Curious about long-term travel? Maybe you’re interviewing for remote jobs to start life as a digital nomad. Maybe you’re planning a round-the-world trip or applying for a working holiday visa. Or maybe you’re still in the “crazy dream” stage and just starting to learn about long-term travel. There are many ways to quit your job to travel (even if you don’t make a ton of money!) and I live for showing you how. I quit my job to travel for a year, but I’ve never spelled out the full story of my round-the-world trip and pulled all this information into one place. So whether this is an inspiring case study or a peek behind the curtain of a real-life long-term travel experience, I hope these details and stories are helpful for your own journey. (And if you want to skip ahead to working on your own long-term travel plan, click here to book a free call with me.)
Table of Contents
Why Quit My Job to Travel for a Year?
I’m such a cliche y’all… I had just gone through a bad breakup and was scrolling on social media one night. I stumbled across a post about somebody who flew around the world for $200 using credit card points and I was hooked. I had always loved to travel, but it had never occurred to me that there were ways to do it beyond going on vacation.
At first, I imagined visiting every continent for months at a time. I was especially interested in long stays in artsy cities. That wasn’t realistic (if you’ve been to one of my live events, you know how strongly I feel about realistic travel goals!) so I pared back my vision of a round-the-world trip to one year across three continents. I’d spend four months in Europe, four months in Asia, and four months in South America.
How I Saved Enough Money to Quit My Job to Travel
I estimated I would need $20,000 to travel for a year. (You can see a longer list of different long-term travel budget options here.) I cut my expenses at home and spent a couple years saving. Believe me, I know this is a lot easier said than done and there were also ways I got very lucky! Saving money for travel is a massive topic and I want to focus here on how my year of travel actually went, so please go read this blog post about my savings journey if that’s your main interest.
The Quick Summary of Actually Quitting
I reached a point where I just couldn’t stand another day at my job and was having difficulty finding a new one. So even though it meant having less of a safety net, I left a year earlier than planned!
I had about $12,000 in the bank, and originally I had hoped that freelance copywriting while I traveled would just be extra. I’d have a bigger cushion for returning home or going over budget. Leaving earlier meant using that freelance income to earn the rest of my $20k budget and meet my basic expenses.
The first half of my trip was super on track with what I had planned. Then I got comfortable… then I got a little cocky… and then life happened and everything kind of crumbled at the end. And those of you who see the digital nomad thing and are like “I’m way too Type A for that” might hate the sound of this big once-in-a-lifetime adventure not going to plan.
But you know what? I wound up being okay with it. Travel really does change you, guys.
My Round-the-World Trip Itinerary by the Numbers
Where I Went on My Round-the-World Trip
Countries Visited: 25
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
Cities I Stayed at Least One Night In: 68
(I’m not counting overnight layovers where I never left the airport.)
France: Montpellier, Paris
Italy: Turin, Florence, Rome, Portici (Naples), Salerno (Amalfi Coast), Venice
Croatia: Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mostar, Sarajevo
Greece: Athens, Fira (Santorini)
UK: London, Bath
Nepal: Kathmandu, Bandipur, Pokhara, Ulleri, Ghorepani, Tadapani, Sinuwa, Dovan, MBC, ABC, Bamboo, Jhinu Danda, Pothana
Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Khong
Laos: Pagbeng, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane
Vietnam: Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
Cambodia: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap
Japan: Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Osaka
Argentina: Buenos Aires
USA: Charlottesville, Washington DC
Peru: Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Wallabamba, Pacamayo, Phuyupatamarca, Lima
Mexico: Mexico City, Tulum
Wanna steal my round-the-world trip itinerary? I’ll do you one better. Click here to nab a spreadsheet itinerary I’ve tweaked and perfected based on the few things I would change about my year of travel.
Places I Took Day Trips: 13
Iceland: Snaefellsnes, Golden Circle
Italy: Pompeii, Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento, Milan
Croatia: Plitvice Lakes
Greece: Oia, Perissa
Vietnam: Halong Bay (Read more: how to fit this trip into one day)
Cambodia: Temples of Angkor (Read more: how to avoid the crowds at Angkor Wat)
How I Got Around
17 flights (not including connections): Iceland, Spain, Serbia, Greece, UK, Finland, India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Uruguay, Argentina, USA, Peru, Mexico
28 buses: Iceland, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Greece, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uruguay, Peru, Mexico
9 shuttle vans: Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia
17 trains: Italy, UK, Finland, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, USA
13 subway systems and metros: Spain, France, Italy, Greece, UK, India, Thailand, Argentina, USA, Mexico
6 tuk tuks and rickshaws: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia
7 boats and ferries: Italy, Greece, Thailand, Laos, Uruguay, Argentina
Where I Slept
152 nights in a Hostel Dorm: Iceland, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Greece, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Uruguay, Argentina, USA, Peru, Mexico
27 nights in a Private Hostel Room: Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Laos, Vietnam, Peru
9 nights in a Hotel: Nepal, Thailand, Peru
6 nights Couchsurfing: France, UK, Japan
80 nights in an Airbnb: Italy, Greece, UK, Indonesia, Argentina
1 night in an Atomic Bunker: Croatia (read the whole story here)
10 nights in Teahouses: Nepal
1 night in a Ryokan: Japan
3 nights Camping: Peru
8 nights on Overnight Flights, Buses and Trains: USA-Iceland, France, Italy
12 nights in an Airport: Greece, Finland, Malaysia*, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, USA, Uruguay, Peru, Mexico
24 nights with friends and family: USA
Negatives of Long Term Travel
# Times Someone Did Something Bad to Me: 0
Literally none, guys. I was not harmed or robbed or anything for the entire year. I had some unpleasant and even scary moments, but I came through scot-free. Some of this absolutely chalks up to luck, and maybe some folks would argue I was overly cautious at times. But I think I have way more awesome experiences than regrets under my belt, and if you’re convinced that if you travel you will absolutely 100% wind up fleeced or hurt by all the horrible people in the world – take a breath. The scary stuff isn’t a given.
