If you’re thinking about long term travel, especially by adventure motorbike, this post is for you
I left South Africa on 13 March 2019 and arrived in Uruguay a day later. Six weeks after that my motorbike arrived and I’ve been traveling through South America ever since. The plan was to just see Patagonia, but I discovered I loved traveling like this and thus far I’ve seen much more. What was meant to last a year is approaching 2.25 years, and while I may need to return home to get some paperwork done, I plan to return and continue for as long as possible.
I have things set up such that I can travel indefinitely. I don’t have a time frame.
If you would like to do the same, here’s what you need to know.
Money Is Important
If you plan on traveling long term, you need an income stream. For most people that means getting a job. Some people can live off investments. Others scrape by making and selling trinkets, or selling their travel pictures and stories.
Regardless, you need money. Money for food, accommodation, fuel, entertainment, clothing, and just general living.
Do not rely on your savings – unless you are really wealthy.
Savings are good, but they run out. If you rely on your savings only, the amount of time you spend on the road is directly proportional to the amount you have saved. Savings – again, unless you are very wealthy – will not sustain you.
I work as a programmer. I have fixed clients in South Africa who pay me every month. Rather than spend the money renting an apartment in Cape Town (which I did for almost 10 years), I now use that money to travel. My travel expenses are similar to my expenses back home. Some months are more expensive than others, and some are cheaper, but in general my expenses while traveling do not exceed my income. As a result, I can travel for as long as I want, provided my income stream is not affected.
The vast majority of people who travel like I do work in some digital field. Programming, digital marketing, writing, blogging, and making YouTube videos for a living, are all attractive options because in general all you need for work is an Internet connection.
I have also met people who make and sell art to support their travels. I have met people who make jewelry that they sell at the beach. What you do and how you do it doesn’t really matter. Just remember, money is important, and you need it coming in constantly!
The Things You Own …
“The things you own end up owning you.”
That’s a quote from the movie Fight Club. It may sound cliched, but it’s also true.
Back in South Africa I rented an apartment, I had a bakkie (called a truck in the US, or a ute in Australia), and 2 dirt bikes. I had 2 closets full of clothing I didn’t wear much, and another closet full of gadgets. I also had DVDs, a large TV, Playstation, and a bunch of other things I rarely used.
When I decided to do this trip I sold almost everything. I compressed my South African life into 2 medium sized suit cases that are stored at a friend’s house. The rest was sold, thrown away, or donated. I do not miss it one bit.
You probably only need a tiny fraction of the things you own. The rest are holding you back. People never leave on their road trips because they have too much stuff. An apartment or house to pay off (have you considered renting out?). Furniture, dishes, clothing, vehicles. They aren’t important. Families are a complex beast. I don’t have one of my own so I won’t comment. But most material possessions are dead weight. You only realise how little value they add to your life when you no longer have them.
My possessions are now my bike and whatever I can fit into 1 pannier and half a large duffel bag. I have a full time pillion now so the other pannier and half duffel bag are hers.
If you want to leave, get rid of what you don’t need. And you need very very little.
You Probably Want Less Adventure Than You Think …
Camping is paying a fortune to live like a homeless person. I have camped. I enjoy it because it’s a change from the norm. But on most days I want a bed. I want an air conditioner in summer and a heater in winter. I want decent food, whether that’s eating out or cooking for myself. I want a comfortable chair and table and great WiFi so I can work without problems, and stream TV shows on Netflix.
Full time adventure is great in theory, but since travel is my life, not my holiday, I need to fulfill my life responsibilities. And I don’t want to do that from a tent. Being adventurous 24-7 just isn’t fun (at least not for me). When life is an adventure all the time, it’s not an adventure anymore. It’s just your new normal.
On a weekend trip at home, go all out and be as adventurous as you like. When you travel as a regular part of life, things are different.
I started out with a tent, sleeping bag, camping chair, stove, camping pot, tons of recovery equipment, and extra clothing.
After 5 months of the extreme cold and not wanting to sleep outside at all, I ditched the tent. The rest of the camping equipment followed soon after. Along the way the extra clothing was either thrown away or donated. And I got rid of some of the recovery equipment I didn’t see myself using.
I mostly live in AirBNBs. I look for good WiFi and I generally favour more spacious places. I want most days to be normal. I get up, work, run, explore the area by bike or on foot or even take public transport. And when I’m ready to move on I have another road trip with great sights and twisty roads. Pre-Corona, I moved around twice a week. Do that for a year and you appreciate the importance of stability.
I also travel at the speed limit now. South America is a slow continent and I just got used to it. Why burn up tons of expensive fuel to save 20 minutes on my trip? Does it really matter? In South Africa I rode much faster. 20km/h above the speed limit was pretty usual but back then, I traveled on weekends and holidays only, and usually to familiar spots. Now, every few days offers a new experience through landscapes and roads I’ve never seen or ridden before. Sure I want to enjoy the road when it gets twisty, but I also want to enjoy the sights, take it easy, live in the moment.
Talk Is Cheap
I know many people who talk about all the amazing trips they will do one day. About how they will live like real men. Pluck cups of coffee right off the tree like nature intended. And then they go back to their regular routines.
A few years ago I met a man who spoke about a trip he was planning. His ambitions were greater than most. He wanted to ride around the world! But he was naturally conservative, and very measured in his approach to “adventure”, planning every detail meticulously. He seemed like the least likely adventurer in the world. He didn’t brag about the skills he didn’t have. He didn’t talk about all the amazing routes and tough roads he was going to ride. He just didn’t seem too adventurous.
Two years later he’d been through Africa, some of the US, and he’d ridden through the Himalayas and parts of Europe. He didn’t talk about his plans, then go back to a regular life. Instead, he had a dream and followed it.
Before leaving on my trip I asked him for advice. He was the only person I could ask; nobody else had accomplished nearly as much. He knew, and had experienced, far more than me. I was a talker, he was a doer. I talked about doing great things. He quietly did great things.
Be a doer, not a talker.
This Isn’t A Life For Everyone
I’m a loner. I don’t mix well with people. I don’t usually miss home, or miss family. And I don’t understand why others do. I was made for this temporary life of travel.
Not everyone is the same. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this life either not too long ago. Back in 2018 I traveled to Asia for 4 months, alone, to see if I could handle such a drastic lifestyle change and I discovered I loved it. I committed to my current South America trip soon after.
You may not be the same. That’s OK. And if you’re not, following the advice here will bring you nothing but misery.
Wrapping up, you need money; don’t believe people who tell you otherwise. You need the courage to leave an old life behind, and also the courage to start something new. But remember, just because people speak highly of travel doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.