Hiking in Dragash Kosovo

Anyone who says you can't have it all is more worried about what they don't have and that you might end up with more than them.

Recently a number of people have written me to ask EXACTLY how I have been able to travel the world for the past 12 years. After reading a friend’s wonderful post explaining in detail how he has traveled for over 10 years as well at Wandering Earl (yes, people with Wandering names have to stick together) I decided to post my own account.

For those of you who don’t know my background, I left the US in 1998 to visit Japan. Coming from a middle class family, it was my first time on an airplane and I was 21 years old! Over 40 countries (I’m sure I’ll forget to mention a few below) and various different jobs later I’m still on the road, now with my wife and my recently born son.

WARNING: This is a long post.  For word nerds, it is exactly 2,382 words long. For time nerds, it will take the average reader 15 minutes to read and 10 more seconds to understand. Proceed carefully as you will not get this time back. You can of course just read the headlines in about 3 minutes if you don’t want to understand anything that I spent so long writing.

For the regular readers out there I thought I had already told you how, especially in:

5 Steps to World Travel and Getting Paid to Do What you Love

or maybe in 3 Strategies to Help you Succeed and Travel the World. Still not convinced that I’m not trying to hide anything, then check out How to Manage Uncertainty—Don’t where I lay out 7 steps to help you travel and live free of worry.

We Want the Dirty Details including Money Money Money…Money!

But I also know that it can be difficult to relate to such a life sitting behind a pile of bills, late payments, and screaming kids demanding your attention.  I was sitting in my hometown bar a few years ago reminiscing with a buddy about the countries he visited me in. A hard drinking, hard working local took exception:

“Who the fuck do you think you are? Stop lying, no one could have been to so many places. What are you 30 years old? [I was 28] Get the fuck outta hea (that’s New Englander for “here”)

My sister was bar tending that night and told him to quite down. Drunk Dave turned quiet, grabbed his beer tighter and just repeated softly “it’s just not possible”.

Well it is possible, but I’ll be honest, it does require a number of sacrifices, leaps of faith, and the ability to go against the collective wisdom of just about everyone you know and love.

I try not to speak too much about money here on Todd’s Wanderings, since I do like to keep some privacy to myself (most of the bad things I have thought and done in my life qualify). But in this post (and probably the only time) I’m willing to open up about my non-blogging finances and show you just how little you really need to travel the world. As you will see, you can do it while heavily in debt, you don’t need nearly as much as you think, and long-term travel doesn’t have to equal abject poverty. In fact, due to lower costs of living, beneficial tax breaks, and a personal desire for simplicity and lack of acquiring “things” I think I have led a higher quality of life outside of the US than I could have if I stayed (wars and bombing raids included).

1998- Study Abroad in Osaka, Japan

In 1998 I was all set to go on my university’s study abroad program to Japan. At the last minute it was canceled as there were only 2 people signed up. Undeterred the two of us created our own program, found a school to enter and arranged everything ourselves. I was a poor collage student, paying for my school all on my own through student loans and scholarship. I had saved roughly $1,000 for extra expenses (yes, I worked during college). That was not nearly enough, but as a first time traveler what the hell did I know.

Luckily, as we organized the whole trip ourselves I had to pay the tuition upon arrival. Japan is a cash society so I carried $12,000 in traveler checks (yeah that is a lot of $100 checks!) with me on the plane. As I flew over the Pacific Ocean for the first time the exchange rates went crazy and when I landed I didn’t need all $12,000 to pay for school and was able to use the savings to live and travel.

I also cashed in a $1,000 in inheritance to pay for the 900 mile, 88 temple walking pilgrimage I went on after school ended. Life has never been the same since.

Counties Visited: Japan and Jamaica (yes, spring break called)

Money Saved: Nope. Maybe your expectations are too high for me.

Balance Sheet: Still sinking in student loan debt

1999-2001 Shiga, Japan- JET Program

I was lucky and graduated university with only $30,000 in debt. Yes, that’s a lot but that is also how much my private university cost per year!

After graduation I got a job as an assistant language teacher with the JET Program in Japan. This was a fantastic first job and I earned roughly $36,000 per year. I got 20 days of paid vacation, left work at 4 pm everyday, and didn’t have to work in the summer time. I spent all of my money traveling around South East Asia, and exploring Japan.

Counties Visited: Japan, Spain, Vietnam, and Thailand

Money Saved: $0

Balance Sheet: Still sinking in student loan debt

2001 Peru, Parent’s Attic, Chiba-Japan- Private English School

After 2 years in Japan I was looking for a change and returned to the US. I didn’t have a job so I moved back in with my parents and lived in my old room. Despite not have much money in savings I headed down to Peru for a few weeks to hike the Inca trail and explore the Andes Mountains.

Deciding it was better to be working abroad than unemployed in the US I found another job teaching in Japan for about $30,000 a year and moved to Chiba (near Tokyo).  Living near Tokyo was tough but I stilled traveled and managed not to save any money. I kept paying the minimum on my student loans and saving money for travel.

Countries Visited: USA, Peru, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand

Money Saved: $0

Balance Sheet: How long can I keep treading water before I drown?

