How did you do it? How much did you save? Where do you even begin? We get questions like these ALL the time and we have compiled all of the knowledge we gained during our personal experience to help you plan your big adventure. We hope this guide inspires you to take the leap and travel the world!
Now, let’s get started…
Where do you want to go? What places do you want to explore?
We both decided that we’ve always wanted to explore Southeast Asia. Besides all the wonderful countries to see, from a budget perspective, we also found Southeast Asia to be an ideal location to travel for an extended period of time. Where did we start? First, we compiled a list of all the places we wanted to go in the region so we had a rough idea on countries we both wanted to see. Once you have an idea where you want to go, then you can begin to research.
How did you pick your destinations/countries?
Research, research, research. We spent many long nights researching all the countries and cities we wanted to see. We were able to narrow down the places we definitely wanted to see and places we decided to pass on. Once you do that, you’ll have a better idea on how much time you’ll need in each place. Even though we predetermined where we wanted to go, we have also added new spots on the road based on other travelers’ recommendations. It’s always good to be flexible!
How much did you save?
We get this question ALL the time but it’s such a tough one to answer! It all depends on how you personally answered the two questions above. For us, since Southeast Asia is a relatively cheap region, we are able to manage about $1,000 USD per month (x12 is about $12,000). This figure includes living expenses such as food, transportation, lodging and miscellaneous expenses like tourist attractions, souvenirs, etc.. We also estimated an additional $3,000 saved for flights and baggage fees.
If you decide to travel throughout certain areas of Europe or Australia, $1,000 USD per month would not be enough. Also, timeframe is a big factor on how much you save. If you decide to go for longer than a year, you will need to save more. Another important factor is what kind of traveler you are (are you a backpacker or do want to stay in luxury accommodations?). This determines how much you are spending on your lodging. For us, we are budget travelers and we typically spend about $20/night and always try to aim for lower!
How did you save so much money?
Saving money really depends on how dedicated you are to this travel dream. Saving means sacrifice and sacrifice means no more shopping, no date nights, cutting off alcohol or purchasing cups of coffee, basically prioritizing saving over everything else. Eating out was almost entirely removed from our lives. Instead, we cooked almost 90% of our meals at home and brewed coffee at home. We canceled unnecessary subscription plans. We said no to weekend getaways with our friends.
We also sold most of our possessions through places like Facebook Marketplace, thredUp and Poshmark. If you’re interested in selling your new or barely worn clothes, please click the corresponding links and you’ll receive $10 off on each site. It wasn’t easy, but every single penny added up and our savings quickly began to grow.
Michelle also ended up getting a side gig with a US company called Instacart. It’s basically an Uber for grocery shopping and she worked at least 20-25 hours of week (weeknights after her regular job and weekends). The flexible hours were great for her schedule and she was able to save all of her earnings toward our adventure. Her experience with Instacart was good however you really do need to dedicate at least 20 hours a week to make a decent amount of money. There’s a bit of a learning curve in the beginning but once you get used to it, you’ll become a pro. You’ll most likely get about $15-$20 an hour depending on how generous customers tip you. There are many other side hustle options but Instacart is how Michelle gained extra income. Depending on where you live and what you are good at, you can potentially earn extra cash.
We also posted our apartment for specific weekends on AirBnB. Whenever we had plans to go visit family or friends for a weekend, our apartment would be available. It was an easy way to gain some extra income as well.
How did you plan your trip?
Since Michelle has been an event planner for over 10 years, she is super organized and created an insanely long Google doc where we plugged in all kinds of information from flight info, lodging options, restaurant recommendations, potential volunteer opportunities, and sites we wanted to see. We spent a lot of time updating this document. We worked on it country by country. Since our first stop was Thailand, we started there. Once we were done, we moved on to Sri Lanka and continued on. We only booked flights and accommodations for the first 8 weeks to help ease us into our new full-time traveler lifestyle. However, we used this document as the foundation of our trip. It is also super helpful to have one central location where all of our research lived. Please note that we ended up changing a good portion of our trip in Sri Lanka based on recommendations and inclement weather conditions. It’s important to be flexible as things will most definitely change during your trip.
How do you find cheap flights?
Through our research and planning process, we knew how long we wanted to stay in specific places and then created price alerts via SkyScanner. We made sure to keep an eye out for flight deals as well. We also researched what the cheapest route was for our travel plans. Once we saw that prices were beginning to fluctuate, we committed to flight plans. Pro tip: Make sure to look into baggage allowance policies as we had a close call with one airline where we almost had to pay an insane amount of money to check our bags. One thing we also decided to do was choose one major airline and signed up for their rewards program. Since we’re traveling throughout Southeast Asia, we decided to go with AirAsia and hoping to gather enough points for free flights or additional benefits that can pay for other travel expenses like baggage fees.
Did you get vaccinations?
We sure did! We recommend finding a travel medicine clinic and scheduling an appointment as soon as you have a good sense of which countries you’ll be going to. Some vaccinations come in multiple doses so make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to schedule your appointment. Bring a list of all the countries you are planning to visit, even if you don’t end up going, and consult with your doctor about which vaccinations you need based on the areas you will be visiting.
