Are you dreaming of travel but overwhelmed with how to make those dreams a reality? You are not alone!
Here at The Broke Backpacker, most of us are familiar with yearning to hit the open road but being unsure of how to make it happen. I remember when I was a teenager, pouring over battered National Geographics, plotting our routes across the world map on my wall and thinking that hell, it’s all well and good to want to hit the road on these grand adventures, but how can I actually make these a reality?
This article is your ticket to understanding exactly HOW to make your dream a reality and hit the road for a whole year of travel. This is a co-authored post between myself, Will Hatton, the OG Broke Backpacker and founder of the site, and Audy Scala, the next generation of broke backpacker. Audy hit the road at the age of 17 on an extreme budget and hitchhiked her way across Central America, picking up odd jobs along the way to stretch out her journey.
This post aims to combine our experience, knowledge and tips to arm you with the information you need to prepare and then launch your very own one year travel adventure. But first…
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How to Travel for a Year: Getting Past The Stumbling Blocks
It’s normal to be afraid, nervous, and anxious before you hit the road. Many of us struggle with overcoming three major stumbling blocks, let’s dive in and we’ll show you how to get past them…
Stumbling Block 1: Unsupportive friends and family
Many folks dreaming of hitting the road for a year will not be particularly encouraged by friends or family. It’s very common to have the insecurities of those around you projected onto you when you share your travel dreams…
• “Get a job, get a mortgage and a house, get married, have some kids, work hard, retire, and THEN… then you can travel”
• “Traveling for a year will RUIN your work prospects, don’t do it”
• “Traveling is so expensive, you’ll run out of money in weeks and have to come home”
• “Traveling is hard, aren’t you scared?”
• “You can’t go there! You’ll be kidnapped or murdered for sure”
We strongly recommend to just let these comments roll off you like water, try not to get pissed off. Unsupportive comments usually say more about the commenter than you.
A lot of the time people are freaked out by the concept of there being ‘a choice’ to do something else and will try to subconsciously derail anybody in their circle who threatens their belief system on what ‘building a future’ looks like. Again, try not to let it bother you, it’s usually best to just not engage.
When I was 16, living in Arizona, I was faced with the daunting task of choosing a university and essentially determining the trajectory of my entire future. I also had to figure out how I would pay the insane price to attend university in the States. I was overwhelmed and would daydream about traveling the world.
I didn’t know what I wanted to study but kept being told that I needed to have the “college experience.” I researched volunteer opportunities online because it seemed like that was the most accessible way of traveling while young, but most of the organizations I found were insanely expensive.
I started Googling ‘How to travel cheap’ and came across Will’s book on ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’. I was amazed at the concept that I could use the savings I had, which was about $5000 and travel for at least a year, whereas if I were to travel in the USA, $5k would be gone much more quickly and would barely make a dent in the university fees I was looking at…
I decided to take the leap and not attend university. I was looked down upon and didn’t receive much support from my community or peers with people telling me I was going to get myself killed.
It was a hard time, to say the least. I struggled with feeling unsure of myself but ultimately I knew I just had to try life on the road, the rewards seemed worth pushing through the uncertainty and anxiety.
The concept of a gap year is more normalized in other countries, mostly European ones. It was so cool to meet so many people abroad who were also taking this year to learn about themselves, learn about other cultures and open their minds beyond the bubble they had been existing in in their home town…
Stumbling Block 2: Getting Money Together (Saving up $5000)
It’s been over a decade since I first hit the road with about £3000 to my name… I traveled for a long time on a budget averaging out at $10 a day. Today, this may still be possible, but a budget of $20 a day will give you a lot more flexibility.
I’m currently working on a re-write and update of our famed Broke Backpacker Bible. So, keep an eye out for that as it will be full of new tips and tricks on how to travel the world on the cheap.
I recommend that you do what you can to scrape together around $5000 – this is a good foundation with which you can begin your year-long adventure. Do not be afraid to work… hustle hard!
My childhood was often spent buying and selling stuff and before I hit the road I was constantly hitting up thrift and charity shops, finding stuff I could sell for a small profit on eBay. All while also working 60 hours a week (more if I could get it) as a manual laborer.
I worked my absolute ASS off in the few months running up to my travels and stopped spending money on everything apart from the barest of necessities.
I believe that if you work hard and hustle smart, you can earn what you need in about four months.