2002-2004 Shiga, Japan- Elementary School English Teacher

Unfortunately, I had to admit that being broke and living near a big city like Tokyo was just not fun.  So, I called in some contacts and found a new job back in my old area of Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Getting back to the Japanese countryside was great as was the return to my JET salary of $36,000 a year.  Money and free time still went to paying for jaunts to South East Asia as well as slow travel around Japan.

Countries Visited: Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea

Money Saved: $9,000

Balance Sheet: Getting smaller. $20,000 still in the hole.

2004-2006 Graduate School in Boston, Thailand and Japan (yes again)

Five years after graduating I was out in the world but making the exact amount of money as when I started. I was also chained to a job and was only able to travel during vacations. Plus, teaching English might be great for some people, but it was decidedly not my passion. It was time to make a change. I got into graduate school for International Relations and moved to Boston.

I visited Japan (yes, an ex-girlfriend) over winter vacation, broke up and then for the summer between year 1 and 2 I got an internship in Thailand. I lived in Bangkok for 2 months, toured the country, visited Cambodia again, and then headed back to Japan for 1 month to walk the Shikoku Pilgrimage again. I paid for it with a $2,000 grant and with a work for shelter and travel agreement with the NGO where I volunteered.

I paid for 2 years of graduate school the only way I could, I took out massive amounts of loans (private and government subsidized), blew through my $9,000, worked part-time, and maxed out credit cards. In the end I decided I would rather live the life I wanted and owe money than be miserable with a mortgage :)

Countries Visited: USA, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Canada, Las Vegas (trust me it’s like another country)

Money Saved: Ha!

Balance Sheet: took a beating- $100,000 in debt (Credit Cards and Student Loans)

2006 San Francisco, Timor Leste (East Timor)- Intern, Governance and Conflict Consultant

Biking in Timor Leste

Life is serious business filled with nice hats and big glasses

When you are $100,000 in debt, what is the smart thing to do? I did the opposite and took another internship, this time in the expensive city of San Francisco for 3 months. I was paid exactly $3,000 to keep me alive and slightly breathing. I cobbled together a string of couch surfing and sublet agreements and slept in 5 different houses over the 3 months. I even managed to drive the length of route 1, party in La Jolla for the 4th of July, and enjoy Big Sur on the way back.

The phone rang one day, 1 week before my contract was up, and I was offered a 1 month assignment in Timor Leste (yes, the number “one” seems to be important here).  I said yes without the slightest hesitation, dropped a bag and flew out a few days later with no intention of returning. I lived in Timor for 6 months, traveled the country, and explored Bali and the rest Indonesia.

Oh, by the way, Timor Leste was when I first created Todd’s Wanderings!

Countries Visited: Timor Leste, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore

Money Saved: Just glad I was able to start eating again

Balance Sheet: Still $100,000 over my head.

2007-2009 Sri Lanka (the civil war years)- Human Rights Advocate

With a few months of experience under my belt in my new profession I followed a girl (now my wife) to Sri Lanka right when the civil war was starting back up. It took me about 3 months to find a job, but I found one, worked my ass off as a human rights advocate, and eventually turned it into a Country Director position. The NGO had no idea that I was going to do that, but it just shows what you can accomplish if you try something new.

During this time we enjoyed the hell out of Sri Lanka and I got to start enjoying traveling for work and adding fun to the end of each trip. It is an amazing thing to get paid to travel! I also set the stage for my debt reduction and retirement savings plan. Read the post How to Manage Uncertainty—Don’t to see my strategies here. Basically, I cashed in some investments and paid off my credit cards, rolled the monthly interest savings into my student loan payments, started saving for retirement, an eventual house, travel, and food when I had a chance.

I started off earning $38,000/year and left making about $47,000 a year. But with no taxes and low cost of living, life was good.

Countries visited: Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Switzerland, England, Japan, Dubai, USA

Money Saved: Probably about $15,000 over 2 years

Balance Sheet: Owed about $89,000. I was beginning to learn to how to swim.

2009-2011 Kosovo- Consultant, Peacebuilding, Rural Tourism

The war finally ended and it was time to move on. We did the only sensible thing and my wife and I packed up and moved the Balkans. She took a job with the UN and I started consulting. When consulting work dried up I landed a job working for the United Nations in the divided town of Mitrovica in Kosovo, and moonlighted pro bono writing a hiking guide to southern Kosovo. Yes, this was the beginning of combining my travel writing with development work.

Let’s just say working for the UN in a non-family duty station (yes, I had my family with me) is very good for the bank account. This part of my life is a bit too fresh to share all the details with you but you’ll get an idea in the overview at the end of this section.

Between the UN, consulting, and having a baby boy in Japan I did quite a bit of traveling these 2 years. I am also a firm believer in saving money when it is available so I kept my normal lifestyle and socked the savings into paying off debt, saving for a house and…you guessed it… traveling.

Countries visited: Singapore, Timor Leste, Sri Lanka, Austria, Kosovo, Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, England, Netherlands, Jordan, USA, Japan, Maldives, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Italy

Money Saved: $40,000

Balance Sheet: Owed about $56,000 in student loans. All private loans with high interest rates have been paid off, I never carry credit card debt, and the rest of the loans are at a low 3.25% interest so they get the minimum payment for life and the savings will go into investments.

