As summer draws near, many of us are starting to plan holiday destinations.
For some intrepid voyagers, though, travel isn’t limited to two weeks a year or even a season. It’s a full-time occupation. However, unless you’re a trust fund baby, turning that dream into a reality involves a lot of saving and planning and that’s before you even hit the road. For this month’s column, I tapped Jeremy Jones, author of The Long-Term Traveler’s Guide (available in print or e-book at Amazon and iTunes) to share some lessons learned from traveling to nearly 70 countries, many of them on two long term travel trips he did in the past six years.
Saving up for a big trip is daunting to many. What’s helped you to do that?
My favorite thing to do is put any leftover money from an ATM withdrawal in a secret jar, and then re-deposit it in my account after a period of time. I found that I’d take USD20 out to pay for a USD5 item, and end up spending the other USD15 on stupid things like snacks or soda at my day job. By stashing that money I think we saved over USD1,000 in two years.
You talk about three types of travelers: Rigid Structure (entire trip is planned out), Open-Ended (general itinerary, flexible dates) and Always a Mystery (never knowing what’s next). Which are you and which is more advantageous for long-term travel?
We’re a mix between Rigid Structure and Open-Ended depending on when our itinerary calls for it. Our travel style is all about not needlessly wasting money, so if a destination calls for booking tickets in advance (such as Europe in the summer) we’ll do that. Otherwise we’ve been known to have our general route but not plan but more than one city ahead just to give us freedom to see whatever we want for as long as we want.
Are you an advocate of the round-the- world (RTW) ticket or buying segments as you go?
I’ve never purchased a RTW ticket and only think they’re worthwhile for very select itineraries where a pre-made route has a special sale price or if you are starting from a major hub. Otherwise I’ve found buying as you go always saves the most money if you are willing to put the effort into route planning. Even if it did save me money, on a very long trip I’m not sure I’d commit myself to such rigidity!
I favor more planning, especially hotels. I’m picky about where I sleep. Do you always have your first night of accommodations booked for any given city or do you find one on the fly?
I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve rolled up into a city without accommodation, and I really hate doing it unless I absolutely have to. Wasting time to walk around and find a place to stay, while carrying our heavy bags, is not worth it to save a few bucks, in my mind.
One of the joys of long-term travel is the ability to stay in one place longer. Which places have you fallen in love with?
We’ve had some pretty great cities take us by surprise where we ended up staying longer than we had anticipated. One of which was Sucre, Bolivia, because it is a quaint little town with lots to do and what is possibly my favorite market in the whole world. We were staying at a nicer B&B on a hill overlooking the city, and couldn’t pry ourselves away so we doubled our stay. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had a tour to Machu Picchu booked already a few weeks later, we would still be there now!
Thanks to your book, I now know that a 429ml bottle of shampoo should last me 107 days and a 6 oz tube of toothpaste should last 86 days. Did you really keep track of all that?
[Laughs] Oh yes, I did! It kind of happened by accident when I started making a mental note of when I went to go buy toiletries.
I realized I hated doing it so much that I decided to keep track of when I did it and ultimately wrote about it in a blog post. Don’t worry, though, I don’t track them anymore!
So you have a penchant for tracking things… How closely do you monitor your budget while traveling?
I’ve always tracked my spending on every day of my travels to relay the information to our readers. It is a habit that came about from my previous training as an engineer. I’ll log just about everything from accommodation, transportation, food, sightseeing, to souvenir purchases, and miscellaneous spending. I’d like to think that I’m a very good judge of spending, and most of the time my surprises come from conscious decisions to splurge rather than not planning properly! But if I do have to pick one part of the world that surprised me, it would be how affordable some of the Eastern European countries (like Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Macedonia) were!
Spending so many days on the road, aren’t travel ruts inevitable?
Yeah, my worst one was when I was in China on my first RTW trip. I spent about four weeks traveling around the country and was very burnt out from the pollution and bad food (sorry, China!). By the end of it I just spent a lot of time at McDonald’s, in movie theaters and sleeping to break away from the fact that I was in China and recharge my batteries. After that, and leaving the country, I was good to go for more travel!
Speaking of McDonald’s, I think we’ve all had that moment where we cave instead of eating local.
You know, we love going to McDonald’s when we travel to get that taste of home we sometimes miss. We’ve had some pretty crazy things like the Petite McBaguette in France, GreekMac in Greece, Spicy McPaneer in India, and a whole lot more. I love the local variations because the flavors remind me of home, but are 100% local creations.
I like your idea of collecting a similar souvenir from each country you visit. What’s your personal travel obsession?
I still collect shot glasses like I mentioned in my book. Now that I’m up to 66 countries my collection is getting pretty amazing although I have to re-purchase a few that have broken over the years. Angie [my wife] has also jumped on board with this and collects trinkets that can be used as ornaments, so between these two we have a lot of fun when it comes to seeking out items to buy!
Long-term travel is fun, but there comes a time when you have to come home. Don’t employers look down on long employment gaps especially if perceived to be frivolous travel?
No, never! The first time I came back from my long-term trip, my interviewers spent more time asking me about all of the awesome places I went to than about my skills for the job (and I did end up getting the job). Although I didn’t have a problem, I do think it is important to foster new skills while traveling that you can put on your resume which helps overcome the gap in work. In my case I always put information about the languages I learned more of and work I do for our website, livingthedreamrtw.com, in my resume to show that I’ve been learning new skills even though I wasn’t working in a traditional job.
What would be your advice to people who dream of traveling RTW, but think it’s not realistic?
If you have the dream, you’ve got to do it. The fact that it isn’t realistic to most is a great reason to make sure you actually get out there and do it! If you’re serious, let the dream consume you such that it is all you can think about, and use that energy to figure out how to make it happen financially, logistically, or for any other aspect you may be struggling with. Committing to do it is the hardest part, and once you do you’ll figure out ways to make it happen!