The lessons that I've learned in 4 years of almost non-stop traveling. An experience that changed all my
values. How I fund my trips and how you can do it, too!
THE DAY MY LIFE CHANGED
"One day your life will flash before your eyes.
Make sure it's worth watching."
November 20th, 2008 was the first day of my new life. I would never live my old life again.
I was sitting at Frankfurt Airport, holding a green box of homemade cookies in my hand that my lovely Italian grandmother (may she rest in Peace) had given me for the trip. I was ready to board my flight to Hong Kong. It was a one way ticket. At that time, I didn't know that I would not come back for a very long time. I had no idea what to expect. Well, I was guessing that it would be fabulous, but I didn't know that this was the beginning of a new chapter: The best time of my life.
Actually it all started even earlier. Let's back up a bit to the fall of 2007. I had just ended a heavy relationship. I was heartbroken and depressed and wanted to go away as far as possible. I had no clue about backpacking and booked a fancy package vacation to the paradise Islands of Maldives. Alone. Well, maybe I should point out that going single and alone to the Maldives is not exactly the best idea. I was surrounded by honeymooners and couples that were "so in love". Eventually I got invited to have a three-way, but that's another story and ... HEY! Don't get excited - I refused that offer.
The Maldives were such a paradise. Incredibly beautiful, stunning scenery, but... craaaaazy expensive!! If you're dreaming of somewhere like the Maldives, but only a tenth of that price, check out the Philippines.
But back to my story... I still don't know exactly why it happened, but I decided not to return home after my vacation in the Maldives. Of course, I couldn't stay. I hadn’t won the lottery. And I had no hot Maldivian lover proposing marriage to get me a visa to stay in paradise. Instead of flying back to Germany, I found a cheap one way ticket to Kuala Lumpur and booked it. Until that day, I don’t think I even knew Kuala Lumpur existed or that it was the capital of Malaysia. I knew nothing. I just thought that Kuala Lumpur sounds kinda cool. Gosh, how inexperienced I was...
I loved KL. Just wandering around the streets and felt refreshingly free. A few days later I took another flight to Bangkok. And that's where everything changed. When you go to Thailand for the very first time, suddenly you are surrounded by them. It hits you from every direction. You can't escape them. It's like a plague. Backpackers. Everywhere. And they all tell you the same story:
"I'm on a trip around the world..."
I have to admit I felt jealous that most of them were so much younger and better looking than me, sun-tanned in sexy muscle shirts. They all seemed so happy and relaxed. It was like meeting rare members of a secret world travelers’ club and I wanted to join this club as soon as possible. I admired their courage to leave everything behind and travel the world. Why the hell had I never came up with that idea? I was already in my mid twenties and had wasted too many years with working jobs I didn't like, in fu**ed up relationships that didn't work, and spending my money on stuff I didn't need.
That was the exact moment I decided to quit my job and travel the world... But how?
Step outside of your comfort zone.
Miracles happen only to those who believe in them.
STOP DREAMING OF THE DAY YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE
"Happiness is not something you postpone for the future;
it is something you design for the present."
Life is a bitch. After all, you won't get out alive. So let's have some fun. Don't be one of those ordinary people who says: "One day I will do this (and travel the world)." You won't. There is no perfect timing. You have to make time for it. While most people waste a lifetime of creating dreams (and never realize them) I made everything to fulfill my dream.
I knew my life would change, but change is good. To change means to move.
And to move means my universe will be in a constant expansion.
I will never understand why so many people are afraid of change and want to stick to their routine. Making a big life change is scary indeed. But you know what's even scarier? Regret. Sometimes we have to risk something. You might lose, but you can gain even something better. If you don't try, you'll never find out. So don't fear change. Don't fear anything. Fear is just an illusion. If you believe in fear, you are a victim of your own mind.
"Make the most of today. Time doesn't wait. Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."
(Alice Morse Earle)
FOCUS ON YOUR GOALS (AND TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY)
"You may only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough."
Make the decision! Focusing on your goals is one of the most important steps.
