I'm not rich, but I'm setting off for my year-long trip abroad

I left the Philippines mid-December 2016. I traveled solo in Cambodia for 9 days, flew to Australia to meet my travel buddy, and together, we camper-vanned around East Coast, Australia for 4 weeks.

The writer in Sydney, with the Opera House as her background. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

The writer in Sydney, with the Opera House as her background.

Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

 

I typed these very words in the remote Keglsugl (pronounced as Kegusugu) Village in Papua New Guinea after climbing Mt. Wilhelm (4500MASL), the highest mountain in the Pacific and the rest of Oceania. After our two-week trip up the highlands of this rarely traveled to country, we intend to travel around Southeast Asia again before flying to Nepal and Mongolia. We have South America for the second half of our year-long trip around the world. 

To travel long-term, at least for 3 months straight, remains a far-flung dream for many Filipinos. Others may have excuses; but others have rough realities such as sending a sibling to school, being the family’s breadwinner, or having too meager a salary. 

The decision to travel long-term did not come easy, I could tell you that. Like any traveler from a developing country, I had to battle many burdens –cultural, emotional, and financial.  

The following is a mixture of other travelers’ advice and my own, which may be helpful to my fellow travelers out there, who just like me, are hesitating to take that big scary leap.  

Let your family know ahead 

Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

I am not ashamed to admit that I did not come from a well-off family. Not middle-class, even. I am the fourth child in a family that can make up two basketball teams. You can say I’m the oddball in the family – while my siblings chose security through land and house ownership, there I was booking cheap flights in and outside the Philippines.  

During one of my visits to my parents’ place, I randomly blurted out I would travel for a year. Probably with my boyfriend and travel buddy (for almost two years now.) That was a year before my actual travel plan. My disclosing the plan did not elicit the drama I somehow anticipated. My mother just asked about my work, and I said, I would be working online. I made it clear that I would not be home physically. And financially. 

They understood. 

Save up long before your trip

Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

To say, “I quit my job to travel abroad” is either very western or privileged. Or both. Most Filipinos, or any citizen from a developing country, do not have such privilege. There is a need for you to plan way ahead to narrow down the chances of unwanted failure.  

Since I longed for a long-term trip, I started saving up back in 2014. It took me two years to raise my travel fund {P180K in my bank account, $1500 in Paypal, some passive income here and there) before I decided that it was time to test the waters abroad. It took 3 years to have the courage to let go of my beautiful life in Cebu, and go for the unknown.  

Savings can be tricky. One strategy I employed was to have a separate travel fund bank account. It worked for me, in a way, that I can empty out my other bank account without worrying about my travel fund.   

Connect with successful digital nomads 

Knowing I could not depend on my measly savings, I must connect with successful digital nomads and learn from them. Facebook has a lot of groups that connect digital nomads from different parts of the world. Some DMs are kind enough to answer any newbie’s questions on the path rarely taken. One defining character among DMs is that they do not take the now passé “I quit my job to travel the world” route; rather, they bring work with them. 

Jacob Laukaitis, the co-founder of an online coupon site, advised me to learn new skills. I’ve met my boss Ina, a Londoner who finds balance between fitness, travel, and active wear. Both, on their own terms, succeeded in finding balance between work and the open road. I’ve met fellow freelancers around the world who share my issues and concerns as a vagabond. 

Connect. And ask questions. That’s how growth starts.  

Learn new skills  

Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

To take the freelancing route is to be as Jill/Jack-of-all-trade as possible. Jacob advised me to learn web designing, animation, software engineering, translations, and copywriting that can boast my online portfolio. 

Learn these digital skills prior, not during your trip. Why? You do not want to spend most of your days abroad, paranoid about building your portfolio, instead of finding a balance between work and exploring.

In my case, I’ve been doing content-writing for foreign clients for the past 4 years. I studied basic HTML online. Despite being a semi-digital nomad before my trip, I always found opportunities to learn something new. 

You can do the same. A millennial traveler has no valid reason not to self-study. The Internet offers a gold mine of resources.

Again, boast your skills prior to your trip.  

Find jobs online before the trip  

I’m a money worry-wart. Knowing that my financial resources would soon be depleted if I solely depended on it, I made sure that I had another source of income aside from the existing ones – content writing and blogging.

