“Home is where I roam.”
Michelle Halpern, better known by her Instagram handle @livelikeitsthewknd, has been traveling around the world for over a year. She felt stuck in her corporate job in Los Angeles and decided to make a change. We talked with her about what it was like to plan her trip, what she’s learned, and if she ever plans to stop traveling.
When did the idea for a longer, around-the-world trip come to you?
It was about a year and a half before I actually left, around three years ago. I had been living in LA for three years and was working the same job — I loved my job but it was very corporate. I had a 45-minute commute each way, was sitting at a desk all day, and I realized that it just was never going to make me happy. There wasn’t one moment per say, but I was sick of opening up my Instagram and seeing these gorgeous travel photos posted constantly and thinking to myself, ‘I’ll never see all these amazing places myself with only two weeks of vacation a year.’ So I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Had you done a lot of traveling before?
I traveled a decent amount as a kid; my parents took me on vacations to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, places like that. And I had been on a recent trip to Thailand with a group of friends. But I hadn’t done any solo travel before, and I hadn’t done any extended travel either. Nothing more than a standard two week vacation.
Being in my early 20s, poor and living in New York City, I really couldn’t travel at all. I just didn’t have the money. So there was this long period of time in between graduating college and being in my late 20s when I didn’t get to travel anywhere. I definitely had the itch.
I think what finally lit a fire in me was a Birthright trip I did to Israel. That trip was really eye-opening and I got the travel bug again after that.
How long did it take you to convince yourself that long-term travel was a good idea? How did you present it to friends and family?
I always thought it was a good idea, but I had never done something like this before. Part of me really wanted to do it, but the other part wondered if I was actually going to follow through with it. I don’t think I trusted myself at that point to actually make it happen — it felt like a far-fetched dream. But with anything, as you get more comfortable with the idea, it becomes more normal — just part of your everyday psyche.
It took months and months of research — reading blog posts, pulling together bits and pieces of information from all over the web — so I felt prepared. If you’ve never done something like this before, it helps to over-prepare.
I told my friends pretty early on … and I think they were all surprised that I actually did it. But my parents were super supportive and it helped that they weren’t fighting me the whole way. They were totally on board.
How long did you plan to travel?
I originally wanted to do a year. That was the goal I had in terms of saving up money, planning where I wanted to go, getting visas, packing. It’s very different than going on a two-week adventure. I did come back home twice though, and that allowed me to regroup and reassess the things I really needed with me.
How did you decide on what route you’d take?
Once you’re a traveler, you just want to go everywhere, so it’s difficult to make a list — but it was a mix between where I wanted to go and what actually made sense. I tried to keep it affordable and logical. I didn’t over-prepare in terms of my itinerary though, I wanted to keep things spur-of-the-moment and let everything unfold as I went along.
What were you worried about while you were planning?
I was mostly worried about safety. I was traveling as a solo female and didn’t want to get caught in any situation where I felt like my safety was at risk. But those kinds of things are avoidable if you’re smart about it. Running out of money was the second biggest fear.
How did you plan financially?
I saved up quite a bit before. And I had actually been freelancing as a digital marketing/social media consultant before I left (on top of my full-time job), so I was able to talk my client into letting me continue to work with her while I was on the road. Our relationship was very email and phone based, so it was nothing that, with a little extra effort on my part, we couldn’t figure out. So I made sure I had enough saved up, but also that I was making back a certain amount of money each month working with my client so I wasn’t completely depleting my savings.
While you were traveling, how long were you spending in each place and what kinds of things were you doing while you were there?
It really depended on the place. There were places I only stayed for five days like Hong Kong, Tokyo, or the Philippines. But then I spent a month in Mexico because I was working on a retreat; I spent a month and a half in Bali. Again, I think it was about me being spontaneous and not having a rigid schedule. I really tried to be open and let each place dictate my schedule — if I really loved it somewhere, why should I have to leave so soon?
Even though there were some places I stayed for less than a week, I usually have the mindset that staying in a place longer helps you get to know the culture and build a sense of community. That’s really helpful if you’re traveling alone for a while.
