How I Afford A Life of Constant Travel, and You Can Too - This American Girl

Am I Wanderlost - 04

When I tell people I’ve been traveling nonstop for three and a half years, it doesn’t take long before they ask the question. The question I’ve become so used to answering, I can anticipate it before it even rolls off of their tongues.

“So, how do you pay for it?”

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For a long time, I found this insulting. I cringed the moment I heard the question spill out the mouth of a person I literally met five minutes before. I’ve never been one to talk about money, especially with strangers, yet I find myself confronted with discussing it with nearly everyone I meet.

Funny enough, it’s one of the few things I haven’t talked about on this blog. I’ve bared myself naked in body and soul, written about getting slapped in a bar, being heartbroken in Bali, having excessive food poisoning, and cleansing my liver with coffee enemas, yet I never seem to get to the bottom line.

How do I afford a life of constant travel?

This American Girl

Lately, I’ve realized that asking this question is not actually insulting at all. And that answering it, rather than a nuisance, is in fact an honor. People want to know how I can afford this lifestyle, because they want to have it too. When they ask, “How do you afford a life of constant travel?” what they’re really asking is, “How do I afford a life of constant travel?” They wonder how I’ve managed to do what they previously thought impossible. They wonder what my secret is.

So here I am, today, getting straight to the bottom line:

This American Girl

The secret to affording a life of constant travel, is simply deciding to.

I don’t have a trust fund, I didn’t play the stock market, and I didn’t receive an inheritance. I’m not any more intelligent, more talented, more capable, or more deserving than anyone else on this planet. I’m not any more privileged or able bodied than anyone else born in a first world country with access to education and a passport that gets them pretty much anywhere.

In fact, I’d bet a ticket to Thailand that I’m not actually that different from you.

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Sure, you may have different challenges from me. You may have a lease or a mortgage or kids or parents with disabilities. You may have disabilities yourself. You may have massive amounts of student loan debt or credit card debt or debilitating social anxiety.

You may also have opportunities that I don’t have. A full time career that will let you work remotely, a supportive partner who wants to do this with you, skills in technology, or even tens of thousands of dollars in a 401K. We all have challenges and opportunities on the road of life and it’s within our power to channel them in ways to support our dreams.

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In short, if I can do it, you can do it too. But it starts with one simple, yet extremely terrifying and courageous step: deciding that you want a life of constant travel enough to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

You got me?

Ok, now let’s get into the nitty gritty of how me and my Mastercard travel the world indefinitely, and more importantly, how you can do it too.

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#1: I Don’t Spend a Lot of Money

Reducing your expenses is perhaps easiest way to afford long-term travel. People seem to think that travel is expensive, and it certainly can be. If you’re taking two-week vacations staying in fancy hotels, eating in restaurants, renting a car, and going on organized tours. But this isn’t the way that I travel. In fact, I spend much, much less traveling the world than I ever did living in the United States.

Let’s take a look:

Four Years Ago Living in Seattle:

$1350/month for a one bedroom apartment

$200/month for utilities and internet

$250/month for car insurance

$200/month on gas, taxis, and buses

$100/month for cell phone plan

$500/month on groceries

$500/month eating out and drinking

$400/month in therapy bills (because I was unhappy with my life and felt stuck)

$300/month on new clothes (because I was unhappy with my life and felt stuck)

Total expenses: $3,800/month

Two Years Ago Living in Costa Rica:

$300/month for a one bedroom apartment

$20/month unlimited internet and cell phone

$200/month for organic, local groceries

$200/month for eating out, drinking, fun extras

$80/month for yoga classes

Free transportation by walking and riding a bicycle

Total expenses: $800/month

One Year Ago Traveling in Southeast Asia:

$200/month on bungalows, hostels, and hotels

$150/month on tuk tuks, bike rentals, flights, and buses

$300/month for anything from street food to fancy restaurants to organic green juice

$150/month for tours, national park fees, and massages

Total expenses: $800/month

Traveling in inexpensive countries, I’ve spent on average $800 to $1500/month. Compare that to when I lived in the states and spent nearly $4000/month. You may be shocked by both numbers. Shocked that I spent that much living in the states (yes, it was excessive) and shocked that world travel can be so cheap. If I set a budget for myself of around $1,000/month, whether I’m hanging out in Costa Rica or backpacking around the world, I’ve generally found that my travels are pretty easy to fund.

