How I Travel The World – Long Term And On a Budget (Without Backpacking)

travel the world

Editor’s Note: One of our core beliefs here in Pocketbook is that being rich is not about having the biggest bank balance. No. Being rich is about living the life you want. In this case, Saga travels the world on a long term basis while working.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty awesome to me so I’ve asked her to share her story. Enter Saga.

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I first noticed it while walking down Victoria Street in Potts Point, Sydney. It was just after dark, and both sides were lit up with signs for backpackers’ hostels and budget motels.

On the stoops under each sign were young travelers, like me. New arrivals, bearing the weight of their hiking bags, and careworn veterans, smoking their last cigarette. One window beckoned, “Free Wifi” in bright pink scrawl.

And that’s when I felt the absurdity of the situation: I should have been one of them, but I wasn’t. I was walking back to my apartment – well, the one I owned for ten days – about to feed the cats, open a bottle of wine, and stream a movie on my tablet. The woman who owned the apartment didn’t have Internet access, but I did. I had to.

Internet access was the reason I wasn’t sitting on that stoop.

travel the world on a budget

Me, in Sydney

Since the Internet boom of the late 90s, freelancing has become an increasingly popular avenue for professionals of all ages and backgrounds. Commonly associated with writing and the fine arts, it now impacts just about every industry, including marketing and communications, software development, education, health, and science.

You may think this doesn’t apply to you, but you’d be surprised: Intuit estimates that 40% of the US workforce will be freelancing in some capacity by 2020. In Australia, the numbers look like this:

workforce makeup

Contractual workers will see a major increase in demand by 2020 in Australia.

Technically, freelancing encompasses both physical and remote styles of vocation, the only defining characteristic being that the freelancer doesn’t work for a single company.

You’re your own boss, basically. But the Internet has made it so easy for freelancers to access multiple markets across the globe, enabling them to find projects and make a living from any location, that the term “freelance” has become somewhat synonymous with online work.

freelance hours

Number of hours global freelancers worked through popular online market, oDesk, from 2004 to 2009.

Put two and two together and you’ve got a startling concept: If you aren’t tied down to location, and all you need to make money is an Internet connection, then you can work – and live – anywhere in the world!

But freelancing is only half of the equation. Sure, you can make a living online if you’re lucky, but won’t you have to spend your earnings on accommodation and food, just like you would at home? How can you save enough money to continue traveling, to beat the game and really make that lifestyle sustainable?

That’s where housesitting comes in.

There are now people who housesit year round, hopping from country to country, living entirely rent-free. They spend two weeks exploring Paris without a hotel bill at the end. They use their hard-earned cash to skydive in New Zealand, accomodation covered. They live in Italy for six months, living the good life and whistling while they work.

But more importantly – thanks, again, to the Internet – there are now legitimate websites that cater to these people. You don’t need previous experience, you don’t need a background check, you don’t need a visa. In some cases all it takes is a Skype call and a friendly smile.

Trustedhousesitters.com was founded in 2010 by Andy Peck after he realized the need for a comprehensive house sitting website where homeowners could search for ideal sitters, view photos and video profiles, and request references. Mindmyhouse.com and Housecarers.com came about in a similar fashion.

These two ingredients – working online and housesitting – can result in the secret recipe of lifestyle.

Just as long-term traveling is no longer a backpacker’s game, you no longer need a visa (or a youthful excuse) to enjoy a working holiday.

Let’s face it – this level of daily freedom should not be reserved for the young and the retired. True, there is a rather large carrot hanging from a stick in the form of retirement benefits and other extraneous factors, making career shifts risky and undesirable.

But truth be told, it all boils down to priorities. Barring all personal factors like family and health, there are two categories of professionals who want to travel more but don’t: those who have the money but can’t find the time, and those who have the time but don’t have the money. If you’re in the former category, I’m afraid no one can help you but yourself.

If you’re in the latter, I’ve got plenty of advice for you – as long as you’re open to ideas.

My workstation in a library

My workstation in a library

So, how do you get started?