You don’t have to be rich, or poor, to Travel the World

I don’t expect you to run out and mirror my life. But I hope that you realize that traveling the world is a decision that you have to continually make. Sometimes you will have money, other times you won’t. That is the nature of having a freer life. But it can be done. I’m still doing it, my wife is doing it with me, and now our son has joined the party. Besides the travel aspect we are doing the type of work we love and getting paid for it.

In terms of my blogging money I earn about $1,000 or more a month. Most of this goes back into the business in one form or another. I have plans to implement a new strategy that will hopefully expand this income but even if it doesn’t I’m quite happy with it and the additional security it brings me and my family. My goals for my website and writing endeavors are to provide for my family when we don’t have other jobs, eventually replace our current income, and continue to prove we can get paid to do the things we love.

Never underestimate the value of living in a cheap country, or following your dreams!

What are your secrets for traveling the world?

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102 Responses to “How I Paid for 12 Years of Continuous Travel”

  1. Jen RyderNo Gravatar says:

    Great article! My boyfriend and I, both in our mid 20s, are currently teaching English at a private language school in China. We’re having a blast, and though we’re not making amazing money, it’s more than enough to live on. We’re actually saving more money living and working in China than we were at home in America. In fact, we only spend about 1/4 of our income on living expenses every month.We’re saving the rest of the money to travel once we’re done with our contracts here, and he’s paying off credit card debt and student loans as well. I am lucky to have come out of school debt free. Plus we only work 25 hours a week, leaving plenty of time for exploring! We are also putting some money away toward our more long term goals (grad school, house, etc.) We plan to keep living, working, and loving life abroad for years to come. Can’t think of a good reason why we’d ever stop!

  2. SamNo Gravatar says:

    Well done, twelve years is a long time. Here’s to your next twelve years, hope they go even better!
    Sam´s recent [type] ..An Amazing Hike up to Angels Landing

  3. Awesome post, Todd! Very helpful info, and I love the attention to detail. We have a 10-year-old and aren’t quite ready for continuous travel just yet, but I’ll definitely be bookmarking this page for future reference.
    Bret @ Green Global Travel´s recent [type] ..ECO NEWS: New Legislation Threatens Increased Deforestation In Brazil’s Amazon

  4. I read the whole thing and am truly inspired! It’s amazing! I’m turning 22 soon, am already in student debt and don’t have a job that offers me to travel.

    I’m rethinking a lot of things, like many people do in their early twenties, and you really gave me a new perspective on this. I always believed travel was a luxury, but maybe I need to reconsider that believe and try and find a job that’s more focused internationally.

    Anyway just thinking out loud, thanks for this wonderful insight in your travel life!
    Roy | The Riding Dutchman´s recent [type] ..Booked on New York; Why I’m Going

  5. LayangiNo Gravatar says:

    Great Post. Thanx for sharing your experience. This would definitely help me im my travelling :)

  6. CorneNo Gravatar says:

    It’s inspiring to see that people still carve their own identity and experience the world. Travel is such a learning curve and the experience and lessons worth their weight in gold. Life is short, too short and you have to get out there and live a life less normal. I made a complete career change at 30, and went into wildlife filming, media and marketing and left my corporate career behind to travel. I haven’t looked back since

  7. MichelleNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Todd! Thanks for this post! It really gave me a perspective of what it’s like to travel fresh out of college with a ton of student loans. I’ve been worrying about it and feeling stuck ever since I decided that it was absolutely NECESSARY for me to travel :)
    Michelle´s recent [type] ..Why I Was Always Destined to be a Hobo

  8. SageNo Gravatar says:

    Todd,
    Just read this again in prep for your Escape Stories interview (Which will headline on Wednesday). I love reading the progression. It is such a good reminder that six months; one year; these all seem like infinite time periods where you must perfect everything before committing.

    Your progression proves otherwise. Just because you are scraping and skimping to manifest one scenario, doesn’t mean you will have to forever. This is important for would be escapees, as the first leg of any wild adventure escape may not be as as lucrative as one would hope /be comfortable with.
    But… evolution is inevitable. Just keep at it. right?
    ~Sage

  9. as another wandering, i agree, we do have to stick together! :)

    i am very impressed with how you’ve managed this and turned all these choices into not only incredible journeys and work situations, but also a way to pay down your debt. bravo!
    wandering educators´s recent [type] ..Postcard from an Amazon floating market

  10. Todd, I really admire you beyond words! I too owe lots of money due to student loans. Instead of paying back, I’ve saved to travel and experience new things and places instead. I don’t believe in saving when you’re young and curious about the world. ALL of my friends in London do not agree with the way I live, but I’ve found it so satisfactory. Like what my dad always say, you can buy money (materials etc.) but you can’t buy experience. Thanks for sharing!
    Amer @TendToTravel´s recent [type] ..Between Dreams and Practicality – My first year of blogging have been a huge Success and Flop at the same time

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Amer, thanks for the kind words. I have to agree with your Dad! I set out on this road to gather life experience and one thing led to another. If you told a 21 year old me that 13 years later I would be living in Kosovo and balancing a career as a writer, tourism specialist, and peacebuilding there is no way I would have believed it. It is really funny that so many people have focused on my debt numbers in this post. What i hope they focus on is my willingness to not let debt stop me from living life, but that I was also very conscious of every decision I made along the way. Many people think debt is irresponsible. It can be but only if you don’t have a legitimate plan.

