Don’t know where to start or how it can be done? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, I am constantly receiving e-mails and comments from people asking how they too can pick up and go.
Often times, I feel like its difficult for people to fathom how I lead my life. It’s like I’m constantly trying to act out the season finale of Lost. No-one gets me.
This is partly my fault. I just kind of started this journey and continued to blab about it without much regard for others looking to travel. Sorry about that.
So this is the beginning of a series of blogs elucidating the best kept secret of full-time travelers: how they manage to make it happen. You’ve asked for it, and now I’m giving it to you, starting with the foundation: finances. You can send me a thank-you card later. =)
The Ask All Tell All’s of Nomad Life with The Nomad Grad
In This Blog: Financing Your Fun
How do you fund your travels?
This is probably the most common question that floods my inbox. No, I do not sell my body or drugs. I don’t have a trust fund, no rich relative to back me, and I don’t work at a strip club. The real answer? I’ve adapted the nomad lifestyle by working extremely hard and budgeting accordingly.
Everyone has priorities in life. One of mine is to travel extensively. I set goals (i.e. I want to go to Fiji and live there for a month) and determine how much money, time, and effort it will take me to achieve said goal. I then work towards it however I can. Yes, it really is that simple.
I enjoy the flexibility of picking up and moving where I want when I want. Because this is my choice and preference, I am okay working in a multitude of fields to make the money I need to cover expenses. I’ve worked on productions, modeled, sold articles to magazines and newspapers, done personal assistant work, ghost blogging, website consulting, social media marketing, pet-sitting, etc. I also try to pick up work wherever I’m going. I don’t mind doing these things because 1) I feel that it’s really important to constantly remind myself there’s no job that’s below me, 2) I never know who I will meet and network with, and 3) It’s an adventure I haven’t had yet. I’ve now been an equestrian catch-rider, dance instructor, and lion tamer, all because I said, ‘yes,’ to work I never considered before.
The Upside: I get to travel where I want to for the amount of time I choose.
The Downside: I don’t have a full-time job and do not have the security or benefits this provides. For me this is okay because my life is all about adventure. This may not work for you.
But it seems like no matter how hard I work or budget, I never have enough money to buy a plane ticket and go where I want to go (even just on vacation). What gives?
That’s because you’re not budgeting correctly. There’s always a give and take in life. Because I don’t have a full-time job or that bi-weekly paycheck dependability, I’ve gotten really good at being able to stretch a dollar. Sometimes I have tons of work and don’t need to worry about it. Other times I do. So I figured understanding how little I could actually live on was essential for me being able to survive, and budgeting needed to become second nature.
I started by observing my ‘natural’ spending habits for a few weeks to see what I considered necessary daily purchases (groceries, dinners with friends, daily coffees, new shoes, music, blah blah blah). Then I cut my spending in half.
This requires a great deal of sacrifice. I don’t go out with my friends nearly as often or indulge in habits like daily lattes anymore. I don’t buy new clothes or gadgets. I have a $14 dollar phone, an unbreakable purse, and the same laptop I got as a graduation present from high-school. The reality is I just can’t afford a lavish lifestyle and I know that I’ll gain more pleasure spending my money while in Australia than purchasing a mocha that I’m ‘used’ to having now. It’s Zimbardo’s delayed gratification experiment applied to you. Would you rather have an immediate reward or recognize that by delaying it, you can increase your satisfaction down the road?
This is not to say I do not enjoy my life or that I’m a recluse when I’m in Vegas. I just get creative about it. I scope out Groupon deals for things that I really want to do (like get two-for-one deals at Blue Martini, or take belly dancing classes). I also compromise with my friends. If they want to go out for a meal, I offer to cook one at home instead, or propose a less expensive outing (like going to a hotel pool or hanging out downtown). I look to local magazines like The Las Vegas Weekly and Seven to direct me to free events and concerts. I found a yoga studio that is donation only. I exchange clothes with friends and go to flea markets to pick up cool new pieces.
Make no mistake, I live a very full life when I’m home. And sometimes, I let the money be a non-issue and go out and indulge. I just am very cognizant not to do it every weekend. Remember, the first step is being real with yourself about your spending, and what you are willing to budget for your future adventures.
The Upside: You are able to save money quickly and spend it on travel and travel-related expenses.
The Downside: You do have to re-evaluate your current lifestyle and make a budget work for you.
But… I love my daily lattes…
Trust me, I do too. But by conserving my spending and focusing on living on a budget, I am able to travel farther faster. And remember, this is my lifestyle, not necessarily yours. If you’re just looking to go away for a weekend or spring break you won’t need to make near the planning as you would if you want to adopt a nomad lifestyle. Plus, some people are lucky enough to have family members or friends pay for their travel, in which case, I say enjoy it to the fullest! I do not have this luxury and that’s okay with me. It forces me to have to get creative with what I do have and really appreciate it. Plus, it provides me with an opportunity to get to learn more about each culture (since I can’t afford posh hotels, I do a lot of couch surfing).
Remember, for me this isn’t vacation. This is my life. Sometimes that means using composting toilets, getting stuck on a train, and sleeping outside. It’s an adventure.
