Some big-picture advice on living a travel-based lifestyle

An 18-year-old reader named Brennan recently wrote me with a question about the traveling life. “When I recently told my friends that I wanted to be a vagabond,” he wrote, “they thought it was the same thing as being poor. What can I do to prepare myself financially to spend my life traveling? I enjoy writing and considered a career in journalism, but would that be financially sufficient to travel the entire world?”

This is what I told him:

Thanks for your message, and good luck with your vagabonding ambitions! In many ways I wrote Vagabonding to my 18-year-old self, since it contains the kind of information and inspiration I wish someone had given me when I was that age. In the book, you’ll notice that “vagabonding” doesn’t need to be an irresponsible or bum-like endeavor. Sure, you’ll want to save money and travel cheaply, but this is all directly connected to making your life as purposeful and amazing as possible. Travel need not be an escape from your home life, but something that can enhance and inform the life you live when you return home.

As for financial preparations, the specifics are less important than your attitude. That is, whatever job you take to travel the world and/or fund your journeys, the most important thing is to stay positive, live simply, and discipline yourself in such a way that you save your money. For my first vagabonding journey around the North America when I was 23, I worked as a landscaper for 8 months. This wasn’t a super high-paying job, but by living simply I was able to save enough money to travel the USA by van for eight months. It was an amazing experience. Later, I got a job teaching English for two years in South Korea. In addition to earning me enough money to travel Asia for two years when I’d finished, this was also an amazing opportunity to live in another culture and get a sense for how things work in other countries. I highly recommend working abroad — be it teaching or otherwise — to anyone who wants a sense for living and traveling in far-flung corners of the world.

Since these experiences of landscaping and teaching, I’ve since gone on to work as a full-time travel journalist. But in pointing out my other jobs, I just want to show that one need not be an international journalist to fund travel. I have friends that work as carpenters and venture capitalists and teachers and park rangers and IT workers and graphic designers who travel as much or more as me.

So again, it doesn’t really matter where you work, so long as you live simply enough to save up a “nest egg” for travel (and travel cheaply enough to make this nest-egg last). Check out my book for more specific ideas on resources for how to do this.

On a final note, I think it’s great that you’re planning your travel career at this point in your life — and don’t get stressed about hitting the road too soon. If you start planning your travels now, those travels will be a part of you, no matter if you leave tomorrow or in five years. I didn’t start traveling outside of North America until my mid-twenties — and now that I’m in my mid-thirties I feel like I have as many travel opportunities as ever. So be patient, and travel smart.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | April 27, 2009
Category: Vagabonding Advice

3 Responses to “Some big-picture advice on living a travel-based lifestyle”

  1. Nabeel Says:

    Thank you, now I don’t need to write you an email for asking the same question. 🙂

  2. Says:

    Great advice. Most people do work, save up enough money, and then quit their job to travel for 6 months to a 1-year. I think it’s interesting that you mention that travel “need not be an escape from your home life, but something that can enhance and inform the life you live when you return home.” Truthfully, I always viewed travel as an escape. I wanted to get away from everyone and my problems. Big Mistake! I’ve since learned that you take yourself with you no matter with you go. If you have issues at home, you’ll have those same issues no matter where you’re in the world. It’s best to do as much work on yourself as you can before you travel. This way you’ll have a better time and be open to new experiences that can transform your life. I now see travel in a different light. It’s a way for me to enrich my life and to learn about myself — I can’t escape myself.

  3. Keith Mason Says:

    Awesome post. I really appreciate your writing, I graduate in a month and am already planning on saving for the start of what will hopefully be a lifetime of vagabonding.

    Thanks Rolf!