There seems to be a general belief that anyone who decides to travel extensively or to give up the traditional 9-5 lifestyle in favor of a life that focuses on the achievement of one’s goals, is at least in some small way acting in an irresponsible manner.
After all, such a person is trading the stability and safety of a normal routine in order to head off into the wild unknown where others believe they won’t have access to health insurance, they won’t be able to start a family and they certainly won’t be saving money for their future.
I hear about this last one all the time. In fact, here’s a common question that I am asked: “Isn’t it irresponsible of you to just travel around without saving up for retirement?”
And my answer is simple. “Yes, such a thing is very, very irresponsible. But long-term travelers prepare for retirement. Who said that I’m not saving up for my future?”
I may be living a non-traditional lifestyle but I’m not an anti-society rebel out to prove that I can survive in this world by doing the complete opposite of what everyone living back at home feels is important in life. Living a life of travel does not mean I just run around the world all nilly-willy, earning and spending, earning and spending, living dollar to dollar and not worrying about what might happen, always content in the belief that ‘everything will fall into place’.
I actually have a plan. I save money just like anyone else and I certainly do prepare for the future. I think about ‘retirement’ or a time when I may no longer want to travel and I realize that if that happens, I will need some savings in order to make the transition to a new lifestyle or to live out the rest of my days.
It’s just common sense to me and something that I’ve always taken into account, even when I was earning little money while teaching English in Thailand back in 2000. And anyone who does decide to follow their own unique path in life should keep their future in mind as well.
Even if you put away $20 per month, it makes a huge difference and will prevent you from finding yourself completely stuck at some point in life, left with no money at all and, as a result, fewer options to turn things around.
So, go forth I say, chase after and achieve those goals, live that life that excites you more than any other, but use some general common sense too. Think about your future, at least a little bit. This way you’ll have a useful cushion to fall back on if times get tough or to be used during those later years when work is no longer a priority.
Do you save for the future?
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Do you know any long term travelers who are not professional bloggers, but still able to make enough money to save for retirement? And do you have any idea that you can share of what retirement for a longterm traveler might look like?
Thanks Earl, I’m really enjoying your posts. It’s nice to hear about other nomads. I started traveling full time almost a year ago, after selling my house and eliminating 95% of my belongings. I just sold my vehicle prior to traveling to Europe. I currently have 3 phases planned: 1) Used my cheap triennial e-bay time share to the max. For 6 months I took advantage of $199/week Extra Vacation Getaways thru RCI in the USA. 2) Currently 1.5 months into a 7 month European trip. Mostly renting small studio apartments. 3) When I get back to the USA, buy a used small motorhome to travel full time. Who knows what after that.
I had this planned for quite some time and definitely saved as much as possible. I took an early retirement at age 55. But most people seem to think I’m crazy, so it’s good to hear about other “crazy” people. HA! Travel On!
Hey Annette – Sounds like a plan and well done taking advantage of whatever you can to make your goals a reality. Travel on indeed!
Interesting post Earl. While I don’t think it’s irresponsible for someone to NOT save (it’s your life after all) I do think its irresponsible to advocate leaving 9-5 work for long term travel. I see all these bloggers or travel companies pushing this alternate lifestyle onto others (in many cases self-serving promotional stuff like Bootsnall) without considering it is not feasible for everyone. Save for retirement being a blogger or language teacher? Not everyone can be a Nomadic Matt or Wandering Earl.
I think it’s great that you do what you do and you can both travel and save. But I kind of cringe when it advocates leaving (or even denigrates) the 9-5 lifestyle. And saving $20/month? Come on, that $240/yr. You can’t be serious.
I’ve always loved travel and have managed to have a career and family while travelling 3-4 weeks/year and still saving money. Now, at 47, we will be travelling long-term with some savings and won’t have to sweat every penny. I wouldn’t change anything.
I’m always happy to read your travel stories. But I think that anyone considering leaving the 9-5 lifestyle think long and hard and do some serious financial planning!
