Advice on Planning your Trip
First off, I think it's great that you're interested in traveling. Because I have had a few people express their interest in traveling, I thought I would put together some tips I have collected so far. I have specifically made this for my friends and people our ages, so the recomendations in here are most pertitinent to them. But, I have met people who raised their kids, sold their house, and then taken off to travel for years. If just one person travels because of help that I have given them, I will consider this entire blog to be a great success, and I encourage you to reach out to me for whatever. I have prepared what I think are the most helpful things I have learned here.
How much do I need?
My conservative estimate, and I've passed this by a few other travelers as well, is that you could spend about $8,000 each six month period - perhaps $10,000 if you move around a lot and go to more countries. First off, you probably need less money to travel than you think you need. I have been stunned by the prices, and I had researched this before leaving. So long as you don't party much, you can spend a small fraction of what you would be spending in the States. For example, I went to the market this morning for breakfast, and I had a large fruit smootie and a giant fruit salad with mango, coconut, papaya, maracuya, bananas, grapes, pineapple, creme and yoghurt for a grand total of about $2.30.
For more spcific tools, look around for estimates of prices in different areas based on things you want to do. Many guide books have these, but my favorite is the free service called the Backpacker Index: (click here for the link). You can use it to estimate the total amount of money you will spend on stuff during an average day, but remember to plan some money for emergencies, random contingencies, and more expensive days.
Want to hang with Brahmins in India? Buddhists in Nepal? How about eating coconuts on a beach in Indonesia? or avacados the size of your face in Colombia? All of these places will likely cost you less than $18ish dollars a day if you spend wisely - at least this has been my experience and the prediction of the Backpacker Index.
Insanely great options I didn't know about
There are some amazing ways to travel out there that do not include spending any money at all. While harder to access, these can be twice as rewarding, and they have been great for me in what limited ways I have used them.
How would you like to sail around the pacific micronations for months at a time while working on a private yacht? Take a swim in the postings at www.floatplan.com by looking under the section for finding a crew, or post an offer about your willingness to crew. All positions include room and board, and some positions even pay.
Check out www.helpx.net and www.workaway.com for spots on land in a variety of jobs. Jobs usually include all three meals and lodging, and you have to work a max of about six hours, but those are likely to be very educational hours. I know a girl who was on her way to Brazil to build a surf shack and I met another on her way to the Amazon jungle to work on a sustainable farm. There are tons of options.
Another great way to travel is through www.couchsurfing.org. Locals post their free couch to the site and you can sleep there if they let you, although it's usually appropriate to give them a bottle of wine or make them a dinner or do something small.
I also know people who have just asked around for a job. There are probably good ways of finding jobs abroad, but it varies so much for each country. One good place to check is Dave's ESL Cafe, and keep in mind that China, Japan, Jordan, and South Korea are paying ESL teachers a lot of money right now, especially if you have a CELTA or TOEFL certificate and a college degree.
It is really, really easy to spend your money before you leave, but I bet that you have almost everything that you need to travel right now. I would just get a big backpack and take the clothes you normally wear. Maybe you need some more stuff, but don't trick yourself into thinking you need something that you don't.
Depending on your health insurance and where you go, you may have to spend money for vaccines. This could cost you a few hundres dollars, or it could cost you nothing. Plus there aren't that many vaccines you need to get probably.
More countries than you think require Americans to get visas or to pay a $160 fee to enter the country. But I doubt that this is some sort of global disdain for Americans. Much more likely, it's probably a direct response to the fact that the United States charges the citizens of many countries (especially poor ones) $160 to enter the United States for tourism, and these people are often required to go through onerous paperwork gauntlets. For information on where you do and do not need to pay, check the United States Consular Information Page for the most up-to-date info, but can also check the Wikipedia page on US Visa Reuirements for an easy map that indicates if you do or do not need a visa.
For a brief overview, here is a sample budget I made for a trip to South East Asia. I am not going here, but this is a very popular travel destination right now because the area is cheap, interesting, and beautiful.
