In early 2017, I was lucky enough to be laid off from my job, have several key relationships in my life fall apart, and end up in a very short “life lull” that left me questioning what I wanted my life to be.
Those events and that period are some of the best things that happened to me.
After fairly quick introspection, about two weeks, I decided that it was much easier to live the life I truly wanted now than plan how I could live that life later – after I somehow stumbled on becoming rich or survived until retirement.
I knew I didn’t have all the answers, but I also knew I had the only one that mattered at the moment.
What did I want to do with my life?
I wanted to everything I’d be dreaming of and delaying.
That was enough to start this journey.
If you’ve read my about me page, then you know that’s the point that I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok to start an incredible journey that I’m still on four years later.
- How I Started Indefinite Travel: Frugality, Prep, And Being Luckily Unlucky
- My Bali Budget And Travel Budget
- How I Paid For My Travels Over The Past 4 Years
- How To Pay For Traveling The World: Other People’s Approaches
- How Can You Travel Further With Less Money? My Top Tips
I wish everyone could experience this weird awakening and discovery, actively questioning their desires and purpose, ultimately deciding what’s worth living for now. And then, hopefully, buying a ticket to some far off land and traveling the world.
There are plenty of people who want this for themselves just as much as I did (and still do).
But how can you make this endless journey happen for you if you’re the same type of wanderer?
Given this is the question I hear the most, commonly phrased as “how can you afford to travel the world?” I’m going to do my best to share the decisions I made, and the lucky coincidences that helped me out and ultimately put me on the road to be…here. Currently in Bali, writing this out of passion just before I head out on a morning surf session
Just a warning, this article isn’t about how you can make money and travel the world. This article isn’t about getting rich. Most of the advice in this article might not be replicable for everyone. However…
This article does share a few key, clear points that I think were pivotal in my journey to financially free “nomad-dom.” I share these only because I hope to see you on the trail, too, one day.
HOW I STARTED INDEFINITE TRAVEL: FRUGALITY, PREP, AND BEING LUCKILY UNLUCKY
These four years (and counting) of travel happened very coincidentally. My original plan started with a 12-month backpacking trip to check destinations and experiences off my bucket list. However, my decision indefinitely was only possible thanks to some habits I built into my life years before and some steps I took a couple of years before my big trip, and as soon as I knew, I wanted to “escape.”
THE HABITS AND STEPS BEFORE TRAVEL THAT MADE MY CURRENT LIFE POSSIBLE
- A zero debt policy
- Constant side hustles and money-making experiments
- Simple Travel hacking
- Defining what I wanted my life to be and constantly remembering and refining this perspective
- Minimalism and reducing material possessions as much as possible before taking the jump
- Accepting the fear and taking the jump with an open mind
A ZERO DEBT POLICY
I have a strict policy not to take on any debt that I will plan to keep longer than 30 days – with the only exception being purchases that qualify as investments (like buying a house financed by a mortgage). I enact this policy by:
- Categorizing whether something I am thinking of purchasing is a want or a need to avoid unnecessary purchases
- I always consider what I’m giving up to make this purchase – what flight or experience. This helps reduce unnecessary purchases
- I only purchase in cash. If necessary for big purchases, I set myself up to save leading up to the purchase
By observing friends and family early on, I realized that credit cards, short term loans, and other debt all fall on a slippery slope leading into a pit that is very difficult to get out of. Yes, credit card debt and paying it off slowly can seem like it isn’t a problem if you’re working the same job, in the same place for 30 years, with a paycheck every month to pay off that interest and not the principal. But 1) who keeps a steady job for 30 years anymore and 2) the requirements to pay that debt every month are a set of invisible handcuffs I never wanted.
By keeping a zero debt policy, I’m avoiding making promises now that future me has to live up to.
Additionally, if I can’t afford “that thing” right now, do I really need it? Want and need are two different things. I want a new watch, but I need healthcare. I want a gym membership, but I need to stay fit – which I can do by working out at the park or investing in home fitness equipment.
