One aspect of traveling the world and changing my place of residence every few months is that I get to know new people again and again. Yet, the questions during most of these encounters remain the same: What made you travel? Where are you going next? How do you finance all of this? Don’t you miss home? And so on.
I understand the curiosity, but answering the same question a hundred times can get tiring. That’s why I decided to put up these FAQs with the questions I get asked frequently and, more useful even, with my answers to them.
What are you actually doing with your life?
The world is a big and beautiful place and I noticed that I would never see it all if I only went on holiday once or twice a year. Therefore, I decided to quit my job as a lawyer and leave my home country of Germany and move to a different country every few months. This gives me more time to explore places in-depth and to get to know the people, culture, history, politics and society of a place. In Lithuania, someone once called me a “traveling anthropologist”.
Where have you been so far?
Where will you go next?
Isn’t it stressful to move so often?
No. It’s exciting. My life feels like a constant holiday because I am never at one place long enough to get over that first phase of excitement that you feel when you move to a new neighborhood and you start discovering it.
Moving is much easier if you aren’t attached to physical possessions. With each move, I get rid of more of my stuff. The goal is to fit everything into one bag.
You must be very rich to live like that.
Wrong! I have a few hundred Euros/Dollars in my bank account, and that’s it.
So how do you finance this lifestyle of traveling?
This is indeed the question I get asked most often. I have already written about it in more detail, but here are the main points:
- I work. (Big surprise!)
- I have chosen some freelance jobs which I can do from anywhere in the world, as long as I have internet, like translating, giving legal advice and writing. My goal is to finance my travels exclusively by writing about them, selling articles, photos and books, or by getting my own travel show on TV. Yes, I am a dreamer.
- I spend less than I earn. (Try it!)
- I usually pick destinations which are not expensive. For 150$ I could get one night in a hotel in New York or rent a whole apartment in Ukraine for one month. It’s obvious which one I will choose.
- Everything in life is a matter of priorities. I don’t buy useless stuff like modern phones, new computers, a car or more clothes than I need. Thus, I have much more money left for traveling.
- The less you spend, the less you need to work, the more time you have. I value time more than money.
How long do you want to live like this?
As long as I enjoy it. Once I won’t enjoy it anymore, I will change my life again. But I will cross that bridge when I get there.
I am shocked by how many people don’t do something now because they fear that maybe they won’t enjoy it anymore in the future. Why don’t you just die right now?
Why did you decide to go to A/B/C instead of X/Y/Z?
Nothing against X/Y/Z, but I can’t be in two places at the same time. I might still drop by in the future.
Often, my decisions on where to move are made out of coincidence, such as where I can find a cheap place to stay. I generally prefer smaller or medium-sized towns where it is a bit quieter than in mega-cities with 15 million people and their polluting cars.
Do you travel by plane, car, rail, bus or on foot?
I love trains for longer distances. For shorter distances, the bicycle is my preferred mode of transport, but I also love to walk long distances. The slower you travel, the more you can take in. I am planning to do more long-distance walks in the future.
I don’t have a car because it’s too expensive, too complicated to take to other countries (because of all the paperwork involved) and because I can’t read books while driving.
Because the price for destroying our planet’s climate sadly is not included in airfares, sometimes planes are irresistibly cheap. Then, my stingy side wins over my environmentalist side.
What do you take with you?
As little as possible.
With each move, you learn to let go of things. I have the minimum of clothes that I need, books and some equipment like a computer and a camera.
I always look for places that are fully furnished, so that I don’t need to buy any (or at least not many) household items. You would also be surprised that you can get really cheap clothes almost everywhere, so there is no need to carry your whole wardrobe with you around the world. Just ask for the Chinese market.
The hardest thing for me is to leave books behind.
Don’t you ever want to settle down?
No. I don’t see the advantage in that. Why would anyone choose a boring life if he can have an exciting life?
I might however interrupt my travels every few years to find a quiet writer’s retreat (hint for people with a cottage in the mountains or a holiday home that you don’t use most of the time ;-) ) for a year to write down all my stories or even a book before I set out on new adventures. I have found it very difficult to do this while I am traveling.
Then you just haven’t found the right place yet.
No, I have, many of them. My constant moving is not about any dissatisfaction with certain places. Quite the contrary, I usually feel at home very quickly, often from day one. My moving is inspired by my thirst for knowledge and for new experiences, for pushing the boundaries and for taking risks.