If you really truly want your travel dream to become a reality – you have to be willing to work hard doing jobs that might be very tedious in order to make it happen. Trust us though, it’s worth it for the adventure-hungry backpacker. There are a LOT of opportunities to make money if you get a bit creative, both before you travel and when on the road.
I had the privilege of going to high school in America where I was able to work a summer and save up around $4,000 in a couple of months. I’ve had a plethora of jobs from swim coaching and lifeguarding to waitressing and busking on the street. I picked up any job I could get and was often working two to three jobs at a time and making sure I was saving the majority of my paycheck.
My grandma was hands down my biggest supporter when it came to my travel journey. Her influence began when I was young and we would sit under the stars, chatting and sharing dreams. I would often excitedly splurt out all the inner workings of my 15-year-old brain; how I wanted to be a snowboard instructor in Japan, scuba dive in Thailand, trek through Nepal, road trip through South America, or skydive in the Alps.
As she sat, gleaming with sage wisdom and listening intently, she always led me to the same advice. If I wanted to make any of this happen, if I wanted my dreams to be realized, I had to face the reality that I needed to work for it.
That was the simple truth, that I couldn’t just assume my dreams would fall into my lap or rely on someone else to make them happen for me. That all of my dreams, NO MATTER HOW LARGE, were fully possible, I just had to make them happen for myself. This advice shaped me and gave me the confidence I needed to make this lifestyle a reality.
Whilst it is absolutely possible to travel on $10 a day or even less, you will be extremely limited in what you can do and ultimately it does make sense to do the work, earn the money, and hit the road with a bit more confidence.
Stumbling Block 3: Feeling Anxious or Unsure of Yourself
The greatest of journeys, adventures and life-changing moments all begin with a single step. And yet, that first step is SO MUCH harder than the ones to follow.
Making the decision to travel, making the commitment to yourself to work hard to save some cash so that you can hit the road. This decision is by its very nature both intoxicating and anxiety-inducing.
As previously mentioned, many folks may not be supportive, and it’s OH SO COMMON to have a friend promise to come with you only to drop out of the trip leaving you to face a whole bundle of anxiety about whether or not you should travel solo. The answer is yes, yes you should.
Growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone, to continue to expand your skillset and to evolve into a more capable, more confident, human being you NEED to frequently get uncomfortable. Being on the road, especially if you’re traveling broke backpacker style on a tight budget and throwing in some hitchhiking, camping, cooking on a portable stove style shenanigans, is an experience that will stretch out your comfort zone.
It is totally normal to feel anxious before you sling on your backpack for the first time and walk out the door, but do it – just do it – you won’t regret it.
Honestly, as a solo female traveler, after being on the road for 2.5 years, the hardest thing I went through was leaving. It can be fucking terrifying. Leaving all that you know, your bubble, your friends and family to face the unknown, and see the world.
After years of dreaming, knowing this was all I wanted to do, there were so many times I almost canceled my flight, even up until I was getting dropped off at the airport. I was scared shitless.
But then it happened, sitting on the plane, by myself, watching the clouds out the window. A feeling of ecstasy washed over me and excitement coursed through my bones. I was doing it. It was real. I continue to get this feeling on every flight I take, as I know my future will be filled with uncertainty and that is half the adventure.
Why Travel for a Year?
There are SO MANY pros to long-term travel
Long-term, slow travel, is VERY different to shorter trips or even 2-3 month backpacking adventures. By giving yourself a full year, you are able to truly LIVE the travel lifestyle with all the good, bad and ugly.
There are a lot of personal development opportunities that are really only fully possible when on a longer trip. A year out… a year just for you… this does NOT mean a year to slack off, party on down and basically accomplish nothing. It means a year full of exploration, new connections and daily journal entries. A year of new experiences and pushing past social anxiety. A year to expand and grow.
Crucially, a year of travelling gives you long enough to relax into the trip, to set goals – such as daily journaling, a challenging hike, or starting an online hustle – whilst still on the road. The road is an incredibly inspiring teacher and if you are willing to work, to learn, to create whilst travelling then the opportunities are truly limitless.
My favorite part of long-term travel is the community aspect! It’s amazing to be able to really immerse yourself somewhere and dive deeply into the daily life of the people living there. Find your favorite coffee shop and make friends with the waitress. Get to know every alleyway and learn the backroads.