After having the idea of traveling the world, I became obsessed with it. I started to spend every free minute on the Internet, asking questions in several round-the-world forums and reading blogs of other world travelers. I googled the cheapest countries and the best beaches. I made plans where I wanted to go and looked up for flight deals daily. At this point, everything else in my life became meaningless. I got addicted to the idea of traveling. My new goal was traveling the world and I wanted to achieve it. All my focus was about fulfilling my dream. I was happy I never gave up halfway, changing my habits and saving money was one of the hardest things I ever did. It takes time to save money and I know I'm lucky enough being an European and able to save up enough money in one or two years. Maybe you are not. Maybe you need to save up 5 years or more. But you know what?
Never ever give up on something you really want.
Even if it takes time to realize your dream. The time will pass anyway.
(Or just save half of the money you aimed for and make the rest later working abroad. More on that in Step 6)
In my case it was almost a year after my life changing epiphany in Bangkok. I was ready to go: I had quit my job, sold everything I owned, subletted my apartment, gotten rid of the all the unnecessary insurances and left my life in Berlin behind. The decision to give up my job, my beautiful flat and all its comforts was not difficult for me at all. With the money I saved up in one year I could have bought a small new car. Or taken out a mortgage on an apartment. But I wanted to have the world.
"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."
(C. S. Lewis)
CHANGE YOUR VALUES AND LEARN TO LIVE FRUGALLY
"The things you own end up owning you."
Everybody travels differently, and everybody needs a certain amount of money to travel - traveling is certainly not free. I have no idea why there are travel bloggers out there who claim you can travel for free. The truth is, it's not true. Cheap yes, but not for free. And cheap? Well, cheap only if you are from a wealthy country. A Cambodian who travels to Thailand might not find it cheap.
I know people who have traveled around the world for a year with less than 3000 EUR. In my experience 8000 - 10000 EUR is a good amount for one year traveling. But seriously, you can do it with half of the money. But more on that later. And while you're saving up money for your trip, why not joining some travel contests? You could win a trip and go for free. Sound good? You can find travel contests on Travelonion or Jaunted or simply search for "travel contest". Google is your friend.
It took me a while to learn how to travel on a small budget. But once you figure it out, you will see how little you need to live and travel. It takes practice to live frugally and you might have to start getting used to it while you’re still at home. Once I knew I wanted to travel the world, it completely changed my values. That's one of the best things that traveling has taught me.
If you want to save money, you have to cut your expenses.
Makes perfect sense, right? So stop wasting money. Since 2007, I’ve stopped buying crap I don't need. I don't need an iPad (or any pad!!). An iPod. Or iPhone. I don't need those fancy sneakers. That sexy dress. Another Bikini. Or a plasma TV.
A friend of mine said he could never sublet his apartment because he paid a few thousand Euros for the couch. He is simply scared that his subtenant could damage his fancy leather couch.
That's insane. A couch destroys his dream of traveling? We get attached to things just because we paid a lot of money for it? Isn't that ironic? All the things you own will own YOU in the
end. Get rid of all that stuff. It's actually liberating. If you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.
I had lived in Berlin for years, but the cost of living is simply too expensive. And Berlin is considered one of the cheaper places to live in Europe. In Germany I needed at least 800-1000 EUR a month to cover my expenses including insurances. Since last summer I have lived in Istanbul on 300 - 350 EUR a month, everything included. My rent is roughly 200 EUR, the rest of the money I spend is on food, drinks and travel insurance. If you can work online, I highly recommend you to move to a location with a more affordable cost of living. Which cities are cheap to live in is a whole other article – one I’ll be writing soon.
Get rid of your stuff and make money with it!
To save more, I rented out my flat in Airbnb and 9flats to cover my rental cost. Some people might even consider moving back home with their parents to save on rent. They will make you feel like you’re at home, even if they wish you were (at your home). If that’s the case, it might be better to move to a smaller or shared flat. I know it can be a pain in the a** to sacrifice in so many ways, but you'll be amazed how much you can save. It's only temporary... so focus!
"If you want to fly, you have to give up the things that weigh you down."
QUIT YOUR JOB
Happiness is a choice. Choose happy.
I need money. Not a job. Just kidding. But how many of us can honestly say that we love our jobs? Or that we do something important and meaningful? Or fun? Lets face it: Most of the time working is not much fun. And the rest of the time it's not any fun at all. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy working full time, but I didn't. So in case you hate your job, you might consider making a change anyway. Turn your passion into a job and you will never work a day in your life. Think about it.