# Bad Hostel Experiences I Had: 5-6
Pretty much every time it was because of some drunk-ass dude in a mixed dorm. I now book female dorms or private rooms as much as possible.
(Worth noting that ultimately, none of my belongings were stolen and I was never physically harmed — just scary, uncomfortable moments. You can read my full “horror stories” for the details.)
How Often I Got Sick/Injured: 8
- cold for a week in UK
- giant clusterfuck of everything that can go wrong with a human body at the end of my trek in Nepal (not sure exactly, somewhere between 3 days and a week)
- mild stomach bug for 1 day on the slow boat to Laos
- moderate stomach bug for 1 day in Luang Prabang
- a really stubborn eye infection in Vietnam (pack your own pillowcase for sleeper trains!)
- super severe menstrual cramps for 1-2 days in Bali
- the worst sunburn of my life in Uruguay
- mild altitude sickness for 1-2 days in Peru
How Often I Lost Things
Like… a lot. Especially in my first few months on the road. I felt like I couldn’t blink without something breaking or getting left behind. I took this really hard at first – just read about how I had a semi-nervous breakdown in Reykjavik over a stupid effing cardigan. By the halfway point of my trip, I realized I hadn’t felt that way in a while. Was I making fewer mistakes or had I simply achieved a state of giving zero f**ks? To tell the truth, I’m not really sure.
Some of the major things that got lost or broken on my packing list:
- A pair of sunglasses
- The drawstring from a pair of hiking pants
- Two sarongs
- Two pairs of sandals
Anywhere I Would Not Go Again?
Nope. Even the places where I had bad experiences or didn’t feel super comfortable. Those things just make me determined to go back and try again.
Highlights of Long-Term Travel
- Kayaking: Croatia (It…didn’t go great. Read my full take if you need a laugh.)
- Hiking/Trekking: Croatia, Greece, Nepal (check my photos from Annapurna!), Peru (get my solo female Inca Trail guide)
- Tubing: Laos
Where Was Your Favorite Place?
ngl, I am not a big fan of getting this question — there are so many interesting things for us to talk about! Reducing an entire year of travel to a “favorite place” doesn’t actually reflect my experience. If you insist, the closest I’ll get to an answer is the sections below.
My Top 5 Countries
(in no particular order)
My Top 3 Experiences Overall
(in no particular order)
- Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Read more: how to do it and what to pack)
- Slow boat down the Mekong River (Read more: what to expect on this trip)
- Exploring Pompeii (Read more: tips for visiting without a guided tour)
Top experience from each country
Iceland: Snaefellsnes day trip
Spain: lindy bomb on Barceloneta (Gracia food tour is close second)
France: dinner in Saint Germain des Pres (Read more: tips for dining out as a solo female traveler)
Slovenia: riverside cafes in Ljubljana city center… but Ljubljana’s craft beer tour is a close second
Croatia: Plitvice Lakes
Montenegro: staying in a 13th century palazzo
Bosnia: watching Mostar bridge divers
Serbia: Belgrade walking tour
Greece: Nea Kamini hike (Athens street art tour is a close second)
UK: Wicked on the West End (tickets and a glass of prosecco for less than 20 quid!)
India: veggie thali with a newfound local friend
Nepal: Annapurna Sanctuary trek
Thailand: cooking class in Chiang Mai (Read more: the full lowdown on Mama Noi Cooking School)
Laos: slow boat down Mekong
Vietnam: Hanoi street food tour
Cambodia: Angkor temples
Indonesia: spa day at Bali Botanica (Ubud cooking class is close second)
Japan: tea ceremony in Kyoto (calligraphy is a close second)
Uruguay: Montevideo walking tour
Argentina: street art tour in Palermo Soho
Peru: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Lima food tour is a close second)
Mexico: Tulum ruins
Top Foodie Experiences
- Catalan tapas tour through Gracia
- Conquering my fear of solo dining in Paris
- Thai cooking class
- Okonomiyaki made at the table in Osaka
- Carnivore dreams in Buenos Aires (really, not just asador-prepared steaks. Buenos Aires has the best burger in the world.)
