For most Millennials, the notion of traveling the world can seem about as likely as a Kardashian winning the Nobel Peace Prize. You see those gorgeous people on Instagram, hash-tagging pictures of themselves in the most unbelievable places on Earth, and you’re sitting there thinking, “Shit, I’m lucky if I get a long weekend off to catch up on my shows and sleep in on Monday.” Having now traveled to almost every corner of the world, I can tell you that YOU are completely capable of making your dream trip happen. Why? Because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I still managed to make it work on a tight budget, with no knowledge and almost no help. Not to mention, by the end of my dream trip, I even realized how I could have done it better, cheaper and easier. I witnessed and/or made all the mistakes that you don’t have to make. All it really takes is the right knowledge, some hard work and a splash of crazy.
The first question I always get asked is, “How much did it cost?” Unfortunately, I have to hit you with the “it depends”. With every budget, every country and every length of time being different, there’s no way to answer that honestly. But, what I can say without a doubt is this: International travel will change your life forever. There is no way that you are going to be standing on top of Machu Picchu, snorkeling through the Great Barrier Reef or walking through the bustling streets of Bangkok and think “meh”. So, without further ado, here is the breakdown of how to make your dream trip happen NOW!
Discover Your Purpose
When a desire to travel comes up during coaching sessions, I ask this question before anything else: “What is the purpose of this trip for you?” I do this because, if you have a clear purpose, you will be fueled to make it happen no matter what. And, it will mean more than a notch on your belt. This is a deeper question than “What do you want to do?” because it calls forth what you really value. Yeah, you want to ride an elephant or hike up that mountain, but why? Will the experience bring you more confidence? Do you think that it will allow you to be more present? Are you imagining that you will finally be able to stop worrying about the future, accept the past and experience true joy? I don’t know what this is for you, but this is what you need to figure out before you get into the planning section. If you need help defining a purpose, ask a coach, ask a friend or sit with this question without distraction until the answer feels “right and true”. This is the internal compass for your journey, and it will guide you every step of the way.
How Long Do You Have?
There are usually three answers to this if you are actually on a budget: (1) one to two weeks, (2) three to eight weeks, and (3) “I want to live abroad.” One to two weeks is for people that don’t have flexibility with their job or who want to feel it out first. Three to eight weeks is for people who may have time off or who are in transition, but who aren’t interested in working abroad. The “living abroad” people are those who are trying to get a visa and find a job or school outside of the country. I will be referring back to these groups as Group A (1-2 weeks), Group B (3-8 weeks) and Group C (indefinite).
What Is Your Budget?
Before we begin to outline your budget, keep two things in mind. First, this is a project and projects take time. Your budget is the sum of what you have today AND how much you will be able to save leading up to your trip. It is usually the case that you buy your ticket first (to hold yourself accountable) and then start saving for everything else. For instance, let’s say you have $500 today, and you think you will need $2000 for your trip. If you plan on leaving in six months, then you will need to save $250 per month. That being said, it’s not just about how much you can save, it’s also about how much you can “not spend”. This comes back to my second point which is, “How important is this to you?” If it is really, really important and you have your foundational purpose, then you will be willing to give up your Starbucks coffee, your cigarettes, or your new Xbox. In fact, you will find satisfaction in your sacrifice because there is a good reason for it. Of course, there are a million other ways to reach your goal (ask for help, side gigs, credit card promotions), but we will touch on some of that later. In my experience though, Group A will need at least $1200, Group B will need at least $2500 and Group C will need at least $3500. This number can easily double or triple, but this is going to be the bare minimum for most.
Where Do You Want to Go?
This is where the fun and creativity really start to flow! Stare at a world map and just think: You can go anywhere! Except, maybe Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and eh, you get the point. If you are newer to travel, I will give you a few tips on the easiest and safest backpacker paths. They are Peru, Costa Rica, most of Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan, Australia, India and New Zealand. I know I missed a ton of sweet places, but this is just to narrow the search for someone who may be newer to international travel. Each place has its own flavor, things to do and pricing. For instance, you may have a really tight budget, an affinity for being on the beach and a thirst for a much different culture. In that case, I would suggest the beaches of Southern Thailand or Cambodia. They are warm year-round, their culture is much different than American culture and it is one of the cheapest places on Earth to travel to. If you’re really into the outdoors and hiking, then--New Zealand! Or, maybe you are a foodie who has a little bit more money to spend. Why not fly to Spain, purchase a hop-on/hop-off train ticket and make a loop through Western Europe?! This part should really be all about what you want, and trust me, it will be an adventure no matter where you go.
How Do You Plan What to Do?
The good news is that, once you’ve decided that it is happening, where you’re going and why you’re going, the rest is easy. Most well-worn backpacker destinations are very prepared for the unprepared traveler stepping off the plane with no idea what to do. I have even found that it is better to not plan too much. Why? Because then you have the flexibility to do whatever you want in the moment. Some of the coolest stuff I’ve done while traveling was planned while out talking to locals or other backpackers (secret waterfalls, hidden caves, off-road moped adventures). I’ve even seen how the online price for services is sometimes much higher than the local guy who may charge half to do the same thing. Of course, you run the risk of getting crammed on a bus or having a non-English speaking guide, but hey, you’re on a budget and this is and adventure! My theory is that it’s worth planning one to three “peak experiences” to fit your budget before leaving the rest up to spontaneity. Sites like HostelWorld and AirBnb will help you find accommodation and there is wifi almost everywhere.
I could go on and on about how to fly for free, how to find a job abroad and my favorite spots, but I want to get the basics out there first. Here are a few quick tips that should help you along in your journey.
1. Get a travel card now! There are plenty of credit cards out there that will give you 50,000 points if you spend $2-3,000 in the first three months, and some will allow you to redeem them at 1.25 points per dollar on their site! That’s $625 in travel! Chase Sapphire is my favorite starter card for international travel.
2. Don’t pack too much and pack right. The last thing you want to do is lug around a giant backpack full of shit you don’t need. A down jacket, a rain jacket, clothes that you can wear multiple days straight (not cotton or jeans) and a sturdy shoe/sandal. You may also want to have copies of your documents and some over-the-counter meds.
3. Stop worrying about exchanging money before you go. The banks here give terrible rates and charge dumb fees. Bring cash. Exchange a small amount at your arriving airport, and then exchange the rest while you’re out and about. This could save you 5-10% on your money. I recommend bringing more cash than you think you will need. You can always take the American dollars back with you, and you may lose a small chunk of money if you have to use an ATM while overseas.
4. Don’t book a dorm room that is over four people. It can be tempting to book six, eight or even 12-bed dorms because of the price, but anything over four can be a nightmare. People come in late, get up to go the bathroom and seem to think it’s okay to chat at 3 AM when there are enough people in the room. Do yourself a favor. Spend the extra $5 and give yourself a shot at some sleep.
5. Australia and New Zealand are the working holiday hubs of the world. If you are considering working abroad, I could write a whole new article for you! I will leave that for another day. A few things to know are that work visas are typically around $400, and you have to be outside of the country you’re traveling to when applying. After that, good luck! It is somewhat of a rat race to find jobs, but backpackers usually find themselves in farm jobs, customer service jobs or manual labor jobs. That’s right. You will probably get the worst jobs, but they tend to pay pretty well. A decent backpacker wage in Oz is $20/hour.
6. Above all, take care of yourself! This is about you and it’s about being happy. If you get sick, relax. If you don’t know what to do, just soak in the moment and go for a stroll. If you really want to do something, go for it!