So, the first step in avoiding debt is differentiating between wants and needs
By only purchasing what I can with the cash in my pocket, now I feel the effects of my purchases and stay connected to whether or not that purchase is worth what I’m giving up in return. So if I purchase that new iPhone with cash, I feel very clearly that I just gave up a flight to South America, or a month in Thailand, in a way I wouldn’t if I allowed myself to buy it with a credit card.
So what does this “zero debt policy” look like in action?
I’ve never owned a new car. The first car I purchased myself cost $1500. Over the next four years that I owned the car, I put the money for the “car payment” I would have paid into a savings account every month. At the end of the four years, I purchased my next car. Yes, I looked like a hobo for four years, but during that four years and after, I wasn’t shackled to payments, and I was free to walk at any time.
I apply my “zero debt policy” in this way to all purchases.
If you’re 20 years old and just starting with your first credit card, I highly recommend considering a “zero debt policy” in your life to save future you lots of troubles.
CONSTANT SIDE HUSTLES AND MONEY MAKING EXPERIMENTS
From a very young age, I was a hustler. Not in the negative sense, but in the sense that I always had a project or tiny business going – sometimes create extra money, other times just to experiment. As a kid, I made Christmas wreaths and sold those door to door, had lawn moving businesses, and repaired bikes. That hustled carried into adulthood and ultimately gave me some skills necessary as a digital nomad that I didn’t expect to use.
I highly encourage that you look at your passions and anything you’re good at and attempt to monetize them (with a small business) now. You may “fail,” but along the way, you’ll learn what you need to know actually to make money from it – meaning it’s not a failure after all, just great education.
Be sure to start this project as a side hustle while you still have a full-time income. Having a paycheck relieves the pressure and stress that hampers creativity in small businesses – it’s harder to take risks and be creative if your decisions affect whether you’ll get to eat dinner or not. So, start getting creative while you have the safety net.
My major side hustles that got me to this point were as follows:
- Building fitness equipment and selling it online
- Building websites and managing them for clients
- Digital marketing tactics (side courses that I took as a management consultant)
Building fitness equipment helped me learn how to understand what people actually wanted and needed and respond to it. These days that lesson translates into knowing what travel and fitness information people want and responding to their needs instead of delivering what I want to share
Building and managing websites honed my skills to create what you are experiencing right now. Learning how to do it started with building a simple, clunky, and crappy website for the fitness equipment I talked about above. How did I learn? Just lots of Googling. Not a single course.
Though I was a management consultant that specialized in marketing, the experience of selling self-made fitness equipment online is where I really learned how to find customers and connect with them to share the thing I offered that they wanted.
When I got fed up dealing with my website clients and realized, “if I can do it for them, why can’t I do it for me” I decided instead to focus solely on my passions (travel, writing). I paired this with tactical marketing skills I learned (finding people who wanted to read what I have to share) and then found an honest way to make money from the whole process.
I’ve seen this process – side-hustling in the real world and using those lessons to build a successful digital nomad life – work out for quite a few others too.
I share these three lessons to demonstrate the value of just trying out a side business now and how (if you decide to travel) those skills can empower you.
I SAVED AS MUCH MONEY AS POSSIBLE AND REDUCED MY WASTE ACCORDINGLY
The moment I decided that I wanted to travel the world for at least a year, my first realization was that I would need money. The faster I earned and saved money, the sooner I could travel and for longer.
My first step was to look at my budget and credit card statements for the last month and figure out exactly where all of my money was going. For me, the top three were:
- Drinks at the bar on the weekends, socializing
- Nice dinners out socializing
- Domestic trips and vacations – flying to California, New York, etc.
I realized that every weekend out translated to a few days, I wouldn’t travel in Argentina, Brazil, or Portugal. I realized every weekend vacation – with flights, hotels, and shows – translated to weeks. So, I decided to replace every high-cost item and activity with something just as satisfying but lower cost.
- I learned how to make cocktails at home and hosted friends at my place – I loved the more intimate result
- I made a list of dishes from around the world, learned how to make them, and cooked amazing dinners for myself or at dinner parties
- I swapped out my expensive weekend vacations for local exploration, digging into neighborhoods in my city (Dallas at the time) and going on cheaper, outdoor adventures, weekend camping, and hiking.