Aren’t you just running away from something?
Yes. From boredom, from routine and from a life in which one is merely a tiny wheel in a big machine. I noticed that this machine works very well without me.
Isn’t it dangerous to go to other countries?
Compared to what? Most people die in their bed, in their car or at a hospital. Bad things can happen everywhere, even at home. (If you are American, just think of all the shootings in your country.)
Obviously, there are a few tricks on how to stay safe while traveling:
- Follow the news. They usually warn of wars, civil wars and high-crime areas.
- Now remember how safe you felt in Arkansas when 9/11 happened or how safe you felt in Cornwall when 7/7 happened or how safe you felt in Toulouse when the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was attacked. Most countries are big places and even if there is an explosion in one corner of the country, you won’t feel a thing in the other corner.
- I personally have to admit that I feel drawn to dangerous places, but I wouldn’t recommend that to everyone. If you are not one to walk into the line of fire, then better stay away from Syria and Libya.
- Contact people at your destination over the internet before you travel. They will give you honest advice on whether it’s safe to go or not.
- In somewhat more dangerous countries, I appreciate sites like Couchsurfing even more. You can find either a host or someone to meet before you go, you will talk online to them, and they might even come to pick you up at the airport. Having a trustworthy local might be better than taking a random cab in countries where hostages are regularly sold to Al Qaeda, for example.
- Trust strangers! I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but 99% of the people in the world are good people. Just think of yourself: What would you do if a stranger came up to you in the street and asked you for directions or for some advice? You’d help them, right? You definitely wouldn’t murder them, right? And most people are no different from you. It’s not like you are the only saint and the rest of the world are sinners.
- Opportunity makes the thief. For the few people who have the tendency to steal or cheat, you don’t need to draw attention to yourself as a potential prey by displaying all your wealth or your ignorance. Come prepared. Look like a local. Learn a few words of the language. Look poor. I think that my hobo look has protected me from a lot of mischief. Sometimes, I look so shabby that I can sit in a park full of beggars without any of them asking me for a dollar.
Why don’t more people travel?
They’re afraid. This leads them to make excuses and/or to postpone it. Then they die and regret all the things they never did.
Do you see yourself as a role model for others?
No way! There are probably people who don’t like traveling. That’s fine. The life I live is not for everyone. The world also needs people who go to the office every day, who pay taxes and who keep hospitals and buses and nuclear power plants running while people like me refuse to be productive members of society.
But your comments and e-mails show me that many more people want to travel, that many of you are tired of your jobs or lives full with routine and devoid of any adventure. My goal is to motivate you and to show you how you too can do it. Not in the same way as I do it. But every human being is capable of doing more than they do right now. If your dreams, like mine, are so big that you know you can never fulfill them in a lifetime, I don’t want you to give up, but to try as much as you can. You’ll surprise yourself, and that is a great experience in itself!
How do I prepare myself if I want to do something similar?
- Get inspiration! Whether it is from books like Into the Wild, from travel magazines, TV documentaries or blogs. I challenge you to watch the BBC series Human Planet for example and I bet you’ll want to travel right away.
- Don’t postpone it! People who say “I will travel the world, but first I want to buy a house, build a company, and save a million dollars” will almost certainly never do it. The cemeteries are full with people who wanted to do things “later”.
- If you want to do something dramatic like quitting your job and going on a trip around the world, set yourself deadlines by putting your house up for sale, terminating your lease or your employment contract, by buying flight tickets or by announcing your plan publicly.
- Put money aside for travels. Make it your priority. Cut down on expensive restaurants, cigarettes, girlfriends. Sell your car and take the bus. I met a guy on one of my trips who had moved back in with his parents for one year, so he could save for a trip around the world. He didn’t mind this loss of his own space and his privacy because he knew what he was doing it for.
- If you can’t (or don’t want to) explore the whole world, read the answers to the next question.
I would love to, but I can’t do this because I have children/debts/sick parents.
People often tell me: “Well, you can do this, you are rich, young and independent.” I already explained above that I am not rich. I am 39, which isn’t particularly young either. And I am independent because I choose to be.
