I freelance sporadically as a brand & marketing strategist, but am predominantly free to wander the globe doing some combination of yoga, photography, ukulele-playing, and formulating elaborate excuses to not finish my travel memoir.
Now, I realize everyone’s financial situation and mosquito tolerance is different, but here is a strategic sampler platter of travel tips that make my lucky lifestyle possible, in case a few of these end up being useful to you:
1. Alternate between working hard and hardly working. Unless you’re reading this from your Tesla jet ski on your private island, you probably need some form of income to finance extended travels. Personally I prefer working my tushie off for a few months when freelance projects arise, and then getting the hell out of dodge when work slows down or if I’m craving a break that a Kit-Kat won’t satisfy. Obviously this requires a somewhat flexible housing and employment situation, but that’s why Al Gore invented the internet and made things like airbnb and Slack possible.
Me in Colombia during a ‘hardly working’ phase, clearly
Sure, there are full-blown digital nomads who travel for years at a time and work regularly, and on the other extreme are most Americans, barely squeezing out an annual two-week getaway. I’m simply suggesting a middle ground called binge traveling that has worked well for me, alternating between spurts of focused working and freeing travel. That way you’re not shackled by the paltry PTO days of a full-time job, your relationships and bank account don’t get strained by nonstop travel, and your time abroad can be primarily devoted to exploration and leisure rather than praying for strong wifi during conference calls.
2. Tame the biggest expense (airfare) with the right credit card. Once you arrive in most parts of the world outside of Europe and North America, you can truly get by comfortably on about $30 a day (or $15 if you don’t mind being less comfortable). But getting there and back will cost you, unless you have airline miles and are somewhat flexible in your flight dates.
Most loyalty programs now only reward the pricey fares of business travelers, so the best way to accrue miles is to get a credit card with a sweet sign-up bonus. There are awesome blogs dedicated to the art of affordable airfare, like The Points Guy, so I won’t belabor this point. Just know that I’ve only paid for two international flights out of the last ten I’ve taken, largely thanks to 50,000+ free miles sign-up offers on two airline-affiliated credit cards.
3. Timing is everything. Visit places during their low (off) season. Do a bit of research on what “low season” means for that place. If it’s Monsoon City or the whole town literally shuts down, abort mission. But if it means a short rain every afternoon like in Guatemala or hotter temperatures like in Thailand, it’s really not so bad. Your reward for sweating it out is fewer crowds and cheap, abundant lodging. Book a hotel for your first night or two in advance so you have somewhere to sleep off the jetlag, but consider finding longer-term accommodations the old fashioned way. You will always get better walk-in rates than from booking online through an aggregator, and in some cases be able to negotiate discounts for longer stays.
4. I lied. Location is everything. You can get timing right and go in the off-season, but if your destination is the south of France or the north of Iceland, it’s still going to cost you a shitload (pardon my French) relative to going somewhere less trendy and developed. If only we knew where these magical, secret places existed! Google only returned one million search results for “affordable places for long term travel”. Narrow down by which continent is calling you, and triangulate with seasonality and airfare availability.
5. Befriend “the mayor”. Find an ex-pat or two who is like the unofficial mayor of the town you’re visiting. They’ve lived here for years, seem to know everyone and everything about the area, and are on great terms with the locals. Ex-pats generally love meeting other travelers who appreciate the appeal of their chosen home. And you’ll love getting obscure insider knowledge that’s not in any guidebook. Mayors are particularly valuable if you’re traveling solo and want recos concerning safety or respecting local customs.
6. Have the expectations of a traveler, not a vacationer. This is code for “don’t be high-maintenance or expect comfort every minute.” When you only have a week off and want to relax, that’s called a vacation. It’s why cruises and all-inclusive resorts exist. Conversely, travel is about getting outside your comfort zone. There’s going to be confusion, stress and countless bathrooms without toilet paper.
Photo by Chut FOTO from Pexels
I’ve generally found that for every seven days of travel, one day will be a complete shitshow. Things will inevitably go wrong. Your bus will break down, or you’ll get a smidge of food poisoning. Focus on the six previous days that went right, and remind yourself how unbelievably lucky you are to explore this marvelous planet. In other words, don’t forget to pack patience and gratitude into your luggage along with that hand sanitizer.
7. Change your mindset from a human doing to a human being. This is the one I still struggle with daily — slowing down. On a short trip, it’s natural to cram in a full day of sights and activities. But when you travel for weeks or months at a time, don’t overdo it.
Photo by Abhiram Prakash from Pexels
In the West we’ve been programmed with that pesky Puritanical work ethic, mistaking a busy life for a meaningful, fulfilling one. Like many with an expensive college degree, I spent my twenties chasing paychecks instead of passions, working long hours and guzzling tall drinks to unwind from the workday. Inevitably I began to burn out, which led to sanity-restoring sabbaticals and extended backpacking trips. But I still fight the internal pressure to make the most of my travel days and see all the sights, to constantly be doing something so I don’t feel like a complete slacker.
Then I meet travelers who only seem busy being alive, living in the moment and following John Lennon’s mantra, “time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” And I remember that what I love most about travel isn’t the moving around and doing things, but the downtime in between. The moments when you sit still long enough to marvel at how you can feel so completely at home in a place you’ve never been before.
Travel on, friends.
Stay tuned for next week’s post: The Introvert’s Guide to Solo Travel
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- Finnish astrophotographer spends 12 years creating a Milky Way mosaic Capturing panoramas of the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we reside