Greetings Mr Tapon,
We share the same dream, this is exactly what I want to do.
My Question is, how do you afford it? Truly, you must be wealthy to be able to do this. Any advice on how I may follow in suit?
Jonathan: I assume you're talking about my dream of traveling the world.
Although you do need money to travel the world, you need much less than most people think, especially if you learn how to travel frugally. Many tourists I see when I travel the world are in their 20s: hardly people who are rich. If they can afford to travel far and wide, so can you.
It's easy to conclude that there is really only one component to being able to travel: how much money you have. In fact, there are two components to the travel equation:
How much you can travel = Your savings - Your travel cost
Let's talk about the two components:
Savings is made up of two components as well:
Savings = Your Income - Your Expenses
Unless you live in a developing nation, it's easy to make a lot of money. In America, for instance, you can be a waiter and make over $30,000/year.
"But that's nothing!" some cry.
That depends on what you do on the other side of the equation: expenses. We often think we MUST have a nice place to live, be able to eat out often, have nice clothes and things. Having walked crossed America four times, sleeping under a tarp the whole time, I can promise you that you don't need much to be happy. We're all different, but if we learn to tone down our basic requirements, then we'll end up with a fortune in the bank.
For example, if someone who makes $30,000/year lives with 2-3 roommates/family members in a somewhat sketchy part of town, eats at home, brings his own lunch to work, buys used clothing (and not often), and avoids most discretionary expenses, then it's not hard to save a couple of thousand bucks, even living in an expensive city like San Francisco or NY.
Now imagine you make $50,000/year. Imagine still living like you're only making $30,000. Instead of saving $2,000/year, you'll save $22,000/year! (OK, just a tad less because you'll pay higher taxes, but you get the idea.)
Unfortunately, most people move up their expenses as soon as their income moves up (and often beforehand too!). That's why some of my Harvard Business School classmates are struggling to make ends meet even with their million dollar incomes.
I've always lived simply, no matter what my income was. I'm nearly 40 years old and I've NEVER owned a couch, TV, chair, or even a bed! All the places I rented were already furnished. One place wasn't and I slept on a used futon on the floor and had plastic plates and utensils that I washed and reused. Yes, the place was bare. I also lived in three crappy neighborhoods in San Francisco (each was next to the Projects). I'm not encouraging you to live like a monk in a crime-infested neighborhood. I'm simply pointing out that it's yet another major way to save money. We tend to overestimate how much we need to be happy. And we underestimate how much we can save, even when we're making a modest income.
More importantly, I was never sad, bitter, or frustrated whenever I lived in a humble abode. I loved my life and was thrilled to be living in San Francisco, one of the greatest cities in the world.
In the Seattle suburbs, I lived without a car while I worked at Microsoft. I rode my bike in the rain (even with 40 pounds of groceries) and took the not-so-convenient bus when I needed to. Meanwhile, co-workers who were making half my salary were driving $50,000 cars that quickly depreciate. These are the same people who ask me how I can afford to travel nonstop.
My inner city neighbors never suspected that I was making a six-figure income. I spent about five years living well below my means, saving over 80% of my income, investing it wisely in stocks, and created enough savings to let me pursue my passions: traveling, public speaking, personal coaching, and writing.
So that's savings, now let's discuss....
YOUR TRAVEL COSTS
You can guess we're I'm going on this one too.
Let's examine what makes up travel costs.
Travel Costs = Lodging + Food + Transportation + Discretionary
Lodging: Stay in the cheapest place you can tolerate. Although staying at the Ritz is fabulous, most of us travel to see stuff that is OUTSIDE the hotel. Fancy hotels encourage you to stay IN the hotel; dodgy hotels encourage you to get OUT. I stayed in a dump in Roatan, Honduras. The shared bathroom smelled of urine and shower water from the room above leaked onto my bed. So thanks to that crappy room, I got to know Roatan well.
Here are the progressive steps to simple, cheap lodging:
Nice Hotel => Budget Hotel => Hostel => Campground => Stealth Camping
Everyone has their own tolerance level. I'm just encouraging you to push your limits. Experiment! For example, after backpacking the Appalachian Trail, I didn't mind stealth camping in city parks in Eastern Europe. I didn't do it everywhere, but wherever I did it, my lodging costs were zero. If not, hostels usually cost under $15/person, that's only $450/month (cheaper than most rents).
