This is a guest post by NZ Muse, a mid-20s writer who just completed a six-month trip around the world and lived to tell the tale. I took NZ Muse and her husband out for lunch in San Francisco when they stopped by. A lot of folks want to travel more for an extended period of time, but don’t because they’re either afraid they won’t have a job when they get back, don’t have the funds, or just fear extended travel in general. I feared taking a sabbatical because I didn’t want to risk making less since so much of my compensation comprised of a year end bonus. I also feared getting fired! NZ Muse’s travel is why I really enjoy Australian and New Zealand culture. They are much more relaxed about work and everything seems to always turn out alright!
When you make a life-changing decision, you generally expect some measure of shock and awe when you announce it to everyone you know. But due to the collective wanderlust that courses through the veins of most New Zealanders, the news that I was taking off to travel around the world for half a year didn’t make much more than a gentle splash.
American round-the-world bloggers usually speak of encountering serious pushback when they announce their plans to friends and family. For us, it was more like “About time!” or “Six months? Will that be long enough?”
In your 20s, farewell parties for friends going on their gap years are just as common as parties for birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries. I have plenty of friends who’ve already done their ‘OE‘ (Overseas Experience) and returned to New Zealand, and others who left for their gap year and still abroad a few years later.
Disclosure: ONIG Financial Blog has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ONIG Financial Blog and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
New Zealand can feel stiflingly small, even if you live in a big city. (A fun fact for American readers: our country is about the size of Colorado.) Escaping the country is a rite of passage that’s been around for decades and will probably continue to be for many more.
Long-term travel was never originally on my life list. I graduated university, started saving for travel, and laid out plans for three big trips: the USA, western Europe, and southeast Asia – roughly one per year, with a month allocated for each (we get four weeks of paid annual leave a year in New Zealand).
This was derailed, however, by my changing jobs and moving to a smaller company; I soon came to realize that taking a month off at a time would now be a lot harder. Around the same time, my wanderlust intensified. More and more of my friends started leaving the country, one seemingly taking off every other month.
My now-husband hated his job, I hated our moldy rental house, we were planning to get married, and the time seemed ripe for a change. I started reading a ton of travel blogs, researched overseas volunteering opportunities, and kept an eye on STA Travel’s round-the-world deals for students and travelers under 26. And that’s when our tentative one-month European honeymoon turned into a solid six-month RTW trip.
Why six months? It seemed like a nice round number. It fit in well with the destinations on my bucket list and the lengths of stay in each country that we’d legally be entitled to (luckily, New Zealanders have it easy with visas the world over). And most importantly, it seemed about as long a trip as we could afford. Bonus: the Kiwi dollar was strong, and getting stronger.
I’m willing to bet that as a ONIG Financial Blog reader, you’re probably even more financially savvy than me. You know how to save. You know how to prioritize. You know how to hustle on the side. We’re not going to go over all that.
We earned pretty average incomes in a high cost-of-living city (Auckland is frequently named one of the most livable cities in the world … and one of the most expensive). Admittedly, though, we didn’t own much in the way of stuff (so there was very little to sell, dispose of, or put in storage), we didn’t own a house (no need to find temporary tenants), and we didn’t have debt.
The crazy thing about RTW tickets is that they often cost no more than a single return fare. Flying to Europe or North America and back from New Zealand will run you $2,000 or more – the same price as the cheapest RTW itineraries available. Our tickets wound up costing about $3,000 each, taking us from New Zealand to Asia to Europe to the US and back home again.
I set a rough daily budget of NZ$100 for the both of us on the road, which we easily hit in some places, and blew out in others. I based this on data from Budget Your Trip, which aggregates spending info from real travelers, and the budgets posted by other RTW bloggers.
When you’re a young, first-time traveller, it’s fine (and even fun!) to rough it. We don’t eat at five-star restaurants, nor do we want to. We don’t stay in nice hotels; I don’t see the point. That said, I am willing to pay a little more for privacy and/or convenience in some cases. We stretched our dollars even further, where possible, with a couple of volunteer stints (an English course in Germany and a farm in Italy – both provided free accommodation and food in exchange for labour) and couchsurfing in a handful of places.
Apart from seeing amazing places first hand, experiencing life abroad, and making memories?
I now truly appreciate what we have at home, and I feel I’m now qualified to criticize our shortcomings. I’m more culturally sensitive, globally minded, environmentally conscious, a little more self-confident, and – I hope- more well rounded.
Travel has made me more compassionate – towards my husband and towards other people in general. It’s also taught me never to take anything for granted, from the little things (free beach parking) to the big (democratic government).
Travel has also changed my outlook on food. I LOVE eating and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my next meal. Traveling has taught me what foods make me feel best, opened my horizons to new flavors and ingredients, and basically revolutionized my food philosophy, laying the path for a new way of eating at home.