  11. Very cool–thank you for sharing how you got through all of that travel!
    Amanda L Grossman´s recent [type] ..Helping to Make One Grocery Trip Last Two Weeks

  12. Todd,

    remember me in grad school..one year before you! Loved this…nah! not that long…so so enjoyed it…looking forward to reading, “How to Manage Uncertainty-Don’t!
    my travel secret, get other people’s moneys and miles…through.. scholarships, fellowships

  13. MicahNo Gravatar says:

    Great stuff here, Todd! Love someone who is so honest when it comes to the tricky financials of long-term traveling. Wishing you and your fam the best.
    Micah´s recent [type] ..Angkor’s Unnerving Solitude

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Micah, thanks and I’m glad you found the post useful. I think a lot of us have fears of exposing our incomes and expenditures for lots of different reasons. Some people might take it a bragging, other people condemn us etc etc. I have received a lot of negative feed back from some people who think I have been irresponsible for traveling with so much debt. I can only assume that they have not read the whole post. Yes, I have a lot of debt (even still) but over the past 12 years I have paid it off, taken on more, and ultimately succeeded in living a good life.

  14. Buck InspireNo Gravatar says:

    Inspiring stuff! I taught English for a summer and it was an adventure of a lifetime. Can’t imagine stretching it out for years. You on the other hand are living an adventure of a lifetime! Happy travels and stay safe!
    Buck Inspire´s recent [type] ..Gym Membership: Use It Or Lose It

  15. Nate NaultNo Gravatar says:

    A really inspiring post Todd!

    Studying abroad was what first gave me the travel itch too. I spent my junior year in St. Andrews, Scotland and am studying in Beijing, China this Fall. It’s such a great way to see the world – you get to travel (most important), are able to still learn skills in case you do decide to land a “traditional” 9-5, and it’s the easiest way to keep deferring school loans! At 22, I can’t see myself doing anything else. This post, and your blog in general, give me a lot of hope for my world traveling future.

  16. ThristhanNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, you really inspire me to travel more. The range of places that you have covered around the world is amazing. I’m nearly 30 years old and have only covered 6 countries to date.
    Thristhan´s recent [type] ..Ramadan Buka Puasa Buffet @ City Villa Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  17. libbyNo Gravatar says:

    You are very daring! But have reaped some awesome rewards. I enjoyed this article a lot.

  18. Wai TsuiNo Gravatar says:

    Wow! Todd, I wish I was as brave as you when I was 21! Life is too short for procrastinating our dreams and settling for not living out what we truly want. Glad to learn that you’re living yours and hope I’ll be able to live mine sooner or later!
    Wai Tsui´s recent [type] ..Travel Light Daypack Recommendations

  19. Jane HouseNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for sharing your story , I think that you are a happy man and also I wish more people were so brave like you , ready to do what they feel they have to!
    Jane House´s recent [type] ..Tenancy cleaning Estimates: What Good It can Bring You during a Move Out

  20. 100,000 in debt?! man…i’m half that from grad school and i’m freking out. way to keep your cool. thanks for the account. it’s inspirational but in a pragmatic sort of way.
    Mack Reynolds´s recent [type] ..Have some Facebook friends or family members who are in need of a vacation? Send…

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Mack. Having debt definitely does weigh down the soul at times. I think the US is facing a huge crisis in terms of the amounts people owe in student loans that push off other purchases like houses or starting businesses. Hopefully the financial crisis will set people straight and get people saving again.

      • really though, the US is going through some sh*t, but that’s another issue altogether. i hope to get some solid ideas for websites and start being my own boss, even though i know it’s a slow process. it’ll beat being a lowly intern though.

  21. KyleNo Gravatar says:

    Definitely interesting to see someone be honest about their finances. I think a lot of travelers are very hesitant to share that information, and I think ti’s odd that our society has made money such a taboo topic. I don’t mind sharing and I find it fascinating to read about other people’s situations and decision making process.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Kyle, yeah I agree that talking about finances can be taboo. I actually find it easier to talk about the amount I owe versus the amount I earn. Sometimes you get people who think we are bragging etc. But I’m just trying to show that it is possible to live this type of life and be successful at it. But even though things are good now, they weren’t necessarily easy over the past 12 years. It is just a matter of trusting your instincts and doing what makes you happy. I have always believed that if you are passionate about what you do it will attract others to you. When this happens you can’t help but to succeed.

