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How Much Money Do You Need To Start A Life Of Travel?

Derek Popular, Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice 305 Comments

Life of Travel - ATM Washington Mutual

A desire to explore the world is hard to ignore, and for many travelers, as soon as that desire became too strong to be ignored, they simply packed up their backpack or suitcase and took off into the unknown. However, along with that strong desire to travel, there is something else that is needed in order to actually make it all happen. The fact is, you’ll barely make it across your home town if you don’t have at least a few dollars, pounds, euros or yen in your bank account.

So, once again, the question is:

How much money do you really need to start a life of travel?

Is it $4000, $10,000, $35,000, $100,000?

THE SECNARIO…

Perhaps some of you are familiar with this…

One random day we find ourselves spending 59 minutes of every single hour daydreaming about wandering to far-away destinations, immersing ourselves in wildly exotic cultures, dining on new and splendid foods and being able to hop from country to country on a whim. We desperately want to be out there traveling and we start to realize that time is running out for us to begin our long-awaited adventure.

Suddenly, unable to contain our desire and excitement any longer, we make a promise to ourselves that this time, we’re really going to go for it. We search for airfares and we quickly find a flight to Costa Rica that leaves next Tuesday. “I’m going to Costa Rica!” we shout around the room for all to hear, as we imagine ourselves hiking through the rainforest with a toucan on our shoulder.

And then we have a glance at our bank account, discover that we only have $682 USD to our name and that’s the end of that. In an instant, we snap out of our daydream and we simply go back to doing whatever it was we were doing before this ‘crazy’ idea of being a world traveler had popped into our head.

MY STORY…

When I boarded my flight to Bangkok back in 1999, with the goal of traveling around SE Asia for 3 months, in terms of money, all I had was $1500 USD to my name. Yes, $1500. Before booking my flight, I had determined that this amount would be sufficient for me to backpack through Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, as long as I traveled on a very tight budget.

Of course, the problem arrived when I quickly discovered (only a few days after landing in Asia) that one 3-month adventure was not going to be enough for me. I now had a new goal, one that involved living a life of constant travel. And I was fully aware that $1500 wasn’t about to get me very far at all.

I’ll admit, during the first month or so of my travels, there were more than a few moments when I questioned my decision to travel with so little money. I kept thinking that I should have spent a year working at home first, in order to have saved more before leaving for this trip.

Had I begun my travels with $20,000 USD in my bank account, I certainly wouldn’t have been so worried at the time. The pressure to start earning money would have simply been non-existent, as I could have easily traveled around the world for two straight years on those initial funds alone!

And while that thought may sound appealing at first, as I sit here today, I’m not quite sure that I would have preferred that path in the end.

Consider this for a moment…

If I began my nomadic lifestyle with $20,000, once those two years of freedom and travel were over, and the money began to dwindle, I probably would’ve found that I had lost a good deal of my work ethic and become quite lazy along the way. If I had lived with an “I don’t have to worry about money right now” mentality for so long, I just can’t imagine I would be too motivated to work hard and do whatever it takes to continue traveling. My guess is that if I was in that situation, I would have returned home, taken any job I could find and then proceeded to put the rest of my travel dreams back in the closet.

However, because I began with only $1500, the situation turned out much differently once I decided to become a permanent nomad.

Out of necessity, I was forced to open my mind wider than I’d ever opened it before, and to open my eyes even wider, in order to seek out any opportunity that could help keep me traveling. I began trying to make as many contacts as possible, talking to other long-term travelers and every local person that I encountered. I asked them endless questions and spent hours thinking about every piece of potentially useful advice that I had heard. I knew there had to be way to extend my travels and giving up was simply not an option.

Finally, while eating a plate of the worst green curry I’ve ever eaten in a small town in Thailand, all of the brainstorming and gathering of information paid off. That’s when a good friend of mine and I came up with the idea of teaching private English language classes (using some unique methods) in the city of Chiang Mai. And this endeavor worked out very well, earning me enough money to continue living overseas and in the end, easily becoming the highlight of my first visit to Asia.

A NEVER-ENDING WAVE OF OPPORTUNITIES…

From that point on, new and rewarding ideas and opportunities continued to appear before me. For example, while living in Chiang Mai, a local friend of mine offered me a chance to spend almost two months as an assistant tour guide, helping to lead groups on 3-day treks into the jungles of Thailand. Shortly after that finished, I met a fellow traveler who introduced me to the idea of working on board cruise ships. Then, while working on board cruise ships, one of the tour operators we were contracted with in the Caribbean asked me to enter into a business partnership. A couple of years later, a great friend of mine who I met while on board ships as well, demanded that I read “The 4-Hour Workweek”, a book that has helped make my current travels possible. While working on creating online income, I then met someone who opened my eyes to the world of blogging, something I knew almost nothing about until the middle of last year.

