I love to travel and it has recently become like a full-time job for me. However, unlike having an actual job, most travelers don’t garner an income from backpacking through South America. Afterall, your new cultural experiences aren’t worth much when you need a place to sleep or need to put food in your stomach. Generally, those who choose to travel on a long-term basis tend to fall into seven categories when it comes to financing their endeavors;
They take out huge loans and max out credit cards. Those who choose this approach aren’t necessarily in traveling for the long-term and maybe are using it as a stop-gap as they transition to the next stage of their lives (i.e. starting a new job, gap-year before college). This approach can be slightly risky as they likely don’t have the financial resources to pay off their debt in an expedient manner thus accruing interest.
They are being bankrolled by wealthy parents. This category is limited to a select few. The problem is not lack of those that come from upper-class backgrounds but rather the willingness of their parents to fund a lifestyle that has a limited return on investment. The ones that choose this approach are most likely gap-year students.
Go-Fund Me. I will go on record and say that I despise those who use this approach. The only exception is if you need money to fly out to a disaster relief zone to provide aid (it can cost over $1000 to fly to a place like Nepal from the US), and only then would I limit that to the cost of transportation and airfare. However, there are those who abuse the kindness of strangers and will beg for money so they can go party in Costa Rica while working on “sea turtle conservation” projects. My opinion is travel is an expense similar to buying a new car or a Rolex. Those who use Go-Fund Me for personal travel are like homeless people that beg for money to buy drugs.
Monetizing Their Travel Blog. Those who fall into this elite category have been (literally) paying their dues for years while building up a loyal fanbase. They had a game plan and found a niche for which they could establish a brand. Given the plethora of travel blogs on the internet today that cover the same topics, it is extremely difficult to do this. Even those that have been successful in doing so aren’t necessarily making money off their blog but by selling merchandise via their brand. While it can be cool to be a “professional traveler”, there are also requirements such as managing a staff and going to marketing meetings which can take away from actually traveling.
They live on a shoe-string budget. This approach is extremely popular with European travelers who like to travel through Central America and Asia for months at a time. They start with a decent pool of money and will literally have their entire trip planned out before they even set foot in their first country. In addition, these travelers will stay in $10 per night hostels that sleep 12 people to a room. While I have taken this approach before, I personally think that most of the fun from traveling comes from being spontaneous and living life on a budget definitely inhibits that.
Voluntourism-I recently tested this approach when I went to Puerto Rico to work on a disaster relief project (although that wasn’t my motivation for going). Generally, the way voluntourism works is the traveler does various projects for a local organization in exchange for things like food and lodging. Voluntourism can be a rewarding and exciting experience IF you find a great organization such as the one that I worked with in Yabucoa (All Hands and Hearts). The downside to voluntourism is that it has gone mainstream in recent years and there are few programs which are actually free. Most arrangements are made through companies such as International Volunteer Headquarters that charge exorbitant “program fees”. It is also important to keep in mind that engaging in voluntourism can be equivalent to have a full-time job where independent exploration is reserved for weekends.
Those who save a ton of money beforehand or have independent income. This is the category in which I currently fall into with regards to my current endeavors. I am mostly afforded this luxury because of my age and years of professional experience under my belt which has allowed me to travel comfortably. The average world traveler (mid-20s and fresh out of school) will not fall into this category. Also, unless you are an extremely successful stock trader, the independent income you make while traveling won’t be as much as you would make in a traditional job. However, you do gain by having a lower cost of living in most places (assuming you get paid in USD or EUR) which actually can net you more money than in a high-end first world city. With that being said, it is very important to be smart with your money to stretch it out as far as possible.