Hey Frank – I appreciate the post and I think that if you read through my blog, you’ll find plenty of posts where I support that very idea, that long-term travel isn’t for everyone and that it should be thought about quite seriously before embarking on such a trip. I’ve written about that quite a lot actually. At the same time, if your argument is that it’s not irresponsible for someone not to save, then what’s the difference if they don’t save while working at home or they don’t save while out there traveling?
Also, these days, the fact is that there are more ways to earn money and travel, and yes, save, than there used to be. I am meeting more and more people who are working remotely for companies back in their home countries, more and more people who are making it as web designers and developers, more and more people who are getting the necessary certification to get the best paid English teaching jobs in high-paying countries, more and more people who are putting their education and skills to use in positions that not only allow them to live/travel overseas, but to earn a better living.
As for being a blogger or language teacher, these are steps. These are not careers for the most part. These kind of options help people get started, help them build a presence in their field, something that leads to future opportunities of all sorts, opportunities that can offer a higher flow of income if that person so desires. And if these starting steps allow someone to achieve their travel goals and start saving a little, then why not?
From meeting an infinite number of travelers of all kinds, what I find is that none of them would change anything either, regardless of their age, income or current situation. Their travels provide them with knowledge and skills that can be used to improve their life whenever they decide to stop traveling as opposed to waiting until they are retired to start gaining that knowledge and skills. I know that even if I wasn’t able to save anything right now, I wouldn’t want to give up the valuable education that I’ve gained over all of these years!
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I haven’t necessarily saved for retirement, but through out the year I make sure I have 5-7 thousand dollars saved for summer to cover travel and expenses. I have lived overseas for the past 6 years. Shortly after my third month of working I realized it was very important to prioritize how I spent my money, so I could accomplish my goals. For years I only got paid 10 months a year, and a salary that would be well below the poverty level in the USA. from August to the end of May saving was my top priority. When I would travel throughout the year I made sure it was at a sustainable level, so I would always have a few bucks in the bank. Great Article, I find that people assume since you have moved overseas or travel all the time that you don’t care about the future nor money.
Hey Michael – People do assume that for sure. And it’s good to hear another example of someone who has managed to live overseas for so long without needing a ton of money. More examples like these certainly help convince others that it is indeed possible!
it is SO important to invest. Not only to put aside on a savings account, but to actually invest on something that will appreciate in value over time (i.e. good stocks + have a good financial adviser). So many long-term travelers dismiss this as a way of still being attached to the rat race and the 9-to-5 they wanted to escape… WRONG!
Thus, I am so glad you wrote this post. It is important to let people know that being prepared does not mean that you are still attached to that old lifestyle. No matter how you live, you should always have a contingency plan. Because things never go according to plan, you should always be prepared–just like you said. And this includes being prepared for any financial emergency–now or in our older years.
As always, great post Earl!
– Maria Alexandra
As the daughter of a nomad, I have to say, conventional “needs” like retirement and a “hometown” and “friends from high school” are not necessary to be an incredible human being and to enjoy the one life you have. When people would ask me where my dad is and I would say “I don’t know” they would assume he was a deadbeat or a sore subject I wouldn’t want to talk about. Very much the opposite, he is a great person, full of wonderful stories about amazing people he meets and funny (and hairy) situations he gets himself into. He is in his late 50’s now and still has no permanent home. That’s the problem, permanent. Retirement is not the answer to facing the end of your life, it’s for people who want to watch reruns of tv shows and clip their yard with scissors. The most enjoyable way to live is to quickly observe what everyone else is doing and just as quickly do something else. As soon as you sink your feet into something permanent, like retirement usually is, life will just pass you by. I hope I die on a hike.
I like your take on life Earl, full of questions and not trying to tell others how to live, just sharing your passion and living life the way you find is best. Happy trails!
Hey Heidi – That was a great comment you left and your father sounds like quite an amazing person, the kind of person I’d love to meet during my own travels. And I agree that as soon as our minds are set on something permanent, we tend to lose a bit of our adventurous spirit. So I guess when I refer to ‘retirement’, I’m simply thinking about a time when I don’t want to work as much but when I still want to travel…so hopefully I can save up a little just to make those years of travel a little more comfortable.