How do you figure out which country needs visas?
If you are a US citizen, you can visit our trusty friends at the US State Department’s website. You can enter the country you are traveling to and will give you all the visa requirements. In some places, you get your visa on arrival and some places require you to apply before entering. Make sure you research this beforehand. Once we decided what countries we will be visiting, we plugged all visa requirements in to our trusty itinerary Google doc.
How much do you spend on lodging?
Our lodging budget is typically $20/night. We’ve been able to find great places and not so great places within our budget. While traveling, you always have to be flexible when you show up at a place and it’s not what you expected. Some places will exceed your expectations and others you may need to figure out a solution. We found that if the initial room is not what we were expecting, you can ask for another room at the property. If not, you can quickly find another spot to stay in. Most of the places we do stay at include breakfast which really helps with our daily budget as well! We’ve rarely decided to stay in AirBnB because of the high fees and the requirement to pay in advance. However, when we have, we try to make sure it includes a kitchen so we can go to the local market to buy items for breakfast, dinners and snacks!
We’ve used Booking.com for about 90% of our accommodations. We always book places with free cancelations, which typically allows us to cancel up to a week or a couple of days before our check-in date. We enjoy this flexibility as we can update our lodging if our plans happen to change. We highly recommend reading accommodation reviews by sorting by the most recent. These have been extremely helpful and has helped us find some awesome spots.
What credit cards and debit cards do you use?
Free ATM withdrawals, no currency exchange fees and no minimum balances were our biggest factors when finding the best travel debit card. We both ended up signing up with Charles Schwab and have LOVED it. (If you sign up with our link and deposit $1,000 USD or more, you’ll receive a $100 bonus reward!) From their friendly customer service representatives to the easiness of ATM withdrawals, it has been a great experience and we highly recommend them.
With regards to credit cards, Dan has the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Michelle has the American Express Platinum (When you sign up for the AMEX Platinum and you’ll receive 60,000 reward points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months). With these cards, we both have access to airport lounges which has been key for long travel days. We have been able to spend a couple of hours in a lounge, which gives us access to free food and drinks, WiFi which also saves a bit of money. We also can spend some time away from the airport craziness. Some lounges have really great amenities as well such as free massages, access to showers, etc. We also utilize credit cards points whenever we can.
What camera gear do you use?
Here’s a list of our camera gear – Point and Shoot Camera: Canon PowerShot G7X, Drone: DJI Mavic 2 Pro, iPhone: iPhone XS Max, Tripod: 60” Lightweight Tripod & iPhone Tripod, GoPro: HERO7, Black, Power Bank: Anker PowerCore. You can find a list of our complete travel gear here.
How do you pack for an entire year?
Let’s just say, we both failed in this area. No matter how many times people told us to “pack light”, we just didn’t listen. Once we got on the road, we both knew we overpacked and wish we had listened. We lay out our basic essentials on our travel gear page but we can’t emphasize enough that you really don’t need that much and everything you think you need to bring can be purchased locally. So, here’s another reminder, pack light!
How do you keep in touch with your friends and family back home?
We paid off our phones and canceled our phone plans. We then ported our number to a Google Voice account (one time $20 fee). We did this so we could keep our original numbers once we came back home. You can send text messages with your number through the Google Voice app. We ended up purchasing a TEP wireless device to access the internet and Google Maps when we’re out and about. When we do have have access to WIFI, we communicate with friends and family over FaceTime or Google Duo. If you have an iPhone, as long as you’re on WIFI, you can send iMessages to other iPhones. We’re barely in a situation where we can’t access WiFi! We also now have local SIM cards since its super cheap.
What if something dangerous happens while you’re abroad?
We logged all of our travel dates via the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You’ll receive email alerts about any issues that may be happening within the entire country. They also give you instructions about what you need to do if you are in the affected area. No matter what country you’re from, it’s always important to know where the closest embassy is and how to get in contact with them, in case of an emergency. It’s also extremely important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t be naive. Always ask and confirm prices before you get into a tuk-tuk or taxi. There are a ton of travel scams out there and they are scams for a reason. Always keep an eye on your belongings at all times, especially your passport!
How do you find volunteer opportunities abroad?
Great question! Loads of research actually. We’re always looking for organizations that will allow us to do short term projects. We’ve also received a lot of recommendations from other travelers. If you have any recommendations, please send them our way! We’ve found that a lot of animal shelters need shelter volunteers to walk dogs. We absolutely love dogs so that’s one volunteer opportunity that we hope to find in each country we visit. We also love spending time with elephants so we have done a lot of research and finding ethical organizations that do not ride the elephants and treat them with love and respect. We’re also really big on beach cleanups. We are beach lovers and want to keep our oceans free from garbage and plastic. It all really depends on your passions and what type of volunteer work you want to do. Check out our Do Good page for a list of organizations we’ve volunteered with to date.