Skyline NYC

How To Avoid Being Broke & Lost Once You Stop Traveling

Derek Perspectives 46 Comments

Skyline NYC
You want to travel, you save up some money, you buy your flight and off you go. And then, chances are, it all works out even better than you planned and you end up on the road for maybe a year or two years or even longer.

Once your initial funds were depleted, you simply found work overseas in order to save up some more money. You taught English in Asia, you picked fruit in Australia and you worked in a bar or hostel in a couple of locations in Europe.

You explored two dozen countries, you checked off many of the places on your personal ‘must-visit’ list, you met new friends all over the world and you never have even a single moment of regret about taking off on such a long-term travel adventure.

And then, one fine morning, perhaps while walking around lost in Tokyo, feeling ill in Guatemala or moments after losing your camera in Kiev, you suddenly decide that it’s time for your trip to come to an end. Standing there on that street corner, lying there in your hostel bed, waiting for your camera to magically reappear, all you can think about is getting on an airplane and going home.

It happens. And it happens to just about every long-term traveler at some point. Few people end up traveling for the rest of their lives as there will most likely come a time when travel no longer excites you as it once did. And while you will still enjoy your experiences overseas, you’re ready for a new direction, a more stable direction, a life that doesn’t involve sleeping in hostel dorm rooms, taking 20-hour bus journeys or having to live out of a backpack.

In fact, I know that a lot of people think about this scenario before they even start their adventures and I know that many people decide not to follow through with their travel dreams simply because they are afraid that when it all comes to an end they will return home lost, broke and without any options.

What If I Decide To Stop Traveling?

Readers often ask me about what will happen if/when I decide to stop traveling. They want to know what I would do if I found myself in the USA trying to return to a more traditional lifestyle. I always give the same answer, which is this:

“Right now, as I travel the world, I make sure that I am also creating something that will be useful to me even if I stop traveling one day. I am working hard to gain additional skills and knowledge and to ensure that my current streams of income are not reliant on my travels. This way, if I do return home at some point, my income won’t suddenly disappear and I’ll still be able to either find a job or create my own.”

And there’s no reason why every traveler can’t do the same.

Learn As Many Skills as You Can

Whenever you do work overseas (whether paid or volunteer), your aim should be to try and gain as many new skills as you can, skills that will help you land even more positions, both while traveling and back at home. So while it’s perfectly okay to fund your travels by working for six months, say in a cafe or a bar somewhere abroad, then spending that money on travel, then working again somewhere else and repeating this pattern over and over again, just make sure that you are benefiting from such work as much as possible.

For example, I have a friend who taught English in Thailand and during his free time he would give free conversational classes to Burmese refugees, something that allowed him to learn all about the struggles and needs of such people. Then, when my friend returned to the US after a couple of years, he was hired by an organization that helps refugees integrate into their new American community and he landed this job all because of his experience in Thailand.

Another friend of mine spent six months in India volunteering at an Ayurvedic health clinic where she also gained the skills necessary to become an Ayurvedic consultant. After receiving her certification she continued to travel around the world for another six months before returning home to France where she started offering Ayurvedic consultations, something that immediately gave her a job and an income despite having been away for over one year.

Surfing in Sayulita

All it takes is determining what your true interests really are and then dedicating yourself to learning as much as possible. You could study massage or yoga, you could get your scuba diving certification and work as an instructor, you could gain solid experience teaching (or learning) languages, guiding tours or bartending, you could learn an instrument or polish your writing skills by creating content for local magazines and newsletters in the countries you visit or you could learn about business, health, construction, wildlife care and more by volunteering with organizations around the world.

You get the idea…learn, learn and learn some more as you travel and the more specific your focus, the better off you’ll be if/when your travels come to an end.

Create a Reliable Income

Another option is to try and create a source of income for yourself, one that, just as I’m trying to achieve, won’t disappear if you stop traveling. This does take a great deal of effort but if you don’t mind some hard work, there’s nothing stopping you from creating a website, blog or some other online project that will achieve this income goal. Having even $200 of monthly income (you don’t need to think on a grand scale at all) will certainly make a huge difference when you find yourself back at home and in need of some time to figure out how to re-join the real world.

If you can create such a business/project, you might even be able to expand upon it once your travels are over (and turn it into a full time job!) as you’ll have some extra free time to sit down and really concentrate on your ideas.

Save Some Money & Don’t Worry

Whatever you choose to do in order to ensure the transition to life after traveling is a smooth one, I do recommend saving some of the money you earn while on the road, no matter where you are in the world. As I mentioned in my earlier post about long-term travelers saving up for retirement, even if you put away a few dollars per week, you’ll create an emergency fund that can be quite useful, one that will provide a small cushion in the event that you do decide to go home at some point. And if you don’t decide to go home, well, there’s nothing wrong with having some savings that you can use whenever you might unexpectedly need more money later on in life.