And I definitely don’t believe in telling others how to live. Everyone can choose their own path, and as long as they choose something that makes them happy, then I’m happy for them 🙂
Retirement doesn’t always mean watching reruns on TV, Heidi.
Retirement, from a financial point of view, is to be prepared for when we don’t have enough energy to work as much as we do now. It is having a contingency plans for any financial emergency that may arise.
Retirement = having enough funds to live comfortably without having to work at all. This is its essence. The retirement you describe is the one that, unfortunately, most Americans and Westerners live. But it does not have to be that way! 😉
It is great that your dad is living the life is living. But as a retiree, you could also live that life 😉
– Maria Alexandra
Great post! I have been asked a lot about saving money for retirement. I have also begun to save (though little) for the future. I also got “reprimanded” by family for being irresponsible. Being Asian, I am “expected” to take care of my parents. So it’s not an issue to due with but have come to term with respecting their point of view hoping that they will respect mine.
Great piece of advise you got here.
This is a good one! I hear these things all the time, too… and then my friends find out I have more money saved than them and they are even not traveling 🙂
Love this post definitely! There are so many prejudices about travelling people! People don’t know that travelling means responsability, respect, sensiblity, qualities you gain only enetrring in contact with other cultures and persons!
I have to say, I disagree with you, Goody. I’ve only been out of this country once (to Canada), and that was 25 years ago. I’d like to think that I’m a responsible, sensible and respectful person. I think that those of us who have those qualities are more open to other cultures, but I don’t think that you have to travel and have contact with other people to gain them. There are plenty of American tourists around the world who give the rest of us a bad name.
Hey Sara/Goody – I do agree that anyone can have those same qualities, regardless of whether or not they travel.
And like Sara mentioned, just because someone travels, it doesn’t mean they automatically have those qualities either. I’ve unfortunately met quite a lot of closed-minded people who have been traveling this world for quite some time.
No, no, I was responding to Goody.
Oops! I see that now, I’m an idiot 🙂 Sorry about that!
It is precisely the “extra” amounts I need for saving that have kept me from long-term traveling. In addition to the actual cash I need for those travels, I personally feel that I need a big cushion of money for retirement savings while I’m away, money to put my things in storage and/or re-purchase things when I return, health insurance (at least catastrophic coverage), and money for living expenses when I return in case it takes a few months to find a job and settle back into an income stream. Unfortunately, all this adds up to significantly more than the travel itself! I’m diligently putting money away to chase this dream of mine, but I don’t see it happening for 5 years or so; it’s a lot of money!
Hey Becky – I can understand what you’re saying. I think the key is to realize that you can’t do all of those things from the beginning. You certainly don’t need a big cushion to start traveling…health insurance can be around $50 USD per month, you can try to store things with family or friends and it’s not as if you need to save $10,000 for when you return.
The problem is that you don’t want to hold off on traveling because of these worries or else you’ll miss out on all of the opportunities out there in the world that will lead you to places you can’t even imagine right now. While it’s a good idea to prepare for the future, letting that preparation stop you from your goals altogether is not what you want!
Great topic! I’m one of those who took off (relatively late, in my mid-forties) and had no retirement plan… the down side of all that freedom is that I did have to get a job eventually, and now I do have to stay in it until I retire three years from now. Had I thought it through instead of ‘just taking off’ I might have been able to do it differently. So, great question, and important issue.
Hey Leyla – It seems you took a reasonable approach as well and knew that you would have to get a job at some point. But that didn’t stop you from traveling! And in the end, your method is just as good as any other…after all, the goal is to save up and achieve our travel goals, something you’ll have done.
You go get em Earl! Great advice. It’s always good to have a back up plan it’s just sad to see people’s closed view of us. I think they just like to think we have no future to make themselves feel better ;P x
Hey George – It is easy to put others down in order to make one feel better about their own decisions in life. But we certainly shouldn’t let that stop us!
People will sometimes critisize your traveling life-style in a rather negative way because deep down they might be jealous of your freedom of movement and of you not having the same boring routine as they do.
And yes… one should keep on saving and not go until the last drop.. and this applies for retirement and even before that… shouldn’t ever let money run out.
