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How to Live the Traveler Life

ZIPOLITE, Mexico- I just received a question from a Brazilian reader named Yuri that truly hits on some key points of living the traveler live. Yuri, who is now 19 years old, says that he is getting ready to jump into travel by hitchhiking up into Central Brazil and then keep going north indefinitely. Before [...]

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ZIPOLITE, Mexico- I just received a question from a Brazilian reader named Yuri that truly hits on some key points of living the traveler live. Yuri, who is now 19 years old, says that he is getting ready to jump into travel by hitchhiking up into Central Brazil and then keep going north indefinitely. Before starting his journey, he had a few questions:

Do you have a ‘real’ job? I mean, do you work for some months to get the money, and then travel, and then return home, work, and travel again?

No, I travel continuously. I don’t have a job that I return to in my paternal home — Upstate NY, in the USA. I pick up work as I travel but now make most of my income through this website, VagabondJourney.com — so the times that I find myself needing formal employment are growing less and less frequent, and I often concentrate more on saving money rather than making it outside of my web earnings.


I would rather work for myself for a pittance than slave away for another at a good wage.

Though in my first years of travel, I would seasonally return for a three month stretch of travel around the USA, working on archaeology projects in various regions before heading abroad again. I quickly found that working abroad at local wages often only gets you just about enough money to get as far as another job in another town — it is often difficult to really save money in countries where the wages are often not over a dollar or two an hour. In point, in my first years of travel I would often jump the great economic divide and work jobs around the USA and Europe that would pay 10 times as much as I could make working in a tropical country. I suppose I am fortunate that I come from a large country, where I could keep traveling endlessly while making decent wages for further travel.

Although I am able to make a living from Vagabond Journey, it is not fully enough to support a family through. I also fund a wife and a daughter, and we most find clever solutions to keep our costs low. We now will sometimes trade work in hostels or hotels for a free place to stay and food.

How much money do you take/spend in your travels?

I generally work on a rule of $10-$15 per day, per person is enough for traveling virtually everywhere in the world. In expensive countries, I hitchhike or get a bicycle and camp on the sly, and, ultimately, pay only the cost of food to travel. Ironically, in cheaper countries I have found keeping costs low more of a challenge. Where I can get a bus at $1 per seat hour and $5 dorm beds, I am not going to risk biking and sleeping outside . But even small expenses add up, and I’ve found that my actual budget in cheaper countries is often beyond what I pay in Western Europe.

So, as always, keeping costs low is imperative. Andy the Hobotraveler.com has a maxim that goes as such:

“It is easier to save $20 than it is to make $20.”

This is truly the mantra of the traveler.

Now that I travel with a family, I generally try not to allow my bank account ledger to fall beneath $5,000. When it gets close, I know that I need to find another strategy for making or saving money. Though when I was younger, having just $1,000 to back me up did not cause much worry.

Is it easy to find a job in any town, if you need some extra money?

No way can you find a job in any town. Jobs are often scarce on this planet, and the traveler who wishes to work needs to plan his employment hubs with care. When looking for work, look for three things:

  1. Tourist towns who are in need of under the table seasonal English speaking employees.

  2. Larger cities with a solid upper class looking for English instruction.

  3. Expensive countries where you can undercut the labor market by working for less money than any local would.

In point, when working abroad you need to offer an employer something that they can’t get locally. You need to identify some skill that you have that most people don’t and figure out ways to make the most of it.

Tourist towns are often looking for English (or another language that matches that of their foreign clientele) speaking bartenders, waiters, hotel reception staff, tour operators, and other low level hospitality jobs. But don’t expect to make too much money: $1 – $3 an hour (or even less) is the rule. I had a group of American friends who worked in a cafe in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico for 75 cents an hour. I have some other traveler friends in Zipolite who work all day long in a hotel for little more than $10. In point, working jobs in cheaper countries may get you enough money to get by into the next day, but not too much extra to travel on.

But in Europe, I found that I could undercut the local wage demands and easily pick up work under the table for a Euro or two (or three haha) under minimum wage. Employers everywhere like to save money, and if you can help them do this they will often hire you on short term. Though undercutting local wages in Latin America often will not be of much benefit, as you are not going to get too far working for 50 cents an hour.

Better than searching for formal employment that is ultimately not going to allow you to save much of anything, it is my impression that it is better to start up some variety of independent travel business that you can run yourself from anywhere. These can be anything from making jewelry and selling it on the street to selling baked goods to doing computer work remotely. There is a collection of interviews with travelers who do such work on this page — Vagabond Journey independent travel business interview series.

Truly, this is how most vagabonds are getting around the world.

What kind of clothes do you recommend taking for a random trip like this? I mean, if we end up in a cold country, an anorak, a woollen sweater and a shirt would be ok?

The clothing you take with you depends on how much gear you want to carry with you as well as how much money you have. I figure that there are two types of travel packing strategies: minimalist packing and maximalist packing.

Minimalist packing means matching your clothes to meet your environment each time you enter a new region. So you leave behind unusable clothes and buy new ones. This strategy takes a little more money, but clothes can be found cheap almost everywhere, and if you travel slow while being mindful of regional changes, you probably will not find that you need to restock your wardrobe too often.

Another strategy is maximalist packing, and this is where you carry all the clothes that you will need for hot, cold, and wet weather everywhere you go. I travel with a family now, so we use this method, but, in prior times, I was thoroughly a minimalist packer.

To answer your question more directly: if you are going to be hitchhiking into mountains or through a country that has an actual winter, you are going to want the warmest clothes possible. Believe me, it gets cold at night in high altitudes, way too cold for just a sweater and a rain jacket: think boots and parka here.

Living the traveler life conclusion

It is not incredibly difficult to travel perpetually. The south of Mexico and Central America are full of travelers — many from South America — who have been traveling perpetually for many years. Most of these travelers can be found selling jewelry or art in the street, playing music, or doing some independent trade to fund their continuous travels.

The above is just a little of what I have learned in my 11 years of travel. I truly hope it helps. If you have any further questions, feel free to leave them in as a comment below.


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Filed under: Travel Lifestyle, 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 91 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 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • craig | travelvice.com January 8, 2011, 9:47 pm

    Get paid in a strong currency and spend it where it’s weaker. Working jobs on the road (even bartending in a hostel) is less about saving money and more about keeping from dipping into your bank accounts — it fights the slow financial bleed, playing into the ‘easier to save than earn’ mantra.

    By far the most lucrative money-making endeavor any traveler can use to support their travels is stealing from the absentminded or rookie travelers around them. I’m not of such moral character, but spend enough time on the road and you’ll meet plenty of people who’ve been impacted by people funding themselves in such a manner.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 10, 2011, 1:25 pm

      Good call, Craig. Getting paid in a strong currency and spending in cheaper countries is by far the easiest way to work your way around the world through formal employment. Working in cheaper countries means working a lot for so little money (relative to travel, which tends to cost more no matter how cheap you go), the you need to work all the time to get by. Also, always looking for work becomes a drag.

      I highly recommend the independent travel business route, as you probably won’t really make much more money than the previous option, you have the benefit that you can set up and work almost anywhere on call.

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  • Yuri January 9, 2011, 11:04 am

    OMG Wade, thank you so much for answering!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 10, 2011, 1:26 pm

      No problem, man, if you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

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