It Takes Time to Settle Into the Groove…
It takes a couple of months to get adjusted to the travel lifestyle – especially if this is your first time travelling. A year is a good medium between choosing if this is a lifestyle you want and also pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
It’s Cheaper to Travel Slower
Travelling slower allows you to save loads of money. Flights are expensive… if you choose to go hitchhiking or self-drive an ambitious route – let’s say the length of South America – this is going to end up taking longer but also costing less and giving you some pretty epic experiences along the way.
I began my travels hopping around from hostel to hostel every other day. There was so much to see and I just wanted to see it all as fast as possible. But one day I ended up in a small Mexican surf town and fell in love with the people and the energy.
I was able to rent a small place with the beach on my doorstep for just $75 a month. This was a huge change to my $10-$15 a night hostels… When you travel slower you can also buy groceries, cook for yourself and immerse yourself deeper into a local culture and community.
How to Travel for a Year on a Budget
Ok friends, welcome to the meat in the sandwich. There’s some fucking gold here, so get excited.
We’ve designed the perfect way to format a year-long trip on a budget…
We reckon we’ve figured out the optimum way to stretch $5000 into a one-year trip by splitting your trip into different sections; your easy intro travels, a volunteering stage, a work stage, and a final more adventurous travels stage.
Part One: Three / Four Months of Easy-ish Travel
To start your adventure, we recommend choosing a region of the world that is relatively backpacker-friendly, and easy-ish to get around. Where you go ultimately depends on how much money you’ve got saved up. If you only have a couple of thousand dollars to your name then you very much are limited to cheaper regions like Iran, Pakistan, India, Nicaragua, and Cambodia.
These are truly AWESOME countries to travel around but starting backpacking in Pakistan or India for example is not for the faint-hearted as these are more challenging from both a logistics and a culture-shock point of view.
There are two obvious choices for the broke backpacker hitting the road on a budget; backpacking Southeast Asia and backpacking Central America. Both are well-connected to make getting around easy and offer a dizzying array of attractions, cultures and adventures. These regions are well set up for backpackers and can be traveled on a budget.
Europe is fucking expensive, Australia is fucking expensive, America is fucking expensive… we recommend avoiding traveling to these countries as you can always do them later when you have more money and traveling in these places on a budget can be, well, a little bit miserable.
We recommend hitting the road for three-four months of adventures, meeting new people, and getting a much-needed breath of fresh air from what you’re used to. This will galvanize you and make you ready for the next part…
When I started traveling I went straight to Mexico. Initially, I had planned a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia but then…. Covid. After a while, one of the only remaining countries that was open was Mexico. I was disappointed I wasn’t going on my planned trip to SEA but backpacking Mexico ended up being exactly where I needed to be. Mexico and Central America were so incredibly easy to navigate as a first-time traveler. There is an extensive bus system, (some of them decked out with wifi and TVs) as well as a large backpacking community.
Part Two: Saving up Some Cash
Go to Australia, get an Australian working holiday visa, and be prepared to work. The minimum wage is $23 an hour and you can often earn a lot more than that; especially in construction or in the mining industry.
If rocking up to Australia really broke, find a volunteering placement using workaway or volunteer in a hostel in exchange for room and board, in order to keep your spending super low whilst you hunt for a job.
You can also find good gigs in working in New Zealand, and also in Europe but it’s harder to get a working visa. Working on your travels can be super rewarding and allow you to travel for longer so be ready to do it…
When I ended up running out of cash I was able to head back to the US (where I’m from) and work. Seasonal jobs are great, like snowboard instructing, lifeguarding, or working at national parks.
Most of these jobs have great perks like employee housing and meals. My favorite seasonal job I had was being a nanny. You can find nannying jobs on websites or Facebook groups. I LOVED this job because I was able to be welcomed into a family and into their home, was given free meals, and got to watch kids grow up, forming really special bonds with them.
Part Three: Hitting the Road Again, and Upping the Adventure…
Alright, amigo, here you are… 8 months into your year, with funds replenished. You’ve learnt a lot about the basics of backpacking along the way, what’s next?
We recommend taking your newfound experience and newly earned cash and doing something… a tad more ambitious.
• Head to the mountains of Nepal or Pakistan for some hiking?
• Drive from Cairo to Cape Town?
• Explore South America?
• Unravel the gigantic mystery that is India?
• Buy a car or van, embrace vanlife, and go on an epic journey?
