A 29-year-old who’s been traveling the world for 4 years explains how he affords it

Tommy Walker.
Courtesy of Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker always knew he wanted to travel.

Living in a small, working class town in Northeast England, the now 29-year-old remembers dreaming of somewhere exotic, somewhere “far, far away from here” as a child, he told Business Insider.

In his early 20s, he finally got the chance to go. Tired of a 9-5 corporate job at a product management company, he bought a ticket to Sweden, intending to work his way down by the Eurorail to explore the continent.

Then, his dad got sick, and he postponed his trip, settling for shorter-term stays instead.

In 2011, his father died, leaving Walker and his brother an inheritance through his workplace that Walker chose to split into pieces: about 60% on longer-term investments, and 30% on travel, starting with an ambitious trip to Southeast Asia.

He acknowledges that some people might consider his windfall a stroke of luck, but says he wishes some things had turned out differently. “Sure, I got an inheritance,” he said, “but at the end of the day it’s my father. It’s no compensation for what happened, but obviously, it helped me get to where I am today.”

His inheritance stopped fully funding his travels – which you can follow via Facebook, Instagram, or through his website – before the first of four years was up. Since then, he’s been in a cycle of working, saving, and traveling. “I’ve always been lucky enough to find work and make money,” he said, “so once I started this travel journey, I always felt that I’d always find money if I wanted to buy something later on.”

Below, Walker explained the gritty reality behind long-term travel, why you don’t need a windfall to leave home, and how he now affords to stay on the road.

Walker started his adventure with a ticket to Bangkok, to backpack Southeast Asia. He chose his destination in part because his father, a Buddhist, wished later in life that he would have traveled more.

In Bangkok, Thailand.

“That feeling of being in Asia, I’ll never get that back,” Walker reflected. “Any traveler who’s been traveling for more than two years will say you can’t get that initial feeling back — you’re naive and you don’t really know a lot, and everything is new and there’s no expectation. Southeast Asia is perfect for that, because it’s so different to Western culture. It’s such an incredible vortex to be pushed into.”

What to eat? #india#asiamemories

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In India.

After 10 months backpacking Southeast Asia, Walker moved to Australia to find a job and shore up his savings again. He ended up in Melbourne with two: a day job working in IT, and a part-time gig as a host at a restaurant.

Sometimes we forget what’s on our doorstep #nature #park #gardens #carltongardens #melbourne #thewanderingwalker

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In Melbourne, Australia.

He quickly started stockpiling cash. “The minimum wage in Australia is about $17 an hour, and some people make $25,” he said of the restaurant job. He began picking up more and more shifts, until he was working 80-hour weeks.

Pink lake #pinklake #melbourne #tourist #city #lake #hanging #thewanderingwalker

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In Melbourne, Australia.

In eight months, he had amassed about $22,000, which he used for 11 months in South America, starting with the 2014 World Cup in Rio.

Yesterday was a great day#fifafanzone

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In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

After a month in Brazil, he branched out to nearly a dozen more countries including Peru, Guyana, and Venezuela. He favors countries, like Guyana and Venezuela, that are off the beaten path and don’t attract much tourism, he said.

Casa Pueblo looking. No filter for this view #casapueblo#ocean#sunny#blueskies#uruguay#carlospaezvilaro

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In Uruguay.

While he covered the continent, he began setting up Facebook pages for backpackers through areas like South America, Europe, Australia, and Colombia that ultimately attracted over 120,000 followers, and pitching travel sites to write about his adventures.

Keeping options open for the next step… #travel #thewanderingwalker #newzealand #mexico #central #pacific #walker #road #wheretonext

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Unlike many long-term travelers, he didn’t choose to set up a blog. Instead, he parlayed his Facebook groups into occasional free accommodation in exchange for marketing posts offering opportunities for the backpackers, and turned the writing gigs he secured into more work for travel companies. He’s done it backwards, he said — his website only launched in September.

Decent #views today in #Vinales #Cuba #nature #likevietnam @scenery #11km #hike #trek #viewpoint #thewanderingwalker

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In Cuba.

In 2015, his freelance work snowballed, and he’s now in the position to support himself on his writing income alone. However, he points out, if he wants to continue working as a travel writer, he has to keep moving. “Before, it was an adventure,” he said. “Now, if I want to keep being a freelancer living a nice lifestyle, it’s more of a necessity.”

#Pitstop in #Cuba #thewanderingwalker

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In Cuba.

To fund his next round of travels, Walker moved back to Australia to resume his restaurant job, punctuating his time there with shorter-term trips to places like Fiji, France, Mexico, and Cuba. He recently relocated to New Zealand on a year-long working visa, and intends to combine a day job and freelance work to save up for his next long-term adventure.

Wairoa Dam #wairoa #dam #hunua #ranges #auckland #newzealand #travel #thewanderingwalker #hike #trek

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At Wairoa Dam, New Zealand.

That trip, he hopes, will be a two-year backpacking excursion through Africa.

In Mexico.

One misconception about a life of travel, he says, is that it’s all sweeping views and hammocks on the beach. Much of it is navigating unfamiliar situations, logistical complications, and uncomfortable moments. “Travel is not meant to be easy,” he said. “It never was. That’s a holiday.”

Travel time again #travel #wanderlust #backpacker #oceania #fiji #airport #backpack #melbourne #planschange #fromtommywalker

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“It’s almost an apprenticeship, a university, a job, and your life all in one,” he said. “You have to meet people, network, and do things for yourself. You have to learn and understand people for what they are, and teach yourself to make quick decisions. It’s more difficult than people might think.”

Out at sea at the head of the boat over some choppy and rough waves! #morrodesaopaulo #boat#travel#seasick#experience

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In Morro de São Paulo, Brazil.

“There are good times and there are bad times, but the good times outweigh the bad — the good times are more rewarding because you have them in a foreign country, and you do it by yourself.”

Roads leading to the jungle #jungle #trek #fiji #rainforest #nature #oceania

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In Fiji.

He advises people who want to travel extensively to “do it for the right reasons. Nowadays, with the influx of social media, people do it like it’s a trend. They don’t really want to be in a place they don’t know. Do it if you really feel you should be in a foreign environment, and you want to challenge yourself and see new cultures and religions. Don’t just do it for the selfies.”

Something a little more #beautiful in #Marseille #yachts #water #france #euro2016 #thewanderingwalker

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In Marseille, France.

“Just be open to experiences,” he said. “If you go to a new place, have no expectations. If you compare it to somewhere else, you’re going to be let down. If you go with an open mind and think’ ‘this is cool,’ you’re going to have a good time. Every new place is a good place — it’s good because it’s new.”

Sunset beach…#sunsetbeach #manaisland #beach #travel #fiji #oceania #walker #wanderlust

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In Fiji.