Trip From Thailand to China through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam over 5 months
Health and vaccines: $0-500 (Yellow fever, TDAP, Rabies, plus some anti-malaria pills for the jungle)
Visas: $255 Thailand, $0, Cambodia, $0, Laos, $35, Vietnam, $70, China $120ish
Equipment: $300-600 (big backpack, a new jacket maybe, Michigan flag, new shoes, toiletry kit, padlock)
One-way flight to Thailand: $800
Per day in Bankok, Thailand: $21.78 for 30 days: 653.4
Per day in Vientiane, Loas: $21.38 for 30 days: 641.4
Per day in Siem Reap, Cambodia: $26.62 for 30 days: 798.6
Per day in Hanoi, Vietnam: 15.88 for 30 days: 476.4
Per day in Beijing, China: $28.97 for 30 days: 869.1
Return flight from China: $800
Intercity transport, random stuff, emergencies: $600
Just as a note, the Backpacker Index has overestimated the amount of money that I need in each city I have been to while using its recomendation, so I consider this to be a quite conservative estimate.
You could easily spend a few hundred dollars just getting your money, but paying for your own money can be avoided. First off, look into a Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Card. The huge plus to this card is that you can make any withdrawal in any currency from any ATM in the world for free. In fact, if the ATM charges you to use the ATM, Schwab will refund you that fee. This accounts comes with a mandatory paired brokerage account, but you can have a balance of zero in either account and you will not incur a fee.
Second, check out any number of credit cards that have no foreign transaction fee and high rewards on traveling. I went with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card just because it was the easiest for me, but there are many others out there that offer comparable services.
Is traveling taking "time off" from a career?
I've heard the comment that traveling is just a fun way to take some time off, and some people feel like their careers cannot be put on hold for a long time. In this section, I am going to make my case for why I think this is not true.
First off, let me acknowledge that you probably know more about your career than I do, but I think there are many positive educational qualities to traveling that some people have not considered.
I can think of some professions where having these skills may not help you, and maybe traveling is not a great career move. For example, people with highly specified skill sets like nurses, lawyers, technicians, (the list goes on) may not gain skills that give them the edge over others, but I encourage you to doubt that. For example, a nurse who works in a latino neighborhood would probably be better at nursing if that person understood more about what it is like to live in Latin America. Likewise for lawyers at lawyering. Or maybe you're interested in international business - how great would it be if you had a personal, first-hand knowledge of how factories in Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh actually work, so that you can create deeper partnerships and more productive working relationships between supplies and retailers?
Of course, there are the things you learn about people that are just facts, and those can be useful and interesting. But, you also develop more complicated emotional abilities, and you learn to diversify the way you think about how to do simple things like go to work and eat food. You challenge the things you think you know, and you become stronger and more confident for that, or you develop new ideas that replace silly old ones.
You learn to fend for yourself and take responsibility for your mistakes and your successes. And as an employer looking at two resumes, who would you rather talk to? The version of a person who retraced Marco Polo's route to Asia over six months or the version that didn't?
Traveling helps you improve in ways that staying in the State may not help you. Especially now, when people rarely stay at a company for longer than five years, movement between jobs can be fluid enough that this"back to school" stint might make a lot of sense for you. This is job training, as well as life training and personal training, but the pill is just very well hidden under a lot of sweet stuff.
Of course, my advice comes with a possible bias. Maybe I'm just justifying all of this to myself, but either way, this is your decision to make, and this is my advice I'm giving. In the span of things, I suspect it does not matter if a career is 32.5 or 33 years long, but the six months that you could travel might make a difference in how you perform over those years.
What you can do now
First off, it's great that you've made it this far. You must have been very committed to get through all of my rambling, so just take that and make a committment to yourself. Identify that this is something you are interested in doing, and begin to ask how you can make it happen.
-Write down travel goals including places to visit, big sites you don't want to miss, and an approximate amount of time to travel.
-Use the tools above to estimate the amount of money you need.
-Prioritize your list in response to costs and personal interests. You cannot see everything you want to see, and you may not be able so see even a large fraction of what you want to see.
-Apply for the travel checking account, and perhaps a credit card.
-Perhaps start doing some couchsurfing near where you are now - that increases your standing in the website and makes it easier to get places in the future, plus it'll be fun.
-Email me for more advice, encouragement, congradulations, or to get a great recipe for hot sauce