Hey Zara – I also believe we should always have some money on the side no matter what. We just never know when our situation will change and we’ll need some extra cash to get by for a while. Thanks for commenting!
Hey Earl have you ever thought about working for something like the national geographic channel / travel & living channel? I’m just curious, I’m pretty sure they would be at least curious if you presented them a show or something. Not everyone is a permanent nomad.
Hey Jose – It’s been on my mind but I have so many other things going on right now that I just don’t have the time to work on any other projects. But I hope to get to it some point soon!
If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you try to save per month?
Hey Drew – I don’t aim for a consistent monthly amount but I’ll throw some money into my savings account as often as I can, and in fact, I keep most of it there and only have a small percentage of my money available for me to spend.
Yes, I also save money and think about the future. Also, as a long term traveler, there will be times when we can barely spend any money in an entire week, but need to spend $1000 overnight (like on a plane). I’ve begun to think about retirement by putting away money each year into a Roth IRA.
Hey Mark – That’s a great point as consistency is generally not a term associated with the lifestyle of a traveler. We often don’t know how much we’ll earn in any given month and we certainly don’t know how much we’ll need to spend. As a result, it seems quite logical to make sure that we are always financially prepared!
Excellent point. When I sold my car before moving to Australia, I decided to put that money straight into my 401K instead of taking it with me. I definitely would have loved to squander it on more bikinis and pints of cider, but I know that I’ll be super grateful one day that I decided to be responsible with it (and every other tax return I’ve gotten, plus the Australian super I earned while working there).
Hey Christine – A little bit of responsible thinking now sure is the kind of thing our future self will appreciate!
Great point Earl. I’ve been working and traveling for the last 8 years and saved money every year except the year I was in Prague.
Hey Roy – And hopefully that cruise ship job has made it easier to save up!
Great topic! Plans are great, but how often do things go according to plan? I know a guy well, he was retired at 42, now he’s back to work after a divorce…the list goes on.
For Americans it’s cheaper to not have health insurance and just pay for what you need when you’re overseas where it is cheaper (unless you have a corporate job that pays for your insurance, but then you probably don’t travel more than 2-4 weeks a year).
There is also no reason you can’t start a family and travel with or without them.
I think the answer to the question (post) can best be answered with this quote:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
~Henry David Thoreau
@OutsideMyMind – Plans almost never go according to plan…that I agree with! And it’s always better to be prepared for those situations.
Great Thoreau quote as well!
Alternatively, just don’t retire (…but still save!). In my field, there are lots of old geologists who still work and go into the field regularly. Just because you are old, doesn’t mean you have to stop working, especially if you love your job. This applies to traveling too. I think it is better for our mental and physical health to keep working; unless of course you are in a dark cubicle doing work you hate.
Can you ever really picture yourself not wanting to travel anymore? Maybe change your pace or how you travel, but stop all together?
Hey Melissa – I definitely agree with you but sometimes we don’t have a choice. We never know where life will lead and if I’m ever in a situation where I suddenly can’t continue working or traveling, then it’s nice to know I have that cushion. And no, right now, I can’t picture myself not wanting to travel. And I already have altered my travel style over the years. I no longer backpack constantly and instead spend longer periods of time in one region. And I assume my travel style will continue to evolve as time goes on…
This is something I think about since I want to live a nomadic life too.. but it has a simple answer.. just save. If you don’t mind me asking, do you ever plan on retiring from the nomadic life? I’d like to travel forever just taking breaks for a couple of months a year so I don’t wear myself out.
Hey Musa – I don’t really think about it actually. My theory is that if I wake up tomorrow and decide that it’s time to stop living this nomadic life, then I’ll stop. But until that happens, I’ll continue doing what I love most and that is traveling 🙂
I think it is too addicted to stop it 🙂
It’s good that you wrote about this, because the assumption that travelers are irresponsible and immature is sometimes true, but certainly not always.
I also had to comment because you used the phrase “willy-nilly.” I thought nobody said that anymore but me. Let’s bring it back.
Ave: Actually, you’re still the only one that says “willy-nilly”. Didn’t you notice that Earl said: “nilly-willy”?
