The Secret to Long Term Traveling

Backpacker travelingI get a lot of emails asking for my secret. People read my posts about how I manage to travel but still wonder if I am holding something back. What am I leaving out? What, they ask, is my secret to escaping the cubicle and being a nomad? Did I win the lottery? Do I have a trust fund? There must be something that makes me so special.

I’m so sick of these emails that I am finally going to spill the beans. I will probably get kicked out of the secret club of travelers for this, and Rolf Potts and Bill Bryson will probably send their goons after me, but I will let everyone in on our big secret because you deserve to know.

The big secret to traveling long term is….nothing. There is no special secret.

Vagabonds, nomads, and long term travelers are nothing special. We have no super powers or secret Swiss bank accounts. I used to think these types of people were special – unique for what they were doing. They had found the secret to breaking free from the cubicle I was so chained to. I was jealous. I was envious. I was determined to live this romantic life of travel, globetrotting around the world and having amazing adventures that you only read about.

But once I got on the road, I saw that their secret was that there was no secret. Lots of people did this. It wasn’t special. It wasn’t unique. I had left thinking I was going on an exciting adventure few people go on – then I went to Khao San Rd and hung out in Amsterdam during the summer. I met travelers young and old doing exactly the same thing as me and none of them were trust fund babies either. Nope, I wasn’t special. Lots of people did this. Just none of them happened to be my friends from home.

Extended travel is a big deal around the world. The gap year is a rite of passage for many people. It is normal to take a year or two to live and work somewhere else around the world. In some countries, it is actually abnormal not to. The problem is one of those countries is not America, which is why I thought it was something special. However, I quickly found that it didn’t take any fancy footwork or large bank accounts. All these people had that I didn’t have before was the desire to do what they want to do, free of the expectations of society, because they enjoyed it and that was all the reason they needed. They simply said “I want to travel” and then did it and made it work.

Relaxing on a beachThey did what they wanted – a revolutionary idea for me at the time. But after years of travel, I realize that it’s not so revolutionary. If people really want something, people do it. If you want a big screen TV or a DVD, you go buy it. If you really want to eat sushi for dinner, you are going to have sushi for dinner. If you want to travel, you will do that too. It is that simple. Just like you find a way to pay for that TV or your new car, these travelers simply arranged their life so that they could afford to travel. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

People ask me about whether I worry about bills, retirement, and yada, yada, yada. When you travel, all those things disappear. I have no bills now. Just what I spend day to day. I’m a big believer in the idea that we shouldn’t work our life away and that we should take short breaks from it to pursue our passions. Why should I spend my best years in an office, saving money for an age I may not even see or, if I do see, might be too sick to enjoy? Yeah, we long term travelers save a bit for a rainy day, but we don’t worry about the future. We enjoy now. Take care of your present and your future works out. When I stop traveling, I’ll figure out what is next.

So when you ask travelers how they do it, they aren’t lying when they say they did nothing special and that there is no secret. We simply made a conscious decision to do it and, after that, just worked toward our goal, saving money and making plans just like what you would do with any other venture in your life.

And that’s our big travel secret.

  1. Thanks for releasing the “secret” – i.e., that there is no secret! We get the same question over and over again; our friends are certain that we’ve won the lottery somewhere and are just hiding the news from them.

    What I always tell people is that the hardest thing about long term traveling is making the decision to do it and making the decision to break with convention and the lifestyle of your peers and family (forever, or for a while). Once you’re on the road, things fall into place and somehow work out. What you thought was crazy a few months ago seems perfectly normal and you have a new perspective on the things that seemed so important before.

    Long term travel has also taught us what’s important to us and the lifestyle we want to create if we do ever settle down in the future.

  2. Matt – that’s what separates you from us (me) with a 9-5 job. you have the GUTS to do it…that’s not nothing…that’s something!!

    case in point. everyday that i drag myself to the dungeon, i go through a dilemma:
    i like my cubicle job because it pays the bills, have great healthcare benefits, it keeps me sharp, it feeds our family and pays for trips. but at the same time, i hate my cubicle job because i know i can be somewhere else, doing what i love instead of THIS HELL (I work in mental health care).

    so everyday, i try to devise a plan of escape. i start with my blog…then i dream of travelling and/or starting some career in travel…as to when i will actually have the GUTS to do it?..I don’t know…

    so, kudos to you. You get top honours for having a vision for your life and actually executing it!! that’s not nothing.