On the other hand, if you do a job too well, you might get stuck with it. Damn it.
Quit your job. (After you saved some cash). I'm serious. Unless you say you love your job. Wait, even in this case I would say: Quit! Why? Because if you honestly love your job, you might have a good chance to return to it. Maybe with the same company, maybe not. Negotiate with your boss about going on sabbatical for a year. Well, we don't have that in Germany, but guess what!? I got my old job back after 14 months of traveling. A few months later I quit again, but that's another story I'll tell you in the last step.
If your job is your passion, you will be always good at it and find something. Don't worry too much about the future, you're going to miss the present. The time is now. Never worry about things that have not happened yet. Waste of time. You have to learn to relax. Worrying is using your imagination to create things you don't want. You don't need to create back up plans. I mean how many times in your life have you actually needed them?
Just imagine: You quit your well paying job and leave your current life behind to travel the world for a while. And then you come back and struggle to find a new job. Do you think you would ever regret that you traveled the world?
Do you really think you would? I guess no. Traveling around the world is an experience that no one can ever take away from you. I learned so much about myself and I'm so thankful that I was lucky enough to do this. You won't come back as the same person. Trust me, I have never met someone who regretted traveling.
Still struggling with the idea of quitting your job? Who knows, sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. It makes us stronger. And sometimes wiser. Well, not everybody. I speak for myself.
At this point, I want to forward you to Steve Pavlina, one of the best bloggers I have come across. But please come back to me or finish here first, before you jump over to him. His post is life-changing. OK, now go and read 10 reasons why you should never get a job. Good stuff.
Some final thoughts on this... Society always tells us, we should have a job, we have to work 9 to 5 and so on. Here is the good news. You don't have to. You don't have to do what everybody else is doing. 99% of people live an ordinary life. Be the one who makes a different choice. Stop pleasing others, that's the secret to failure! If you only live up to others people expectations, you are going to hate yourself. The less you care, the happier you will be. True story. Be egoistic. You only have one life. Just one shot. You better live your dream.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed
by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
MAKE A CHECK LIST BEFORE YOU GO
"In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first."
Check lists are sexy! No, actually they're not. But they're goddamn necessary and it's important that you get your documents and other stuff in order! Not this order in particular, but... you get the point!!
First of all, I'll recommend you 3 tools/apps to get better organized. All of them have a free version, which is usually enough!
Trello is perfect for To-Do Lists. I can't live without Trello anymore.
Check it out!
So, what else...?
- Get a world map or go to Google Earth and make a list of all the countries you want to visit. If you have no idea where to start, go to Skyscanner. Type from your country to "Everywhere". It will show you the cheapest airfares out of your country. You can use the flexible search for a whole month or even a year. I love Skyscanner. One of the best flight search engines ever.
- Get a Passport, if you don't have one yet. And if you have one, make sure it's not going to expire in the next 12 months. Or better yet, in the next 2 years. Depending on how long you travel, keep in mind that some countries won't allow you to enter if your passport expires in less than 6 months.
- Check the visa requirements for all the countries you're planning to travel to. Some visas you can get on the road, for others you have to apply from your home country. Don't underestimate the importance of visas. You'll probably spend days or weeks, have to call a bunch of embassies etc. to get all the information you need.
- Get a credit card! Or two! Please don't be like my dad who doesn't believe in credit cards and carries a huge pile of cash in his pocket whenever he travels. I don't recommend Traveler's cheques anymore, not since I got ripped off in Mexico in 2005. Please make sure you remember all the passwords and PIN codes or record them in a safe place.
- Yes, you need vaccinations! Don't take this lightly! Please check Netdoctor to see which vaccinations you need before you hit the road.
- Please get a travel insurance. You might never need it, and if you don’t, be thankful. Don't consider it a waste of money. Travel insurance is often cheaper than your regular health care plan. I pay 350 EUR per year. This is the cheapest I’ve found so far, but prices are different, depending which country you are. I highly recommend World Nomads. They cover residents from over 150 countries. You can buy, extend and claim, even while traveling.