  22. Kudos to you for seeing so much and doing some great work over the years. I think I would be freaking out if I had that much debt, but it’s true what you say — life is about choices. I choose to be behind a desk for the better part of 11 years. I did get to see some nifty stuff during that time, but not nearly on the scale you have. Well done!!
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam´s recent [type] ..A Question of Travel

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Raymond, I have to admit that I have not always been this comfortable with my debt. There was a time just after Grad school when I swimming in credit card debt, living pay check to pay check and feeling like I was drowning all the time. The best thing I ever did was face my debt head on, make a plan and then stick to it. Despite ups and down in my income levels over the year I have managed to pay over $50,000 off on my debt and save about 60K for various things like emergency fund, retirement and a house. So while I am still “in debt” in fact I am actually positive asset wise.

  23. BamaNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve been thinking of leaving my current job in a cubicle and go for other opportunities out there which support my passion for traveling. For the recent few months I’ve been reading some great posts on the web which encourage me to make the decision (and yes, I’m feeling it, the time is about to come, I believe). However I still feel uneasy and insecure for leaving my current job because I’ve been paid pretty decently. But your post has brought up that confidence which I badly need, all will be fine. Thanks for the great post!
    Bama´s recent [type] ..Opulent Bandar Seri Begawan

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Bama, good luck with the life change and I’m glad that you found some assurances in my post. maybe I will write about the times when I had nothing and was desperate as well just to balance out the reality of life on the road at times :)

  24. JanetNo Gravatar says:

    Great and honest post! It looks like you were traveling with money you didn’t have for awhile, but it all worked out in the end because you’re getting the debt paid off nicely! That’s so awesome that you did the Japanese pilgrimage twice!! I only had read about it after I did a 660 km walk with similar circumstances (sleeping in benches, shelters, etc; but mostly families would house us for the night) and I decided I wanted to do it once in my life! I also want to do the Spain (Cartagena?) trail and the Appalachian trail! But who knows.. I am currently taking advantage of living in a cheap country by starting my web/design business while living in the Philippines. Only $300/mo is enough to get me by.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Where did you do your walk? I love long term hiking and the Pilgrimages are fantastic for this and getting to know the locals. Feel free to plug your web/design link here, I’d love to see what you are getting started. Plus you never know who is looking for some coding or design work :) I am always going through different projects!

      Oh, and 300/mo is an amazingly simple lifestyle. Congratulations!

      • JanetNo Gravatar says:

        I walked Palawan island, Philippines! Yes, I got to know the locals well.. truly unique travel experience and I picked up a LOT of tagalog! :) People in provinces aren’t as fluent in English so they’ll just talk tagalog to you.. I love pilgrimages because the trek is more of a walking meditation! It teaches you a LOT about life..

        Oh ok, well since you asked its at http://www.byjanet.net

        $300/mo is not bad but it would be nice to get more overhead so I can do what you did and live my reg. lifestyle + SAVE!!

  25. +1 for Philippines! And I hope we’ll be there when you visit. Your post is inspiring. My hubby works remotely for an IT company so we got that covered (I only get a few writing projects every so often), but sometimes we still worry about the future and how we could sustain our traveling vice. Definitely not buying a house anytime soon, though our in-laws object our nomadic lifestyle.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Ah, yes, the in-laws never do really understand this type of lifestyle. Try explaining bring a 2 month old to Kosovo when you don’t have a new work contract signed yet :) I hope we can meet up when we hit the Philippines too! Just not sure when…

  26. Wow! A lot of details! Hope u’ll not have any more debts any time soon!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I hope I won’t have any more debt soon as well. But then again it is all a matter of perspective. For me I could not have done my most recent jobs without the Masters degree. It was a calculated choice and happiness won out :)

  27. This was well worth the time it took to read, thanks for sharing your travels in such a detailed way – really changed my perspective on things. Also, as an aside, I am right there with you on Vegas being like another country – it totally is!! :)

    Heidi

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Heidi. The nicest part about Vegas for me is that I turned $60 into $800 on my first night in town at the blackjack tables. After that the rest of the weekend was on Vegas and I have been back since to pay them back ;)

  28. I’m 28 and I don’t have a college degree and I want to teach English super badly … is it true that this is impossible? Would you mind shooting me an email and starting a conversation with me about this, I could really use your advice man.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Tanner, I don’t want to say anything is impossible but I think you would find it very very difficult to get a mainstream teaching job without an university degree. My advice is to look into certificate programs like tefl or celta or tesol. If you want to teach these are your best ways to show your qualifications if you don’t have a degree. Even then you might find that you will have trouble getting a job against those who have certificates and degrees.

      But where there is a will there is a way. Find a smaller school, one that is less picky about qualification. Go to a more dangerous country (at least perception wise) as they might be more relaxed. I guess it just depends on how badly you want something. Good luck.

      • I realize this is sort of audacious to ask but …

        I actually spoke to BridgeTEFL about this very thing and was all set to start the program – then I found out that places like Japan, China, India … don’t even allow you a work Visa if you don’t have a 4 year degree (keeping out the unskilled labor I guess, not that it’s a bad thing I get where they’re coming from) so I was discouraged. At that point in my life I wanted the far east or nothing at all. Then I came to find out that in parts of Central America a 4 year is not required … so my question to you is: Can experience stand-in for the degree in places like Japan? Most specifically the JET program … and this is the audacious part, do you think you could ask an old employer … or provide me with a contact whom I could ask? I’ve only been able to get into contact with the Japanese immigration ministry and it seems as though they answer with the same standards and don’t want to give you “special circumstances” examples.