Was there anything unexpected about traveling for so long that presented itself as a challenge to you?
Packing, to be honest. I was hopping from places like Cuba and Honduras to Cusco, Peru, places of much different altitudes where I needed hats and gloves … and I just didn’t have room in my bag for any of that. But I figured it out — I had my mom ship something to a friend who was coming to meet me.
Sometimes it’s tedious to figure out, but for long term travelers I think it’s smart to do what I call, “chasing summer.” I chased summer everywhere I went because I couldn’t logistically fit bulky items in my bag. You also need a lot less clothing in warmer climates. At one point, I wanted to go to New Zealand, but it was too cold when I was going to be there and I couldn’t pack all the clothing I would’ve needed to keep me warm. It’s ideal to stick to one season, if you can.
Was there anything you had to adjust to in terms of the lifestyle or mentality of traveling for so long?
I think you get a lot less hung up on things getting ruined or destroyed. Back home, I had a favorite dress or a favorite pair of shoes and I used to get upset if something shrunk in the wash. But when you’re traveling for so long and you don’t have a lot of material things, you learn to become unattached. You realize that the incredible experiences you’re having are a much bigger factor in your happiness than any possessions you may own.
How did your online presence, Live Like It’s The Weekend, come about?
I knew I wanted to write about my experiences and share images along my travels. I went to journalism school, so I have a writing background, and I was always just interested in those creative outlets, and wanted to have a place to share it all. It was great to see the account keep growing as I traveled.
But it’s definitely difficult to keep up a blog regularly when you’re traveling 24/7. I completely underestimated how time consuming it would be.
At this point, do you have a home base? Or are you living on the road?
A little bit of both. I’m toying with the idea of having a home base and doing more mini-trips from that base. But I’m still undecided and on the road for right now.
How did you go from only planning to travel for one year to traveling nonstop?
Once you start traveling so much, you just realize how many more places there are to go. Now, having my blog and Instagram that are both growing and becoming this mini travel community, I’ve met so many other travel bloggers, writers, and photographers who are visiting incredible destinations that I’m dying to see… and the itch just doesn’t go away. Travel is something I love and I want it to be part of my life forever.
What kinds of things are you building into your travel to make sure that it’s a normal life, in a way?
That has a lot to do with staying places longer. In the beginning, I wasn’t allowing myself to relax. Every time I sat in a hotel room or hostel all day I would just think about all the things I wasn’t seeing or experiencing. But I quickly realized that I needed to allow myself to have those days of relaxation and doing nothing, otherwise I just can’t keep up. I think it’s healthy to give yourself down time to read a book and just hang out. I like to think of it as recharging, not resting, because that way I feel like I’m doing something productive.
What are the benefits of long-term travel?
There are so many. The main one, which is a benefit to any kind of travel, is that travel is going to widen your perspective. I think that’s something we need a lot more of in the world today — we need people to be more understanding of other cultures. At the end of the day, we all want the same things. We all want to feel love and acceptance, that we’re safe and have a home, a community. Travel makes you realize that everyone has the same needs and desires, regardless of religion, customs or laws. Travel creates a lot more empathy.
What are some of the difficulties to traveling solo? On the flip side, what are some of the benefits?
There are definitely pros and cons. I loved it in the beginning because I got to create my own schedule. For me, it was a lot easier to plan everything on my own. You’re able to go wherever you want, do whatever you want … and it’s also better to be alone to recharge. If you’re sharing a hotel with someone, you don’t get that same quality of downtime.
Now that I’m trying to do this more as a business, it’s difficult because I don’t have someone to help me with photography or someone to be my partner in crime in activities that are best done as a duo. I’ve tried to recruit more friends to go with me from time to time.
If someone is considering long-term travel, what advice would you give them?
Just go for it. You can always go back to your normal life. If it’s something you’re even considering, and you’ve been considering it for more than a month, it’s on your mind and you shouldn’t ignore it. Trust your gut. You’ll always regret not trying it. But if you take the plunge and it’s not for you, one stable job or another will always be waiting back home. It seems scary, but you can always figure it out. We’re a lot more resilient than we think.