Long term travel is something we’ve discussed more than once. We did not make the decision to travel and work on a whim. When we finally got serious, we talked about why long term travel and what we wanted to achieve by doing it. Ultimately, we decided to do it, but we are starting in the shallow end. As much as we would love to just throw caution to the wind, it just isn’t possible right now.
If you want to travel long term and can’t give in to wanderlust immediately because you aren’t ready, here are some tips to help you get road ready and make good use of the time before you leave.
The Two-Year Plan
Our goal is to leave two years from this month. This gives us the time we need to do this (what we believe) to be the right way and travel successfully. The last thing we want is to have to come home because we ran out of money.
Why two years?
We want long term, slow travel to be our life. We believe that taking two short years to build the foundation for that is a small price to pay. Freedom and flexibility are the end goals.
There are three things we need to accomplish in this time:
- Pay off debt
- Build savings for at least the first two years of travel
- Build freelance income to replace income from our current jobs
As much as we would love to embrace spontaneity and hit the road, the reality is we want to be able to sustain a life on the road.
Pay Off Debt
First, we aren’t financially ready. Although we are not drowning in debt, we do have some things that we can’t just tidy up in a few months. We don’t want to deal with monthly payments that cut into our travel money as we wander around the world.
Like too many Americans, we have student loan debt. Thankfully, it isn’t too high and we should be able to pay off both loans within the next two years. However, the monthly payment would take up too much of the projected income we expect when we first leave.
We also have car payments. I know that experienced digital nomads say sell the cars to save that much more, but that is not a reality for us. We live in a town with limited mass transit options. In addition, I work 45 miles from home. Yes, the commute is a bear but the salary is worth it. We’ll see some return on the investment when we sell the cars.
These are the only debts we have, so that simplifies paying them off. In addition, since we will have cleared these at least six months prior to leaving, those combined payments can go right into the savings account.
Long term travel doesn’t have to be expensive, but it isn’t free.
Our goal is to have two years of travel funds in savings before we leave. We will also have an emergency return fund to cover us if we need or want to return to the US permanently.
First, we are making basic budget changes. Our spending has never been out of control, but there were obvious areas where we could cut back. Most of those changes were easy and as a result we’ve seen the results of this add up quickly.
In contrast to that, we’ve given ourselves a spending allowance. It may sound contrary to cutting spending, but it really isn’t. We don’t want to go on a money diet, only to binge because we feel like we can’t do anything. We are still spending a lot less and we are more aware of how we spend. Most of this allowance covers day trips or weekend travel so we don’t feel like we are missing out on travel.
We’ve also increased our income. Some of that increase has come from taking on freelance work. After we’ve put money aside for taxes, all our freelance income goes toward debt reduction. Once those debts are gone, that money becomes savings.
In short, more in and less out.
Shifting Gears to Work that Travels
This is probably the most important part of our plan. We are essentially building our own business. There are many ways to earn money while you travel and those are certainly an option. Since we want to be able to control our time, we decided freelance work was the best choice for us.
We are both lucky enough to work in fields that can transition to a nomadic lifestyle with the with the investment of a little time. Neither of us started out at our current career level. We spent years working hard, getting more education, and proving our abilities to employers along the way.
Few people are fortunate enough to move into self-employment with clients and jobs lined up. It takes time to build contacts and reputation. Because we need to reduce debt and save, we are using this time to start working for ourselves. We are starting small and building relationships. Our freelance work fits around our full time jobs.
We treat our freelance work and this blog as a business. Even though we work in very different fields, we work as a team in planning. There weekly meetings with a prepared agenda. Work is completed on a schedule. We track expenses and income. Our belief is that hard work and careful planning will allow us to pursue our goals.
Planning for Long Term Travel Success
This post is the first article in what will be an ongoing series until we depart on our big misadventure. We hope that by sharing our successes and failures it will help you in your future planning.
Up next: Building an Income That Travels
Already on the road living the digital nomad life? Did you just start vagabonding or did you do some foundation work before you started your long term travel? Please share with us in the comments below!