- I looked up free, local activities like meetups, concerts in the park, and festivals to replace higher dollar trips.
As a result, I saved 75% as much as I used to spend without decreasing my quality of life. I went through the process of reviewing my credit card statements over and over to reduce waste. I did the same process with my pricey gym membership, riding my bike and motorcycle around town more, and switching where I purchased my staple goods and clothes.
SIMPLE TRAVEL HACKING
I performed “simple travel hacking” starting three years to build up airline miles for my trip. I used this simple process just opening a few select credit cards (Chase Sapphire, Citi Aadvantage, Southwest Rapid Rewards) for the introductory bonus, closing two years later, and reopening again. The result was a much higher credit score and over 400,000 miles on American and United. I have never paid for a long haul international flight in my four years of traveling, and I still have plenty of miles. Any flights I take are short and under $100, usually
ACTIVELY DEFINING WHAT I WANT MY LIFE TO BE
For the past 15 years, I’ve set aside two days per year to examine my life using what I call the Drive Test to review what drives and motivates me, what I’m passionate about, and what I want my life to be.
I never find all the answers in full honesty, and I end up with many more questions than answers, but I do remember the answers that count. I remembered that I wanted to live in an eclectic place near the beach. I remembered I wanted adventure sports (like surfing, trekking, motorbiking) to be a firm part of my life. I remembered that I would rather get paid less and work for myself doing something I love than get paid twice as much doing random tasks for any boss.
Realizing this and other essentials took active self-examination and reflection over a long period.
In return, whenever I was presented with a choice between two options, I was always able to make a decision and stay motivated on that path quickly. Whenever things have gotten tough, I’ve been able to stay connected with my purpose, desire to be on that path, and drive to be where it leads.
I highly recommend – examine yourself, your desires, and your life (your current life and your desired life) now so that you can make more intentional decisions that put you in the driver’s seat.
What did this self-examination look like for me?
- I defined what would be worth living for and sacrificing for – my bucket list, my destinations – getting to these became my objective, worth sacrifice, worth saving, and worth avoiding debt
- I created my list of “digital nomad cities,” connected, international, hustle vibe, great food, and an outdoor centric lifestyle – whenever I was working in a place I didn’t want to be, I remembered where I was going to be
- I realized that I loved to write and share stories and discoveries. I’m happy skipping the 6 figure jobs and sacrificing accordingly to do this
Actively defining and understanding what you want your life to be will be empowering and reassuring during your times of prep and saving before travel.
Additionally, understanding what you want will help you craft your adventure.
If you realize that food rules your world and you make the clear decision to spend an entire year between Japan, Thailand, Italy, and France, you will likely experience more of your passions in that single year than most people do in a lifetime.
For me, I live for food, adrenaline, and connection. That understanding led me to my current “home” of Canggu, Bali. Here, my life is equally split between constantly amazing surf, motorbiking the island, a slew of Bohemian cafes, and travelers’ social scene where I do everything from standup comedy to hosting barbecues and pub crawls.
Intention and actively defining my life have led me to “this” version of my life. I encourage you to examine your drivers and passions in the same way, so you can consciously act on them too
MINIMALISM AND REDUCING MATERIAL POSSESSIONS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE BEFORE TAKING THE JUMP
The more physical possessions you have, the fewer options you have to just up and leave with the wind. Plus, every additional material possession costs you money that you could have used on a more memorable and worthwhile experience.
My straight forward tips are
- Get rid of as much as possible, reducing your footprint, even if you don’t plan to travel. Reduction in clutter frees the mind and gets you comfortable with the idea of “less is more.”
- Get a small storage unit when you leave to travel. Throw away everything that doesn’t fit
- Reduce recurring bills. Look at your credit card statement and ditch every recurring cost that doesn’t deliver a benefit worth its expense.
A few months before leaving the US, I sold as much of my possessions as possible. A few days before, I gave away most of the rest or dropped it off at a donation center. The result was my entire life fitting in a box that only costs $49 a month. I have everything I need to make a return, but if I never go back, it’s only $49 and possessions I haven’t needed for four years.
