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How to Begin Traveling Guide

. . . while reading along this site I am so inspired to travel. I dont really know where to go, and while I am there how to survive regarding money and backpacking. What would be my first step? Hello Ashton, Deciding that you really want to travel is the first step — and is [...]

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. . . while reading along this site I am so inspired to travel. I dont really know where to go, and while I am there how to survive regarding money and backpacking. What would be my first step?

Hello Ashton,

Deciding that you really want to travel is the first step — and is probably the biggest. Lots of people say that they want to travel, but they are unwilling to structure their lives around the idea, or simply do not want to make the sacrifices to make it a reality.

Basically, there are a few things that you must give up to travel, and a lot of sacrifices of personal enjoyment need to be made. They may seem big at first, but once you get moving you will see that there are contingency options that more than makes up for them.

But sacrifices are needed for almost any lifestyle. If you want to be a doctor you need to sacrifice ten years in university and need to be on call for much of your life, if you want to be a business man you need to dress like a pecker, if you want to sell real estate you have to deal will a lot of liars. There are sacrifices to every lifestyle, and even though the ones that the traveling life demands are a little unconventional, I do not believe that they are any more extreme.

There are three steps to preparing for travel

  1. You need money
  2. You need skills
  3. You need to learn how to eat bitter

Step 1 – How to make and save money for travel

If you really want to travel long term, I would say that the very first thing that you could do right now is to stop spending money. Measure each dollar not as a monetary unit, but as a span of time.

10 USD is one full day of travel in most places in the world. Each time you spend money measure it in days of traveling lost. If you eat a $10 meal at a restaurant that is one day of travel gone; if you ring up a $30 bar tab, that is three full days down the drain; if you buy something for $50, that is nearly a week of traveling that you will not experience; if you buy a drink with your restaurant meal, that is 5 hours of being in a foreign land that you will not have.

This is just a way to keep spending in perspective, and to keep your eyes on the goal. The exchange of traveling is money for time — time to enjoy yourself, time to do what you want to do, time to observe, time to experience. To a traveler, time is the most precious commodity, for it is time that is the building blocks of life.

The first step to saving money is stripping away any extravagances, anything that you don’t need. In point, don’t buy anything that you will not croak without.

The second step of saving money is getting your necessities for free or as close to free as possible.

Shelter- From your email you mentioned that you are a student. If you are living on-campus off of financial aid, loans, scholarships, or your parents then you are doing well. Ignore this tip. But if you are paying for your accommodation then try to do everything in your power to come up with a way to live for free. If you can move back in with your parents, then this is best. If you have family or friends nearby, then make your intentions known and offer to do some work around their house for a free place to stay. Seriously, it is my impression that a lot of people would be willing to let you stay with them if you did their dishes, cleaned their toilets, and took care of their kids.

Also, if you have a car you can live in it. This is a little more difficult in the NY winter, but in the spring, summer, and early autumn this is a great way to save money for traveling while keeping yourself mobile.

Food- Free or cheap food is relatively easy to come by in the USA. Make sure to make use of bagel, donut, pizza shop dumpsters for free food. Also, discount supermarkets often put out lots of good food in their dumpsters as well. Go at night and look through their trash for food — much of it is still good. Reference the tip below on dumpster diving for more on this.

Once you have a good dumpster diving routine you can fill out your diet by eating beans and rice, chicken and eggs. This food is all really cheap all over the world. Get in a habit of making up a big batch of dry beans every couple of days and you will save mounds of money. Vegetables and fruit also sell relatively cheaply in the USA.

Read these tips about how to save money to travel

If you want to obtain the time to travel you need to save and make money — which, in the world of pay by the hour labor, is also a measurement of time. It is unclear from your email what you are doing for work, but if you are working one job, try to take on another. Work as much as you can. $10 is a day of travel. If you can get paid this much money per hour and you work 60 hours a week, you will be making a season of travel expenses in a single month.

Saving and making money for travel is not often very fun, but the more money you make and the more you save the less you will have to live like a work obsessed pauper. It is more than possible to make up enough money for two years of international travel in six months. It just takes the sacrifice of six hard months.

