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Three Month Travel Rule

Three Months to Stay in One Place Limit Travel Rule I call myself a perpetual traveler, this means that I have three months to stay in any one place in the world at one span of time. Any place that seems friendly enough, any place that makes the sweet offer of work, any place where [...]

Three Months to Stay in One Place Limit Travel Rule

I call myself a perpetual traveler, this means that I have three months to stay in any one place in the world at one span of time. Any place that seems friendly enough, any place that makes the sweet offer of work, any place where I wake up convinced that I am in paradise — any place whose immigration will allow me to — I have three months to stay. If I stay longer, then I live there — I am no longer traveling. This is the three month rule of world travel put forth by Andy Hobotraveler.com:

THREE MONTH RULE

If I stay more than three months in one location, then I have stopped traveling and have become an expat, I am living in a different country, I am not traveling or a traveler. –Three month travel rule

I honor this rule for one reason: there has to be a cut off point between traveling and livings somewhere. Someone had to draw the line in the sand, and three months seems like a good place to put it.

Rules of Travel

The usage of terms demands definition. Terms only make sense because a group of people in a certain place mutually agree on their meanings. We have words such as “traveler” and “expat” which do not inherently come with very concrete defining characteristics, so this is an attempt at clarity. I am standing with Andy when I say that three months is the cut off point between traveling and living abroad.

I see many travel bloggers/ writers trying to gain regard by saying that they have been “traveling for X amount of years,” when they actually were teaching English in Thailand. A person who lives in Thailand for two years is not traveling, they are living in Thailand — they are an expat, a foreign teacher, not a traveler.

Straighten out your terms.

The three month rule draws a line between one way of living and another, it determines if I call myself an traveler or an expat. The definition of terms is perhaps a fool’s endeavor, I remember my old existentialist and Buddhist trainings: the word killed the thing. But those who seek to communicate need defining variables on the words they use. For many years, Andy Hobotraveler.com has sought to define a traveler, and part of this definition is how long a traveler can stay in any one place and say that they are still traveling.

In my experience, I agree that three months is an adequate amount of time to limit staying anywhere.

The three month rule is not a stone cold code of conduct, but is more of a travel guideline. In reality, an occasional stay of 14 weeks is not much different than 12,  but six months in one location is far over the line — it has broken the barrier of defining travel.  When I say that I have been traveling for 11 years, I mean that I have not stayed in any one location continuously for much over three months. I do not count days, I do not hold myself in strict bondage to any rule, and I know that the three month rule is a guideline to direct the course of traveling, not a hard line regulation. It is a flashing red light saying, “Hey! there is a whole world out there, it is time to go! ”

I am not going to ostracize a traveler if they take a job somewhere for four months, I am not going to call out or strip a traveler of their self professed title. This is not a competition, it is a defining of terms. It is up to travelers to define themselves. If someone tells me they have been traveling for 10 years, I do not ask them to hand over their passport for inspection — to do so would surely violate other codes of travel.

It would also defeat the true impetus of travel if someone were to count the days of their stay and force themselves to abandon a place just to be able to flaunt a title. Leaving a project or work unfinished in order to wear a badge would be a very silly thing to do, and again, would probably violate other codes of travel. Travel is not about following rules, and this travelogue entry is admittedly tinged with contradiction and irony.

The three month rule is to be followed loosely; it is a guideline, not a code. It is something to say that a two year stay in Thailand is not traveling, but acknowledges that the traveler who earns their keep on the road sometimes needs a few months in one place to continue obtaining the resources to travel.

“Even a rolling stone requires an occasional growth of moss,” Harry Franck once wrote.

The three month rule is just an alarm that goes off to warn a traveler when they are becoming a part of a landscape.

Good places to stay for 1 to 3 months chosen by travelers

Rules of travel

Filed under: Perpetual Travel, Travel Lifestyle, Travel Philosophy, Travel Preparation

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

8 comments… add one

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  • Shannon (mynetdude) January 7, 2011, 10:13 pm

    I know this is not some hard/fast rule, and wow OMG this comment box could use some major fixing. I can’t even see what I’m typing, Chrome.

    Alright well I’ll keep it short since I can’t see really anything. I understand what you mean by 3 months vs longer than 3 months and the terms changing, but what if you are traveling from city to city on the same continent or in the same country for more than 3 months are you then still living there as an expat? I think it should be more clearly redefined, you are living there as soon as you are not going to new places or you are teaching, etc (aka not traveling). Or must one go to another country, region or continent in 3 months to maintain their “traveling” status?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 7, 2011, 10:21 pm

      Place is defined by city. To do it by country would be ridiculous, as you could find like 25 little European countries inside of China, the USA, or Russia. So it is by city. 3 years in one country is still considered traveling, just so you keep moving. Some of the greatest travelers in the world never leave their country of origin.