  3. Shawn

    There are no tricks to the trade, a little bit of logic goes a long way. The travel industry teaches travel within a frame of non-reality, this is the secret.

    The people that create it to be a secret just want to make money from the travel industry or to glorify themselves.

    I think it is sick and sad to observe.

    • Well said. Another secret that’s related to what Matt said is that people usually can accomplish whatever is #1 on their list of to-dos. They may not accomplished #2, 3, 4, and 5, but usually we always do #1. So if you’re not traveling, then it’s not your #1.

  4. Shawn

    The main aspect to long term adventure a person has to give up everything, including the concept of “home” and friends and family.

    Patience is the key to saving money and leaving, it could take five or six years, but once a person leaves it will be all about the moment.

  5. Stumbled! Shhhhhh, don’t tell!

    I must admit it is a little more of a challenge if one is going to do this as a family as we are doing, rather than as a couple or single in one’s 20’s or 30’s. There is just more to consider, but it is still much easier than most realize and I think it is an upcoming trend.

    By the time you get my age, you will know a lot more people who have died and being on the other side of the sands of time, one realizes how very short life is and what is truly important.

    Nothing like having a kid to show you how fast time is zooming by. Our “baby” was 5 when we left on our world tour and now she is 8 and so enriched by this life of permanent family vacation/field trip.

    The real secret to long term travel is that travel does not cost much, especially slow travel…..maintaining stuff does!

    If one gives up endless buying of useless “stuff”, many would be amazed at how large one can live on little. People need to grant themselves freedom & it starts by valuing experiences over “stuff” and living in the ever present “now”.

    We actually find it cheaper to travel the world slowly, than to live at home and we thrive on 25K a year, living a green, healthy and secure life with the best possible education for our child.

    Sadly, many long term travelers miss the joy of travel and throw the freedom away with drinking binges, junk food or numbing TV in some cheap hotel room.That is almost as bad as those that pretend they are “2 week millionaires” & spend a bundle on a vacation, just to return to the same old grind for another year.

    But, each to his own.My point is that if one is not happy at home, one will probably not be happy on the road since much of travel is an inner experience, The lifestyle is for those who are flexible, adaptable optimists and freedom junkies.

    The secret to long term travel is the same as the secret to life, use your noodle, go for what you want, do the work required, live in the now, love it all!

    Carpe Diem!

  6. great post – but where does the money come in? sure, you can probably live for less than 10 dollar/day in asia and score some freebies every now and then, but what about transport, or visa, or work, or medical care (sorry for being a panzy here 😀 )?

  7. Thank you for saying it! I’ve just begun my fourth year as a travel writer, a profession that put me on the road (on and off) for fourteen weeks last year. Beyond good electronics and nearly ubiquitous WiFi, you have said it all: What you need is the travel lust, and you will find a way to fulfill it. My friends are envious, my family can’t figure it out, and my husband (who is my photographer) thinks we’ve landed the sweetest deal ever, but we have no special magic. Except, of course, that when we shut the car doors and turn the ignition key, everything else in my life takes a back seat. The ability to compartmentalize has taken me a long way—literally.

    Fourteen years ago, a good friend of mine died in an instant in a car accident. She was 54 and wealthy, but all of her money went to her husband and his next wife. My friend never had the opportunity to reap the benefits of her crazed work ethic, socking away so much toward a retirement she never reached. Not I—I may never retire, but my life has been and will be rich with experiences instead of cash. I won’t have been dead when I die.

  8. Skylab

    Crap. The secret is out. Now everyone’s gonna be a nomad!

