A lot of people go to Costa Rica for three weeks and romanticize about what life would be like if they could drop all their responsibilities and travel the world. As someone who has experienced life on the road, there are somethings about long-term traveling that I didn’t realize until I was a few weeks in. This post is to highlight some of the highs and lows about life as a full-time traveler as well as give you a few things to think about if it is something you are considering.
You Save Money by Traveling Full-Time- A lot of people think traveling is expensive. It is…………. if you have rent, car payments, cable bill, and insurance to pay for as well. The truth is our vacations only seem expensive because we have other fiscal responsibilities. If you are a full-time traveler, odds are that you will move out of your home/apartment, sell your car, and cut off cable. When I was done preparing for my long-term trip, the only expenses I still had to worry about was my $110 per month cell phone bill, a $40 per month storage unit fee, and $30 every three months for a PO Box. I also sold my car for about $3000 and got $1200 from my apartment security deposit so I even had money going in my bank account when I left.
Traveling is Cheaper than Living in the United States- If you take western Europe out of the equation, staying in a standard hotel abroad is substantially cheaper than living in an apartment in the United States. Even during high season in the Caribbean, you won’t pay more than $35 USD a night for a hotel room. In most other countries you can easily find hotels at half that price. For the sake of argument, let’s say your hotel expenses average at $30 USD a night. 30 multiplied by 31 nights is $930 per month. Outside of the Dakotas, Oklahoma, and Idaho, you are not going to find an apartment for $900 per month that doesn’t require you to pay other bills such as electric, water, and cable. To compare, my studio apartment in San Diego was about $1800 excluding cable and electricity. When you factor in exchange rates, the cost of everyday living through activities such as eating and public transportation is extremely cheap compared to the United States.
ATM Fees will be the Bane of your Existence- Think you will be able to roll up to a rural village in Cambodia and whip out your Visa to pay for that $2 plate of rice and chicken……think again. You will always need to have a consistent amount of cash readily available for situations such as that. While in bigger cities and tourist locations you can often use your credit card, if you really want to live frugally then you will need to pay cash for most of your transactions. Luckily, most countries have joined the party in the 21st century and have ATM’s readily available in most places. However, if you end up staying with your US Bank (which is practical given that you won’t be settled in a specific country), they will make sure you pay every time you want to withdraw cash. I have Bank of America, and every time I went to Scotiabank (which is supposedly their international partner) I had to pay a $6 USD fee from them on top of a $8-10 international transaction fee from Bank of America. With fees that high, I learned quickly how to survive off of $200 USD a month.
Long-Term Travel Can get Boring- During their three-week vacation to Belize, people often partake in exciting activities such as scuba diving, whale watching, and guided tours through caves and ruins. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you won’t last long as a full-time traveler if you plan on spending $80-150 USD a day on such excursions. It’s good to treat yourself every once in a while, but the majority of your days will be spent living life as you would in the United States, just in different locations around the world. You can get by for a few days walking around a city or town after arrival, but most of your time will be either at a hotel or traveling to your next destination. Bringing a computer or smartphone will definitely help you get through downtime.
You Need to Have a Purpose-It has been scientifically proven that someone’s happiness is linked to their perceived purpose in life. For the first two months of your travels, you can get by on just “wanting to see the world”. However, as you get more worn down, you will eventually have to find the inner motivation to continue your journey. There are many people who find their purpose in developing a travel blog and recording their experiences to share with others. However, you can also participate in various volunteer projects. Many countries actually have projects that provide free hostel style lodging to participants thus killing two birds with one stone. Whatever your purpose is, make sure you find it quickly.
You need to Make Money- Ideally, if you are deciding to become a long-term traveler, you want to have AT LEAST 10k in your bank account and have a credit card with a limit for the same amount. You also don’t want to have any significant debt hanging over you such as student loans. Even if you follow that model, money will still drip out your bank account like a leaky faucet. Even expert budget travelers eventually face the prospect of obtaining an income. Many people think that they can start a travel blog and all their financial problems will be solved. Here’s your reality check. It often takes YEARS for a blogger to get a big enough following to entertain the prospect of financial gain and that’s if they make all the right marketing moves. You can’t count on your blog to put food on the table. Some people turn to volunteer tourism in that they don’t get paid per se, but they don’t have to pay for lodging and/or food by doing volunteer work which keeps money in their pocket. Depending on your skills and where you are, you may have to get pretty creative.
Immigration-While I prefer to stay somewhere no more than a month, sometime people find places they like so much that they want to stay for an extended period of time. If you do so, then make sure you have the appropriate stamp for your passport. For US citizens, the standard is a 90-day tourist stamp upon arrival in the country. To go to Vietnam, I had to pay for a single-entry visa through the Vietnamese embassy in the United States which I believe was valid for only 30-days. Know how long you can legally stay in a country and don’t overstay your visa. If you want to stay longer than 90 days in a specific country, a popular way of getting around the burearacy is to cross a land border to a neighboring country and come back after a certain amount of time has elapsed with a new stamp. In addition, activities such as working and studying have their own visa requirements. Make sure you know the visa requirement in the country that you are in.
Reintegration- Whether you return to the United States or become an ex-pat, you will eventually have to settle down somewhere when everything is said and done. If returning to the United States, it will be harder than you might expect to reintegrate. For example, you may have been a successful accountant before you left, but a 3-year gap in your resume will do you no favors when it comes to getting back in the workforce. Don’t wait until you are coming off the plane in Miami to start figuring out what you want to do now that you are back. I would say start developing a plan at least 3 months before you arrive back in the US.