Travel the World for the Price of a Honda

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Time for Answer the Reader’s Mail: “See the World” Edition!
travel the world
Today’s question comes from Sophia, a 27-year-old financial planner in Minneapolis with a desire to travel the world. Sophia says:

“I’m a world traveler … My husband and I went to Thailand at the beginning of the year and we loved it!”

“The more I sit in an office, the more I want to be location independent. I want to be able to help people with their finances from any location. I also want to be in control of my time.”

“I feel this need to travel more, to explore, and not be tied to an office in Minnesota.”

Sophia, your story sounds similar to mine! I became location independent in 2010 after returning from a two-year trip around the world and realizing I couldn’t tie myself down to an office job.

(FYI: “location independence” means, “you can work from anywhere on earth.”)

Sophia poses several questions about travel and location independence. I’m writing two posts to answer her questions. This article covers travel. And this other article discusses location independence.

#1: How much money did you save for your journey abroad?

I saved about $25,000 for the trip. I figured I’d have enough money to globetrot for about a year before things became tight.

It turned out that I vastly overestimated how much the trip would cost. That $25K was enough to get me by for two-and-a-half years — including all airfare and insurance. (Read that story here.)

#2: What’s the one thing you wished you would have packed?

The Kindle hadn’t been invented at the time I traveled, but man oh man, that would have changed everything.

Here’s why:

Many long-term travelers stay in one place, get a job, and immerse themselves in the culture. They can earn money, learn the language and cross the divide between “tourist” and “local.”

While I respect that strategy, that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to see everything: the Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef, the temples of Bali, the jungles of Borneo. I was on-the-move.

I was determined NOT to work while I was traveling – I wanted no responsibilities. Second, I visited a huge span of countries — 17 countries in 2.5 years. And third, I often ventured into the middle of nowhere.

To visit this many countries, you need a TON of guidebooks and maps. I carried “region-wide” guidebooks – the Middle East, Southeast Asia – but these are thick volumes that eat up half your bag.

Plus I wanted to read for fun, which means I was sloughing through the jungles of Borneo with Harry Potter on my back.

Between the guidebooks and the fun books, I probably lugged 10 pounds of reading material on my back at all times. I’d trade out the fun books at book exchanges, but that meant I’d load up with new books.

And I’d have to carry 4-5 fun books at a time, since I was often in remote areas where I knew I’d have to ration my reading material.

Moral of the story: a Kindle would have solved that problem. Imagine having hundreds of books in digital form. It blows my mind.

#3: What should you have left at home?

Hmm. To be honest, I can’t remember. If I brought anything unnecessary, I’d donate or toss it immediately.

Likewise, if I needed anything, I bought it.

Remember, not all your supplies have to come from a Western country. I’d “re-fuel” in the major capitals: New Delhi, Bangkok, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur.

#4: How did your travels change who you are today?

This may sound strange: world travel is the reason I decided to dedicate my life to teaching personal finance.

Many of my friends would comment, “I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”

I hear that statement about loads of big, brash dreams. “I’d love to be a photographer / singer / writer but it’s unrealistic.” “I’d love to work for myself but that’s not realistic.”

Sorry, but that’s simply not true.

As I noted in one of my most popular posts, Quit Your Job and Travel, no one questions how you can “afford” to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a “conventional” expense.

No one says, “I’d love to go to grad school / have a baby / buy a home, but I can’t afford it.” Conventional wisdom says that grad school / babies / homeownership is a worthwhile goal, so people FIND a way to afford it.

People work the night shift so they can save for a down payment on a house.

Isn’t it funny that when society tells us that a goal is achievable, we figure out how to achieve it? But when people say that a goal is unrealistic, we give up. We quit before we’ve tried.

I didn’t do anything special. I avoided debt and I saved $25,000.

Millions of people do EXACTLY that same thing in order to buy a house or to have a baby, and no one fawns over their accomplishment.

Frankly, $25,000 isn’t that much money. It’s the cost of a Honda Accord. It’s one year of private school tuition. It’s a 20 percent down payment on a $125,000 condo.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Wow, you bought a Honda! How on earth could you afford to do that? You must be rich!”

Or worse yet: “I’d LOVE to own a condo, but I could never afford it.

No one says that. People have a funny view of money. They spend lavishly on socially-acceptable priorities like homes, cars and education, but they rob their real dreams to pay for that.

Seeing the way that people reacted to my 2-year round-the-world trip drove this point home, so I decided to dedicate my life to teaching one very simple but powerful message:

Cut ruthlessly on the things you don’t care about. Spend lavishly on the things you love. Ignore conventional wisdom.

Want more? Check out my answers to Sophia’s questions about creating location independence.


  1. says

    Life is a series of choices and priorities. You made travel a priority and achieved it. I think traveling when you are young is great because it affects your entire life. I also think you can avoid the luxuries and still enjoy yourself.

  2. says

    Love reading blogs like this. I really want to set aside some money and travel as well – after I shake off these conventional norms. It’s really ridiculous how hard people judge you when you live out your dreams and do what really makes you happy.

  3. says

    I think your last quote says it all, and it’s something I seek to live by, too. Less people go the traveling route like you versus having a baby or buying a car, which makes it harder for many to relate to. But it’s clearly not impossible if we just re-prioritize spending.

