How I afford to travel the world (and how you can too)

by Kim on August 22, 2013 · 149 comments

A few years back when my husband and I were saving money to travel the world, I wrote about the topic of money all of the time.

I stopped writing about money because I found that people assumed we were rich (we are not) which undermined how hard we had worked at our dream and the sacrifices we made along the way. Or, people assumed we somehow had a leg up and left comments saying as much. All of those complaints and excuses just annoyed me, so I stopped writing about money.

Anyway, I’ve received a few emails lately asking how we afford to travel the world and I’m sure many of you out there are wondering the same thing. So here’s the answer.

Before my husband and I left to travel we had 9-5 jobs working for the local government. Yes, we both had stable jobs that provided a fine income. We weren’t bagging groceries at Wal-Mart but we also weren’t earning six figures working for private corporations. I’m not going to tell you how much money we made because who does that? But we both made in the mid five-figures, probably like a lot of you.

We initially funded our travels by saving up a chunk of money to travel on. We did this by not buying the crap that other people were buying and saving every leftover penny. We got ourselves out of credit card debt and then stopped using credit cards completely. We lived below our means.

Kim with change jar

Me in 2009 with our change jar. We no longer own a single thing in this photo.

So here’s the bottom line. We left the country in August 2012 with $55,000 in travel money and 12-months later we still have $35,000. We spent almost all of that 20K at the beginning of our trip in South America (we went to the Galapagos Islands which ate up 1/4 of that 20K in one week. It was worth it.).

By the time we got to Asia I was making enough money with my writing to live off of (Asia is quite inexpensive, so that helps). When we left to travel I wasn’t making much money at all on my writing. Earning an income through writing is just something that happened along the way. I wanted it to happen, I worked for it to happen, but there was no guarantee that it would happen. More on that in a minute.

I once got an email from someone who wrote, “I want to do what you are doing. I make $200 a week.” I couldn’t tell if the person who sent the email was just setting me up or if he was genuinely seeking help. Either way, my response is the same: Get another job. (I told him this and, consequently, he did not write me back).

I mean, he knew that, right? Because unless you’re in high school and living with your parents you probably won’t be able to pay your rent and feed yourself and save to travel the world making $800 a month. So get another job by which I mean an additional job. You can also get a better job but we all know that’s easier said than done.

My point is, there’s no magic bullet. If you want to save money to travel the world you need to bring in enough money to support your basic needs and save the leftovers. For a lot of people that means picking up another job. And after traveling through a lot of third-world countries and seeing a whole bunch of poverty I have to say that if you live in the U.S. you are in the very blessed minority of people that have the ability to make this happen. Sure, you might have to work really hard and do a whole bunch of stuff you’d rather not do and go a few years on a little bit of sleep, but if  you really want to save money to travel you can make it happen.

I want to point out something that so many other travelers before me have also pointed out: Traveling isn’t as expensive as you think it is. Sure, plane tickets can be pricey. And if you’re taking a two week vacation and staying in fancy hotels and pretty much just zipping through a place then you’re going to rack up quite a bill. But if you are moving slowly and taking local buses and eating at street stalls and sometimes sleeping on people’s dirt floors you’re going to be able to do a lot on a little bit of money. And if you just want a high-end tour of your favorite cities in Europe you probably just need a long vacation and should not give up your life to travel full-time like Brian and I did. It isn’t for everyone.

If you want to know how much it might cost to travel in the countries that you are interested in visiting, I recommend checking out the destination-specific budget breakdowns over on Jodi Ettenburg’s website.

What I’ve found while traveling is that once you get out on the road there are plenty of ways to make money. If you are a pilates or yoga instructor or a massage therapist or a hairstylist you can make money by selling to your fellow travelers. Find some hippy beach town in India and set up your yoga mat on the sand each morning at 6 a.m. and teach the people that wander by.

If you are a graphic designer or a writer or a photographer you can make money by designing or writing or selling your photos online. If you are a waitress or a cook you can make money. I met a rock-climbing waitress from Colorado in Argentina, she served me wine at my favorite restaurant in El Chalten. I can’t list every exotic location job here on this blog. It’s the sort of thing that you stumble upon while you are out there exploring the world. So save money, take a leap of faith, and know that when you really need some cash the universe will nudge you towards that tapas restaurant in that tiny village in Spain that really needs a lunchtime waitress.

Now back to how I fund my travels these days.

I mentioned in this post that my writing is supporting our travels and I probably got 50 emails from people asking how. Mostly, Brian and I live off of the income that I earn from this blog (via advertising) and whatever freelance gigs I pick up (which are few and far between). Sometimes, like when we are in an expensive country like the U.S., we dip into our savings to make ends meet. I do not make enough money to afford to live in the U.S. (yet!). Also, keep in mind that Brian and I have no expenses, so we can live on very little. We have no utility bills, no rent, no car payment. We do have student loans that we pay every month (Yes, we have student loans. This was another excuse I used to hear, “Oh, you must not have any student loans to pay like I do.” Yes we do!).

kim with rupees in India

2013 in India. I only feel rich.

I am not getting rich. I’m just getting by. And that’s okay for me right now because I’m doing what I love and not yet freaking out about the future. My income isn’t stable. Sometimes I have great earning months and sometimes I have terrible months. Brian and I just try to live on as small amount of money as possible no matter what. We try to make our money stretch. We don’t throw big parties during the good months and buy everybody a shot at the bar. We’re frugal, always. And plus, the good months aren’t great, they’re just good enough to keep us going.

I suppose what I want to say more than anything is this: If you wait for all of the stars to align and that six-figure location independent job offer to come to you, you will be waiting forever. Plan, save, and then take the damn leap. You won’t know what other opportunities are out there until you get out there. You have no idea who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn. As for me, I’m glad I did it the way I did. Even if my writing had never gained steam and I’d blown through my savings and then gone home, I still wouldn’t have regretted a second of it. The fact that the universe keeps lobbing opportunities at me that keep us traveling is just sweet icing on the cake.