Read these tips on how to make money for traveling

Step 2 – Skills to gain for traveling

The second step to preparing for traveling is to acquire a certain skill set that would allow you to move about the world more easily. If you are not interesting in traveling as a lifestyle, then some of these tips may not be necessary, but if you do want to start a trip and never go home, it would help greatly if you had these skills.

Work skills – While you are still in the USA, and especially since you are in college, you are in a prime position for gaining work skills that can help you earn money in your travels.

First and foremost take an internationally recognized Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. Whether it is TEFL, TOEFL, CELTA it does not matter. Just make sure that it is internationally recognized. The more hours the course is that you are taking the better. In class instruction is always better that online, but it is possible to take these courses online.

I did mine this way through International TEFL Teachers Training. I earned a 100 hour certification for around $200.

Keep in mind though that even the online courses are very difficult. I though it was going to be a walk in the park, but as soon as I started it became apparent that I really needed to work at it. But it is all worth it. I have a nice little certificate that I can use anywhere in the world to find work teaching English.

Another work skill that you can learn in the USA that can be used abroad is learning how to farm. When the season gets warm it may help you out a lot to get some experience farming, as there are lots of opportunities for paid and room and board exchange farm work around the world. Even if you just WWOOF around the world, two of your major travel expenses — a bed and food — are taken care of.

I studied anthropology in university and have often made up my money to travel while working as an archaeologist — a profession that allows me to travel while earning a wage. There is a good chance that your university may offer an archaeology field school. It may be good to take one.

I also make a decent amount of my travel funds off of this website, www.VagabondJourney.com. I do not recommend being a traveling webmaster unless you really enjoy putting up thousands upon thousands of pages and working long hours for very little money.

Though one project that I was doing for a while is called the Hobohideout traveling webmasters program. This is basically a way to travel and trade hotels webpages in exchange for free accommodation. For more information go to, Traveling Webmasters.

The more skills and trades you know, the more employable you will be on the Road. This page has more information on this, Diversity of Work Skills Important for World Travel.

University is a good place to learn some of these trades, so if you angle your curriculum to meet your desire to travel, you will be much more prepared for the road ahead. Also, many schools that would otherwise offer you work as an English teacher require that you have a university degree.

More on working when traveling

Learning Foreign Languages – One of the most important things that you could be doing right now to prepare for traveling is to learn all the foreign languages as you can. If you switch your university major to Modern Languages you would be so far ahead of 90% of the other travelers in the world and opportunities on the Road would fall down in front of you at nearly every turn. Study foreign languages.

Cheap Travel Means Speaking Foreign Languages- Travel Tip# 16

Study Abroad – While we are going in this direction, have you ever thought of studying abroad? I don’t know what sort of school you are going to in NY but if it is a SUNY university I know that they have really good study abroad options. This may be a good way to start your travels while providing you with the opportunity to study languages and build up some traveling skills.

Study Abroad and International Education

Step 3 – Learning how to eat bitter

There is a Chinese say that a person who has the ability to live on very little resources has the ability to “eat bitter.” They often use this term when talking about migrant workers who travel around the country, working for very little money, spending even less, but still being able to save enough to send back home to their families. Eating bitter is a matter of pride.

For the traveler, if you know how to eat bitter you can find a way to travel forever. If you can eat plain white rice without complaint, if you don’t go out to bars, if you can entertain yourself with only free endeavors, if you can sleep on a concrete block, and if you don’t fear hard work you will find a way to travel.

I suppose eating bitter just means denying yourself luxuries and comforts — even simple and relatively ones —Β  in the name of having enough resources to travel. Eating bitter just means drinking tap water instead of soda pop, eating rice and beans daily, not ordering a drink in restaurants abroad, and knowing that whatever happens down the road, you will put in the effort to make it work out.

A dollar saved today is a dollar to travel another day.

  • Traveler Food: Chicken, Eggs, Rice, Vegetables


The above guide is how I travel. This is not the only way. In fact 99% of travelers would not live like this. I do it because it is a challenge, and it is not acceptable to me to have to go home — I want to travel 365 days a year.

If you follow the above guide, and read the pages that are linked from it, I am sure that you will be able to travel well for as long as you want. Some of these suggestions are a little intensive if you only want to go on three or so month backpacking trips, they are more if you want to travel full time, all year round.

