You may be sitting at home, flicking through Instagram, Twitter and FaceBook looking at all these gorgeous photos from places in every corner of the world. Wanderlust is hitting you bad, you wanna go and see the world but you just can’t afford it. Maybe one day you’ll have enough? Let me tell you something, you can afford it now. You don’t need to wait. And what’s more is that it’ll be the best experience of your life. Hit the road with next to nothing, you’ll never have a better experience. It might be hard, hot, uncomfortable and sweaty, but it’ll be amazing. Let me tell you a little story to prove it…
It’s been 10 years and 1 month since I left the UK and Ireland to live a life of travel, and this life has been a tale of 2 very different lifestyles. The first 5 years, to 49 countries, I was super broke (and I mean SUPER broke, more on that later) whereas the last 5 years I worked out how to make money blogging and have been financially free ever since. I traveled 10 months a year when I was broke, with a few spots to stop and work, and now with more money in my bank I still travel 10 months or so a year. So what’s changed?
First of all, let’s be honest, a lot has changed. Not being broke allows me to fly a lot more, to go to places and stay in hotels I could never have dreamt about just a few years ago. To be able to be selective and cherry pick festivals in Japan this month, Rio de Janeiro next month and Kyrgyzstan after that. Antartica, the Galapagos islands and all the other big ticket items are suddenly within an achievable grasp, and for sure that’s a beautiful thing. But it’s not the answer, I promise you that. Often I yearn for that broke, beautiful adventure.
“There’s something alluring, romantic even, about being broke on the road”
So what else has changed? Here’s the kicker. There’s something alluring, romantic even, about being broke on the road, having a finite source of money and trying to work out how to make the most of your experience. Knowing you have 6 months worth of savings, but you wanna be a vagabond for a year, or more. Thinking of ways and means to extend your gapyear to something longer, even to a new lifestyle perhaps.
I remember in 2007 having just over $4000 dollars saved, scrounged together from medical research trials in Ireland, manual labour in a sewage plant (eurgh!) and teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s all I had to my name, but I wanted to see as much as the world as possible. I dreamt of the Terracotta army in China, Mount Fuji in Japan, of epic overlanding journeys from the depths of Asia until I reached the doorstep of Australia, where I’d seek a new opportunity for work, money and more adventure. So what happened? I made it work, I had to, and it lead me to the most amazing opportunities.
I chose to travel in Bangladesh, India, Nepal because I knew my money would go further. At $10 a day I had to ride on the roofs of buses for cheaper tickets, stay with new friends in the slums of Bangladesh, hitch hike on cargo boats up the Mekong to (illegally) enter China. The Terracotta army was no longer a dream. 49 hour bus journeys, views of Asia that I’d never see with planes and tours.
I managed to paraglide in the Himalayas ($15), break bread with the Sikhs in Golden Temple of Amritsar, and overland 1000s of km across everywhere India had to offer. Of course we stayed in rooms swarming with locusts, the odd dodgy bout of Delhi-Belly, and now and again I missed my western fixes of Coca Cola and Subway. But my budget was my budget, so I scrimped and saved. No western food, no rooms with air con, bottom class of transport and it was nothing short of amazing. Sometimes highly uncomfortable, but always mind blowingly brilliant.
I heard about an opportunity to work on a winter camp in South Korea, and even better I had heard of super cheap flights from Malaysia to Japan. So I overlanded from China, through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malayasia, Singapore, back to Malaysia, flew to Japan. Acheived my Mount Fuji dreams outside Tokyo, overlanded to the south of Japan, hopped on a ferry and worked that winter in South Korea teaching at an English Camp. Total cost of that overlanding journey from China to Malaysia, then Japan and South Korea was about $2400 for 4 months, I earned about $3k+ from the winter camp and I was off again.
From there I used the rest of my savings and English camp money to head south to Australia, via Borneo, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor (all at $15 or so a day!), where I used my working holiday visa to get a job, and eventually start my travel blog, and my new life was born. The 2006-2010 chapter was up. I had left Ireland with next to nothing, and now 26 countries later, with amazing work experience in the US, Thailand, South Korea and Australia, medical research in Ireland. 5 years of budget travel and working out how to get by. 5 years of solidifying friendships and relationships for life. 5 years of learning more about myself than in the 22 years previously, and 5 years of travels, smiles, experiences and parties. Enough to last a lifetime.
Now things are different, through blogging and digital media I managed to make up to $60, 000 per month (madness I know), made over $1m online, bought properties in Thailand and London and decided to finally try to achieve my goal of visiting every country in the world. In the next 5 years since then, I’ve flown over 200 times, and visited almost 150 countries and whilst I’ve had the most breathtaking experiences, there’s rarely a day that goes past that I don’t have deep pangs of nostalgia for those years of budget backpacker trials and tribulations.
Looking back, traveling when you’re broke is MORE of an adventure than when you’re a bit older, with more money. Don’t delay, do it when you shouldn’t, do it when you’re young, do it now. If your whole body and mind is dying to hit the road, then embrace those feelings and go. Security breeds ambivalence, but being young, wild and free? There’s nothing better than that.
Lost on the road with my best friends, walking 2km to save taxi fares, street food, bootleg booze and dingy guesthouses. Not having a clue where you’re sleeping, or even how you’re getting from A to B. Sleeping in docks, and bus stations, sharing beds to save costs, but more importantly sharing the most fantastic memories you could ever create. I didn’t have enough money to leave Ireland and do what I did, and if I had waited to save ‘enough’, I could have got trapped in a career, or relationship, or a mortgage. You’ll never have ‘enough’. So I didn’t wait, I threw myself in at the deep-end and I made it work, and I’m so so grateful that I did it. So when you sit at home and worry that you can’t afford to travel, think about how much an iPhone costs, or a MacBook or your RayBans. How much is your night on the town with your friends? Your Indian take-away, or your long weekend in Cancun or Ibiza. Your Starbucks, make-up, designer gym gear. Cut all those out and you have a couple of thousand dollars, another few months saving and you’ll have what I had when I set off. You can afford it, I promise you. I urge you to throw yourself in the deep-end like I did, do it with close friends if you can, and create a legacy for your life that you’ll look back at fondly forever. You’ll never be able to afford it, so you might as well do it now. See you on the road.