Hi! My name is Lauren and I’ve been travelling the world for five years and counting.
Here’s where you can find out more about me and my travels
Battling a Travel Addiction From an Early Age
For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with the idea of travel. I was always that person who was forever daydreaming of foreign lands and unfamiliar cultures; coming up with travel itineraries that would challenge my perceptions and help me gain a deeper understanding of the world. During every spare moment, you’d find me browsing guidebooks and researching faraway lands. I was convinced I’d never have the opportunity to visit them.
When I was five years old, my parents had to drag me home from yet another miserable English vacation where it rained non-stop and we did nothing but argue. Our week away had sucked and yet, I would have done anything to stay. I was always happiest whenever I was exploring somewhere new.
Over the next twenty years, I’d spend each year counting down to my next holiday and then as soon as I arrived, dread returning home.
In 2006, I made a huge decision.
I started putting together a tentative plan that would allow me to build a life I didn’t want to escape from. I knew that being away from home was something that made me happy, I just didn’t know how to do it more than once a year. It didn’t seem possible. I had no travel experience: I had never been away from home on my own, and never had a holiday that lasted for more than two weeks. And anyway, wasn’t travel crazy-expensive?
Studying, Working, Studying, Working
I didn’t have a huge amount of money or savings when I decided I wanted to see the world — there are no rich relatives funding my adventures. Instead, for the next five years, I made travel my priority. Whenever I wanted to buy something new, I’d equate every $30 to an extra day I could spend exploring Southeast Asia, and then suddenly, I didn’t want that new jacket or lipstick so much anymore.
My first step was to increase my savings so that I could dedicate at least a year to travel. I crossed this off the list by working various crappy retail jobs, earning $8 an hour, while studying full-time at university. I sold anything I owned that I didn’t have a sentimental attachment to. I didn’t eat out at mealtimes and I didn’t buy anything I didn’t need. I even moved in with my parents after the end of a long-term relationship!
By staying focused on this goal, I was able to save £15,000 ($24,000) over those five years, and I estimated this would be enough to keep me on the road for a year or two.
But, um, what if two years wouldn’t be enough?
Before leaving, I began to invest my time in building a framework that would allow me to be location independent — I was desperate to find something that would allow me to work from anywhere that had an Internet connection.
And I have to confess: I thought I was wasting my time. I didn’t know anybody who worked online and never really thought it was a possibility.
At the time, I was studying for a Masters in Physics — a subject I adored, but a subject that doesn’t lend itself to a career online. While studying, I came up with a list of my interests and skills and began researching if there was a way to do any of these from anywhere. If I was passionate about it, if I could make money from it, and if I could do it online, then it was something worth pursuing.
I slowly built up a writing portfolio that would help me find freelance writing and editing jobs. I researched english and physics tutoring online (but nobody hired me, ha), and built terrible websites sites to bring in income via affiliate sales and advertising (they didn’t). I taught myself graphic design and computer programming (and sucked at both).
The majority of these failed horribly, often making me several dollars after months of hard work, but I didn’t give up.
The work I do has fluctuated over the years and it’s still evolving now — from having an income solely from placing adverts all over Never Ending Footsteps to backing away from the advertising and focusing freelance writing. Then moving away from freelance writing to create a passive income. Diversification is key when you work online, so you have to be cool with change.
In 2016, I fund my travels through a combination of several different things:
Freelance writing: I’m the Student Travel Expert for About.com and a senior writer for travel technology site, Too Many Adapters.
Book royalties: I gained a publishing deal through this blog[!] and earn royalties from the sales of How Not to Travel the World.
Advertising: You’ll see ads scattered throughout this website and in the sidebar.
Affiliate sales: The majority of my income comes from affiliate sales on Never Ending Footsteps — if I recommend a hostel, or a book, or a backpack, or a travel insurance company and you decide to purchase it through one of the links on my website, I earn a small percentage of that sale at no extra cost to you. I love this way of monetising Never Ending Footsteps because it means I can keep the advertising off of the site, I don’t have to resort to taking freebies, and I can remain fully independent.
The one thing I’ll never do to fund my travels? Any kind of sponsored travel. I don’t take press trips, I don’t have my accommodation or activities covered, and I don’t even accept free products for review. I want to show you how achievable travel is and I can’t do that if I’m getting everything for free.
To reach this point — where I can cover my expenses and travel full-time — took many, many years of hard work and lots of trial and error. I made hundreds of mistakes, wasted energy, and squandered time — all so that I could spend the first few years of my trip spending more time staring at a laptop than lying on a beach.
Preparing to Leave and Conquering Anxiety
Let’s get back to the story.
I was about six months away from leaving when I hit a wall.
With everything set in place, I finally felt able to follow my dreams. I just had one very big problem.
