Brian Peters: Transitioning from Briefcase to Backpack

[singlepic=1522,250,,,right]How does one go from working a white collar 9-to-5 job to traveling around the world, sleeping in hostels from Thailand to South Africa? Brian Peters from No Debt World Travel shares how he did it.

I worked for years in corporate America in Information Technology, moving up the ladder, changing jobs, taking severance packages and being a good soldier in the corporate wars. Professionally I was accomplished and liked my work but felt something was missing.

I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I thought about traveling to see all the places I’ve always seen on TV. In 2006 I woke up one morning and decided to sell my house. I did not know where I was going to go with that, but I felt that I didn’t want the house to weigh me down if I wanted to make a move. Selling it gave me options.

Thankfully the house easily sold before the real estate market meltdown. A year went by and the thoughts about travel stayed with me. Then in February 2008, the job told me I was being laid off. Most people would react with disappointment or even anger. I was quietly excited. Before this I didn’t know how I was going to leave my job. This was my opportunity.

[singlepic=1526,250,,,left]I knew I was going to have to save money on this trip. Being in my 30s and staying in hostels was not appealing, but I did my research and found that hostels have upgraded themselves in the last few years. Modern amenities with low prices sounded really good to me. I’m pretty easy going so I felt I could deal with dorm room style sleeping arrangements.

The next decision was deciding where to go. I took out a poster size world map, spread it out and picked out places I wanted to go. I got an around-the-world ticket and booked the following locations:
Hilo, Hawaii, USA – Tokyo, Japan – Bangkok, Thailand – Angkor Wat, Cambodia – Cape Town, South Africa – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – London, United Kingdom

So if you’re contemplating a trip like this, how do you get adjusted from the 9 to 5 to living out of backpack? Here’s how I did it:

Ease Into It
Hawaii was a good start when I set off in October 2008 because I was still in America and got used to hostelling and being on the road by myself. When I got to my next stop in Tokyo, I was completely relaxed and excited to be there. It was my first time in Asia and there was no anxiousness about being in a foreign country with English not being the main language. I was able to completely enjoy the experience and that carried through the rest of the trip.

Start Off with Group Trips
[singlepic=1525,250,,,right]One thing that prepared me was the extensive world travel I had done in the few years before taking off by myself. All of it was group travel (ranging from seven to 120 people) to Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, Egypt and Ghana. I got comfortable traveling and being in new environments, so traveling solo was the next logical evolution. I felt ready for my solo trip and had no problem readjusting.

If you can’t globetrot internationally, even domestic travel by yourself will get you familiar with airports, dealing with taxi, public transportation, etc. Your mindset is just as important to traveling well as is having the money and time to do it. How can you really enjoy it if you’re more worried about the relatively ‘small’ things? And starting off on smaller trips is a great way to find out if you’re cut out for long-term travel before you commit to it.

Prepare With Reading
I didn’t know anyone personally who made a round-the-world trip, so I read a lot of blogs online and spent some time at Barnes and Nobles and Amazon reading. All I kept thinking was, “If these guys could do it, so can I.” That philosophy has not only followed me during the trip, but in other facets of my life as well. People who do seemingly extraordinary things are no different than you or me. They just had the determination to follow through on their dreams. Why can’t you?

[singlepic=1523,175,,,left]Cut Expenses on the Road
You may be used to corporate or high-end travel, but don’t be afraid of the “cheaper” options you should take advantage of on a trip like this.

RTW tickets and discount airlines were how I was able to travel cheaply. The RTW tickets are specially designed to save cash for extended travel. Once I got to Europe, I traveled mostly on EasyJet out of Gatwick Airport. It was generally cheaper to fly out Gatwick than Heathrow. That is the case in many places – the smaller airports outside the city centers will have cheaper fares because they host the discount airlines.

Hostels were another way I kept money in my pocket. Beds were usually anywhere from $13US per night in Thailand to $25US in Hawaii to $30US in Tokyo. The cost savings was significant compared to what even a 3 star hotel would cost.

I spent a lot of time in Asia. Southeast Asia was so cheap you can spend an extended period of time there and not burn through your budget. I stayed at a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia for $6US a night. That’s not a typo. SIX DOLLARS. Not a hostel, but hotel. That is why Southeast Asia is such a popular destination for round-the-world trips, extended stays, volunteer work or even ex-pats deciding to settle there.

Now Pick Up The Backpack
Preparing and experiencing my trip was one of the best periods of my life. If you are ready for it, you’ll find a way to do it. With the Internet, great resources are literally at your fingertips. If you’re nervous about traveling, taking group trips to locales you always wanted to go to will prepare you mentally.