  • Familiarize yourself with the online professional sphere: It is a different world out–or should I say “on”–there. It will take some time and research to get a good idea of what’s out there, opportunity-wise. I promise you this, though: It’s a lot more than you think. Reading job postings, even for gigs that don’t suit you (and you will read a lot of these), completely alters your view of the kinds of tasks companies will pay for, and without ever meeting its employees face-to-face.
  • Cultivate a renewed interest in your own skillset: Your skills may apply differently online. The skills you’ve had for ages but never used may apply for the first time online, or you may discover a new interest due to the cross-disciplinary nature of online work. I never thought I’d have much to do with finance, but I’ve found jobs writing about it – you guessed it – online.
  • Skip the first page of search results: While I was on the hunt for steady work, I started with a Google search and ended up with three or four sites that I checked daily for jobs in my field. And I’m not talking about Indeed and SimplyHired. Not even Freelancer.com. Nope, the sites you want to familiarize yourself with only present themselves to you once you’ve gotten past the first page of search results. Plus, the positions they feature will be less competitive.
  • Make a gradual transition: I worked as a server at an upscale restaurant before making the shift to full-time freelancing. And when I say “shift,” I don’t mean that I moved on as soon as I started making money writing on the side. I mean that I waited until I was making as much money on the side as I did at the restaurant – about a year and a half later – before putting in my two weeks.
  • Self-branding: The online professional sphere requires a different kind of self-marketing than you’re probably used to. I’ve had one phone interview in two years of freelance work with over ten companies. Most employers assume a kind of personal disconnect when they hire you for online work.What matters most is your resume and cover letter.You want them to reflect the qualities that make a good freelance employee: work ethic, attention to detail, communication skills, punctuality, self-motivation, and past experience. Sound familiar? Yeah, they’re the same qualities all employees look for. You don’t have to change your employee profile to snag an online gig, but you do have to ensure that those qualities show through without the help of an interview.
  • Dedication and patience: It took me about a month to score my first online gig. During that time, I spent a few hours each day applying for jobs. When the right catch came along, it was a month longer before I received my first assignment. Then another month before my first payment.
  • Planning your travels: First, wherever you go, the important thing is to have good Internet access, electricity for charging your device, and a comfortable enough space to work. I have probably been to every public library east of the Blue Mountains, seeing as I took advantage of the free Wifi wherever I went.Only once – in Lithgow, NSW – was I charged to use the service. Most hotels offer at least limited free Wifi these days as well. Tasmania, where I fully expected to run out of luck, offered free Wifi in nearly every town along the east coast. Just park near the center of town and crank out an article or two.
  • Housesits: Hands down, the cheapest and most enjoyable way to travel. In six months of travel, I’ve saved a total of four months’ rent. The best part is, you do not need much prior experience. Most people have looked after a friend’s dog or cat for a weekend; have that friend write you a brief but glowing letter of reference and you’re on your way.I didn’t even have a letter of reference when I scored my first gig. But I did put some time and effort into creating a presentable profile. Once you’ve completed your first sit, it becomes easier and easier to score more. Sits can be as short as a weekend or as long as a year.
  • Cellular capability: I use an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Note with cellular capability for work. It’s just about the best thing since sliced bread. No new account needed – wherever I am in the world, I simply pop in a SIM card (I’ve had the best luck with Telstra in Australia) and add money to my account. The cellular function means 1) my tablet doubles as a phone, and 2) I have Internet access wherever I have cell reception. As a rule, though, I only use the cellular function in emergencies; free Wifi is, well, free.

How to apply these tips to short-term travel

Looking for a less permanent change? Just want to work in a more exotic setting for a few months out of the year? The key ingredients of successful long-term working holidays can easily be applied to shorter stints abroad:

  • Housesits: Even if you’re only going away for a week, consider housesits as an alternative to hotels, resorts, or even Airbnb. They are completely free, and in some cases you can even make money, especially if there are pets involved.
  • Working online: If you aren’t so tied down to your job that you can take it with you, see what you can do in the online professional sphere in your field of specialty while you are away.
  • Shared economy: Stop renting from Hertz and start borrowing vehicles from individuals. Or, if you have your own car but plan to be in one place for a while, rent your car out to a traveler.

At the moment I’m sitting in a Melbourne apartment, where I’m stationed for eight days. The Wifi is free, the pets are great company, and the city’s a short train ride away. In May I’m headed for New Zealand, in June Southeast Asia, and in July and August the plan is Europe.

My pack never stays on my shoulders for long.

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This is the first in a series of posts about working holidays. Up next, look for details on how to find work online, how to score housesits, and how to make the most of the shared economy.

Featured image by Smashing Magazine.

9 Comments

  1. Ricky   •  

    Wow! This was so refreshing to read. Thank you!

  2. Terry Race Workman   •  

    Very well written and quite informative! Sign me up!

  3. Marianne Stenger   •  

    I love it Saga. Very inspirational, you are awesome!

  4. Hallie Price   •  

    Janet Rackleff showed me this. I had no idea! Congrats Saga!

  5. Saga Briggs   •  

    Thanks, guys. It’s definitely something I’d urge everyone to try. More posts on this topic to come.

  6. This is such a great and comprehensive read! I love how you explain tangible ways that anyone can travel the world on a budget for any length of time. Look forward to the other articles in the series!

  7. Joshua   •  

    Hi Sage,
    what do you do about rent back at home? Do you still pay for an apartment in Sydney or do you just house sit pretty much everywhere?

  8. Natalia   •  

    Is there another post?

  9. Saga Briggs   •  

    Joshua, thanks for reading. I do not currently pay rent for a home base. There are so many housesitting assignments available worldwide that I don’t need to. If I did want a home base, though, sub-letting would be a smart option. The next post in the series explains how to sustain an income while moving around so much. Which leads me to Natalia’s question–it should be up soon!

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