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Traveling Long-term Without Depending on Savings

Benny digital nomad

Benny Lewis from

It used to be that if you wanted to pack everything in storage and go traveling for an extended period, you need to have lots of savings or you need to find some kind of international job. That job was usually low-paid in a low-skilled job, or it was doing something like teaching English as a second language.

Then the internet came along and got faster. Then came Voice over IP, like Skype, Vonage, Magic Jack, and Google Hangouts/Google Voice. And Paypal. And smart phones where you can stick in a new SIM card and have the world at your fingertips from anywhere. I use a SkypeIn number to have a U.S. number companies can call, plus a Skype subscription to make unlimited calls to regular phones in the other direction. It’s almost like I never left–except when the connection is bad.

All these tools have created a new roaming band of part-time workers and full-time digital nomads. Most of them are freelancers, some are telecommuters, some are entrepreneurs. What they have done is taken their “office” on the road and moved the place where they earn an income wherever they happen to be. Without the huge monthly nut they had in their expensive home country, they don’t need to earn as much either.

The New Digital Nomads

I recently published an article for Lonely Planet on the subject, profiling three singles, a couple, and a family who are working virtually. You can see it here: Meet the new Digital Nomads.

One key thing I wanted to do in there was show that the most visible and obvious thing people may think of is not the best: being a travel blogger. As someone who has been a speaker at two Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conferences and will be speaking at two more this year in Cancun and Athens, I’m here to tell you without a doubt that this is a very tough way to make real money. It can literally take years to get any real traction the way Google works these days and until then you’re spending loads of time on what’s basically a hobby. It can work, yes, and some travelers are doing quite well. But some musicians, painters, and tennis players are too. Not most.

So if you want my advice, look hard at your skill set and figure out what can be done virtually. If you’re good at something that is already easy to do remotely, then you’re halfway there. If you have paying clients or know where to go get them, you’re probably 2/3 there. If you’re good and your disciplined enough to do quality work from the road, you’ll probably get more clients later by referral. You can also bid for clients on services like eLance, oDesk, or Envato. Things like web design, WordPress work, graphic design, translation, and technical writing are just a few of the skills in regular demand.

virtual work abroad

On a post-workday walk…

If your current job is something very hands-on, then is there a way to do that hands-on job somewhere else? Or can you make money teaching others how to do it better or make more money at it?

If you come up empty, there’s nothing wrong with being an ESL teacher. I was one in Istanbul and Seoul and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It was a rewarding job where I really felt like I was accomplishing something each week and in Korea anyway, the two of us saved $30K in a shade over a year. In 1998 dollars.

Whatever path you choose, you will need a bit of money set aside to get rolling and you’ll have a few grand in expenses up front from shots, travel gear, lingering bills, plane tickets, and your first month or two of traveling. If you can make money from the road after that though, at least $1,000 a month to be safe, then you can travel through The World’s Cheapest Destinations almost indefinitely.

Want to change your permanent address instead of roaming the globe like a vagabond? Sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad newsletter and get a free report on where to stay on a tourist visa for four months or more. Or just get the e-book and go already!


Wednesday 29th of April 2015

Iam in the process of packing up and heading out to travel full time. I do get a pension from the Army at $2900 a month and was wondering if that was realistic to be able to travel full time.

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

Absolutely! See for a guide with lots and lots of details. Anywhere in there will work on that budget.


Thursday 16th of April 2015



Sunday 14th of December 2014

I love articles like this article Tim, because there is never just one easy answer, never just one easy way of traveling. You keep getting a little more knowledgeable and so much of this not mentioned is literally just "confidance". That may sound a bit over-simplistic yet it is the truth. If you believe in yourself and just go, things have a way of working themselves out. I saw an HBO special once about a guy that proved he could take nothing but the clothes on his back and go from the U.S. East Coast to the West Coast relying on nothing but a cell phone and Craig's List. People put him up, gave him temp. work and fed him. Where there is a will there is a way. Fabulous article and blog will return again--

Steve H

Wednesday 16th of July 2014

Good article. Virtually anyone can do ESL abroad with the time commitment required (by the foreign country/school).

So much of the expense of traveling the 'cheapest destinations' Tim champions - strictly comes down to airfare. If you're going two weeks to Central America, then back to the states, then two weeks to Europe, then back to the states, then to Asia for 3 weeks, then back to the states, etc prevents you from taking an employment position as an ESL teacher, but it also dramatically increases your expenses because: airfare.

But - because I have an established life in the USA - this is what I'm trying to do. I'm working up towards $2,500/month in passive income, hopefully 3K/month within a year. Then I can just focus on volunteering when it makes sense. Volunteering for the Red Cross is especially nice since they give you a credit card to use (judiciously, and I wouldn't take advantage) over the duration of your service for restaurant meals, hotels, while you're not profiting at all, the basics of day-to-day living expenses are covered. Volunteering is a nice alternative since I've found you're treated a bit better and folks are generally more grateful and generous towards you, since 'you're doing all this for free'.

So - got a little ways to go - but that's the goal, anyway.

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 16th of July 2014

Sounds like a great plan! And you're right that the longer you stay somewhere, the long that airfare is amortized. For a one-week vacation, the cheaper country is not going to make such an impact as going there for a month or better yet, three months or more.