How to Travel the World for Months (Or Years)

Many people believe a two-week vacation is all they can manage. But it's possible to hit the road for two months or even two years -- even with a small amount in the bank --according to a panel of chronic world travelers in San Francisco.
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In the U.S., many people believe a two-week vacation is all they can manage. But it's possible to hit the road for two months or even two years -- even with only a small amount in the bank -- according to a panel of chronic world travelers in San Francisco.

The discussion "Long-Term and Sabbatical Travel" was organized last week by up-and-coming travel website Gogobot. Panelists traded advice on how lengthy world travel does not have to be a distant pipe dream, and how longer trips allow for more flexibility and serendipity. The following were some of their illuminating take home (or on vacation) points.

Take a cue from the young and travel frugally. Nearly anywhere you travel, you will see early 20-somethings following their wanderlust whims. Likely, they make less money than you do, but are traveling for longer.

"You look at the way people out of college travel, and see that's how you can travel," said Francis Tapon, who spent over three years exploring all 25 countries in Eastern Europe to write The Hidden Europe. He kept costs down in part by Couchsurfing, stealth camping, and often cooking his own meals rather than eating out.

Be cautious with how you spend your money, both in saving up for travel and when actually embarking on the journey, said Tara Russell, the founder and president of Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting. "We can easily spend $1,200 at Starbucks without even realizing it," she said, pointing out how daily fixes inadvertently add up after a few years.

The majority of what people spend on travel is transport, said Russell, so longer trips -- especially with minimal air travel -- lower the costs.

Be resourceful on the road. Use your skills while traveling, said Alex Leviton, editorial director of the Menlo Park-based Gogobot. That means cutting hair at hostels or, perhaps more fittingly for Silicon Valley dwellers, bringing your laptop and programming on the road.

"You have to think outside of the box," said Leviton, who has worked as a belly-dancing waitress on a boat in Turkey and mentored at-risk youth on a gardening project on a Northern Californian Indian reservation.

Kristen Zibell traveled for nearly two years by using her software design experience to find consulting work with Fortune 500 companies. She spent three months in Nepal and India for $6,000, two and a half months in the Middle East and Spain for $7,000 and four months in India, Southeast Asia, Morocco, and Italy for $9,000.

She kept her costs minimal through usually traveling solo sans a tour company, mostly taking land transport, and lining up budget lodging or staying with friends.

She spent a few months working between each trip to save up for the next. "You can create a location independent career," said Zibell, the creator of Take Your Big Trip, a blog that offers practical advice and inspiration for similar long-term journeys.

For those who want a country-specific job, Tapon urged travelers to choose high-paying locales like Norway or Luxembourg for work, and then travel to inexpensive places -- where the cost of living is cheaper -- afterward.

It's possible (and sometimes even ideal) with children. Some parents worry that children pose a barrier to travel. Quite the contrary, stated the panelists.

"Kids open up a world to you. Kids meet friends and you meet their parents," said Leviton, referring to families who spend longer periods abroad. "You have time to bond and relate to them in a way you can't here."

When traveling, children have an experiential classroom where they can more freely follow their curiosities. "It teaches your children something you never get here," said Russell.

Taking time off from a job? Do it strategically. Many of us interact with the same small circle of colleagues on a daily basis. But we should be aiming to meet new people around the company, as it will better the odds of finding work upon return from a trip, said Tapon.

If you do take a sabbatical from a job, rather than transitioning from job to job, your co-workers might not even notice, said Gogobot CEO and co-founder Travis Katz. "Three months of travel will feel like more to you than people back at the office."

Approaching a boss about taking a leave? Frame your plans in a way that directly benefits them, said Russell.

"Say 'I'm really at the point in my life where this sabbatical could help me,'" said Russell. "If you're stratigically important to the company, they're going to want to keep you."

Just make it happen. It's always possible to push back travel, sighting a slew of financial or time excuses.

"You'll never find the time for anything. You have to take it," said Russell.

Naturally, long-term travel can require some personal and professional sacrifices, said Leviton. Still, "To my mind," she said, "the dangers of not traveling are worse than the dangers of traveling."

Interested in attending future Gogobot Travel Salon discussions? They can be found through Gogobot's page.

***An earlier version of this post misquoted Tara Russell as saying "We can easily spend $12,000 at Starbucks without even realizing it." The $12,000 figure has been changed to $1,200. Also, the phrase "where the exchange rate goes further" in reference to Norway and Luxembourg, has been changed to "where the cost of living is cheaper."

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