Maybe you made a New Years travel resolution. Maybe you were flicking through Instagram and decided you should see the alps in person. Here’s how to guarantee that you follow through on your travel resolution. Whether you’re dreaming of a three month tour of SE Asia or working up the courage to get out of your town and live the location independent lifestyle, you’ll need a change agent that sets everything in motion.
To be honest, I’ve never been a New Year’s Resolution kind of person. Expecting self-transformation because of a numeral on the calendar feels unrealistic to me. If you’re really motivated but 2017 sees you with the same work routine, habits, and life structure as you’ve always had — the barriers to change are too high. The travel resolution is not going to happen.
So let’s fix that. It’s kind of a cheat, and I’m a huge fan of cheats when it comes to accomplishing goals.
So: there’s a huge checklist to go through if you want to travel, right? Wrong. A checklist is the best way to talk yourself out of travel. The checklist should come after the commitment’s already made.
If you want to accomplish your travel resolution, buy the ticket.
Sounds irresponsible and terrifying–what about where you’ll stay? If it’s a short trip, what if you use up your vacation before the date? What if you don’t have enough money for accommodations and trip spending? If its a long trip, what about making money on the road? What about safety, and what are you going to take with you? No matter what job you have now, figuring all of this out is no harder than what you do every day to maintain your stationary life — your job, your house, your car, your kids, their school, etc. When I read my college’s mom forum, I feel for those ladies so much. Their lives are so much more complicated than mine. So much more complex. So much harder.
So the cheat is to buy the ticket. The psychology is that if you’re a conscientious, responsible person who does everything you can to keep your life on the rails, then the way to make good on your travel resolution is to buy the ticket, because once you’ve made an irreversible decision and a monetary commitment, you will make it happen. You’ll be freaking out. Worrying about a gazillion things that need to happen to make this trip work. And you’ll take care of them like a man or woman possessed.
It worked for us. And everyone else we’ve met on the road.
In our six years as expats and 17 months as nomads, we’ve met as many different types of travelers as there are people. There’s no such thing as a “traveling” personality or skillset, other than a bit of flexibility. Not even courage is required–except for the split second it takes you to buy that airplane ticket, and that timeframe during which they allow you to cancel it. We’ve met introverted artists, extrovert business moguls, singletons, couples, single parents, and big families.
The only trait they share is that at some point, they clicked a button and bought a ticket. Or an RV. Or a sailboat. Or, they had no idea how or where they wanted to travel but they wrote their resignation letters and quit their jobs, or blocked out two weeks on the calendar and refused to let anyone else fill them.
You don’t need that checklist yet. All you need is the name of a city. All you need to know is a) the cost of tickets to that city, and b) whether it’s a cheap city or an expensive one. You don’t need a minimum of research hours, like logged flight time.
For long term travel resolutions that require a job resignation: assuming you’ve been at a stable job and either have a couple months of savings, or the ability to do a job online (be honest with yourself — in the digital age, most people know deep down that they’re capable of learning to do an online job), all you need to do is make sure you’re not flying into a war zone, and buy the ticket.
One night in 2015, David and I had a yelling/crying fight that wasn’t really about our relationship, but about our untenable lifestyle. David was working at a job that stressed him out, made him unavailable as a husband and father, and didn’t even pay enough to make it worth it (though I’m not sure what amount of money makes up for a miserable life).
At one point, I asked (yelled) “So what you do want? What would make this better for you? This is your job, and it’s not working for either of us.”
He looked up at and said, “I want out. Out of the job, out of the house. Just sell our shit and head to Thailand where we can buy time to figure out a new life.”
To my surprise, I heard myself saying, “Okay.” In that moment I was thinking about what David needed to survive, and what I needed—I certainly wasn’t getting time to write, and I didn’t have a husband or a co-parent. I had a stressbag who got home late without any physical or emotional energy to be present. So what the hell? Who knew if travel would fix anything, but it was worth a shot. We had made our travel resolution.
So David gave his notice. But we didn’t know where we were going to go. The first ticket we bought was a ticket back home to see our families. We didn’t know where we’d go after that, or how we’d make money on the road. Sure, we had ideas, but we hadn’t done much research. The first and only step we completed was that David gave notice. Made that irreversible decision.
Then, we freaked out. What the hell were we thinking? It was too late to go back, and you can imagine, we started on that checklist reaaaal quick.
So you want the checklist, here’s the cheklist. The important thing is the order.
TRAVEL RESOLUTION, STEP 1: BUY THE TICKET
I dare you to go to Skyscanner, type in your home city, set destination to “Everywhere.” Choose a whole month rather than a specific date to get better price options, and find the cheapest foreign destination flight in a low-cost country, and go there. NomadList is a good resource for comparing cities across many factors that matter to long term travelers, such as internet speed, cost, attitudes about women, etc. Or, if your travel resolution is to check off a bucket list city and you know you can be a little flexible with money, buy a ticket for that city.
