Sabrina Iovino is a fulltime blogger at Just One Way Ticket who’s been out on the road in some shape or form since 2007. She records her adventures through her writing and photography and also writes advice pieces on how other travellers can earn from travelling by running a monetised travel blog.
It was back in 2007 that I set off on my first backpacking trip. Like so many backpackers before me, I decided to take my baptism of fire Southeast Asia and join my fellow travellers on the well-trodden path through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Although it might be a popular choice, for someone who hadn’t been on a trip of this scale before, it was quite a shock.
When I first arrived in that first Southeast Asian metropolis, I couldn’t help but be immediately taken by the crowds, it’s almost impossible to escape them. By the way, when I say crowds what I mean is, other backpackers.
Yes, the Southeast Asian path is definitely a well-trodden one. Everyone is out there, trying to find an undiscovered part of themselves and they all have the same mission statement… “I’m on a trip around the world.”
Of course, backpackers are, for the most part, a friendly bunch. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated by my new friends. I was surrounded by youth and good looks and I was in awe at how they all seemed so happy and relaxed. Thankfully, their happy-go-lucky nature was pretty contagious and quickly rubbed off on me. To me it seemed like they were all part of a special group, but a welcoming one. It wasn’t long before I found myself pulled into the in-crowd.
It was the full-time backpackers that really grabbed me. I felt a tremendous admiration for all these people who could just sell everything they own, leave their job, leave their security and just head out into the vast unknown. Still, I was still found myself sucked into relationships that didn’t work or wasting money on things that really served no wider purpose than as a badge of artificial status.
That’s when it hit me. Why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t that be me? I needed to seize the moment and stop letting the days pass me by. And so I did. Not long after returning from that first trip, I quit my job and sold everything and headed out make my new life. Since then, I haven’t looked back.
It wasn’t easy to do, but these were the steps I took to finally free myself from the daily grind and how I kept myself going once I was free.
1. Focus on your goal and take it seriously
As the saying goes, “you only live once”… so why not just let go and have some fun?
So many people spend years parroting the same line, ‘one day, I will quit all this garbage and travel the world’, but inevitably never take the jump. Talk is cheap. Remember, there’s never a perfect time. I had to make the conscious decision to escape the norm, stop wasting my precious time and push to follow through.
Once that little seed was planted, it grew and grew and grew. Travelling was all I thought about. It consumed my every waking thought and every slumbering dream. With the decision made, I dedicated all my time to researching. The internet became my best friend, serving me up daily dishes of blogs, travel articles, secret escapes, anything it could find from its endless stores. Any online travelling group I could find, I’d join. Any expert adventurer, I’d follow. I made a list of my top destinations so I could maintain at least some kind of organisation.
I lived and breathed to travel and I made sure that nothing would get in the way of achieving my dream. Naturally, I had to change my habits and saving money was probably the hardest of them all. Saving your lump sum takes time. Being a European, I was lucky enough that this only took me a couple of years. It’s not the case for everyone around the world, but even if it takes five years, it’s worth doing. I mean, after all, time slips by anyway, whether you’re chasing your dream or not.
It took nearly year before I had everything in place. My job was a thing of the past, I‘d exchanged my things for cash, sublet my apartment, rid myself of the all unnecessary insurance policies and left my life in Berlin behind. It was such a liberating process, like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Once I‘d shed all of the unnecessary baggage, my life became blissfully simplistic.
2. Change your way of thinking and learn to live frugally
As Fight Club’s Tyler Durden so eloquently put it, “The things you own end up owning you.“ I have a friend who said he could never sublet his flat because he’d paid so much for his furniture. He’s scared his subtenant might scratch his fancy dining table. To me, that’s insane. He’s another person that pines for adventure, but let’s some expensive pine get in the way. The things he owns now own him.
The thing is, is your experiences that will make you richer, far richer than anything money can buy; learning a new language, embracing a foreign culture, meeting people you never would have otherwise.
The sooner you let go of the fallacy of material wealth, the better really, because learning to travel on a tight budget takes some adjusting to. But the cool thing is it won’t take long before you realise how little you really need. The more you live frugally, the more making smart financial decisions will start becoming routine. Now I have grown to appreciate the little things so much more. Not only will this mind-set help you travel, but save for travelling too.
Cut your expenses
Stop wasting money; one simple phrase that makes perfect sense, right? Since 2007 I‘ve stopped buying all that pointless rubbish I don’t need. Even with all their cool features, I can live without an iPad, iPod or an iPhone. You’ll be amazed how much you can save when you’re not trying to keep up with the latest gadgetry or glittery trinket.
De-clutter your life
When I decided I would begin this next chapter of my life, I began sorting through all my stuff. I found myself shaking my head at why I’d bought all these things in the first place. Thanks to eBay, I got rid of most of my stuff and made a nice chunk of change in the process. Not only had I cast off one of my biggest anchors but, well, every little helps.
The next step was to cut my financial entanglements. For starters, I cancelled all my insurance policies, keeping only the most essential; health.
While you are saving, it’s worth considering a move back home with your parents, if that’s an option. They’ll probably give you reduced rent (or even let you live there for free), perhaps provide you with a little food and offer their unconditional support for your global pursuit… hopefully. The only problem is you’ll have to sacrifice a little of your privacy, but then you’ll need to get used to that if you plan to spend the next few years living in dorm rooms.
3. Quit your job
How many of us can say we love our jobs, that we burst out of bed every morning raring to go, looking forward to every moment at the office, shop floor, call centre or factory floor? For most of us, work is hardly fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I hated every aspect of my job, nor am I say that someone that loves their job is a mythical beast. But for most of us, work is a chore that sustains us to only do one thing, which is work. It’s a vicious cycle and the latest gadgets and shiny trinkets that we buy with our pay are simply there to appease us.