I did have my beloved Toyota 4Runner in storage, but I realized after three years, the total cost of storage exceeded the SUV value. Since then, I gave the truck to a family member. I now save that monthly storage every month to buy another outright (with cash) if I ever go back. The gain – of saving money on storage, not worrying about damage from sitting, paying insurance, and paying registration – is well worth the sacrifice of giving away card, in saved cash, and mental freedom.
ACCEPTING THE FEAR AND TAKE THE JUMP WITH AN OPEN MIND
Deciding to travel around the world is crazy yet awesome in an exciting way. There are so many unknowns and so many things to fear – but – there is so much to gain. If you’re in touch with your motivations and what you want your life to be, as well as what you don’t want it to be, this step will still make you slightly anxious and be exhilarating, but it will also be easy.
MY BALI BUDGET
- Villa: $860 per month – luxurious, three bedrooms overlooking rice fields, 10 mins to the beach
- Electricity: $100 per month
- Gardener and maintenance: $30 per month
- Food: $450 – $600 per month – Eating out twice a day at mostly western-style restaurants
- Gym Membership: $125 for Crossfit, $200 for an elite gym
- Cell Phone Service: $15 per month
- Motorbike: (paid $1000 outright)
- Gas: $5 per week
Total Bali Expenses: $1585/month
- Virtual Mailbox in the US: $10 per month
- Travel insurance: $40 per month
- Google Fi for 2FA and grounding – $20 per month (only used for texting)
Total “Nomad Expenses”: $70/month
My total monthly expenses in Bali: $1,655
With full disclosure, this figure tends to be higher more often than not as I get massages every few days (~$7), drink when I socialize (~$3 for a local beer, $10 for a cocktail), and am addicted to buying new surfboards (~$300).
HOW I LIVE IN BALI
Note that I do not work in Bali
The budget above covers a very comfortable and lazy lifestyle. My villa is the nicest place I have ever lived in, honestly – with three bedrooms, ricefield views, a master bedroom on a pool, and a 10-minute ride from the ocean.
When the season is good, I surf once every two days, which ends up being the bulk of my entertainment.
Evenings are usually spent with friends, Fridays have been performing or hosting stand up comedy, Saturdays are full days with friends, Sundays are filled with “Sunday roasts,” markets, and beach time.
I say this all to say that an amazing life is attainable on a very small budget here in Bali and many places outside of the US.
Note that I DO NOT work in Bali as my visa does not allow it. I pay for my life by managing content I’ve previously published during my travels and managing investments I made in prep for this adventure – this restriction is why you ABSOLUTELY need to experiment with and nail a side hustle (or start to) before your journey.
A NOTE: BALI IS EXPENSIVE GO ELSEWHERE!
If you love to surf, then Bali may be your paradise. If not, I highly recommend going elsewhere to find a place that delivers exactly what you want. Whether you want mountains, European style foods, a robust social and drinking scene, or anything else, you are likely to find what you want elsewhere and cheaper.
If you’re considering nomading, these are the places I recommend at the moment
RECOMMENDED NOMAD LOCATIONS
- The Philippines
Each of these destinations delivers an amazing quality of life (or adventure) and delivers a great bang for your buck.
HOW I PAID FOR MY TRAVELS OVER THE PAST 4 YEARS
“How do I pay for travel” is probably the most asked question in the travel information space. Though I can’t tell you the best method for you, I will share how I have paid and currently pay for my indefinite life travel. I pay for travel via two main means:
- From savings and investments accrued before travel
- From earnings on my blogs via ads and affiliate marketing (previously from client work building and managing websites)
From a savings standpoint, just like I have a rule of “zero debt,” I only use the interest from investments to pay for my travel. I never touch the principal investment.
When I worked in the corporate world before traveling, I was saving everything for the American dream – settling down and buying a house. When I decided to travel the world, I simply transferred what would have been my down payment into several investments. The interest from those investments now pays for a small portion of my travels.
At the beginning of my travels, the client work of building websites and managing them (a side hustle I built up) paid for my travels. After the first year, I decided to work for myself and start writing so that I would get paid just as much as I would express my passion.