- The goddamn culinary symphony that is Huaca Pucllana restaurant (and really all the other food in Lima)
Some Final Highs and Lows
My Worst Travel Disasters
- losing like half my packing list in the first couple months
- not seeing the Taj Mahal (read the full story here)
- missing the first flight of a massive four-day cross-continent itinerary paid for almost entirely with frequent flyer miles
- booking an Airbnb in an unsafe neighborhood (read how to find safe neighborhoods for solo female travelers)
My Biggest Travel Triumphs
- regrouping and bypassing Istanbul on my itinerary after an attempted military coup (read about how to adjust travel plans on the fly)
- making it through both my treks in one piece (even if it was by the skin of my teeth in Nepal)
- going from on my way to tango class to on my way to my grandfather’s death bed in 45 minutes
- not ending my trip after my grandfather’s funeral
The Full Story of My Year of Travel
Part 1: Europe
First day jitters and small wins
My round-the-world trip began in Iceland because there was a super cheap flight available from Baltimore to Reykjavik. I had planned on taking the train up to BWI but my parents wanted to see me off and offered to drive. And y’all, I sobbed. Just full on ugly cried. Yes, I was making this amazing thing that many people only dream about happen. I can’t say there weren’t any fears or nerves, but mostly it was just catharsis. I had been carrying so much stress and just needed the release.
The real “what am I doing?!” load crashed later. I wandered around Reykjavik a bit after landing, waiting for check-in time at my hostel, and realized I had left my everyday black cardigan hanging by the door at home. It’s such a trivial mistake, but I was low on sleep, jet lagged, and emotional, so that little hiccup felt monumental to me.
It’s not even noon on my first day and I’ve already screwed up! What am I doing here? Who am I kidding?
Then the thoughts spiraled even further… I’ve gotten so used to being in a relationship, I don’t even know how to be alone anymore. There’s nobody else here to help me or watch my back. I am the only person who cares about my safety, my happiness, or my comfort. How am I already this homesick and lonely so soon?
I found a park and sat down to stew over my shame spiral and wound up getting mistaken for a local… twice. Being able to blend in and paying attention to my surroundings meant I had used my travel skills – and travel is a skill! – to help two other tourists by giving directions. That little reminder that I had the skills to do this made a big difference.
I hugely enjoyed the rest of my week in Reykajvik, working from cafes every other day, wandering around the pedestrian-friendly city, and taking day trips to admire Iceland’s natural beauty.
I got to feel a little triumphant again at the end of the week when a day tour I’d booked forgot to pick me up from my hostel. I could have crumbled at that and been horribly disappointed about not seeing the Golden Circle or furious with the tour company. But I’d done a lot of research about what tours were available, so it wound up being really easy to regroup and get signed up with another company that offered a later morning departure. You’re going to hear me say it a lot throughout this summary: travel is a skill!
Anxiety in Barcelona
From Reykjavik, I flew to Barcelona to begin a long overland journey of the Mediterranean. My first week in Iceland had felt like a vacation and despite the hiccups I’ve shared, I mostly just rode high on that excitement. Barcelona is where some of my deeper personal problems really sank in.
That short flight into Spain cemented the reality of what I was doing. I wasn’t enjoying a fun trip and flying back home. I was moving on somewhere new and it would be a long time before I went back to “normal.”
After I checked into my hostel, I headed to a nearby street with lots of restaurants to grab some dinner. But… I couldn’t do it. I spent three hours walking up and down the street paralyzed with indecision, completely unable to make myself just pick a place and walk inside and request a table for one. I finally just bought a little fruit and veg from a produce stall as it was shutting down for the night and ate it on the sidewalk. Later that night, lying in bed, I thought to myself, “That was not normal. There’s something wrong with me.”
I had been living almost my entire life with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and that was the catalyst that eventually led to me finally getting treatment.
And this is one of the biggest things I love about long-term travel. You are not your job. You are not your house or your things or even your relationships. There’s something at the core of who you are and it’s only by stripping all of those other things away that you can fully confront that core. And in my case, I had to carve out some rotten bits. If I had just accepted my shitty job as the way things were, I would have resigned myself to a life of depression without getting one of the major roots of that depression identified and treated.
Travel doesn’t make mental health problems or other struggles go away, but it can give you the space you need to explore yourself and learn things.
I felt that throughout the rest of my two weeks in Barcelona as I slowly adjusted to the realities of long-term solo female travel. After a long walk around the Montjuic neighborhood, I texted my boyfriend (we stayed together long distance for my trip) that I kind of felt like I was dating myself. I had so much time alone with my thoughts!
Couchsurfing as an introvert
That alone time really suited me as an introvert. A lot of new solo travelers are nervous about being lonely or how they’re going to meet people and make friends. It’s actually very easy, but it’s also important to know how to be alone. And introverts have a leg up on that.
Where we struggle more – at least where I struggled – was in situations where you have to be social regardless of how you’re feeling. And from hostel dorms to a few Couchsurfing experiences, I sometimes felt like other people felt so entitled to my attention that if there was ever a point where I didn’t have social energy to give, they were going to negatively judge me and not be open to socializing later.
As I moved from Spain into France, I had my first Couchsurfing experience and my first taste of that sense that I was expected to be “on” all the time. I arrived at my Couchsurfing host’s apartment after a very long bus ride. I’d had an early morning, it was nearing sunset, and I was simply exhausted. But because I wasn’t super outgoing the moment I walked in the door, my host spent the next couple days warning family members and other guests that I was really shy and they needed to be careful around me.
This happened to me a lot in social housing situations throughout the year. People would want to socialize the moment I walked in the door and if I wasn’t immediately high energy or outgoing enough, they would just assume I was shy or rude and not bother being nice to me.
Getting over solo dining
Another challenge I had as a solo traveler, even being introverted, was going out to eat by myself and I know this is a particular solo travel fear a lot of people have.
