How I Did It: 1 Year of World Travel (On $300 A Month)

Perhaps it’s fitting, but as I’m wrapping my first year of permanent/indefinite travel, what appears in my Inbox but an email from a fellow musician – music teacher make that – who also suffered a career ending (or postponing) injury.

He says:

“Now I want to sell my stuff and travel the world. How do you do it? How do you pay for food and places to stay?”

How indeed.

Time to brush off that dusty old tome, gather around the campfire (I’m sure you have an app for that), and get ready for more Tales From Planet Earth.

It all started on a dark and stormy night. Our hero (your truly), had just completed his quest to remove the curse of the missing voice, a forced vow of silence that had lasted 2.5 years.

Like the other great figures from history – Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Batman, Caesar, Harry Potter – this hero faced the same question all his brethren had faced in their own time:

Now what?

Seriously, after all the dragons have been slain (how sad), princesses have been saved (how socially-regressive), and battles have been won (how pointlessly macho), most heros end up working on their beer belly in front of the tube*. *Make that YouTube.

But not this hero. This hero was going to travel the world.

So he did.

Setting Up

Now, I’ve given you the sarcastic version of a romantic tale because that’s the way we often think of these journeys. It’s all glory and fun and magic and cake. Reality is different. There are no special tricks I used, no hidden gems of wisdom that I can impart to help make permatravel your reality – or whatever it is you’re looking for.

It was all rather mundane stuff.

This is great news, because it means you’re actually a lot closer than you realized to doing it.

For starters, I sold the expensive things I owned – musical instruments. A drum kit, several guitars, a saxophone, trumpet, keyboard and bass guitar all found kind new owners. After all, I couldn’t take them with me, and at the time I wasn’t counting on playing music again. It made far more sense to use those resources on something I could do.

Next, I asked my parents that, in lieu of a birthday gift, they help pay for my plane ticket to Europe.

(Quick reminder that the best way to get what you want tends to be asking for it)

Then I packed a medium sized backpack with all the stuff I wanted to carry (it was full only because one item was a bike helmet and left.

Sexy, right?

You can do the same. Find a backpack, fill it, leave. Give your extra stuff to friends to keep or look after as you please. Sell the rest.

The big thing about these decisions is we’re looking for some technique that will allow us do to what we want without doing the requisite work. We have to pay with either time and energy or money. I had no job and no hopes for one, so I turned my resources on hand into cash. Your situation will be unique to you, but the underlying principal is the same. If you want the result, pay the price. Otherwise – do something else! This is how it works in reality – not some late-night infomercial or MMO blog.

Planning

You might be one of those individuals who likes to plan things in advance. If so, you’ll probably enjoy some of my favorite resources, and be glad that for once we’re on the same side of the debate:

Need to know where it’ll be easiest to go? Search Google for “visa requirements for [MY COUNTRY] citizens” and pull up the Wikipedia article.

This is where I start – my 1 stop shop for seeing how long I can stay in each country and whether I need to apply (and pay) for a visa.

Then, if you need a plane ticket (or other paid transportation), I’d use Kayak Explore, Skyscanner, and Rome2Rio.com – the last of which searches all modes of transport.

My only advice for plane tickets is this: Try to buy 8 weeks out or more, it’s statistically the best for prices. Last minute deals barely exist any more and aren’t worth betting on. And once you’ve found the best price, search for the same flight on different sites.

Also – clear your browser cache before you buy, some sites jack up prices on people doing repeated searches, sneaky devils.

Then, as soon as you find a price you like, get it. Prices are far more likely to rise than fall…

(Not) Paying For Food, Transportation, and Lodging

Most people would think that traveling for $1,000 a month is crazy. No way could it be done. No way could it be fun. Well I did it for $200 for a good while, so time for a paradigm shift.

For starters, I’d like you to imagine how to travel if you had no money and weren’t going to earn any.

Uncomfortable, right? But keep at it, and you’ll probably have some realizations that you could actually do it if you wanted.

This is the best starting point. Start at zero. Make a system that works. Then inject money into it if you feel it’s really necessary.

My rules for minimalist travel are rather simple: Never do anything that feels unsafe. Never go hungry or compromise your health. Spending as little as possible is not the goal, empowering yourself to do whatever you want, regardless of your inherited beliefs about price tags – is.