Food: Same concept for lodging. Of course, trying the local cuisine is part of traveling. But that doesn't mean you have to go to a 4 star restaurant. (In fact, most 4 star restaurants don't serve traditional local dishes, but fancy stuff that a local wouldn't recognize.) Street vendors sell local dishes, and they're not as sketchy as you might think. It's also fun to shop at a grocery store and see the products they have that you don't have back home. My standard fare when I shop is to buy bread, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, yogurt, granola, carrots, broccoli, and lots of fruit. As a result, my food costs are minimal and my nutrition is high.
Transportation: Learn to travel simply and bring a book (or an audio book) for when you're not enjoying the countryside (or you're waiting at a depot). Step down the ladder luxury:
Plane => Car (rental/taxi) => Train => Bus => Hitchhike
You don't just save money as you opt for the more simple method of transportation, but you also get to know the locals (which, presumably, is one of the reasons you like to travel). You experience how real people are, the way they live, and you're often forced to learn some words in the local language. Aren't these reasons you love to travel?
Discretionary: Museums, performances, souvenirs, and clothes are all examples of discretionary spending. As usual, we all have our own priorities and thresholds. Just try to minimize your discretionary spending, if your goal is to travel as far and as long as possible.
In short, by keeping your travel expenses down, you can make $10,000 of savings take you on nearly one year of nonstop travel! And as I wrote under the SAVINGS heading, it's not that hard to save $10,000, even when you make a moderate salary. If you save $50,000, that's several of years of ultra-budget travel.
Traveling the World with a Family
Some who have a family to support tell me, "Well that's all great for someone like you Francis who doesn't have children, but you can't do this if you have kids!"
Although I admit that I'm no expert on raising children, most of my friends have kids and I even babysit. So I'm not completely clueless. I admit that families have extra expenses that chew into any potential savings. Obviously, if you have young children, you probably shouldn't live in the ghetto if you can avoid it. Nor is it practical for a family of four to stealth camp in a park in Bucharest.
However, it's also true that most American families have enormous houses, when most of the world packs a family a four in less than a 1,000 square feet. Those "bad neighborhoods" aren't usually that bad. Most families spend way more than necessary. Even families with minimal incomes can sock away thousands of dollars a year.
Moreover, you can't say that kids don't give you enough time to travel, since most kids have 3-4 months off per year. Many families also experience some degree of economies of scale that single people can only achieve if they live with roommates. Finally, most who have families are in their 30-50s, which is typically when people earn their highest salaries. A 25-year-old can only dream of making what someone who is 45 makes.
My point is that families can apply the basic ideas I've outlined here to pursue their travel dreams. They may not be able to travel as far or as long as a childless person, but they can certainly downsize, live simply, and travel frugally. Yes, even if you have a family, you can explore the world.
READ CHAPTER 2 OF HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE
I spend dozens of pages in my book, Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America, detailing ways to manage your fiscal life. I encourage you to buy the book to learn not just to get the most out of your finances, but also to get the most out of life itself.
Traveling the world isn't as costly as you think. You can buy a round-trip ticket to most places on this planet for about $1,000. Once you're there, you can take public transportation, stay at cheap accommodations, eat simply, and still enjoy many of the attractions while spending under $50 a day, even in the most expensive cities of the world. Budget wanderers often discover that their costs of living on the road are often lower than at home. And if you sublet your apartment or rent out your home, you can cover your home costs so you can travel for months.
Furthermore, being frugal doesn't mean you shouldn't be generous. For instance, I donate half of my book royalty to the National Scenic Trails of America. If you're tight on cash, look for non-monetary ways to give back: babysit your friend's kids for free; help clean up a beach; assist someone who is moving out; host a stranger in your house, especially if he's a smelly thru-hiker.
Finally, beware of upgrading your life too quickly. I discuss this in my book. Once you raise your standard of living, it's hard to go back.
In conclusion, live below your means, hike your own hike, wander and learn.