Hand on heart, I never got truly homesick once. That might be because I’m a very solitary person; I could happily go weeks normally without seeing anyone but coworkers and my husband. (This may sound sad and lonely, but that’s how I’m wired.) And while I’m a hardcore homebody, I’ve moved house a lot and consequently can feel at home almost anywhere.
It was a little harder for my husband, especially when we were in non-English speaking countries. That’s when it’s important to carve out little pockets of familiarity: keep up with your favorite TV shows online, seek out your favorite foods once in awhile, talk to friends on Facebook, etc.
Dealing with the unfamiliar on a daily basis is a challenge, for sure. Even the simplest things can be difficult: trying to navigate laundromats or post offices (yes, I promised postcards for some friends – old school!) or a completely foreign bus system.
As Paula at Afford Anything writes, “It’s when you step out of your daily routine that you can push yourself and really learn what you’re capable of. Step into a new environment, however, and those triggers disappear. When we’re no longer surrounded by familiar cues, we’re forced to re-make ourselves.”
Even when I found myself in tears on the side of the street in a new country, exhausted, hungry, sweaty, and ready to sock T in the jaw, I couldn’t forget how fortunate I was to be there, doing what I was doing. I’ve learned that I’m more adaptable than I thought I was, in regards to food, hot weather, and customs. Pushing through the tough times was no doubt easier because we had an end date on the trip; when you know your time is limited, you want to make the most of it.
Honestly, the hardest part of it all was the endless coordinating. It’s ridiculously tiring to be continuously researching destinations, making decisions about your next move, figuring out transport, accommodation, subways, customs, currencies, languages. (First world problems.) Planning used to be half the fun of travel for me, but by the end of it all, I was completely worn out from it all. I gladly swapped the mundanity of cooking and cleaning for ongoing logistical hassles back in May, and now I’m ready to switch back.
I won’t lie – after awhile, like anything else, travel loses a bit of its lustre. Museum / church / mountain / skyscraper fatigue is a real thing. I imagine we would have been much more impressed by Rome and Paris if we’d landed in those cities individually and specifically for a short trip, rather than as stops along the way through Europe. Amazing sights we visited toward the tail end of our journey probably made less of an impact than places we went to early on. When you’re experiencing new and fantastic things on a daily basis, the bar for ‘special’ rises pretty high, you know?
The economics of travel from New Zealand, however, outweighed this small downside. And travelling long term is pretty amazing in its own right.
The funny thing is, I’m extremely risk averse. I do not do well with uncertainty at all. But when it came time to take the leap and hand over my credit card to the travel agent, it came down to one simple question: What will I regret more – doing this, or NOT doing it?
(Hint: ‘what ifs’ are what’ll get you, almost every time.)
Our friends and family are also all in Auckland, so we had a support network and knew we wouldn’t be homeless. I was fortunate to have a job to come back to. That said, I booked our flights well before revealing my plans to my employer – we would have gone one way or another, and dealt with the consequences accordingly. Finally, I vowed not to dip into my emergency fund for anything while we travelled, and stuck by that.
I have no desire to be a digital nomad – at least not at this point in time. Unlike many other RTW bloggers – or bloggers in general – I didn’t hate my job or harbour dreams of self-employment. The last six months were a dream come true, but by the end of it, I was happy to return to normal life.
At the end of it all, we spent a small fortune – I haven’t calculated the final sum yet, but it should clock in around $25,000. That’s a mind-boggling amount, and it’s more than I’ve ever spent on anything in my life.
A lot of RTW bloggers travel for cheaper and for longer, choosing to visit low cost-of-living countries and stay in one place for weeks or months. We spent a lot of time in expensive areas – by choice. We specifically wanted to see those destinations, and not simply travel for travel’s sake.
We’d be a lot closer to my other dream of home ownership by now if we had stayed put (close, but not quite there, given the prices of property in Auckland). But I decided travel was a bigger priority in life. In the movie Up, Ellie dies without ever realising her dream of traveling to Paradise Falls – despite saving for years, there are always other things that crop up, causing her and Carl to defer their trip over and over again. I didn’t want that to be me.
If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I negotiating a severance instead of quitting. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. Since you got laid off, you’re also eligible for up to 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have since expanded it to 180 pages from 100 pages in the 3rd edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
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ONIG Financial Blog started as a personal journal to make sense of the financial crisis in 2009. By early 2012, it started making a livable income stream so I decided to negotiate a severance package. Years later, FS now makes more than I did as an Executive Director at a major bulge bracket firm with 90% less work and 100% more fun. Learn how to start your own WordPress website like mine today with my step-by-step tutorial. You never know where the journey will take you!
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Disclosure: ONIG Financial Blog has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ONIG Financial Blog and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
Updated for 2021 and beyond.