If it’s too overwhelming for you to think about giving up part of your daily expenses to save for an adventure, then maybe this isn’t your thing. But I say give it a try. You’ll learn really quickly what matters to you.
But what if I want to adopt the nomad lifestyle permanently? How can I get paid to travel?
If you can find a way to do your current job remotely, then this problem is immediately solved. I recommend reading The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss for a detailed breakdown on how to get your boss to agree to remote work. He also provides great insight in how to achieve your ideal lifestyle and sustain it. Just read it. It’ll make you a better person.
But if nothing else, you have to put the intention out to the universe that getting paid to travel is what you want. Then you have to determine some specifics. What type of work do you want to do? Do you want to find a way to sustain your travel or are you looking for a career? Do you care if you are in control of your hours or location? Does having a job right now trump your desire to travel? All of these questions will factor into how long it may take you to get a job, and what kind of job this will be.
Sustaining- If you’re looking to sustain and afford to travel where you want, you can get creative (and you can do this fast). Normally sustaining requires a good deal of internal motivation and no fears of getting your hands dirty. You may have to walk dogs for a few weeks, tutor school children, or wash a hundred cars, but you’ll be able to afford to go where you want quickly.
The Upside: You are in control of where and when you work. You can work anywhere and get by. You gain a wide skills set and become adept at selling your strengths. You also meet a lot of different types of people.
The Downside: You may not have dependable income and have to go back to that budget to get by.
Finding a Career- If you’re okay with not having control on where you’re going or how long you’re there, you can find decent work in some cool locales. Like ships? You may find working on a cruise line’s the right fit for you. Love learning? Maybe teaching abroad is an option. Do you like children? Work as a seasonal nanny. Start exploring how you can use your skills to gain a career and ask yourself where and what you’re willing to live with.
The Upside: You are in the comfortable 9-5 worker’s mold while living in an exotic location. Because most of the careers available require some long-term commitment, you can really immerse yourself in the culture at hand. You have time to get to know a place and can become very adept at the skills you are honing.
The Downside: You commit to a time-frame and normally do not get to set the travel schedule. If you don’t like it, it can be difficult to get out of your commitment. This can also restrict the amount of time you have to explore neighboring countries or to do the things you want to do. And if you are looking for a career in your current wheelhouse, this also may take some time to acquire (another reason to get used to that budget).
But what about when you travel? Are you constantly on a budget then too?
The short answer? Yes. Again, this is how I live my life, not how I spend holidays. I have to always be aware of how much I’m spending to make sure I have enough to sustain me through my next job. I mean, not that I’m not willing to experience being broke in India, but I like having a safety net. So I try to watch myself.
But with that being said, I think that travel (and life really) is all about enjoying yourself to the fullest. If that means spending a-hundred-and-a-lot of dollars on an expensive meal in Paris then so be it. But remember, if you can’t afford to drop that kind of cash every weekend, you don’t do it. I also am very aware of my financial standing at all times when I travel. I am constantly asking myself, “Do I have the money to do this? Is this something I will look back on and be happy that I purchased? How much will this matter in a few weeks?”
The Upside: You always have enough money to get yourself out of a situation.
The Downside: You are constantly weighing your options.
So how do you determine what expenses are ‘worth it’?
There are no food purchases I have ever regretted. The ten-dollar hot chocolate in France was totally worth it, as was the latte in Nicaragua. The regret comes with purchasing the touristy stuff. I always try to pick up things for my friends and family, but I’ve gotten very strict on what I’ll buy for myself. I’d rather save the money for an experience (like zip-lining or snorkeling) than buy a t-shirt.
But remember, I am a poor traveler, so this is essential for me to sustain my lifestyle. Plus, constantly being on the move doesn’t allow for much space to accumulate tchotchkes. If I bring it home, it ends up sitting on shelves collecting dust (that I never clean because I’m never home). If I keep it with me, my suitcase gets heavy fairly quickly. So I tend to opt for purchasing experiences for myself. Memories are forever.
This isn’t to say that I don’t bring home souvenirs; I’m just very selective. I will always treasure the whimsical seashells I found on the beaches of Nicaragua and the vase I was given in Austria. But I don’t make collecting them a priority. Again, it’s a choice. My life is about adventure, not the material.
The Upside: I end up doing a lot of things when I travel versus collecting a lot of things. I am able to pack light and only bring back souvenirs I’d feel silly for leaving.
The Downside: I don’t really see one, but again, this is my personal choice. Maybe frugal travel is not for you. Maybe you like trinkets. That’s okay, too. I just may not be the person to guide you on your journey. =)
The Takeaway: Regardless of where you want to go, deciding to partake in a nomadic lifestyle is a commitment. It’s a commitment to constantly have to find work, constantly be without a home, constantly budget your money, and constantly make decisions about when to indulge. I just think it takes practice to determine how you like to travel. Again, I am a broke post-grad, so my priorities may be very different from yours. But this works for me.
I hope this has provided some foundational understanding about how I do what I do. Are you ready to give it a try? Be free, my nomadic friends! And travel safe!
*Didn’t have your question answered here? Want to know more about the financial aspects of full-time travel? No worries; this is only the first of many posts about how to make it happen. Bring it on!