  29. Well written! You have to find your own formula for life – you have done that! I met someone recently that spends all there extra money (or money they don’t have) in buying art – no travel, no kitchens, no cars, just art! Over the years they have built up what now is a very precious collection. Interesting!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks John. It has been an interesting experience putting this post together and taking stock of my decision over the past 12 + years. There is of course a ton more detail and nuance to each segment of my life above, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone. For me as long as people are leading a life they love that is good enough for me. Mine just happens to be tied to the road.

  30. fourjandalsNo Gravatar says:

    Great post! Very inspirational and makes me want to realise my dream of doing exactly the same thing. I am just trying to get over my fear of not earning as much as I used to when working a “real” job and watching my savings go down. Hopefully once I am over that then I can embrace our travelling properly. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi, well I have to admit that I have tried not to rely on savings for travel. Many people save up for a RTW trip, spend a year out and then go right back to the lives they decided they needed a break from. My advice to anyone who wants to integrate sustainable travel into their lives is to consider how they can earn while they travel. This doesn’t have to be as extreme as my jobs but having some money coming in each month is better than nothing.

  31. fourjandalsNo Gravatar says:

    Great post! I am trying to figure out how to do exactly the same at the moment and the biggest thing I have to do I think is get over my fear of not earning money and watching my savings go down (and ultimately debt rise). Great inspiration though so thanks a lot.

  32. PriscillaNo Gravatar says:

    I always advise people who write to me, like you, that traveling is a decision and a commitment. If you decide it’s the right thing to do and commit to it, then you will travel.
    Small decisions can add up to big perks. I tell girlfriends to skip the Starbucks coffee, bring lunch to work, eat out less often, don’t shop for clothes (stick to what’s already in your closet), clip coupons and put that money in a jar, bank account or drawer for a year and then use it to travel! People have more money than they think if they consider every little purchase. It adds up quickly!
    Cheers and here’s hoping you can continue to do what you love…
    Priscilla
    Weekend In Paris

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Priscilla, I totally agree! I have learned that if I don’t just make the decision to go then the money I would have spent on a trip is usually eaten away slowly buy all the shiny things consumerism puts in front of us :) I have never regretted any trips I have taken.

  33. DeniseNo Gravatar says:

    It was a long post but I read it all anyway. I guess in the end, you decided to travel at the expense of slowing down the rate at which you paid off your debts…that’s something I guess I wouldn’t choose to do, except for the day I have a mortgage to pay (then I will still travel rather than put the money into paying the mortgage earlier) but that’s me. My mother always taught me the importance of living debt free. Having said that, you’ve had a hell of an exciting life so far :)

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Denise, in part I did decide to prioritize travel over paying off my debts in my first years out of university. But as I have started to get better at other people paying for my travel I have put more and more money towards my debt. Just last year I was able to bury 30k in student loan debt that had the highest interest rates. I’m now using those monthly payments to boost my retirement savings as this money will (most likely) out perform 3.25% interest over the course of the net 30 years and is thus a more sensible financial decision than pumping more money into my current loans. Yes, I took a corporate financing and financial accounting class in grad school…best class I ever took!

  34. Great article and I really enjoyed reading about how you have been able to spend your time travelling around the world. Very Inspiring!!

  35. First I didn’t comment because I didn’t think I had anything to publicly say about it. But reading the comments, two things hit me.

    The fact that so many Americans don’t travel (is that because they’re rather work themselves to death?) and that you are met with disbelief when you talk about traveling to random people. Actually it reminds me of when I first went to the US, and people couldn’t believe that I had been in 17 countries at the time (I was 24). Personally, I thought that’s really not a lot, and nowadays I’m even almost embarrassed of having been to only 22 countries at my age.

    The other thing is debt. I don’t know how you do it Americans (I know it’s not -always- your fault, and most of the time it’s your (bleeped) up system that gives you no alternative).
    I really don’t have a lot in my saving account, I never made much money in my life, possibly never will. But my debt is and always has been $0 and I hope it stays this way until I die.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I can’t believe that you didn’t have anything publicly to say David :) I think as far as Americans are concerned many people travel, they just do it within the US which is a lot cheaper than flying over two oceans. Europeans have so many countries right at their fingertips, but this is very much like our own States (just without the depth of culture, history and language…but we have great local nature and food :)

      As for our student debt issue, I think this is something that is going to plague America and our youth for a very long time. Because we have debt we put off buying homes, getting married etc etc. I took on my loans knowing what I was getting myself into, and I have a plan to get me out. In some ways it has been easier for me to pay off my debt by living and working abroad as I less expenses.

  36. Mark WiensNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome article Todd – great to see your determination and the way you continue to pursue your passions. It’s amazing that there are so many different routes and paths to take to continue traveling the world and making it financially. Along with you, one of my secrets is living in a place (Bangkok, Thailand for myself right now) where I can afford to live and being able to spend time pushing for my goals! Keep it up and good luck with everything in the future!

