Make travel your main hustle. Drain your spirit — not your wallet. It’s never been easier to travel like a peasant.
I am 23, fresh out of college, and have been traveling abroad for two years.
I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not jet-setting on daddy’s dollar.
My income source is as unremarkable as anyone’s. Instead of asking how I make money, it would be more productive to ask how I spend it.
After all, my transformation into a perpetual traveler grew out of a realization that the best experiences life has to offer are already available for free.
But you’ll need to hustle…
1) Vacationers beware.
First, abandon the old vacation paradigm. My advice is not applicable or necessary for people who want to escape to a specific place at a specific time and then return home within a short period. My advice is for people who are seeking adventure, experience, and insight. You expect your trip to be exciting and engaging, and you are ready to be challenged. You’ll need your brain for this one, so don’t go on auto-pilot.
2) Free Yourself Up.
To begin, you need a big block of time because low-cost travel is time-intensive. Some people take gap years. Others go on temporary leave. Some just say “f*ck it” and quit their jobs. Whatever your case is, you need to slip away from your settled life for a month or a year or a decade. This is tricky for many people, so consider your priorities. Most people will not travel as much they would like to because they are afraid to prioritize travel over career, but those who really want this experience do find a way.
3) Flying is not okay.
Air travel is a problem for a couple of reasons, and I recommend you avoid it whenever possible.
Traveling by land amplifies the adventure, cuts the costs, and leads you to many places you never would have otherwise discovered.
Let’s say you want to travel from London to Beijing, for example. If you are like most sane people, you would just book a flight from London to Beijing.
Personally, I opted for the land route, and I saw much more of the world because of it. Whereas the airlifted traveler is jolted from one country to the other without any sense of the lands separating them, I enjoyed watching cultures and landscapes gradually unfold, blend, and evolve as I progressed along the route.
At a fraction of the cost of flying direct, I visited eighteen more countries en route than the direct traveler. Would it not be incredible to learn you could multiply your travel experiences by a factor of eighteen at no extra expense? Then why drop hundreds of dollars to forgo the beautiful journey that would otherwise await you on land? Well, only because time is scarce, and we have not allocated enough of it to travel.
3) Crowdsource your Trip.
By default, when you are traveling, you are ignorant and vulnerable. Most travelers cope with this by booking tours, hiring guides, staying at hostels, taking flights, and using other forms of tourist infrastructure that pile on unnecessary expenses. This is called being lazy, and it will prevent you from having authentic local experiences.
Let me illustrate a different approach…
A few days ago I decided I want to travel to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. I don’t know much about Sulawesi, but I posted a public trip on Couchsurfing to let locals know I will be visiting their island. Within a day, my inbox was flooded with dozens of messages from Sulawesians inviting me to join their families for home-cooked meals and to sleep under their roofs, offering to bring me to the most pristine mountains, beaches, and waterfalls — all free of charge, of course.
Even if I decline these offers, I will receive many more in person when I actually arrive in Sulawesi. If I stand along the roadside, motorists will slow down to offer me a ride. If I ride with them, some will ask me to join them for a meal or even offer me a place to sleep.
But, wait, what do these people want from me? Will they ask for money afterwards? Will they make inappropriate advances?
Such suspicions are typical for a society with so little social trust, but none of these scenarios reflect my experience. In actuality, couchsurfing and even hitchhiking has shielded me from the predatory behavior of locals who exploit tourists. If i am not where scammers and thieves expect to find me (tourist districts, hostels, bus stations, etc.), then I am not likely to be targeted.
Understand that community-based tourism is about getting adopted by locals. I was somebody’s son in Taiwan and Armenia. I was someone’s brother in Albania and Vietnam. When you are traveling with few resources, your relationships are what will make the difference between a beautiful journey and a disaster.
3. Choose your destination wisely.
Every time you decide on a destination, you are sacrificing other opportunities, and sometimes this sacrifice is too big to rationalize.
If you had to choose between these three options, would you prefer to spend one day in Australia, three days in Portugal, or a week in Southeast Asia? They all cost roughly the same, so before you plan your week-long trip to Oz, ask yourself whether you would enjoy it more than visiting ten countries in Southeast Asia.
Likewise, before stopping over in Norway for a few days, confirm that is worth more to you than visiting all of Eastern Europe. Wealthy travelers need not consider opportunity cost, but if you’re reading this, that’s probably not you. Long trips to cheap destinations are the way to go if you want to see a lot of the world with very little money.
4. Travel & Career can be friends.
Long-term travel may not be compatible with most careers, but it’s certainly more fulfilling than most careers.
Even so, you don’t actually have to choose between the two. In the digital age, talented people can make a living almost anywhere. Digital nomad colonies have cropped up from Bali to Rio as global talent untethers itself from traditional workspaces and dares to choose where and how to live and work.
Tetae, a 26-year-old Thai graphic designer, accesses his projects from Europe while Yuri, a Slovakian marketing maverick, Skypes his European clients from Thailand. Marco, a web designer from Manila, changes his home base every month while Arif, an Indonesian entrepreneur, operates his online company remotely from his new home in Istanbul.
Don’t have marketable skills? None of these people did either until they taught themselves using the internet. Don’t even have the willpower to try? If you made it this far in the article, you probably know enough English to fill one of the plentiful, high-paying teaching positions awaiting under-qualified English speakers almost anywhere in the world.
More than just a guide to low-cost travel, the approach I describe is an exercise in openness. I ask you to open your schedule to the spontaneous, to open your mind to the unknown, and to open your heart to the kindness of strangers. You need only find the courage.