For many people, seeing the world and being a full time traveler sounds like a dream come true. But right now, that dream might seem far away for you. Maybe you picture buying an RV and traveling full time in retirement when you’re older. Or maybe you feel like one vacation every year or three is the best you can hope for.
Good news: you don’t have to wait decades to start checking countries off your global bucket list! These days, more and more people are figuring out how to travel full time before the golden retirement years. You could be one of them!
The key, of course, is learning how to make money living on the road. If you can earn money while traveling full time, then the world is your oyster.
Personally, I’ve had some amazing experiences as a part-time digital nomad. It’s not quite full time traveling, but I love to spend a few months at a time living and working in new locations. And I’ve met plenty of people who are traveling full time!
How to travel full time: 10 Key tips
These ten steps will get you started off down the right path if traveling full time is your dream!
1. Build up some savings and pay off debt first
When you’re starting to think about full time traveling, you definitely want to give yourself a safety net of savings.
Running out of money on the road can put you in a tight spot! You should always have some backup money in the bank to cover emergency hotel stays, flights, medical bills, etc.
On the flip side, debt can drag you down as a full time traveler. The last thing you want is to be sitting on the beach stressed about credit card bills and other loan payments.
2. Sell your stuff
If you’re serious about being a full time traveler, then all you really need is what you can take with you. As you prepare to hit the road, make plans to let go of your house/apartment.
As nice as it is to have a home base to fall back on, an extra rent or mortgage payment will stretch your finances. Or, you could rent your home out if you have someone to manage the property for you.
Have a car that you don’t plan to use for your travels? Sell that to eliminate your car payment and/or get some quick cash for the travel fund.
If you keep so much that you have to rent out a storage unit, it’ll just be a money drain for years. When you eventually go back to clean it out, you’ll look at all the stuff and wonder “What was I thinking!?”
3. Figure out if you can take your career online
Is your current career remote-work-friendly? If not, can you transition to freelance work or learn new skills? If so, this is undoubtedly the best option for earning money and keeping your career goals on track while traveling.
With remote work thriving more than ever, you might find great opportunities that let you maintain or increase your current salary!
Here are some of the best remote jobs and where to look for them. (If you have tech skills, your prospects are already bright!) For me, writing has been the perfect remote career. I started freelancing in college and built a network of clients I could take around the world with me! Working remotely is how to travel full time without going broke.
4. Explore in-person work opportunities
Are you more of a hands-on person who likes to get your hands dirty? Instead of remote work, you can look into websites like WWOOF and Workaway to find in-person jobs. Often, these jobs will supply room and board plus a small stipend.
While I was traveling in New Zealand, it was common to meet people with working holiday visas doing exactly this. They worked in hostels, in cafes, as cleaners, harvesting fruit on farms, working at animal sanctuaries, etc.
Jobs like this won’t make you rich, but they will allow you to pay your travel bills while enjoying fresh air, physical activity, and free time to explore your surroundings. In-person work opportunities are a great way how to make money living on the road!
5. Choose low cost of living destinations
There are plenty of countries where you can easily travel on $20 a day or less, excluding airfare. Southeast Asia is extremely popular with backpackers for this reason.
I’ve traveled in Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand, where it’s perfectly normal to eat dinner for $2, find a place to sleep for $10, get a $5 bus ticket to another city, etc. South America and Eastern Europe are other popular LCOL (low cost of living) areas.
Going in the off-season can lower costs too! If you’re going to a destination at the same time everyone else wants to go there, you’ll be competing with other tourists and paying peak-season prices.
Traveling off-season has other perks as well. For example, I visited New Orleans a month before Mardi Gras—the streets were quiet and clean, it was easy to book cheap places, and we didn’t have to deal with crowds. Win-win!
6. Find cheap accommodation
Whether it’s a work-stay opportunity that provides housing, a cheap hostel, etc, affordable accommodations are out there! Since this tends to be your biggest daily expense, it’s worth doing a little extra research.
In places like Thailand, you can expect nightly prices like:
- $5-$10 for a bunk in a shared hostel dorm
- $20-$25 for a private hostel room
- $60+ for a fancier hotel or Airbnb
Even in high cost of living countries, you can trim the costs down. Consider building up a reputation as a trusted house-sitter or pet-sitter so you can get paid to stay in people’s homes while they’re away.
Or, if you’re young and don’t mind sharing a room with eight people, hostel bunks are one of my go-to money-saving options. (Most of them provide lockers for your valuables like laptops.)
7. Travel slowly
Flights will be one of your biggest expenses as a full time traveler. That’s why staying in each destination for a couple of weeks or even months can minimize your travel costs.
Slow travel also lessens the stress of hopping from one place to the next too frequently and gives you more time to really get to know an area. Instead of hitting the tourist highlights and leaving, you can:
- Go off the beaten path.
- Find your favorite cafe.
- Get to know some locals/fellow travelers.
- Take day trips to nearby hikes or attractions.
It’s smart to avoid being too rigid with your itinerary. Don’t pre-book your next ten destinations all at once. Then, if you love a place, you can stay a couple of weeks or even months at a time.
When you’re ready to move on to a new locale, going overland by train or bus can save a lot of money. It’s smart to plan your travels around a certain geographic radius instead of crossing the entire globe once a month.
8. Stick to a budget
When you’re a full-time traveler, you have to shift your brain out of “vacation splurge mode” and into “regular life budgeting mode.” Eating at restaurants every day or going on luxury expeditions can quickly become a budget-killer, just like they would at home.
These vacation budgeting tips are a great starting point. Get a realistic sense of how much things cost in your intended destinations. Factor in currency exchange fees. Stay in places with kitchens so you can cook cheap meals for yourself. Use an app like Mint to track how much you’re actually spending each month.
9. Consider credit-card hacking
This one almost feels like cheating (but in a fun, legal way!). I’ve used travel credit cards to pay for a lot of my flights.
If you’re new to the credit card game, here’s basically how it works:
- Apply for credit cards with great bonuses/travel rewards
- Put all your regular spending on those cards
- Pay them off in full every month to avoid late fees and interest
- Use your miles or cash back to pay for travel expenses!
Learn more about miles vs cash back credit cards and how to make the most of them!
10. Create passive income streams
Passive income is another way how to make money living on the road. If you have passive income, you might not even need to work while you travel! Or you can just do enough work to cover your expenses, while the passive income pads your savings.
Start a vlog with all those travel videos you’re probably taking anyway. Build up enough savings and investments to let the interest and dividends pay for you (this one takes a lot of time, of course!).
A lot of passive income methods do require a little active participation to keep running. But it’s a lot less effort than a full-time job!
You can live your dream life and travel full time!
Full time traveling can certainly lead to some of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. But at the same time, it’s important to keep your expectations reasonable! Learning how to travel full time is also about learning to roll with the punches.
Sometimes travel is Instagram-worthy sunsets over the ocean. Other times, it’s discovering that you’re allergic to some kinds of Thai laundry detergent at 2 am after sheets make you break out in hives (this happened to me). Sometimes it’s memories that last a lifetime, and sometimes it’s having your brain fried by 48 hours of sleepless airport hopping.
As a full time traveler, it’s practically guaranteed that some things won’t go according to plan. But financial wellness allows you to make a backup plan to the backup plan! Get pickpocketed? That’s okay; you have an extra credit card in your boot. Accommodations canceled at the last minute? No problem—you might have to pay a little extra for a new room, but you don’t have to sleep in a park.