Western Europe for $1,700. South America for $1,100. Southeast Asia for less than $1,000?
These aren't fire-sale prices from panicky companies trying to fill seven-day group tours. This is how much people are currently spending for a full month of budget travel in these locales. Recent increases in airfares notwithstanding, the idea that long-term travel is prohibitively expensive is evaporating in the face of growing online resources. And the truth is that affordable do-it-yourself travel has been a reality for decades.
Whenever people hear about my early-30s lifestyle reboot that led to 4 1/2 years of solo international vagabonding, their reactions are uncannily similar: Their jaws slacken, their pupils dilate and they whisper an awestruck "Wow." After a few probing questions about life on the road ("Seriously, how many countries have you had sex in?"), inquiries about finances soon follow. How, with the meager income of a novice freelance travel writer -- a profession fractionally more lucrative than collecting beer cans under the Washington Avenue Bridge -- was I able to visit 40 countries on three continents and live in Spain, Romania and Italy?
The secret -- it's more of a poorly circulated fact -- is that travel and living abroad are nearly always cheaper than simply sitting at home. Barring an extended stay in pricey Scandinavia or a lavish appetite for partying, a moderate budget for hostels or cheap hotels, reasonable meals and public transport will easily undercut your cumulative expenses for rent/mortgage, cars, insurance, entertainment and all the mindless, day-to-day costs that go along with the uniquely whirlwind living conditions in the United States.
The myth that average mortals don't have the time, money and hygienic flexibility to entertain anything more ambitious than a week in Cabo is being rapidly demystified by a slew of travel-enabling websites, like Briefcase to Backpack. Focusing on career-break travel, but also applicable to round-the-world trips, living and working abroad, or simply a few months of post-college backpacking, the site neatly breaks down the preparation, execution and reentry stages of long-term travel.
"Technology has allowed us to see that people have been taking career breaks all along, but we weren't aware of it," says Briefcase to Backpack co-founder and sporadic Twin Cities resident Sherry Ott. "With the rise in blogging, travel forums and social media, we are more aware of people taking long-term trips and breaks. But people were doing this well before then. We just had no way of knowing who they were, and they had no way of communicating with each other."
The current employment slowdown may also be contributing to the surge in post-college and career-break travel as people wait for the flat job market to recover. Twin Cities native Julie DuRose paddled right into the crashing economic wave last year. "I was in a grad program and had been teaching English at a university," she says. "Given the paucity of teaching and editing jobs last year, it was a natural place for me to take a break from career-building. I'm pretty sure I didn't miss anything."
Post-graduate and career-break travel is also being encouraged by changing employers' attitudes. Grandma's warnings that bosses will cringe at an unsightly blank spot left on one's résumé are as distantly irrelevant as the Yellow Pages. Employers now view extended travel experience to be an asset, demonstrating that the candidate is motivated, self-sufficient, open-minded and gutsy.
The logistics of plotting long-term travel are admittedly complex. Even with today's resources, it may be one of the more intimidating endeavors one will ever undertake. Describing the preparation for her 11-month journey, DuRose reports, "The biggest challenge is not the finances, but committing to the idea of it. To quitting your job and leaving your home, family and friends. To the idea of a trust-fall with the universe."