But again, there is a high probability that a time will come when you will want to return home and end your travels, a time when you’ve had enough of the lifestyle and need a break, perhaps a very long break. However, that fact, and as terrifying as it might be to imagine yourself back at home, lost, broke and without any options, shouldn’t stop you from setting out into the world in the first place.

All it takes is some focus during your travels and an effort to learn new, specific skills or to gain some unique knowledge or to create a source of income that you can not only take with you all over the world, but that you can also take home and build upon, in order to ensure that your post-travel transition will be as seamless as possible.


Does it all make sense or do you still worry about what will happen when your travels come to an end?

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Comments 46

  1. Natalie T.

    I travelled and I had no money and no job when I returned. It was difficult, but it was a good lesson as well. In times of uncertainty, an emergency fund will definitely come in handy.

    1. Earl

      Hey Coco – I also believe that if you stay positive, good things will happen and so, despite the fear of returning home, focus on the new adventures ahead and you’ll have things sorted out in no time at all!

  2. Ayngelina

    While I saved money for travel I also saved a resettlement fund for when I returned. It made things a little less stressful knowing I had a few months covered to figure out what I wanted to do.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ayngelina – Even having enough put aside to help us survive a few months back home after our travels will make a difference, as you said. It does take some time to readjust to life back home and to sort life out again, and the last thing that anyone wants is to have no money to their time during that period of time.

  3. Kan

    Hey Earl. Some great points! I think the richest things in life are knowledge and skills because once you’ve attained it, there’s really no one who can really take it away from you. It’s your most valuable possession! I was also hoping to discuss with you (via email or whatever’s convenient) in learning about how you got started with growing your blog and how that snowballed into other projects! 🙂

  4. Victor Druce

    Hi there Earl,

    It was really an inspiring and I am motivated to read this blog 🙂

    I decided to leave my own country to South America next year, who knows I might end up working as an English teacher or waiter or even as a hostel helper.

    All I want to do is to gain more knowledge 🙂
    Keep travel the world Earl 🙂

    Victor

    1. Earl

      Hey Victor – Always nice to see your comments and your trip to South America next year sounds ideal! I guess after your last trip there’s nothing stopping you now 🙂

  5. RunAwayHippie

    Hey Earl, nice post, that’s one of my main concerns going into traveling. I go back and forth if I should go to university before hand, or go straight traveling. I want to leave asap! but I feel as though getting a degree first may be a smarter option. I mean who wants to go traveling and then com back when their older just to go to university then. I know that when I go traveling I’ll want and need to work on the road to pay for my travels….ahh its all so confusing—but i think this post did help me focus more, and pin point what my priorities are..thanks a lot Earl! 🙂

  6. Britany Robinson

    This is definitely something I’ve thought about as I prepare for long-term travel in December. I’m not afraid of it happening, I just hope it doesn’t happen faster than I plan. I think it helps to keep in mind that the lessons learned while travelling will stay with you once you stop, in both your professional and personal life. There’s nothing wrong with coming back a little broke and a little lost if you work hard to bounce back!

  7. Jay Hart

    Another possibility is to leverage your worldly (call them geographic and intercultural) learnings, apply to university or grad school on the road, and use your backpacking experience to pivot to a more traditional professional path – if, of course, that’s where you feel yourself headed.

    Several things make this more compatible than it might first appear: exotic travels make travelers stand out from other applicants, months/years of travel create great potential for an admissions essay, standardized tests are offered all over the world, and many programs have start and end dates and allow breaks for intermittent travel. For US citizens, student loan availability means even without savings you could land on your feet at school (though I admit you’re on your own after graduation), and you can even get US federal loans for universities outside the country. Plus, you don’t have to decide to go until the right minute. If you think this is something you’d like to do, you can apply a year ahead of time and once you’re in, you at least have an exit option with a when, where, etc. Going to school overseas is long-term travel of a different sort, if you want to think about it that way. Foreign schools have shorter application timelines, too. You could probably begin school in Australia three 2-3 after you start on the application (without standardized tests in most cases).

    We all know a life of travel isn’t for everybody, and this isn’t the exit for the lucky ones of us who come to love it, but after several years backpacking around I found a grad program and later an employer that appreciated my travels and have eased myself mostly out of one world and mostly into another. I’ll get to travel with my new job and there’s always vacation, but I have no delusions, of course – it’s not the same as being on the road indefinitely. If that’s what you want, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no substitute.

    Thanks for your blog, Earl. Your hair as of late has been especially glorious.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jay – Those are great ideas as well and I agree about studying overseas as a way to ‘travel’ and learn at the same time. It’s an excellent option for sure!

