How to Take a Year Off and Live Your Dreams

“He must be rich.”  One of my students said this to his parent about my ability to travel the world, but I suspect this student isn’t the only one who thinks this.

I do think I’m rich, but that’s only because my perspective has changed after so many opportunities of living, traveling and working with people around the world who live on so much less than what we are accustomed to.  I didn’t have a secret stash of money that made this travel dream possible; I just learned to live on less, and discovered it was not so hard to do and had many benefits.

What are you afraid of?

I have realized that the biggest obstacle people face in pursuing their dreams, whether it’s traveling the world or learning how to play the violin, is not money, but fear.

I had many fears before I took off on my adventure.  So many things could have gone wrong, and a few did.  In the end, I have to really think hard to remember what those fears were, because it turns out they didn’t really matter.

I worried about whether or not to sell my house, and when I decided to sell it I worried about if it would actually sell.  I worried a lot about money and missing out on working a year towards retirement.  I worried about getting sick.  I worried that my grandchildren would forget me.  I doubted my ability to follow through on the Fulbright project.  I didn’t worry much about my safety, but there was one flight over China when I thought it might be my last, and I worried and prayed throughout the experience.  I wondered if I would really like this year abroad much as I wanted to like it.  I worried a lot about coming home to a country that had changed quite a bit during my time away.

Eleven Steps to Follow Your Dreams

In an attempt to get this blog going again, and in response to many comments and questions I’ve had about my trip, I’ve decided to create a list of how to take a year off and travel the world, though I think it could be applied to any dream you may want to pursue.

  1. Write down your goals.  Why do you want to do this?  What do you want to get out of it?  It doesn’t mean your goals can’t change, but these goals will help you in making decisions as you proceed.
  2. Find mentors.  Follow blogs of people who travel, invite travelers into your home (Couchsurfing is a great way to do this), ask lots of questions (or Google them), learn and be inspired.
  3. Face your fears.  Realize that this is probably your biggest obstacle.
  4. Understand that life is short.  If you want to travel the world, start planning now.  Do it as soon as possible.  Don’t wait until retirement or for your kids to grow up.  Make it happen because you might not be able to do it later.  While traveling, I met people from all walks of life living their dreams – young, old, married, single, with kids or not, luxury or budget travelers, first-time travelers and seasoned explorers from many different cultures.  I met families whose children were helping Buddhist novice monks improve their English, who made friends with children who didn’t understand a word they said, who interacted with travelers from every corner of the globe.  The education these kids received was much richer than anything I could provide my students in a 50-minute period.
Future traveler. No fear.
  1. Plan ahead.  My advice isn’t to throw caution to the wind and just go.  Most of the travelers I met had spent a fair amount of time planning, from months to a year or more.  The planning is part of the adventure and pays off in the end.  My planning began with an online “course” on how to travel for a year.  Not everything in the course applied to me, but it was well worth it.  The more you learn, the better prepared you will be.  The BootsnAll Travel site has a wealth of information and tools to plan your trip.
  2. Make a budget.  Again, there are many online sources to help you do this.  I started with a spreadsheet from A Little Adrift and then switched to an app called Wallet.  Some travelers budget right down to how many cups of coffee they can drink.  I had more of a rough estimate of my costs, which can vary greatly from country to country.  Having a daily budget and keeping track of my spending helped me to make my money go farther, but it didn’t prevent me from splurging when I wanted to.
Gourmet meals on blue plastic stools
  1. Know your limits.  Understand the type of traveler you are.  How many nights can you sleep in a bamboo hut with no electricity and a bucket shower?  How often will you need to splurge on an air-conditioned hotel with a pool?  Can you take sleeper trains and long bus rides?  Are you willing to work in the hot sun for a few hours or teach a few English classes in exchange for a cheap place to stay and an amazing experience?  A great way to travel cheaply and immerse yourself in a culture is to volunteer.  See this post for more resources.  And don’t worry if you need more luxury than this.  It’s still possible to travel cheaply and enjoy the comforts you’re used to.  Housesitting and Couchsurfing are two options.
Your money will last a long time depending on where you travel.
  1. Have a backup plan.  I had money saved and wrote a grant to help fund this trip, but I also had a backup plan.  What if my house didn’t sell and I had to continue to pay the mortgage and upkeep?  What if I had to come home early for some reason and had no job?  Knowing I had answers to these questions gave me peace of mind while I was traveling.
  2. Take it slow.  Don’t try to do everything in a year.  This trip is just the beginning.  The more time you spend in a place, the more connections you will make there, the more you will fall in love with it.  Don’t worry about missing out on the next temple or ruins or country.  Travel slowly, see less, experience more.
Take your time to see the sights.
  1. Pack light.  The best packing advice I received:  “The lighter your backpack, the happier you will be.”  Be prepared to shed items along the way.  You’ll love letting go of things. And here is The Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist from CoWorker, a comprehensive packing list for every type of traveler. It includes details such as how many blank pages you should have in your passport and how to get your home in order before traveling. Wish I had this checklist before my trip!
  2. Follow your heart.  This little list of mine is just one of thousands you can find online, but none of them are right for you.  Make this trip what you want it to be and then write your own list of how to travel the world.