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{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy August 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Some people think you are taking helicopter rides and staying in 5 star hotels?? I think some may not understand that you can be very happy while spending very little money. Here’s what I got from this post: Work hard. Live Simply. Jump. Did I get it right?

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:26 am

Yes, you’ve got it right (and I know it is exactly what you are doing!)

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Cheyenne B. August 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Thanks so much for sharing. I currently live in Peru with the Peace Corps and I understand what it means to live on little. I appreciate your wisdom in the matter and for sticking true to your dream.

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:27 am

You can live with very little and still have everything you need, right? I was never in the Peace Corps but spent a year in AmeriCorps VISTA working in the most impoverished area of the U.S… still had everything I needed.

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Tamara (@Turtlestravel) August 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Great post (as usual)! Thank you for your honesty and for telling it like it is. We’ve been fortunate enough to live a nomadic lifestyle for almost a decade, but, like you, it hasn’t been without sacrifices. Frugality is certainly key. We haven’t made “the leap” entirely yet, but we’re getting there. We work on contract in the field of mobile/experiential marketing. This keeps us on the move, but at someone else’s whim. It also enables us to save, save, save, since we have no expenses. We travel between contracts. Thanks for the reminder that we won’t truly know what opportunities are out there until we really get out there!
Tamara (@Turtlestravel) recently posted..Intro to Geocaching

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:29 am

Hi Tamara, you’re lucky to work in a field that keeps you moving. What a fun way to see the world! (though I know not always awesome to be at someone else’s whim). There really are a lot of opportunities out there.

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Amy August 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Great article! My favorite part is your before-and-after photos. You go from the sweet and hard-working city gal saving her change to the bad-ass traveler flashing her cash. Freaking love it.

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:29 am

Haha, I guess I do! That second photo was my “tough pose.”

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El August 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Living on a shoe string–I know it must be a pain sometimes, but how romantic.

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:30 am

Ha, I suppose it is pretty romantic… especially in retrospect!

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Patti August 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Here! Here! And it doesn’t just apply to a life of travel! You can apply the philosophy to anything – there are 100 reasons why not to do something – but 1 big reason to make what you want to happen, happen – because you want it. I cannot tell you how many people have said to us over the past 2 1/2 years, “Oh, I’d love to do what you did – pack up and completely change your life, but I just couldn’t.” Then you don’t really want it is what I think, but usually don’t say because I’m trying to be polite. When we left our life of 33 years, which was a very good life, we worked really hard to make it happen – it wasn’t just handed to us – and we did take that leap of faith and we’ve never had 1 moment of regret. The same applies to travel, whether long-term lifestyle travel, or 3 months at a time travel, or whatever you want it to be. It’s up to us to set the course for our lives. You go Kim!
Patti recently posted..Route 66 – The Most Memorable ~

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:32 am

I agree, this philosophy does apply to anything- not just travel. OMG, I have to say, I hate excuses so much. Excuses are my NUMBER ONE PET PEEVE. If you want to do something just do it. You might not be able to do it at the snap of a finger but you CAN do it. Especially if you have the privilege of being born in the U.S. or another wealthy country that affords plenty of opportunities.

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Angie Mattson August 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Bravo for telling it like it is! You and Brian are an inspiration for me and Nelson. The house goes up for sale Monday. We’ve had two garage sales and we certainly need to have two more. Thanks for being who you are, Kim!
Angie Mattson recently posted..Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:32 am

Whoa, Angie GOOD LUCK. Such an exciting time 🙂

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Rika | Cubicle Throwdown August 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I would like to know which travel bloggers are these mysterious ones people are always talking about, the trust fund kids and the six figure income people….*I’ve* never seen a blog like that! The ones I see are the people who worked hard, saved, and try to live simply on the road and find a little work here and there. When I decided to move to Honduras I worked two full time jobs for six months, saved everything, sold all my stuff and became a dive instructor, so I now have a full time job there. It doesn’t pay much but I supplement with a small amount of advertising on my blog, and a contract position with a marketing company that needed someone ‘on the ground’ on the island I live on. It’s not rocket science!
Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Hi from Canada, eh?

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:34 am

I did meet a guy in Nepal who retired at 30! He made millions at a hedge fund. He quit because his dad got sick and he realized that there was more to life than working 14 hour days and accumulating a bunch of dollars. Still, you wouldn’t have known he was rich, he lived like everyone else on the road. But that dude was the exception and not the rule. Most people I meet just saved and then traveled.

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gaelle August 22, 2013 at 5:51 pm

you say it perfectly and beautifully! keep smiling!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:35 am

Thank you!

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Ian August 22, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Great entry. I agree. It is more expensive to take 2,3, 4 weeks off a year to travel out of the country compared to traveling for an extended amount of time like what you and Brian are doing. Now let’s say you and Brian didn’t make that extra income through working from your writing and your website, how much more would you have spent on top of that $20K. Surely making that extra income offset some of the cost and added to your savings, that is why I’m asking. I’m making a travel budget for my own solo round the world trip, and I’m looking at $2,000 a month.

I’d love to hear what the round the world flight ticket cost was. (Excluding of course the flight out of the USA to Ecuador) Was it expensive to fly out of South America>Europe>India, then back to the USA? I always find the ticket cost of those transpacific or transatlantic flights really expensive.

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:37 am

Hi Ian, I think we would have probably spent about 12-15K more. I think that, depending on where you are traveling, 2K per month is more than enough.

The flights for us were very expensive. We didn’t buy a RTW ticket. One-way tickets from Brazil to India were about 3K (for two tickets). The stopover in Europe was free. Our flights back to the U.S. from India were only $600 each (Delhi to LA)… a good deal!