      And I must report that I just cut off a couple of inches of my hair, so that afro has been tamed somewhat for the time being 🙂

  8. Lesley Peterson

    Great post, Earl. I’ve heard too many people wonder about what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives when it would be far less agonizing to consider a 2 to 5-year plan. Evolution in character, health, season of life, financial situation – one needs to be flexible and able to identify when it would serve you better to change your routine. I especially like your recommendation to learn by volunteering.

  9. mathilde

    One of the greatest question/worry of long-term travelers ! I really liked the fact that you shared your friends experiences, it’s reassuring to read about people who found their path while traveling. A really good post on a vast subject !

  10. Carol Perehudoff

    The worst culture shock happens when you STOP travelling. After a few years in Asia, I tried to move back to my hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and couldn’t do it, so I went around the world. I tried to move home again. Still couldn’t do it, so I went around the world again. (Fortunately as an English teacher/bit part actor in Korea I’d been highly overpaid – on the teaching side at least.) Eventually I moved to Toronto and took up travel writing. The pay sucks but it’s the best balance for me between travelling and being grounded. Writing wasn’t a skill I learned on the road, but the travelling itself gave me plenty of material to write about when I was trying to break into print.

  11. Elle of Solo Female Nomad

    I am one of those people that still has a passion for travel, even after traveling for twenty years. I feel that it is in my blood and do not see myself ever stopping. Maybe ten or twenty years later, I may feel differently.
    I do think its good though to have a balance. ie, breaking up travels with short periods at home. Maybe financing your travels with temporary work positions whilst at home.

  12. Jeff @ planetbell

    I have one foot in the real work, one foot on the road.

    I found a perfect balance for myself eight years ago when I started working seasonal jobs. I spend my summers in Alaska and the winters either traveling or working someplace different (depending on money saved, interests at the time). Right now I work 8-month contracts, have health insurance, 401k, money in IRAs and I am also in Pushkar, India on a 10-week trip. So even though I have to go back to work in freezing cold Anchorage in Febuary I can stock up on travel books from the libray and dream about my next trip later that September.

    1. Maya

      That is really great. I would like to do a similar thing. How did you find seasonal work or short contract like that with health benefits? Also, now that you have done it for a while what are your reflections on this lifestyle?

  13. Addison S. @ Visa Hunter

    I have been living the nomadic life for a number of years now and sometimes it just seems easier to continue rather than return home and settle down again. Fortunately, I now speak four languages so have various work options available. This is excellent advice and I am sure it will give hope to those still undecided about long term travel.

  14. Andrew

    Couldn’t agree more Earl. We aren’t leaving until March and so aren’t thinking about our return yet (too much) but I cannot imagine travelling anywhere and not learning something new and/or picking up useful skills that can be helpful later in life. As a teacher I believe the best way to learn is to go out and try things. That is what I’m looking forward to.

  15. kathy

    Great article. Returning to “real life” has always been my greatest struggle, I would go through a depression at the thought of trying to find work and settle down and get a real life… but would always end up on the road again a few years later. Now I have just decided to screw it and go with the flow. I love travel and I love who I am when I travel. So I am back on the road and loving it. My blog continues (www.trailingtrekker.wordpress.com) and I am working on my scuba divemaster and working on some travel writing gigs. Some day I hope to settle down, but as you said, till then I am traveling and learning all the skills I can.

  16. Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5

    We are going on a year of travel and have been working to create something to maintain an income and give us the freedom to design our own jobs when we get back.

    You said it best, use your travel as an education and continually learn on the road. It’s the best education you could ask for – real life experiences to pull from!

  17. Andy

    It’s a very good idea to learn new skills abroad while travelling the world. Besides, constant travel – this hopping from place to pace, checking in, checking out, looking for food and lodging in strange environments – well, it does tire you out. So there’s nothing better than settling down in a place for some time to relax and pick up a new skill.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andy – Definitely…it does get tiring after a while and learning something new is the perfect excuse for throwing down your bags and staying in one place for an extended period of time.

  18. Rebecca

    This question has nothing to do with the post, but how tall are you? It’s just in that picture of you surfing you look really tall..just curious 😀

  19. Stephanie

    I was thinking about that and you made an article… Well, thanks!
    I do not worry about what will happen to me at the end of my travels, but the others do and they are more stressed out than me which is making me nervous. Right now, I am just thinking: “You’re going to live your dreams, so just do it.” I will see in a few years what happens, where I am, etc. Surprise!
    I am not on the road yet. Trip begins in 2 weeks, but I already know that I am going to learn a lot of things. I can not wait.
    Thanks again for inspiring me. (love this photo of the guy on the surfboard)

  20. Bama

    As much as I want to do long-term travel, it is always a daunting thought of what would I do after it is over. How would I start things all over again, etc. So, I thank you for this piece of advice. I do realize some people do things they did when they traveled to earn some money after they have returned home. But it never really hits me that I can actually do the same. Learn new skills and use them when I return.

