Like many, I started my Worldpackers travel journey sitting at a desk simply daydreaming of faraway places and epic adventures around the globe.
For half a decade, those daydreams were just that. Daydreams.
I spent hours crafting itineraries for trips I didn't take. I got in the habit of starting each day with a search for cheap airfare. Instead of keeping up with the latest trashy reality television shows, I watched travel documentaries after my work day was done.
For five years, I took every single vacation day that I was allowed (unlike many of my fellow Americans, eh hem). After paying off my student debt, the first purchase I made was a plane ticket.
For five years, I traveled the "traditional" way. Family vacations to the beach. Trips with friends to the latest up-and-coming cities. I even dipped my toe in semi-solo travel when I signed up for a tour in Europe after a breakup (so typical, I know...).
But even those wonderful trips weren't enough to stifle my wanderlust. The dream of an extended travel experience, one that went beyond being a typical tourist on holiday began to consume me.
I wanted to be free of the desk. Free of expectations. Free to actually live out those long term travel daydreams.
There was no magic wand. A fairy godmother didn't swoop out of the clouds and grant me an all-expenses paid trip.
I made a lot of moves, both literally and figuratively, that financially allowed me to transform my life from "typical American taking two weeks of vacation a year" to "full time traveler."
I worked hard enough to get promoted. Twice.
I moved to a new city, with a greater salary.
I eliminated as many expenses as I could. I canceled monthly subscriptions and got rid of cable. I paid off every penny of debt I had. I didn't buy any new clothes for six months. I got a roommate. I started cooking for myself instead of eating out.
I dipped my toe into travel hacking, also known as the art of using loyalty programs and credit card points to your advantage.
I made saving money my own personal game, coloring in a new box for every $500 I put into a separate travel fund.
I read about the world's best places to travel on a budget and got even more inspired. Slowly, I realized that a long term travel experience wasn't as unattainable as I'd originally thought.
I set a concrete financial goal for myself, one that I was realistically going to meet in less than a year if I continued to be relentless in my pursuit of this travel experience.
I'd save $30,000 to travel the world, and $10,000 for a "return to real life" fund for when the travel money ran dry. Author's Note: You can travel the world on much, much less. More on that later!
As my financial travel fund grew, so did the dreams I had for my solo travel experience.
I wasn't content with this only being a reset button on my livelihood. It was going to be a reset button on my life.
Free from the confines of a typical desk job, what would I fill my time with?
If I was going to give up a successful career path, shock all of my friends and family, and set out into the world on my own, I was going to make it count.
The only problem?
I didn't have just top travel experiences I was dying to do. I had dozens.
I wanted to live life with a childlike enthusiasm, pursuing the best travel experiences that filled my heart with joy. I wanted to be the hero of the adventure book stories I used to read as a kid, tucked under the covers awake way past bedtime.
The Worldpackers travel experience
So, I started by thinking about my deepest, dearest daydreams. Where did my mind wander when it wanted to escape? If I had to describe my ultimate travel experience, what would it look like?
A few amazing travel experiences made their way into my long term travel itinerary after asking that freeing question.
I wanted to live on a sailboat, just to see what it's like.
I wanted to hike the Swiss Alps in perfect hiking weather.
I wanted to spend an entire month walking across Spain along the age-old Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
I wanted to travel to New Zealand, simply because every photograph I'd seen of the country gave me wanderlust.
None of these amazing travel experiences are cheap in any sense of the word.
The financial well would run dry much quicker than I'd like if I wanted to travel and experience all of those things.
Then, something genuinely life-changing happened. I discovered the wonderful world of work exchange like the one Worldpackers facilitates.
Here was a way to pursue the most unique travel experiences without the financial burden of footing the bill for accommodation (and sometimes food).
Two weeks later, my first work exchange experience was the definition of "living the dream."
Do you remember how one of my bucket list travel experiences was to live on a sailboat? Yep, I joined a family on their sailboat in Greece.
In exchange for tutoring their daughter in English, I fulfilled one of the unique travel experiences on my "must-do" list.
I left that sailboat two weeks later a changed traveler.
I had newfound confidence in my ability to bond with total strangers. I had actual sailing experience under my belt. I had seen the blue-and-white beauty of Greece for myself. I had experienced what boat life was really like. I had new friends that felt like family.
More than anything else, I had a more open attitude about what life could put in my path.
I stepped off that boat in Greece and boarded a flight to Switzerland in the middle of the busy summer season.
I hiked the Swiss Alps for 10 days budget-backpacker-style. I certainly couldn't have swung that without my Worldpackers work exchange in Greece footing the bill for fulfilling my sailing dreams.
Then, I hiked the Camino de Santiago, a month-long trek across Spain, because I could afford the time and cost.
By the end of that life-changing experience, I wanted to travel a bit slower and live like a localfor a while.