Travel Around the World...How'd We Do This?!
How’d we do it?
If you are like me and traveling the world has been your lifelong dream, please keep reading. Many people have been asking David and I how we were able to travel around the world for a year+, so I decided I would write a blog post about it. Just like with anything we want to accomplish in life, we first need to know exactly what we want, believe we can have it and be motivated to put in the (sometimes hard) work to get it. Planning this trip was exactly that for us; and we are so very happy and grateful that we had this amazing experience!
Let’s go back to the night of July 4th, 2016. David and I had just recently started dating. Our first date was on January 28 and he was traveling out of the country for the entire month of February, but we re-connected in March. We both knew pretty soon after that we were a match. That night we were at my twin sister’s Fourth of July celebration and our friends (thank you, Maria and Chris) were telling us about a trip they recently took. It sounded amazing, so instinctually I turned to David and said, “We should travel around the world for a year.” It had been on my bucket list since high school and I was asking seriously, but also expecting David might think I was crazy. He looked at me and asked if I was serious. I said “yes”. The next day he asked me again and my answer was the same. Starting that very day, we put together a plan-of-action for how we could make that happen.
First, we had to decide how much money we would need to save up in order to fund our trip; as well as to cover recurring expenses we knew we would have while we were away (for example, I have student loans I am still paying off monthly). After reading some blog posts written by other travelers that have come before us, we estimated that we would set a daily spending allowance of $50/person, $100 in total, which would cover food, housing and recreation. We’d also need to budget for transportation (planes, trains and buses). In the end, we decided we would each need to save up $20,000 (which ended up being more than enough for us); and we gave ourselves just until March 1, 2018 (our chosen departure date) to do it. (We wanted to celebrate our birthdays with family and friends before flying off to our first destination.) Each of us calculated how much we would need to save monthly in order to reach our goal amount and then we set up an automatic transfer from our checking accounts to a savings account to set aside that money.
You’d be so surprised how easy it can be to find a little bit of extra money to set aside for travel (or whatever else you want). For us, we started making small changes, like buying our coffee and tea at home, rather than buying it out. David also introduced me to Trader Joe’s, where I had been previously shopping at Whole Foods, and I was amazed by what I could get for much less money. We also spent more time walking and riding our bikes, rather than taking the subway; and taxis/Ubers were reserved for special occasions. Cutting back a little bit here and there really added up.
With our finances arranged, we then how to think of what else we would need to do before leaving and set up a timeline for when each thing needed to happen. Some of those things, which I will talk more about below, included figuring out where to go, what to bring, how to leave the city on good terms and how to set ourselves up for success upon our return.
Where to go?
We started with the fun stuff. We looked at the map of the world and chose where we wanted to go and for how much time. We knew that a year would go by fast, so we wanted to create a loose plan to make sure we could get a full tour, but we decided we would buy tickets along the way, so we could have the flexibility to change plans as needed. We were so grateful we did it this way because we ended up changing courses on a few occasions and, had we been locked into an around the world trip ticket (yes, there is such a thing), we would have had to pay a bunch of unpleasant change fees.
Since there were so many places we wanted to see, we knew we’d have to come up with some criteria for deciding where and where not to go. We decided that, for the most part, we would try to visit places that neither of us had been to, with very important exceptions made for places we really wanted to revisit (such as Peru, Israel, Thailand, Italy and Spain). We agreed Mexico was a good way to transition ourselves into this long journey, so we decided to start there and then work our way down to South America, since I wanted to visit my Peruvian Peace Corps family, David wanted to surf, and both of us wanted to practice our Spanish. From there we thought New Zealand (but that ended up being Sydney thanks to an offer we couldn’t beat from a great friend…thank you, AC!), southeast Asia, Israel to visit David’s family, parts of Europe where our families were from and then some of the hot spots I had never been to in Italy, Spain, France and Portugal.
After we knew where we’d be going, we looked at the embassy websites for each country to see where we would need to get entry visas, which for us turned out to be Brazil, Australia and Vietnam. We decided to get the Brazil visa taken care of ahead of time, but the other two we were able to get while traveling. We also purchased a travel insurance policy and let our banks know where we’d be traveling to so they wouldn’t suspect fraud as we made charges all over the world.
David did most of the research to help us optimize our experience. He scoured the internet to search for tips and tricks from other world travelers. He learned about the best way to pack and what essentials we would need to pack most efficiently and lightly. Some of the products we bought were:
Tortuga bags and packing cubes – perfect size travel bag to bring on planes and the cubes helped us save space. We also bought their day pack which turned out to be one of our VIP purchases, especially for the price.
