It’s easy to get the impression that long journeys have to be insanely expensive. You simply calculate the cost per day of your honeymoon in the Caribbean or your last business trip to New York, multiply that times 30 or 90 or 120 days, and try not to suffer cardiac arrest when you see the total. But travel doesn’t need to be lavish and pricey. In his classic book Vagabonding, Rolf Potts writes about watching Charlie Sheen play a hyperambitious character in Wall Street who says, “I think if I can make a bundle of cash before I’m thirty and get out of this racket, I’ll be able to ride my motorcycle across China.” Watching this scene, Potts recalls, “I nearly fell out of my seat in astonishment. After all, Charlie Sheen or anyone else could work for eight months as a toilet cleaner and have enough money to ride a motorcycle across China.”
You’ll be glad to hear that scrubbing toilets isn’t your only – or best – option for financing extended time on the road. If you have a day job, save up your vacation days and research ways to travel on a shoestring. You’d be amazed at how long and far you can go without spending much – and still enjoy comfort and security.
Ready for a more real change of pace? Think about living abroad for a while – like my nephew Mason, who is heading off to teach English in Vietnam. How did he discover this golden opportunity? You guessed it: an online search. Google “working abroad” and you’ll get 45 million hits. True, many of these "jobs" are volunteer assignments or have such low pay they might as well be. But for Mason and countless others heading overseas with stars in their eyes, it’s the adventure not the paycheck that counts.
If you’ve got a serious case of wanderlust, you may want to consider becoming a digital nomad, finding or creating an online job that makes you location independent. My friends Lindsay and Ross have been on the road since 2008, working via the Internet and moving every three to six months, exploring three or four new countries every year. “It’s really not a question of why we do it,” says Lindsay. “It’s more a question of why doesn’t everyone do it?”
One reason you may hesitate to wander the world is that the logistics can be daunting. Where should you go? How can you keep up with your current responsibilities (family, bills, taxes) remotely? What kind of work will cover your expenses and still leave you time to explore? After all, there’s no point in leaving one rat race for another. Luckily, there are some fantastic resources, including Nora Dunn’s massive, new Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom. In 2006 Nora gave up a career as a financial planner to become the Professional Hobo, a perpetual nomad writing about financially sustainable travel. Her newest project is an electronic workbook filled with budget templates, checklists, and other vital resources. How good is she at stretching travel dollars? In all of 2013 she spent just $1,718 on lodging – about what many people pay every month in rent. And she’s hardly slumming. Her accommodations have included a 49-foot sailboat in the Caribbean, a cottage in the Swiss Alps, and a Hawaiian yurt.
Another reason many of us hesitate to travel long-term is because we know that travel changes us, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Young travelers expect to come home transformed. While their hopes of returning a worldly-wise, unutterably cool sophisticate and sexual virtuoso may not be fully realized, exposure to the larger world usually broadens horizons and rubs off a few rough edges. Middle-aged travelers, on the other hand, frequently just want to return feeling rested. But no matter what your age, every road trip is really an inner journey.
“Travel,” writes LA Times travel editor Catharine Hamm, “requires you to be braver than you think you are, whether it's for a week or a year, and involves the joy of finding a better, smarter, stronger self that lasts well past the day you put away your suitcase if, indeed, that day ever comes.” And that, my friends, is priceless.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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