The choice is yours and there’s no wrong answer but remember; keep pushing out of your comfort zone and learning new skills.
Keeping Costs Down When Traveling
Traveling cheaply doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are the golden ways of saving and stretching your hard-earned cash so that YOU can travel cheaper, and for longer.
1. Cut Down Your Accommodation Costs…
Accommodation costs can add up quickly, but there are LOTS of ways to cut these costs down or even cut them out altogether.
Here at The Broke Backpacker, we strongly recommend investing in a backpacking tent so that you have flexibility and can camp out to save money; who needs a cramped dorm when you can be stargazing right?
We also obviously feel that if you are paying for accommodation, you should go for backpacker hostels or local guesthouses and not expensive hotels.
Couchsurfing is also a great option to stay with locals for free and make new friends along the way, I personally have Couchsurfed over 150 times. It was an absolutely crucial part of my strategy when spending more than a year travelling the world on $10 a day.
Plus, some of my overall best travel experiences came about because of Couchsurfing hosts showing me things I never would have found otherwise. Check out our detailed Couchsurfing guide for tips on how best to use this amazing platform.
2: Cut Down Your Transport Costs…
Transport costs add up quickly and in general, we recommend you use local overland transport options – trains and buses – when navigating cities during your year of travelling. It’s best to avoid taxis, and it’s never a good idea to flag a cab down, you’ll pay more than you would if using an app like Uber or Grab.
Our favorite way to get around is, of course, by sticking out a thumb and hitchhiking! Hitchhiking is a super cost-effective way to travel long distances without spending money on transportation.
Many people are willing to offer rides out of kindness or curiosity, making it a great option for budget travelers. Let’s do the math: bus fare versus the thrill of hitchhiking – where you might score a ride with a farmer who speaks no English and communicates solely through interpretive dance. Sign me up!
3: Cut Down Your Food Costs…
Opt for local street food instead of expensive restaurants aimed at tourists. Street food is not only delicious but also provides insight into the local culture.
Cooking your own meals in certain regions can also save you money, especially in more expensive destinations or in longer-term stays. When hitchhiking across Europe and the Middle East, I traveled with a portable camping stove which made it easy to feed myself whilst camping and save a decent amount of money.
4: Haggle for Deals
Embrace the art of haggling to negotiate discounts on souvenirs, meals, a place to sleep, and transportation. Be friendly, keep it light, and remember that haggling is a common practice in many parts of the world. It’s a fun art which, if mastered, will not only save you money but also serve you well in later life when learning to negotiate.
Want to save money and learn some new skills along the way? You can find loads of great volunteering opportunities (some are even paid!) in almost every location.
Check out our detailed review on worldpackers and our breakdown of Workaway to find an exciting-looking opportunity, there’s honestly loads out there. Some can be as short as a couple of weeks to a couple of months; work on a farm, cuddle goats on an animal sanctuary, paint a mural, help out at a hostel or teach a skill.
One of our favorite tricks to save money is, upon falling in love with somewhere and wanting to stay, to wander around some hostels and ask if I can exchange work for a bed! Most of the time, depending on where you are, the answer is yes.
Tasks are normally pretty varied and often fun; some days I’d spend bartending in the hostel bar, taking photos for social media, advertising events, or cleaning the bathrooms… Check out our guide on volunteering at hostels.
Hustling While Traveling Around the World
Ultimately, one of the single best things you can do on the road to travel longer, up your travel style, and engage your creative skills is to hustle…
When you’re spending a year travelling, you have a lot of spare time on your hands; it’s very easy to throw that time into the black hole that is social media but a better option is to use that time to work on a hustle that can make you money. I’ve written about this extensively before, so I’ll drop some handy links below and summarise this in short form, basically though, you have three options when it comes to hustle…
There are loads of options to find work on the road – whether it’s bartending, herding goats, working in a hostel for room and board, or cleaning toilets – ask around, and you can usually find a job!
Find out more about how to find a paying job when traveling.
Buying Stuff to Sell
This was a BIG PART of how I funded my original few years of travel. Whilst in India, I bought many things to sell back in England at festivals and on eBay. Leather satchels, silver rings, some pashminas… you can make really good money on this stuff if you can find the right place to sell it – I highly recommend you consider this as a way to make a couple of thousand dollars, or more, and keep the travels rolling…
Find out more about making money from selling your travel souvenirs!
