions, as it would come in handy for long road trips across the U.S.
A Look At Our “Fixed Costs” Budget
Here’s the initial estimate we put together, which assumes that we will be traveling outside of the U.S. for at least eight months per year over the next two years:
So we now knew that $35,000 would be the floor for our savings – meaning, that we would need that amount PLUS the actual costs of the travel itself in order to arrive at our target savings amount.
Conceptually, we wanted to focus on traveling to places where the cost of living was relatively low to increase the likelihood of our funds lasting longer. For our first year, Lori and I agreed to embark on an expansive Asia trip, a tour through Central and South America, and a road trip covering dozens of America’s beautiful National Parks.
A Look At Our Budget Including All Future Traveling!
Now came the hard part: attempting to estimate travel expenses for trips we hadn’t taken yet! Lori and I spent a lot of time together in front of our computers, searching for pricing details and discussing what kind of accommodations we felt most comfortable booking for each trip.
When we were done, the budget for one leg of our trip (to Central and South America) looked like this:
Here’s what we did: we picked the fifteen Central and South American countries we were most interested in visiting and made our best guess about how many days we would spend in each location. Then we estimated our daily expenses (hotels, food, transportation) and added up flight costs to and from the region – plus any additional flights between countries that we expected to incur in lieu of bus transportation. (Note: South America is a bus-friendly place in which geography requires fewer flights than Asia and other regions).
Our total cost estimate for the two of us to spend nearly three awesome months in Central and South America with modest accommodations? Just over $10,000. We did this same math for the big trips we expected to take and, finally, added together all of those costs to come up with our total savings number.
We Officially Quit Our Jobs!
After nine months of extremely aggressive saving, I’m proud to report that Lori and I have hit our personal savings goal and officially quit our jobs to travel the world!
We just wrapped up a cross-country road trip that took us to six U.S. National Parks in California, Arizona, and Utah, and are now on our way across Asia which will undoubtedly be an exhausting, exhilarating five month excursion for the first half of the new year.
We have one-way plane tickets booked to Kerala (in Southern India), and beyond that, all we have currently is a Google doc filled with notes on destinations we’d like to see in Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and various other countries.
If you’re reading this thinking, “Hmm… that doesn’t sound like you’ve got this whole thing planned out yet, Chris,” you’d be partially right. And hey, to be fair, part of that is intentional – we want to have a general game plan, but also not feel bogged down by the rigors of locking in an hour-by-hour itinerary that would control our every move.
The greatest advantage Lori and I have now as travelers is that we’re unbound by most normal rules of travel, which allows us to be totally opportunistic in our decisions. My previous vacations while employed were usually time-boxed (translation: I could only get, let’s say, 10 days off of work), and I would need to pre-plan my location and activities every single day to get the most out of the vacation.
Now, however, we can jump on cheap last-minute flight deals or decide on a whim to spend an extra day on that beautiful beach in Bali! The best part, too, is that we no longer have the guilt of taking a vacation during the busy season at work, nor do we face the anxiety of returning to 3,000 unread e-mails.
Our Future Goals and Plans
In our second year (after our trips to Asia, the U.S. National Parks, and Central/South America), we’re planning to pick three to four cities to live in across the world, giving us greater opportunity to get to know the local culture over a period of several months.
That said, we are also are fairly certain that two years of full-time travel is about all we’re capable of doing; we have no desire (at least not right now – don’t hold me to it!) to live a nomadic lifestyle. Part of that is because we’d like to settle down and start a family, but it’s also because we have such great relatives and friends in the U.S. that it’s tough to imagine how rarely we would see them otherwise.
Ideally, Lori and I would like to move back to the U.S. and buy a home after our two years of travel, at which point our goal will be to either continue building out Over the Map, or re-entering the workforce. In either case, we know that regardless of our next career move, it will need to be something flexible enough to allow us to set our own schedule and support our passion to explore more of the world.
Planning Out Your Own Adventure
Even if you aren’t able to save for your world travels quite as quickly as Lori and I did, there may be opportunities for you to start traveling sooner than you think.
I have a number of friends who have tried living abroad semi-permanently and have funded their lifestyle using remote work gigs, which are perfect for folks with a background in high-demand areas like programming, web design, project management, marketing, and a handful of other crafts.
There’s a chance Lori and I will look at those options in our second year of travel (the first will be 100% focused on the blog – and taking killer photos for our Instagram account), and while I haven’t used any remote work platforms myself, my traveling friends have found good short-term projects using both Upwork and Fiverr. The latter even has some cool non-traditional options, including… wait for it… PET MODELING! You can literally get paid for snapping a shot of Mittens napping on the couch.
(Fair warning: if you e-mail me looking for consolation about how hard it is to fund your travel experience, I’m going to remind you that people pay pets to model. No excuses.)
However, since we’re currently pet-less and I’m definitely not model material myself, I made sure to end things well with my former employer (a large management consulting firm), as did Lori with her company.
It’s good to leave things well with your employers in case you need to come crawling back, and now we both have verbal offers to re-enter as employees after our travel is complete – even though we’ll probably be looking for something different at that point.
Whatever you can do to alleviate the anxiety of such a major lifestyle change is a win! But good luck trying to convince all of your friends or family not to freak out. Some of ours still think we’re lunatics for throwing away stable employment and paychecks.
Some Great Resources to Get You Going
That brings me to my last point: if you’re personally interested in making a change that will help you travel farther (and better), there are plenty of resources available to you.
Beyond our blog, you should check out Nomadic Matt – one of the most resource-rich blogs out there and often considered the gold standard in the business. Matt will guide you in identifying everything from your top travel destinations down to the best electronics for your trips.
Additionally, I’d highly recommend the podcast series Extra Pack of Peanuts hosted by Travis and Heather Sherry, a couple who share a similar story to ours. The podcast itself covers significant ground and, beyond being really well-executed, is a great place to get deep in the weeds on topics like travel hacking (free frequent flyer miles, anyone?) and how to start a location-independent business.
Full story at Budget Are Sexy