    It’s true though. There’s no secret, all it takes is a strong mind. :)

  9. The secret is out… doing it is the secret to Long term travel! Duh… :)

    And I agree with sporadic mini retirements too. Both are great ways to authentically explore the world

  10. People who want things badly enough will get them done. Travel is simply a goal that if it means enough, people will find a way. Nicely put in your article.

  11. Who cares what the secret to long term travel is – I want to know what the secret to a long career in the office is. I tried that, and failed miserably! What’s “their” secret!?

  12. I admire you as a nomad, for whatever secret you have, with the fact that you could travel long term… Not for me who has a family with 2 young children. Am I married too early, or am I too late to be a nomad?

      • Jack

        I don’t know how Matt earns his money but me I use different “tiny gig” websites where I can earn $50-$100 for a few hours of work a day doing programming/development. I hope the trend continues and these sites become more commonplace.

  13. Brenna

    I’ve lived my life by two sayings. They couldn’t be more accurate for me.
    The first is simple, and probably overused.
    -Home is where I hang my hat.

    And the other…learned over a lifetime of traveling and moving.
    -You have too much if you cannot carry all of your possessions.

    I’ve been traveling extensively since my fifteenth birthday. But I’m still quite young, and I expect to be traveling for most of my days.

    Where are you now Matt?

  14. Bia

    Hi Matt. I just found out about your blog a few hours ago, and I have read it for quite a few hours already! You have a great and inspiring content. Being a Brazilian that moved to Montreal 5 years ago, I can add to that saying that living in a developed country like Canada makes this lifestyle choice that much more feasible to me or to anyone else. If I was still in Brazil and were to collect the funds necessary to my coming RTW, it would take an equivalent of a small apartment in there. Now that I am in Montreal, it sums up the same as a medium-sized car. The car that I have gladly renounced in favor of my beloved bike. Cheers.

  15. Ian

    True, but this already assumes that you aren’t under a mountain of debt, a recreational/compulsive shopper and don’t have a family and/or bastard children to raise or support.
    This eliminates the majority of the population….oh well, it’s their loss.

  16. Johan

    I think the one thing that us nomads on the road is to be able to consider the future. It’d be foolish of me to throw caution to the wind and go on a holiday now. Now I make money and that will dictate realistically what and what I can’t do until the next time I make money. We have nothing to fall on but ourselves.

  17. Hi Matt,

    Great website u have here. I’m amazed at how u did all this RTW. I have worked for only 5 years and couldn’t imagine how it would be like another 5 years. After my 1st time attempt travelling to Korea, i found myself wanting for more. Thanks for your motivating site and many tips that i find very useful. Keep it up!!!

  18. Hollis

    Glad I didn’t just email you asking what the secret was! I have my timeline to take off, now I’m just in the saving/planning phase!!

    Great work and I’m glad I found your blog!

  19. Georginal

    For me it was just a case of breaking the vicious circle of the 9-5 routine and actually having the guts to do it. Now I work a season abroad 6-7 months in the summer (as in European summer) and then pick up volunteer work or short term contracts again overseas or just travel in the winter.

    Far too many people just sit there in their office in London or wherever and just dream about it. They need to actually need to get up and do something about it! Thats the only secret, I think!

    • Kara

      That is – “rite of passage”

      Hee, we all make typos. Just thought you might want to fix that one. Third paragraph.

        • Steven

          Kara @ the Vacation Gals….. I believe what I just witnessed was you, probably working for a travel agency, getting upset at this Matt guy for saying that your profession is ultimately not necessary. Do you want to be that person “correcting” him? Do you think you are the only person that when reading feels the need to do what you did? I noticed them, I just know that it DOESN’T MATTER.

          • NomadicMatt

            No she has a point. They shouldn’t be there. I fixed them. And yes this was written years ago.

  20. Very true. Extended travel has a lot more issues to work out. But I know a lot of people who wish they could travel, but don’t have the money. But then they go and buy designer clothes and expensive purses. No, you have the money, you just choose to spend it on other things. If you want it you can find a way to make it happen.

