How to travel for a year without breaking the bank

A tale of privilege, public goods, and individual effort in 21 easy steps

When people find out that we have quit our jobs and are traveling for a year, they often wonder how we manage financially and logistically. Here’s how, in 21 easy steps!

Step 1: Have white privilege. This is a really important step because it just really makes your whole life easier. I really can’t say enough about how awesome it is to have white privilege.

Note: If you are a person of color, you technically can do what we are doing, but you may find any/all of the following steps more difficult because, you know, white supremacy.

Note: If you are white and don’t think that white privilege is a thing, read this. And this.

Step 2: Have economic and/or educational privilege. Again, I can’t recommend this enough. Choose parents who are comfortably middle-class and reasonably well-educated. Get some higher education for yourself. Choose a broad-based liberal arts curriculum (like this). This will give you the intellectual tools to question established practices, like mortgages and consumer capitalism, as well as the desire to ask probing questions about the meaning of life and the courage to confront your mortality.

Step 3: After you finish school, get a job and start saving money. Pay off your student loans. Don’t eat out so much. Don’t buy clothes unless you really have to, and then buy them used. Don’t have cable TV. Get your hair cut at Great Clips. Live in an area with a relatively low cost of living. After a few years, you will have saved a pretty significant amount of money.

Full disclosure: As a household, we were bringing in about $60k annually, so not a ton, but nothing to sneeze at.

Step 4: Buy a house at the bottom of the market. Ask your parents for help with the down payment (see Steps 1 and 2).

Note: If you think that race has nothing to do with the housing market, read this. And this. And definitely this.

Step 5: Adopt a child. This step is technically optional, but it will add some flavor to your travels. Apply for and receive a grant for most of the expenses.

Step 6: Spend several years pondering existential questions. Become an atheist. Realize the miracle of your existence. Have endless conversations about wanting to live differently.

Step 7: Make a f*&%$#@ decision! Spring into action!

Part A: Quit your job!

Part B: Sell your house once the market has rebounded and make a tidy profit!

Part C: Get rid of most of your stuff!

Part D: Buy a popup camper!

Step 8: Figure out what you are going to do. You’ve managed to save a good bit of money and have unburdened yourself from a mortgage. You no longer have a full-time job. Go exploring!

Step 9: Spend hours and hours and hours and hours researching how to travel full-time on a small budget. Decide what your budget will actually be. We decided on $12,000 for the year, which we could save up by teaching extra summer courses before we left.

Step 10: Go to Apply to become campground hosts in National Forests. Free utilities!

Step 11: When you are not campground hosting, camp in state parks. They are cheaper, and usually prettier, than private campgrounds. Or better yet, if you’re out west, stay for free on public land. The Bureau of Land Management manages 245 million acres, and you can camp out for free on a lot of it!

Step 12: Learn how to road trip with a toddler.

Part A: Listen to the global children’s music CD for hours on end. Comply immediately when “King of the Bongo” is requested.

Part B: Buy lots of stickers. Lots. Mostly doggies. No, stars. Or maybe hearts. No, robots. OK, doggies. NO, NOT DOGGIES.

Part C: Try to drive mostly at nap time.

Part D: Download two episodes of “Daniel Tiger” and “Sesame Street” to use in emergencies.

Note: Select old, pre-Elmo episodes of “Sesame Street,” largely for the reasons explained so cogently here.

Step 13: Be willing to work in exchange for lodging. Read the Caretaker Gazette and look into WWOOFing.

Step 14: Consider volunteering at a farm/commune in a remote part of Hawaii.

Part A: Learn that they eat raw meat.

Part B: Decide against it because they probably don’t vaccinate their children. And because you’re a vegetarian. And it might be a cult.

Step 15: Considering volunteering at a nudist bed and breakfast in Hawaii. Learn that volunteers must be nude at all times unless using the weed-whacker. Decide against it.

Step 16: Settle for a less exotic Hawaiian work-exchange: clearing land in exchange for a studio apartment.

Step 17: Find ways to bring in a little bit of extra income on the road. If you have chosen to have educational and economic privilege, you can probably teach online or something like that.

Step 18: Realize your family needs health insurance.

Part A: Apply for Obamacare for the adults in your household.

Part B: Apply for Medicaid for your child(ren).

Part C: Get denied Medicaid coverage.

Part D: Reapply for Obamacare for everyone.

Part E: Finally get everyone covered.

Part F: Go for a long run because that was stressful and frustrating.

Part G: If your state, like ours, did not participate in the Medicaid expansion, make enough money to qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

Part H: Whatever you do, DO NOT make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for Obamacare. You will be SOL, my friend.

Step 19: Have a spouse or partner who does not get stressed out easily and with whom you can communicate clearly and efficiently. You will find this helpful in the following kind of situations:

Part A: Fly to Hawaii, excited about the work-exchange you have been planning for over a year

Part B: Get to the location of the work-exchange.

Part C: Notice that the proprietors are most definitely currently on drugs, and likely have been pretty consistently since 1968.

Part D: Learn that there are two cases of dengue fever nearby.

Part E: Learn that your “off-grid living quarters” are a shack with no mosquito netting. You were expecting rustic, but this is squalor.

Part F: Take one look at your spouse and know that they are thinking the same thing you are: Let’s get the F out of here, dude.

Part G: Don’t let your toddler sense your stress. Cheerfully proclaim that you are going to the beach instead.

Part F: Go to the beach, have a conversation with your spouse, and try to figure out what the heck you will be doing for the next 7 weeks.

Part H: Go to a hotel for a night. Eat fries and drink beer. You’ll figure it out in the morning.

Step 20: Be flexible. Let go of your attachments to your stuff. Learn to live in 160 square feet. With a toddler. Be OK showering twice a week. Don’t be afraid to poop in a grocery bag.

Step 21: Have fun!



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