Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What’s it like to “drop everything” and go to Europe/Asia/explore the world? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
In August 2012, I left Melbourne on a one-way ticket to London. Since then I’ve been travelling Europe with an open plan, but the only thing I dropped was my location.
For a few years prior to travelling, I was co-running a small web development studio. In early 2012, my business partner and I decided to part ways, which is when I decided that I was going to travel Europe indefinitely – despite the fact that I’d never left Australia before, and had no travel experience. I had a few months until my big flight, so I thought I’d do a bit of freelance work to earn some cash to keep me going. As I was freelancing it became obvious that the only thing I actually needed to do work was a wifi connection. So when I started travelling, I just continued freelancing, and ever since then I’ve been making enough money to live & travel by working a couple of days per week.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that there’s plenty of jobs that can be location independent, like as web development/design, photography, writing/proofing/journaling etc. If you can do it online, and you can email/skype about it, you can do it travelling.
I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of becoming a freelancer; a lot of that information is out there already and is out of the scope of this question. I do get a lot of people saying “I wish I could do what you do, but I’m not a web developer”. All I can say is that it’s just a skill, and like anything else it can be learnt. There’s a ton of info available on the internet for free (htmldog, codecademy, tutsplus to name a few), so if you’re determined, you can do it.
But that’s just my life. It’s not perfect; sometimes it’s incredibly hard to find a decent place to work, and sometimes it’s hard to find motivation when all you want to do is hang out with some amazing new friends you’ve made. But it’s something that works and allows indefinite travel – I’m proof.
It’s good to have an idea of where you want to go in your head, but I wouldn’t recommend actually planning/booking anything until last minute. Your plan will change with every place you go and person you meet, and pre-booking your trip takes that magic away. But when you do make plans, use apps such as TripIt to store your itinerary. Having all your plans, details, and confirmation numbers in one place is extremely helpful.
I can give you a very good estimate for Europe as I’ve been tracking every dollar I spend since I’ve been away. I’ve spent equal time between east and west, I change locations about once a week, and I average 50 EUR ($70 AUD at the time of writing) per day. That is for everything. Keep in mind that travel in western Europe is a lot more expensive than eastern Europe; I haven’t categorised countries properly, but I’d estimate eastern Europe to be at least 20 EUR cheaper per day than western Europe. If you have bills at home (car rego, insurance etc) then don’t forget to factor them in too.
You need to be willing to put yourself out there and always be ready to talk to people. I’m an introvert and I love having a lot of space to myself, but I believe that the experiences you have are much more worthwhile when they’re shared with other people. Reminiscing with old friends is a beautiful thing. You also need to learn how to keep a cool head. Travel can be very stressful at times, but the worst thing to do is let it get to you and stress out. Problems can always be solved if you’re about to remove your emotions from the situation and look at it objectively. You will have bad times and you’ll need to deal with it; but the good news is that with every bad experience you’ll be more prepared for the next. I’d also say that cooking would be a great skill to have, not only for yourself, but if you decide to whip up a storm with new friends in the hostel. I can’t cook and it’s a real bummer; living on fast food most of the time probably isn’t that good for my insides.
Pack light and optimise your belongings. I brought a 75 litre pack with me, and I’ve also got a tech bag with a DSLR & a couple of lenses, 13″ Macbook Pro, and an iPad. These are all mistakes. I wouldn’t want to travel with anything larger than a 55 litre pack, the 75 is just so bulky & heavy and after a while you really get over it. For a camera, I’d rather have a a hybrid such as an OM-D EM-5, or just a good point and shoot. Carrying around a DSLR gets very tiring, especially if you like hiking. Got a Macbook pro? Switch to an air and save another kilo. It all adds up.
In 10 months I haven’t had anything stolen. Either I’m really lucky, or really careful. I’d like to think the latter. Always book hostels with lockers, and keep everything of value locked away at all times. Never leave your laptop on your bed. Never leave your phone charging on the other side of the room overnight. Don’t even leave your chargers out. If your main pack doesn’t fit in the locker, keep that zipped up & locked too.
Everywhere you go you’ll be warned about pickpockets, you’ll soon learn that they operate everywhere so the warnings get a bit tiring. Just keep your stuff close & out of sight. Don’t leave phones/wallets on tables. Keep your hands in pockets or hold your valuables in stuffy crowds. It’s all common sense really.
There are a lot of people on the extreme sides of this choice, some people don’t believe in bringing any technology, some people bring everything. Personally, I have a lot of tech on me. My iPhone, Macbook, camera etc. I love it. I use my Macbook a lot. And the iPhone is invaluable; as long as you preload a map on Apple/Google maps beforehand, you can still use GPS to navigate the map even without wifi/3g. Which makes it super easy to find your hostel and drop off your stuff when you initially land in a city. Being able to quickly keep in contact via email/Facebook & upload photos from wifi hotspots is fantastic. And apps such as Tripadvisor and Foursquare can help get you out of the tourist spots and find hidden gems of things to see and places to eat. I’d say in this age, you’d be making your life a lot harder than it needs to be without tech.
A lot of people will want to warn you about visiting certain countries. You’ll definitely hear “don’t go there, it’s dangerous” at some point. The irony is that most of this advice comes from people who’ve never even been to that country before, or haven’t been there in years (and visited during a war etc). Ignore that, and instead look out for advice from fellow travellers or travel forums. I’ve been to 19 countries in Europe, many of them east, and I’m yet to find anywhere that’s actually dangerous to foreigners.
They say that when you travel, you realise how you don’t need any of the stuff you had back at home. After living out of a backpack for 10 months, I would agree that this is true, but to say that I don’t miss my own private room, my xbox, or my car would be a lie. I kept all that stuff, so when I get back home, they’ll be waiting for me. You don’t need to sell your entire life to go travelling unless you absolutely need the money. You don’t need to give up everything.
I keep in contact with some of my friends, and I’ve lost contact with others. Good friends are good friends for life. I keep in touch with my family on a regular basis.
It becomes obvious that despite my nomadic lifestyle, I haven’t really dropped anything at all. I still have my job. I still have my friends (and plenty more new ones too). I still have my family. I still have my belongings. I still use Facebook and Instagram. I still have my Macbook and I still watch TV series, movies, and listen to music. And at the core, I’m still the same person that I was before (although probably a little more confident and easy-going).
To those who haven’t done it, travelling seems like some impossibly crazy idea where you’re dropping your life and turning into a completely different person. I know, because before I started, it sounded insane. I never thought I’d be able to see the world to the extent that I have. But the truth is that it’s very possible, feasible, and you don’t become someone else. It’s not something that just happens in movies, it’s something that a whole load of people are doing every single day. It’s an incredible lifestyle where you’re having amazing and different experiences every week. Your life is always changing and never boring. And it’s achievable for nearly everyone living in the first world.
My recommendation: book a ticket and just leave!