How You Can Do It Too

If you’re serious about traveling long term, the shift is two fold. First, you need to figure out how to reduce your current expenses as much as possible. Start with the big ticket items. Can you end your lease? Can you rent out your house? Can you sell your house? Can you sell your car? Can you sell most of your furniture and your clothes? What can you reduce that is no longer of value to you, so that you can create space and resources for what you really value? Having as few payments as possible each month is a great way to start.

Second, learn how to need less. I’m not talking about restriction or deprivation here. There’s nothing depriving about cooking your own nutritious food, living in a house by the beach, getting around on a bicycle, having a small collection of clothes that you love, and having free entertainment in nature. What I’m talking about is spending money mindfully. Be aware of what really feeds you, and what’s just filler. Start paying attention to how you spend your money and ask yourself how it makes you feel. Shift towards purchases that fulfill genuine needs rather than quick fix desires.

A huge part of this is spending more time in nature and getting more grounded. The more you understand that the earth provides everything that you need, the less material things you will want. “Stuff” is often a filler for something deeper that we feel is missing. When we live a vibrant, free, full life, that desire tends to melt away.

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#2: I Work Online

During my first year of travel, I lived off savings and money made from selling all of my stuff, but I knew I couldn’t sustain that. I realized that if I wanted to keep traveling, I would need to find a job that I could do anywhere on the planet. So I turned to my old friend the internet.

Before I started traveling I had worked in Internet Marketing as a Project Manager for three years, so I had some basic skills in graphic design, web design, SEO, and writing for the web. One of my best friends just so happened to be a famous blogger, and that completely opened my eyes to the idea that making a living from a blog was possible. While living on the cushion of my savings, I started writing a blog to see if I could make something of it.

Soon after, I received incredibly positive feedback, and was even contacted by several companies asking me to write my story for their publications. Eventually, this led to many freelance travel writing opportunities. Some paid as low as $25, but I could write an article in under an hour and I was living on $30/day. It wasn’t much, but at that rate I could work less than 10 hours per week and make enough to enjoy my life traveling in Nicaragua or hanging out at the beach in Costa Rica.

Since then I’ve continued freelance writing with various travel companies, earning anything from $25 for a 1,000 word article to $700 for a 350 word piece that was published in Marie Claire magazine. Some companies contacted me, but I also researched and contacted many companies myself. When I was traveling in Laos, I spent less than $800 in an entire month, and I earned $1500 from working only 20 hours.

I’ve also provided social media services for different small businesses, offered online travel consulting services, and designed basic websites for other bloggers and small businesses.

In addition to freelance work, I make an income through my blog. In January I released my first ebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica, which earns me passive income every month. I’ve worked with some different sponsors, including Nokia who compensated me $1,000 to take just a few photos with their new smart phone and post them to my Facebook page. This past winter I traveled mostly for free in expensive countries like Finland and Switzerland as I had generous tourism boards, hotels, restaurants, and tour companies funding my trip. Amazingly, I’ve also made thousands of dollars over the years from loyal readers donating to my Buy Me a Coconut Fund.

How You Can Do it Too

If you want to travel indefinitely or live abroad in the tropics, funding it will be much easier if you have a job that you can do online. Brainstorm all of the things that you know how to do, and figure out how you can take them online.

Most people are proficient enough at writing to be able to get inexpensive writing jobs on sites like Copyblogger, Problogger, and oDesk. Check out this great list of websites who pay for online articles. If you’re a photographer, consider selling your work on Getty or iStock. If you do any kind of consulting, see if you can do Skype sessions with clients. Focus on the possibilities instead of the limitations and the opportunities will appear.

For some added inspiration, read this article by my friend Brendan who made $4,000 in one month through Elance.