The list literally goes on and on and even this year, while living in Mexico, opportunities continued to present themselves, some of which have had an incredibly positive effect on both my bank account and the direction of my life.

And while this may all sound like too-goo-to-be-true nonsense, I’m certain that other long-term, and even short-term, travelers out there have very similar stories to share. I would be shocked if they didn’t!

THE CONCLUSION…

My point is this…had I left home way back when with $20,000 instead of $1500 in my bank account, I’m not so sure I would’ve been open to all of these life-changing experiences. As a result, I doubt that I would have achieved my goal of living a life of constant travel. (Ok, it hasn’t been a full life yet, but 11 years seems like a good start!)

On the other hand, I won’t deny that having a little extra money in the beginning doesn’t hurt. Everyone can use a bit of a cushion to fall back on if things get tough. And if a person is not fully ready to begin their travels, then by all means, continue saving some money!

But if you’re already at the point where you’re just itching to get out there and explore the world, you don’t necessarily need to wait around for another year in the hopes of turning $5,000 in savings into $10,000. I’d personally rather have that extra year of travel experiences, which will inevitably lead to the opportunities that will change and improve your life in ways you can’t yet imagine.

If my once shy, confused, young and naïve self can find a way to turn $1500 into a decade of travel, there’s nothing stopping anybody from doing the same. It doesn’t take long to discover that your open mind is far more valuable than an extra few thousand dollars in your bank account!


Do you agree or disagree that a person doesn’t need too much money to start a life of travel?

I’d be interested to hear some of your stories, whether you’ve been traveling for a while or if you’re in the planning stages for an upcoming adventure…

Photo credit: WaMu ATM
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Since 1999 I've been traveling and living around the world nonstop. With this blog, my aim is to give you an honest account of this lifestyle - from the brilliant moments to the major challenges - in order to help you achieve your own travel goals.
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Comments 305

  1. Heather

    Any advice for a family four (Dad, Mom and 2 kids almost 9 years old)? We want to sell our house and take the $90,000 in equity to travel but live as minimally as possible. The goal would be to have that money to get started ($5000 or less) and keep the rest in the bank for emergencies or should we have to return to the US. My husband is skilled in every field imaginable and I have an Elementary Education degree so TEFL is an option. He isn’t afraid of work but I would prefer to stay home or tutor kids….Thanks!

    1. Logan B

      Where do you want to move? If you want to travel and work at the same time and are North American, there is VIPkid that provides about 20 usd per hour for online tutoring.

  2. Chelo

    Thats all well if you are in your 20sand in good health. What do you do if you are 55+ year old woman fed up with everything and in not too strong health with only $5000 in your account? True i have a good few qualifications and a very nice personality but will that be of use?
    Chelo/ Ireland

    1. NomadicTeku

      If you can teach English in a foreign country, your pretty much set, if not jump on TEFL and get the certificate within 10days and start roaming eyy. Age should not be an issue for a soul that wants to simply be free.
      good luck

    2. Logan B

      I agree. I am living in Vietnam right now and there are plenty of persons over the age of 50 working here. In fact, I think the more reputable schools prefer older candidates instead of some inexperienced backpacker with a tefl certificate. And as for Vietnam, there are many Irish persons here. A great expat community in hcmc and hanoi, and there are plenty of opportunities outside of teaching here.

  3. Pingback: How to make your money last longer when you're traveling » GeoFront Capital Group

  4. Nrin

    Hi, I’m a 23 years old and a woman, but I really want to get out the and travel. I have about $2000 to start. Will it be enough? Also, being a girl, I’m kind of scared of being molested or other stuff if I travel on my own. And I really don’t know where to start travelling, how to get around, or what places to go to. I want to see the world (nature’s wonders, etc) and learn and experience other cultures. I’m a culinary graduate and was thinking if I can use that in my travels?

  5. Susan

    Thank you so much for writing this article. You are the only person that I have come into contact with that didn’t have $15,000+ before traveling. I have been stressing myself out about how I would save up enough money to travel and reading posts about have to make money abroad. I honestly don’t have digital nomad skills and one month away isn’t enough.