For me, eating alone triggered a lot of middle school anxiety. But over the course of my first few weeks, I figured out 3 things that helped me feel better about dining alone. And a quick overnight stay in Paris sealed the deal. Paris is such a great city for solo female travelers (even in spite of the street harassment you might experience there), and a big part of that is because going out to eat by yourself isn’t a weird thing to do.
So I had a really wonderful meal and got over some of my anxieties, which was totally worth that short detour from my mostly Mediterranean coast itinerary.
From there, I continued into Italy. I’d been to both France and Italy before, so I moved pretty quickly with just brief overnight stops to break up long bus rides.
I slowed down to focus more time in the south of Italy with five days in Naples and nine days on the Amalfi Coast. I got to take a ferry into Positano, eat pizza at a pizzeria made famous by Sophia Loren, and tour the ruins of Pompeii which was one of my most anticipated bucket list items and totally lived up to my expectations.
One of the unique things about long-term travel is the need to plan as you go. You can’t plan and book an entire year of travel in advance. There are too many variables and when you’re on a tight budget like I was, you especially want to book things like flights and accommodations during the best price windows you can get.
So on my original itinerary, I had a month slated to spend in Istanbul. I had already reserved an Airbnb and the best time for securing my flight landed while I was in Italy.
That very week, there was an attempted military coup in Istanbul. There had already been multiple terrorist attacks at the airport that year, and even though this coup wasn’t successful and things quickly went back to business as usual in Istanbul… it was the last straw for my travel plans. I just couldn’t imagine spending an entire month there without potentially getting caught in a really dangerous situation.
I don’t believe in painting with a broad brush when it comes to solo female travel safety. You should weigh your risks yourself when it’s close to your departure or booking time.
In that moment, the best thing for me to do was to cancel my Airbnb and pick another place to go.
I hadn’t originally planned to visit the UK at all, but in the wake of Brexit, the pound dropped and it was suddenly a lot more affordable for me to go to England. I booked an Airbnb in London and adjusted my itinerary.
But that booking was for October. I still had about six weeks to enjoy in the Balkans.
Learning how to deal with burnout
The next must-visit spot on my bucket list was Croatia, and there is a ferry service from Italy to Dubrovnik, but I had a lot of difficulty figuring out their website.
So I made even more tweaks to my itinerary and strung together several bus rides back up the length of Italy, through Slovenia, and down the Dalmatian Coast.
All that fast paced travel really burned me out and I learned some hard travel lessons.
But the payoff was three glorious days in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I stepped off the bus on a rainy afternoon into a cobblestoned city center and it was an instant breath of fresh air. I felt totally rejuvenated and just wanted to curl up in the corner of a riverfront cafe and write and write and write.
It was an utter surprise and I can’t believe I almost didn’t go there.
A few days in Split helped my burnout even further. This is a hard reality of long-term travel – even though you love travel and even though you’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel… you can (and will) still get sick of it sometimes.
I think this is the real test of whether traveling (or any lifestyle really) is the right choice for you. Are the bad days worth it? Some people don’t believe the good parts of travel are worth the bad parts… and that’s okay. But if you want to travel long term, you have to get comfortable with those bad parts, like burnout.
And, like me, you have to get comfortable traveling at a slower pace, giving yourself days to simply rest and relax, and generally be more forgiving of your travel experience. A year of travel isn’t 52 weeks of vacation.
Grandfather in the ICU and my kayaking disaster
Around this point of my trip, my grandfather was in and out of the hospital with congestive heart failure. I found out about one particular ICU stay right as I was walking into a kayaking tour around the Dubrovnik city walls.
It didn’t help that I was the only solo traveler in the group, left to try and keep up with couples and groups in their double kayaks from my lonesome single.
It was all too much to push through and when we finally took a lunch break, I had a bit of a breakdown. The silver lining was that was possibly the first time in my life I’d ever truly not cared what anybody else thought of me. (But I still don’t think I’ll ever get in a kayak again.)
I’d known when I left there was a chance my round-the-world trip would be interrupted for a funeral. From this point on, as I continued through Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, it became less a question of “if” I would need to return home early… and more a question of “when.”
Solo female travel highs and lows in Greece
My grandfather’s health changed one other piece of my trip. I had hoped maybe my mom would come visit around my birthday and had made arrangements to be in Greece that week. There was no way she could leave him though and with an Airbnb host taking advantage of my housesitting to enjoy her own vacation, I wound up celebrating 26 by myself.
Even huge highlights like the Acropolis and Santorini were peppered with rough nights like that one lonely birthday.
I had a particularly difficult time sleeping in one hostel dorm when a man came back to his bunk early in the morning slobbering drunk, muttering all kinds of lovely misogynistic things. The only other person in the dorm (another man) started yelling at him… and then left me alone in the room with this guy the rest of the night. I pretended to sleep through it with a pocketknife open under my pillow.
I stopped staying in mixed gender dorms after that.
Despite that one night, Santorini was one of my favorite places I visited the entire trip and one of the safest destinations for solo female travel. (Just er, book your own room!)
I worked from black sand beaches. I took long hikes all over the island and up the still active Nea Kamini volcano. I watched the sunset over the caldera. I ate a LOT of gyros and developed very strong opinions about their proper composition.
Some folks online tried to convince me not to go to Santorini at all during my round-the-world trip. It was too touristy and I should go to Crete if I wanted to see the “real” Greece.
Touristy or not, Santorini was worth it to me and I’m glad I didn’t let myself get caught up in the whole judgmental ‘authenticity’ pissing contest.
