14 Months, 18 Countries, $10,000 – How to Quit Your Job and Travel The World

travel the world
Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador

In my mid-twenties, I quit my job to travel the world for 14 months. I visited 18 countries and spent about $10,000. A lifestyle of frequent and extended travel in retirement, funded by passive income, is a primary motivation to reach financial independence.

This post is about how I was able to travel the world for so long on so little money, and how you can too.

One of the main ways I could afford this trip was through credit card welcome bonuses and spending rewards. I earned enough points to fly round trip to Ecuador. 

This card is the most flexible travel rewards card I’ve found, and the points are super-powerful. Redeem them for flights, hotels, rental cars, and much more. 

How It All Started

After college, I embarked on a two-month backpacking trip to Europe. The US dollar was strong at the time so Europe was affordable. A friend and I whirled around the continent visiting 15 countries in that short period of time.

I loved every minute of that trip and knew that once I had the opportunity, I’d take another trip to other parts of the world, hopefully while I was still young.

When I returned home from Europe, I started a career in information technology. Even though I was just starting my career, my plan was to put it on hold to travel the world again once I had the money. I didn’t care if it would hurt my career because I wanted to get back on the backpacker trail and see the world.

Based on how fast I could pay off my debts and save up cash, I estimated that I could quit my job and travel the world in August of 2001 after less than three years of holding down a ‘real’ job.

By then I would be able to buy an airline ticket and have $6,000 to spend on a 4 1/2 month trip. I kept my spending under control as a young professional and was fortunate to have no student loans to pay thanks to my parents.

I wanted to go to Asia. Everything I read told me I could live on $20 or less after flights by staying in hostels and inexpensive hotels and eating on the cheap.

Many things had to line up to make this trip happen. I had to:

  • Have no debts or other obligations
  • Save enough money
  • Not be constrained by a housing lease
  • Not be in a serious relationship with someone who was not interested or able to travel for that long
  • Find a place to put my car and stuff and have a place to sleep before leaving and when I returned (in hindsight I should have sold the car).

Getting all of these items in order was critical. With diligent planning and some luck, they all lined up. Planning the trip was the ultimate motivator to get my financial life in order so I could go.

4 1/2 Months Was Not Enough

In February 2001, I bought a plane ticket to Beijing, China. My itinerary was to start there and travel by land to Singapore over a 4 1/2 month period. I’d leave in August and return a few days before Christmas. After Christmas, I’d start looking for a new job while living at my parent’s house.

My parents are usually supportive of whatever I do. They weren’t crazy about the trip but managed not to say anything negative about it. My Dad thought I joined a government intelligence agency (I didn’t).

I met a friend in Beijing and traveled south by train toward Hong Kong and the Vietnam border. After about three weeks I realized a few very important things:

  • $6,000 was more than enough to travel on for 129 days. I knew this because China was much more expensive than the rest of the countries I’d be visiting. So if I could live on $20-$25 in China, I could live on $15-$20 in Vietnam and beyond. 129 x $25 = $3,225
  • Asia was not the only cheap place to travel. I met an Irishman in Shanghai who said he spent 6 months in South America and lived on $20 per day. South America was in my cross-hairs.
  • I loved the backpacking lifestyle and didn’t want it to end.
travel the world
Bumpy road to Cambodia

Asia and 9/11

On September 11th, 2001 I was in a small town in south China. Late in the evening a woman working in the small cafe where a group of us were outside drinking said there was an explosion.

We didn’t hear an explosion. She clarified to say the explosion was in America.

A few minutes later, an Englishman who I’d known for the past few days left to find out what was going on. He returned to say he saw a video on a Hong Kong satellite news feed of an airplane hitting the World Trade Center in New York. He wholehearted believed it was a fabricated video and we continued our jovial evening.

But as more news came in, I soon found myself at an internet cafe trying to get information. Most internet news outlets at the time were blocked by the Chinese government. Yahoo News was my only source for learning what transpired.