General Rule

Locals always know where the deals and freebies are. Or rather, if anyone knows it’s going to be a local – not Google. Taking to people is probably the best way to save money and find interesting thing to do and see.

Now, let’s take the specific categories one by one:

Food

I’ve written about 10 ways to get a free meal if you have no money, and the 6 best foods to buy if you’re broke – but if you’re not into that, the most simple option is to eat food fresh from markets/supermarkets – buy what the locals do, and pay what they pay.

Restaurants are fun and all, but they’re not a prerequisite of a meaningful existence. Again, the big problem we face here is mindset, not technique. The techniques are easy. Go into a store and buy the cheapest local produce as well as a couple extra goodies (nuts, meat, fish, cheese, eggs) according to your food interests.

That is not hard. Anyone can do that. I know, I’ve seen it! The hard part is giving up the prestige of fine dining. If only there was a good advice blog that could help with that…

Transportation

Rule #1 of cheap transportation: No transportation is the cheapest! Staying in 1 place for 2-3 months – if not more – is not only a great way to get acquainted with a culture, but it’s light on the wallet too.

Rule #2: Cycling & hitchhiking are free. On a tight budget of $0? Then choose the moneyless options. Hitchwiki.org offers hitchhiking advice, and so do I: The most important thing is not letting people drop you where you have to walk 10 miles to get back on the highway. If they’re getting off – you’re getting out.

The only things we need to pay for are flights, and those should be 1-2x per year max!

And fine, if you need a rule #3 – locals know what buses and other transport will get you to and from places for cheaper than the tourist centers will.

Accommodation

Please, please tell me you’ve heard of CouchSurfing by now. I’ve surfed and hosted and it;s one of the best ways to meet people and learn about the place you’re staying. I even have an article about how to make the perfect couch request.

Otherwise, I go to one of those hostel booking sites and choose the cheapest one, in the dorm. Just watch out for bedbug infestations, which can happen in surprising locations (they’re easy to unwittingly transfer in one’s luggage, to the chagrin of hostel and hostel owners everywhere). Otherwise the cheapest listed place usually seems to be totally adequate. And it’s a great way to meet other budget travelers like yourself and swap tips.

Earning Money on the Road

The best way to earn money on the road for most English speakers will be to teach it. I didn’t do that until rather late. We have the interesting distinction that, even if we have no experience or qualifications, someone somewhere wants to hire us simply because we speak English.

I’m going to reserve judgment on this.

For myself, I did freelance writing for a time, then I had my computer stolen and ran out of money.

That wasn’t particularly fun, but it comes with the territory. It’s a different sort of lifestyle, permatravel.

Another good option is WWOOFing, if you like the idea of working on an organic farm in return for food and a warm bed. Not earning money per-se, but it’s a different way to “afford” your travel.

I met people who played music, sold jewelery, did street performing, and all sorts of crazy stuff in order to make enough to keep going. It’s actually fairly simple if your fun-thermometer doesn’t rise and fall with the cost of what you’re doing. At my most frugal, I was able to live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for $150 a month – and that was even staying in a hostel.

It all comes down to our mindset.

Mindset

As you can see, all of the techniques are easy. But I bet there came a point or ten where you thought “I could never do that”, or “that’s easy for him to say, he had almost no money, no possessions, no voice, and no job – of course he could do it.”

Whether you say you can or you can’t – you are most probably correct.

This is one of the reasons that I think everyone should take a year and do something like this. It can challenge what we believe reality is, how we interact with the world, and be the catalyst for some amazing personal growth.

I am naturally not a big spender, but being so minimalist really made me realize what it is I value in life – meaningful conversation (hence my love of languages), creating things, moving my body, helping people. Nothing that requires some special permission, budget, or degree.

In the end, it all comes down to what I talked about earlier: Are we willing to do what’s necessary to get what we want? Or maybe, do we just like the idea of the thing. That’s okay too. Not everything is as good in reality as it is in our imagination. Permatravel, if nothing else, will be different than you imagined. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll leave it for you to decide.

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AJ Walton

AJ Walton will show you how to travel the world on your budget, how to make money on the road, and why you don't have to live the way others expect. Get the free guide: 101 Ways To Make Money While Traveling

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Currently in Saint Petersburg , Russia

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