Money and RTW Travel

Greetings from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  In the next few days you can expect an update on our transatlantic cruise from Europe back to the Americas, but first let’s take a pause from our regularly scheduled programming to address an important topic:  Money and RTW Travel.

This blog post is inspired by some of the comments on CNN.com in reaction to last Tuesday’s article ‘Summer chasers’ keep sun in their sights which features our Chasing Summer adventure along with a couple others.   The article was a huge success, drawing close to 200,000 readers from around the world and over 150 website comments.  It also drew over 8,000 new visitors to this blog.  Thanks CNN!

Reading through the comments on the CNN website, I noticed that a lot of readers were skeptical about whether “regular folks” can afford to travel around the world like we’re doing.  There seems to be a common misconception, at least in the United States, that international travel is a luxury that only the rich can afford.  I’d like to put that misconception to rest.

Let me start by dispelling the myth that “only trust fund babies can travel the world.”  The style of travel that Lauren and I have chosen certainly requires some cash in the bank, though it’s probably not as much as you think, and if either of us have trust funds nobody has told us about them yet!

As the CNN.com article mentioned, our trip is financed by cash I’ve saved up over the years, mostly profits from my company, Infosurv.  I started Infosurv in college with no outside capital and spent the last 12 years working hard to grow it, with the help of course of dozens of incredibly dedicated and talented employees.

We realize how fortunate we are to be able to travel in the style that we’ve chosen.  That said, I believe strongly that anyone can travel internationally if they have an able body and the discipline to work within a budget that suits them. It all comes down to the style of travel that they choose.

To illustrate, here are a few anonymous profiles of other travelers that I’ve met along the way:

The French Migrant Worker

On a bus to Arlie Beach, Australia, I met a pretty French girl who told me that she’s traveling though Australia and New Zealand as a migrant worker.  She picks fruits and berries on organic farms, alongside other migrant workers from Thailand and Indonesia (she admitted they are far more productive than she is.)   She enjoys working the fields and meeting other travelers along the way.  She saves up money as she goes, taking a few weeks off here and there to sightsee or chill at a hostel by the beach.  I’m guessing that she started her trip with just enough money for a cheap flight from France to Australia.

The British Retailer

At a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I met a 23-year old British girl who was traveling though Australia, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, and South America for 10 months.  After graduating from university she worked for 6 months as a front-line employee at an H&M clothing store in Liverpool, living inexpensively at her parents’ house to save up as much money as possible.  Her self-funded trip cost around £8,000 pounds (or about $16,000.)

The Australian Software Engineer

At a bar in Thailand I met an Aussie software engineer who funds his travels as he goes by working on software projects remotely for clients back home.  Since the cost of living in Thailand is just a fraction of that in Australia, he doesn’t need to work on nearly as many projects to support himself as he did at home.  This leaves him lots of extra time and money for sightseeing, transportation and recreation.

You may notice that none of the people profiled above would be considered ‘wealthy’ by Western standards. Yet, they’ve all found a way travel internationally for extensive periods of time.

You may also notice that none of the people that I profiled are American… I hate to admit this, but Americans are vastly under-represented amongst RTW travelers.  For every 1 fellow American that I’ve met traveling aboard, I’ve met 10 Australians, 8 Brits, and 3 Canadians.  Since our population is more than 10x each of theirs, this is a shameful state of affairs.

Admittedly, there are plenty of real-world constraints that make extensive travel more difficult.  For example, those with physical disabilities will find that other countries don’t typically have the same accessibility infrastructure that we enjoy in the States (although low-cost international cruise ships usually do.)

Those traveling with small children will find it more challenging than traveling alone, with older children or other adults, but it can be done.  Most of the people I’ve met traveling with children are living abroad more so than just traveling abroad, usually renting a house in a foreign country for several months or a year.  Though this kind of traveler isn’t quite as mobile as the single young backpacker, they still enjoy a similar sense of freedom, adventure, and cultural immersion.

For Americans, the most commonly cited impediment to long-term travel is our jobs  — or more specifically, the country’s relatively tight vacation policies.   In Europe, it’s not uncommon for employees to enjoy 6-8 weeks of paid vacation each year.  In the US, many employees get only 2 weeks.  This is a cultural problem, and unfortunately not much can be done about it at this point short of government intervention, as any American company that offers more paid vacation than its peers would find itself at a competitive disadvantage.

However, even the most workaholic American will find himself between jobs from time to time, especially in today’s economic environment, and these career breaks are the perfect time to knock the dust off one’s passport.

