I am constantly discovering people who are not happy with their careers and are looking for something more interesting to do with their lives. Jason Demant and Sharon Duckworth are two people that share my philosophy on life. The time to experience life and travel the world is now. As Jason and Sharon have found, once you begin you may never want to go back. They share some of their experiences and advice in this interview.
Please tell us a little about your background.
We’re both 26 and originally from northern California. We met in college at the University of California, Santa Cruz (go slugs!). We both graduated and independently moved to the Silicon Valley. Jason worked for Seagate Technology for almost five years in a few different positions: project manager, finance and finally marketing. Sharon worked at a gym teaching kids motor-development skills originally, but ended up selling out and joined a commercial real estate company.
We always knew we wanted to travel, but weren’t planning on leaving until October 2010. When the economy started going downhill, we started really pumping up our savings to leave sooner rather than later. Last October we left and have been traveling around Asia ever since.
Please tell us about your travels?
We’re currently in South Korea. We started our trip in China, did the Southeast Asia route, headed back to China and then took a ferry over to South Korea. (All of the destinations we’ve been).
One of the things we wanted to do on this trip was learn a language and settle down for a while. Sharon is 75% Korean and so we thought the perfect place would be Korea. We lived in Seoul for a little over 2 months and now have settled down in the coastal city, Busan. Assuming Kim Jong Il doesn’t decide to do something stupid (again), we’ll be here for another couple of months before hitting the road again.
What has been the most expensive country you have visited?
Japan, hands down!! We couldn’t believe how expensive Japan was. On this trip, our average spend per day was $35 per person ($70 for the both of us), Japan however ended up being around $260 a day! We didn’t really splurge either. We did purchase the Japan Rail Pass, which put us back $300 each, but other than that, we slept in hostels in a dorm and ate at what we thought to be reasonable restaurants.
What has been the least expensive country you have visited?
On the complete other end of the spectrum was Vietnam. We traveled from north to south and spent about $23 per person per day. One of the best hotels we’ve stayed in on the entire trip was in Vietnam and it was $8 a night. Not to mention, it’s an amazing country with great food.
What has been the worst food you have tried?
The most difficult place for us eating wise was China. We knew only the very basics of the language and many restaurants do not have pictures of their food, nor do they have their menus translated to English. There were times where the only thing we could do was point to a set of Chinese characters and hope for the best.
I think the two worst foods we have tried on this trip would be: 1. Some kind of fried pork rinds that tasted like what I assume sewer and garbage would taste like. 2. Fried chicken feet. I realize that chicken feet are very normal in Asia, but why? It was like eating fried bones- there’s no meat there, not to mention they still very much resemble feet from a chicken, and that’s not a very appetizing thing.
What is a safe travel budget for a year?
For the way we travel, which is staying at middle-range hostels, eating reasonable meals out twice a day, taking buses and ferries rather than planes, $15,000 ($41 per day) a year should be sufficient per person. Extrapolating our budget, I think we’ll come in at $30,000 for the both of us. Which is great, because we saved $50,000 for the planned year trip!
Breaking that down is going to vary tremendously, but roughly (per day):
- Accommodation: $15
- Food: $10
- Transportation: $7.50
- Activities/Entertainment: $5
This doesn’t add up to the $41, so the rest would be on other things: health insurance, flights to and from home, netbook, whatever. More detail on our budget and how we spend money by country.
How did you save enough money to travel?
The Twitter answer is: saving more than we spent :-).
The longer answer: I worked for five years, Sharon for four, in corporate America. We focused on saving and had to make daily decisions that prioritized saving for the trip over other things. We were still able to live comfortably, pay off most of our debt from school and have a good time with our friends. The key is automating your savings so you don’t have to think about it. I wrote a more detailed post on this topic.
Are you getting tired of traveling?
Now that we’ve discovered our preferred travel method, no, not really. The first 4 months of our trip we stayed in only two cities for longer than 5 days (and both were less than 10 days). Other than that we were constantly on the move. We now know this isn’t sustainable for us. We prefer more structure, where we can unpack for a while and have a stable Internet connection, make friends for longer than a night or two and really connect with a city. As many travelers have found, I think we’re happiest finding a place to live for a month to 3 months and settling down for a while.
In terms of things that we miss from home, we pretty much only miss our friends and family. There have been many times when we experienced something amazing but wished our loved ones could have been there with us. Other than that, this lifestyle is tough not to love.
Have you had any serious problems on your trip?
No, thankfully not. Asia’s a very safe place and we’ve been very lucky so far.
Are you trying to extend this one year trip into a more permanent lifestyle?
The trip was originally one-year. We were heading to Asia for a year, then coming back to Northern California and looking for jobs again. I don’t know what happened to that plan, but it went out the window pretty quickly. I (Jason) always had an interest in entrepreneurship, but somehow lost that at some point. This trip has sparked my entrepreneurial interest again and I’ve launched a new travel site that I’m really excited about.
The site is called UnAnchor.com and it’s a place for anyone to create travel itineraries for sale. Eventually it will be a place for travelers to find all of the information they need in an itinerary for their next destination. Because it’s new though I’m still focusing on growing the database of travel itineraries. If you’re interested in earning some extra money, check it out, it’s easy to start and free to sign up. [End of commercial]
What are the advantages and disadvantages of traveling as a couple?
To be honest, it’s been pretty much gumdrops and rainbows. We’re both very easygoing people, so the benefits of solo-travel – doing things on a whim, and going wherever you want without worrying about someone else’s opinion is pretty much what we have. If one of us wants to do something, the other is typically fine with it. The advantages of traveling as a couple are numerous: feeling less isolated, splitting up the research process, finding places and things together. However, we have had our share of meaningless bickering, but these were very limited to certain times; when we were wearing our backpacks, when we were lost and hungry, and when it was hot outside.
How do you deal with banking, bills and health care?
Banking and health care took a lot of upfront research, but we couldn’t have been happier with the companies we went with. If you’re in the US, you should check out Charles Schwab. They charge zero ATM fees, no foreign exchange fees and on top of that they even reimburse you when the ATM you’re using charges you a fee. So, we never have to worry about which ATM we use. We couldn’t be happier with them.
Health care, like most travelers, we use World Nomads. It’s essentially emergency-only health care. The deductible is $100. So if it’s something basic, you’re paying for it, but if it’s something serious, you’re covered. It’s pretty cheap as well, only $500 for a year per person.
Do you have any advice for people considering long term traveling?
Our favorite advice comes from Sharon: “just do it” (the Nike corporation are thieves!). There are so many excuses: it costs too much money, I have a house, I have kids, I’m too old, I’ll have a big gap in my resume. For every excuse you can think of, we’ve met someone that’s overcome it. We’re not saying it’ll be easy, but if you’re serious about it, you can find a way and it’ll be the best decision you’ve ever made.