My first job was anything but glamorous. I couldn’t afford to live in Miami on my first-year reporter salary, so I settled into a family friend’s home an hour away. During that daily, hour-long commute, I would think about all the trips that got away: Why didn’t I study abroad in college? Why didn’t I do that post-grad trip to Europe?
I felt suffocated by the 10-day vacation policy and the pressure to never take time off. The few vacation days I did have would be spent visiting my mom and dad — each lived in a different state than me — and the rest of my family in Brazil. Dream trips to Italy and Thailand would be nearly impossible.
I felt an intense desire to escape the traditional routine: Over the next two years, my boyfriend and I budgeted, planned and purged our belongings for what would become a 10-month trip across Europe, South America and Southeast Asia.
That trip around the world changed my life. And if you’re curious, this is exactly how you can do it, too.
Set a trip budget
The baseline budget for an around-the-world trip typically starts at $50 a day. This takes into account all expenses, including transportation, accommodations, food and activities averaged out over the entire trip.
You can go over or under, depending on your travel style.
My boyfriend and I each spent just over $18,500 in 10 months, which averaged about $62 a day. We used this helpful spreadsheet created by fellow world traveler Shannon O’Donnell to keep track of our expenses in each country.
We stayed in budget hotels or shared Airbnbs, took dozens of overnight bus journeys to save on hotel stays and avoided expensive tourist traps. Living on $62 a day meant lowering our standards: We came across a moldy shower head in Prague; a sheetless mattress in Dubrovnik, Croatia; an ant infestation in Máncora, Peru; giant cockroaches in Bali; and the list goes on.
Amanda Monique Brown had a bigger budget to play with after selling her condo in the summer of 2020. The 28-year-old actuary consultant says she averaged about $155 a day during her year-long trip. She was able to splurge on a safari in Kenya, a catamaran tour in the Galápagos and an ayahuasca retreat in Peru.
“I feel like so much is about being willing to concede on some things,” Monique Brown says. “If I have to eat peanut butter and jelly in my room for a week so we could pay for a snorkeling tour, I’ll happily do that.”
Create a savings plan
Take a look at your set expenses, and see what you can cut.
I had to make a lot of changes to reach my original goal of $15,000. I landed a better-paying job, moved in with my boyfriend to split the rent, pushed the brakes on my social life and worked events on the weekends. The best-paying gigs were brand ambassador jobs. This is when a marketing firm hires you to work events such as the Miami Open Tennis Tournament. I took vacation days from my full-time job to work that tournament two years in a row.
We actually flew back to the United States during our trip to work the event again — which funded the Southeast Asia part of our journey.
It took two years to reach my goal, as well as to set aside some extra money for a return fund. That cushion helped keep me afloat when I returned home and began applying for jobs.
Make a bucket list
The easiest and most exciting part of the planning process is making a bucket list.
Write down every country, city or landmark you’ve ever wanted to visit. You can also approach this through experiences. (Road tripping to the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia and scuba diving in Thailand topped my list.) Browse Pinterest and Instagram. Read travel blogs. Flip through magazines. Talk to international friends or those who have lived abroad.
Let your imagination run wild; you can shorten this list later on.
Create your itinerary
Place each destination on a map, then organize by region to make your trip as cost-effective as you can.
For example, my trip focused on three regions: Western Europe, South America and Southeast Asia. Although I also wanted to visit places such as South Africa and New Zealand, they were too far from others on my list and would require extra long-haul flights.
As a general rule, it’s best to follow one global direction. Research shows that traveling west is easier on the body. You don’t need to follow this rule, but it helps avoid backtracking and extra transportation costs.
Then there’s the weather. Many round-the-world travelers prioritize warm-weather destinations and plan their route around the summer months in each country. Try to fit a puffer jacket into a 40-liter backpack, and you’ll understand why!
Once you have a solid list of places, check the coronavirus restrictions for each. Some countries such as Japan have yet to fully open for regular visitors.
Determine how long you’ll be abroad
If you don’t have a set amount of time in mind, try this:
- Add each city to a spreadsheet.
- Jot down the number of days you want to spend in each, making sure to factor in transportation time.
- Add up the number of days.
There are two ways to approach long-term travel: slow and fast.
“Slow” travelers spend weeks or even months in a single country. “You get to form a community and participate in events and activities that promote the longevity and well-being of the place,” says Brittany Sneller, a 29-year-old travel blogger who has been traveling full time for seven years.
“I love being able to feel more connected to a place and its people rather than breezing through,” she says.
“Fast” travel, on the other hand, is about seeing as much as you can in a set amount of time. When I started my trip, it was only supposed to last six months. And I was traveling fast: I zipped through 20 cities in Europe in the first two months.
There’s no right or wrong option. The experience is yours, and you should choose what best fits your travel style.
Start packing light
Are you Team Carry-On or Team Backpack? I knew my bag would be thrown in and out of rickety boats and tuk-tuks, so I chose the latter.
Whichever you choose, plan to pack about a week’s worth of clothing. You’ll soon realize you don’t need more than that. The art of minimalism is one of the greatest lessons learned while traveling the world.
Essentials I recommend are packing cubes, comfortable walking shoes, a quick-drying travel towel, a universal adapter and a Scrubba wash bag for portable laundry.
Tell your job
Wait until you hit your savings goal before quitting your job.
When you put in your two weeks’ notice, be transparent about your plans. Your colleagues may not understand or even support you, but it’s better for them to hear it from you directly than to see it on social media.
Some companies have flexible sabbatical policies and may even welcome you back after you return. My boyfriend had a close relationship with his team and shared his travel plans months before we left. In return, the company said it would be happy to hire him after the trip.
Make a final checklist
- Make arrangements for your pets, cars and belongings. We moved most of our stuff into a storage unit and sold the rest.
- Research visa requirements for each destination.
- Go to a travel clinic to receive the necessary vaccines and medications for the countries you’re visiting.
- Get a long-term supply of prescription medication and/or contact lenses.
- Get travel insurance. There are a few expat plans that provide coverage in the United States and abroad, ideal for those losing coverage when they quit their jobs.
Book your one-way ticket
Getting a one-way ticket is the start of your new, flexible adventure. When you finally buy it, there’s no turning back.
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