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Nomadic Living Abroad

How to Achieve Your Long-Term Travel Dreams 

(The following introduction constitutes part 1 of a 2-part series which will explore in practical terms the requirements, joys, and the tribulations of living long-term on the road overseas and doing so in an adventurous manner.)

Nomadic living in a tent abroad
Your tent can be your home if you hit the road for a nomadic way of life.

It is hard to exude an aura of wealth when you have been traveling for a long time, yet somehow we manage to carry it off. 

“Must be nice to be rich,” people quip time and time again when they learn my husband and I have been on the road for nearly three years. 

We look at our faded t-shirts, worn socks, and scruffy haircuts and at first glance it is hard to see just what provokes this reaction. And then a little more discussion reveals the answer: to quit work and travel for an extended period of time you must have won the lottery, inherited great-grandma's fortune, or sold a multi-million dollar business—or so the logic goes.

In a way these people are right. We are certainly rich in time, the time to immerse ourselves in each culture and landscape, instead of trying to cram all the “must-see” destinations into the typical 2-week vacation. We are also rich in experiences, waking up each day in a new location, with fresh sights, sounds, and smells to discover. And we are richer emotionally for the way we have changed and grown while on the road.

But rich in money we are not, and we are here to convince you that swapping your own 9-to-5 workday for a long-term travel dream is possible for you too and it does not have to cost the earth. No, we are not kidding. 

Less than US$10,000 can buy you a year of simple but happy living in places like Southeast Asia and India. You will need significantly more than that for relatively expensive destinations like Europe or Japan, but even these are a possibility if you:

  • Are willing to put more effort into saving.
  • Work a little along the way.
  • Consider unconventional and low-budget travel methods like cycle touring or hitchhiking.
  • Make use of groups like Couchsurfing as a way to keep your expenses in check and meet some local friends.  

Just Do It

The first step to going from office worker to nomad is to make the decision to go. This sounds deceptively simple but the fact is that many people do not get out of their driveway because even contemplating such a big change, and one that falls outside typical social norms, is quite daunting. 

It is all too easy to think that you will do it “when the time is right”–only to wake up years later and find the right time never seemed to come along. Finding the courage to commit to your travel dreams means you are open to and actively searching for solutions to the obstacles stopping you from walking out that door.

So take a piece of paper, or better yet a book that will serve as your travel journal, and write down what you would like to do, how long you think it will take, how much it will cost and what you would like to see and achieve. You do not need a day-by-day itinerary (many people never settle on a firm route plan, preferring to just take one day at a time), but do outline the general countries or regions you would like to see as these choices are a major factor in how much you need to save.  

You can also use your travel journal to record tasks to do before leaving, helpful resources others may tell you about, and of course your own feelings as you work towards your target. After all, this is no short beach holiday you are planning. There is a lot to think about and you will want to keep track of it all.

Save, Save, Save

Now that you have decided to go, the hard work really begins. You will need a good measure of patience and dedication to see yourself through to departure day. Depending upon your situation (how much you've saved already, your current salary, your ability to cut costs and to live beneath your means), getting ready for your grand voyage can take anything up to a few years and involve fairly sharp changes in the way you live. 

Expect some strange looks from friends when you tell them you have turned vegetarian to cut food bills. You might also rent out a room in your house or move to more modest accommodation, cut off unnecessary extras like cable television and gym memberships, and sort through and sell everything you will not need on the road or when you return. Funnel all of this extra money into a special travel bank account and keep going until you hit the amount you need to take off. 

Though it may seem hard to believe when you start, but you really can stash a lot of cash away quickly by separating your wants from your needs and cutting out everything in the first category. In the final year of getting ready for our epic tour, we went from living on two paychecks to one, just by forgoing what we outlined as unnecessary extras.

Meet traditional nomadic peoples abroad
On your trip you might have the good fortune to get to know some more traditional nomadic peoples. This is a nomad tent in the Moroccan desert.

Remember Your Goal

If this all sounds a little extreme, remind yourself just what you are working towards: the ability to take a significant chunk of time off without throwing your entire future into chaos. That is a big goal and you owe it to yourself to put the effort towards achieving it responsibly. Paying off debts and creating a pool of money to help re-establish yourself when you return should be as high on your priority list as saving money for your actual travels.

Do not worry if you find yourself slipping into periods of self-doubt as you prepare. Every future traveler runs into these from time to time, including one woman who told us:

“I already have days of panic thinking 'What the heck are we doing. Have I gone mad?' Sometimes my fear of losing my matching 401K and health insurance is overwhelming! I do know that I also would be very unhappy continuing to work 9-5 in an office 5 days a week when I knew that I had the opportunity to meet people around the world and experience life in more balanced, healthy and fulfilling way for me."

The combination of saving so much money with this uncertainty is why experienced vagabonds often declare this pre-trip period the most difficult of the whole adventure. Just remember that a little gut-wrenching uncertainty is normal when you are facing such a big leap. There is no remedy for it but to buckle down and do your best to keep the big picture in mind. Remember too that the longer you give yourself to prepare, the more time you will have to reflect on your trip and spread out any stressful parts of the preparations. There is no shame in working up to a trip over several years.

As you work on building your bank account, you may daydream about places to go and things to experience, and this in turn will help keep you focused on living in a slightly more modest way in order to fund your trip. 

Quit Your Job

After months of careful saving and planning, the day will come when you finally need to unveil your plans to your family, friends and (perhaps most daunting of all) your boss. Once you take the big step of either asking for a sabbatical or quitting your job outright, there is really no turning back, at least not without your tail between your legs and a good deal of groveling. 

It is nerve-wracking moment when you walk into that office to hand over your resignation letter, but if you remember nothing else just keep this one thing in mind: do not burn your bridges. Give at least the amount of notice required in your contract, say thank you for getting the job in the first place, and do your best to fulfill your tasks as you work out your last few months. 

Above all, if you are in a job you hate, resist the temptation to tell your boss exactly what you think. You just never know what contacts might come in handy down the line when you are trying to re-establish yourself. 

Time to Leave

Now the big moment is here. With your job nearing an end and your bank account overflowing, there is nothing left to do but to set out on the first day of your extended travels. 

It can be an overwhelming moment as you step out that door, but you may be inspired by the words of Sir Richard Francis Burton, an English adventurer who travelled widely in Asia and Africa in the 1800s: 

“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares, and the slavery of Home, man feels once more happy.” 

This is what you've been waiting for and working so hard towards, so dare to step out of that door and enjoy your adventure to its fullest!

For More Information

www.vagabondish.com/practical-guide-long-term-travel-part-1/ by Nora Dunn, Professional Hobo Columnist for Transitions Abroad.

www.nomad4ever.com/2007/06/11/essential-tips-for-self-sustainable-or-permanent-travel/.