- Buy high quality travel gear. Yes, you heard me right. Buy a good backpack. Don't go for the cheapest one. As much as I encourage people to live frugally, if you want to travel a long way, you need durable gear. My backpack is from Eagle Creek, yes it was pricey but I can tell you, it lasted longer than any of my relationships. So far. If you asked me what one of the most useful things I bought for my trip was, I would have to say: A padlock with a 4-digit combination, for locking rooms or safety boxes.
- Look for a job abroad. If your budget is tight and you have to work during your travels, you’d better investigate the job market beforehand in order to find countries where it's easier to find paying work. Keep reading for useful links on finding jobs abroad in the next step.
"Go for it now. The future is promised to no one."
HIT THE ROAD (OR HOP ON A PLANE)
Traveling is a wonderful thing... It doesn't matter where you go or in how many countries you have been - it's all about who you meet.
Go travel the world and have the best time of your life! And don't drive yourself crazy and making plans about where to go and how long to stay in each place... Screw that! It doesn't matter where you go, it's all about who you meet. Sometimes you love a place and get stuck there for weeks, while another place won't be as interesting as you expected. In those situations it’s good if you're free to leave anytime. Even if it costs you more money. Believe me, it's worth it. Keep some flexibility. Travel has taught me that the journey is the destination.
Traveling alone? Please don't be afraid of solo trips. Be thankful to have such an experience. I love arriving in the airport of a country I have never been to before. It makes me feel strong, and excited about the adventures I'm about to have. It gives me confidence.
I think it's important to feel lonely sometimes.
You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by others.
You will learn a lot about yourself. I would rather travel alone than with a friend. It's a fact that you’re never really alone when you travel by yourself. You meet people everywhere, and they will ask if they can join you. You will be happy to travel with them for a while, and sometimes you are even happier to get rid of them again.
Back to the money issue. Most of your cash will be for food, transportation and a place to sleep. And probably for alcohol. Please don't drink without limits, just because the beer is so cheap in so many places you go. Try to cut your expenses to a minimum. Save money on accommodation by using Couchsurfing. Nowadays everybody knows about Couchsurfing. I've been a member since 2008 and I can truly say that Couchsurfing changed my life. And I'm not talking about saving money here. It's just a great side effect. I have met some of my best friends through this website and I could write a book about all the crazy adventures...
Save more money? Avoid countries, that require an expensive visa, avoid all the expensive countries anyway. Take trains and buses instead of flying, or hitchhike (I do not recommend hitchhiking for women traveling solo). When you search for flights, check Skyscanner, Vayama or FlightNetwork. Be flexible with dates and destinations and you'll get the best deals. Sign up for all the airline newsletters to stay informed about promotions. Meet locals, eat street food, buy groceries and always bargain when you buy stuff! But please don't bargain for the price of your meal. You might annoy the chef.
Consider working during your travels. During your trip you will develop new skills, knowledge and understanding and realize you’re able to do jobs you would have never thought of. If you travel slowly, it will be easier to make arrangements to work. The possibilities are endless. Cooking, bartending, web designing, teaching, fruit picking, translating, cleaning... There more open you are, the more job offers you will have. One of the most popular jobs is teaching English. Don't assume that you always need to be a native speaker or have a TEFL certificate. You don't. Be creative. Teach private. If you search, you will find. One of the best websites for jobs any kind and in any city is Craigslist. Here are some more links:
If you want to teach English, check EslCafe.
- If you want to work on cruise ships check Find a Crew or Crewseekers.
- More Jobs listed on Overseasjobs, Work Away, Work Anywhere, Work in Hostels.
- Interested in WWOOF? Work a few hours per day and receive free accommodation and meals. Check out HelpX.
- Another great page is Staydu, a social travel network for budget travelers. Find work in exchange for money or free lodging. Host, travel and stay with locals from all over the world. I love this page!!
The famous travel blogger Derek Earl Barton wrote an e-book about Working on a cruise ship and get paid to travel. The e-book isn't free, but if you're interested in doing that, you might check it out. Just for the record, Derek Earl Barton is traveling since 13 years straight. He knows his stuff very well.