Long-term travel makes it really easy to embrace how multifaceted your travel experience can be. You can go to the touristy places and enjoy them for what they are, and other times, you can get off the beaten path and enjoy those. It’s not an either/or game.
Month-long break in London
October rolled in and with it came time for my backup plan month in London.
I studied abroad in England during college, but was based in Bath for that semester so there was a lot of London I still hadn’t seen. (It’s now the only place in the world I could happily live year-round outside my Virginia hometown.)
I was anticipating a really large difference in cost of living between what I’d budgeted for Istanbul and what I’d now need to pay in London.
One of the ways I worked to temper that was by booking more group tours in advance.
I toured Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and the Churchill War Rooms. I joined groups at the Square Mile for ‘two truths and a lie’ style history quizzes and Soho for true crime tales. I grabbed drinks at gin distilleries and one very awkward literary pub crawl.
It all meant the vast majority of my “fun” money was already spoken for, so I wouldn’t risk going over budget with lots of impulse spending.
I did make one set of last minute plans. I had assumed a West End show would be out of my budget, but I decided to actually look it up and not just make assumptions. Totally worth it! Because I was flying solo, I was able to snag a last minute open seat at Wicked (and a glass of prosecco) for about 20 pounds. It’s been several years and I still brag about this a lot.
Overall, the move to spend that month in London was a better call than I ever could have guessed. I was still pretty new to long-term travel. And you’ve already seen how badly I was affected by traveling too quickly. (One of many lessons I learned the hard way.) As I wrapped up the European leg of my round-the-world trip, it was critically important for me to have a full month to slow down, focus on one destination, and give myself ample time to relax around work and sightseeing.
It was also really valuable for me to take a break and be someplace I had visited before, someplace where I spoke the language, to recharge my travel stress batteries before moving on to bigger culture shocks.
Part 2: Asia
India visa run
I had never traveled outside Europe and the United States prior to my round-the-world trip. Starting my non-Western travels completely alone in India… well, I must have subconsciously wanted to rip that band-aid off!
I hadn’t even landed in New Delhi before all my past travel experience got thrown out the window. Because (and believe me I know what a privilege this is) this was the first time I needed a visa for my destination.
At the time, India had just introduced an e-visa program – a way for travelers to apply for entry online before arriving in the country. I mistakenly believed that e-visa meant a digital visa that I could store on my phone.
When I checked in for my flight at Heathrow airport, however, a desk agent told me I would need a physical visa printed out.
Fortunately I had a bit of a layover in Finland so I spent an afternoon running around Helsinki looking for a library where I could print out my e-visa for India. And that’s how I accidentally added another country to my round-the-world tally.
Missing the Taj
That little paperwork kerfuffle was a fitting introduction to Indian bureaucracy, just one aspect of the mega culture shock I had to navigate once I arrived in New Delhi.
I wasn’t just dealing with average tourism difficulties. I ran into a major crunch as a long-term traveler and it all fell apart when I got caught in the middle of a national economic crisis. There were some hard lessons learned but there were also some factors out of my control. The result: over a week in India where I didn’t really do anything fun – I didn’t even go see the Taj Mahal!
The short version is I planned to take some time away from my freelance copywriting projects and was expected to meet a bunch of client deadlines in advance. I was foolishly waiting for some train paperwork to get processed online while I worked and as the end of my time in India approached, I realized I would need to go to the train station in person to get it taken care of.
That very evening, the Indian government announced that as of midnight 500 and 1000 rupee notes would no longer be accepted tender. Imagine the U.S. suddenly decided $20 and $50 bills were as good as the paper they were printed on! There was a huge rush on ATMs which quickly drained of cash. Banks closed. Currency exchanges closed.
I was stuck with what little cash I had on hand and the train station couldn’t take a credit card. So I was out of luck and missed seeing the Taj Mahal or much of anything else in India.
It wasn’t a waste of a trip though. What I did get to do was make a local friend. We were seated together at a restaurant for lunch because we were both young women by ourselves, and we stayed in touch for years after.
Trekking in Nepal
Thanks to my local friend, I learned that even if I could have extended my stay in India, the economic situation didn’t calm down quickly. But the big reason that waiting things out wasn’t an option for me was a firm date by which I had to be in Nepal. My boyfriend was flying out so we could both join a tour group trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalayas.
Mount Everest is certainly more famous, but based on comparison reviews, I think the Annapurna Sanctuary is the best trek in Nepal. It’s a very challenging hike filled with steep stone staircases and lots of ups and downs. But it’s also a good introduction to multi-day treks, because the route links several small villages and you’ll stay in local tea houses rather than camping in the middle of nowhere. It’s also a highly visually interesting trek with lots of varied scenery.
As difficult as the ascent to base camp was, though, the hike down is what really wrecked me. We spent a full week climbing, but were only given three days for our descent. I felt pushed way too hard and what started as a simple cold turned into full-body rebellion. I wound up leaving the group’s farewell dinner early and spent somewhere between one and three days deliriously ill. I rode it out and barely recovered in time to make my flight out of Nepal.
Finding my Dad’s house in Thailand
From there began the next big leg of my round-the-world trip: overlanding the “Banana Pancake Trail” in Southeast Asia. This is one of the most popular backpacking trips in the world, named after the ubiquitous banana pancake dish. (And do try them frequently – every country has its own take.)