But I acknowledge that I am lucky. I am relatively healthy, I have skills which I can market online (although I had to teach myself these skills first, they weren’t just given to me), and I have no children (or I don’t know of them because I never stay in any place for more than 9 months ;-) ). The biggest luck of all is having a German passport with which I can travel to 174 countries without the need to obtain a visa in advance. If you don’t have an Afghan, Somali or Iranian passport, you are already quite well off.
- If you have children, you can either take them with you (I see people traveling with children even to remote areas), drop them off at relatives (the grandparents will be happy), send them to a boarding school, to the Army, to prison or give them up for adoption.
- If you have debts, that’s even more of a reason to leave the country, isn’t it? Just make sure it’s one where court orders of your home country aren’t recognized or enforceable.
Now to the serious part:
- If you are dead poor, start walking or cycling. Explore parts of your own city where you have never ventured. Take a bus until its final stop to walk your way back. Go into the countryside on the weekend. Go to the train station and take a random train. Visit your neighboring city. And then the next. And so on. A lot of new and exciting places are right under your nose.
- If you feel insecure about traveling alone, find hiking or other activity groups.
- If you are sick, everything depends on your sickness of course. But maybe some nature and fresh air would actually do you good? Maybe it’s that stress of your job, your family or your marriage that is slowly killing you?
- If you can’t move at all, travel around the world by reading books or watching movies from the countries you want to see. Get pen pals, collect stamps from around the world, learn a foreign language, or open up your home to Couchsurfers who will bring the world to your home with their stories.
What kind of insurance do you have?
None. I dislike the concept of insurance. And with the activities that I do, I probably wouldn’t find any company that would cover me.
What about health insurance?
Wherever I move, I try to make the acquaintance of a young female doctor with motherly instincts. Somehow, I have never needed medical insurance so far.
You lived a “normal life” before. What made you decide to leave that behind and wander the world?
I explain that in detail in this article. In short: During one of my trips to Iran, I was arrested by the Iranian Intelligence Service and spent one week in prison. While this was tough and scary at the time, it gave me a luxury which almost nobody enjoys nowadays: I had one whole week to think about my life, without any internet, any phone, any work to distract me. I made the most out of that, and when I was miraculously released after a week, I had already decided that I would quit my job and actually live the rest of my life instead of just wasting year after year.
Do you miss anything about your old life?
I used to say, half jokingly, that I miss my income as a lawyer. But honestly, I don’t. First if all, I have so much more time now, which I cherish much more than money. I spend my time studying and doing what I want, growing much more as a person than I would if I spent the time in an office. Second, not being rich is great because people look at your personality again instead of your job or your suit or your car. I am no longer bothered by shallow people (at least not beyond a first date, when they see my torn-out shoes).
I don’t miss friends or family because I find it much more interesting to make new friends all the time. By always settling in a new city, I can start over again every few months. It’s wonderful.
The only thing I miss is that I can’t build up a library of my own. With each move, I start with five or ten books again, and by the time I move, I donate my collection, which usually grows quickly, to the local library.
Don’t you get lonely?
Very rarely. I am usually quite happy when I am by myself. Actually, I feel most lonely when I am in a group of people because then I often notice how shallow, uninteresting or outright stupid people are.
I also fail to see the connection between that question and my traveling life because surely people who live in one place all of their life get lonely too.
How do you find new friends?
By being open and talking to people. This is the hardest part for me because I am rather introvert and shy.
I am in two minds about the internet and travel: On the one hand, it takes away a lot of the exotic flair of a place if you can already research everything before going there. On the other hand, it makes it possible to find friends before you move to a new place. Particularly for shy people like me, it’s easier to send an e-mail than to talk to a stranger on the train, in a pub or on a bench in the park. I use websites like Couchsurfing for that purpose.
Don’t you ever want to have a home?
I have the greatest home anyone could imagine. It spans several continents, it includes forests, mountains, deserts, beaches and ancient cities. It has a million different rooms, views, kitchens and new people come by every day to have a chat.
The world is my home. Why would I give that up for one apartment or one house in a fixed place?
How can we join you?
I am really a hermit, so I prefer to travel alone most of the time. Don’t take it personally!
But if we are in the same area or you are in one of the countries that I will move to next and you think we would get along, please contact me. Sometimes I am happy to hook up with someone to explore a city, to go hiking or to learn something about your country or city. I will bring some cigars and plenty of great stories.
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There are probably a great number of questions that I forgot. Please submit additional questions and leave your comments below.