HOW WE BEGAN OUR OVERSEAS TRAVEL ADVENTURE
Written by: Diana Southern, May 2014 (updated January 2020)
On March 1, 2014, my
boyfriend fiancé husband Ian and I became full time travelers. We called it quits on our “normal” American lives and decided to get out and see the world. It took careful planning, preparation, and even sacrifice, but transitioning into a lifestyle of full time travel is probably easier than you think.
Below are 7 steps that we’ve put together to prepare you for quitting your job and traveling the world, along with the details of what this process involved for us. It was exciting, fun — and yes, scary — but totally worth it!
7 STEPS TO QUIT YOUR JOB AND TRAVEL THE WORLD FULL TIME
1. Minimize Your Expenses
The less money you have allocated to spend, the less money you need to make.
Complete this step first! No matter what your income, there are ways to live with fewer expenses than you are now. Some are easy. Some are obvious. Other expenses may be more difficult to break away from. This may take you out of your comfort zone, but if you’re serious about having the freedom to travel full time, believe me, it’s worth it.
Expenses to reduce or cut entirely:
- Eating out – It’s less expensive, and often more enjoyable, to cook for yourself. You’ll likely eat healthier by preparing your own food, too.
- Expensive social activities– Twelve-dollar cocktails add up quickly, especially when they’re in your plans multiple nights per month. Opt for BYOB gatherings instead. There are plenty of free or low-cost social options. Set yourself a strict, realistic budget for socializing, and stick to it.
- Cable/Satellite – TV is a tough one because it provides an endless stream of distraction. It can also be costly. You’ll be ditching your TV before you begin traveling, and canceling your cable or satellite subscription is step 1. If you’re truly the adventurous type, you’ll find you enjoy the freedom from your TV’s distractions. (Note: You don’t have to ditch your travel-friendly laptop, and at $8 per month, you can keep your Netflix subscription.)
- Home Internet – This one may be harder, but having Internet access 24 hours a day is an unnecessary expense. There’s likely several other opportunities you can find in your day to use the Internet for free (i.e. data plan on your smartphone, local library, etc.)
You’ll notice “saving money” isn’t a step on this list. If you’re truly only spending money on essentials, the saving part happens on its own.
2. Reduce Your Debt
If you’re like me and still gradually paying off an uncomfortable amount in student loans, it may take some careful planning to determine the best way for you to attack this step.
To begin, I recommend setting up a Mint account to get a handle on your finances. I started using Mint in 2013, and it’s really helped me realize when I’m getting off track budget-wise. It’s free, but it does take time and patience to set up. Set aside a Saturday to input all your account info, and you’ll end up with a real-time, honest overview of your financial status.
Identify debts that you have the option of ridding yourself of. For me it was my auto loan. I had the option of selling my car and paying off my debt. I wasn’t going to need my car when traveling abroad anyway. If you’re a current home owner, and you’d rather live a travel lifestyle, then sell your house! If you absolutely can’t sell, then find a long-term renter. Renting your house through Airbnb is a popular new option!
Renting: You can find everything from shared or private rooms in a local’s home to entire apartments our houses available for rent on Airbnb. Check out our tips for finding the best place on Airbnb.
When you’re ready to get started, sign up for Airbnb and get a discount on your first rental with our referral link.
Hosting: While more geared toward hosts present during their guests’ stays, our tips for being a 5-star host on Airbnb will offer some tips to boost your listing once you’ve gotten started.
You don’t have to be absolutely debt-free. I had $36,000 in student loans when I took the leap. (They’re now entirely paid off — a goal I set to reach before I turned 30 — which I did!) But it was an extra expense that I needed to account for in my travel budget. Bottom line: The less debt you have hanging over your head, the easier it will be to quit your job and get out there and travel.
Watch our intro video to see some of the places we’ve been!
3. Minimize Your Belongings
Soon you’ll be fitting almost everything you own in a suitcase. It’s time to start reviewing what you will and won’t need. Unless your first travel plan involves a road trip beginning in your immediate vicinity, you won’t need your car. Think about what you can pack in a suitcase to take with you for the next three months. Think lightweight and packable. You’ll have to pay extra for anything beyond your carry-on, and many airlines have weight restrictions on carry-ons, too.