(More useful e-books for cheap traveling here in Stuff I Love.)
Whenever you travel, don't forget to stay in touch with family and friends. Call or email them from time to time, so they know where you are and won't be worried.
You cannot be lost if you have no destination.
LEARN NEW THINGS
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
Try new things. Make friends with intuition. Eat food you have never tasted before. Fall in love. Be curious and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Take risks. Open yourself up to possibilities. Get crazy. Keep your heart open and be grateful for every new experience. Trust yourself. Discover the beauty of this amazing world and get lost in its opportunities.
It's the little moments that make life beautiful.
Life is all about the journey and less about the destination. Traveling will open your mind to many new things, you will learn a lot about different cultures. You'll probably appreciate your life more and realize how lucky you are. Don't forget that everybody you meet in your travels was raised in a different way. Everyone has different beliefs and values. Be grateful to learn about new cultures and, as hard as it is, don't judge. Have an open mind. A wise quote of Wayne Dyer says "The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about."
Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.
"In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years."
Coming home. This is the suckiest part. Actually, I never came home. Because after all this traveling, I'm not so sure anymore where my home is. I flew back to Germany though, after exactly 433 days. I had traveled all across Asia, Australia, South & Central America and the U.S. My last flight was from JFK to Frankfurt with Singapore Airlines. It was January 2010 and freaking cold. After my arrival, I visited my family in Southern Germany and flew back to Berlin at the end of the month. I started working again in February 2010. Guess what? I got my old job back. I worked as a screen designer again at the same company I had left in 2008. Everybody and everything seemed the same. Except me. I was depressed, coming home after such a long time. It was freaking me out. I started hosting Couchsurfers like crazy. I decided, if I couldn't travel anymore, the world would have to come to me.
Well, my return to "Normal Life" didn't last long. Three months later I found myself at the airport again. Between April 2010 and September 2011 I traveled to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, UAE, Philippines, Japan, Russia and India. I couldn't live a normal life anymore. Traveling became the most important thing; it was like an addiction. Between all these trips I worked as a freelancer. Probably 5 months in total. I had given up my old job again and was lucky enough to get a well-paid freelance job for the biggest email provider in Germany. (I would like to say THANK YOU to them with all my heart.)
In October 2011, I decided it was time to leave again. For good? Who knows... I spent autumn in Turkey and India, winter in Bangkok and the following spring in the Philippines and
Indonesia. Finally, I returned to Istanbul in Summer 2012 and decided to stay put. Not to settle down though. Just to stay here, because I love the vibe of the city, the food, the people... and
some other things :)
And this brings us up to where I am right now.
I guess some of you probably think that I don’t work anymore. Yep. Exactly. I have enough money to last me the rest of my life. Well, unless I buy something. Haha. Actually I do work from time to time, but only freelance. No employer will ever get me in their clutches again, and I won't be signing any full-time contracts. So I do some design jobs, I also teach German, I'm a tour guide sometimes and I write articles for travel magazines. That's it. I have chosen to remove myself from an ordinary life and live like a nomad. I love to travel and to work whenever I want to. And no, I’m not insane. Oh well, If I were I’d enjoy every second of it.
Life is a mystery and traveling the world will be one of the best decisions you'll ever make.
Never never never give up on your dream.
PS: Check out my Stuff I Love page where I recommend some ebooks about living a life of travel, working abroad and how to make money online. Good luck!
Special thanks to Edgar Moskopp. He allowed me to use some of his stunning photos for this blog post. His images totally got me into the right mood to write up this article. Check out his photostream on Flickr.
Epilogue... It took me nearly 3 weeks to write this article, I poured my whole heart into it. If you liked this article, please share, like or comment on it. You would make my day. Thank you!
Update January 2014:
I have to say thanks to all my friends, readers, strangers, all those who believed in me and supported me. I won the Hostelworld Award in the category "Inspiration - The story that most inspires you to travel or make a change."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sabrina Iovino is the founder of JustOneWayTicket.com. She's half German, half Italian and has traveled to more than 50 countries around the globe. She feels weird to write about herself in the third person, so she'll switch now. Phew...much better! Let's restart:
Hi, I'm Sab! This is my blog and I write about the things I love. Mostly.
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