This is my answer to the question “What is it like to quit your job, get a backpack and travel the world?” on Quora.
I have been following this question since last June, at the time me and my wife were preparing our trip and wanted to gain some insights. Now we have been on the road for almost seven months, it’s time to share a bit.
We quit our job last June, sold everything, packed our stuff into two big backpacks. We walked about 1000km in China and 700km in Vietnam until now, and will travel mostly on foot in the next few years.
It was easy to quit our jobs, since we didn’t see much of a future in them. But we also don’t yet know what kind of careers we should pursue in the future, so we decided to follow the flow, try to find it on the road. We saved a bit of money, but we decided to use as little as possible, since we want to sustain our trip indefinitely. Our budget is now about 8$ per person per day.
Getting rid of things
Since we were going to live on the road, we decided to keep only those things we need. It meant we had to sell most of our stuff, such as the car, furnitures, electronic devices, books, clothes, sheets and blankets, kitchen wares, and everything else.
To sell everything is a hassle. You need to prepare in advance about at least 3 months. We made posters and flyers and distributed them around our area. It’s quite effective. We were surprised by the number of people coming or calling every day. At the end, everything was gone by the day we left.
We kept about 1/3 of our books, some clothes, 2 laptops and two boxes of other stuff which either has sentimental value or could be helpful for our travel(for example our hiking gears). They are now in my mother-in-law’s storage room.
Things we brought with us
Big sturdy backpack x 2 + Daypack x 1
Sleeping bag x 2 + Sleeping pad x 2
Double-walled two person tent x 1
MSR Whisperlite international stove x 1
Cooking pot x 1 + folding cups x 2 + chopsticks x 2 + spoon x 1 + food box x 1
Two bags of clothes(they are also used as pillows)
iPhones x 2 + GoPro cam x 1 + Sony Rx100 x 1 + USB battery x 2
Washing pack + Toiletries
Umbrella x 2
Big garbage bag(used as a tarp and to bag everything not used when we camp, very useful to keep things dry and from the rats) x 1 + 10 zipper bags
A bag of emergency stuff, head light, knife, sewing kits etc.
On the road
We mostly do our own cooking, make delicious sandwiches for the day and cook some noodles at night. If the hostel we stay in allows us to use the kitchen I make some nice dishes with rice. We figured this is much healthier and much cheaper than eating out for every meal (Although it won’t keep us from sampling local cuisines every now and then).
I use the MSR whisperlite international stove. A backpacking necessity in my opinion. It burns all kind of fuels, so we could top up the fuel bottle with petrol in gas stations all around the world(cheapest fuel you can get).
We buy vegetables, local sausages, eggs, noodle, bread or rice in markets. They are very cheap and widely available in China and Vietnam. I’m not so sure about Japan(which is our next destination) and Europe, but I guess there are no cheaper methods to obtain food.
We haven’t taken the plane yet(We were stationed in Hong Kong so it’s easier to get to other places). If the destination is too far to walk to, we use bus or train. But mostly, we use our legs to get to our next destination. Usually we walk between 25km to 40km everyday. We found it’s the best way to immerse ourselves into the environment, study the local culture, train our body and since we have plenty of time, learn whatever we want to learn by listening to audiobooks or iTunes U.
Hostels, motels, cheap hotels are plenty in China and Vietnam, and I assume most other third world countries are similar. The condition can vary, but as time being, we adapt quickly. By now, we’ve been to the cheapest beds(some cheaper than 1 USD) in China and Vietnam, and as long as the rat stays in the ceiling, we will sleep just fine.
Most of the time, if the weather is ok and the accommodation around doesn’t provide hot water, we will just set up the tent. It’s cleaner, more comfortable and sometimes even cozier than most guesthouses. And in the mountains, we absolutely prefer our tent over any hotel or hostel.
Shower when there’s hot water, make do with cold water if the hostel owner lies to you.
We each have three sets of clothing. The set to wear in the day as we walk, the set to wear at night after shower, and the set which is wet after laundry. If the weather is dry and hot, we would only bring two sets. We wash the underwear every 2-3 days, other clothes every 5-7 days with washing powder, and dry them on a string in the room or under the sun.
