A 5-Year Vacation: How I Did It


One Day at a Time

Instead of thinking of our overall goal, we broke it down into increments of $100 per day. We developed a "phrase to save" using that number, asking ourselves "Is it worth a day on the road?" every time we wanted to spend on something. (Usually, it wasn't!) I stopped getting my hair colored at the salon, which saved a lot of money. And I realized when we started traveling, I was going to stop altogether and be free of the maintenance at the same time I was freeing myself from everything else. I also stopped buying clothes, realizing I would have completely new wardrobe requirements on the trip. It was much more fun to think of the exotic clothes I would buy in foreign countries than to shop in my local stores. Working day by day, the long-term saving took care of itself.

Careful Tracking

Early on, we tracked our spending-down to the penny-for one month. We were shocked to find that a lot of the money we needed to save each month was being spent eating out at ethnic restaurants. We decided that saving money for Chinese food in China was more in line with our goal than eating Chinese takeout from down the street.

Soup Kitchen, Reverse Birthday Party and Progress

The thing with big goals and working toward them is that they – gasp! – actually happen. We passed our savings goal of $36,000 in only one year. The more we saw money piling up in the bank and possessions being streamlined (goodbye yard equipment, extra furniture, superfluous electronics, un-read books!) the more we thought about making this trip longer than one year. And if we were going to do this for longer than one year, why keep all of our stuff?

It was really hard for me to let go of some personal items like handbags, scarves and hats. I used hats and scarves a lot in my "look," and it felt like I was losing a bit of myself at first. My red beret! My orange cloche! My knit beanie! It wasn't until I let them go, though, that I was able to transition into a traveler mindset. (I still have three traveling hats, though. Some habits die hard.)

We set an aggressive new trip timeline: five years. We had simply become so good at amassing money, that why not ramp up our savings and extend our trip? We figured we could save like Scrooge, sell junk as well as the Sham-Wow guy on TV and socialize like Paris Hilton on a dime (or is that Perez?).

Take, for example, my Reverse Birthday Party, where friends shopped in my closet "boutique" to the sounds of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" while drinking wine and eating cake, purchasing the things they loved in order to add to our trip fund. It was much easier to let these things go to the people I loved.

By the time we headed to the airport with two backpacks and a dream, we had sold our house, car and all of our possessions.

Why It Was Worth It

We bribed our first government official in Ecuador, stood in the shadow of an erupting volcano (Volcan Tungurahua in Baños), trekked through pre-Incan jungle ruins, and drank gallons of delicious and cheap wine in South America. We crashed through 30-foot waves in a Force-12 storm in the Drake Passage on our way back from two weeks in Antarctica, then we took that same ship for five weeks all the way up the Atlantic to England. After visiting some fabulous places in Europe for the summer, we headed to Thailand for the winter.

We've seen 14 countries so far, and we have 182 more to go. But that would be every country in the world, so it might take a while!

We will soon be leaving for Finland. We will discover the vastness of China, attend the centuries-old Nadaam games this summer in Mongolia, and take an epic train journey from Mongolia to St. Petersburg on the Trans-Siberian Express.

But our trip wasn't just about seeing sights: We planned to do some volunteering, a lot of hiking and trekking, see a few friends, and learn Spanish. It has worked out that way and more, as we have lent our business skills to charities and travel businesses along the way, picked up Spanish and a bit of Thai, and made friends all over the world.

We also learned the benefits of housesitting, and we have stayed in some of the most beautiful homes in the greatest cities and towns in the world. There is no way we could have predicted or planned half the things that have happened, and that is the best part.

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