Hey Ava – Let’s give it a shot, although I have a feeling the use of that term might not spread too far these days 🙂
Ava, sorry I got your name spelled wrong! I guess I just went off “willy-nilly” and didn’t proof-read what I had written before I pressed the post button. Goes ta show ya, those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones! Getting your “mords-wixed” can happen to anyone, me included.
If you mean contemplating tins of dogfood as an affordable source of pensioner-age nourishment and practising making friends with cats then, yes, we’re preparing for retirement.
Slightly more seriously, when we had the choice a few years ago of buying a cheap home abroad or travelling long term in Central America we thought ahead and took the safer option. It did clip our wings for a bit but we’ll always have a roof over our heads, pay no rent or mortgage between trips and can sell up should we need the money.
Aside from this piece of foresight though, we’re probably screwed.
Hey Shane – Even if you’re screwed, at least you’ll be screwed under that roof. I’d say making that decision was a good call. That’s something that I debate all the time as I really would like to know that I always have a roof over my head and somewhere to call home. I haven’t gone ahead with it yet but it’s always on my mind.
It’s a topic that comes up a lot with my community as well…nice to see others covering it. And it’s my primary reason for travel, aside from seeing/experiencing the world.
I went from 2500-3000 a month in bills in Colorado to living for $500-$600 a month in Bulgaria, Colombia and now Mexico. Now, granted, I’m an immersion traveler, not a backpacker; I go for residency visas when I’m on the ground, and I do long-term stays where I’m renting apartments, not going hostel to hostel. And as long as you play your cards right you can easily get your bills down to around $15-20 a day for total expenses.
I had all my debt paid off at 29 years of age, and now I’m 32 and pretty much retired aside from managing the blogs/communities and writing new products. When I was still freelancing it was pretty easy to bring in 2k-3k a month working a mere 3-4 hours a day, so I was able to save up a nice chunk of change over the last couple of years while living in Bulgaria and here. I’m actually property hunting right now for the first rental property I’m going to set up here in the Riviera Maya. Since I won’t ever have a pension, I’m working on other things to cover my eventual pension.
People don’t think about the power of change when it comes to the cost of living. I have had every modern amenity I had back in Colorado in the places I’ve lived over the past 4.5 years…but it costs me a fraction of what it did back in the States. I whole-heartedly believe this lifestyle is the best option for those who want to have financial independence, especially if you are going the route of secondary passports, tax havens and international banks/investments.
Thank you for writing about this topic! This is something that crossed my mind, and that concerns me when thinking about starting an indefinite life on the road. It doesn’t seem like a nomadic lifestyle lends itself particularly well to saving loads of money, but like you said, even if you manage to save $20 a month it could make a difference. I’m curious, what do you plan to do when the time comes that you no longer want to travel?
Hey Hannah – To be honest, I don’t know what I’ll do when that time comes (which is part of the reason I make sure to save money so that I’ll have time to decide). But at the same time, I am starting to work on some projects that do not require me to be a nomad, so that I’ll at least have something to fall back on if that time does come!
It’s ones personal choice what do they do and when. You are living other people’s future dream, now. And even if it means tightening your belt a little later on, what you have seen and what you have experienced, will stay with you forever.
Hey Dorata – Absolutely…and I certainly don’t have any regrets, just as I’m sure your son who is out there traveling around won’t have any regrets either!
Of all the travel blogs and travel related websites I read, this is the first time this topic has been brought up. Earl, you are the most pragmatic traveler on the Web. Combined with your wanderlust, your blog should be bookmarked on every traveler’s must read list!
As I’m just starting the “last” third of my life, I may have a perspective on this topic that isn’t just a plan for the future. By now, “my” plan is almost a done deal. Somewhere along the line you’ve got to quit cutting bait and start fishing. Having a responsible plan is a must or when you get to be my age, you’ll wished you had. The sooner you realize there is no free lunch, the better off you’ll be.
Assuming your not a bank robber or plan to steal someone’s identity, you’ll have to develop some way to make a buck. If you plan to live on Social Security when you get old, it’s only available to those who have paid into the system. That means having a job that deducts a small amount out of every paycheck.