The impact of the incident on the next few days in China and Vietnam was minimal. Being so far away and out of touch, it was difficult to grasp the seriousness of the events that took place. It wasn’t until months later when I returned to the States that it really hit me. Strangely, I felt much safer in northern Vietnam than my friends felt in New York and Washington, DC.

The shock 9/11 had on the US economy was severe, particularly on the employment situation. That combined with the passing of Y2K and the bursting of the dot-com bubble, left little doubt that the job market in my hometown was abysmal.

It made perfect sense to keep on traveling.

travel the world
You need to go to Thailand

The Second and Third Legs

I was tempted to abort my flight home from Asia to accept an invitation to travel in India for a few months. But my parents were eager to have me home and it was not a good budgeting move to waste an expensive airline ticket. So I took the flight.

Within a week of being home, I cashed in my small stash of airline miles on a round-trip flight to Ecuador. I used a US Airways credit card to earn frequent flier miles at the time.

Flights were easy to book at the time because no one was flying. I spent another five months on the road in South America, backpacking my way through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

This time I traveled mostly solo. I saw the Colca Canyon, the Uyuni salt flats, swam with pink river dolphins in Bolivia, marveled at Iguazu Falls, and socialized with new friends just about every day. Life was spectacular.

Argentina recently went through a major currency crisis, multiplying the buying power of the US dollar by four. I ate and drank there better than any previous destination, and did it on a budget of less of than $10 a day.

In Chile, I took a three-week hiatus from traveling and worked in a hostel in Santiago in exchange for a bed, hot showers, and great company. I had two expenses, empanadas and beer.

That’s when I committed to another trip extension. My round-trip flight to Ecuador had a stopover in Panama. I opted to take the flight to Panama City and surrender my connecting flight home.

Some good friends of mine would be in Las Vegas for a bachelor party about 100 days after the flight to Panama. So I decided to travel to Vegas by land through Central America to Los Angeles, then rent a car and make my way up the coast, then over to Sin City.

Travel the world
Uyuni, Bolivia

Money Running Out

I was tired of sleeping in a new place every few days. But my backpack had significantly lightened and I had grown accustomed to the nomad lifestyle.

Few occasions in my life I would have things in order to the point I could put everything on hold and slowly move my way through a continent. I could stop in any town or city and stay until I got bored or needed a change of scenery. My professional life was on hold, but my life was more exciting than ever.

My supportive parents came through once again when my Dad completed my taxes for me and emailed the news that I’d be getting a $2500 refund. The refund was just what I needed to make it to Vegas.

After three-plus months in Central America, I took a 48-hour bus ride from Mexico City to Tijuana and crossed over into the US. The ride wasn’t as bad as it sounds aside from the six-hour mechanical delay in Mazatlan.

Vegas was fun, but spending $100 for a bed when I was spending $5 for the past year was difficult to swallow. My priorities were very different, and my view on the value of a dollar change a lot too.

How I Budgeted

Budgeting was simple. Depending on the country, I’d budget $15-25 dollars per day. If I was in an expensive country like Costa Rica, I’d hurry through to the cheaper country, Nicaragua.

If I had an opportunity to do something really fun that was over my budget, I’d still do it, but cut back on other days that week. I needed to splurge a little extra here and there for short flights and ferry rides, but they never skewed my budget by too much.

Hotel rooms and beds ranged from $1.25 to $10 US dollars depending on the country. Food and beer were cheap.

Transportation could get expensive, but I’d often take overnight trips to save on accommodation. To track spending, I had a little calculator and converted the local currency into dollars and wrote the spending amounts in the back of my journal.

All told, I spent $1,300 on my initial flight, then started my trip with $6000. My tax return provided an additional $2,500 in cash just when I needed it, for a total of $9,800. That certainly lasted until I arrived at the US border.

Renting a car and traveling from LA to Las Vegas and back, then up to San Francisco required a small amount of debt, but I knew I’d be working again soon.

travel the world

If I Love Traveling So Much Why Am I Not Doing It Full-Time Today?

The simple answer is that my desire to raise a family in a stable home outweighs my desire to travel the world extensively. Once the kids get older we want to take some overseas trips, and I think that will be beneficial to their upbringing. But long extended trips are not in the plans right now.