Comments (19):

  1. Melissa

    November 9, 2017 at 22:26

    Love this post. We get the response: “must be nice to be wealthy” a lot when we talk about our travels. When I hear that i also hear the brakes screech in my head be cause in no way shape or form are we rich. You got it right…it’s all about figuring out how to do what you want and how to live with less. We miss you, Tim!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:42

      Miss you too! We certainly weren’t living in luxury in Kratie, but we did have fun!

  2. Maya

    November 10, 2017 at 05:01

    I loved this Tim! You are so right with everything you said. We miss you traveling buddy. Hope to see you sometime soon!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:44

      I learned a lot from our conversations in El Nido and Thailand. We’ll travel together again someday, I’m sure.

  3. Carole

    November 10, 2017 at 05:36

    Love this post – I was hoping you would end with a clue as to where you’re going next!! 🙂 You forgot to mention all the really incredible people you will meet who will introduce you to much needed happy hours at various locations. Looking forward to reading the next one!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:47

      You’re so right! Nothing better than riding bikes through a tropical storm along the Mekong in search of the next happy hour deal.
      I’m working on a grant for next summer. You’ll hear about it once I know.

  4. Paula M Agins

    November 10, 2017 at 07:06

    Looking forward to the next adventure!!!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:48

      There’s a lot of adventure happening in Room 205!

  5. LInda Wight

    November 10, 2017 at 08:07

    Great post, Tim!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:48

      Thank you, Linda. Hope you and Conrad have a nice Thanksgiving.

  6. Lori Liguori

    November 10, 2017 at 08:45

    Wonderful advice, Tim! We are so honored to have you back with us to share all of your wisdom!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:50

      Thanks, Lori. I can tell you’re getting used to seeing me since you don’t jump anymore every time you pass me in the hall.

  7. Anthony & Jean

    November 10, 2017 at 16:44

    Hey Tim. That is so funny. We were just typing a very similar blog. I know you won’t mind if I share the link to yours as well. Still loving your insights – thanks, Jean & Anthony

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 11, 2017 at 10:51

      Of course! You know that much of what I wrote was inspired by your advice which turned out to be so “spot on.” Looking forward to your post.

  8. Jeff

    November 22, 2017 at 10:53

    Thanks for the encouragement, Tim! I’m already in the process of planning the next adventure 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Tim Flanagan

      November 25, 2017 at 13:45

      Thanks, Jeff! We’ll have to compare notes about our next adventures.

  9. Vicky Ann Deledda

    January 23, 2018 at 10:04

    Who is that familiar looking lady at the ATM? LOL

    • Tim Flanagan

      January 26, 2018 at 11:44

      She must be rich!


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