I believe that many of the reasons Americans cite for not traveling are intellectual covers for what’s really a cultural hesitancy.  The United States is very isolated by world standards.  We’re physically isolated by two vast oceans, politically isolated by the strongest military in the world, financially isolated by economic self-sufficiency (oil excepted), and culturally isolated as the world’s best exporter and worst importer of music, film, and media.  Americans have grown so accustomed to the bubble in which we live that most of us don’t even realize how much exists beyond it.  What little we do know about the outside world often comes from our sensationalizing media, thus giving us fears of other countries in vast disproportion to the dangers that actually exist there.

In the end, I believe than all Americans should travel the world, and than almost all of us can afford to if we have the courage, the desire, and the discipline to make it happen.

7 Comments

Filed under Lessons Learned, Planning

7 responses to “Money and RTW Travel

  1. Debbie

    I am one of those few RTW Americans. I have spent the last four years living outside my own country. It’s such a big world and so sad that so few Americans actually get out and explore some of it. Living in South Korea and New Zealand have opened my eyes to different cultures and styles of living vastly different from the small-town America I grew up in. I am sure your life has been enriched as mine has while traveling. Kudos to all the hard work paying off in this way!

  2. John

    You’re an idiot! Implying that when people lose their job they should pickup and travel the world is wonderful advice.

    Why pay bills? Why take care of your family? Just run off and leave your responsibilities at home.

    PS – When people get laid off, they don’t call it a “career break”…. they call it getting laid off! And its usually not greeted with open arms.

    • John, I realize that not everyone has the ability to pickup and travel when they find themselves unemployed, but more people should consider it than actually do.

      There are lots of tricks for reducing ones fixed financial obligations. For example, if you have a mortgage, you can often reduce it to interest-only payments for a limited duration of time. Or you can rent out your home altogether while you’re gone, as I did. If you have kids in school, try to travel during summer vacation.

      There’s no doubt that traveling requires some cash in the bank, but if you have even modest savings and think creatively about how to reduce your expenses at home, it’s often within closer reach than one might think. If you’re not working anyway, you may even find traveling abroad to be *cheaper* then sitting on your bum at home.

      The difference between “being laid off” and “enjoying a career break” is just a matter of perspective.

  3. Meghan

    Love this post and checking in on your blog once in a while to see where you are and get ideas for the RTW trip that my husband and I are planning to do in 6 years with our 2 kids (who will be 10 and 7 when we travel).

    I don’t mention our plans to everyone because inevitably the conversation turns to, “How can you afford to do that?!?” My husband is in the Coast Guard and I’m a stay at home mom, and though we work hard and are very fortunate, we’re no millionaires. Well, to us, travel is so much more enriching and important than, say, the newest TV or tons of stuff around our house. We are planning to do our trip right after my husband retires from active duty military service and before we “settle” somewhere. We are fortunate in that we’ll have a source of income while we travel (his military pension), but we’re also saving now since that alone won’t be enough money (we estimate). With hard work, time to save, and creativity in how you travel and live while abroad, I fully agree that most people could easily travel longer and more than they do…..but I also think that many Americans have no interest in traveling abroad, which saddens and frightens me.

    • Meghan, congratulations on taking the initiative to plan this adventure with your family! I agree with everything in your reply. If you’re strategic about where you plan to spend your time abroad, there’s no reason you can’t support the trip with your husband’s military pension and some savings. We’ve found that our expenses are much less here in South America than they were in Europe, and in Southeast Asia they would be even less. A steak dinner is just as good in Argentina (if not better) than in the US, but in Argentina it costs only 1/4 as much. If you choose the right locations, you could very well find yourself spending less money on your adventure than you would have sitting on your bums at home! Best of luck to you and please feel free to reach out if we can help in any way.

  4. Jared,
    Great post. I’ve been following your adventures since the CNN article. I’ve done a little traveling and I’m always trying to figure out how to squeeze more in. What you said about our isolation and ‘fear’ of what’s out there seems on the money. My concern is leaving stuff behind, the house, car, etc. on a long term basis. You mentioned renting out the house, did you use an agency or was it friends or word-of-mouth? I think if I could figure out the logistics of the taking care of the big commitments I’ll be on my way.

    • Marlon, glad to hear that you’re been following our adventures. It’s true that leaving behind one’s “stuff” seems daunting, but we’ve found that it’s more of an emotional concern than a practical or financial one. We left behind two cars, a motorcycle, and the entire contents of a 2 bedroom condo. What’s interesting is how quickly all that “stuff” was forgotten once it was stored away. We found a wonderful renter on craigslist for the condo, left our cars and the motorcycle at our parents’ houses, and put the condo contents in storage in Lauren’s parents’ basement. Even if we didn’t have the luxury of parents willing to help us out with these things, a climate-controlled storage facility could have been used for a small monthly fee. Just remember, you own your stuff so don’t let it own you!

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