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Annie Knecht August 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm

We are loving following you. Great blog! Every RTW trip is going to be different. Bill and I were 51 when we decided you can’t take it with you and we took a pile of savings, rented our house, pulled the kids out of school and sold a car. We gated one year for our experience. Everyone is in a different situation but we had been saving for years for retirement and just decided spending a bunch of it now was a better choice than risking being alive and healthy 10-15 years from now. We did it with our kids and it was “Magicality” as the kids like to call it. Make the leap, make the leap! Best thing we ever did!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:38 am

Yay! I love that you are back and can say with certainty it was the best thing you ever did. I feel the same way. No regrets.

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Caroline Lewis August 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Great post! I think your readers would love to see a post on what your day to day life is as a travel writer/blogger. How much time do you spend writing vs. traveling/exploring? What does Brian do while you write? Does it cause stress in your relationship when one is working and the other is not? Do you spend hours on end writing/working etc? Is the life of a travel blogger as glamorous as it seems? I imagine it’s a lot of hard work and it’s only worth it if it’s something you really love & enjoy. We only see the end result (the beautiful pictures, stories, and an income that supports your travels), but I bet there’s more to it! 🙂

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:40 am

Ha, does it seem glamourous?!

Okay, I will write a post like this some day. The truth is it varies. Sometimes I work all day (and love it, it doesn’t feel like work) and sometimes I don’t touch the computer. Brian has his blog so he has something to do while I’m writing mine. It doesn’t cause friction in our relationship (one of us working) because the whole thing is a dream and we feel we’re a team. Someday he’ll have to go to work while I sit down to write my Yellow Envelope book.

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Dawn August 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Great post! We have never ever discussed money on our blog, for the reasons you mentioned above. People assume you are rich to travel long term. It is simply a matter of priorities. We chose travel over driving a new car, having a bigger TV, or eating out more. I think sometimes people want it to be more than that, but it really is and was that simple. And even now we are back in the US full time, we still manage to travel a lot, here and abroad. Can’t cure the travel bug!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:41 am

No you can’t cure the travel bug.

It’s sort of like when people used to ask me how I lost weight. I’m like… well, I ate well and exercised. There’s no trick!

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A Babbling Brunette August 22, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I like this post a lot. The only thing I don’t really agree with is the universe comments. It’s Jesus. But I think it’s completely awesome that y’all are traveling the world. Very intriguing!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:41 am

We all have our words for God!

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laurel- Capturing la Vita August 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Great post. You pointed out the most important thing about affording to travel- Live simply and live small. If your priorities are making sure you have a big house with great furniture, than it is going to be difficult to save. Live below your means! So happy you are living the dream that so many have- so that you may inspire others.
laurel- Capturing la Vita recently posted..Will Work for Gelato!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:41 am

Thank you Laurel. Yes, small is not a bad word.

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Charlie August 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm

It’s incredible how some people don’t realize the saving, sacrifices and hard work that goes into seizing the life you want. Well done for going for it and succeeding! I recently wrote about my fears of giving up career – and with it comfort and the monthly salary – for a life of travel. I aim to build a location-independant career as you’ve done. I don’t expect it to be easy but I’m ready for the challenge. Following along with you’re story has been so inspiring. “Plan, save and take the damn leap” – great advice!
Charlie recently posted..Travel or Career: Can you really have both?

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:43 am

Thanks Charlie. I understand how scary it is to give up a career. But you can always go back in some capacity, can’t you? I was nervous, but I know that if I ever need to I can find another job in my field.

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Jessica August 22, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I love this post. So much. I get the same question all the time. I think one reason it’s difficult for Americans in particular to wrap their mind around the concept of living small and saving is that we really have a culture that relies on debt. College costs so much these days, everyone has student loans, and people buy stuff on credit cards and don’t pay it off right away. Then as adults we live in this delusion that we have to stay stuck at our job just to pay it off, etc etc. I wish there was a way to teach kids at a young age how to live within their means from the start. There should be a money education class starting in middle school or something. Because nobody ever teaches you this stuff. Thanks for breaking it down and telling it like it is. It’s all about hard work and making lifestyle choices to live within your means. Simply.

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:45 am

Yes, it’s THE WHEEL, the cycle of debt! I agree that children need to be taught to live within their means. I just remember the moment in my mid-twenties when I realized I OWED so much more money than I actually had (with student loans, a mortgage, etc.). It scared the crap out of me because I realized I didn’t actually own a thing I thought was mine. I like knowing that everything i have now I really have.

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Jessica August 22, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Great post, I really love the honestly and frank advice. We are currently planning to do long-term travel 3-4 years out and started a savings account about 4 months ago. I have been doing extra freelance writing and research for almost a year now to be able to earn something while traveling. We have no cable, rarely go to the movies, buy new clothes only when needed, bring our own lunches to work, drive older cars, and try to buy things on discount. It’s not glamorous to be thrifty and friends that make less than us live much better sometimes. Planning and saving for long term travel is not something that just happens or happens in a few weeks, but it takes a lot of time and effort. I love that you are saying it how it is.
Jessica recently posted..How to Use Airbnb to Save Money on Accommodations and Meet Locals

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:46 am

Right, it does not just happen overnight. We saved for three years.

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Emma Healey August 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Great post Kim. I have really battled with whether to cover money in my new blog and have decided to try it out. I completely understand the “you must be rich comments”. Usually they come from people who live way beyond their means with huge car loans and bigass tv’s. You get sick of telling people, “actually, I just save hard, drive a crappy car, and don’t buy shit I don’t need”. They don’t believe it. But whatever, those people are never going to change their ways nor understand this lifestyle, so it doesn’t really matter.

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Kathrin August 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Emma, I actually had a guy think I was lying to him when I told him I don’t have an iphone. LOL! Priorities sure are different sometimes.
Kathrin recently posted..Getting Ready for our Trip

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:47 am

I think most people really want to hear about money, but rest assured that there will be plenty of people telling you how privileged you are and that you live in a dream world.

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Kathrin August 22, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Well done, Kim. I love that there is one more traveler out there proving that it can be done. Inspiring! And, lovely writing as always!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:48 am

Thanks Kathrin!