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      • Shannon (mynetdude) January 7, 2011, 11:42 pm

        well I had to be sure! Even though most countries will only let you stay 90 days unless you get a work visa but even then… and thanks for the clarification :).

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        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 8, 2011, 9:55 am

          No problem. No hard rules here, jut trying to work towards a definition haha. It is funny how many countries just want you to run really fast through them. Thanks for the comment.

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  • Mägi October 2, 2013, 7:05 pm

    Three months was the number I gave myself back when I was 17 years old. I decided that if I was someplace for three months, I could say that I had lived there. Any less than that and I was just visiting.

    I still hold onto that.

    Keen on seeing that it wasn’t just me.

    I also consider 3 days to be the best amount of time to be a guest in someone’s home.

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  • Jack October 4, 2013, 11:21 am

    It’s a tough call at what point travel becomes living or living becomes travel. I guess those kinds of definitions are easy for those who had a permanent kind of upbringing, but using those definitions would mean that most of my upbringing was traveling in places and most of my adult life has been living in places.

    My family moved every couple of months when I was growing up. One year I went to 6 different schools in a 9 month school year. My family wasn’t traveling, they were moving place to place and living in each place they moved to. They bought stuff for the home when we got to a new place and sold stuff before moving on to the next place. I can say that we lived in just about every place we moved to.

    On the other hand, I have made it a point to travel and stay in places for extended periods of time. I can’t really say that I have “lived” in places that often. The good point of this post is that it got me to thinking about my own criteria of whether you are living in a place or just “passing through” (which is what Vagabond do)

    1) Get a job and/or put your kids in school
    2) Get utilities in your own name
    3) Get Married to a local
    4) Become active in a civic organization or church
    5) Buy A TV, air con or other major appliance that you can’t take with you.
    6) Acquire more possessions than you can travel with
    7) Plan to stay in the place for more than short term.
    8) Incapable of leaving within 24 hours if you felt the desire to leave

    I think if you answer yes to a 2 or 3 of these questions then it’s probable you are living someplace and if you can answer yes to 4 or more of them then I think it’s safe to say you are living someplace, whether you have been there 1 week or 1 year.

    The criteria are just off the top of my head….I’d love to hear feedback on them though.

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    • Wade Shepard October 5, 2013, 3:50 am

      I very much agree with what you say here. Time isn’t really what is truly relevant when compared against the lifestyle you live and the perspective you carry when in a place. You’re right, you can show up and be “living” in a place the first week you’re there if that’s how you set yourself up. Perpetual travel, as in PT, is more about the lifestyle, and only about the time if you truly become a part of the landscape.

      The criteria that you present here for how to define living somewhere is overtly solid. The only thing I can add is becoming somehow financially intertwined/ dependent on aspects of a place that it becomes difficult to leave and making long term commitments to people, groups, and organizations.

      When it comes down to it, it’s mostly the lifestyle that matters here — as in viewing the place like a traveler and not becoming trapped somewhere — that really matters. I guess I have feet in both camps here in Xiamen. I travel for two weeks per month but really appreciate having a solid base for the rest of the time.

      Also, if you’re working on big projects three months is often too short of a time to really accomplish much. At this point, I would rather invest myself into pursuing larger scale endeavors than visiting more places. Traveling has little value if it becomes a yoke holding you back.

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      • Jack October 5, 2013, 9:41 am

        I think words matter. After writing my comment, I got to thinking about some terms like hobo, vagabond and my favorite peripatetic. I looked up several different dictionary definitions for the words…..

        Hobo: a person who has no place to live and no money and who travels to many different places

        Vagabond: moving from place to place without a fixed home

        Peripatetic: someone who travels from place to place, like an itinerant

        Traveler: someone who is traveling or who travels often, a person who moves around from place to place instead of living in one place for a long time

        Words do matter and for Andy of HoboTraveler to be a Hobo, he needs to continue traveling constantly. The 3 month rule isn’t something that defines whether someone is a traveler or not, it’s the continuing definition of Hobo.

        Hobos are always on the move, vagabonds don’t have a permanent home, peripatetics go from place to place observing, questioning. I think what separates the three groups is the level of permanency that they have.

        I believe that all three(and other groups as well) are travelers.

        It’s my thought that what we have in common is that fear deep in our hearts of settling down to a life with a home, white picket fence, car and 9 to 5 job. What others see as security, we see as a prison.

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