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Travel Long-term Without Depending on Savings

It used to be that if you wanted to pack everything in storage and go travel long-term for months or years, you needed to have lots of savings or you needed to find some kind of international job. Unless your company transferred you abroad with a fat salary and housing allowance, that job was usually low-paid in a low-skilled job, or it was doing something like teaching English as a second language.

travel long-term working abroad

Both options to travel long-term without depending on savings are out there. Plenty of foreigners are working in hostels, bars, and on organic farms. It’s still a good established path to get a TEFL certification and then go land a well-paying job in East Asia or one of the Gulf countries. 

You’re not limited to those options now though like I was when I first went backpacking around the world in the mid-1990s. As soon as the internet came along, we could all see that things were going to change in a big way. Some have argued that Voice over IP services like Skype had a bigger impact on remote work than anything since you could now make an international phone call for pennies instead of dollars. Things that didn’t really exist in a widespread way before such as e-mail, cloud storage, and digital photography brought down the costs of communication and creation to a fraction of what they were before. 

All these tools had already created a new roaming band of part-time workers and full-time digital nomads before the Covid-19 pandemic forced everyone into being remote workers, for a while at least. Most of them were freelancers, some were telecommuters, some were entrepreneurs.

What they all did is take their “office” on the road and change where they earn their income. For some roaming workers, the office is wherever they happen to be that week. 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 Who Travel Long-term

It wasn’t hard to see how this was going to change the face of long-term travel. Back in 2014, I wrote an article for Lonely Planet on the subject, profiling three singles, a couple, and a family who were working virtually – kind of an oddity at the time. You can see it here: Meet the new Digital Nomads.

One of them, James Clark, has put out a comprehensive timeline on the history of digital nomads. It’s an interesting read if you want to see where we’ve come from and how fast we’ve made progress as location independent workers. 

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. Sure, that’s what I do myself on the multiple sites I own and it can be lucrative after a while, but it’s a long slog to get there and there are certainly faster ways to make a buck abroad. It can literally take years to get any real traction the way Google works and until then you’re spending loads of time on what’s basically a hobby. Or with a more positive spin, you’re investing sweat equity in your future. 

It can work well for the focused, yes, and some travel bloggers are making great money. But some musicians, painters, and tennis players are too. Not most. There are easier paths. 

Real Jobs Go Mobile

So if you want my advice, look hard at your skill set, what you already have experience with, 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 you’re disciplined enough to do quality work from the road, you’ll probably get more clients later by referral.

If you are a freelancer, you can also bid for clients on services like Fiverr and Upwork. Things like web design, WordPress work, graphic design, translation, and technical writing are just a few of the skills in regular demand. These are easily done from a good work space when you travel long-term. Apartments have gotten better, with faster internet, but there are also co-working spaces in many locations. 

What has really changed since 2020 though is the huge rise in “real jobs” that are being done remotely. There are companies that are remote first and don’t even have a central office anywhere. Some of them have hundreds of employees. There are remote-only job boards now with high-paying jobs for skilled workers. 

Twice now I’ve attended the Bansko Nomad Fest in Bulgaria for remote workers and most of the 700+ people attending last time were not content creators. They were computer programmers, finance workers, remote property managers, salespeople, and probably 50 other categories. Some of them were making more now than they did when they had to commute, but they’re living wherever they want instead of where they had to show up in person. 

Bansko Nomad Fest remote workers travel long-term

The smaller 2022 crowd – yes remote work overseas is a thing.

Hands-on Overseas Work is Tougher But…

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 in my younger days 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 to lay out up front in the form of 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, even just a grand or two, then you can travel long-term through The World’s Cheapest Destinations almost indefinitely.

Next up, here’s what you need to know for making your round-the-world trip more affordable. Remember, you probably won’t need to earn nearly as much while traveling as you needed to earn just existing at home if you come from the USA, Canada, Australia, or Western Europe. 

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!


Saturday 29th of July 2023

That was an insightful article.


Thursday 27th of July 2023

Thanks Tim.

Reading your blog over the past couple of years has made me realize that it really is possible. As a youngish (early 40s) empty nester, my wife and I decided to take the full plunge and sell everything after a 4 month stint around SEA last year taught us the basics. Took us about 6 months to wind up our Aussie dealings when we returned, sell our crap (our rural mortgage free house sold in two days!) and jump on a short $200 flight back to Malaysia. Currently living of the interest and my (extremely small) online hobby (programming).

Everyone at home asks if we won the lotto yet there they are with full time jobs, unpaid debts and too many toys to maintain. Our step is far more logical I think.

What's our plans? Travel slow, and maybe find a place we want to settle down O/S, but we now set our own pace, so no rush whatsoever.

Thanks again for inspiring me.


Thursday 16th of April 2015