Last year, after a decade of dreaming about traveling the world, I took a year-long leave of absence from work and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.
I left Canada on February 27th, 2018, bound for Australia, the start of the first leg of my trip.
However, my adventure started long before I ever got on that plane.
My goal of traveling long-term started in high school, long before Eat, Pray, Love came out. I knew it was something I'd do eventually, but didn't have a timeline and didn't take any action towards it because it never seemed like the right time. I even wanted to eventually find a way to combine my two great passions — travel and marketing.
It wasn't until 2017 that I had a moment of clarity while in Montenegro.
I found myself at the top of the Kotor fortress at sunrise, having a coffee and watching the bay glimmer in the golden light of the morning. I was surrounded by 13 amazing people from 7 countries, whom I felt I'd known for years, but in reality met 3 days earlier.
I remember feeling empowered, present, joyful, and the most myself I had felt in years.
I was effortlessly happy.
And that's the moment everything changed.
I came to a simple conclusion: if I am the happiest and the best version of myself when I travel, then why am I doing anything else? And a seed was planted (or better said, a tree….!)
That was the day I decided I can no longer put off my plan to take a year off. I had to follow my dream. I put it off for 10 years, and it was still something that “I didn't grow out of.”
So, if not now, when?
I soon found out that the idea of long term travel is as exciting and exhilirating as it is overwhelming. It took me 10 months to plan and prepare for it after that day in Kotor.
During this time, and since then, one of the questions I get the most is: “Where do I even start?“.
I was surprised to find out that so many people I met have thought about leaving their job to travel and just not sure where to start.
Whether you're in a full-time job, freelancing, in school or found yourself with time to travel, I hope this guide helps to give you a roadmap and demystify the process.
These are the exact steps I took to start traveling long term and the advice I have for everyone who wants to embark on such an adventure.
1. Figure Out What You Want To Do — Have An Ultimate Goal
It sounds easier than it is, but it all starts with a big hairy audacious goal.
Maybe you want to travel around the world for a year, or maybe only for a few months. Perhaps you want to move to another country for a while or move from country to country. Or maybe you've had a goal in mind for years as I did, and just need to act on it.
Whatever it is you want to do, crystallize it. Make sure it's clear, focused and has a timeline (more on this below).
More importantly, it should excite the hell out of you every time you think about it and make you feel like it sets your soul on fire. Otherwise, what's the point?
It should also feel a little scary. Or very scary. And that's ok. If it doesn't give you butterflies, you don't care enough about it and you won't be motivated to do what it takes to make it happen.
Make a list of all the places you want to travel with — this will help you enormously when it comes to figuring out a budget and timeline.
2. Scenario Planning, Researching & Strategizing
If you have a goal that scares you, you might hear the little voice inside your head give you the 1,001 reasons why it's the worst idea in the world.
Acknowledge it, and then ignore it.
The best way to do so is to do a thorough inventory of all your options. You have to test the plausibility of your goal. Leave no stone unturned.
Everyone's situation is different so this is really a customized exercise. Go through your various scenarios and see what's plausible.
Here's some food for thought:
Do you have a full-time job you'd have to quit? If so, what needs to happen in order for you to leave your job? How long would you have to give notice? Would quitting affect any projects you're currently working on?
Can you take a personal leave of absence? If so, what's the policy? What are the risks? Would your job be safe when you returned after a year? What if you only went for 30 days or 3 months? Can you keep your benefits for the duration of the leave? Do your research.
While companies (especially in North America or Australia) are increasingly starting to allow employees to take a leave, it's usually not something that's advertised.
I was lucky enough to be working for a company that looked favorably on personal leaves of absence for up to a year. However, while I would remain an employee during my leave, I wasn't guaranteed a job upon my return. It was a big risk, but I knew that if I returned, I was hireable and employable enough that it wouldn't be hard for me to find another job, within the same organization or somewhere else.
Start thinking about your financial situation and how it would change during your travels.
There's more on budgeting below, but start thinking about how much money you'd need in order to travel for your desired amount of time.
Do you have savings to get you started?
Do you have any debts you need to pay off before you go? If you can't pay them off entirely, is there a minimum you need to pay each month while on the road? How will you manage that?
How will you manage your bills while on the road?
Do you need to work while you travel? Do you have any skills or interests that be done remotely?
Are you married or in a relationship? Can your partner join you for part or all your travels?
Do you have pets? If so, will they travel with you or can someone take care of them until you return?
Do you own your place? Are you comfortable renting it out while you're gone? If not, this can easily become a budget-buster.
If you're renting, when is the lease up?
Can you put all your things in storage?
Can you sell anything? Or, everything? What's the plan for the big items (ie. car, furniture, etc).
Will you be traveling with a carry-on, backpack, or suitcase?
Worst Case Scenario
Find your worst-case scenario and come up with a solution for it. Or a few solutions.
What's the one thing that can stop your long-term travel right in its tracks? What could happen that would have you come back home early?
This step is very important and will help you out a lot later on.
My worst-case scenario was running out of money after my first leg. I knew I should've spent longer than 10 months saving money to last me a whole year, but I am not what people would call, patient. I saved $11.5K, but I was also starting with Australia, one of the most expensive countries for short-term solo travel.
My plan B was to adjust my ambitious travel plans and spend more time in Eastern Europe during the summer, where my dollar would go further. Plan C was to start freelancing on the road. Plan D was to slow down travel and get a local job. And on, and on.
At the same time, I started accumulating credit card points that I can use to redeem free flights if I ever needed to.
I had a whole list of plans, which helped me sleep at night because I knew that no matter what happened, I had it covered.
You get the point. Have contingencies, they come in handy if only to manage your mental health.
3. Budgeting & Managing Risk
Budgeting can be difficult and requires a certain degree of planning.
First things first, decide what kind of trip you want to take. Is it round-the-world? Backpacking? Digital nomad-ing?
What part of the world are you starting with?
Personally, I found a return flight to Australia for half-price and decided to make that my first leg. It had been on my list for 15 years, and it made sense. I had the time of my life, but I also had to front-load my budget. In retrospect, I should've started with South America, Asia or Eastern Europe, and saved Australia for later, but such is life.
How Much Will You Need?
How much would you expect to spend per day, including accommodation, transportation, food & entertainment?
Depending on the type of traveler you are, this amount will vary greatly. I've seen people travel for a year for less than $5,000, and I've seen others do it for more than $30,000.
It all depends on your personal travel style and where you go.
Where will you stay? Hostels? Hotels? AirBnb? This adds up quickly and is one of the biggest expenses on the road.
How will you travel between cities and countries? This is another cost that ends up being quite considerable.
The first step to saving money for travel, in my opinion, is doing a review of what you are already spending on.
Make a list of each one of your expenses. Then, review it carefully. What can you live without? What can be reduced all together?
The first thing I did when I had my list was scrutinized every expense. My biggest one was paying rent, so I moved home. I sold my car and got rid of gas expenses and insurance. I started taking public transportation.
I called my phone company and nagged them until I got a better deal on my phone plan. I got rid of anything that wasn't an essential part of my leave.
I came up with a tight budget of $300 every two weeks for all my expenses and moved that money into a separate account at every paycheck. Once that money was gone, I went without until the next paycheque. It taught me how to be more conscious of my spending. The hard way.
4. Set a Timeline
How long do you need to make it all happen before you can go?
Set a timeline you can't change when the little voice in your head freaks out. Without a timeline, there's no action plan.
Having a date to work towards will empower you, motivate you, and generally light a fire under your ass.
It's not real until you have a date. And a plane ticket.
5. Action, Action, Action
Get to work on making it happen!