  6. Garrett Malone

    How long after you left for Asia did you get your teaching job and start making an income?

    I am 18 years old, realizing that sitting in a classroom all day and making that 40 minute morning commute to my university is not the lifestyle I enjoy. My mind is always drifting to the idea of traveling/hiking across countries journaling and photographing my travels. I would like to even videotape my experiences and make some sort of film but as of right I am just focusing on the basics of what I need to do. I have a little bit more money than you did when you started out but I have no idea of where I would stay if I were to travel. I would just like some insight on what you did to travel the world since I am limited to people to talk to ( the places you stayed, how you networked, what you spent/day, places you really enjoyed). Any information and response I can get would be great!

    Thanks,

    Garrett

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Garrett – Thanks so much for the comment and you can find much of the answers you’re looking for over on my Getting Started page: http://www.wanderingearl.com/getting-started

      But to answer your first question, I started teaching a couple of months after I started traveling in Asia. However, I only earned enough to survive in Thailand since I was teaching on my own and not at a language school. One other post you might want to read, along with all of the comments, is this one: http://www.wanderingearl.com/do-you-need-a-university-degree-to-travel-long-term/

    2. Logan

      I left to travel in August. As far as finding a place to stay, it depends on your budget. Hostels generally run about 4 to 8 dollars a night. You can join couchsurfers and have accommodation for nothing. Meals generally run about 1 to 3 dollars (you can spend as much or as little as you want). I have gone from north Thailand to Cambodia to Laos and now to Vietnam. My budget is 20 dollars a day. You could do it on 10 to 15 if you budget really hard or stay in one place for a while. It’s scary to leave but you will meet plenty of people at hostels or via couchsurfing. As far as teaching. At least here in Vietnam you typically need a tesol cert and a degree but I have heard of people just getting by with the cert. Hope this helps.

  7. nikki

    hey, i just read your blog and I’ve wanted to travel ever since i can remember. I’ve been to a decent few places but that’s with my family as i’m only 16 right now. and though you enjoy but you cant really do stuff you really want to as there’s always a cautious parent/sibling by your side! So what i wanted to ask you was how i can save up money and go for a tour after i finish college?
    Moreover I belong to Pakistan so just ‘idle’ travelling, especially for a girl, isn’t encouraged. I don’t know how I’m going to manage and i really need advice from someone who’s actually managed to get away from the everyday routine so please try to reply asap!

  8. Deshun Britton

    Hey I’m back. So I’ve started gaining momentum to the that big dive.when I say started I mean I finally got around 700$ In my name. Is this enough to start or should I keep building the initial funds

  9. David

    Hey,

    I don’t really know what I want to ask on this, but after reading your blog, I can’t help but to just want to get in contact with people like yourself to help talk me into doing something like this.

    I think my problem is that I don’t know what to do with myself – I search the Internet in the hope of finding inspiration, but apon realising that I can’t do what other people can; I feel disheartened.

    I feel like I am letting myself sink too much into the settle down and work lifestyle when my mind wants to do EVERYTHING. Would you say traveling for a few months would be a good way to clear your head and make you think about what you want in life? Or almost fuel obsession of wanting to do everything at once?

    I know this is starting to sound like a counceling session; but I can’t help but feel that the direction in which I’m traveling at the moment is a lonely and boring one.

    1. Deshun Britton

      Hey David. I say go for it. I read this blog almost a year or two ago when I was at a lost on what to do. I knew I wanted to get out and experience the world but with but as a fresh out of highschool kid I made a plan to prepare to leave the saftey of home. Two years later I have settled all affairs at home. I’ve set the date to leave I have my ticket headed to Spain. And I’m scared out of my mind but I know I won’t regret this life path I’ve chosen. I know you won’t either. The next time I post a comment I’ll be somewhere else entirely.

    2. Richard

      Wow, my personal opinion on your situation at the minute is that you absolutely do not want to go travelling. Seriously read through your own message and ask if those of the words of a grounded, confident, assured, focused, practical and competent individual. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but at this moment in time, maybe councilling is exactly what you need. The internet is not the be all and end all. Pick a destination, build a base of information based on that location, get a TESOL or equivalent, get over there and teach to begin with. If you come here asking for people to convince you to go and do ‘everything’ your in trouble and certainly ready for ‘nothing’. Treat your initial travelling venture as a business plan. This will buy you time on the road with which confidence and experience will also grow.