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#3: I Teach Yoga

I pursued my yoga teacher training initially because I wanted to deepen my personal practice. I fell in love with yoga when I started traveling to Costa Rica, and eventually I wanted to take my practice to the next level. After graduating from my training program at Pavones Yoga Center, I felt that I had been bestowed with such incredible gifts, I couldn’t NOT share yoga with the world.

I started teaching yoga at Om Yoga in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, and since then I’ve given private yoga classes all over the world. When I return to Costa Rica I’ll be teaching public classes at Om again, offering private yoga sessions, and hope to eventually lead my own travel retreats that combine yoga with nature, local culture, and adventure.

Thanks to the website Yoga Trade, any time I want to teach yoga abroad I can look through pages of job postings for yoga teachers anywhere from Australia to Morocco to Thailand to Costa Rica, which typically involve free room and board plus a small income.

How You Can Do It Too

If you’re already a yoga teacher, or considering becoming one, check out Yoga Trade immediately. You can also contact different studios that interest you in your desired locations, start creating your own yoga retreats to take on the road, and even walk into resorts and beach hostels while traveling and ask if they need a teacher.

For everyone else, find a TRADE that you can take on the road. Maybe you cut hair, or you make a mean cocktail, or you’re an awesome musician, or you’re certified in massage. Look on Work Away, which has thousands of work trade opportunities all over the world. Consider taking your trade to Australia where you can get a working holiday visa for one year. Think about how you can use your skills to apply value to the places where you visit, and you’ll always find a job in exchange for at least free room and board.

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#4: I Add Value to the World

The thing about money, is that it isn’t real. Not exactly, anyway.

Money is a symbol, a tool, a currency, that we as a society have created as a way to quantify value. The best way that I can understand how I’ve possibly managed to live the life of my dreams for the last 3.5 years is by recognizing that I add tremendous value to the world, and tremendous value has therefore been returned to me.

I write a blog that reaches hundreds of thousands of people per year, I’ve shared tens of thousands of photos through social media, and I’ve responded to every single email I’ve ever received asking anything from where to go in Costa Rica to how to avoid food poisoning to how to leave an abusive relationship to how to quit the 9 to 5 and travel the world. I’ve written an entire eBook on Costa Rica, promoted businesses that I believe in, shared free yoga and Reiki with dozens of people I’ve met on the road, and given away more free advice than I could ever track.

I witness consistently that the more value I supply to the universe, the more value I receive in return.

How You Can Do it Too

In the past I’ve often said that you don’t need money to travel and you certainly don’t need money to enjoy your life. With the many opportunities for trade in the world, that may be true. However what I, and what we all need to feel happy and free, is VALUE. Value is something that we can endlessly create, that will never go scarce, and that we don’t ever need to compete over.

What are your unique gifts? What value do you have to offer the world? If you truly plan to sustain a life of travel, you need to find your greatest offering and give it as freely as you possibly can. In return you will receive all of the riches that you need. Know that you are priceless, know what the value you offer is worth, and graciously accept the currency of value. If you feel lost about knowing what your purpose is, read my post How to Figure Out What the F&*K You Should Be Doing With Your Life.

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#5: I Believe in Myself

I won’t lie, it hasn’t all been easy. The money hasn’t always come. There have been times when my bank balance was closer to zero than a hundred. And sometimes it was scary. But one thing is for sure, IT ALWAYS WORKED OUT. In fact, it has always been a wake up call that I needed to focus, start offering more value, challenge myself to grow my business, and most difficult of all, to crack open my heart enough to receive the blessings that I truly deserve.

Even when it’s hard, I remind myself that I believe in my dreams. I believe in myself. I trust that no matter what situation I find myself in, I am powerful enough to find the opportunity and to grow. More than anything else, that is how I afford a life of constant travel. By believing that it is possible, and believing that I can do it.

How You Can Do It Too

One of my favorite quotes, by Marianne Williamson in A Return Love, says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Get outside your own head, set your worries in a dresser drawer, and take a moment to acknowledge just how worthy and unlimited you are. The only thing that holds you back from achieving anything, is fear. Remember that you are the star in your own life, you hold the responsibility for your own happiness, and you have the power to manifest your reality.


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