Once you’ve been through different airports and had your passport stamped, your anxiety about taking a long-term trip will greatly decrease. So get out there and experience the world!

Other comments

12 Comments on "Brian Peters: Transitioning from Briefcase to Backpack"

  1. Emily @ Maiden Voyage on Tue, 15th Sep 2009 10:55 am 

    I love this post…it’s so inspirational to me! I’ve been dreaming of doing exactly what you have done. I can’t believe you got a hotel for $6 — that would definitely make it easy to stick to a low budget! I’ve traveled solo in Europe, but as a woman, I’m wary of traveling alone in Asia, and especially Africa. I’m also wary of staying alone in hostels (unless I have a primate room). So some of my travels may not be solo, but I hope to do a RTW trip like this someday. Thanks for reminding the rest of us that we can do this, too 🙂

  2. Sherry on Tue, 15th Sep 2009 1:29 pm 

    Brian – super advice! Love the part about doing practice trips!

    @Emily – I traveled (and now live) in SE Asia solo and I will tell you that it is WAY safer than Europe or Africa! Asia is actually a very safe place to travel for women. However – if you are not ready to go it alone, then take Brian’s advice and find a little group to travl with. When I went to countries that were less ‘female’ friendly, I went with a backpacking group by using places like Intrepid Travel or Gap Travel and then choosing the cheapest budget options – this normally put me with other backpackers and not a bunch of couples! Happy to answer any questions about female travel in Asia for you!

  3. brian from on Tue, 15th Sep 2009 3:59 pm 

    Asia is actually very easy for a woman, as Sherry can attest to. And please don’t buy into the misconceptions about Africa. The people in the many countries that make up the continent are as warm and welcoming as anywhere else. If you’re still concerned you can always do group tours to Thailand or Kenya, as examples.

    If you’re concerned about hostels, you can get a private room or get an all female dorm room. Hostels are GREAT for meeting new people and getting ideas on places to go and things to do. You can be in hotel for two weeks and not meet anyone. In a hostel, you will make new friends in a day.

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  5. Manali + Terry on Wed, 16th Sep 2009 12:12 pm 

    Awesome information! My husband and I are 10 days into our year long RTW trip and are loving it so far! We’ve put together a per day budget and once it’s down on paper, it seems so much more attainable, especially when SE Asia extremely inexpensive lodging counter balances out with Europe!

  6. Rhona on Thu, 17th Sep 2009 9:38 pm 

    Excellent post Brian and Sherry. I love your motto of, if they can do it, so can I! You are so right.
    I have never been to Asia or Africa but am
    not afraid to venture into either but I think I would do a small group tour as I feel things might be a bit too overwhelming for me. Or at least travel with someone else. But who knows, I might enter all alone and love it. Thanks again for sharing Brian.

  7. Dave on Fri, 18th Sep 2009 10:03 am 

    Great article – I always enjoy getting to know the back stories of fellow RTW travelers.

  8. brian from on Fri, 18th Sep 2009 12:40 pm 

    @Manali + Terry
    It really is attainable. A year long trip together is really great. Enjoy!

    Whether by yourself or a group don’t ignore Africa and Asia. Other single women have done it before you, you can too.

    Thanks Dave. Everyone has some interesting story on how they got started, don’t they? Half the fun of traveling is hearing all of them.

  9. Cody McKibben on Tue, 22nd Sep 2009 4:46 pm 

    Thanks for sharing this insightful transition from corporate America to location independence! glad to hear your story, and maybe we’ll run into each other one day on the road! 🙂

  10. brian from on Mon, 23rd Nov 2009 3:16 pm 

    @Cody McKibben
    The world is such a large place, but it is also sooo small too. I could easily run into you. The world is funny like that…

  11. soultravelers3 on Sun, 20th Dec 2009 4:09 am 

    Loved hearing your story and enthusiasm! Yes indeed, if there is a will there is a way and extended travel IS much cheaper & easier than most people think!

    We have been traveling the world as a family, non-stop since 2006 and find we can travel in Europe on less than many do in Asia or South America. Hostels are not as cheap an option for families, but we really enjoyed the one we tried in Norway.

    We live large as we travel the world for much less than living at home (USA). I love how this “economy reset” is getting more people to explore extended travel.

    Thanks for giving great ideas on how to do it!

  12. brian | No Debt World Travel on Sun, 20th Dec 2009 2:38 pm 

    Absolutely more people are looking at extended travel. With location independence gaining steam and the Internet spreading news and knowledge to everyone, more people are looking to be like the three of you and stay on the road indefinitely.

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