The holy grail; building an online business that can support a lifestyle of adventure. There are SO MANY different ways to make money online; blogging, affiliate marketing, SEO, trading crypto, dropshipping etc, the list goes on…
This is ultimately a really good project to direct your energy at and if you get it right you can make anything from $500 – $50,000 a month, sometimes even on autopilot. It takes TIME to build an online business and 99% of people will give up before they’ve put 1000 hours in. If you really want this project to work, you need to work at it consistently but ultimately it is something you can do from the road.
Find out more about making money online so you can travel forever.
How to Get Ready for a Year of Travel
After you’ve decided to take the leap, you can’t just drop everything and go. You need to be prepared.
Getting Mentally Prepared
A key part of getting ready for your year of travel is mental prep. Almost all backpackers have to overcome their fear of hitting the road and leaving behind their usual life. It’s important to work on fostering a positive outlook and believing in yourself.
Initially, I made a detailed trip plan after doing a lot of research. I had a set schedule in mind.
However, things changed as time passed. I ditched my schedule and embraced uncertainty, deciding to go with the flow and trust that things would work out. This turned out to be my favorite way to travel.
But, I do recognize the importance of some research and planning. Managing my budget became really important, as being thrifty meant I could extend my time on the road and experience more.
Selecting Your Destination and Planning Your Route
First things first; you don’t have to plan every single detail of your trip. However, having a general idea of the places you want to visit and where you want to be each month is a good idea when you’re planning to travel the world.
Come up with a broad strokes style of plan. We recommend choosing somewhere relatively easy and relatively cheap to start your trip; think Southeast Asia or Central America.
For example, my brother Alex spent a year around Central America doing what he does best: being silly and exploring the best diving spots around. Perhaps his story will inspire you!
Gear and Packing List for a Year Abroad
Having the right stuff on your travels will ultimately save you time, energy and money. Some things, like good hiking shoes and a tough backpack that won’t fall apart, are hard to find in other countries and cost more than if you were to buy them from REI or Amazon.
Consulting with our whole team of Broke Backpackers, you can check out our mighty recommended packing list for backpacking, and below are items we absolutely recommend you take…
- A great backpack – obviously. I recommend and use the OSPREY Farpoint series.
- A good headtorch – nighttime is dark and scary.
- A reliable adapter – to charge ya gear!
- Some quality hiking trainers – I’ve heard great things about the Lowa Renegade GTX series.
- A Tent – to save $ on accommodation.
- Day pack – for your daily excursions. I like the OSPREY Daylight Plus and Wandrd Veer 18.
- A solid microfibre towel – packs up to nothing.
If you want to pack light for a short trip, that can be a great option. But if you want to last the year, these items can really help you to build a life on the road that is sustainable, healthy and realistic. All while keeping costs down.
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Getting Travel Insurance for a Year
Solid travel insurance is a must-have on any packing list. The way I see it, it’s just as important as your passport.
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
Mindset and Lessons We Can Share With YOU!
Here are a few little comments that we want to leave with you. We’ve learnt these lessons, so take them on board and use them to build the life you are dreaming of. Time to turn that dream into a reality, eh?
- Foster an optimistic and positive mindset – this is the most important of all.
- Always be curious – curiosity leads to unexpected greatness.
- Ask questions/approach locals – this has saved me time and helped me find some hidden gems.
- Use your time on the road to come up with your value system – write your own manifesto.
- Journal – You will be so glad you did when looking back on the lessons and experiences you had.
- Have some kind of routine – exercise, journal, call the fam. Stay healthy and grounded.
- Start a hustle – the road is the perfect time to start building your empire, don’t waste all the downtime you’ll have by scrolling on your phone.
In the end, all of this is up to you. It’s your life – you’re the one going backpacking for a year!
Family and friends can attempt to dissuade you, or encourage you and you can even talk yourself into, or out of traveling very easily. You should listen to your gut. There will never be a perfect time to just up and go, so if you are here, reading this, the chances are that you already know what to do.
If you’re lacking inspiration, my favourite method to build excitement is to read. Some of my favourite travel books include:
• Vagabonding – by Rolf Potts
• Into the Wild – by Jon Krakauer
• The Four Hour Work Week – by Tim Ferriss
• On the Road – by Jack Kerouac
• All of the Lonely Planet Books
I’ve never met anyone that regrets traveling the world, and I promise that you won’t either.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!