So what do you need to make the jump? Well, first my advice is to build yourself a healthy nest egg. Save everything you need for the opening stage of your trip and remember that you’ll be able to make money on the road. After that, you’ll feel much easier about handing over that resignation letter.
One thing worth remembering is if you’re a much loved employee then you might find your employer makes it difficult to leave. Obviously they can’t stop you from cancelling your contract, but they might try talking you out of it or even offer you a promotion, more money and all the bribes under the sun. Stay strong. If you want to travel, don’t be led astray by promises of money and false status.
Even if you do love your job or are in an industry you’re loathe to leave for fear of having trouble returning to it, just remember it doesn’t have to be the end. You can ask for a leave of absence or to take a sabbatical. Usually, so long as you’re well liked, companies are open to the idea.
Even if you come back and have trouble finding a new job, do you think you’d really regret going? All those incredible experiences you had out there will stay with you forever, unlike the drab story Dawn told you at the water cooler about her son, Bernard. On your deathbed it’s only the things you didn’t do that you regret. Plus, think of all those stories you’ll have to share with your kids one day.
Society, especially today, is always telling us that we should get a job, settle down, have kids and fade into the horizon. But guess what, just because the majority are saying it, doesn’t make it right. Be your own person. Don’t settle for ordinary, make your own choice and write your own story.
4. Make a checklist before you go
Yeah, make a list, because checklists are sexy. OK, maybe they aren’t. However, they are necessary if you want to get everything in order. These are the things you need to do:
- Passport: if you don’t already, you’ll need this critical travel document. If you already have one, make sure it’s up to date (remember that some countries refuse entry if your passport is within 6 months of expiry)
- Visa requirements: check visa requirements for all the countries you plan to visit. While you can get some visas on the road, some you will need to apply for from you home country.
- Debit and credit cards: Please don’t be like my dad and just carry around massive wads of cash. You need quick access to your money and debit cards are the best way to do that. Credit cards are great for emergencies too.
- Vaccinations: always check what vaccinations are recommended for each country you plan on visiting. The reason is pretty simple; things like malaria are not very fun.
- Travel insurance: I know people usually think ‘I’m never going to need it – waste of money’. But please remember you’ll be on the road for a while. The longer you’re out there, the more chance there is of having an accident or getting ill. If misfortune comes a ’knocking, you’ll be glad you have insurance.
- Travel gear: get good travel gear. That’s a decent quality backpack. I know I said live frugally, but you don’t want all your stuff tumbling out the bottom of your bag the moment you step out of the airport. Same goes with footwear. Durable boots for walking are essential.
- Job opportunities: if you’re going to be out there for a while and your budget is tight, make sure you check out the job market first. Look out for jobs that suit your interests and skillset too. After all, you left one stifling job, you don’t want another one.
5. Surviving on the road
Most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself. First and foremost, exploring the world should be fun. So there’s no need to bring undue stress upon yourself by overthinking it all. Plan, sure, but give yourself some flexibility too. Remember, you’re not at work. It’s not a business meeting with roadmaps and annual goals.
Be open to meeting new people. This is so important if you’re travelling solo, else life on the open road can get lonely. Meeting people is all part of the experience and despite the transient nature of travel you’ll find you make a lot of close, lifelong friends very quickly.
Not surprisingly, you’ll be spending most of your cash on food, transportation and a bed to sleep in. You’ll probably be rinsing a fair amount on alcohol too, but remember just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean you have to overindulge. There’s plenty to see and do out there and traipsing around under a burning sun with a hangover is never fun.
So, how can you save money? Here are some easy to follow points…
- Stay away from countries that have expensive entrance visas or you can simply avoid the expensive countries altogether (except Japan, because it’s every bit as awesome as everyone says)
- Use cheaper transportation like bus or train. Hitchhiking is even cheaper, but I don’t recommend it for solo female travellers.
- Being flexible with dates and destinations can get you better deals on flights.
- Use social media and sign up for website newsletters to keep up to date with promotions.
- Eat street food or buy your own ingredients and cook for yourself.
- Bargain and haggle (but don’t haggle over the price of your meal else you might annoy the chef and end up eating something they’ve sneezed)
Working on your travels
The best way to prevent yourself from running out of money is to take the odd job out on the road. That’ll keep the cash trickling in when you’re low. There’s a wide range of work available, depending on where you are.
The most universal work you’ll find out on the road will be bar work or jobs in hostels. Australia and similar places are great for fruit picking or other farm and manual work, which can also work toward a visa. Another popular line of work is teaching, but don’t assume you need to be a native speaker or have a TEFL certificate. Many people are just looking for learn to learn to a conversational level and simply want someone to chat to. There are plenty of online resources that can help you find work in any city, including…
- Craigslist is a website for personal ads of all kinds, including jobs. The world is a big place, so each city or region has its own sub-site to make searching easier.
- If you’re looking for freelance work for anything from copywriting to mobile app development, try Odesk or Elance. Write proposals and bid on any job that takes your fancy, the client will pick from the applications.
- If you want to teach English as a foreign language, check out ESLcafe.
- Fancy working on a cruise ship? Take a look at Findacrew or Crewseekers.
- Interested in WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)? Check out the opportunities at Helpx. For a few hours’ work a day you’ll get free accommodation and meals.
- Staydu is a social travel network for travellers on a budget where you can find work in exchange for money or free stays.
- You can also find all kinds of jobs for travellers on the following sites: Overseasjobs, Workaway, Workanywhere
Remember, life is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t let the time pass you by racing for the thing you’re told you want, but rather chance your own desires. If travelling is indeed your dream, then exploring the world will of course be the best decision you ever make, period.
Have you made the jump and quit your job to travel? Let us know about your experiences in our comments section…