This post originally appeared on MainStreet.
When Jules Verne wrote about circling the world in 180 days he was telling the story of a breathtaking adventure, and he was absolutely right.
The chance to travel the world, whether for a month or six or more, is an incredible opportunity, one that more and more people are beginning to create for themselves.
Once restricted only to gap-year backpackers and the wealthy, long-term travel is becoming increasingly popular among people who want to see more than the world can offer in only two weeks. As Americans, it’s also a way to get the most out of our increasingly expensive airfare, since seeing most of the world requires crossing an ocean.
The question is how do you make it work? Spending six months overseas is a huge leap of faith. It means coasting off of savings or finding a job overseas, not to mention hoping to still have a life on the other side. While some people are perfectly happy to wash up penniless on a beach in Indonesia, most of us would much rather get home without having to sell the car to make rent.
Fortunately, as travel professionals around the world will tell you, these days it’s all not only possible but well within reach. With a few tips and some smart planning, you’ll be booking that trip of a lifetime before you know it.
1. Destination, Destination, Destination!
Pick your destinations with an eye to savings. It’s the first choice you’ll make, and can determine whether the trip happens or not. Although the capitals of Europe are clichés for a reason, going places like east Asia or South America will let you take advantage of thousand-to-one exchange rates and get a lot more value for that dollar. Of course, you have to balance this with actually having some fun on your trip too. As Matt Chua, author of the popular travel blog Living If, recommends:
“Southeast Asia and China are the best value for money destinations in the world. You can be amazed by sights, enjoy the world’s best food, and have Western comforts for way less than anywhere else. While people claim India is cheaper, it’s not the same; it’s cheap because you get less… The reality of long-term travel is that it’s a life of trade-offs. Sacrificing comfort may save you money, but also make your trip unbearable.”
The statistics back this up, with the Lonely Planet guidebooks estimating that in Thailand alone a day of travel can cost as little as $30 all in. Of course keep an eye on your travel visas. Overstaying your welcome is a common mistake and the fines, in almost any country, add up fast. Over the years I’ve paid far too much money to customs agents thanks to expired stamps in my passport and more than a little bit of corruption along the way.
2. Try the Trains
American trains aren’t cheap. Our country is too large, our population is too spread out and our rail network just isn’t well developed compared to countries where it’s more practical. The fact is, getting from one part of America to another is almost always easiest on a plane and cheapest in a car. However according to Mark Smith, author of The Man in Seat 61, trains can be an incredibly cost effective and exciting way of seeing much of the rest of the world.
“In Southeast Asia and many parts of Africa you’ll find ultra-cheap trains that are an experience in themselves,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Remember the hidden costs of air travel: Train tickets or taxis to and from remote airports, baggage fees, booking fees. With airlines facing rising fuel costs, it may well be cheaper to take the train.”
Taking the train can also lead to unexpected and unique moments that have increasingly gone missing from the routine of air travel. They reflect the local culture, as Smith writes, and give passengers the chance to sit back with a glass of wine and simply enjoy the scenery. Besides, how else can you spend a night as I did, on a Romanian platform desperately trying to remember sophomore year Russian to tell a belligerent old woman, “I’m not taking your train?”
“I love snuggling down in bed, reading a good book by the glow of my berth light to the sound of steel wheel swishing on steel rail beneath me,” Smith said. “And waking up in a new country! It’s an experience not to be missed.”
3. Don’t Stop Your Financial Planning Once You’re Overseas
So you’ve done the work, made the plans, saved every penny from a year’s worth of unordered lattes and it was all worth it. The trip has begun! That’s no reason to take your eye off the bottom line now. All too often travelers forget to stay smart about their money all the way through, not just while putting the pennies together. Once you’re overseas, lax discipline can turn three years’ worth of savings into three weeks’ worth of fun.
“We record every expense,” said Chua. “It seemed anal at first, but keeping track of expenses is what has allowed us to travel for nearly three years without working. Looking back at our spending daily allows us to reflect on our priorities (seeing the world), where we’ve made missteps (did we really need that much beer?), and lets us know if we’re on track or need to make adjustments to our plans.”
It’s an effective technique and one that I use myself. Of course, the downside to writing down your daily expenses is actually having to read them. A spreadsheet lets you feel proud of a week in Cambodia that only cost $40. Just keep the $100 scam that made it necessary tucked away under “Other.” And watch your bar tab.
For ten more tricks to make your life abroad a breeze, continue reading at MainStreet.