So you want to travel the world. Sounds too good to be true, right? Or maybe even impossible?
Perhaps you have a steady job, but it is holding you back from fully letting go and traveling long term. The idea of leaving financial security may seem intimidating. You list the “What Ifs” in your head, but ultimately, you can’t deny the call to travel the world.
If we can do it, you can too. My husband, Scott, and I left Minnesota in September 2017 for a 15-month global adventure. It ended up being one of the best decisions we have ever made. I’m going to let you in on how we did it so you can quit your job and travel the world, too!
Step 1: Decide Where You Want to Go
This might be either the easiest or hardest part…deciding where you want to go.
Before we could even begin to estimate our expenses, Scott and I had to decide on a rough idea of the countries we wanted to visit and how long we would travel the world. We started our research by reading “Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America” by Mark Ehrman, which reviews more than 30 countries including key areas like:
- Cost of living
- Infrastructure (i.e. how easy is it to travel around the country and how good is the wifi)
- Relevant social, political and environment issues
- Visa options and requirements
We reviewed the countries together to create our “master” list and then a feasible timeline based on visa requirements. The great news for U.S. citizens is that many countries allow you to visit for a month or more with a simple tourist visa.
Tip: Before you book tickets or make plans, be sure to check the visa requirements for each country. This is one of the most important steps to take to ensure a smooth trip.
So do your research, pick your country (or countries), and try to estimate how long you’d like to be in each location.
Once you have a tentative plan in place…
Step 2: Make a “Travel the World” Budget
Any long-term trip abroad is probably going to cost thousands of dollars – no matter where you go or how frugal you think you can be. But, how much money do you really need?
If you’ve never budgeted before, now is a good time to start. You want to make sure you can accurately estimate all of your expenses. This will give you an idea of how costs might change or evolve over the course of your trip. Here’s a good primer from Nerd Wallet on creating a budget.
Establishing Your Current Budget
The first step is estimating your current monthly expenses based on where you live now. For example, let’s say you spend the following:
- Rent – $800
- Utilities (heat, garbage, wifi, cable, phone plan, etc) – $400
- Groceries – $600
- Gas/Car Expenses – $75
- Entertainment (going out to eat, movies/shows, booze, etc) – $200
Total = $2,075
Considering Cost-of-Living in Chosen Country
You can take these numbers and use them to create an estimate for the amount of money you’ll need to travel the world. Simply take your monthly numbers and multiply them by the number of months you’ll be in a specific country. Then, use an online cost of living calculator, like this one from Expatisian, to determine how your numbers will increase or decrease for each category (rent, utilities, etc) based on the cost of living for a particular country.
How about an example? If you’re planning to live in Florence, Italy for three months, here’s how you’d determine the cost of renting an apartment:
- $800 a month x 3 months = $2,400 total in rent
- Then, $2,400 x .3 = $720 to figure out the difference between rent in Florence and Minnesota (where we’re from). According to Expatisan, rent is 30% cheaper in Florence.
- Then, $2,400 – $720 = $1,680 needed to rent an apartment in Florence for three months.
You’d do the same for each category above and get your total budget for by country. If you’re traveling to more than one country, repeat the process for each country. Add up all your numbers and you’re almost there…
Factor in One-Time Costs
Often the most expensive part of traveling long term is getting started initially. For that reason, you will also need to estimate one-time costs, such as:
- Travel insurance
- Health insurance and prescriptions/medications
- Flights, trains or buses
- Buying a phone and/or international SIM card
- Monthly or annual subscription services, like a computer or photo backup storage
- Any costs you’ll need to continue to pay back home while you’re gone, like car insurance, renting a storage facility, etc.
Finalizing Your Travel Budget
Once you have all your estimates, add everything up to see the total amount of money you’ll need for your trip. It can come with a bit of sticker shock, but having a tangible estimate definitely helps put things in perspective. If the amount is too high, go back and adjust your timeline or switch out a city/country or two to a cheaper location.
Tip: When you land on your final number, it’s nice to keep track of your number crunching. We use Google sheets to track our estimated budget with different tabs by country and current expenses.
