How to travel the world for life (and work while you travel)
Today, July 10th, is my 32nd birthday! But it's also my 11 year travel anniversary.
Back in 2003 I left Ireland this day with no return ticket, and 132 months / 574 weeks / over 4,000 days later, I'm still on the road with no home or place I can call a base. Everything I own in the world weighs 23kg/50lb and comes with me.
On my 8 year travel anniversary, I wrote my site's most popular post ever by sharing the 29 most important life lessons I learned while travelling the world. And last year on my 10 year anniversary, I took those top-10 life lessons and presented them in a professionally edited video to summarize my travels visually.
This year, I'm doing something different and sharing my most practical tips on how you can travel the world (long-term) like I have, without winning the lottery (or having a mega savings). All throughout my travels – for over a decade – I've paid my way from money I earned while travelling.
So, how do I travel the world?
First, you don't need to save up money for years before you can travel the world. So many people make this mistake in mentality, and as a result they put off their travel goals for years unnecessarily. In fact, starting a travel lifestyle right now is well within the possibility of many people. I realize that there are exceptions, and some people might not want to travel the world long term like I do, so today I want to give you a heap of ideas for how to manage your own travel goals, whatever they may be.
I'll tackle four key points:
- How to lead a cheap travel lifestyle
- How to score cheap flights
- How to get the cheapest (and sometimes free) lodging
- How to work while you travel
If you're really serious about starting a travel lifestyle, I'll also share the best links for further reading on travel hacking. To get you started, you can't get better than checking out Nomadic Matt, since I learned a lot of the strategies I now use myself from his book How to travel the world on $50 a day.
(Oh yes – since it's my birthday, as a present request I'll ask that you share this post on your favourite social media site (Facebook wall, retweet, Google+ share etc.) if you found it useful. Thanks! 🙂
How to travel the world for cheap
Before we discuss how to travel cheaper, it's very important to tackle how to live cheaper. This applies to you right now, even while you are settled.
If you have expensive habits now in your settled life, those habits will follow you into your travel lifestyle and rack up unnecessary expenses. It doesn't need to be this way.
So how expensive is your current life? Before you start travelling, track your actual expenses now and see where they go. Do you eat out a lot? Spend a lot on fuel costs? Does most of your money go to car or home insurance payments?
The good news is that if you start travelling for the long-term, you can live cheaper in part because you'll no longer need to spend hundreds of dollars of month to pay for your car, its insurance, its gas… and all the other major expenses that comes with leading a settled life. When you think about it, with all of these major expenses, leading a settled life is expensive!
But if you're finding that the biggest sticker shock comes from your lifestyle habits, then you'll have to make some tough choices.
Can you cut back on coffee, cigarettes and beer in exchange for extra cash you can put towards train tickets to the distant corners of the world?
Not everyone can, or wants to. But if you can save just ten dollars a day by living a cheaper lifestyle … just 10 dollars a day! … that's enough to pay the cost of your entire monthly rent for a hut on the beach in India or Thailand.
Think about that for a minute.
You might consider making other cheap lifestyle choices, like keeping a vegetarian diet and learning to cook from home. In a lot of countries, you can rely almost entirely on the use of public transport instead of a car, or get around on a bike. You can share accommodation costs by having room-mates. You can choose to be happy with the current technology and clothes that you have instead of updating them every few months.
These changes can increase the amount of your expendable cash dramatically.
After you learn to decrease the cost of your life in general, this will absolutely spill over into savings for your travel life. Then, I recommend you:
- Follow these 25 travel on the cheap tips from myself and Graham Hughes (who has visited every country on earth on a shoestring budget)
- Get rid of all your stuff. Use sites like Ebay, craigslist, gumtree, go to 2nd hand shops, the options are endless. There is no physical item that you actually can't live without unless it is the clothes on your back, food, or your means of earning money (for me, that's my laptop). This will both give you a financial boost and allow you to travel with all your posessions and not need to pay for storage or rent back home.
- Learn how to travel with everything you own carried along with you.
- When eating in a country, don't forget to try to get a place with a kitchen if you can (many youth hostels have one) and cook your meals. Otherwise, try to eat out at lunch time instead of dinner, since many places do lunch specials. Cities like Berlin and Paris have great “business lunch” options that offer several courses for just a few euro. Also, do indeed visit tourist sites, but leave the area when it's time to eat, since you'll be paying tourist rates. Find out in advance where the locals eat.
My number one biggest tip by far for how to travel for cheap is to learn the local language. This will save you heaps of money. I honestly feel this is one of the main reasons that I've been able to afford to travel so long – I've avoided paying the “English speaking tax”, and trust me, that tax exists pretty much everywhere that English is not the native language.
