Devon Costantine and Stephen Barna met five years ago through mutual friends, and now they’re more than halfway through a year of non-stop travel. They’ve road-tripped through New Zealand, journeyed across Oceania and Asia, wandered through Europe, and circled back to explore the East Coast of the United States.
Their around-the-world adventure doesn’t seem to have an end date in sight, and both Devon and Stephen agree that they can’t see their travels ever really stopping — they’ll always be buying a ticket to somewhere.
This week, we caught up with them to chat about their long-term travel experiences and what they’ve learned along the way.
When did the idea of taking an around-the-world trip first come to you?
Stephen: I’ve always loved traveling, so it was something I knew I wanted to do for a long time. About a year ago, I took a leave of absence from medical school, and we decided to take a trip to New Zealand. What started off as a month-long road trip turned into a trip around the world.
Devon: Growing up, I read constantly, and dreamed of seeing the faraway places I was reading about. Then in college, when I was considering applying to graduate school, my writing professor urged me to get “life experiences” first. So when Stephen approached me with the idea to take off and see the world, I didn’t hesitate.
Were you both on the same page?
Stephen: Yes, it wasn’t too hard to convince Devon to quit her job.
Devon: I think we make a good travel team because anytime one of us mentions something they want to do, the other is ready to go. I think it helps that we both want to go almost everywhere and experience everything.
Had you done a lot of traveling before?
Stephen: My parents always wanted me to experience new places, so I did a lot of traveling from a young age. I’ve been to nearly every state, and when I was in high school, I spent three weeks traveling in South America. Then Devon and I backpacked across Europe for a month during college.
Devon: I’d done a fair amount of traveling, too. My first trip abroad was to Beijing when I was 15, and I fell in love with the feeling of culture shock. After that, I visited Greece and Turkey while still in high school, and dreamed of backpacking across Europe during college, which Stephen and I did together during our senior year.
What were your first steps in planning the trip?
Stephen: New Zealand had always been at the top of my list, so I knew I wanted to start there. Devon and I looked for the cheapest flight date, booked it, and spent the next few weeks researching and making plans.
Devon: Before that though, our first steps revolved around getting ready to leave. I quit my job, we broke our apartment lease, and sold almost everything we owned while trying to shop and pack for our travels at the same time.
Are you “planning people,” or do you typically just wing it while traveling? Has this changed at all?
Stephen: I wouldn’t call myself a “planning” person, but it has gotten to the point where it’ll occasionally be 5 p.m. and we still don’t know where we’re staying that night. I don’t like that though; I prefer to have a rough itinerary a week out.
Devon: We’ve kept our travels flexible, with usually only the next few days planned out, and a general idea of where we’d like to go next as we make our way across the globe. I love to plan though, and it’s been a fun part of the process for me. Every few days, we find a coffee shop and try to figure out our next move. There’s no way to plan long-term travel all at once, and I wouldn’t want to, because it has allowed us to explore places we’d never thought to otherwise — like when we met a guy hiking on a mountain in New Zealand and booked a flight to Bali based on what he told us. That was a destination we hadn’t originally considered, but we loved it.
How soon after you decided to take a year-long trip did you actually leave?
Stephen: Once we came up with the idea, we immediately got things going. We bought the plane ticket with about a month to plan before we were set to fly out.
Devon: That was hectic, but I was also glad for it. People sometimes think they need to have everything figured out before they embark on a long trip, which can be daunting. But planning as you go is half the fun.
Did you both quit your jobs?
Devon: Stephen was in school, so I was the only one who had to deal with quitting my job. I’ve often been asked if it was hard, and it was, because I really liked my boss. The fact that I was quitting to travel made it easier though, because I didn’t have to say that I was leaving for another organization, just for the chance to take this trip.
Did you put a time limit on how long this trip was going to be? How long have you been traveling now?
Stephen: Yes and no. When we first started off, we left without an end date in mind, and as we got further into our trip, we came up with the goal of making it at least a year.
Devon: Now we’ve been traveling for about 10 months, since the end of December 2016. We started our trip by ringing in the New Year in California, and have now circled the globe and returned to the States, where we’re road-tripping up the East Coast.
Can you give us a rough breakdown of your trip so far?
Stephen: We started in New Zealand, then hopped over to Australia before traveling to Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and mainland China. After that, we flew over to Europe and road-tripped across Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. Now, we’re back in the States.
Are you still planning where to go next, or is your route set in stone?
Devon: I’d say it’s pretty up in the air. Now that we’re back in the States, we’re getting to explore parts we had never been to before (I’ve really enjoyed experiencing autumn in New England, after growing up in Florida where the leaves don’t change colors). But I think both of us are still looking at each other, wondering where to next?
How much research do you typically do about the places you visit?