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TammyOnTheMove August 22, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I get asked so many times how I can afford to go traveling so often. Once I explain to people that living costs in Cambodia are a fraction of the living costs in London, and that I don’t go clothes shopping every month, buy a Starbucks coffee every day, or buy lunch every day, I usually just hear an “Oh!’. I don’t think a lot of people realize how much money they spend on crap every day. My colleagues in London used to buy lunch every day. Every single day. London is expensive, so I estimate that they spend at least 5 GBP ($8) every day on it, if not more. If you add that up that is a small fortune-almost $3000 a year. You can live off that money quite comfortably for 4-5 months in Cambodia. Once you explain it to people like that they soon realize that it is not such an outrageous idea to be traveling constantly.
TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: The day I met Diego Maradona

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:49 am

Yes. The thing is, until I started traveling I really didn’t understand how affordable it could be because it just sounds so exotic! Plus, all of the vacations I’d taken had been very expensive. But now that I am out there I see how it can work. I know it is probably hard to swallow if you haven’t seen it for yourself, but it’s the truth!

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Mikayla Byers August 22, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Wonderful story – nice to meet you! We are a traveling family of 3 who have been to Galapagos Islands just about a year ago. Where did you go there?

Look forward to talking more,

Mikayla

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:50 am

Hi Mikayla, we were there in August of 2012. It was wonderful.

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Kolbie August 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Kim, I’ve been following your blog essentially since you started it and this is my first comment! I feel like a stalker! I just wanted to say THANK YOU! Thank you for saying, in the simplest possible terms, exactly what is required to make your dreams come true. Hard work. Sacrifice. Compromise. This applies to every area of life and I get so frustrated when people tell me how lucky I am to have the things I do. I’m lucky in the sense that I was born into a first world country, with a great family and support system. But luck has NOTHING to do with my education, career, travel, or financial situation. Congratulations on doing what so many are too afraid or too lazy to do, chasing dreams!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:51 am

Haha, nice to hear from you Kolbie! Yes, on one had we do need to see that we are lucky because we were born into a country that affords us great opportunity to follow our dreams. The rest of it is about being focused and working hard and not taking no for an answer!

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Jonny Blair August 22, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Good post and everyone has their own style and way of making money. I’ve been on the road 10 years now and I spend LESS than my mates that stay in the same place. Crazy but true. I dont own a TV, bed, wardrobe, house, car etc. My most expensive possession is my laptop and my largest possession is my backpack. Work hard, take every job going and anyone can travel. It’s that simple. Baffles me how some people seem to think travel is expensive. It’s only through writing we can prove to these people that they’re mistaken. Safe travels. Jonny
Jonny Blair recently posted..Thirsty Thursdays: 5 Best Irish Pubs From My Travels

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:53 am

Hi Jonny. Brian and I also spend less than we did when we were living in one place (we also make less, but it all works out).

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Simone August 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Thanks for the post! We have just started on our journey but have made it to this point in a very similar way. I would love to hear more about the money come in from your blog. How do you get ads and start generating money?

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:53 am

Hi Simone, if you want to send me an email I can give you more info.

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Rob August 23, 2013 at 12:38 am

Excellent post. I think in todays world people sometimes expect things to just happen and blame others or lack of luck if it doesn’t happen. I am a firm believer that you have to work hard to achieve your dreams and you make your own luck. Well done for making that leap Kim and inspiring others (like me) to believe that it’s possible if you are willing to work for it.
Rob recently posted..Be Inspired! Sarah Somewhere.

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:55 am

Yes, listen, I think everyone knows that there is never any guarantee. At the same time, you’re also never going to know if you can do what you want to do unless you work your ass off. You do only what you can do which is work hard… some things might be out of your hands but that can’t concern you. Especially when you are in the “work-hard” phase. Does that make sense?

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Rob August 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm

It makes complete sense Kim. I think taking a risk/leap of faith for something you are passionate about makes so much sense. If it doesn’t work out the way you planned, who cares you gave it a go and I bet it opens up so many possibilities in life. I can’t imagine looking back in 50 years time and being happy with myself for taking the safe option or ‘normal’ option.
Rob recently posted..I love travelling! My body hates it!

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Kim August 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Totally agree with you Rob. I don’t think most people look back and wish they’d just played it safe!

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Betsy Talbot August 23, 2013 at 12:54 am

Hi, Kim. This is excellent advice no matter what your dream is. When you clutter up your life with debt and stuff it’s hard to see the opportunities in front of you. When you live below your means, you always have more freedom and options to change your life any way you want.

We’ve been traveling for 3 years now and spend right at $25,000 per year to do it. We are as frugal now as we were in the 2 years we saved and downsized for this adventure. And like you, we have found ways to make money along the way so we aren’t dipping into our savings anymore.

But we don’t have a cell phone (much less an iPhone), and we don’t live like we’re on vacation. This is our life – a pretty adventurous one, sure – but we still work, do laundry, and all the normal things other people do.

Thanks for dispelling the myth of the fabulously rich long-term traveler…after meeting hundreds of other long-term travelers, I still have not found one of these elusive creatures. 🙂
Betsy Talbot recently posted..Are You Doing Things That Don’t Make Any Sense?

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:56 am

Hi Betsy. Yes, exactly. And I know that you and Warren also work very, very hard to make sure that your life can continue in the way you want it to.

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Peter Korchnak August 23, 2013 at 1:48 am

When planning for our RTW journey, my wife and I were amazed at how much stuff we had accumulated in our small house in just a few years. If you have space, you will fill it, I supposed. When we were selling most of everything off, we counted how much money we’d wasted acquiring in the first place. Another revelation came when we compiled a list of all our expenses. The more we made in our nonprofit jobs, the more we spent on things we didn’t need. Expenses adjust with income, I think. Then we rearranged the pie to save for the trip and a few years later here we are.

It goes beyond the practical bean counting, though. Not discounting the privilege of and the opportunities that come with living a middle-class life in a developed country, I believe questions like the one that inspired this post spring from a scarcity mindset. Call it the “But I Can’t” mindset. By contrast, it struck me long ago that the abundance-based, “Sure I Can (If I Work Hard)” the mindset is the hallmark of the long-term traveler. It is only ironic that living the hard work-based American Dream enables U.S. based long-term travelers to leave the country and trek around the world…
Peter Korchnak recently posted..Childhood inspiration for travel

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:57 am

I agree Peter. In other words, I don’t think you can put enough emphasis on how important it is to have a go-getter attitude. If you always feel like a victim you’ll never feel like your life is in your own hands.

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Casey @ A Cruising Couple August 23, 2013 at 4:26 am

I love your honesty and your go-get-it attitude. We’re only just beginning our travel lifestyle, so it will be interesting to see how we do with earning money on the road. Like you mentioned, there are so many ways to fund traveling. We’re mostly trying to stay open and flexible to new opportunities rather than micro-managing and over-stressing about the future!

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 6:58 am

That’s a good game plan. Staying open and flexible is definitely key.

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Sab August 23, 2013 at 4:54 am

Thx for the insights! $55,000 is a hell of a travel budget, wow… how many years did you save for that?
Sab recently posted..I WANT TO TRAVEL FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE – 15 TRAVEL BLOGGERS TELL HOW TO DO IT

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 7:01 am

Hi Sab. It is a big budget! (it is for two of us). We saved every penny for three years.

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Emily August 23, 2013 at 5:31 am

I love the frankness of your post. I have doubts from time to time that we won’t have enough as we gear up for our own adventure, but other posts like these are so inspiring and certainly calm my nerves since we have cut back and plan to travel as modestly as possible.
Emily recently posted..Where to Wander

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 7:07 am

Hi Emily, I do think you’ll find that there are many opportunities out there. Good luck!

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Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) August 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

Great post and its so nice to read about people like us! Like you we saved but were very frugal. Asia was so cheap we halved our budget.

Since we have been back we have not wasted our money on stuff we don’t need. Also (and i admit, it’s a slight plug!) when we travelled we volunteered a few times. In exchange for roughly 20hrs work a week we got free food and accommodation. Its a great way to save some money and live like a local with locals. We loved the concept so much we launched our site to encourage others to do the same.
Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) recently posted..Brixton Village Market

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

Yes, there are so many ways to travel cheaply like volunteering, housesitting, WWOOFing and more.

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Carina August 23, 2013 at 8:44 am

Such a great post! I think all of life comes down to choices and priorities — people who say they don’t have time for something choose to spend time on other things; people who say they don’t have money for something choose to spend money on other things…
Carina recently posted..Running groups in other cities

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

Totally agree.

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tyrhone August 23, 2013 at 8:51 am

When we decided we were gonna do it I started working 16-20 hours most days and 6-7 days a week most weeks for 2 years. I also worked 2 other part time projects in on my “downtime” and by the time we left I had a fat wad of cash to start our travels with. If you want it badly enough there are ways and means. Nothing worth having is easy right. Great informative post Kim
tyrhone recently posted..Mexico to Belize: Our First Border Crossing

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Kim August 23, 2013 at 11:01 am

Wow Tyrhone, I had no idea you were working that much. You are the perfect person to illustrate my point. You worked your butt off and made a lot of sacrifices and now here you are living in Mexico on the beach.

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Claire August 23, 2013 at 11:56 am

I love this article. Love love love. I hope you don’t mind, but I linked back to your blog (and this post!) in my recent post about paying off my debt. You’ve certainly been an inspiration and I can’t believe anyone would believe you haven’t worked very hard for your life.
Claire recently posted..On Paying Back $27,000 in Student Loan Debt

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Kim August 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

Thanks Claire, and thank you for linking to the post! Congrats on paying off your debt- that is definitely an accomplishment.

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Yvonne @ Your Escape Blueprint August 23, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Great article!
Like you we set out on our journey in 2012, after getting our financial house in order. A big chunk of our savings we used up in Europe (well worth it) the next biggy will be Galapagos so will check your posts on that.
Like you it is possible to live this lifestyle, especially when willing to simplify and make changes…….. although we have not had to sleep on any dirt floors yet! Have you tried house sitting? We estimate we have had about $20,000 of free accommodation through doing it.
Thanks again, mind if we share your post?

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Kim August 24, 2013 at 11:19 am

We haven’t tried housesitting yet. It’s always on the list but we just haven’t been organized enough to actually sit down and apply… maybe someday. I know plenty of people who do it and love it. And, please, share away! Thanks.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures August 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Such an awesome post! It’s all about priorities and sacrifices.
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Capture The Colour Photo Contest (My Version)

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Kim August 24, 2013 at 11:20 am

Yes it is.

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Darcy @SustainableFamilyFinances August 23, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Great post Kim!

After going on a Rotary youth exchange to Denmark, I went back every summer during college and everyone wondered how I could afford it. The simple truth was that I biked and drank more beer at home/parties than at the bar. I had a part-time job and saved every bit I could, knowing how much fun the sacrifice would be worth.

Likewise, as you know, my family decided to make it a priority two summers ago to return on a family vacation to meet all my Danish families and friends. We made a budget, set a realistic savings plan, and in about a year and a half of planning/saving, we had an amazing trip. Check out more details on our vacation budget for Denmark…it still amazes me that I was only off by $200, counting for every little expense: http://www.sustainablefamilyfinances.com/2011/09/danish-family-budget.html

Keep enjoying getting by and you will no doubt be ahead in the longer run 🙂

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Kim August 24, 2013 at 11:21 am

Hi Darcy,

I know how hard you guys worked to save for that vacation. You should be proud! And that is some steller budgeting. It is pretty amazing you were only $200 off.

