Before I get into this post I must preface by emphasizing that by no means do I feel that being a digital nomad is superior to any other life/career. Long-term travel was a decision Devin and I made together because it was a dream we both shared and a path to happiness and fulfillment, for us. Our circumstance is especially unique and as I have mentioned time and time again in previous posts, this was a lifestyle decision that would satisfy our need to be able to visit family in three different countries. For those who are happy where they are in their career and already living out their dream, you should feel a great amount of pride in that but this post is not for you. I have a huge amount of respect and share in the happiness of my friends and family who have created a life where they have found true satisfaction.
This post, however, is for those who do have the dream to travel and are looking for a few tips to be able to make it happen. I am going to do my best to unpack the myth that long-term travel is expensive, inaccessible, and only for a select few. I want to show you the simple steps you can take to turn your dream of traveling into a reality.
Writing the post 9 months into our trip I am going to put myself back to the place I was in before we decided to embark on this journey to break it into digestible chunks and then apply what I have learned along the way. If you have ever daydreamed of leaving your “9-5”, taking a risk to get out and see the world, this post is for you!
“Winning the lottery”
Traveling may be the kick in the butt you need to realize that YOU deserve happiness in every aspect of your life, including your job. It does not have to be a year-long trip to get the benefits of long-term travel, but it does need to be long enough that you have to make big decisions about how you are currently living, and how you want to be living. One of the most life-altering questions I ever pondered is from the book Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. The question was (paraphrased by memory):
If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you change in your life?
The reason this quote was so powerful for me is because once you start to put pen to paper and actually list what you would do differently in your life if you came into a large sum of money, you realize something very obvious. You do not need money to fulfill most of your dreams. For example, my list included: travel the world, spend more time with family and friends, and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. So if you take a look at all three of those, traveling clearly requires some money but the other two do not. So relying on winning the lottery to fulfill my three biggest dreams seems foolish, why not just make them happen?
This is where the need for location independence came from, if I can work from anywhere, I can travel more, spend more time with family and spend free time outdoors skiing, hiking, or soaking in the sun. So for me, after I broke it down and realized these dreams were not only within reach but completely attainable, it was a no-brainer for me on what I needed to do to find true happiness. Those dreams will be different for everyone, but once you write them out and evaluate how you can make changes now, the closer you will be to “winning the lottery”!
Does stuff truly make you happier?
A tough realization we have come to over the past year is that having more/nicer stuff does not make us happier. Depending on the stage in your life you are in, having more stuff allows you to do the things that make you happier, so I am not talking about those people. I am specifically referring to this constant need to buy more stuff, nicer clothes, unnecessary purchases that prohibit you from reaching your true goals by tying up any disposable income.
Once you have figured out what true happiness looks like for you, it is much easier to see that the instant satisfaction you get from unnecessary purchases slow your journey to get there. Therefore, you can make spending decisions a lot easier and more deliberate in the pursuit of fulfilling your dreams, in our case that is to spend less to continue to travel.
Costs are always in your control
Growing up, I have always held too much stock in what other people have told me was their experience, not bothering to do the research and find out for myself. This led me to have this idea that certain dreams were not going to be realized until I won the lottery or put a solid 30 years into my career. Let me start by saying, that is not true! Just like anything else in life, you are responsible for your own decisions. You can make your dream a reality with a few minor sacrifices, commitment to the end goal (location independence for us), and patience to wait for the long-term payoff.
Just as you can control your costs while living at home, the same goes for life on the road. Making sacrifices, choosing the less convenient but more affordable option, and giving up some like-to-haves in place of need-to-haves are a few ways to achieve this lifestyle. It is easy to assume that since we are traveling to gorgeous countries, we are living in luxury but that is not always the case. In the cheaper countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, we had no problem eating every meal out because it was much cheaper than getting a place with a kitchen and preparing our own meals. In the more expensive countries, however, it has been more cost effective for us to cook most meals ourselves.
Another easy adjustment to lower accommodation costs is to get a private room in a shared apartment versus having an entire place to ourselves. Before we left for this trip I did not even consider sharing an apartment to be an option. I am so glad we gave it a shot because we had nothing but great experiences with our gracious hosts. Not only does it almost cut your accommodation costs in half, but you get to meet interesting people who are local to the area and provide a whole other level to the trip. You get first-hand information about the country, customs, recommendations, and invaluable experiences with the hosts. Looking back over the past 8 months, some of my best memories have included the people we have met along the way, and sharing an apartment is a great way to meet those people.
Quitting Your Job
One of the scariest parts of long-term travel is making the decision to leave your job. If you aren’t happy in your current job or want to switch careers, this may be an easy decision and the nudge you needed to go for it. But, if you are like me and loved your job, you will have a serious identity crisis as you weigh the pros and cons, feel completely irresponsible, and probably have a couple panic attacks in the process. Let me assure you, those are all normal and once you get to your first destination and see how big the world is outside of your life at home, all those fears will fade.
A mid-career sabbatical may be an option for you, and if it is don’t hesitate and go for it! You have all the freedom to go travel without the risk of coming home unemployed. While that is a great option and kudos to companies that offer that perk, I would say the majority of companies will have you tender your resignation. My goal coming into this was to eventually end up completely location independent and I knew that my previous role wouldn’t afford me that so that made it easier for me to pull the trigger. If you do want to come back and return to your previous career, I would work hard to maintain the relationships and contacts while you are gone to hopefully land you your job back, or possibly a better one.
View your travel experience as a career accelerator, not a career killer
The fear of the unknown can be crippling so instead of viewing your decision to travel as pressing pause on your career, instead realize how much you will learn during that time away. When you return home you will have so many experiences that will shape the way you problem solve, make decisions, handle pressure, and deal with high-stress situations. These are all skills that are very desirable in the workplace, regardless of industry. These are invaluable lessons that you will take away from your traveling experiences that you cannot learn from a book, and future employers will recognize that.
Slaving away at a job that is not fulfilling can kill that excitement that drives you to better yourself, and unfortunately, that is how a lot of people feel. Working in HR I have the opportunity to speak to people often and to hear how disengaged, unmotivated, and replaceable people feel in their current roles and that breaks my heart. It is easy to justify those feelings because it is a means to an end, but it is so important that you feel valued, respected, and an essential addition to your team. Even if you don’t love the day-to-day tasks, having an employer that makes you feel those things will have a drastic impact on your happiness.
Do what makes sense for you
Everyone’s story is different, each person has different dreams and that means the road to get there is going to look very different. As I have mentioned before, I have family spanning North America which has made it imperative that I am not tied to one specific location. For me, that has guided most of my decisions over the past year and will continue to as long as it is what makes Devin and I happy.
If travel is something that has always been put on the back burner in your life, find a way to make it happen. This may not mean permanent location independence, it may not even mean long-term travel, but do not wait to fulfill your dreams because they feel unattainable.
I hope that this post can show you that although it may seem scary or intimidating to make a huge change in your life, you don’t have to wait. Take the chance and see how you too can experience the priceless value of traveling the world.