Devon: We do a lot of research and planning as we go. A trip is often inspired by something small, and long-term travel is no different. We might see a photo on Instagram or pick out a country or city on the bucket list that we keep in the back of our minds, and start researching. That can take a lot of time — figuring out where to go and stay. One of the best parts of long-term travel is that you become less picky about your destinations because you have time to visit more places, so you get to make plans on a whim and explore areas you never considered before and they often become your favorite.
How long do you spend in each location, and what kinds of things do you do there?
Devon: It depends. We’ll stay in the same place for anywhere from a night to a few weeks, but we’ve spent up to a month in countries like New Zealand, Croatia, and Italy. We like finding beautiful areas to explore; whether it be a city center or up in the mountains, our favorite thing to do is wake up early enough to wander around at sunrise and take photos. We’ll often get up at 4 a.m. to photograph a new place, and then find a table outside a coffee shop where we can drink a cappuccino and watch the city come to life.
How did you plan your budget for the trip and how are you sustaining yourselves on the road?
Stephen: We tried to make sure that we kept our budget under $100 a day between the both of us. Before we left, we had saved up money, sold most of what we owned, and opened a travel credit card. In Western Europe, we often exceed it, but in Asia, we are able to keep it under $50 a day. I’ve learned that your budget really depends on what country you’re in.
Devon: Travel means constantly spending money, so it’s been an interesting challenge. We’ve both started doing freelance work since we left, and that’s helped keep us going.
What have some of the challenges of your trip been?
Stephen: Honestly, sometimes feeling worn out. We almost never stay in the same place for more than a few nights. It’s also been a challenge to work out and stay healthy.
Devon: We’ve been pretty lucky, though, in that we haven’t had any major challenges outside of the normal ones you’d expect. Even things I thought would be more difficult — like the language barrier, driving in a foreign country, or living out of one bag have actually been pretty easy. I think I could travel for a long time and not get tired of it.
Have there been any unexpected benefits?
Stephen: Yes, I am the master at driving a stick shift now.
What are some of the things you’ve learned about traveling (and yourselves) because of this trip?
Devon: Travel has inspired me to reconnect with my writing. It’s allowed us to explore new things outside of our day-to-day routine, which has helped me grow more than I expected. Plus, I consider the ability to live out of a backpack for months on end the ultimate life lesson.
Was there anything you had to adjust to in terms of the lifestyle or mentality associated with long-term travel?
Stephen: Just small things: I had never given myself a haircut before traveling, but since I wasn’t going to risk accidentally getting my head shaved because of mistranslation, I had to convince Devon to help me cut my hair.
Devon: I think the main thing I’ll have trouble adjusting to will be whenever we stop traveling full-time. I’ve loved every moment of our adventure, even the stressful ones like when we found out all trains to Beijing were fully booked and we were stranded in Shanghai, or when Stephen almost fell off a mountain in Croatia.
Did you have a strong online presence before you left? How has that changed throughout this process?
Stephen: No, but social media has been an amazing tool to help me connect with other travelers and discover new places to go. I only had about 100 followers on Instagram and I rarely posted before starting this trip. Now I have 15,000 followers, along with a growing Facebook page — it’s been cool to share my experiences with others who are interested in seeing the world.
Devon: Mine has definitely grown since we left, too. I started with all my profiles set to private, but now I enjoy sharing my photos and stories with anyone interested in travel. I also started a travel blog, which was something I hadn’t done before.
How is traveling for a few weeks different than traveling for a few months?
Devon: When you go on shorter trips, they’re all about trying to fit everything in. I love that when traveling for months on end, travel itself becomes your routine. Your life begins to revolve around waking up in a new place and walking along unfamiliar streets a world away from your own. Home loses its meaning a little. It’s not a place that you’re trying to get back to; it’s wherever you are.
What are some of the rituals you use to make your life feel “normal” while you’re on the road?
Stephen: I always FaceTime my parents and try to keep in close contact with my friends back home. We also occasionally watch shows on Netflix, which makes us feel less out of touch.
Devon: This might sound silly, but I always travel with Earl Grey tea in my bag. It started as a way to save money, but it’s also nice to begin my morning with something I know I love. That definitely makes me feel at home.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about or planning a trip like this?
Stephen: Remember that life will still be there when you get home. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that have the mindset that you lose everything you ever worked toward when you take off to travel long-term. That’s not the case, and don’t let anyone tell you it is. My advice is to not look at it as if you’re leaving your life behind, but simply finding another, better part of it.
Devon: If even a small part of you is thinking about long-term travel, I’d tell you to go for it. It’s the most exciting, inspiring, crazy, amazing thing I’ve done. Most of the time it’s money that’s holding you back, but there are ways to make it more affordable. Travel during the shoulder season, cook your own meals, pack only what you can fit in a carry on, and just go.