Extreme budget travel and “eating bitter” is more of a lifestyle or a philosophy than an action that can be turned on or off. It sucks sometimes, but it is my feeling that going home and working a job that I do not enjoy as being a far worst proposition.

I know that this may be a little bit of an extreme answer to your question, but I hope this helps anyway.

Walk Slow,



Original question about how to begin traveling

Dear Wade,
I am a freshman in college in NY and while reading along this site I am so inspired to travel. The only thing is I don’t know where to start. It seems as if the many things that are listed here are for people who have already been avid travelers. I dont really know where to go, and while I am there how to survive regarding money and backpacking. What would be my first step? I am possibly thinking of a study abroad program at my school, but study abroad is pricey and I am sure there are less expensive ways of going about this. Thank You for your help




Filed under: Money, Travel Preparation, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

3 comments… add one

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  • Stefan Sovrlic December 28, 2012, 7:23 pm

    Greetings Wade,

    First off, let’s say that after reading a huge part of your articles – I really don’t know how to start this letter. I’ll go with that I am amazed with what you do and how you chose to live your life. I had this idea to hitchike from Serbia to Great Wall of China, and after googling stuff I stumbled across your articles and, afterwards, website which really, REALLY inspired me. Anyways, I am still a bit under the impression, so I can’t find the right words to express myself at the moment. For now, if you can kindly answer, I’d like to know a few thing regarding my ‘project’:

    1. I am a structural engineering student in a poor country, which implies that I do not have a lot of money. How much money do you think I’d need for me to go to above mentioned Great Wall of China and come back (visiting India in the process, since I heard it is a beautiful and very cheap country)? Of course, I am here reffering to 0 level of confort, which I am ok with. (and to be honest, I find it to be the best way to travel, since it makes you experience much more than you would with a larger fund). I can get around 2k euro, maybe 2.5k. Will that be anywhere near enough?

    2. How much time would that travel take?
    3. How much time would preparations for it take?

    Regarding latter 2 questions: I don’t need an exact number of days, a number of months will suffice. I know it’s not an exact science and it will vary from individual to individual, but since you have a lot of experience – I can safely presume you have some general rule of the thumb that can help me with estimating. πŸ™‚

    Once again, I am really amazed with what you do, keep up the work, my good man, and, of course, if your travels ever take you to Serbia – my house doors will be always open to you.

    Best regards,

    Stefan Sovrlic.

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    • Wade Shepard December 29, 2012, 4:39 am

      Hello Stefan,

      Thanks for reading!

      First off, the trip that you propose could take 10 years or 10 weeks, there’s no telling. If you travel all day long every day it’s not going to take too long. For scale, it takes about a week to hitchhike across China from north to south in the east.

      As far as money goes, if you’re hitching and sleeping outside and not hanging out in the places you plan to go through then 2000 Euro is definitely enough to get a good start. In fact, that’s a good amount of money to start any journey with. It’s always possible to make more money as you go if you need to. But I suppose 20 Euro per day would be a safe budget estimate, with actual expenses actually being lower if you travel in the way that you propose.

      As far as preparation time, I’d say that you need about the amount of time it takes to walk out your front door. But, realistically, visas are going to be an issue, and that needs to be researched and taken care of partially in advance, partial on the road.

      As a final bit of advice, all I can say is just go. This stuff really isn’t as difficult as it may seem. You have enough money to get started and seem to have the will. Figure out problems when you come to them, that’part of the fun of this game.

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  • Stefan Sovrlic January 12, 2013, 4:55 pm

    Hi, Wade, I am sorry for taking so long to respond, I kinda lost this particular webpage and, as such, took me a while to find it. πŸ™‚

    Anyways, I’ve definitely made a decision of going when after I get my masters in engineering, which will be in a 3-4 months. I’ve asked around and it turns out that I don’t need a visa for most of the countries, China excluded, so it’s not gonna be a problem. The only drawback I can think of right now is the fact that I am inexperinced in the this form of traveling and I don’t know whether it is smart to undertake a journey of 20000 miles outright (in both directions). What do you think?

    P.S. Thank you for your time and your answers. πŸ™‚

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