Can You Travel the World Full-Time & Still Be a Responsible Adult?

by Gigi Griffis
Italy guide

When it comes to full-time travel, there’s a particular narrative that gets most of the press: 20-something quits miserable job to travel and find him/herself!

Usually, the backdrop is Asia or South America. The protagonist lives in hostels and works in co-working spaces and cafes. The picture that emerges for most of us is one of bumpy bus rides, cheap living, and a total shaking-off of responsibilities.

And some of us think: Yes, but what about savings and retirement? What about work deadlines and clients? I’m not sure I could really get work done in a hostel. I’m not sure I could live in a room with 10 other people all the time. I’m not sure I want to live out of a bag, to take bumpy bus rides to new places every few days, to live without home comforts.

For some of us, the idea of traveling the world is a magical one, but the narrative of the 20-something without a care, a job, or a medical expense in sight isn’t one that fits.

Which is why the narrative bugs me a little.

Not because I begrudge anyone their carefree adventure, but because that narrative is just one of many in the world of full-time travel. And somehow the other narratives, about grown-ups with jobs and deadlines and maybe relationships and perhaps even kids or dogs, about retirees using their golden years to finally get to Paris and Prague and Peru, about families using location independent work to give their kids an international education, get swallowed up by the hostel-dwelling, cheap-traveling, no-responsibilities vagabond story.

The thing is, we need those other stories.

We need to know if full-time travel is for grown-ups too—for those of us who care about retirement savings and budgets, who would rather live in apartments than hostels, who think moving every three days sounds stressful, but living somewhere new for three months sounds exciting. We need to know it’s possible for us too.

We need to know if responsibilities and long-term travel could possibly, maybe, perhaps actually co-exist—or even complement each other.

The answer is a big ‘ol yes. And there are plenty of non-traditional digital nomads out there proving it every day.

Yes, there are 30-something, 40-something, 50-something, 60-something nomads.

Yes, there are retirees living a nomadic lifestyle

Yes, there are full-time travelers who travel in a financially sustainable way

Yes, we plan and save for retirement.

Yes, we live within our means.

Yes, most of us work for a living.

Yes, there are full-time travelers with kids.

Yes, there are full-time travelers with dogs.

Yes, it is possible to travel the world full-time and still live in apartments, save for retirement, eat healthy, raise kids, take your dog to the vet, meet your client deadlines, date, fall in love, and otherwise live a full, stable, grown-up life. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for some of us, this is our story.

And for those daydreaming about spending a year or two years or an indefinite period of time traveling the world, it’s important to know that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to do it. Our lifestyles are as vast as the lifestyles of those with roots in a single place. Nomadic life is entirely what you make of it.

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Ali February 20, 2017 - 2:40 am

Yeah, if you’re going to choose something not so normal, there’s obviously not a specific way to do that thing. Travel indefinitely, work for yourself, whatever it is…in your own way. I love that you talk about how to approach a nomadic lifestyle with responsibility and an adult outlook on it.

I also still think, yes I want to do that! But then I spend an entire month on the road not sleeping enough and wishing I had my own comfy bed, and stressing about food and wishing I had my blender. Two nights home, and even though I’m still a little jet lagged, I’m already feeling a bit better. I think I’ll stick with nomadism (is that a word?) in short bursts.

gigigriffis February 23, 2017 - 7:43 am

Makes sense.

Andrea February 23, 2017 - 4:54 am

Thx Gigi This is something that’s been nagging me to my core, along with what type of work do they really do, how much do they make, did they come from money, etc…

gigigriffis February 23, 2017 - 7:42 am

So glad it was helpful! Re: types of work it might be interesting to check out the interviews I’ve done (most people mention their jobs in the intros):

As for how much people make, it seems to vary massively. I’ve seen conversations from entrepreneurs and traders making quite a lot and people just starting out in a new business and not even making ends meet yet. I think there are probably lots of people in the middle like me.

As for people coming from money, I think most don’t, but I’m sure there are a few who do. :) It’s a pretty diverse group.

Kathryn OHalloran February 23, 2017 - 12:17 pm

I think a lot of the digital nomad image comes from bloggers etc who make their money selling the “dream”. If your source of income is from blogging which leads to selling courses on how to live the DM lifestyle etc. Of course, having a bunch of pics of hard work and clean living aren’t going to sell that like a chick in a bikini lazing in hammock with their laptop.

Being a responsible adult isn’t something I think about that much really :)

gigigriffis February 28, 2017 - 1:07 am

:) I don’t think most of us think the actual phrase “responsible adult,” but you’re definitely one – working and making ends meet while traveling.

Annie Anderson February 26, 2017 - 9:11 pm

The idea of fulltime travel is fun but I wonder how they do it. Like do they work? Where they get money from? For me I have to stick to my nine to five job to make a living…

gigigriffis February 27, 2017 - 1:12 am

You can click through some of the links above to get answers. Most of us work, yes. Lots of programmers, entrepreneurs, writers, designers…anything you can do from your computer, pretty much, you can do while traveling. :)

Emily February 27, 2017 - 2:17 pm

I’ll add to the list Gigi made above: real estate investment can be (can be, not always is) fairly easy to manage remotely. Our current property is not even in the same state as we are, and we haven’t physically been there in 3 years. Our next property will likely be in the same state but in a different city.
While we are not full-time travelers we do travel WAY more than the average 30-something parents, and part of how we got there was gutting and re-building our definition of “enough” when it came to our work hours and income. Good luck to all, whichever road you’re on! :D

gigigriffis February 28, 2017 - 1:09 am

Yes, excellent point!

Lisa March 24, 2017 - 8:27 am

Thank you for this article! My 23 year old son just left this morning for a 9 week backpacking trip around Europe. He’ll be staying in Hostels and doing it as cheaply as possible. I’ve had a dream for my husband and I to do the same thing…travel long term. I just don’t want to stay in any hostels to do it?. I’m very interested in how older adults are able to live the nomadic lifestyle, but do it comfortably.

gigigriffis March 24, 2017 - 8:39 am

Glad it struck a chord! Chad and I definitely are on the same page. Traveling full time is amazing, but we wouldn’t find it fun to be bouncing around hostels. We rent Airbnb apartments for a month or longer, which has felt much more homey.

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