Guys, I suffer from an debilitating anxiety disorder.
I had my first panic attack at age sixteen. I didn’t know what was happening, but I was convinced I was dying.
From that moment on, it’s always been lingering in the shadows. At age eighteen, it tightened its grip on me and I fell spiralling out of control. I had panic attacks multiple times a day, every single day. I developed agoraphobia and found myself unable to step outside for months at a time. Next, came the social anxiety, the hypochondria, and an eating disorder.
In the space of a year, I lost my job, my boyfriend, my friends, and my perfect grades at school. I ate nothing more than a single apple and pear for many, many months in a desperate attempt to gain control. I watched helplessly as my weight plummeted.
My life was a mess and I didn’t know how to get back on track.
Conquering that particular bout of anxiety is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I refused to see a doctor or a therapist, not wanting to be placed on medication in case it altered my personality and stopped me from being me. Instead, I spent every waking minute researching mental tricks and calming exercises, taking care to reward myself and celebrate with every small step I made. On my first day I ate a single french fry, on the second day I ate two. Baby steps, right?
But it worked. I slowly built up a healthy relationship with food, learnt coping mechanisms, and forced myself to do one thing that scared me every month.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I want you to know that if you suffer from anxiety, you can travel the world. If I can do it, anyone can, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
When I left, I was terrified that constantly stepping out of my comfort zone while travelling would send me spiralling out of control again. I didn’t know if I’d be able to cope in a foreign country, not knowing a single person. There would be no safety net. There’d be nobody to look after me but myself. This could be the biggest mistake of my life.
Travelling calms me in a way that I’ve never experienced back home. I didn’t have a single panic attack in my first year of travel. I rarely get them now. To my great surprise, it was forcing myself out of my comfort zone — the thing I feared most — that helped me conquer my anxiety. It showed me that I was stronger and more capable than I ever imagined. It showed me that nothing is bad as you think it’s going to be.
Travel truly did change my life.
Leaving England on a One-Way Ticket
After years of saving and months of planning, on the 17th July 2011, I broke down in tears as I said goodbye to my family, knowing I wouldn’t see them for at least a year. My dad drove me to the airport and I almost missed my flight.
Then, I took a deep breath, stepped on the plane, and flew to my first destination: Dubrovnik, in Croatia. I stayed in the first hostel of my entire life and was kept awake by people snoring. I made friends and took day trips and realised that travel wasn’t so hard after all.
I had my first six weeks of travel booked solid in an attempt to give myself one less thing to worry about but soon worked out I functioned best without plans and didn’t make that mistake again.
When leaving England, I told friends and family that I was planning for a one year trip around the world. I didn’t know if I would even like travelling long-term, and I was afraid I setting myself up for failure.
Unsurprisingly, I fell hard for travel as I always expected I would. Within a few months, I knew that a year would never be enough.
Over the past five years, I’ve visited over sixty countries across five continents, spending the majority of my time in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the United States and Mexico.
The Evolution of my Travel Style
The way in which I travel has evolved a lot over the past five years. Whereas I used to always choose the cheapest dorm bed in any city, regardless of the ratings, I now avoid dorm rooms in favour of a good night’s sleep.
After five years of travel, I still carry a backpack and I still consider myself a budget traveller, I just value my sleep more than saving a few dollars. I now opt to stay in guesthouses, private rooms in hostels or apartments on Airbnb.
The speed in which I travel has slowed down too. I used to race through countries, visiting a couple of cities over the space of a few days and then move on. I couldn’t keep up this pace forever and travel burnout took hold quickly. I now choose to base myself in places for at least a month — both so that I can get to know the place better, and so I have time to cram all my work in.
I travel with my boyfriend most of the time. However, because we both begun our travels alone we recognise the benefits of solo travel. Several times a year, we’ll head off to different countries and spend a few weeks meeting new people and getting out of our cosy couple bubble.
I’m an independent traveller and I’ll almost always opt to explore somewhere myself over taking a tour. As of 2013, I no longer accept comped activities or press trips in exchange for a review. I pay for all my travels myself, every single aspect, so there’s never any confusion as to whether my opinion has been influenced. If I can’t afford to do something, I’ll either work my ass off until I can, or not do it at all. I want to show you that travel is affordable, and I can’t do that if someone else is paying for it.
This Lifestyle Isn’t Perfect
The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. I miss my family so freaking much. My life is full of goodbyes and I crave a constant set of friends. It’s hard to exercise and stay in shape when you’re constantly eating out for meals. I work just as much as I would in a full-time job — I just get to do it from anywhere in the world.
The freedom makes up for the downsides.
How to Get in Touch
I’d love to hear from you.
The best way to get in touch with me is by e-mail. Feel free to drop me a mail through my contact form — I reply to every e-mail I receive.