Many of you might already know that earlier in 2014 I left my high paying software developer job, sold my furniture, and transferred my apartment lease. And before the year closes out, I’ll be departing alone on a one way flight from Austin to Australia with a backpack, a purse and a yoga mat. I’ll get to reflect on my past year while flying over the Pacific Ocean and ring in the new year with my arrival on the Southern Hemisphere. And you might be wondering… “Aw, I wish I could do that” or “That’s not possible for me” or “Wow, that’s crazy...” Or, maybe you’re thinking “Damn, that’s crazy and awesome!”
Hopefully you’re thinking the last one, and if you are, here’s some good news: you can do it too if that's what you most want. Many people hear the word travel and think “not for me,” “I’m too busy,” or “I can’t.” What most don’t realize is that travel, however you desire to go about it, is a life project than anyone can pursue and achieve.
In the countdown to my December 30th departure date, I’ve been asked variations of the same question:
“How does one prepare for a trip like that?"
The truth is that everyone’s story is different. Everyone has their different ways and ambitions and no one direction is more “right” than another. All I can share is how I have prepared and I hope that this gives you a point at which to start.
It’s tough say exactly when I started preparing for this trip. I always saw travel as something I’d do in my adult life. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been inspired by others to make a decision and take action towards a life I seek - the experience of travel.
I read several travel blogs - some I vibed with more so than others. Many travel bloggers will write about how they were inspired, how they saved up money, and how they planned (or didn’t plan) their trip. NomadicMatt’s blog is the first travel blog I stumbled across, and this article in particular stuck with me: Why it’s never a perfect time to travel.
Reading books can also be very inspiring. I read Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, which along with practical advice for minimalism and long-term travel, was sprinkled with inspiring quotes from many well known authors. Getting ideas from other people, online or in person, is probably the easiest way to be inspired.
Set a Timeline
Setting a time line is the best way to achieve any goal. You’ve probably seen this idea in action many times throughout your life. In school you had deadlines for papers and projects. At work there were deadlines for clients. In life there are deadlines like birthdays and Christmas. And those papers, projects, and presents all come to fruition in some way or another because of the pressure of a deadline. The same goes with travel.
I decided to treat this travel goal in the same way I saw my school and work assignments - I made a list of smaller tasks and I was going to make it happen.
Back in February of 2014 I wrote down a target leave date of January 1, 2015. It was an arbitrary date that sounded nice and it was far enough away to not be too scary. I talked about this travel thing with my friends and family, as if it was a real thing, even though the image in my mind and the words from my mouth were the only real things at the moment. Slowly but surely, those images and words, have turned into actions and plane tickets.
Quit The Job
Many people leave their jobs before they travel. Some people can figure out a way to take their jobs with them. Many others figure out another way to make money while on the road.
I left my job back in July for reasons other than travel, but my travel plans were very much part of my vision. This step really got the ball rolling for me.
Decide Where To Go
Before I bought my tickets I had to decide on a place. In accordance with my target leave date, which at the time I half heartedly took seriously, I wanted to go somewhere away from winter. I also wanted to start off “easy” in a place that speaks English and with clean tap water. So between the choices of summer in Australia and New Zealand, I choose New Zealand because of the extremely green and mountainous nature of the land.
Also, because it’s a smaller land mass which in my head seems more appealing. And if I’m being honest, the name “New Zealand” sounds nice - I’ll admit, my choice was largely arbitrary that was then justified with some reasoning.
Rack Up Rewards Points (and buy a ticket)
There are many ways to purchase a plane ticket. Of course you have the option to pay full price. However, this is extremely pricy especially if you want to fly internationally and to the opposite side of the planet.
Another option is to use rewards points and airlines “miles."
There are many articles online and even entire blogs dedicated to this topic. The basic idea is
- Apply for travel credit cards
- Use the credit card for your everyday purchases until you hit the spending required to earn your bonus rewards points
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have enough points for where you want to go
- Purchase a ticket with your rewards points.
