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?


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.


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.


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!


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