    1. Earl

      Hey Bama – Just keep in mind that if you do travel long-term, you are going to end up learning things that you have no idea about right now. You will have new skills and more knowledge and with that, you will be able to decide how to proceed once you do come back home. It’s hard to think about it now because you don’t know what you will learn out there in the world…you just may discover something that you decide you really want to focus on in life and just like that you know what kind of job is best for you!

  21. Bassel

    I just retreated your post, also me and my wife was just chatting about a subject not far from this one. Anyhow, it seems right to save for your retirement and/or when you quit traveling.

    We did approach this differently and hope it will work for us when we decide to slow things down and stay in one place longer.

    Anyway, great post 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Bradford – I can work on putting together a more in depth post about the topic but you may want to read this one first: If You’re Socially Awkward Nomad Clap Your Hands

      But in general, I only visit home for about 2 weeks at a time so it’s not so difficult to adjust to. But I can imagine that if I did decide to move back to the US permanently, it would be a different story and I would struggle quite a bit with the re-adjustment. This is probably one reason that keeps me on the road year after year!

  22. Passport Dave

    Every post I read just inspires me more and more. If I could afford a plane ticket, I would set off this weekend. Looks like it will have to wait about six months though. Longest wait of my life. Will be wonderful when I can join up in the lifestyle of a long-term traveler. Another great article, keep up the good work.

  23. Scott Mallon

    Although I still travel, most of the thrill is gone. This happens and now I carefully pick and choose. I may leave for a few months but I have a home, a family, and I no longer have the desire to travel on the cheap or sleep on someone’s sofa. There are still plenty of places I want to go and I’ll have fun, but there’s nothing like going out on the road for the first time and wondering what lays ahead.

  24. Erin Walton

    What sometimes gets me is – and I know it’s freaking out a little bit too much here – is the idea of retirement. Of course, I guess this means steadily putting money away while travelling to prepare for “off” times as well as for the looooooooooong term future when you’re old and wrinkley. Also, of course, as the cost of living is minimal in some places, there’s nothing to say that you HAVE to retire in Australia, the US, the UK or somewhere where your basic costs can get extreme.

    I just want to make sure I’m fulfilled and challenged by the work I’d do long term. At a certain point, bar work etc won’t cut it – so your suggestions there are great. Particularly setting up projects/business ideas based on what you learned during your travels.

    Thanks for another great read too, ps!

    1. Earl

      Thanks for reading Erin and I think that that every long-term traveler reaches a point eventually where they realize that they need to make a bigger progression and they want to start earning a little more money. Luckily, there are ways to achieve this, especially ways that offer more fulfillment than bar, cafe, hostel work, etc. And as for retirement, I know that Mexico and much of Central America is very popular for Americans to retire in…it makes sense, live a great life for 1/3 the price!

  25. The Queer Nomad

    I feel like most people worry just too much… if you are really determined to travel long term, something will crystallise. I haven’t really met anyone, apart from teenager backpackers who travel between high school and uni, who didn’t gain any skills or made other progress/came up with a way to earn money when they travelled for a longer period of time. It’s all about taking the first step – there will always be doubts.

    1. Earl

      @The Queer Nomad – I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone either who truly wanted to travel long-term and was not able to figure out a way to make it happen. That fact alone should be enough motivation for those interested in travel but who are still worried about the feasibility of it all.

  26. emma@greenglobaltravel

    This is a really helpful and encouraging post! I try not to think about when I get back home too much because the way I see it, that’s a few years off and so much can happen between now and then that I can’t exactly plan it precisely. I definitely agree with picking up skills along the way,though, and I did a teaching English course for that very reason. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Larry

    Earl, planning for the future is something that many people, not just travelers, seem to neglect. I’ll save more money someday or when I get my next raise, I’ll put some of it away, seems to be the norm here in the U.S. So many seem blind to the fact that they may someday get sick, or hurt, or end up in some other poor situation.

    Your advice of an emergency fund is good. Everyone should also build an investment fund, using stocks, real estate, or a small business, to generate some of the income that they will need when they are tired of travelling, or working.

  28. Tyrhone

    Well put, I am only a 7 or 8 months in, but am always looking for new ways to earn a bit of “safety net” cash. I have set up a web design blog and try and maintain contact with clients back home just in case they have something in the future.
    I also tried my hand at learning the guitar, but it quickly became apparent the only way I could make money off that, was by annoying people enough that they would pay me to shut the hell up 🙂

    Wise words, good post.

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