  21. Krissy


    I remember reading one of your posts about how you told your boss you were quitting to go travelling. Were you nervous about telling him? Do you have any advice? I’ve been saving for 2 years and am finally ready to depart on my long-term travel expedition but terrified to tell my boss! I know she’ll judge me and will probably make me feel guilty about leaving..


    • Steven

      The question is: Does it matter what one persons perception of you will be when the payoff is doing what you want with your life? Your boss will care for about two days, then just continue on with hisher life, only every now and then having you recur in hisher mind. One should not guide their life off of what they think someone is going to think about them, especially a BOSS! It isn’t your spouse, its a boss! This person’s perceptions of you just…. don’t matter, especially after you quit! It’s your life, dissolve the spotlight effect and move the locus of control to inside your own head! Best wishes! Just do it! Mazel Tov!

    • Who says you need to tell your boss the full truth? Telling him/her you’re moving on is enough. Make up a fiance that is accepting a job across the country so you have to go with him. Maybe you’re going back to school full time. Or you’re moving to take care of an elderly relative.
      Then if/when you decide to search for full time work in an area that requires professional references, your boss will still have that ‘professional’ opinion of you that you desire.

      Besides, if you let your guilt about how someone else might feel in response to something you’re doing for yourself rule your life…. well, you’ll be quite limited :)

  22. Sean

    You forgot to add Blog revenue to that secret.

    The internet can only support so many travel bloggers. There is only so much screen time and advertising revenue to spread around. Most “long term travelers” I hear of/read about have established websites which help generate income, sponsorships, and freebies.

    • Jack

      I think we’re still a long way from reaching the point of it being over-saturated. Granted most people will not be able to derive their income solely from travel blogging.

  23. Jack

    I am close to being able to do this. I am barely in my 30s with a comfortable amount of money in the bank. Of course my parents are pressuring me to buy a house and going the traditional route, but I just can’t fathom giving up my piggy bank and freedom for a house I don’t really want (yet). I don’t feel like “settling down” at all.

    That said.. The most difficult thing I find with all of this (I’ve done mini-retirements, I’ve lived in many different cities, I can live wherever and do my IT work) is making friends. I am an extreme introvert who tries hard to not be an introvert, but making friendships just does not come easy for me. When I eventually meet someone I bond with, they flake and disappear. People tell me I need more experience/practice.. I think I need to somehow force myself to be out there and social.

  24. Renee

    I”ve had the travel lust my entire life. I am 25 but terrified, mainly of safety. I also need a travel companian. Without one I will lose my mind. I like to share and experience things with friends. I don’t want to leave for another country without a trusty travel companian. How do I get over this fear so I can accomplish my dream before it’s too late and I lose all hope. I know I’m pathetic. Work with me here.

  25. I enjoyed reading this. You have spoken well for many like-minded travelers.

    Traveling is not just about seeing things, it’s about overcoming fears most of all. It’s about getting into the mind set of ‘you won’t know until you try’. It’s about learning to live in the moment, and trusting yourself that if you really need something (for example, money to eat / find shelter for a given day… or continue your travels), you WILL find a way to make that happen.

    Thanks for writing and for being a catalyst for discussion!

    • julie

      Your article was amazing! I am in awe of you right now.

      Ive been having this knawing feeling eating away at me for a couple months now. I feel everything in our society is wrong, it doesn’t feel natural.

      I want sooo badly to just pick up and travel, just go! But I’m sooo scared to do it!

      Did you go alone or with a friend?

  26. there is no secret, per se, but there is a hitch. you have to be a compelling figure and writer to make a living this way. people have to be interested in your story.

  27. barista

    dont’ get me wrong this site is awesome and has great info. and i use many references and tips. But some of the on this article is vauge. Just like Sean’s comments on travel blogging revenue. not all of us can be travel bloggers or write books on travel tips to make money to travel. So what is the secret if you can’t or don’t want to write or teach English?

  28. Lutanas

    I agree with everything except one thing. They are plans for future for some of us. Maybe not that specific time frame, as our timeframe is our lifetime.
    And maybe they are not plans for retiring funds, but they are plans on personal growth, personal achivements etc.
    Other than that you explained most travellers mindset.

Leave a Comment