For freelancers, traditional job boards such as Upwork and PeoplePerHour are the common place to start, but for newbies, the competition can be steep. What I did instead, I shared my story on several digital nomad groups on Facebook, hoping that doing so would lead me to the right employment. And it did!  

That’s how I found my naïve foot dipped in virtual assistance. What does my job entail? I manage the social media accounts of my boss, Ina, whose passion for fitness and travel echoed mine.  

Finding this extra job before the trip somehow appeased my financial worries. But I do not relax financially. So, I’m always on the lookout for virtual assistant and writing jobs.  

Diversify your money

While some popular travel personalities said don’t worry about money, go, travel, I maintain my stand on “worry about your money, go, travel.” I never intend to travel until I turn seventy. I expect myself to retire from traveling sooner or later, grow some roots in one place, and spend the rest of my life gardening, reading, writing, and petting my litter. 

I travel while saving for my old age. To have two VUL accounts made me grounded and less edgy. Despite being intimidated with numbers, I started my journey with stock trading. BPI and ColFinancial have a starter kit of P5000, which allows you to take baby-steps with the volatile stock market. While you jaunt around the world, let your money grow by itself.  

Remember, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify. Start small, learn the trade, and grow from there. 

Start a small business 

Our youngest is in senior high school. Although I told my family that I would not be helping financially, I seeded a little online store for my sister. We sell quaint camera straps, accessories, and beach towel roundies.  She manages the online store while I’m away. For every sale she makes, she gets most profit as her school allowance. Our little store may not be able to handle my expenses abroad, but it can surely help a family back home. In your case, it can contribute to your finances, little it may be. 

I did this as per Jacob’s advice. Start a business that can be managed online. If you're passionate about something, give it a look a little longer and ask yourself, if there is a way you can monetize from that passion. 

Sell your talent 

As a poet and fictionist, I’m personally adamant about this. Artists doubt themselves more than anything else. But I sneered at the “starving artist” dictum big time. Selling one’s talent is a decent way to earn.  

Despite hesitation, I started my own writing workshops online.  I provide affordable courses on writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. I made a thorough list of readings (and spent hours reading them) that would aid any potential writer to find his/her own voice. I know that it is not a very sellable course knowing most people would rather spend their money on how to make more money. But I know, one or two out there are looking for someone to share their passion with. 

So if you are really good at something (I’m not sure I am) that can potentially help others in finding their passion, why not make a living out of it? It is not a crime, is it? It requires a good amount of grit and grace though.  

Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

Sell what must be sold 

Prior to my trip, I only owned two huge bookshelves, a writing table, two wooden chairs, two thin mattresses, three pots and a pan, five cups, and some secondhand quaint Japanese teacups and plates. I owned around a thousand books and several secondhand dresses. 

Five cats enslaved and owned me. I could not possibly let go of my litter and my books, but I managed to find a buyer for my bookshelves, chairs, and writing table.  If I had had ample time, I could have sold the dresses I bought from a nearby ukay-ukay store and some books I wouldn’t find myself reading or rereading in the future. 

My tip? Provide enough time for your transition. Sell what must be sold a month or so before your trip. If you have pets like I do, find them a new home and let them settle down before leaving. If you live alone, bring some stuff to your parents’ place (books, kitchenware) everytime you visit them, so the bulk of moving out is hardly felt on the last remaining days.   

Grow your courage 

No amount of punctual and religious preparation can surpass the stress and burden of moving out and leaving for your year-long trip. A long line of what ifs will tail you until you reach the airport and line up for the immigration counter.  

What I felt was a mixture of anxiety and sadness. To feel sad is perfectly all right, I think. I know I would miss the people I spent, dined, drank, and shared my love for literature with. I would miss the ruckus at home. I would miss my cats. Above all, I would miss my favorite Filipino dishes.  

And perhaps you would too. But grow your courage. You wanted to travel. You ached for experiences. You ached for fashion, architecture, for adventure, for stories. You ached for the open road.  Give it a try. As what Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.”

Let your courage grow some more. And when it is time to go back home, it is time. – Rappler.com 

Jona Branzuela Bering is currently traveling around, fending off for herself through online jobs. Follow her travels on Instagram @backpackingwithabook and her blog Backpacking with a Book. For partnerships and collaborations, email her at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com.