Here’s a more detailed rundown of how that evolution happened.
THE YEAR BY YEAR RUNDOWN OF HOW I PAID FOR MY TRAVELS
Prep: I held no debt for longer than a month, saved as much money as I could, and reduced as many expenses as possible. Shortly before departure, I put all of my savings (except for $18k free to travel for the first year) into investments that trickle off interest.
The first year: I freelanced for $1000 per month building and managing websites, while my investment paid ~$1000 per month (taking only interest, not touching the principal).
My primary goal was to make opportunities in the present without cannibalizing the future, which is why I worked to build the side hustle and refused to use the principal from my investments.
This $2000 per month combined with travel hacking was more than enough for Southeast Asia and South America
Second-year: I decided to make my passion (travel, writing) my income. I ditched the freelancing and decided to dedicate all of my “free time” to writing and building a blog to make money. At first, the blog (A Brother Abroad) started with $0 per month, so I allotted myself the $1000 per month from my investments and took $700 per month from my original $18k travel fund giving myself $1,700 per month for Southeast Asia and South America. I increased my budget slightly for Portugal, Greece, and the Middle East to $2300 per month and reduced it again for the Balkans and returning to Southeast Asia.
Today (Year Four): As of now – the blog you’re reading pays between $1500 to $2000 a month regularly, mostly passively, and via honest means (only recommending what I purchase myself, with my own money). This stacks with the investments I started before traveling, which have grown to ~$1500 per month. This combined $3,000 is how I now pay for indefinite travel.
Note that despite having enough to support my life here, I’m always still travel hacking.
Additionally, I’m always working on side projects that generate a side income, too – including a food blog, a marketing agency, and a travel fitness course in the works. I recommend you do the same, too, diversifying your remote capable income streams as early as possible.
In my opinion – the best way to pay for your travels is to look at the things you do amazingly (art, accounting, marketing, design, etc.) and figure out a way to do that remotely. Once you’ve figured out a way, start building clients and relationships now to build a business. Once you’ve built some form of business, figure out how to do it free of time constraints. Next, automate and outsource what makes sense, giving you the maximum freedom. Then, boom, you have a digital nomad friendly business.
Once you’ve completed doing this – turning your passion into a side hustle and a small business – do it again.
Of the indefinite travel types and long term travelers I know that are successfully living the life, this “simple” process is what they’ve followed – though the execution is admittedly difficult. You can do it though!
HOW TO PAY FOR TRAVELING THE WORLD: OTHER PEOPLE’S APPROACHES
I am NOT advocating building a blog to make money and travel the world. Honest blogging is the worst idea possible for most people as it is a slow process requiring lots of effort and diligence. I’m lucky because I’m passionate about travel, fitness, and writing. These passions combine well with my past experiences (fitness coach, marketer, and web developer). For me, this makes the process of blogging easy and the dry spells much more tolerable.
Here’s what I’ve seen work successfully for other nomads:
- Remote working for a normal company (can restrict the time and make you feel like you’re in the real world, requires balance and intention)
- Remote “advisers” (certified)
- Coaches (not certified)
- Remote fitness coaches – usually for specific skills
- Real Estate Management
- Usually managing their properties (partially outsourced management) via Airbnb
- Digital marketers – A hard hustle to start and normally takes 1.5 years to pick up speed. Social media marketing is the most competitive – niche marketing (specific health and fitness issues, courses, targeted demographics, etc.) and more complex marketing (virtual summits, cross-platform ads, cohesive tactic focused digital campaigns)
- Influencers: Possibly the worst route. 1 in 100 make enough to make a living, most that get paid live paycheck to paycheck, and the hustle required is intense
- Retirees: If you are retired and collecting a check, GTFO the country now. There is too much world to see. Lookup retirement visas in the top countries I listed in the recommended nomad locations section
HOW CAN YOU TRAVEL FURTHER WITH LESS MONEY? MY TOP TIPS
- Skip the flights, take the bus for domestic travel: Buses cost 1/10th the price of a flight, and you get to see the country
- Travel slower with more time in each location:
- Reduces your transit costs
- You’ll have a deeper experience the longer you stay
- Longer-term accommodation is cheaper
- You learn cheaper ways to stay at the same price
- Aim for low cost, alternative locales
- Instead of western Europe, hit the Balkans
- Instead of Mexico, hit Colombia or Argentine
- Instead of Japan, do Vietnam or Thailand
SKIP THE FLIGHTS, TAKE THE BUS FOR DOMESTIC TRAVEL
Buses cost 1/10th the price of a flight, and you get to see the country
TRAVEL SLOWER WITH MORE TIME IN EACH LOCATION
Too many travelers spend 2 to 3 days in a single city to see as many destinations as possible in a journey. If time isn’t an issue, staying in accommodation for a week or two can make the entire experience cheaper.
