Success Stories: Two San Diegans Conquer Their Fears and Go Around the World

katie n traveling Greetings from Africa! Somewhere right now, I’m trying to snap a photo of a lion without being eaten. In the meantime, this week I want to share stories of readers who used my tips and advice to realize their travel dreams. If you’ve been thinking about traveling for a while, let these reader stories inspire you and show you that the advice here can work for anyone!

Continuing my new series on travel success stories, today we’re going to meet Katie and Steve Nauman, a 30-year-old couple from San Diego. Katie and Steve spent a year saving up for their 11 month trip before they quit their jobs and headed out into the world for the majority of 2012.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself.
Katie and Steve: We are two 30-year-olds from San Diego, California. Katie had some overseas travel experience prior to our trip, and Steve essentially had none, but we really wanted to get out into the world before we have kids, so this past January we quit our corporate jobs, rented out our condo, and took off for a year around the world.

What kind of trip were you planning on doing?
We were planning an eleven month around the world. We left on February 1st, 2012 and have been to South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. We plan to return home just in time for Christmas.

Did you have any fears when you decided to do this trip?
Yes! We typically make conservative decisions, but we took a massive leap of faith when we pulled the trigger on this trip. We read articles on your site that gave us general reassurance, and it also helped to hear encouragement from friends and family who know us personally.

We have an entire blog post about how our feelings changed as we got closer to our travel date.

the naumans in macchu picchu traveling

How did this site help you overcome those fears and plan your trip?
Your insights and advice helped us during our planning phase as we dove into what RTW meant and how to do it. We spent at least 6 months researching everything from weather patterns and itineraries to budgets and how to pack our backpacks. There is so much that goes into planning a trip like this – insurance, visas, flights, immunizations, and on and on. It can be massively overwhelming when you’re already nervous about the whole undertaking. Your articles gave us solace that it’s possible.

There have been other ways you’ve helped, too. From your $50/day book, we used the coupons to save money on multi-destination flights with Airtreks. And we chose our scuba diving certification shop in Koh Tao, Thailand (Master Divers) based on a discount in the same book. The dive shop told us we were the only people who have ever redeemed the coupon! We also purchased a Tiger Airways domestic flight in Australia based on one of the travel deal links in your newsletter.

How did you save for your trip?
Each month we put a portion of our paychecks into a travel fund, so that we had enough for our trip and also for a cushion when we get back. We rented out our condo, which helped us break even on our mortgage. And, money that used to go towards expenses like car insurance are now used for bus, train, and plane tickets.

When we announced our trip to our friends, we were really surprised that nearly everyone’s first reaction had something to do with money. But, it’s not as expensive to travel as everyone thinks. We read a lot of blogs about traveling on a budget and did our research to find the right airline tickets, tour operators, hostels and discount cards to make everything possible. It takes more work, but it does pay off.

steve n travelingWhat about life on the road has surprised you the most?
We have been surprised at how much we identify with the word “traveler”. There is a funny but clear designation between “traveling” and “vacationing”. Before this trip we had never distinguished between the two, but now we are absolutely certain that we are traveling. Vacationers get to stay in nice places and spend money on trendy dinners and bottles of wine. Travelers nit-pick every expense… and many times end up with the more genuine experience. No doubt, it is harder to travel than it is to vacation. But we also think the challenges make it more rewarding.

How do you stay on budget when you travel?
We travel as cheap as possible. We stay in hostels – usually dorms unless we’re in a country where private rooms are just as affordable. We do a lot of research on our activities to make sure that our dollar is going as far as possible. We take public transportation. Traveling closer to the street is better anyway because you get more interaction with locals and have a more genuine experience.

We also use the Cash Trails app to log every penny we spend. We tag our entries by country and by type (lodging, food, nightlife, activities, transportation, etc.) so that we can keep good track of our budget.

What one thing that you thought would be a challenge has turned out not to be?
Traveling through countries where we don’t speak the language hasn’t been as impossible as we initially worried about. Sure, it can be challenging at times when the language is very different (i.e. character based), but for the most part we haven’t found this to be too big of a stumbling block. People are generally patient when communicating. Hand motions and a smile go a long way.

naumans at the salt flats

What advice would you have for other people who want to travel but might not think they can?
We were those people. We talked about a trip like this for years and wondered if we could ever do it. But if you only ever wonder, you’ll never do.

When we broke the news of our trip to our family, friends and co-workers, the response was always the same, “I wish I had done that”. We didn’t want to look back in twenty years and say to ourselves those dreaded words, “We wish we had done that”.

The hardest part will be making the initial commitment. We know it’s the hardest part because hardly anyone does it. At first you will commit to it in your own mind. But then you will be forced to commit to it in a more tangible way – be it a deposit or plane ticket. Once you pull that trigger, there’s no turning back and you have no choice but to go all-in. It’s the most exciting gift you’ll ever give yourself.


What I loved about Katie and Steve’s story is that it echoes many concerns I hear from potential travelers. The Naumans didn’t have a lot of travel experience and weren’t really risk takers but took the leap anyway and were amazed at how easy everything turned out to be. A lot of people have this fear – I did! But you realize once you start traveling that the hardest part isn’t the travel, it is getting the courage to go. I hope this article helped give you some of that courage.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here are more examples of people who gave up living a typical life to explore the world:

We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:

We all want to travel more.

  1. Wonderful words, Katie and Steve. I definitely agree that taking the initial leap and making the commitment can be daunting, but it seems like it’s definitely been worth taking that chance for you all! Enjoy your travels!

  2. What an awesome story! Almost anyone can do it if they put there mind to it and I think your story is important because you were those ‘normal’ people. I am sure the people who returned are very different from the people who left though! The world teaches us a lot.

  3. Fellow former San Diegan here! We actually left San Diego as well to go on our trip! I feel like especially there, people are concerned so much with buying material items to keep up with the Joneses, that when you say you are saving for travel it kind of goes in one ear and out the other.

  4. Gina

    Well done Katie & Steve! I relate to the initial concern your friends/ family had about the cost of the trip. Most people don’t realize that travel need not be expensive. My mom informed me that my 5 non-traveling/ non-passport holding siblings thought I was wealthy in order to travel as often as I have — they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s all about priorities, among other things I drive a 12-year old car and the money I save on car payments goes into the travel fund.

  5. Alyssa

    This part really hit home to me: “When we broke the news of our trip to our family, friends and co-workers, the response was always the same, “I wish I had done that”. We didn’t want to look back in twenty years and say to ourselves those dreaded words, “We wish we had done that”.”

  6. Galia

    Great story!! So many people want to do what you are doing and never do,
    It’s harder to travel once you have children so good for you guys! That will be the one thing in your life you will remember the most , not the car you own or how many show did u see, , it’s all about life priority, !!!!! Love it !!!!

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