In the "What is a Nomadic Lifestyle" series of posts we plan to interview other nomadic travelers to get you a better idea of how people live this type of lifestyle.
I met Mike at a hostel in Rome last March and spoke to him recently on Facebook. He told me he was in Morocco and I realized he’s been traveling for over a year. I then asked him “Do you have some kind of online business that lets you travel throughout the year?” He told me that he didn’t and was able to budget his trips. I decided then that I needed to interview him to get an idea of how he is able to travel for such long periods of time.
1. Could you briefly tell us a bit about yourself and your background prior to traveling?
I was born and raised in a suburb close to LA and studied computer science. After that, I worked for a mortgage banking software company as a software engineer. After finding out it was possible, I saved up enough money and quit my job. I've now been on the road for 13 months, though after 8 months I went back home for two weeks to visit friends and family.
2. What first inspired you to travel?
My parents. Growing up we would take these family trips and this really helped expand my desire to see more of the world. It was always a dream of mine, but what changed it for me was realizing I could change the dream to a goal. At first, I thought I would have to be wealthy or retired in order to travel around the world. When I was researching a two-week road trip because a friend from France was visiting, I found out that it was possible to travel around the world by averaging $50 a day. That road trip I planned took us to 6 different national parks and went all around California. I realized that it didn't matter how much money I had, because if I continued working, I would never get the time to travel. Having a target made it so much easier to save money. Through my travels, I learned that you could do it for much less than $50 a day.
3. What countries have you traveled to in 2015-2016?
France, Italy, Monaco, Vatican City, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Liechtenstein, Spain, Morocco
4. What countries do you plan to travel to for the rest of the year?
So far, I have plans to go to Ireland, England, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. This way I am not sure what I'll do. I want to continue through Eastern Europe, but I also want to go to Spain and make my way to Portugal. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child in July or August, so I want to be back home for that. Once I'm home, I want to stay for at least a couple of months, but I'm considering driving up to Vancouver and back. I also want to go to Burning Man in Nevada. After that, I might go back to Asia or Central/South America. I'll have to find work at some point, so any planning beyond summer would be wishful thinking. My plans have changed so many times in the past week.
5. What are some of your favorite moments from your current trip?
The whole week in El Nido, Philippines. It's such a beautiful place and It was the first of many traveling groups. We were a group of 7 solo travelers on different types of trips on all different paths that just got along perfectly. The 15 person road trip through Bali on 13 motorbikes. Learning how to free dive down to 40 - 45 feet on a single breath on Gili T, Indonesia. Some of the best moments were just exploring a new place with new friends.
6. How have you been able to travel for so long?
(You can use this as a travel budget template)
The short version: I tried spending as little as I could on transportation, stayed with friends, family or couch surfers when I wasn't staying in hostels, spent time in cheaper countries and volunteered in exchange for accommodation. I pack light and don't really buy souvenirs, so I don't have to pay for checking in my bags, but even then flights are my last option.
The long version: I don't spend much at all on accommodation and transportation. I have been staying with friends and family as well as Couchsurfing. I stay in hostels and don't go for hotels or Airbnb. I try not to spend any more than $15 a night on a place to stay, but a lot of the time it's less. The more expensive cities brings the average up. I don't live my life and spend money like I'm on vacation all the time. There's this idea that travel is expensive and you should or will spend a lot of money for it. Convenience is the expensive thing. Planes, trains, hotels and restaurants are expensive, while buses, public transportation, ride shares, hostels, couches, markets and self-made meals are cheaper. For example, I spent 3 months traveling through France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Spain, which are comparatively much more expensive countries, but I spent maybe $250 on city-to-city transportation to over 20 cities. I mostly used buses and ride sharing, but I also took one ferry and one flight. Megabus can cost as little as $2 and some change to go between cities. I spent maybe $250 on about 15 days in hostels in those 90 days as well because I couchsurfed and stayed with friends. I definitely spent more money on food and alcohol. Right now, I'm volunteering at a surf hostel by designing their website in exchange for accommodation and some food. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities you can find on workaway.info and worldpackers.com and be provided with accommodation and oftentimes food in exchange for as little as 3 - 4 hours of work a day, along with days off.
In addition to saving money by taking cheap travel and staying for free, I take advantage of credit card offers of miles. Airline miles can get you lots of places for cheap and some have crazy good flights if you know how to use them. Some credit cards offer mile bonuses for spending a certain amount every 3 months. For 70,000 miles that I essentially got for free and $100 in taxes, I flew from LA to Paris, Paris to Tokyo and Tokyo to San Francisco on one ticket. Long flights are the most expensive, so while in Europe and Asia I just made loops back to Paris and Tokyo using cheaper methods of transportation. I use miles for the long flights and I don't think I bought a plane ticket more than $100. I use mostly budget airlines when flying and look for the cheapest flights. Having a lot of time allows me to be a lot more flexible. Sometimes I just look for the next cheapest place to go to that I'd want to travel to.
7. How long do you plan on traveling for?
I had saved up enough to last me about a year, and at first it was "until the money runs out or I want to go home". Now, it's not even "until the money runs out" because I figure when I go back home, I will replenish some of my savings and then hit the road again. Right now, I can't see myself working in a traditional office job in America. Why would I take a job that offers two to three weeks of vacation per year and a salaried job that will likely make me work longer than 8 hours a day for no additional pay? No thanks. I value my free time more than I do money. I'd take a job for less money that had more vacation time, freedom or was in a cheaper part of the world. Ideally, I would work on short-term projects or find a company that allows me to work remotely.
8. What tips do you give aspiring nomads to be able to travel for such long periods of time?
You don't need a lot of money to travel for a long time, but you will have to work along the way the less you start out with. I met a Japanese nomad who has been traveling for the past five years working seasonally on farms and then using the money earned from that to travel around. You can work in hostels or farms or volunteer in many parts of the world. You can teach English or work as an au pair. The cost of living somewhere is a roof over your head and food in your stomach. If you're not spending the money you saved, you can afford to travel one day longer. If you haven't gone to college or want to do a masters and are planning to, then consider going in another country. I've asked around and everywhere else is cheaper than America. Also, don't make too many plans too far in advance because you will change them. It's always a good idea to have an outline in your head, but being flexible opens up so many more opportunities for you. Also, travel slowly.
9. Are there any other nomads that you follow and what have you learned from them?
I don't really keep up with other nomads, though I will read friends' blog posts from time to time. The only one I really read when I'm planning destinations is travelisfree.com. Drew has a lot of resources for using airline miles, so it's really helpful when I am booking long distance flights. In terms of books by nomads, Vagabonding by Rolf Potts and How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matt Kepnes were pretty useful before I set out. Vagabonding is more of a philosophical book on travel and Kepnes's book gives you a lot of practical information.
More pics from Mike's travels: