My Couchsurfing friends in Toledo, Ohio
As a child, my favorite TV station was the Travel Channel. While my friends were watching cartoons, I was watching Lonely Planet. I longed to explore the world. I longed for adventure. Every year, my family drove our Dodge Caravan from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Virginia Beach to visit my cousins for our one week of vacation. I loved visiting my big, Italian family, of course (still do), but I also wanted more!
This was the point when I unconsciously picked up the idea that travel is for rich people, and that will probably never be me, so I’ll probably never get to travel.
I’m happy to report that as of today, I’ve been all over Europe, as well as to Canada, Mexico, and 49 U.S. States, and I’m planning a trip to Southeast Asia for this spring – none of it because I am “rich.”
In fact, in 2012, I quit my job as a school principal to travel the country, write, and eventually launch my life coaching business. I drove over 10,000 miles, by myself, with all I owned in my station wagon, paying a total of $84 in accommodation for an entire calendar year. Travel is for rich people, my ass!
A lot of people thought I was crazy for quitting my stable, respectable, well-paying job to leap in to the unknown. But as much as I loved teaching, I knew it wasn’t my true passion. And working 70 hours a week as an administrator dealing with everyone else’s stress definitely wasn’t my passion. I wanted adventure, and I wanted to find a career that would allow me to help people one-on-one while setting my own schedule (like life coaching, which is what I do now).
I absolutely had to believe that we live in a world where we are rewarded for pursuing our passions; where, when we are aligned with our true purpose, the universe rushes in to support us and catch us when we leap.
I needed to believe it so strongly that if it wasn’t true, I decided this wasn’t a world I wanted to live in at all.
So I leapt. And it worked – beautifully. Want to know how?
I spent 10 months preparing, combining all of the best travel knowledge I’d built up over the years to make this journey as EPIC and amazing as it could be – and I’m going to share all of that travel knowledge with you.
Basking in Montana's big sky
My tips for full-time travel:
Downsize your stuff – drastically: It didn’t take me long to realize that if I was going to travel full time, I couldn’t have a house full of stuff to worry about. I spent all 10 months of preparation cutting my belongings in half. And then in half again. And again – until everything I owned on god’s green earth fit in to the back of my Subaru Outback wagon, with enough room leftover for me to sleep in the back.
- Sell anything halfway valuable on craigslist or ebay
- Give away the rest to friends or charity
- Store stuff that has sentimental value but no use on the road with a trusted friend or family member for later access if necessary.
Clean up your relationship with money: To be successful on the road with an “unstable” financial life, I had to get rid of some old ideas about money. I had to learn how to make it without receiving a predictable paycheck and also not going insane with worry. I had to stop talking crap about money and make peace with it. (Hint: Every time you say, “I hate money!” it says, “I hate you, too!”)
My top three money tips:
- Trust. The more I stress about money, the less I seem to have. The more I trust that there will be enough, there always is.
- Be Generous. It is important to keep the channels of money open on both ends so it can flow freely, like an unclogged pipe. This means giving and receiving. When I notice myself getting clingy about money, I loosen my grip and give some away.
- Be Grateful. Abundance comes to those who are grateful for the abundance that they already have.
Practically, of course I suggest saving as much money as you can before your trip. However, if you apply the above principles, you will likely find yourself falling serendipitously in to additional money without even trying.
A few examples from my journey:
- A fellow work-trader at a hostel in Taos needed someone to drive him in to Santa Fe a few days per week to sell his refurbished computers because he didn’t have a car. (I made at least $100 every time.)
- My host on Kauai had a friend running a fire-spinning show who needed someone to take tickets. (I made $100 and saw the show for free.)
- My hosts in Watsonville, California needed someone to take care of their dogs while they went to Tahoe over Thanksgiving. (I made $250 and stayed in a mansion for a week for free.)
I downsized enough to fit all my belongings (and myself) into the back of my car
Couchsurf: The primary tool that allowed me to travel so inexpensively was Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing.org is a website that makes the age-old practice of hospitality safer, more organized, and more accessible. Anyone can make a profile either for the purpose of hosting, “surfing,” or simply connecting to others in a given town.
Tips for Couchsurfing:
- References, references, references. Get some right away, even before you start traveling. I’m sure you probably know someone that has a Couchsurfing profile and could vouch for you as a legitimate, non-ax-murdering human being. If not, start by hosting travelers and getting positive reviews from them.
- Set your standards. Personally, I never stay with single men, I usually avoid party houses (I’m too old for that craziness now, y’all), and I never stay with someone without references.
- Be an amazing guest: clean or cook something during your stay, be curious about your hosts (people love to talk about themselves), don’t overstay your welcome, and leave gifts!
Editor's note: some readers have reported that Couchsurfing has changed dramatically in the last year and that BeWelcome now offers a classic Couchsurfing experience.
I don't just love this way of travel because it's free. This isn't about being a freeloader. Couchsurfing is about coming one step closer to erasing the illusion of separateness between us.
It is not natural for humanity to be closed up in separate boxes like houses and offices, pretending we must do this life thing alone. For the majority of human history on this earth, we have lived in small communities, sharing food, shelter, and the tasks of life with one another.
Couchsurfing brings people together under the premise that your happiness is my happiness. If you are safe, warm, and well-fed for the night, than I am fulfilled as well. We all have things to teach each other, and we can all benefit from meeting another kind soul on this journey of life that ultimately, is shared.
Which brings me to my next piece of advice. . .
Taking in the landscape at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah
Learn to accept help: I’ve met a lot of travelers who hit the road with the intention of “becoming self-sufficient.” You know what I think? I think that’s bullshit.
I never would have had such a successful journey without the long list of people who hosted me, supported me, gave me gifts and tips, kept me company, listened to me cry during the low points, and celebrated with me during the high points.
Let me share the most significant example of this generosity.
I mentioned earlier that I lived for an entire calendar year by spending only $84 on accommodation, which was broken down like this:
- $34 for half of a hotel room which I chose to split with a dude that I platonically traveled with for a few days because there wasn’t room for both of us to sleep in my car.
- Two nights at a hostel in Moab, Utah at $10 a pop because there’s hardly anywhere to legally sleep in your car there and I got no responses from couchsurfing.
- Two nights at a hostel on Kauai for $15 a pop because my host’s work schedule changed and I needed somewhere to crash for two nights until she could pick me up.
What I didn’t mention is that six of those 12 months were spent at the same house, with the same, amazingly-generous family.
I arrived in Santa Cruz, California with $67 left to my name. I was signed up to couchsurf with Heidi and Mike for one week while I looked for work and a more permanent place to stay.
That week turned in to six months. Heidi and Mike kept telling me that I was welcome, and they refused to ever accept even one penny of rent. I celebrated Christmas and my birthday with their family. I stayed up late talking with Heidi like a second mom. They left plates of leftovers with my name on them in the fridge if I wasn’t home at dinnertime.
Was it selfish for me to accept all of this kindness from them? Hell no. Using Heidi and Mike’s home as a sort of personal retreat allowed me to launch my life coaching business, which has allowed me to help many, many people. The more generosity I receive, the more I want to pay it forward, which makes the recipients of my generosity want to pay it forward again. That’s how it works.
My adopted family in Santa Cruz, Ca.
Be as awesome as possible: When you are doing what you love, aligned with your true purpose, you radiate awesomeness and everyone wants to be around you. Have you ever met someone like that? Have you ever been someone like that?
When I shed the restrictive life of over-working and climbing the career ladder in a career I didn’t want, I made room to let in a whole new version of myself. One that was quite frankly, a pretty magnetic badass.
Almost all of the best things that happened to me on my journey happened because I was just so damn happy and free that people were drawn to me. They wanted to host me, give me money, and help me in any way they could. When you travel aligned with your higher purpose, this will happen to you too.
Now I live with several friends in a beautiful, old home in Santa Cruz. I own a successful life coaching business where I get to help people who are unhappy in their jobs discover the greatest happiness they’ve known in their adult life, whether they quit their jobs or stay.
My work is completely location-independent, since I see all of my clients through Skype. I make my own hours, and you’d better believe I leave plenty of time for hiking, traveling, and self care.
But more importantly than that, I finally have the confirmation I always longed for that the universe is a benevolent place that supports my dreams, provides for my needs, and actually wants me to be the best version of myself. There is no price tag for that.
Melanie is offering the gift of FIVE, free coaching consultations to Shareable readers who are ready to stop settling and discover the greatest happiness they’ve known in their adult life. If you think this is you, send Melanie a message with one sentence about why you are interested in coaching. She will let you know if you are one of the lucky five.