This is literally how we plan our destinations and border runs. So far, we’ve never met a place we didn’t like. We’ve been to places that we wouldn’t stay in long-term, but we can always move on. And we do. But that’s in the future, which means you don’t need to worry about it right now.
If you want to travel, it means you’re open to new experiences. It should mean you can be laid back and flexible about different climates and local foods. So just make sure it’s a cheap country, and buy the ticket. You will be amazed no matter where you end up going. It should take an hour max to find the flight and click the button. Don’t do anything else before you do that. To help your research go even more quickly, here are a few low cost countries to consider:
- India (we wouldn’t recommend for your very first destination abroad, just because India topped the culture shock list for both of us)
Depending on how far in advance your flight date is, your Step #2 may be different. I’ll give you a few options, but the key is to think in discrete steps. Don’t get overwhelmed and you won’t get cold feet — you can do it.
Now that you bought the ticket, what is the most important thing that ABSOLUTELY NEEDS TO HAPPEN to make this travel resolution happen? No, you don’t get to go on a shopping spree at REI. Or a youtube packlist video binge followed by an Amazon shopping spree for a bunch of things you have no idea whether or not you’ll use. Sorry. That’s the fun part; it’s a reward for doing your share of freaking the eff out.
TRAVEL RESOLUTION, STEP 2: SORT OUT THE MONEY
There’s a good chance that your top travel resolution task involves money. The next two sections are geared toward those who will need to generate a new income stream to fulfill their travel resolution. If your travel resolution is a short trip, you have fewer excuses to fail. Sell off a bunch of stuff you’re not really using. (More on that below). Take overtime if that works for your family. Stop going out for dinner for three months. Make your coffee at home. Get off of thredUp, and Amazon. Your travel resolution is important. Right?
Okay, long term travel resolution folks: how much do you need to start, and how much do you have? You’re going to freak out no matter what, but this should be an educated freak out. Search for travel blogs with posts about the city you’ll be in, and look for their cost of living posts. Numbeo can also help with assessing the costs. There are different spending tiers to choose from on your travel resolution trip: super frugal, fairly frugal, and I-don’t-give-a-shit. This is why you need a blog resource, not just Numbeo. Find these estimates and note them. Check differing prices between hotels, hostels, and Airbnb. Or if you’re really badass and don’t even need this post, assume an Airbnb for one week and leave the rest open. You will always find better deals on the ground.
Now. How can you make the money? Let’s take the hardest scenario. Your travel resolution is a long trip and you have no savings and no online job (as of yet), but you have a car and an apartment full of stuff to sell. Selling these things like hotcakes on Craigslist or your local buy/sell Facebook should give you a cash reserve that provides a runway – time needed to build a business or find online work that will pay the bills in your new location. You’ll learn very quickly which possessions really matter to you, and the rest will provide you this vital runway. Do it. We’ve never missed A SINGLE THING we sold, but if you need more convincing read our post about getting rid of stuff or Thrifty Nomad’s post on purging your belongings.
Note: selling the rest of your stuff may be the only legitimate reason to push out your travel resolution departure date, as selling a lifetime of stuff can take a few months. It took us five for a 3 bed house and a car. But if you buy the ticket first, you will sell as much of that stuff as it is humanly possible to sell. Because it would really suck to cancel that ticket, and you’re not accustomed to sucking.
TRAVEL RESOLUTION, STEP 3: MORE MONEY
You may consider an online job training course in the evenings before you take off, but time is not on your side. Instead, I recommend focusing on what you already do well. Do you have a passion for reading? Sign up for an account on UpWork and offer editing services. Are you artistic? Consider picking up logo design work on 99 Designs. Are you organized and service oriented? Here’s a list of services you could offer as a Virtual Assistant. Are you a techie entrepreneur? Build a software as a service business that helps other business owners integrate popular software solutions. i.e. Shopify. These are all options you could find on your own, and the ones you find as you’re doing your own research will be much better.
After David quit his job, he built our website with zero development experience. He used free wordpress templates and did a ton of research on HTML/CSS. We both had online retail experience, so that’s where we started thinking about making income.
An important note! Making $7-8 an hour in Mexico or Thailand provides a vastly better lifestyle in Mexico or Thailand than it would in the US or most European countries. You can live on that rate. Trust me. And if you’ve done your Numbeo research, you know exactly how you’ll live.
As you hone your new skill set and build your client base, you can be more selective on who you serve – whether that’s higher paying clients or more manageable ones.
If you fall into the super frugal demographic, you may consider trading work for room and board using sites like WWOOF, or offer to housesit or even couch surf. You may discover that there aren’t a lot of WOOF or housesit options in your destination. There should be couchsurfing options for free lodging almost any place you’re going, and there are tons of homestay programs you can find through online searches, and you will find what you need. You have to!