If you have the option of storing items for free somewhere (like your parents’ house or a friend’s closet), set aside a reasonable amount of stuff to store. You don’t want to create a burden for someone else, and it shouldn’t feel like you’re moving in to their place.
When selecting the items you’ll pack, choose items that are as compact and lightweight (travel-friendly) as possible. Pack in a carry-on sized suitcase or backpack. You can view a list of what Ian and I packed for our first trip here. Here’s a basic packing list to get you started:
- Credit cards
- Clothing: 5-7 days’ worth of socks and underwear, 1-2 pairs of pants, 1-2 pairs of shorts or a skirt, 5 shirts, a jacket
- Weather-specific accessories: gloves/hat/scarf or a swim suit (forget the towel), emergency poncho
- Camera, charger, memory card
- Laptop and charger
- Kindle or tablet
- Inflatable travel pillow
Watch our packing timelapse for a peek at what we pack for months at a time!
Only important documents and a select few other items. These should be things that you are unable to sell and it would cost you a lot (of time or money) to replace them.
- Important documents (your birth certificate and the like)
- Things that you have definite plans for using or you have genuine intentions for using in the next year. Example: You’ll be returning home for a wedding six months after you begin traveling. Store a dress or a suit and matching shoes. Another example: You’re traveling somewhere warm in the summer and fall, but you will return home during winter for the holidays. Store your winter coat.
Sell or donate anything that you’ll either have available to you or you will be able to purchase at your destination (or won’t need to purchase because you won’t need it where you’re going!) Here’s a start of suggested items to sell or donate:
- Sports Equipment
- Jewelry you won’t travel with
- Home decor
4. Set a Date
Depending on your finances and your level of comfort with uncertainty, you may begin your new traveling life as quickly as one month from now, or it may take closer to six. It took us two. Your process will vary depending on your unique situation, but if you’re truly motivated, despite debt and similar obstacles, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
Spend a week or two analyzing your finances and experimenting with different scenarios. I recommend choosing a date when you’ll have saved enough money to get you through three months of travel without any planned income. Plan what your traveling budget will look like. Identify what expenses you have that could be eliminated by a traveling lifestyle, and think about removing them well before you set off. Keep in mind that a travel lifestyle budget will look VERY different from a vacation budget. If you don’t know where to begin, take a look at our first year’s travel budget.
Determine how quickly you can begin your new travel life, and set your date to set your plan in motion!
What this process looked like for me:
At the beginning of January 2014 I started planning for my transition.
I owed $5,700 on my car with a $250 monthly car payment and $100 monthly insurance payment. I owed $36,000 in student loans, with $500 in monthly payments. Other expenses included rent, groceries, gasoline, and cell phone, averaging out to $1500 per month. My salary made me about $1,600 every two weeks after taxes, and I had 7 days of cashable vacation time. I had just under $1,000 in the bank.
I determined that by planning and sticking to frugal budgets, removing excess expenses, and eliminating the debt that I could (my car), I would be reasonably comfortable leaving my job on February 28, 2014.
By the end of February, I would accomplish the following:
- Accrue one more vacation day, for a total of 8 days (worth $1,300)
- Get five bi-weekly paychecks ($8,000; $800 more would come in March from my final paycheck for my last week of work)
- Sell and pay off my car (no more monthly car payments + $2,000 extra)
- Switch from my current car insurance to a non-driving plan with Ian (my half is $16 per month)
- Cancel my cell phone plan (saving me $60 per month)
- Sell a few items ($250), donate a TON more
- Have enough saved to cover one year of student loan payments and three months of carefully budgeted travel
Read about the day Ian and I planned my escape here:
5. Choose Your First Destination
There’s no need to plan in too much detail too far ahead of time. Just worry about selecting your first destination for now. Think about where you’ve always wanted to go or what you’ve always wanted to see and start browsing the Internet for flights and housing.
Search Google Flights, Kayak or Adioso for flights. Try Skiplagged if you’re a risk-taker who can be extra flexible with your travel plans. If you’re heading to Europe, you can likely find an affordable flight on Norwegian Air, flying nonstop from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Orlando, or Fort Lauderdale to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Bergen, or London, with routes still expanding. Prices for one-way flights to these cities all start between $150-$300. Cheaper than you thought, right?