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Karisa August 24, 2013 at 4:24 am

Nice summary! Like you I’ve done everything I can to ensure that I will live a life of travel. Right now that means teaching English in Bangkok and traveling every couple of months. 🙂
Karisa recently posted..My 2 Week Myanmar Itinerary

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Kim August 24, 2013 at 11:21 am

That sounds like a pretty great way to do it. There are so many options out there and teaching English abroad is a very good one!

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Ashlie August 24, 2013 at 4:39 am

It’s easier to make an excuse than it is to make it happen. Truth is, if it wasn’t about the money, it would be about time or something else. Money is an easy scapegoat especially since most everyone will agree that there is ‘never enough’ and not push you beyond it, you know? But I think it’s just hiding good old-fashioned fear. When the risk to remain tight in the bud becomes too painful, they’ll muster some courage, get busy and make something happen.
Ashlie recently posted..I’m Sick. Again.

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Kim August 24, 2013 at 11:22 am

I think you’re right, Ashlie. So many times the excuse of money is just covering up a greater fear. I hope you are feeling better in India!

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 28, 2013 at 10:04 am

Agree 100% with Ashlie!

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Odette August 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Wow, this turned out to be a popular post. Thank you!

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Kim August 25, 2013 at 5:56 am

You’re welcome.

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Les Petits Pas de Juls August 25, 2013 at 3:23 am

Couldn’t agree more and you’ve explained it all so clearly and easily; I still sometimes find hard to find the right words to explain how I get by travelling around but I did like you, worked my ass off before, sold everything right before leaving and left; yes, I’ve had income coming in (which truly I’d rather not have had; when it comes from inheritance, it means that someone has left my life for good… ) and used it as my safety blanket to keep going .
And, true, you don’t need that much money when you travel, you don’t have as many expenses as you do at home; those who say they can’t go have just not arrived at that moment in their lives when they truly deeply want to make it happen.

Yes, this post has become very popular because you touch what everyone thinks but don’t dare saying or asking. It’s easy to travel cheap if you really want to; it’s different when you want fancy stuff…

Thanks for writing.
Keep it up, I just love it!… and can see I’m not the only one!

Cheers and happy travels!
Les Petits Pas de Juls recently posted..“White Dress in Town,” Summer series – #3

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Kim August 25, 2013 at 5:59 am

Thanks and cheers to you as well 🙂

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Maddie August 25, 2013 at 8:18 am

Thanks so much for writing this! I think so many people who haven’t travelled long term have a ridiculously glamorous image of what it’s like. That’s not to say it isn’t the greatest thing you’ve ever done but I wonder how many people who are always saying how jealous they are would willingly give up the latest plasma, car & Apple gadgets. You make sacrifices in other ways and the gift of travel was worked for rather than just landing in your lap. Great post 🙂
Maddie recently posted..The beauty of North West Argentina

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Kim August 25, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Yes, totally. It’s a decision, just like everything else.

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Carmel August 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I realize this post wasn’t really directed as those of us who were doing (are doing) the same thing as you, but I’m still glad you wrote it. I’m really grateful that I had the job that I did that afforded us the luxury of saving. I’m glad no major medical stuff derailed our plans. But we also had many, many hardships – financial and otherwise – that very easily could have derailed our plans if we weren’t so very determined to make this happen. I figure it’s what indicates how much I really want this experience. Now we get to reap the rewards of our hard work. It’s pretty damn well worth it so far!
Carmel recently posted..TWIN PEAKS ROAD TRIP

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Kim August 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I’m glad you are enjoying it so far!!! I can’t believe in just a few weeks you’ll be on a plane to Mongolia!

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Raquel August 25, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Thank you for being so honest and clear to the point of what it takes and what type of person it takes to live this way. You’re absolutely right in that you’re either a person whom likes vacationing and doing what vacationers do or you like traveling, learning about the places you visit and enjoying and learning from the experiences while traveling. My goal is to start traveling in 3yrs(once my youngest graduates) and to use my travels as a way to learn about other places and people while at the same time giving and helping others around the world (doing this by working, volunteering, etc, especially with children). Wishing you the best in all your future travels! 🙂

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Kim August 26, 2013 at 7:26 am

Raquel, that sounds like one amazing way to spend your time. I’m wishing you the best in your future travels as well.

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) August 27, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Thank you for writing this post, Kim. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, namely that you can’t wait for everything to be perfect before deciding to hurl yourself at your dreams because if you do, you’ll wait forever, but now you’ve said it all much better than I ever would. It really is incredible how when you just go for it and take a chance at something, all these doors open where previously you saw only walls and barricades. Traveling the world you find that somehow things really do have a way of working out, but sometimes you have to be in the muck up to your knees before you figure out how that will happen. When you decide what path it is you want to follow, I’ve found that truly the universe does seem to conspire with you to help you make that possible. I think we’re too often shortchanging ourselves because we really need so much less than we think we do, and yet we too frequently sell out our dreams to pursue all this other junk we think we’re supposed to want. It’s been so nice to have a year to strip all of that away and figure out what’s really important to me and how I’d like the next chapter of my life to go… now to write it!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..What We Ate: Hualien

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Kim August 29, 2013 at 11:14 am

I know… I am always so amazed how many doors open once you take that first initial step towards what you want. It’s like real-life magic! I can’t wait to see what you write in the next chapter 🙂

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 28, 2013 at 9:56 am

I so understand your frustration. We are two civil servants saving like crazy, living below our means (apartment instead of house, rusty car, not using credit cards etc.) and yet because we managed to do two weeks on a 50 foot sailboat everyone assumes we are rolling in the money. I totally don’t understand this. I am so tired of the “must be nice” type comments. I was writing about how we were saving money. I have a whole series on how to save. How to avoid buying “stuff”. The fact that we are minimalists is a HUGE reason we have the extra money. I don’t buy Starbucks coffee. We don’t go to the movies. We don’t eat out at restaurants. We don’t shop. We don’t drink alcohol. We don’t smoke. Yet our lives are SO SO SO full! We have one of the strongest relationships because we talk (free). We also read (free books from the library), we hike (free). We sail (we paid off our little boat), we take free online courses, we have friends over for tea, we have Netflix not cable … you get the idea. So when people say “Oh it’s easy for You to say …” NO. NO it ISN’T.