Exofficio undergarments – lightweight, breathable, easy to wash and dry
Smart wool socks – because we wanted to have a few pairs of durable and warm socks to bring
Salomon running shoes – we wanted to have only one pair of all-purpose sneakers (here are the men’s version). We each brought one pair of sneakers and one pair of flipflops. I also brought a pair of black Tom’s shoes as my fancy footwear.
Vacuum bags and waterproof bags
Small travel locks. David also added a zipper to the back pocket on his main pair of pants, so we could protect his wallet.
Foldable rain jacket and Uniqlo Ultra-Light Down Jacket – jackets for all weather that we could fold up pretty compactly
Headlamps – we definitely needed these especially in the more remote parts of our journey
Electrical plug adapters – we received a gift from a friend with an assortment of plug adaptors for electrical outlets all over the world. She also bought us a genius compact laundry line with clips, so we could always find a way to hang our clothes out to dry.
Kindle – because we like to read and carrying books was not an option
Computer tablets- David had an Apple tablet and I had a Microsoft Surface Pro. They were both small enough to travel with and functional enough for us to be able to do work as needed on the road.
Yoga paws – because it was way easier than traveling with a yoga mat to keep up with my yoga practice
David also learned about a strategy for using credit cards to accumulate travel miles and so he decided to get in on the game. He would open up a credit card, we would put all our expenses on it for a few months until we reached the threshold to earn an infusion of mileage points; and then we would pay the credit card off in full and let it sit with a $0 balance until David could close it. He created a fancy spreadsheet and calendaring system to track what credit cards he had and by when he needed to close them. At one point he had around 15 credit cards open, but almost all have since been closed. We ended up getting most, if not all, of our flights for the first 6 months of our trip paid by airline miles. Another good finance tip is that Charles Schwab has a checking account that reimburses all ATM fees at the end of the month, so we could withdraw money wherever we were, at any ATM, and not worry about the excess fees charged.
I know you’re probably thinking that at this point we must have researched more about the countries we were visiting, but your guess would be wrong. Most of that research we were able to do along the way since we weren’t locked into a flight plan.
The Home Stretch
In the last several months leading up to the trip, we had to tie up the loose ends on our lives in New York, so we could leave without attachments and not have anything here that might compromise our trip and force us back home. For me that meant quitting my job on good terms. I let my boss and colleagues know about my trip approximately 3 months in advance. I was able to hire, train and overlap with my replacement colleague for a good 3 weeks. I was very sad to leave them, but knew that they would be in good hands after I left.
David and I also had to decide what to do with our apartments. We decided we would end the lease on my apartment in February (2018) and move into David’s apartment together for the last month before our trip. That involved cleaning up my apartment and trimming all of the fat from what I had accumulated, moving into David’s apartment and then cleaning out his place and giving away/selling/getting rid of things we didn’t need. It sounds like a lot, and it was, but it was also very cathartic to shed all the excess; and we gave ourselves enough time to do it, so it wouldn’t be stressful. For me, material things take up space in my mind/heart and the less I can live with, the freer I feel. And, so I digress…
Lastly, since we wanted to return back to our apartment, we had to find someone to take care of our place and help cover the rent while we were away. David put up an ad on the Listings Project for someone who might be interested in taking good care of our space for us. We ended up interviewing a handful of people, we had two people come visit us and then we narrowed it down to our finalist. She turned out to be a Godsend. She took care of our place for us, covered the rent payments (and always paid on time), collected our mail, helped fix a leak in the ceiling, extended her stay so we could continue traveling for an extra 3 months, and left us with a clean apartment to return to plus our new friend, a beautiful orchid plant that is currently thriving. Needless to say, we chose well.
As you may know from my posts, we were able to extend our trip for another 3 months in the U.S., flying out west to first visit David’s most awesome family and some friends, and then driving back home to Brooklyn over the course of a month road trip-style, car camping and staying with friends along the way. (And if you missed this part of our journey, it was at the Grand Canyon on May 5 at sunrise that David proposed to me and we got married later that same night in a Las Vegas chapel.) 😊
What does this all mean?
Needless to say, I think I can speak for the both of us (David and I) when I say that this trip was all that we ever hoped it would/could be and more; and we feel extremely grateful for being able to make it happen. We also feel extremely grateful for all the people who helped make this once-in-a-lifetime trip happen for us, and all the new friends we met along the way, that will forever remain in our hearts.
The moral of this story (and I promise to end here) is that we can truly do anything that’s in our hearts. With a clear vision, positive beliefs, a little planning and consistent effort, you too can make your dreams come true. If you have any questions about our trip, please feel free to reach out to me and we can chat. And, if you’re interested, please look out for my next post, where I will be sharing more about how we were able to stay healthy and happy, while traveling on a budget.