Maybe we’ll find an opportunity to live abroad someday. My new company could provide that kind of opportunity in the future.

When I retire and we have plenty of time and passive income, Mrs. RBD and I plan to take long and extended trips. Our budget will be much better than $20/day.

How You Can Travel the World Too

If you are considering a backpacking trip, I can recommend a few things based on my experiences:

  • Dedicate yourself 6-12 months ahead of time by booking your airfare. That will motivate you to get your shit together. Pay off all debts. Save extra money. Don’t leave any loose ends at home. Figure out where you will store things or sell it all. Don’t forget to buy travel insurance, it’s cheap.
  • If you are a young American, don’t go to Europe. Traveling in most parts of Western Europe is too expensive. You’ll meet more Europeans in Bangkok or Buenos Aires than while staying in a dumpy Paris hostel.
  • Travel to poorer parts of the world to stretch your money. Stay longer in cheaper countries and avoid rich countries.
  • Lastly, you will need more time and less money than you expect… plan according. Travel the world slowly and change your course when it feels right. Build in flexibility.

See also:
5 Truths About Traveling The World In Your 20s
Travel Scams And Robbery On The Backpacker Trail
Why I Don’t Read Travel Blogs

How do you plan to travel the world in retirement?

travel the world
Disabled bus in Guatemala

Photo Credits: RBD

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  1. That’s a very nice story about traveling the world. Thanks for the valuable tips!

    1. Thanks Money Saving Dude. Traveling like that is not for everyone. But it was a great experience for me and it influences my retirement plans.

      1. 14 months for the price of $10,000. Sounds like you got a great deal. What an experience to have in your mind as you are working toward gaining your ultimate goal. You will have those moments from that trip in your mind each time the going gets tough and you can refocus with those moments of your travels.

        Keep cranking,


  2. Great story, I really enjoyed the read. Traveling will be my main goal once I retire.

  3. Wow, heck of a lot of experiences to pack into a little over a year. I’m sure you could write books with what you saw and things you’ve experienced during that time. Either way, ultimately you have a tremendous picture of what you are striving for once you’ve reached FI and the kids are a bit older.

    1. W2R,
      It was a fun period of my life for sure. Plenty of good stories. My retirement planning will hopefully allow me to get on the road again around age 55. But this time with a bit more luxury!

  4. This is unbelievable! I put this on Pinterest for future reference as I don’t have time to read the whole thing right now, but rest assured, I will be back to read it. I can’t wait to travel!

  5. Good for you man. You had the balls of King Kong and the smarts of Warren Buffett 🙂 You nailed it on the head about priorities and taking action too – really enjoyed this one.

    1. It took some balls to reject what is normal 20’s behavior. It did take a toll on my career, and I had a full two year break in having a real job. It also hurt my savings a bit, but I didn’t go into retirement funds to travel, and even kept my stocks. Warren Buffet, I wouldn’t go that far! Once you’re on the road you just buy a guide book and the rest is street smarts.

  6. Sounds like so much fun! We haven’t done any long term traveling. I’m super envious of people who have traveled. We’re taking small trips here and there since our jobs don’t prevent long term traveling, but I hope we get a chance to before we’re 40. I wouldn’t mind being the crazy people in an RV who travel everywhere and just enjoy life.

    1. I’ve run into a lot of RV people on the road in the US. That’s a great way to travel to see some of the National Parks and to cross the country. But you’ll still be eating at Subway and McDonald’s most of the trip! We hope to drive cross country as a family, but the when the kids get older hopefully we’ll get overseas with them.

  7. RBD,

    My favorite post here ever. Very inspiring stuff! And for $20/day, no less. I could do that now. Hmm… 🙂

    Do you have a favorite country or area? For some reason, I’m particularly drawn to Thailand, and SE Asia in general. The food, climate, people, culture, and beauty just seem ethereal.

    Best wishes!