In the end, Scott and I estimated we’d need more than $60,000 to be gone a total of 15 months, live in seven countries and take plenty of little trips along the way.
But, how can you possibly find a way to pay for a trip that expensive?
Step 3: Save All Your Money
Scott and I agreed we would not go into debt to take our trip, so we had to begin saving everything we could to make it a reality. We started saving in May 2016 with a lofty goal of having $60,000 in our bank account in 12 months. If we couldn’t meet that goal, we wouldn’t leave until we had the money in hand.
Saving Up Money for Travel
So what did we do to meet our savings goal? We lay out a pretty detailed post on our blog, International Hotdish, but here are the basics:
- Get Out of Debt – When you’re already making payments on your student loans or a car, it’s hard to concentrate on saving. The first thing we did was pay off all our debt as quickly as possible, freeing up more money to go right to our trip.
- Cut Unnecessary Expenses – If you take a hard look at your recent transactions in your bank account, I bet you can find a couple of things you didn’t need to buy. Heck, go look through the last five Amazon purchases…that’s pretty eye-opening.
We found a ton ways to cut down our spending over the course of a year. A few areas we found easy to cut out or minimize:
- Cable TV or digital subscriptions like Hulu or Netflix
- Going out to eat, buying drinks, snacks or coffee
- Buying new things like clothes, books, movies, tools, video games, etc
- Bring in Extra Income – If you can’t spend less, make more money. The easiest place to start is to look around your apartment or house and see what you can sell. Seriously. We made easy money selling kitchen items, furniture, and other stuff we didn’t use through Facebook and Craigslist.
You can also take on a part-time job or start a side hustle. If you have a hobby you love, there’s a good chance you can find a way to monetize it.
Once you put your mind to it, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you find extra money to put in your “travel the world” savings account.
TIP: Find a fun way to track your savings progress. Scott and I kept a sheet on our fridge that we could mark off every time we added another $5,000 to our savings account. Seeing what you’ve saved and how much you have to go is a great motivator (and might help you say “no” next time your friend suggests a Pumpkin Spice Latte run).
Step 4: Take Care of Your Odds & Ends
While you might be tempted to just pick up and leave, there are a few important loose ends we’d recommend you tie up before your trip. For example:
- Housing – Will you rent out your place? Where will your store your things? Will you forward your mail and where?
- Vehicle – Where will you keep your car?
- Legal Stuff – Do you have a will, power of attorney, and healthcare directive in place? If not, it would be important to draw them up now. If you have one, does someone close to you know where to get these documents?
- Financial Accounts – Will your current debit or credit card easily work abroad? If not, investigate a new account with no foreign transaction fees or foreign ATM fees.
Sorting out all the little things can get a little mind-numbing, trust me. The good news is that once it’s done, you’ll feel quite relieved knowing things are taken care of back home.
Step 5: Book Your Plane Ticket & Share the News
Now comes the fun part! If you’ve taken the steps above and feel comfortable with the amount of money in your savings account, research flight prices to your first destination and book your ticket. If you need help finding a good price, a local travel agent can be a huge asset. Plus, they might have access to sales and special pricing that gets you a great deal even with paying the agent a small commission.
Purchasing Your Ticket
After all the planning, saving and waiting, buying our first plane ticket was something I’ll never forget. It was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time (like how I imagine it feels to go bungy jumping). Make sure to savor the moment and pat yourself on the back. You’ve worked hard to get this far. It’s real…you’re going to travel the world!
Share the News!
Next up, get ready to share the news. Telling your friends, family, boss or co-workers can be either extremely difficult, exciting or a bit of both. We told our immediate family about our trip during the savings phase and were pleased to find everyone support and happy about our trip. Honestly, our bosses and co-workers were in the same boat (although not so happy that we were leaving them).
My biggest piece of advice is to follow your gut. Making a decision to quit your job and travel the world isn’t easy, but it’s one we don’t regret. Hopefully this post will inspire you to take the next step and show you how long-term travel is possible.
Are you ready to take your travel aspirations from just an idea to reality? Let me know in the comments. I want to hear your story.