Bottom line: Almost every travel blogger I have ever met or read is of modest means. The rich in the Travel (Blog) World are as rare as in any “world”. They are a minority.

I do envy you your writing gigs. There. I said it.

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Kim August 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

Yes, we lived (live) much the same way… and our lives are very full as well. We are lucky in the sense that we are in the position to have choices and to make decisions about how to live… but the decisions that we have made have enabled us to travel. Everyone with decisions can choose to live with less and make their dreams a priority.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 30, 2013 at 10:41 am

Perfectly put Kim.

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Kim August 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Thanks 🙂

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Ali August 29, 2013 at 10:22 am

I’m glad you wrote this. Travel, especially long term travel, is not as expensive as taking a 2 week vacation times 20 or whatever. But you do have to make sacrifices to save money to make it work. Most people out there doing something similar to what you and Brian are doing aren’t independently wealthy or anything like that. And I’ve actually come across a few others who also have student loans, so obviously it’s just a way of prioritizing things and working it into your budget just like you would if you were still living in Portland. You put the work into it and take a chance on things and eventually your life starts to look more like what you want it to look like.
Ali recently posted..The Reverse Bucket List – Looking Back at Some Awesome Accomplishments

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Kim August 29, 2013 at 11:23 am

Yes, long term travel is much cheaper than a short vacation. I understand how that is hard to swallow (it was for me when I was only taking vacations and hadn’t started traveling long-term) but it’s the truth!

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Karen Attman August 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I agree. After almost 20 years in South America, you certainly don’t need much to live off. In the States everything is about living was beyond your means, but here it’s about living simply and dedicating time to the most important things. Thanks for sharing your story!
Karen Attman recently posted..The 4 Hottest (and Coolest) Rooftop Lounges in Cartagena

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Kim August 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Totally! I really dislike the attitude in the U.S.– so many people feel entitled to things and then they just put it on credit. I think our priorities are backwards, for sure.

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Sarah Somewhere August 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm

What I really love about you Kim is how your writing is equal parts practical and inspirational. I love your business savvy, your determination, talent and resolve. It’s funny how you got ‘so lucky’ to travel the world and follow your dreams eh? 😉
Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Thank You

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Kim September 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Ha, yeah… I have so much luck!!! Thanks for your kind words Sarah.

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Amy September 3, 2013 at 2:06 am

Great post. We’ve just been adding up how much we’ve spent during the first six months of our trip and even with only a small freelance income we’ve managed to halve our overall travel costs. We’re still dipping into our savings a lot though and (like you) we know we need to work hard if we want to continue living this amazing lifestyle, which we do. You’re so right in that there are many jobs you can do on the road and if you need to make money you can, as long as you’re determined and prepared to work hard.
Amy recently posted..Six Months of Travel: Our Video, Stats and Summary

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Kim September 3, 2013 at 6:30 am

Yes, there are so many opportunities out there. Congrats on your freelance work… I bet it will just build and build for you.

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Kassidy October 16, 2013 at 2:42 am

Kim, you are such an inspiration to me! My husband and I are currently working towards this goal and I find myself constantly coming back to get my inspiration tank refilled;). We are kind of odd ducks, being that we are such babies (only 21). We have both known for a long time now that the 9-5 life is not for us and that seeing the world through a screen will just not do!! We want to see, feel, smell, and taste it all. Why wait till retirement? Why plug away the best years of your life working at something that doesn’t feed your soul? My husband and I truly feel like we are weird or are outcast for not being “okay” with a nice job and a white picket fence, but you have shown how to embrace that sense of curiosity and wonder. I just cannot thank you enough for all of your insight that dreams are possible as long as you are willing to make sacrifices. We still have a long way to go but we will never give up. Keep living the dream girl!!

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Alex November 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for this Kim. I love to travel and I save my butt off during the year and usually take the whole summer off and travel for 2/3 months. The freedom of travelling is my favourite part 🙂

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Kim November 9, 2013 at 8:00 am

Wonderful!!! I agree that the freedom is the best part.

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sushil November 25, 2013 at 11:03 am

Plan, save, and then take the damn leap. You won’t know what other opportunities are out there until you get out there. You have no idea who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn. As for me, I’m glad I did it the way I did. Even if my writing had never gained steam and I’d blown through my savings and then gone home, I still wouldn’t have regretted a second of it. Thanks for share
sushil recently posted..The Colors of Jodhpur – Beauty of Thar Desert

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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:36 am

You’re welcome.

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Empty Rucksack February 10, 2014 at 1:51 am

This is again one of those posts that tell you that you can make money while living your dream. We are through the first stage i.e. quit our jobs and traveled the world but yet to get to the next point and I keep my fingers crossed because I don’t intend on 9-5 again.

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Kim February 10, 2014 at 6:29 am

Keep fighting. I don’t intend to go back to 9-5 either… and it motivates me to try EVERYTHING.

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Nicola Bower February 17, 2014 at 2:46 am

Your writing is so concise and informative. Also make no promises and no fairy tale – you just have to suck in your gut and make it happen! Kudo’s to you.

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:45 am

Thanks Nicola. Yes, work hard and make it happen.

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rubyshiv February 19, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Life looks so simple through your eyes……..God bless you for the great job you are doing by posting these for others.

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Kim February 20, 2014 at 6:18 am

Thanks. I hope it helps others figure out how they might do it for themselves.

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Jen May 16, 2014 at 11:13 am

Kim,

This was one of the best articles I have read on how long term travelers afford to keep going. I like how you said that there is no magic bullet, that all it takes is hard work and tenacity. It seems that if you want it badly enough, then you’ll get it.

