I recently got back from my month-long trip abroad. I had backpacked through Europe for a little over four weeks.
Since then, I’ve had more people than usual asking me the inevitable question: How? How am I doing this? How do I travel so much?
They ask because I really have taken quite a few trips in the past two or three years. So, in this post I’ll explain how I’ve been able to do this, and in doing so, maybe help someone out there to be able to fulfill their ever-burning wanderlust, too.
There are five key factors that have allowed me to be able to travel as much as I have — the first, ironically, is the cubicle job I was so miserable working the first two years after I’d graduated college.
It had nothing to do with what I’d majored in, International Business (concentrated in Marketing). It was basically data entry for a financial service institution. Obviously I couldn’t have gotten the job without that degree, but it was so skewed from what I actually wanted to do after school.
It was pretty decent money, but it was always supposed to be temporary. I told myself I’d work there until I finally landed the digital marketing position I’d been hunting for…I guess I got comfortable with that income and never wanted to accept a lower salary unless it was something I really wanted to do.
That perfect opportunity never came, though. I didn’t have the experience the marketing companies wanted (despite the internships I’d worked in college), so many of the positions available were sales-related. I had zero interest in that. I started feeling stuck and depressed. My weekend nights out were my only escape from the mundane cycle that had become my life.
The worst part was, I felt that the longer I stayed, the more time I was wasting not getting experience in my desired field. I spent hours every day commuting in Atlanta traffic. It was probably the least happy I’ve ever been.
What was my purpose? Was this life, doing the same exact thing every single day that I couldn’t care less about? Staring at a computer screen all day inside a fluorescent-lit building? Staring at tail lights every morning and evening?
I truly believe though, that most things happen for a reason. I met some people different from anyone I’d ever known — people who showed me I could pursue my ‘day one’ dreams and actually make them into a business. The turning point.
It inspired me. I thought back to what I actually used to enjoy doing. It was the same thing people who’d been in my life thus far had pushed me away from, and that was writing. I had always loved it, but it wasn’t a job in a demanded field, so I’d basically forgotten about it aside from the novel I’d been writing as a side project.
The second factor allowing me to travel more was my freelance writing business that was born from said inspiration. I started writing blogs and film scripts. I fell in love with the way I could bring my stories to life. I tried my hand at producing and made a short film since money wasn’t really a problem at that time. It even competed in a film festival, but I’ve never had the budget to produce another one of my scripts since.
The blogs and scripts I wrote for my clients made money, though (eventually). It took some building, like anything else. I gained momentum and motivation. I had climbed out of my depression hole and was determined now. Yes, I worked a 9–5, but I wouldn’t be there forever.
That was probably the most productive I’ve ever been in my life. I was working forty to fifty hours at my desk job, using my lunch breaks to write client-requested blogs, writing short films and music video scripts in my evenings at home, and networking whenever I got the chance.
I had never stopped applying to other opportunities I thought might put me into a better situation. A few things had transpired in my personal life that pushed me to try and find something abroad. I’d known someone who had taught English in Spain, and got in touch with her. This is the third factor.
Fast-forward to a few months later: I had been accepted in the Spanish governmental program and was preparing to leave the country. It was a pretty big decision since I’d be living in Spain for at least nine months and in a sense, stepping away from my aspirations as a film-maker and screenwriter (though I didn’t realize it at the time).
I had recently acquired a pretty big corporate client with my freelance writing business, so I had that income to help along with the monthly payments I’d be receiving in Spain. Despite the unease I had felt leaving my finance job after two years of comfy direct deposits, I was still somewhat stable. I had quite a bit saved up from my cubicle job, which also provided a nice cushion.
When I lost that big client, it definitely hurt my income, which forced me to rely a little more on those savings. The client was basically a middle man between me and the corporate company. When they dropped her pay, she then had to drop me and take on the content creation role herself.
I decided to use the extra time I had to finally finish my novel, and picked up a private English lesson outside the lessons I had with the institution to somewhat make up for the lower income. I could’ve probably survived off the payments from the teaching program, but I was traveling a lot.
I saw it as my chance to see as much of Europe as I could, so I was trying to use most of my days off to go to a new city. This is why teaching English played such a big factor in my ability to travel so much. Once you’re in Europe, flights between countries there are cheap. I went to Paris for $25, various Spanish cities for around $15 or less, and Morocco for $17, just as a few examples.
Hostels, a popular way to travel in Europe, usually cost an average of $18 per night. You can find nice ones for even less, depending on the city. Everyday things like food and transportation are cheap, too (again, depending on the city). Spain was especially cheap compared to the U.S.
I guess that’s why so many people here think I was rich to be able to travel as much as I was. Flights and hotels in the states are EXPENSIVE compared to a lot of places in the world, but some people simply don’t know that. Those people may notice though, that I only was traveling among the states when I had vacation days in my old finance job. I can’t really afford flying around the U.S. anymore!
So what about getting there? Yes, Europe is typically an expensive place to fly to from the states. This brings me to the fourth key factor, budgeting. I think a lot of people simply don’t know the little tricks and tips that can save you a ton of money traveling, therefore allowing you to travel much more often.
Specifically, with this last trip, I signed up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. You can sign up for free, and receive email alerts they’ll send when flight prices are noticeably lower than usual to certain destinations, all from your preferred international outbound airport. I got an alert, checked Skyscanner, and sure enough saw that I could get a ticket to Reykjavik for less than $150, and then from there to Dublin for only $70 more.