So what exactly did I do?
Since I’ve been banking at Chase I looked into their rewards program and found it would be fitting for me and the travel rewards I wanted. I applied for the Chase Sapphire Card. This card required that I spend $1000 within the first 3 months to get 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Pretty sweet.
Shortly after raking in those points, I applied for and received the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which required spending $2000 before receiving 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Awesome.
Finally, I applied for the Chase MileagePlus Explorer Card, and because of a promotion at the time, I received 50,000 United Mileage Plus miles. (I later realized that I didn’t even need this many points and miles, but it didn’t cost me to do this so now I have extra points!)
How does this all fit together?
Chase is partnered with United Airlines which allowed me to transfer my Chase Ultimate Rewards points one-to-one to United Mileage Plus miles. Since United Airlines is part of Star Alliance, a set number of seats on Star Alliance partner flights are reserved for rewards bookings. Through the United Airlines website, I was able to search for flights and dates and see how many points I would have to spend to get to a particular city. I wanted to start my travels in New Zealand, but all the rewards seats on the Air New Zealand flights were sold out. So, I instead booked a rewards flight to Sydney, Australia (35,000 points + $29 booking fee) and then a few days later I purchased a ticket from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand ($173). So to get halfway around the world I spend a total of $202. I did this in mid-November and I’m pretty proud of myself here!
Pay Off Debts and Save Up Travel Money
I feel very fortunate in this department. I graduated with very little loans and I had a well paying job right out of college. Reading this starter guide and having relatively frugal spending habits helped in saving money. Having money isn’t the *most* crucial facet and its certainly possible to travel on very little, but it’s also important to have enough money to feel grounded especially when everything else is in flux.
Sublease or Break The Lease
This is totally dependent on the place you live. Sometimes breaking the lease doesn’t cost much and it’s worth avoiding the hassle of finding a sublease.
I decided to find a sublease by putting an ad on Craigslist. I put up several pictures and a detailed description of the apartment and included why I was moving. After meeting with several prospects I was able to officially sign lease-transfer papers within a month.
Buy Necessary Gear
It’s important to not go overboard and buy every little travel accessory you come across. Buy only necessary or semi-necessary things. This will be different for everyone, but for most budget backpackers, that includes buying a good quality travel backpack. I also spent money on a hydro pack (can be used as a daypack), a slash proof purse, a Kindle for reading books, a DSLR camera (what better time to get into photography?), and a few other small things… I’ll save the details for another post.
Selling, Keeping, Giving, Trashing
This quote is quite relevant when it comes to getting rid of stuff. All those things I own, I am responsible for. I spent many hours sifting through, organizing, and making decisions on what to sell, keep, give, and trash.
I knew I wanted to sell the big stuff to make extra cash. I once again used Craigslist to sell my bed, couch, coffee tables, TV, and kitchen table & chairs. Then there was stuff like winter clothes, cards, pictures, art work, memorabilia, etc, that I knew I wanted to keep. I packed it all into boxes, Tetris’d it into a rental car and drove that stuff to my mother’s house during the holidays. I’ve been actively finding new homes for things that still have value - like my whiteboard, random decorations, paintings, kitchenware and my juicer. And I’ve thrown away two trash bags of stuff that should have been thrown away a year ago.
(I’m three days away from departure and I’m still not done...)
It’s been a gradual process and only now that it’s a few days away does it make my heart quicken when I think about it. The preparation for this trip has truly been a journey of it’s own. It started with a simple idea: the desire to travel. I listened to that voice in my head, set a goal, and made a decision to make it happen. Day dreaming and reading articles online turned into selling furniture and purchasing plane tickets. Many of the major steps I’ve taken were overlapping in time. I started saving money and applying for credit cards before I quit my job. I was buying gear and getting rid of stuff simultaneously. This has not been the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but it also has not been the most difficult either.
If you want to travel, you can too. Set a goal. It’ll happen.
Have you prepared for a longer term trip before? How did you prepare? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments! :)