Last December while I was in Africa, I did a weeklong series of reader success stories to help inspire you to travel more. My goal was to show that I’m not special and my advice doesn’t work for just me — it can work for anyone, and anyone can travel if they just put their mind to it. Knowing I wasn’t alone really helped me when I started traveling.
So I decided to highlight more success stories from people to keep encouraging you to follow your dreams (a lofty goal, right?). Today, I’m featuring Dave and Vicky to talk about their leap into the unknown.
Nomadic Matt: Thanks for doing this interview! Give us some background on you two.
We’re Dave and Vicky! Vicky and I are in our mid-twenties. We met in high school in a small suburb 40 minutes outside of Boston called Ashland, where I lived my entire life and she moved to after a series of previous moves that took her from Russia to Australia to the US. After we graduated college, we worked for two years and are now setting off on a two-year journey around Asia and Europe. We left for Japan in September 2012. We’re planning on heading to almost 50 countries throughout Asia and Europe. After that, who knows! Home? South America? Africa? Anything is possible.
What was your original inspiration? What made you decide to go jump ship and travel?
In September 2011, we went on an eight-day trip to Greece that took us around Santorini, Athens, and the Peloponnese. It was a great trip, but it was only eight days. We thought “this doesn’t make sense.” We just spent $5,000 for an eight-day trip to Greece. There has to be a more efficient, cost-effective way to travel. The answer for us was long-term travel and backpacking. We could stretch this budget much further and see other amazing places if we saved our money and took off for a year. Then out of nowhere, one year became two — and here we are!
I’m always curious: how did you find this site?
One of our friends sent us your site. It was really the first of its kind that we had ever seen; I don’t think either of us even fathomed that people were doing this sort of thing. It really got us motivated to set a date and start planning. It was a valuable resource from the start due to the wealth of information it has. When we were planning our country-by-country itineraries, the guides really came in handy — they were really the first of their kind we had come across. Also, since we were new to the game, we didn’t know a lot about what travel sites to use, i.e., what to use to book a hostel, airfare, tour companies, etc.
Well, I’m glad the site was so helpful! Were you afraid before you went on your trip? A lot of people get nervous going away for six months, and here you were planning to be away for two years.
We were definitely very anxious about our travel plans a month or so before the trip. All these questions were spinning through our head:
“Are we going to like traveling as much as we THINK we will?”
“What if it isn’t the experience we’re hoping for? What if it doesn’t change us?”
“Are we going to get mauled, maimed, mugged, or any other terrible M word?”
We blogged about our feelings extensively. There’s something about typing it all out that helps you assuage your fears. People comment and share their thoughts and stories, and it provides that little extra insurance that makes you think everything will work out. It’s working out for everyone else, right? Eventually, we were committed, as we had informed everyone we knew and there was no turning back.
Above all, we were comforted by the fact that there ARE people (plenty, in fact) who have traveled extensively and turned out just fine.
What advice would you have for other people who are thinking about traveling but might not think they can?
If you’re serious, you need to think long and hard about what it would take to allow you to travel in the way that you desire. People love to throw around the phrase “anyone can travel.” Personally, I think that’s largely overblown. For some people, travel really IS difficult. This is the case for many people with very specific obligations, or who don’t make an adequate income, or perhaps those who live in countries with very strict regulations. However, in most cases this fear about not being able to travel is largely in one’s head. Focus on saving money and cutting out the clutter from your life that is eating up your time and money. Once you’ve done that, the rest will follow. Do the math, plan it out, and take a chance.
Was money a problem? How did you save for your trip?
Absolutely money was a problem. We intended to save around $50,000 USD for this trip to last us for two years (hoping to maybe make a bit on the road). We also had $25K in student loans that needed to be paid off. So, that’s a total of $75K that had to be saved between the two of us in only two years at entry-level jobs while living in expensive Washington, D.C.
How did we do it? Let’s start with our salaries. I was making $70-80K a year, and Vicky was making around $50K. Those are nice salaries for two kids who are 24, but alone wouldn’t save you $75K in two years. There’s no magic formula other than cutting down expenses. The big things were:
1. Always cooking. We barely ate out at restaurants, and when we did (once a month) always used a coupon. On top of this we used leftovers from dinner to bring our lunches so we were never buying lunches at work.
2. Not buying crap. I drove my same crappy car that I had since high school. No monthly payments, just gas. We used hand-me-down furniture that Vicky had from a previous apartment, so the only new things we bought were a TV, bed, and computer in two years. No clothes, couches, etc.
3. We had modest monthly apartment expenses because we were a couple and could go in together on a $1,600/month one-room apartment.
The key was to really understand where your money is going. It’s amazing what you’ll uncover when you actually track your expenses for a month.
How do you stay on budget when you travel?
The key here is really to keep track of your costs. If you’re not doing that, I find it hard to believe you can really stay on budget, other than to just hope that it will all work out in the end (and to be fair, sometimes it does). We keep track of all our costs and check our spending daily in a dedicated Excel spreadsheet for each country. We break it out into a few main categories like Food, Transportation, Accommodation, Entertainment, and Utilities. It’s easy to compute your daily average on the fly and thus adjust your budget accordingly. Travel is very flexible, because it’s rare that you really have to DO anything, only if you want to. So, if you’re coming in high, you can make adjustments on the road, like doing some last-minute Couchsurfing.
Do you find it hard to travel as a couple? Any advice on that?
Traveling as a couple is not for everyone, but we had done it a few times before our big trip to know that we’d be OK. We traveled Italy and Greece together. Our trip took this to the extreme, but we still practiced the same basic principles that made it work the first time around. Above all, I think the key is really compromise. You have to understand that not everyone is always on the same page all the time. One person might not be feeling well, or is tired, or has seen their fair share of temples. You have to make concessions to accommodate your partner. Vicky and I make concessions all the time, from food to transportation to lodging. It’s all about communication and compromise.
What one thing that you thought would be a challenge has turned out not to be (i.e., I thought it would be hard to meet people but it isn’t)?
Being a minimalist! I thought at first having only one pair of pants, two pairs of shirts, and a handful of t-shirts would be difficult. In reality it feels great! I’ve completely eliminated the decision of “what to wear?” from my life.
My only problem is I haven’t figured out how to successfully wash one pair of pants AND see the sites. If anyone knows the secret, please share.
While their jobs made it very easy for them to save money for their trip, what I like about their story is that it reminds me so much about mine and is so similar to others I hear: you’re on vacation, you realize you want to do this more, and despite the fear and uncertainty surrounding such a big change, you make it happen anyway. Sometimes it is just comforting to know that you’re not alone or crazy and others are doing this, too.