I am also a writer and hope to one day write about all of the interesting and magical places around the globe. For now, I am traveling as much as possible, with a full time job, and building up my adventure website and freelance portfolio. I have no debt, have enough assets to live in Asia for a year, and can fit all of my belongings into my clothing closet. The dream is getting closer!

The only issue is that I’d rather not do it alone, for various reasons, some of which may be irrational. I know that there are droves of single women travelers, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that. If you weren’t married, would you have done it alone?

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Kim May 20, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Jen, I would have been scared. But after being out there for so long now I can tell you there is NOTHING to be afraid of. There are so many other travelers- female and male, and you will meet them, befriend them, and you will only be alone if you want to be. Go for it. I know how intimidating it is to get going but there are so many others out there traveling solo. You won’t be alone at all.

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Annaa May 19, 2014 at 5:52 am

I love this post. I get a lot of that – ‘Oh you must be so rich, you are so lucky’ stuff but I worked so hard to get here! Thanks for showing that you don’t have to be rich to travel you just have to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve your travel dreams. This is a really inspirational post and I agree with a lot of what you say and it sure is worth the sacrifice once your on the road!
Annaa recently posted..The Melting Pot of Penang

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Kim May 20, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Oh man, let me tell you, the sacrifice is worth it 100 fold. No regrets, not a single one. This is the best thing I have ever done for myself.

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Pemila Silva May 29, 2014 at 7:50 am

hey!

just watched ” Walter Mitty and his secret life ” . saw some stunning sites,and some great adventures.and a guy named Sean who travels around the world to take pictures…!

then I thought myself…..,hmm….wish I could be like that….!

then…..,wait !!! ” but I don’t have money “….!!!

soo.. I Googled “I need to travel around the world , but I don’t have money ” !

found ur blog, read it….and I thought myself..

hmm…. yeah, ” I can do this ” !!! just need to save money….! but, I’m still 20 , doing higher education, unemployed, no income,…. then how the hell am I suppose to go around the world,… ah darn it ….! there are still places that I haven’t been ,here in my homeland (Srilanka).soo first things first…!!

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Kim June 1, 2014 at 6:22 am

Yes, plenty of places to explore close to home while you save for a bigger adventure. It took me 3-years to save and plan… just stick to it and don’t give up. The good news is you have so much time! I hated hearing that when I was younger but you know what? It’s true.

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Poshner August 1, 2014 at 7:35 am

Thank you so much for this article. I recently made the decision that I want to take a leap of faith and go for it! I’m going to save, plan, and jump. Thank you for the advice!

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Kim August 2, 2014 at 8:21 am

Wonderful! You are about to have a wild and fabulous ride!

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Jeff Bronson August 26, 2014 at 11:08 am

Thanks for sharing your financials on this. At 39, I’m gearing up to leave a fantastic job in 2015 to live nomadically a while. Supporting myself with freelance consulting and a good chuck of savings (around 30k). It’s so easy to make excuses, and plan things to death….there is always a reason NOT to go.

It’s easy to cling to security, however nothing is secure. Our lives can be ended at any moment in time as well. I do really believe once you get out there, opportunities present themselves which were previous unknown.

I plan to hit SE Asia for 5 or 6 months, then drive to festivals in the U.S., doing project based work as need. Wether it be camping in the forest, AirBnb, friend’s houses, etc…. time to make it happen.

Keep it up!!

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Kim August 26, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Hi Jeff, congrats to you for planning and getting ready to hit the road. I, too, believe that once we get out there opportunities present themselves. That has definitely been the case for me but there’s no way I could have planned it. Have an amazing journey, I know you will!

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Lana October 24, 2014 at 11:01 am

Great blog and this post, thank you. You said you do not pay for lodging. where do you stay while on the road?

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Kim October 27, 2014 at 6:29 am

Did I say that?!?! I do pay for lodging while on the road unless I happen to stay with friends. Even camping costs money!! But we use Airbnb or rent apartments when we’ll be staying someplace longer. It’s cheaper that way.

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An Ismanto November 17, 2014 at 1:55 am

I read your posts in random order for the past two days. That’s how I came to this 2013 post. This post is special to me as it reveals that actually I could be a full time traveler too. But I still have to find that “another job.” 🙂 (Moreover I live in a third-world country). I can accept that now I’m only able to “travel virtually,” but I hope to make my journey physical soon. Cheers, Kim. Looking forward to your other posts.

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Laura January 15, 2015 at 1:06 am

This is an excellent, honest, inspiring post!! We pretty much did the same – saved before we went, spent less when we were there, started earning money. We totally have the same as you too – good and bad months and the good months aren’t great, it can be a bit scary sometimes ‘just’ getting by, but really it’s the best thing ever isn’t it!!!

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Kim January 16, 2015 at 7:07 am

Yes, even the scariness of not earning much money is worth the freedom to see the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Shawn February 27, 2015 at 4:32 pm

We are about to start our travels.
Currently my wife and I have a day job but for about 2 years I searched and tried several online methods to make money. I had a goal of how much we needed to live off of per month especially visiting and staying for extended visits in 3rd world countries and we only needed about 1500 to live comfortably. With that goal in mind I searched on how to make that much per month. I finally found it! We tested it out for a year and it works. This coming month we start our travels. We just sold the house and are on our way. It is not as hard as people think. Step 1 is don’t go into major debt (I include school debt). College debt is a bad thing and there is other things you could spend that 50k-100K you are going to spend paying back. Step 2 Learn to live simple. Simplify your life. Wants vs needs. Step 3 research how to make money online. Some of it is common sense. Step 4 just do it.

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Patricia December 27, 2015 at 3:54 am

Hi,

Great post!! I have just taken my children (7 and 8) out of school. We are selling our house, buying two smaller properties so we have three to rent out then taking them travelling around the world!! People think we’re mad but I don’t care! Life is too short! I finish my degree in English Literature in June and also hope to make some money through writing.

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