  37. Awesome story! I love reading about how people have made their long-term travels possible. Inspirational!

  38. JimNo Gravatar says:

    Really interested in the jobs you had and the manner in which you’ve travelled.
    Timor Leste interests us as we sponsor a child there and he’s the only one we haven’t visited! So have you blogged your time there?

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Timor Leste is a great country and I highly recommend anyone to visit if they have a chance. The scuba diving alone makes it worth it! I started blogging in Timor back when Todd’s Wanderings was a simple blogspot free blog. I’m a bit embarrassed by the quality of my posts back then (5 years ago and the beginning of my writing career), but they are all here in the archieves if you search. There is not that many as back then I was lucky to post once a month ;)

  39. joseNo Gravatar says:

    I cannot believe you haven’t been to The Philippines!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yeah, I know! I almost had a job in Mindinoa but it fell through :) Philippines, China! and Nepal will all get my concentrated attention very very soon!

  40. Todd: Your willingness to disclose all this in the most minute detail is absolutely astounding. You clearly show it can be done, and that it doesn’t take a wad of cash. You’re my hero.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Barbara. I have been quite surprised at how popular this post has become! I guess giving details about money and exactly how it can be done is different from vague musings :) In particular I have been fascinated at how people have focused on my amount I owe. It reminds me how worried I used to be about my ballooning debt, and how I was forced to pay back loans rather than do exactly what I would have liked if I was freer. But it just shows that we don’t need a trust fund to enjoy life.

  41. JamesNo Gravatar says:

    Debt shouldn’t necessarily be a roadblock to travelling, provided that you aren’t adding to it by travelling. I just finished travelling 5 months in SE Asia while owing $9,000 to Mastercard … it was simply a matter of budgeting for the payments owed monthly during the period you are away and setting up an automatic debit from your bank account.

    Then save the necessary $$$ to jet off, and presto, you’re exploring the world and tackling your bills at the same time!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi James, I agree. Although at times I have racked up some debt to go traveling when a certain deal came along and I knew money would be coming in the next month or two. I took a 6 day scuba diving cruise in the Maldives with 5 friends on a small sailboat. We knew the owner and with food, booze, dives and accommodation on the boat it only cost us $500/person! that is worth borrowing money for :)

    • KelseyNo Gravatar says:

      Yep. I just got finished spending 3 months in France while owing $6,000 to Mastercard. Just set up a system to make the payments while you’re gone, and you’re fine.

  42. TeresaNo Gravatar says:

    Amazing. Didn’t know anyone like you existed out there —having no fear with debt or the future. Thank you, great life you have. Wow, well done… Definitely worth the 15min or so read.

    You guys should visit Australia!

    —Teresa
    Melbourne, Australia

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Teresa, thanks for commenting! Don’t get me wrong, I have had a lot of fear and anxiety in life, especially around money. I have just not let it define the type of life I want to live :) Happy to get down to Australia when we can.

  43. JeffNo Gravatar says:

    Inspiring and awesome read Todd! For me, travelling as a student is something I have a great passion for. So whenever I can, I try to save up as much money as possible. Just recently I was able to visit Japan twice in 1 year (Christmas/New year and in the summer). Japan is definitely a place I want to go back to or maybe work in.

    My school offers the JET program as well and as I was looking through it I found it very interesting. Currently I have future plans to en-roll in the JET program and I was wondering if you (Todd) could give me your opinion or feedback on the whole experience you had with the JET program. As well as any other things you want to mention about the program. It seems like a great opportunity for students, especially ones that enjoy travelling and teaching. Thanks for reading and happy travels!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Jeff, the JET program was great for me and it got me to Japan, put money in my pocket and allowed me to immerse myself in the culture. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to integrate into a local community in Japan and teach. That being said, there is not much responsibility to the job. You are an assistant and your experience will depend on the attitude of the school and your supervisor. But as I advised someone by e-mail recently, there is nothing wrong with trying it out and if it isn’t for you just moving on to something new. This type of flexibility had never occurred to her before!

  44. Hey Todd,

    I read through your entire post. Very interesting. I have no secrets to offer but I hope you’ll let me have space to share a few thoughts.

    You’ve made some great points all of which I agree with totally. I know enough now to realize that it’s about mindset. If we think we can’t do something, we won’t. I did a semester in Spain when I was in university. At the end of my 4 months, I went to a travel agency to buy a ticket to London. As I got to counter, before I said anything, the ticket agent looked at me and said, “You can get whatever you want.”
    I was in my teens and thought this guy was just a dirty old man. I had noticed him as I entered the line. There was something about him that made me not want him to wait on me but I knew he would. Anyway, later, I interpreted he said to mean that as long as I had the right attitude, I could get anything I wanted.
    I’ve been daydreaming about traveling the world for years now but let money, love, work, you name it, get in my way. A few years ago, I began to feel that the life I’ve been living didn’t work anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I love all the nice things and I don’t relish being poor nice things once in a while isn’t enough. I know there’s got to be more to life, my life and I want to find out what. So I’m folding up my tent, getting rid of the things that I don’t care for anymore and going on the road.
    First, I plan on exploring Jamaica, the place where I was born then the rest of the Caribbean and South America. Beyond that, I have no idea where else I’ll go but I figure once I start, I’ll be okay.