Staying in each destination for a week instead of a couple of days has these great benefits:
- Reduces your transit costs as you move less frequently
- You’ll have a deeper experience connecting more with the destination the longer you stay
- Longer-term accommodation is cheaper; just check Airbnb or Facebook groups. The weekly and monthly rates will beat daily rates by far. My current villa is $100 per day or $800 per month
- You’ll learn the cheaper yet better places to eat, drink, and experience as you stay in a destination longer
But what if you’re worried about missing out on destinations and you want to see everything?
Still base yourself in a larger city or on the outskirts, and visit all of your list destinations via day trips. Throughout Southeast Asia and South America, cheap mini-buses constantly shuttle tourists for cheap day trips. This approach allows you to see everything but still keep your costs low
AIM FOR LOW COST, ALTERNATIVE LOCALES
Learn how to travel based on what you want to experience and gain from a destination instead of choosing based on recognizable names. There are over 10,000 cities globally, so whatever you want to experience, there is probably a cheaper and just as great alternative.
- Instead of Paris, spend time in Nantes, France
- Instead of Rome, stay longer in the south, or south of Spain, or Portugal, or Greece
- Instead of western Europe, hit the Balkans
- Instead of Mexico, hit Colombia or Argentina
- Instead of Japan, do Vietnam or Thailand and Kuala Lumpur and Singapore
Each of the alternatives above gives the same core experience at a much lower price. Learn how to make this “swap” for the big-name destinations on your list, and your travel budget will go much further
MY BIGGEST LESSONS FROM TRAVELING FOR NEW(ER) TRAVELERS
- Learn how to effectively move your life to the digital (virtual mailboxes, cloud drives, international SIM cards) and eliminate material possessions, and you can easily roam anywhere
- Learn how to convert your skills and passions into a side hustle, then a digital hustle, and with 1 to 2 years of work, you can finance indefinite travel
- Travel slower to travel longer on the same budget
- Consider “Mini-retirements” of 2 to 6 months to live in a single country or region, to understand your desires in life, and to feel out the nomad life before making the full jump
- Build a life outdoors (active lifestyle, active vacations, hiking, camping) to add healthy, low-cost activities to your life.
- Take care of your health (diet, routine fitness training) to improve the quality of your travels, reduce your expenses in the long term, and extend how much of your life can be dedicated to travel and adventure
- My favorite long term living locations I recommend to retirees and nomads
- My favorite recommendations for short, 2-week backpacking trips and mini-retirements to explore your desires
- My favorite destinations for weeks to 2 months – I recommend checking out these free resources and itineraries on A Brother Abroad.
- Pick an adventure or adventure sport to be a theme of your travels and add depth and rich experiences to your wandering. My favorite adventures for travel I recommend most are
- Freediving or SCUBA diving
- Trekking and camping**
- Giving back / volunteering**
- “Journey into self” (find a monastery where you can’t speak and meditate for ten days. Use the rest of your travels exploring what you discover inside yourself. Thailand and Burma are the best locations for this)
HOW CAN I TRAVEL THE WORLD? AN FAQ LIST…
This topic is the one I easily receive the most questions on, so I encourage you to email me at [email protected] to ask your questions. I respond as soon as I get off the waves, and I’ll post the question (anonymously) and answer here as a resource and inspiration for others with the same question.