How to find cheap airfares
When your general lifestyle is less expensive, the next biggest expense people imagine is flights.
Flights, I'll admit, can cost thousands of dollars. But if you know where to look, there are several ways to make these dramatically cheaper than you think. Here are some rules to live by when checking out flights.
- Never go to the airline's own website. Instead, use “meta-search engines” while check and compare the rates for multiple travel sites at once. Also, try to book tickets around 3 months in advance, and choose flexible criteria – especially for the exact day of travel. See what the cheapest day is during the week or month around when you can fly. You can save hundreds of dollars by flying even a single day earlier or later! And try multiple searches on several of the following websites until you get the best results:
- www.hipmunk.com [This site ranks flights by “Agony”, taking inconvenience into account]
- For long-haul, cross continental flights, use flightfox.com. For $49 they can save hundreds or get you nice upgrades. Definitely worth it for many people. I got Lauren's return flight (from US to Spain to live with me for 3 months, then from Ireland to US for Christmas) for $450/€330, because of some strange rule where we added an extra leg to Canada 2 days after she landed in DC that she didn't even take. This website did the research for us in a way you wouldn't get on the above meta-searches.
- If your goal is to fly a lot, you can use “Round-the-world tickets”, which can cost about €3,000+ depending on the number of continents you want to visit. You can book through airtreks.com or flightcentre.com, but it's better if you can save miles through credit card sign-ups. This is more appropriate if you want to travel the world for a year and know where you want to go in advance. Using the above options and buying individual tickets still tends to work out cheaper most of the time though, and allows for more flexibility.
How to find cheap or free lodging
For those of you travelling very fast and moving around once every few days, travel will be more expensive, but you can reduce costs by getting last-minute prices on hotels on sites like laterooms.com, lastminute.com, hoteltonight.com, priceline.com, hotwire.com (name your price – you won't know where you'll stay until you've paid).
I can understand why people think long term travel is not possible for them, when they think it's a $1-200/night hotel stay, but the fact of the matter is that long term travellers do not tend to stay at hotels.
- Stay for free with couchsurfing, servas (reference letter required, mostly US senior travellers), hospitality club, globalfreeloaders (I use Couchsurfing a lot for its search feature to find language learning partners too)
- If you speak Esperanto, Pasportaservo.org is like the above sites with the only catch being that you communicate with your hosts in a language you can learn in a few weeks! (Here's how well my girlfriend did with just an hour a day for 6 weeks)
- Use wwoof.org (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – about €20 per country membership – you work on a farm and get free accommodation, as well as the amazing experience)
- House-sit at housecarers.com, mindmyhouse.com, caretaker.org – This is more suited to stays of a month or longer; you get free accommodation in exchange for keeping an eye on pets, gardens, and other chores.
- Stay in youth hostels – as low as just $5/night in countries like Thailand, cheaper across Europe. Find your options on hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com.
- For stays of a few days or a few weeks, I highly recommend staying in a serviced apartment. For mid-range budgets this is my go-to choice. Find your home away from home on 9flats.com, airbnb.com, homeaway.com, roomorama.com, or wimdu.com.
- Go camping! You are only paying for the space and can access water, electricity and other services as required in specialized campsites for a fraction of the cost of alternatives.
- Here is more on how I find accommodation while travelling
How to work while travelling
Most people think they have to save their pennies for months or years in advance until they have “enough” money to travel and live off of for a while. Unfortunately, this can only last you so long (unless you have won the lottery, in which case send a donation my way! 😛 ). The fact is that you can earn while on the road.
There are two ways to do this:
1) Get a job on-location
If you are an EU citizen you can do this automatically in any other countries in the EU. In most other situations though, you need to obtain a visa in advance.
As an Irish citizen, I got a J1-visa to work in America twice when I was a student (this was part of the 6 months of travel I did before my 11-years-non-stop travel, so I am actually approaching 12 years depending on how you count it…) I applied for this through the Irish organization USIT. They also offer Irish people working visas in many other countries. Your country may have an equivalent service.
In most other situations, you may have to see in advance what your options may be. If you are a student, your university most likely offers study abroad options, and definitely use your network of friends and colleagues to see if any of your fellow students have experience working abroad.
If you are looking for a job on your own, it is actually usually much easier to get hired by a company before you travel, and then have that company arrange the visa. This was a possibility for me the first time I went to the US, because I worked as a summer school teacher for a university, which was experienced in hiring foreigners, so I actually didn't need to arrange the working visa myself.
Finally, have a look at the country's embassy website and see what they recommend for working visas.
What work can you do on-location?