My first stop was Bangkok, in part because the large airport offers lots of connections and good flight prices, but mainly because of family history. My army brat dad lived in Bangkok from ages 11 to 14 and I’d grown up with constant stories of the city. So I’m biased, but I think Bangkok is really underrated as a destination in Southeast Asia. I arranged my trip so I could seek out the family’s old house on my dad’s birthday and send him video clips of the street.
After a lifetime of build up, I wasn’t disappointed. From my first night, I felt so comfortable and I think this is one of the best cities out there for solo female travelers. I never had any qualms about walking by myself at night and thank goodness, because it meant I got to enjoy so much late night street food.
I didn’t have time to see both the islands, which are all south of Bangkok, and northern Thailand, so I had to make a choice. I’m more of a city and culture gal than a beachgoer, so I went north to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is often called the Boston to Bangkok’s New York City. It’s absolutely crammed with temples and was a great base for some of the major bucket list experiences on my list: visiting an elephant sanctuary and taking a Thai cooking class. Both were amazing and big highlights of my entire trip.
Slow boat and arriving in Laos finally feeling like a backpacker
To cross from northern Thailand into Laos, a landlocked country between Thailand and Vietnam, I booked a three-day boat trip down the Mekong River. From Chiang Mai, a shuttle bus carries passengers to the border, making a pit stop at the striking White Temple. Then it’s all aboard the boat for two full days, pausing overnight in a tiny Lao village before continuing on to Luang Prabang.
Many frequent travelers and avid backpackers don’t consider this to be off the beaten path. But I felt a distinct shift in the camaraderie I felt here compared to the larger cities I’d visited before and even the hostels I’d been in throughout Europe. Nobody was on that boat unless they really wanted to be there. It was such a relaxed and genuinely friendly atmosphere. I was right at the halfway point of my trip and I realized I felt a much greater comfort with long-term travel and more confidence calling myself a writer.
I spent a little under two weeks in Laos, enjoying the architecture, fusion cuisine, epic waterfalls, and river tubing. I rang in 2017 wondering whether this kind of travel might be sustainable beyond a year-long round-the-world trip.
Fast paced through Vietnam and Cambodia
I picked up the pace the following month as I completed my version of the Banana Pancake trail. I knew fairly little about Vietnam before arriving in the country and, while I hate being asked what my “favorite country” or “best place I visited” is, this often makes the highlight reel. My lack of knowledge meant a lack of pre-conceptions and gave me a strong sense of honest discovery and earnest engagement with another culture.
I strung together a route by bus and train from north to south, stopping for a few days each in Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). They each had such a unique feel, totally distinctive from one another, and – perhaps my favorite part – each had their own local delicacies. Vietnam had some of the best food I ate throughout my entire round-the-world trip because of all those little local specialties.
I had a small work hiccup during this time. One client made up about 70-80% of my income at the time, but was very demanding and decided they were unhappy with my pace of work so we would end our contract after the upcoming month. Thank goodness I happened to be staying in a hostel with a free beer perk when I got that news.
Between the stressful workload, the very different stress of losing such a huge chunk of my income, and the fast pace of travel, as I passed through Ho Chi Minh City and over the Cambodian border into Phnom Penh, I was starting to burn out again.
I pushed through to Siem Reap so I could tour Angkor Wat and some of the other incredible temples in that part of the world, but it was high time for another month-long break.
Recovering in Bali
What better place to slow down than Bali? Sometimes when I look back on my time on Indonesia’s most famous island, I wonder if I missed out by not exploring more. I spent the entire month solely based in Ubud, sequestered away in the very center of the island. Who spends an entire month in Bali and never goes to the beach? But rest and recovery were the more important goals here.
I whiled away most of my days working, eating, and taking long walks around the center of Ubud. I did next to no touristy things – just one special activity each week. One week it was a performance of the Ramayana ballet. Another week it was a Balinese cooking class in a family’s home. For Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to a full spa day with a long Ayurvedic massage, a flower bath, and an incredible mask that left me feeling like I’d just gone out and replaced my hair.
So even though my month in Bali could easily get squeezed into an itinerary for 3 days in Ubud, that time did its job and I left fully refreshed to take on my final Asian destination: Japan!
Screwed in Japan and extending my stay
I flew into Tokyo and started off with a great Couchsurfing stay. I struggled Couchsurfing before, but I had gotten valuable experience in feeling out hosts I would get along with and genuinely enjoy getting to know. It is so important to treat the ‘free place to stay’ part of Couchsurfing as a perk, not the point! And it’s also worthwhile to request Couchsurfing stays of three days max, even if you plan to stay longer in your destination, as I did in Tokyo. Nobody wants to risk getting stuck in an unpleasant situation, be they host or guest, so splitting your time between Couchsurfing for the experience and a hostel for longer stays can be a nice middle ground.
I had wrapped up the last of my contract with that demanding client and after a big night out with my host to mark the end of my stay, I woke up to a new problem… the client hadn’t paid me for my last month of work.
Here’s a surprising thing about Japan: credit cards aren’t that widely accepted. I was relying on cash for a number of things including public transportation. And this missed payment hit at just the wrong time.
So that’s how I found myself walking over an hour across the city to the hostel I’d booked, hands stuffed in nearly empty pockets, thinking to myself “huh… I literally have two coins to rub together.”