The most dangerous thing on our thru hikes is getting lost, we lost our way several times, but at the end figured out some tricks to always stay on the trail. We haven’t met much extreme weathers, but I’m gathering info right now to prepare for longer hikes and winter time. There are not many large predatory animals in the areas we’ve been to, although we always listen to the suggestions of locals and avoid places being reported dangerous. About robbery or other threats imposed by human beings, I personally think it’s exaggerated, but of course, we always research first about the area then use common sense to avoid getting into difficult situations.
Lower our living standard
I know our everyday living standard may sound harsh or less than bearable for many people, but we manage to adapt and there are many advantages. First of course, it saves us a lot of money. Second, it prepares us to live almost anywhere in the world, such as the pilgrimage tent on the mountain pass which only provides you a dirty bed and nothing else, and we still feel comfortable enough to enjoy the nature, culture and ourselves. Third, it frees us to concentrate on the essentials of living, such as hiking, reading, learning, writing, talking to each other. Although from time to time we will yearn for watching a movie or enjoying a cold beer, nevertheless the time we spend fills us with great satisfaction.
Travelling as living
We don’t want to just visit places, or rush to as many places as possible in a short period. We plan to actually live our life on the road.
We enjoyed these activities a lot even when we were working. On the road, we are free to hike into mountains whenever there is one. In Yunnan province we did an epic thru-hike for 18 days with the highest point of 4900m. Although most hikers don’t prefer walking on the road, we actually enjoy it as much. The world is actually a very small place we figured. At this rate, we will cover 7000km(4000 miles) a year, and in 5 years we will walk the circumference of the earth. I told my wife, half jokingly:”The world is too tiny to be wasted on wheels.“
On the road or in the trail, when we are not talking to each other, or not admiring the sights or landscapes, we listen to audiobooks or iTunes U courses we downloaded. We found it’s a great way and most efficient to spend the time. Adding with our night time readings, within a month, we finish at least eight titles. Reading gives us great insights to nearly everything, almost as much as traveling itself. Books about local history and culture enriches the traveling experience while more importantly, reveals the deeper meanings inside of things around us and clears the bias and prejudices we previously hold.
I write and my wife draws, whenever we have a day off the road and find ourselves spending time in a quiet and peaceful place such as a beach, a food stall or a tea hut. We both started fresh, and by now we each have quite a few works done. Hopefully we can find us experienced and creative enough to achieve something.
Understanding the world and the people
Spending a lengthy period in a culture gives us an advantage to understand it. Although I can only speak some daily phrases now to bargain in a local market in Vietnam, still, it gets me closer to the vietnamese people. The books about Vietnam I’ve read on the road equip me with some extended knowledge(compared to the short paragraphs in lonely planet guidebooks) to enable me to appreciate the art, architecture and music and to understand the culture and the people, especially their feelings.
Traveling like this improves one’s sensibility and empathy. You are not just dealing with people in the tourism industry or fellow travelers. You meet real local people, people who speak no English or your own language, who have never travelled outside of their own village. When some levels of communication could be built up upon your encounter, you realize while the cultural difference could be vast, we are all humans, we share a great deal of common emotions, sympathies, and excitements. People deserve to be understood and empathized with, way better than they currently are. And this realization motivates us to explore more, improve our language skills, and share our understandings with fellow countrymen or our communities.
I am looking forward to visit the rest of the world like this, it brings me joy and fulfillment.
On top of the mountain Fansipan
Cooking our favorite meal with the almighty Whisperlite
My wife draws the street in Hue, Vietnam
On the road in a rainy day
Silly pic but you can see my huge backpack here
And here’s my wife Betty with her backpack whose weight varies between 12kg to 15kg. Mine is between 16 to 18. Usually they are the heaviest when we leave town with all the food and supplies, the lightest when we finally reach a big town with all the food gone.
Our fat lunch, roadmade sandwiches half dollar each!
Not yet finished, I will update this answer from time to time when I gather my thoughts