John and I learned to travel by being poor. Real travel that involves adventure, getting lost, and finding one’s way, after all, lends itself to a form of impoverishment. As a general rule with few exceptions, people who travel a lot learn to travel light. “Stuff” gets in the way of happiness in small, unfamiliar spaces. “Stuff” wants to be lined up, stacked, or shelved and who has time for that after a flight that arrives at 3:00 AM in a foreign country. At 3:00 AM, when I arrive at an available bed where I plan to sleep, I want to be able to find my pajamas and my toothbrush without fanfare or difficulty and that’s it. Fuck shelves. Fuck stacking. Traveling the world is about figuring out what I really need to carry with me and leaving the rest of it behind.
I’ve tried living the sedentary life in tandem with trying to live a nomadic life. Does that sound crazy? It is. Three months of sedentary life at home, then three months abroad in vacation rentals, hotels, or hostels. Then three more months at home. Then three more months abroad. I’ve done five years of that and do you know what? I’ve learned that it isn’t the travel that’s costly. It’s home. Home costs a lot. It costs a lot to own a home and it costs a lot to maintain it. It costs a lot to return to it perpetually and to try to keep up with the Joneses and neighbors who are upset about something that’s sitting in my yard (or that’s absent from it). Traveling is cheap. Movement and a lack of attachment to a specific place and the ability to adapt to changing conditions cost very little as it turns out. Who knew!?! But I was raised on “vacations” and “holidays”—short weekend or week-long travel binges in famous or important locales that are designed and marketed to people who aren’t willing to go out into the world and find out whether or not traveling is really, truly “expensive”.
That being said. Traveling, can of course, be expensive. How you do go, where you stay, what you require in terms of comfort, and your willingness (or lack of willingness) to travel to places that haven’t yet marketed themselves to the world as a “must-see” destination all factor into the bottom line. A lot of young people ask me, “How can I travel the world?” I tell them, “Don’t go to school unless you can pay for it out-of-pocket. And don’t get loans or charge up a credit card. Loans are the anti-thesis of travel. If you want to travel, stay debt-free and you can go wherever you want to go.”
Becoming a digital nomad isn’t an overnight process for most people. It happens in stages. First, there’s the “digital” part. The part where an office-worker or a laborer tries out a job that materializes in some way through the medium of the Internet. Then, there’s the “nomad” part, an entirely different beast that involves movement across the planet according to some pattern or rhythm. Most digital nomad wanna-be’s (we all start out as wanna-be’s) don’t realize that a pattern or a rhythm is necessary because without these earthly concepts, the globe seems impenetrable. Where to go first? Second? How long do you stay? Do you decide before you leave or once you get there? These pragmatics present themselves elusively as concepts like “Round-Trip” or “One-Way”, but these scheduling concepts are more significant and meaningful to the digital nomad than to the family that’s vacationing over Christmas break. To click “One-Way” is to acknowledge that the travel experience is life. To click “Round-Trip” is to put a travel experience in parentheses.
To travel the world for a year or longer, ideally, you’d unload your things and get rid of debt. The reason why this is ideal is because otherwise, you have to constantly look back at what you’ve left behind. Debt requires a lot of focused attention. If you can rid yourself of it, do so. Then, if you’re concerned about a budget, stay away from the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and urban areas in Australia. Africa is an impoverished place, but an expensive destination to travel to because of a lack of infrastructure. Papua New Guinea falls into this category of countries too. The ideal travel destinations for people who want to cast off into the world without worrying about their budget every day are destinations that have some tourist infrastructure but that haven’t been heavily marketed to western countries (because the marketing is expensive and drives up the cost of the travel). A large portion of the world is super cheap and exciting to visit: consider Mexico, Thailand, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Portugal, Cambodia, Laos, Central America, and India (just as a few examples).
Get rid of your debt, find the affordable destinations, and then book longer stays in a logical “home base” near other places you wish to visit. The longer you stay in a particular home or apartment, the cheaper it will be to stay there. If you require Internet for work because you’re a digital nomad, this will create some limitations in terms of lodging, but not many. Generally speaking, 6 months to a year is an important threshold of commitment that can bring the cost of lodging down considerably in countries all across the world. Sometimes it makes sense to sign a 6 month contract on a rental that you only plan to live in for 3 months just because the cost of rentals rented for 6 months tend to cost a lot less than rentals that are available for 3 months.
If you’re willing to leave your home behind and you want to travel around the world for a year or more, it will cost you very little to do it. If you hope to hold onto tethers at home in the form of debt or an apartment that you’re leasing or a condo that you own, etc., then life on the road will be more complicated and certainly more expensive. If you want to travel with family, take the kids with you, do wordschooling or whatever, it’s all possible as long as you’re willing to give up certain aspects of a stationary lifestyle to do it (like mortgage payments and all the bills that go along with home ownership, for example). You can always find a new house when you come back home, but nothing will be able to replace that year or more that you spent traveling abroad. People with 3 bedroom houses and a backyard will envy you for what you gave up to get what you wanted. World travel is something that anyone can do as long as their government allows it and they’re willing to commit to the adventure.
John Talks About His Remote Work (video)