TRAVEL RESOLUTION, STEP 4: TAKE A BREATH
Take a moment, don’t hyperventilate. Stop when you’ve figured out about 70% of what you think you need to figure out financially. The more you research, the more options you uncover. I promise that money will not be your obstacle to fulfilling your travel resolution. Buying the ticket was your biggest obstacle and congratulations, you already bought it! You WILL get some money together, or a solid plan for the first month of travel. You will not die of starvation in the streets. Just get online, research, and work feverishly toward that deadline—your flight, the last day of your job, the end of your lease, etc.
When you need a break from the hard, HAVE-TO-DO stuff, allow yourself to do some of the fun stuff. Read about the country you’ll be visiting. Start planning what to pack. Also, tell as many people as you can about your travel resolution. Not because you expect them to understand and congratulate you. Hopefully many will, but some people (who don’t travel and don’t understand the desire) may try to talk you out of it. The only reason to tell people about your plans is the fear of looking like a failure if you don’t follow through. That guarantees that you will follow through. Also, you may find someone willing to temporarily or permanently adopt your pet, plants, furniture, etc.
TRAVEL RESOLUTION, STEP 5: WHERE TO STAY?
Depending on your budget, now that you know what that is, figure out where you’ll live for the first week or two. Again, don’t hyperventilate. You WILL be able to find a new option if you need to once you’re on the ground. Do not overplan. Overplanning is the travel resolution’s enemy. We don’t know any long term travelers who plan too far in advance. They may have a vague notion of where they’ll be in six months, but usually they plan for the next month and that’s it.
Why? If you plan too much, you miss opportunities. You’ll thank yourself later for the flexibility you afforded yourself. You may be staying in a hostel and meet an awesome group of travel buddies who have a spot in their hippy van as they trek across the continent. You may find an awesome apartment building down the road that your noodle stand guy or taxi knows about, which isn’t advertised online but has incredibly cheap local rates. We’ve talked to so many people who found their lodgings by talking to their taxi drivers! We found our own house in Guanajuato, Mexico because a woman thought David was wearing a Notre Dame hat, and stopped to talk to us. Turns out she needed tenants for her beautiful house. Serendipity exists. Believe it.
Also, you can’t know how much you’ll like a place until you’re living in it, and it sucks to end up stuck in a place you hate. Trust me, we’ve been there. Have faith that you can find a new place on the fly (tens of thousands of travelers are doing this all the time), and give yourself some flexibility.
- Join local expat facebook and rental groups for your destination city.
- Check Airbnb (usually more expensive for the long term, but generally good for your first week while you search out listings locally. Can also be good for short stays)
- Check couchsurfing.com
- Check your social network to see if you know anybody who knows anybody who knows anybody who lives in this city, or has been to it and can offer housing advice.
- Be friendly with everyone you meet on the road. Remember. Serendipity.
TRAVEL RESOLUTION, STEP 6: LOOSE ENDS
Congratulations, you’ve done the most important stuff! You might have narrowly avoided a heart attack, but you did it. You were more ruthless, resourceful, and brave than you ever imagined you could be. You bought that ticket. Major mic drop. You are so badass your awesomeness is making me cry.
You bought the ticket. You have some kind of a crazy idea about how you’ll pay for it, and you are swallowing your understandable fear but trusting in your innate adaptability. You have lodging for a little while. You’ve broken your lease/quit your job/sublet your apartment. Your travel resolution is all but fulfilled.
Now you can scramble to find parents and friends willing to keep a few boxes of belongings for you. You can cancel any recurring expenses you won’t need on the road. (Keep your Netflix!) You can binge on those packlist videos, but again, don’t expect to be a different person. If you don’t use/wear something now, don’t expect to start using it on your trip. These habit changes usually happen after you’ve personally experienced travel. For now, make your best guess. Bring stuff you feel good wearing RIGHT NOW, except for high heels. Avoid the fear of under-packing. Your natural instinct will be to overpack, so see what you can do in a single backpack, and then you might end up with two. Or one big trekking bag. You do NOT need a huge suitcase, or even a massive 80 liter REI bag. After a year of travel, we wonder exactly what people put in those things. All you really need are about five or six outfits. You’ll always be able to buy more on the ground, usually for less than in your home country.
Research local transportation. Learn a few phrases of the language. Look up local scams. All the fun stuff that you’ve intelligently saved for last because the truth is, if you don’t have time for this stuff, you’ll make time when you’re there, when you know exactly what you need.
Now get on the flight and enjoy. Vomit a few times! Get nervous and excited! Say your teary goodbyes, and take your Before pictures. You don’t have time to look back now, and by the time you do have time, you’ll already be a different person. Not because of a New Years Resolution, but simply because you bought the ticket.