From experience, I knew that once I got to Dublin, I’d be able to fly anywhere around Europe I wanted to pretty cheaply. I was looking in the first place to visit some friends in Spain, but I decided to make a few stops before getting there.
Realizing I probably should get a return ticket, I honestly got really lucky one day when I checked on Skyscanner again and saw a ticket from Madrid back to Atlanta that only costed $220.
Along with only flying with good deals (meaning BUDGET airlines), I budget travel. I don’t travel luxuriously. I don’t stay in fancy hotels. I don’t eat expensive food. Far from it — I actually did a lot of Couchsurfing on this last trip. I stay away from, if I can help it, super touristy areas and restaurants. I even sleep in airports if I have an early flight and it makes sense to, before I pay for a place to stay.
The thing is, I prefer it that way. I love the local experiences I got from staying with and learning from, well, locals. I love being immersed in the real culture of a city. If I went somewhere to lie on a beach in a resort targeted at tourists where people are paid to be nice to me, I wouldn’t have really traveled to that city. I wouldn’t have actually been there at all.
I’ve found that Couchsurfing, and traveling in general is a whole different culture than the one I find when I’m home. It’s a mindset. When I’m abroad, I meet others who do the same things and live the same way. Sometimes I find my values and interests align with theirs more easily than with anyone’s back home, and it’s just a fact. The backpackers’ mindset is unique, that’s for sure. And all at once, it’s universal.
The last, but possibly most important factor allowing me to travel the way I do is yoga. For many reasons, yoga has led me on some of my most amazing adventures. The calling I felt to go to India to become certified was the first, and from there it has only opened up more opportunities.
Because it has become such a passion of mine, it’s led me to seek out ways I can gain experience teaching. Besides visiting friends in Spain, yoga was the other main reason I went on my last trip. I wanted to try and teach people as I traveled. If not to make a little money, I wanted to at least get some experience and maybe even gain some kind of a following.
I wouldn’t say the quest was as successful as I wanted it to be, but I definitely was able to travel more cheaply. I negotiated with a few hostels in various destinations in my itinerary for free stay in exchange for free yoga classes for hostel guests. I was able to stay in two hostels for free. I taught a few people as I traveled, but they were casual lessons.
As hostel stay and Couchsurfing usually goes, I did network a lot. I met people who gave me ideas on how to go about achieving my goal. I learned. I went through lots of different emotions and mindsets during my trip, but when it was all said and done I landed on a plan.
I decided that my next move would be to search Workaway for yoga retreat opportunities where I could stay and eat for free in exchange for my time and effort in teaching. I’ll also gain experience and knowledge teaching yoga internationally, not to mention learning how to start and manage a yoga retreat.
Workaway is a good means of traveling affordably, and for longer periods of time. Like Couchsurfing, it seems to be a great way of having a unique and local experience. I had never even heard of it myself until other travelers mentioned it to me in India.
It also helps that I have a remote part-time job these days. I don’t do as much freelance writing — it’s great for side money, but I realized I don’t enjoy ghost writing. A lot of the jobs usually don’t come with recognition…I want my name on the things I write, so I’ve stepped away from that a lot.
I still write film scripts and submit them to competitions and festivals, so I haven’t given up on that dream. I’m still working on publishing my novel. You could definitely say traveling took precedence over my writing career, but my goal now is to find a healthy balance between them. That is, alongside my goals as a traveling yoga instructor.
So I guess the overall idea I’m trying to convey here is this: I’m able to do what I do because of both choice and circumstance. I’m lucky enough to be able to stay with my mom when I come home. I don’t have a lot of monthly expenses. I also choose to prioritize travel over things like shopping and makeup. I barely eat out or go out and party anymore when I’m home.
I don’t have a nice car, phone, or laptop/tablet. I’m probably pushing the deadline on replacing all those things— they’re kind of falling apart, but it’s more important to me to go where I want to while I can. I don’t have ties to any one place. I resolved to keep myself apart from the societal expectations that I can intangibly feel weighing me down every time I come home.
Why am I not getting a normal job? Why am I not looking for an apartment somewhere to settle down? Don’t I want to get married someday, have kids? How will I do that if I keep traveling, never being one place too long? Aren’t I worried about not saving up money for my future/retirement?
Well, yes. I am worried about it. But something happened while I was in Spain. I’m not sure if it was the passing of one of my good friends right before I’d left, or simply the addictive nature of living abroad, never knowing what was coming next — the unpredictability. I just couldn’t stop living as if it were my last year, my last month, my last week…I couldn’t let myself settle, and I still can’t. Life is too fucking short.
Being an expat gradually erases the imaginary boundaries most people feel are keeping them in one little spot in the world. Suddenly, there’s nothing stopping you from going to Asia, Africa, wherever. You get the visa, make sure you have the funds in whatever way, and you go. It’s not scary anymore, but thrilling.
Yes, I’m worried about all those typical things. But I’m also worried about following everyone else’s rules and then regretting not living life the way I really wanted to. As long as I can financially do it — even if I’m just scraping by, I promised myself to never stop adventuring, taking leaps, and challenging myself against the fear of the unknown, while hopefully becoming a better person along the way.