Insurance companies use about 18 years after you retire until you die. Suppose you save up a quarter of a million dollars; that’s maybe about $1,200 per month of income until you die. Are either of those numbers realistic? What will twelve hundred dollars buy thirty or forty years from now, with inflation?
I hope I’ve not turned anybody off by coming across sounding like some rich Conservative who only thinks that money is everything. I’m anything but.
It’s fun to be young and live life to it’s fullest, but it’s another thing to be a hedonist, without regard for your future.
What if you never get to start the “last” third of your life? Then what?
Cal: I took a mid-life retirement between my first and second thirds of my life to travel around the world for almost 4 years. I knew then that I’d want to do it again for my last third. With planning, I’m able to do that and in a couple years, I’ll be back on the trail, roaming the world again. If, for some reason, I drop dead before that last “third”, my two daughters will have a good start to do their own traveling in their last third (or mid-life), without having to contribute so much of their income to their 401k’s during their lifetimes.
And there’s more; If anyone out there is thinking of having kids sometime in their lives, in between trips, I just read today that the new estimate for the cost of raising one child is now $227,000 dollars! (without college) Ouch!
Hey Steve – Well, I must admit that my views have certainly evolved over the years and my younger traveling self probably would have found no importance in saving for my future. I’m quite glad that my view has changed though as this responsible approach definitely seems to make the most sense, especially when you read endless stories about how the recent economic issues have left so many retirees in a terrible position. It is a fact that we’ll need money when that time comes and the earlier we prepare (which we can do while still going out and living a life of travel) the better off we’ll be.
Thanks for sharing your perspective!
I genuinely never expected to make it to 30 – thought the world would be blown up by then super-powers before then.
Since that didn’t happen I now have a different issue. If you don’t stay in one country for the majority of your life then you don’t get retirement benefits in that country. So now I play the game, but I can still arrange to abroad for 6 months less 1 day in each 12 months.
Its worth check out the rules if you are over 30 – and make the appropriate plans.
Hey Lissie – Well, that could still happen any day now 🙂 And checking out the rules does make sense…you certainly don’t want to face an unfortunate surprise later on in life.
I love this post, as I am one of the people that are curious about other long term travelers retirement plans. You are one of the sensible ones. Myself, I have moved around and traveled ALOT. As a result I have a minimal retirement pot. However, travel has taught me how to live minimally, so I will not need alot to live on when I retire. With that said…I will be putting a few pennies aside each month 🙂
@SoloFemaleNomad – That’s the thing, it’s not all about saving hundreds of dollars per month. Even learning how to live minimally plays a huge role. Spending less money is the same thing as saving money!
This is actually something that I’ve wondered about since I started following your blog. I love this blog. Every time I start to get anxious about my future, or about money, I think about you and how you travel-something that I’ve wanted to do for many, many years! I think fear is what makes people critical, and what holds those of us who want to but don’t from doing what you do!
Hey Sara – Hopefully that fear will disappear soon enough and you’ll get out there and start achieving your goals! We all get anxious and we worry about the future, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live the life we want. There are ways to go after those goals and still be responsible 🙂
Thanks for your common sense response to this issue. My life is proof that living below your means consistently over the long term can provide you with a comfortable retirement of your dreams.
Your comment about money giving you options is spot on. Money can’t buy happiness but it sure does increase your comfort level and your ability to get out of a jam.
Keep up the good work!
Hey Cindy – It is a simple truth indeed that we all need money and that it does come in quite handy when we are stuck in life (which is bound to happen at some point to all of us). And you’re a great example that paying attention to how we spend our money can ensure that we are comfortable later on in life.
Great sentiment Earl, people are just looking for a way to put down a lifestyle that is different from their own, or that they are afraid of. Financial responsibility is a part of a person’s system of values. It doesn’t change based on the location they’re in. Even as a college student paying for tuition alone, I make sure to save every dime I possibly can, so I can live out my long-term travel dreams, all the way into retirement.
Hey Patricia – All too true and I think that’s it’s just too easy to label someone who goes against the norm as irresponsible and once that happens, assumptions are always going to be made. Saving money is common sense and no matter what the lifestyle, that is generally something that most people take into account.