    1. DM,
      Thanks! Knowing what I know from traveling, I could take all my savings today and be financially independent somewhere in the world, and still travel quite a bit. Possible, but not what I want today. As for favorites, Thailand is incredible. Great food and beaches, and cheap. Myanmar was interesting when I was there because it was so isolated. Also Cambodia and Nicaragua were highlights. Sometimes I enjoyed places more because of the people I was with, not the place itself. Lots more places to go!


  8. Hey Bryan,
    Thanks. Road trips with a kids can be trying! We have a 6 hour trip coming up in a few weeks with our two and we are not looking forward to it. Asia and Africa will work better when the kids are older. Closer to 10 years old. But those become expensive with flights, and aren’t worth it if you are gone for just 2 weeks. To justify an expensive flight it makes sense to stay longer. Thanks for coming by!

  9. Wow!! A lot of experiences in a short time, many people not even achieve half of your experiences in their life time. Hey you inspired me (more & more) to save, invest and enjoy our own time with the income from investiments. You have guts to quit your job, but I am little scare :D.

    1. Thanks FJ! It’s much easier to quit before you have a family and are still early in a career. I was lucky that it all panned out in the end. Especially getting my career up and running after such a long time away.

  10. Great story, and fantastic post! Very engaging — I read every single word, and that doesn’t happen often! Quite an experience you had.

    1. Thanks Quinn. Sorry there were so many words! But I’m glad you read them all. Sometimes it takes a lot to get the full story across. There was plenty of other things to add, but I tried to keep it around 2000 words just for sanity purposes.

      1. It was great — if anything, I wanted more words!

  11. Awesome story. I never made it a priority to travel in my 20’s when I was single even though it was always something I wanted to do. That sounds like an amazing trip and the fact that you did it for less than $10k is awesome. This has me seriously thinking about what kind of options I could have to take a 2.5 month trip over summer 2015 when my wife would be out of school. I guess I need to research what kind of options my employer has to see if I could go on “sabbatical” for the summer. Of course, that’s highly dependent on whether the Mrs. is pregnant by then or not. There’s so much to see and do across the world and the you’ve done so much more than the average person. Hoping you get to travel again sooner rather than later.

    1. Thanks for the comments JC. 2.5 months is plenty of time to see a lot. I’d focus on one area of countries instead of trying to squeeze an around the world flight because you don’t want to have to rush through places. I know plenty of people who have done that and missed a lot of the good stuff because their schedule was so tight. I was lucky to pull this off before meeting my wife and having kids. I often about how the trip shaped my personality, and had I not taken the trip, my life would be much different today.

  12. I didn’t want to wait till retirement to travel, so we took 2013 off to travel around the world. Best thing we ever did. But like you it’s not a lifestyle I want, permanent travel – I do want to settle down and have a house and kids.

    1. NZ Muse,
      Traveling was the best thing I ever did too, before getting married. Didn’t make it NZ on this trip, but I will. Met lots of Kiwis along the way.

  13. The Phroogal Jason says:

    Awesome. I left my corporate job in 2012 and backpacked around the world for 12 months. I went through 20 countries. For under $15k. Most major expense was two RT tickets to SE Asia and Europe.

    1. Jason,
      Cool. Just read your About section and your epiphany in Myanmar. I know that feeling. I’ll be posting a story about my time there in a few weeks. I’m sure these days backpacking is more expensive because of the weaker dollar. 15k is still quite good, especially in Europe. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. I wish I had your guts. That sounds a little scary, but fun! Right now I’m fortunate to at least be working in a job that allows me to travel to various places for around 3 months a year… of course it’s not all fun and games since it’s mostly full of work :(.

    1. Ravi,
      It was a little scary before I left. But I had some company, and I had done it once before. Once I got started, it was nothing but fun. That’s too bad your work travel doesn’t allow for much more.

  15. I’ve been lucky enough to spend well over a year of my adulthood (when you combine all the months) traveling with work- mostly in Asia and South America; and you’re right, your money goes a long way there. I’m now in Europe, and even with flights and hotels mostly covered, the trip is significantly more expensive just because of the increased cost of basic daily expenses.