There were some strokes of good luck here though. First, I had purchased some groceries early in the week and packed them with me, so I’d be able to feed myself. Second, the hostel accepted credit cards and was open to extending my stay. And last but not least, Tokyo was awesome.
This is the only place in the world I have ever extended my stay after arriving. And finances were a factor – I needed time to press my ex-client and get paid. But I also just loved Tokyo.
It’s one of the safest places for solo female travelers in the world and there’s so much to do with each neighborhood having its own distinctive feel. I was a bit early for cherry blossoms, but got a peek of some blooms, as well as various temples and shrines, the busiest intersection in the world, the saturated color of Harajuku, a sake brewery, and more.
Once I had sorted out my money, my time in Japan kept getting better and better. I slipped into the mountain town of Hakone for a weekend to stay in a ryokan-style hostel and soak in their onsen bath. I made a special short trip to Osaka just to eat at a specific restaurant that cooked okonomiyaki (a kind of savory cabbage pancake) right at the table. And I stayed for almost a week in historic Kyoto where I strolled through the infamous Gion district, passed through endless orange torii gates, attended a traditional tea ceremony, and took a calligraphy class.
Long-term travel often means embracing mistakes, treating burnout, or moving more slowly than a “gotta do it all” mindset enjoys. So there are a lot of times I feel like I’m not being very good at the whole tourism thing. In Japan, I was a really good tourist and I wrapped up my three weeks in the country feeling proud of what I was able to do and experience, and harboring a new appreciation for a genuinely special culture.
Missing an award flight
It was time for the third and final big shift of my round-the-world trip: moving from Asia to South America. I had been hoarding frequent flier miles to bring the cost of this major flight down as low as possible. For about $300 and about three days worth of connections and layovers, I would be able to get from Tokyo to Montevideo, Uruguay for the final leg of my trip. It was the longest haul of nonstop travel I think I’ve ever booked and it all began with a flight from Tokyo to San Francisco.
And then I missed that flight.
Japan, for all its wonderful points, has a very complex transportation system. In my journey to the airport, I was on a train platform that served two different lines and wound up on the wrong train. It was only after 45 minutes that I realized I was going in the wrong direction. Cue extra panic when I see my phone battery is in the single digits. Low single digits.
I knew my parents would be expecting a message when I was on board my flight. I used the final moments of battery power to fire off a text explaining the situation. (To this day, if my round-the-world trip comes up at all, my dad will tell this story about it being 3:00 am and they get a text message “On the wrong train. Going to miss my flight. Phone about to die.” Nobody slept that night. I still hold firm that my priority was fixing the problem and would they have preferred zero communication? Jury’s still out.)
I reversed course and got to the airport and thank goodness for helpful, kind customer service folks. Both in person and on the phone, they made it so easy for me to rebook my flight without losing my frequent flier miles. I had a very long day and night on the airport floor, followed by the three-day whopper of connections and layovers, but this particular travel disaster could have gone so much worse.
Part 3: South America
Arriving in South America
After all that long-haul travel, arriving in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was a relief. I definitely had some stress, and soon also a terrible sunburn, to treat, so being in such a laidback, welcoming city was a great way to ease into the South American leg of my round-the-world trip.
Many travelers pass over Montevideo quickly and it’s true that there isn’t a massive amount of things to do. The old town is quite compact. It’s a place for long walks, markets, and parks. But it’s such a lovely place to just be, particularly as a solo female traveler, that I think it’s a highly underrated destination.
Buenos Aires Airbnb disaster and that time I couldn’t open a fucking door
From Montevideo I moved on to Buenos Aires, Argentina and quickly discovered how badly my last few months of travel had spoiled me.
Uruguay, Japan, Bali… as I trace backwards through the previous months of my round-the-world itinerary, these are some of the safest places for solo female travelers in the world. It left me complacent and even a little cocky.
So I wasn’t thinking at all when I booked an Airbnb for a month in Buenos Aires. Not only did I fail to check the neighborhood, which turned out to be a good 45 minutes away from the city center and unsafe enough that a taxi driver did not want to drop me off there, but I also somehow turned off my usual search filter and landed an apartment with no WiFi.
Yes, I’m the worst of millennial trash. I totally had a moment after checking into this place where I thought “Okay, so the neighborhood is kind of sketch, but like I’m careful and I could just make sure I’m always back before dark… oh wait, there’s no WiFi? Yeah, fuck this. I’m out.”
One night eating packed groceries for dinner during a windowfront stakeout only to find there were zero women, even local women, walking around after dark was enough for me to determine I needed to go elsewhere.
The apartment itself was lovely and my host was so nice. It was my fault I hadn’t done my due diligence on the neighborhood, so I decided to eat the cost of canceling my stay.
I spent a very long day consulting Facebook groups on safer neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, finding an available hostel, setting up my public transportation card, and getting myself across the city to check in. I’d used up the last of my packed groceries and I blame delirious hunger for the tail end of this particular misadventure.
I had settled into my hostel and picked a restaurant where I could treat myself to a good old fashioned Argentinian steak. I went to the front door… and there was no knob, no handle, no nothing. A dear friend of mine got to enjoy some frantic text messages as I sat in the lobby, too embarrassed to admit to anyone I didn’t know how to get out of the building. All that mess with the Airbnb, I finally found a decent place to stay, and I couldn’t figure out how to open the fucking door.