Search Airbnb for housing. For an easier trip, choose housing near a city center or airport, or at least near affordable public transportation. For a more affordable – and more culturally complete – trip, book a room in someone’s private residence. Airbnb has lots of hosts eager to book out the extra room in their home to travelers. You can also find entire homes or apartments available to rent on Airbnb, but your destination options will be more limited if you’re sticking to a sustainable budget. Create an Airbnb profile and start conversations with hosts, contacting them to confirm availability, begin to get acquainted, and to get pre-approval to book the dates you’re considering. You’ll want a place with a responsive, friendly host, willing to answer questions, who has good reviews.
If you’re an Airbnb newbie, get a discount on your first booking here. (If you book, we get travel credit, too!)
6. Seek Support From Those Who Will Support You
Ian and I are both very fortunate to have caring family and friends supportive of our goals and dreams. When I began considering quitting my job and traveling full time, I first confided in a few good friends at work, people I interacted with on a daily basis, whom I knew would be supportive. I also talked with close friends and roommates about the exciting new life that we were working toward.
My parents weren’t the first people I told, only because I wanted to have answers for the questions that I knew would come once I told them (Where are you staying? What about your car? etc.) They’ve been very supportive both before and during our travels, and having a place to store a few items and to use as a mailing address has been very helpful. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)
Everyone we discussed our plans with was happy and excited for us. Of course they had questions. It was a big change! But having a supportive group of people to talk about it with was extremely helpful. Since our trip started, these are the people I’ve stayed in touch with, and I’ve also found time to reconnect with old friends.
Share your plans with the people you know will support you. You’ll likely end up with more than a place to store a few things and an inbox for your mail.
7. Make it Official
When you’re confident you’ll reach your goal by the date you’ve set — for me it was one month away from my goal date — it’s time to take some serious action! Enjoy the adrenaline rush of completing the irreversible actions you’ve been waiting for. Buy your airline ticket and put in your two-weeks notice at work! If you’re a renter, be sure you’ve given your 30-days notice or found a sub-letter. Housing and flights should be booked hand in hand. Coordinate your housing to begin when it’s affordable to fly. After determining we could find an affordable flight from Los Angeles to Norway, we confirmed our booking on Airbnb and then booked our flights the following day.
Don’t forget to:
- Purchase travel health insurance
- Make sure your passport is valid and won’t be expiring soon
- Cancel subscription services (Internet, cable, cell phone, Spotify)
- Have your mail forwarded
- Tell your bank you’re traveling
Did you know? Travel health insurance can be way cheaper than private health insurance in your home country. (Crazy, right?) We purchase health insurance for our travels through ehealthinsurance.com. Be sure to read your policy in full to learn what will and won’t be covered. (You may be pleasantly surprised.)
But what will I do for money?
Here’s the fun, exciting, maybe a bit scary part! If you plan the way I did, you’ve got three months to figure it out!
I do recommend you start thinking about the money-making part before you leave — and have some backup options if the things you experiment with don’t work right off the bat. Start by thinking about your passions and what activities make you happy. You may start a blog about a topic you’re passionate about and as it gains popularity you’ll make money from affiliate sales, or you may seek out odd jobs as you continue your travels. You’ll likely experiment with several options before you find the one that works, and whatever you start with may not be what you ultimately do for money as a successful full-time traveler. Don’t dwell on finding your perfect solution just yet. If everyone already knew their recipe for success as a traveling entrepreneur, then traveling wouldn’t be so exciting. When you have the freedom to clear your head and your mind is stimulated by new exciting places and experiences, the answer will come.
You’ll figure it out. (Or at the very least you’ll have a three-month adventure abroad to remember forever. And no one will ever be able to say you didn’t try!)
In the mean time, you can read about and gain some wisdom from some other people who are making this happen, too.
Not Quite There Yet?
You can still get started NOW — Check out 8 Simple Ways to Prepare Yourself NOW for a Full-Time Traveling Future.
UPDATE: How are we doing now?
Read my reflections on our traveling life, 10 Reasons I’ll Never Regret Quitting My Job to Travel (plus 10 More), and subscribe to our newsletter to see where our travels are taking us lately!
Thinking about taking the leap?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. If we can do it, so can you!