  4. says

    this is an excellent post. I loved this statement “Isn’t it funny that when society tells us that a goal is achievable, we figure out how to achieve it? But when people say that a goal is unrealistic, we give up. We quit before we’ve tried”. I believe you’re absolutely right!.

    Wow 17 countries with less than 25k not bad at all

  5. says

    This is a great reminder that priorities do matter with respect to personal finances. It always amazes me how arrogant some people can be when encountered with an opinion that disagrees with their perspectives. Nonetheless, that’s often human nature. I’m happy you have enriched your life with these awesome experiences.

  6. says

    Love those last few lines! I always think ” people make time for the things that are important to them” the same it true with money. It’s just a matter of what you decided to do with the money you have.

  7. says

    Love this. And although I enjoy my personal library (I’m kind of a dork for old school paper books…maybe it come from watching too much of The Office :p,) I’m glad I live in the world of Kindle, too. Sorry it came a couple years too late!

  8. says

    Great, great post! We loooove travel. And always, always save up for it. We made a conscious decision to never ever use any c/c for travel. We don’t travel the world but when we went to China, we were planning and saving for that trip for almost a year. Oh, and now I always travel w/Kindle!

    • says

      @Aloysa — I’m behind you 100 percent on never using a credit card / debt for the sake of travel (or for any other reason!) Most people say they want to travel but can’t imagine saving for a year. Kudos to you for DOING it!!

  9. says

    My main concern at this stage is not money, it more on my career. I keep coming back to “If I take a 1 year break, will I be able to re-enter my career or do I have to start at the entry level?”. I know some employers respect and even prefer someone with this type of experience, but it scares me. (I guess it is one of the same reason I fear entrepreneurship too). How did you overcome your fear? Or you didn’t have any :)

    • says

      @Suba — I had this concern as well. A few things that assuaged my fear:

      #1: Remember that employers are humans. If you’re applying at a small company, many of the people reading your resume will be start-up types themselves. And what better way to signal “Hey, I have initiative” than to say, “Yep, I launched a startup and gave myself a 2-year deadline to see if it would work. These are my metrics. This is what I achieved. It was good. But it wasn’t enough.”

      #2: Sometimes what matters to employers isn’t what you’ve done, per se, its how you package those experiences on a resume. I spent two years intentionally not doing a single productive thing (while I traveled). If I just left a “unemployed and not even remotely trying to be self-employed” gap on my resume, I’d look like a slacker. So if I planned on stating in my resume/cover letter a list of all the soft skills I sharpened through travel — negotiating/bargaining, navigating through unfamiliar territory, being radically self-reliant. As it turned out, when I returned from my trip I took my life in a direction that didn’t require me to send out any resumes, but that’s what I would have said (and that’s what I will say if asked about that gap).

      All that being said, I think employers are more forgiving in fields like journalism and marketing, which is where I’d be looking for work. I don’t know if hiring in the sciences is more cut-and-dry. I suppose that depends on your particular field of science. That’s an important question to ask yourself.

  10. says

    I absolutely agree. People don’t prioritize travel as much as I do. People buy huge TV’s and then say that they can’t afford to travel – we’re on the same page – I absolutely don’t get it.

  11. says

    Awesome post Paula!! I really enjoyed reading this. I just love the last line “Cut ruthlessly on the things you don’t care about. Spend lavishly on the things you love. Ignore conventional wisdom.”

    Your story is very inspiring, I wish I did the same thing when I was younger. I wonder if I could do it now and travel the world with 2 kids. hmmm…

    • says

      @Kanwal Sarai — Yes, absolutely! I met lots of families who were traveling with their kids. One example: I met a family of 5 in Australia who worked with their school district on a plan to “homeschool” their children for one year. Then they bought a camper van and spent the entire year driving all across Australia, taking their children to deserts, canyons, mountains, historic sites, and Aboriginal cultural pockets. In addition to the standard / required homeschooling materials, they also taught their kids about the history/geology/culture of the places they were visiting. They felt their kids were on the “ultimate” field trip!

  12. says

    Great article Paula! You always have such a powerful message and I completely agree. People need to get away from conventional wisdom and learn how to think outside of the box. Set your priorities and create a plan how to achieve them. It can actually be quite simple 😉 People always ask me a different question since my car is so old; I frequently get asked why I don’t buy a new car. For me, it’s not a priority – you lose so much money in a car. My car may be older but it gets me from point A to point B and that’s what matters most. People put too much priority in “items” whereas I value life experiences and financial freedom more.

  13. says

    You have an amazing attitude Paula. And, you are right to call people for rationalizing away their dreams. Life is way too short for that.

    On Wendesday, I’m sending my wife home to Micronesia for two months, while I stay behind and pay the bills. But, my time is coming up and I hope to see Florida and the Caribean. I’ve already been to the Pacific islands and I want to see the ones in the Atlantic.

  14. Keisha Cook says

    You always have such a powerful message and I completely agree. We don’t travel the world but when we went to China, we were planning and saving for that trip for almost a year.

    • says

      @Keisha — Congrats on planning/saving for a dream and then DOING it! Most people say they’d “like” to do something, but they never plan/save for it. A huge round of applause go to people like you who actually DO IT! :-)

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