The easiest way by far that English speakers can work abroad is to do it as an English teacher. In countries were English teachers are in high demand, the school will arrange the visa and all logistics for you.
I've done lots of work as an ESL teacher myself, all based on an initial weekend affordable TEFL certificate I got from i-to-i, and then building upon my experience earned to get me higher paid jobs with time, eventually working for prominent schools like Berlitz and Wall Street Institute. I've also worked the following jobs on location, to give you an idea of your options (your options expand immensely if you learn the local language – don't forget to sign-up to my newsletter for a week long crash course if you aren't sure how):
- Youth hostel receptionist
- Store manager
- Basic office work
- Engineer (what my undergraduate degree was in – in this case I worked as an intern)
- Go Kart race controller
- Computer repair / on-site tech support
- Lots of English teaching
- On-site translator
You may find other work depending on your work skills and the opportunities available.
2) Get a location independent job
I worked on-location for my first years travel, but the catch was that my wages remained stagnant for all work other than teaching English, since I moved every few months and had to start over from scratch again.
That's why the future of many jobs (not all of course) is that they can be based online, and you can take them with you around the world!
Here are a few ideas:
- If you are good at languages, and willing to go through training for it, become a freelance location independent translator. I found my initial work on proz.com
- Teach your native language online. You can become a teacher on italki for instance and take your students with you wherever you go. My girlfriend did this for her first months of travel with me, and was working full-time with the work she got.
- Become an online coach – while I do this myself to help people expand the popularity of their websites and craft their language learning projects, there are many ways you can implement this. I once met someone who earned her living coaching people to give up smoking (her background was in psychology) over Skype!
- Write an e-book or sell a course online. My site fi3m premium supports this completely free blog (no spammy irrelevant advertising anywhere here – that's a really poor way to do anything but cover hosting costs) through a video course and resource database. I used to sell an e-book too. You can distribute this yourself if you put the time into creating a really high quality free site/Youtube channel/podcast or similar that sends traffic to it. You can also sell it directly on Amazon (self published) or through various other channels. Note that traditional publishing is not a good way to earn a living for most people – my book is an international best seller and this does not translate into money in my pocket because of traditional publishing logistics.
- Take a skill that you have and see if it works online. Here is a list of 64 ideas to work online depending on the skill. You can also see if job openings are available through various online advertising boards, or a job outsourcing site like Upwork.
What kind of working visa do I need?
The question of how you manage the logistics of working online is tricky because there are no international laws that govern such things. What many of us do is simply set ourselves up legally and officially in our home country – so we have a bank, and pay taxes there.
Then we stay in a country on a tourist visa – a grey line depending on where you go. I actually have a business visa while I'm in America right now, since its immigration tends to be the most strict about what I can and can't do here – this is despite the fact that I am not actually technically employed for any of my time here, but my book tour is business of sorts. In most countries though, a tourist visa is OK for online workers. (Disclaimer: Please don't take what I'm saying here as legal advice – I accept no responsibility if you run into issues!)
You aren't legally working in the eyes of many countries as you are not taking any money or employment from its citizens, only spending, as any tourist would. In case you are wondering, the “3 months” in my blog title comes from the 3 month visas I typically have as my limit in most places 😉
How do I set myself up as a business?
Whether you should operate as a freelancer or start your own business depends on too many factors for me to cover here, most important of which being the kind of work you'll be doing, but you can contact a lawyer in your home country if you are unsure.
You can receive payments directly to your bank account (when I was a freelance translator, my clients were European and bank transfers within Europe are free – working with American clients is a pain in the ass to be honest because they are one of the few first world countries that still insist on printing your money on dead trees, i.e. snail-mailing checks/cheques).
Another solution is to set up a pro or business paypal account, but keep in mind that you do pay fees for many transactions and withdrawals.
When everything is combined – working and travelling long-term is easier than you think
A really cool benefit of working location independently is that you can earn in a strong currency like the euro/dollar/pound and spend in a cheaper country where that money will take you really far. Leveraging currency differences is another thing that allows “technomads” to travel so extensively.
The combination of everything I've said in this post, namely
- SPENDING less through a minimalistic lifestyle
- Finding cheaper flights through a bit of research
- Finding cheaper or free accommodation, especially through slower travel
- Working online and earning in a stronger currency, while spending in a weaker one
Means that long-term travel is absolutely sustainable. I break some of these rules sometimes, like this year I'm travelling very fast on my book tour, and accommodation is much more expensive as a result, but flights are still cheap, we eat in as often as possible, we earn online, and we generally don't spend much otherwise.
This kind of fast-travel wouldn't be sustainable for me in the long-term, but we'll be back to three month stays later this year, and back to saving plenty for intensive periods like this.