Do you travel as often as you please? Would you hate me if I told you that I did?
Three years ago, I would've answered "yes" to the first question and responded to the second with a slap across the face. Unemployed and broke, I was also bitter: I wanted to travel the world more than anything, but assumed long-term travel to be a luxury reserved for the super wealthy who'd looted the economy in the first place.
It might surprise you to learn that today, I do travel as often as I please. Even more shocking, my income is modest and I have received zero help from either of my parents, whose incomes are almost as modest as mine. As the editor of a relatively popular travel blog I receive some free travel perks, but fund more than 95% of my travel out of my own pocket.
I've outlined the basic steps I followed to make travel my lifestyle. I firmly believe that by following the same steps, you too can make your travel dreams a reality.
1. Get the ball rolling
Although my ultimate goal was to travel the world, my immediate concern was that I had no money and no job prospects. I set the goal of moving to China and teaching English which would help me save money and give me a base for travel in Asia. Even if you don't teach English or move to Asia, set a short-term travel goal that addresses the larger circumstances that prevent you from traveling.
2. Put it in writing
A goal is just a pipe dream if you don't take action to achieve it. In my case, this action came in the form of aggressively applying and interviewing for jobs, signing an employment contract, applying for a Chinese work visa and, of course, buying a plane ticket. Action is commitment and commitment is scary, but if you don't commit to achieving your goals, you will never achieve them.
3. Get on the plane
Conceptually, getting on a plane and flying to the other side of the planet for an indefinite period of time is easy, and maybe even exhilarating. But packing up everything you own and heading for the airport with just a couple bags in tow is terrifying! My advice? Don't look back -- and don't look down. As a bit of graffiti I once saw in Laos said, "Jump, a net will appear."
4. Savor, don't stress
I'm a very "eyes on the prize" type person, and have been known to lock myself in seclusion for hours or even days when I'm focused on a task. Soon after arriving in Shanghai, however, I realized this would quickly drive me crazy. Don't be afraid to work hard or discipline yourself, but also make sure to consciously enjoy as much of the experience as you can.
5. Close the deal
After eight months of living like a local, my credit card debt was gone and I had $3,000 in the bank. Even better, I had used the time I wasn't out in Shanghai wasting money to procure contributor gigs with Shanghaiist, China's largest English-language blog, and even CNN. Don't stop working toward your goal until you achieve it, no matter how long it takes or how tirelessly you have to work.
6. Up the ante
Just before a planned two-week trip to Vietnam, I received an offer to begin work as a long-term, remote freelancer for a website content company, so I purposely missed my return flight to Shanghai! My new goal was to work as I traveled -- and to travel indefinitely! Once you've achieved your original travel, set a new one -- and make sure it's bigger than the first one was!
7. Collect your winnings
It was difficult to make myself write for several hours per day as I traveled through Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe for months, but the thrill of setting foot on different streets every few days was more than enough to keep me focused. No matter how impossible your new goal seems, if you keep as focused on it as you were on your first one, you'll realize it faster and more fully.
8. Pass "Go"
I left Austin, where I'd been living since graduating college, with the idea that I might return with my tail between my legs in the back of my mind. Returning to Austin not only allowed me to show the haters I encountered before I left that I'd had the last laugh, but also provided me with context for how much I'd achieved. Going "home" is the best way to get perspective on how far you've come.
9. Don't "Go Directly To Jail"
No matter how much you love traveling, the prospect of "being home" will seem comforting. But I urge you: Do not get too comfortable, lest you get stuck. I was lucky enough to win a spot in a blogging contest in Thailand just weeks after I got back to Austin. Even if you aren't as fortunate as I was, don't plan to stick around for long.
10. Keep the ball rolling
After returning from Thailand, my next goal was to transform my then-personal blog into a comprehensive travel resource. To do that, however, I not only needed to travel more, but I also needed to write more. Over time, your travel goals should grow more elaborate and serve more and more specifically to facilitate more frequent, extensive travel.
11. Travel hard, work harder
Between then (December 2010) and now, I have traveled to South America, North Africa and Australia, and even returned to Europe and the Middle East. During this time I have not only produced more than 300 articles for my website, which now earns money, but have also continued freelancing for others. If you want to travel constantly, you must work constantly.
12. Quit while you're ahead
As my own experience illustrates, long-term travelers never really go "on vacation." As a result, travel isn't a lifestyle that most people can comfortably sustain for their whole lives -- and many who try become unhappy, lost souls. Travel as often as you can, but when you spend more days stressed out than blissed out, swallow your pride and settle down somewhere.