It turned out the door’s usual mechanism was broken. There was a buzzer to press for the front desk staff to let you out. In my defense, this was a weird situation… less in my defense, there was a sign on the door explaining everything.
That steak couldn’t come fast enough.
Once I got past those rough few days, I settled into a nice pace in Palermo Soho, a very hipster but very safe corner of Buenos Aires. The neighborhood was packed with great street art, wonderful cafes to work from during the day, and some really baller restaurants. (I still have dreams about this one burger.)
Then it all came to a shrieking halt.
Family Emergency Trip Interruption
The message I’d been dreading since my summer in Croatia came in just as I was getting dressed for a tango class. My grandfather had suffered a small stroke and his hospice nurse said anybody who wanted to say their goodbyes needed to come right away.
In less than an hour, I was fully packed and on my way to the airport.
A week of care, a funeral, and a prognosis
My grandfather was a real tough nut. He had been walking around with 10% heart function for eight months. After this stroke, when I came home, he was lucid and recognized me, at least for that first night. (Hospice nurse friends tell me it’s not uncommon for a patient to wait for a loved one in this way.)
Even after he turned the corner, his death took almost an entire week. He very much did not go gentle into that good night.
I gave the eulogy at his funeral, and then got the news that my dad’s parents were also unwell. His mother had been given a cancer prognosis of six months.
Throughout the few weeks of this trip interruption, I had never been more certain I was doing the right thing. But I also knew I didn’t want my journey to be completely over then and there.
Travel insurance covered my emergency flight home, but not the cost of resuming my travel plans. So my year of travel became a technical 11 months of travel as I reconfigured my budget and itinerary one last time.
One Lash Hurrah in Peru & Mexico
Trekking the Inca Trail
Despite the difficulties and the pressure on my dwindling bank account, there was absolutely no way I was traveling the world without trekking the Inca Trail. It was one of the first things to make my bucket list and I don’t think my 9-year-old self ever expected to actually go do it. Even better – it lived up to that lifetime’s worth of expectations!
I took my time acclimating to the altitude on my own in Cusco before meeting up with the tour I had booked several months prior. I used the same company (Intrepid Travel) as I’d chosen for my Himalayan trek in Nepal and once again, they did not disappoint.
With everything going on at home with my family, the four day hike to Machu Picchu was as emotionally taxing for me as it was physically challenging. But I suspect that’s part of what made it so important and so remarkable. The clear mountain air, the long days of focus… it gives you space to process things in a different way, even more so than solo travel does by itself.
I don’t do “favorite places” but if I absolutely had to pick one best travel experience… this would be it.
Inca, Aztec, and Maya ruins
In wrapping up my itinerary, I tested a metric ton of possible flight routes to figure out how to get the most bang for my buck before my ultimate return home. The result was after my Inca Trail trek, I could spend a few days in Lima, Peru, then fly to Mexico City for a quick overnight stay – just enough to go see Teotihuacan – and finally out to the Maya Riviera and Tulum.
I thought this was a cute bow to put on the end of my round-the-world trip: a couple weeks of Inca, Aztec, and Maya ruins.
Lima is an amazing foodie city and I had one of the best meals of my life at Huaca Pucllana on a food tour. And then Mexico… after several months in farther flung parts of the world, I reunited with tacos and swore I’d never leave them like that again.
A fairly simple end to a long adventure.
How Much Did It Cost to Quit My Job and Travel for a Year?
About $22,000 – and I technically was on the road for 11 months, not a full 12.
That averages about $2000 a month.
Some things to bear in mind:
- I spent a third of my time in Europe, which is more expensive than other parts of the world — your trip might cost less if you spend more time in globally less expensive destinations such as Southeast Asia
- I traveled at a fast pace – some might argue too fast — your trip could cost less if you spend more time in fewer destinations
- I had an unexpected trip home during the year — insurance covered my flight home but there were other expenses associated with being in the US for a few weeks and getting back to my trip
- I stayed mostly in hostel dorms — your trip might cost more if you prefer private accommodations
- I’m a small person and can often get away with small meals — your trip might cost more if you have a larger appetite and need to spend more money on food
- I have a lot of patience for walking and public transit — your trip might cost more if you prefer shorter or more comfortable transportation options
What Happens After You Quit Your Job to Travel?
While full-time digital nomad life is great for some, personally, the right call for me was returning to my hometown. I was in a long-distance relationship and wanted to move in with my partner. I had several relatives nearing the ends of their lives and my family needed support in that. (Seriously, I was at six funerals in my first eight months back home!) And I wanted to give back a little more to my community.
A lot of people worry quitting your job to travel will wreck your life and career, but I maintained good relationships while having amazing experiences on my “grown up gap year” AND I became a lot more financially stable.
Prior to my travels, I was juggling multiple part-time gigs to get by. My year abroad gave me confidence and clarity, as well as time to develop my skills. Within a couple months of returning home, I got a full-time job, and eventually pivoted into a career marketing for local nonprofits, doubling my pre-travel income!
Quitting your job to travel doesn’t have to be a forever thing. Career breaks are incredibly powerful.
Was Quitting My Job to Travel Worth It?
A resounding heck yeah. Quitting my job to travel was so worth it that I couldn’t stop with my own year abroad – now I help other solo female travelers plan their own grown up gap years.
I’ve distilled everything I know into Round-the-World Roadmap, an in-depth course that helps women create their custom long-term travel plans. I open enrollment a few times a year – you can get on the waitlist here!