    I’ve been reading yours and other bloggers’ RTW experiences and have gotten a lot of encouragement and inspiration. I know it won’t be easy but I believe strongly that traveling offers the best opportunity to not just discover a new place but also to discover myself — an inside journey.
    Thanks for the encouragement.
    Happy wanderings, Todd!
    Marcia

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Wow, you read the whole thing!! :) Well, it just goes to show you that never post on the internet needs to be between 500-700 words long! It sounds like you are on your way to living the type of life that is best for you. It took me a long time to realize what I wanted out of life, how travel and work fit in, and that it was OK to define success without referring to a number in a bank account or on a pay slip.

      What I realized is that while I was “trying to figure out” what I wanted from life I was busy living life they way I wanted. It didn’t take much effort to make the leap to “I should just keep doing this.”

  45. louiseNo Gravatar says:

    I love this, and I admire it so much. I’ve travelled for a good few years now, and have returned home still with enough savings to make a deposit on a house. People find this mindboggling, but I’ve almost always worked while travelling and broke even almost every time.

    This is more a question about your career though..how does one go about finding a paid job as a Human Rights Advocate or as a Peacebuilding Consultant? Did what your study help you with this, or was it a lot of life experience..? I am so keen to go back to working in Peru, Ecuador and India on behalf of womens rights but beyond volunteer jobs, I have no idea where to start. I’m back home with a view to return to studying..but…??

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Louise. Finding, and keeping, work in the world of International Development can be challenging and requires a lot of work, luck and patience. For me I went to graduate school (basically the minimum you need these days to find a stable job with a reputable NGO or Int’l organization), and thus the large student debt fro my late 20′s. For me the way to finding the right job and gain experience was to work “for free”, work hard, make connections, and take advantage of being in countries while others were applying from abroad. Make sense?

  46. Dave*No Gravatar says:

    “Who the fuck do you think you are? Stop lying, no one could have been to so many places.”

    People are weird about travel. On occasion, my sister has mentioned to people that her brother traveled to Japan. She says often this is greeted with skepticism, with the underlying implication that since we’re not rich, it must be a status-seeking lie. I guess it’s a common assumption.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Dave, yeah I have encountered this a number of times in the US. Times are changing and it is easier than ever to travel the world. But still many Americans are stuck in the idea that travel is only for the rich. That being said, it took me until age 21 to get on a plane because my family didn’t have enough money to pay for flights for 3 kids.

  47. Betsy TalbotNo Gravatar says:

    I’m almost a year into a long-term RTW trip with my husband and we are both 40 and debt-free.

    Like Turner I can’t advocate traveling with debt, but I also don’t advocate accumulating debt even in “regular” life. You can be free in the world without ever leaving home if you live a life of experience and not possessions (says the former hoarder with debt up to her eyeballs). School of Hard Knocks, baby – best way to learn.

    Happy travels!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Betsy, I advocate not being debt as well. But I also don’t think that we should let debt get the way of living our lives. If I didn’t have debt of course I would have been much more free, but there was no way I was going to let a few payments keep me from living the life I wanted. I just needed to make adjustments ;)

  48. Seriously, I think whatever someones does is his or her own choices and since you live only once, I have to say that doing what you like should be the way. You mentioned that in 1998, you made your way to Japan and it’s been a roller coaster ride since then with a butt load of owing on your balance sheet. But hey, look on the bright side – how many people do you think experienced and explored what you did?

    As for me, I left Malaysia for Tokyo, Japan in 1990 to experience working abroad right after my college. An experience I will never forget and this alone taught me about being independent without friends.

    Great write Todd. I hope to meet up with you one day either in Japan or here in Malaysia :)

    David

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I agree that we definitely need to meet up for a beer David :) It looks like we will be in Europe for a bit longer but SEA is really calling us back! I’m surprised that so many people are focused on the debt part :) I guess I have gotten used to it as I have lived with Student Debt my whole adult life. Plus I have a pretty good strategy now for my financial freedom.

  49. I personally can’t advocate traveling with any debt (though I am). I think it changes your priorities about working abroad. Look at me – I chose South Korea over other Asian countries because I knew I could save more money here.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      That’s true Turner. There were probably a lot of opportunities I declined because at the end of the day I had to met my minimum payments. BUT not everyone is able to got to school debt free. I also think there is a lot of opportunity to pay if off quicker working around the world than in the US. In general I think that people shouldn’t use debt as an excuse not to travel, but they should have a plan to get rid of it.

  50. Great post….I really like how you really spelled it out for people.

    For me, making my travels (and living as an ex-pat twice) came together because of two things: risk-taking and not being materialistic. The experiences and what they might bring (fun, excitement and personal growth) have meant a lot more to me than anything. And although I don’t have a lot of money at this point in time, I’m doing what I love (teaching ESL) and taking some great trips every year. No regrets–just lots of great memories and ongoing and awesome experiences!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Lisa, I think risk taking is a very important part of life. But it is interesting that more risks you take the less it feels risky. Things that many people would consider risky I just see as normal life now.

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