    3. Logan

      I disagree with Richard. I had the same feelings before I left. I was fed up with work and my daily routine. My life was boring. Since I have left I have been happy nearly every day. Of course it takes some confidence to take the leap of faith but you just have to do it! I sold everything I owned, quit my job, and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. The experience a I have had brought a lot of clarity to my life. I am currently in Pleiku, Vietnam. A small city in central Vietnam. The people here are so kind and it makes you realise how happy people with virtually nothing can be. And how they will give you what little they have to welcome you. This is what I say. Save up some money and travel for a few months. I have been traveling for nearly four months on a 5000 dollar budget. I will be be running out of money soon so I will be taking out a cash advance on my credit card to keep it going. Good luck. ps : the longer you do nothing, the longer you stay in a rut. read the book “1000 days of spring” by Perko. A bit extreme but it’s a decent read. It’s motivating if nothing else.

  10. Logan B

    Hello!

    I really enjoyed reading your article! I have saved up a bit more money than you had but I have the same life goals. I have $4,000 dollars and plan to teach English in Vietnam after a month of traveling southeast Asia. I constantly have this itching idea that I should travel as long as possible. How long did you travel before finding a job?

    I will be flying into Bangkok on August 4th and starting my adventure from there. What would you suggest on a timeline? How long would you work before picking up and traveling again?

    Thanks,

    Logan.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Logan – It really depends. Some will say you should use your money to travel first until you figure out where you want to be and what you want to do in terms of work. Some would say to find a job right away in order to boost the bank account so that you won’t have to worry later. For me, I traveled for about 2 months before I started teaching English but that was because I didn’t have much money left.

      And then, I started working on cruise ships, so I would work for a contract which was usually 4-5 months, then I would travel for 2-6 months before returning for another contract.

      1. jake

        Hey Earl! You seem amazing and i know this post is quit late but my question is, where did you find the cruise ship job? I’m planning on leaving here towards after Christmas (since its right around the corner) and working on a ship sounds fun and a great experience

  11. Olivia

    I have $8,000 and no career all i want is to travel full time..so sick of boring day to day life and constantly keeping up with the jones’ considering strapping on a backpack and doing it. Thankyou your story is really inspiring!

  12. Josh

    Hey Earl,

    I totally agree that it’s possible since I did the same but started out in 2008 with just $100 and a plane ticket to Korea for a teaching contract. I’ve been traveling ever since but since 2013 I hit a big roadblock. I had only taught English and had just started teaching/giving photography workshops/tours in Istanbul when I lost my teaching position and all of my funds ran out.

    I ended up, embarassingly, getting bailed out of the country with the help of my parents and returning home for 7 months unable to find any solid work. From the limited work I WAS able to do through photography, I saved up enough money to fly to Central America with the plan to start a blogging business, photo tours, and workshops, plus find some other part/full time work but none of that worked out.
    I’m finding that it’s getting more difficult to earn money than easier since I was always just an English teacher that received a decent wage.
    I’m recently unemployed with $1500 to last me until I finish a house sitting gig for the month of July in Mexico, after which I have absolutely no clue what to do for income.

    Were you in my shoes, what would be your move to get the ‘comfortable’ life of continuous travel on track?

    Were you in my shoes, what would you do?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Josh – In that situation, I think you have two main options. First, you could find another teaching gig somewhere and get back on your feet that way, especially since you already have the experience. Second, you should make a long list of every skill, interest, piece of knowledge that you have, as well as just things you’re good at, and really try to brainstorm how you can turn any of those into a work opportunity. What can you offer someone? Perhaps you offer something that would help someone else. Maybe you could use your photography skills to help a company that needs a photographer? Maybe you could contact local businesses in a particular town or city and offer them unique business English courses for their employees? It’s all about creativity in the end and if you stay focused, something is bound to happen!

  13. Michael Brock

    Hi,

    I’m enjoying reading your blog in preparation of travelling from the UK to New York then making my way by bus to Miami before finally going to Colombia. I’m taking £3500 with me and hoping it lasts.

    I think what you did was impressive, starting on $1500 but did you have a Tefl certificate beforehand? You also seem to have landed on your feet a few times! I suppose you need to be an extrovert to make opportunities..

    This is the first page I read but I’ll keep going through your blog. Thanks for doing it.

    Michael.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Michael – I did not have a TEFL back then, and I still don’t have one now. But yes, being able to meet and talk to people does help but the good news is that when traveling, often times you don’t have a choice but to talk to those around you. There will always be travelers wanting to socialize and in many parts of the world, you’ll be meeting local people quite easily as well, simply by being out and about each day.

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