    1. Stefanie,
      That is a fortunate you’ve been able to travel with work. I hope you were able to enjoy your visits. In my 20’s I wish I had the opportunity to travel like that for work. But friends that have said its exhausting, and certainly not great if you leave a family at home. Thanks for your comments and for sharing.

  16. Talk Car Insurance,
    Thanks for your comment. Very good point about hostels. I found that most European hostels have age limits. However in South America they did not as much, and I met quite a few older folks traveling solo in them. That said, my wife and I have NO intention to stay in hostels! Asia, and most of South and Central America, in my experience, have plenty of inexpensive hotels. Or even Hostels with private rooms and bathrooms. Generally, most non-European destinations have options for everyone in all price ranges. Now with AirBnB there’s even more options.

  17. I am SOOOOO going to do that! Thank you for helping add to my dream of future slow travel.

  18. Wow, those are some amazing experiences. I always wish I would have traveled more in my 20s before I was tied down with a career. One of my reasons for wanting to retire early is also to travel. I want to have the time to go on extended trips or rent an apartment in other countries for months at a time. I feel alive when I travel.

    1. Kay,
      Renting an apartment in a city is something we talk about too. I think when we’re older, we’ll do our share of moving around. But we also like the idea of setting into a town or cool neighborhood in a European city and to experience it that way. In the right location with a good budget, I think that would be really cool.

  19. This is so freaking cool. I absolutely love traveling and it’s certainly a motivation to reach financial independence as soon as possible!

  20. Awesome story, very inspirational, thanks for sharing!

  21. Sorry I’m late to find this one but excellent post with a great story. Sounds like an amazing experience. I did a 2 month summer school in Europe during college and traveled around on the weekends. One of the best things I’ve ever done. Good stuff here.

  22. Awesome story done at the right time in your life. Those experiences will stay with you forever. Travel and seeing as much of the world is one of my greatest interests in life. I have seen and traveled a lot as well but always want to see more. I guess, as you said, FI is another great motivator or at the very least earn money while being location independent. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Indeed, that’s why I posted this. Travel is what really motivates me and I hope it motivated others. Thanks for reading.

  23. This sounds amazing! I’m a similar age to where you were when you took this trip. As much as it sounds amazing, it’s not something I see myself doing. I’ve had a few friends take similar trips though and it’s been fun to watch their photos and live vicariously through them 🙂 I’m switching jobs now and we’re taking a month to drive around New Zealand, which should be pretty cool though not very cheap.

    1. Leigh,
      Quitting a job and traveling for an undetermined amount of time does not work for everyone. Most people aren’t comfortable with putting life on hold for that long without a plan. Some people simply can’t. Your trip to New Zealand sounds like it will be awesome! When it’s done, you’ll probably have the itch to keep going. When people ask for advice about traveling, I always say they’ll want more time and need less money. Travel is why I save and invest the way I do. Today with young kids, actually getting out on the road is not a priority, but it will be again when they are older!

  24. RBD,

    Reading this post flashbacked me my own trip to South America. I actually went through the same path, I have big desire to travel (it even was bigger couple years ago) and after my mandatory service at IDF I worked full-time for 8 months, lived at my parents place, saved almost all my income and went to 6 months journey.
    The whole trip cost me about 15K, including tickets.

    I had the time of my life over there. No worries, totally free. I wish I could do this again someday.
    Today it would require me to quit my job, and when I come back I would have to start it all over again from scratch.

    Great article, I need to plan a trip to Asia 🙂

    1. Ninja,
      Great to see you hear. Cool that you also spent some time in South America back in the day. People are often surprised how inexpensive travel can be. You can get quite a return of experience on your money.

      I met quite a few IDF down there, particularly in Bolivia and Guatemala. Great travel culture for those kids.

      Travel is my primary motivator to retire. I really want to get out there and see the world even more. In the meantime, I have kids to attend to. When they are old enough, we’ll get to do it as a family.

  25. Wonderful experiences. I’d simply love to go out there and explore but can’t quit my job the next 10 years (special arrangement, includes a lot of money). Guess I’ll have to postpone it to when I turn 31…