When you’re on your honeymoon, you sometimes wish it could last forever.
Unfortunately, honeymoons eventually end—for most couples, anyway.
That’s not exactly true for Mike and Anne Howard. On Jan. 22, 2012, the couple left their New York home for their honeymoon. Their plan was fairly bold: They’d travel to as many countries as they could, limiting their budget wherever possible.
They’re still traveling. Over the last six years, they’ve become National Geographic co-authors (check out their first book, Ultimate Journeys for Two, here), started a travel blog, visited all seven continents, volunteered in tribal villages, and launched their own travel workshop service.
We spoke with Mike and Anne to find out how they manage the financial (and personal) challenges of living a life on the road.
[Editorial note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
HEALTHYWAY: So, you guys have been traveling nonstop since 2012, is that roughly accurate?
ANNE HOWARD: That is accurate, yes.
We just decided—life is short, and the world is big. For our honeymoon, we planned a year-long journey around the world. We just haven’t come home yet. We realized that there was a lot more to see, so we just pressed on.
Recently, we bought this little funky RV, and we’re now exploring North America.
That’s awesome. Had either of you traveled extensively prior to that?
MIKE HOWARD: Sort of. We knew we had a sense of adventure. We were living in New York and used whatever vacation days we had to go on international trips or take road trips, but that was nothing like this. This is on a different scale—it’s really nomadic living.
And you got the inspiration from a friend of yours, is that correct?
M: Yes, that’s right.
A: Mike was actually at an Oktoberfest for a friend’s bachelor party. He met his buddy who’d just went around the world with his girlfriend for under $100 a day. We said, “Wait a minute, that’s basically the same as our rent, and we’re not even eating out or doing anything fun at all.”
That was a benchmark that we thought we could achieve.
Setting benchmarks seems pretty crucial for this sort of thing.
A: Yeah, I mean it was really helpful to have that encounter. Honestly, our life was good when we were in New York. We had good jobs, we’d just bought a house, we were about to get married. There was no reason for us to just sort of drop everything.
I think a lot of people decide on around-the-world journeys because they think, “Well, I’ve hit a rut in life, and I just had to get perspective.” That wasn’t us.
M: Our lives were good, but we also knew that’s just one view of the world. There’s so much more to explore and experience, so we decided that we valued travel that much. We said, “Hey, we’re going to prioritize this, because you can get hit by a bus tomorrow.”
A: You know, you could wait until you’re 65 and your knees are creaky, but then you can’t hike that mountain you wanted to hike. We just thought, “No messing around. Let’s do this. Let’s start saving.”
I think most people think that you’d have to be rich to do something like this.
M: Yes, it’s good to have those numbers be tangible, because we’re not millionaires. You could—if you start saving, it’s basically cutting out your Starbucks coffee and not going out every night of the week. You could make some simple changes and start a travel fund.
So we suggest that to everybody. If you do want to travel, quit talking about it and start making plans. Make yourself a travel fund. Set aside 5 percent of your paycheck every month towards travel. It is very achievable at every level.
A: We’ve now been traveling for six years, and our budget keeps going down. And we’re getting better at travel hacking—from frequent flyer miles to using home-sharing services, travel is crazy affordable. It’s way cheaper than going home, in fact.
What’s your travel budget around these days?
M: We don’t measure it on a daily basis, but we did an audit in 2016. I should note, we’ve had a lot of different travel styles—the first two years was just straight backpacking. We did 33 countries from 2012 to 2013.
A: And that speed can be expensive. We traveled really fast and went a lot of places, which increases your budget.
M: So our budget in the first two years was $74 for the two of us per day. That was all in—flights, hotels, visas, food, everything. From 2015 to 2016, we did a lot of house sitting. We averaged 10 countries per year, for those two years, so we went a little bit slower. Basically, we visited 20 countries over those two years.
House sitting helped bring our costs down a lot and gave us more immersive experiences, and our budget went down. And flights—like Anne said, we do almost every long-haul flight on [frequent flyer] miles for the entire trip. I don’t think we’ve paid for any flights, so that helps.
Last we checked, the budget was under $25 for the two of us, all-in, per day.
Whoa. Are you traveling comfortably for that kind of money?
A: Yeah, we know, it sounds really scary. We throw out those numbers, and people say, “Are you living under a bridge? Are you watching paint dry for fun?”
But no, we’ve had some really epic experiences. We took care of a beach house with two infinity pools overlooking the Pacific Ocean while in Costa Rica. That cost us nothing. We had a cat that we fed twice a day, but that was pretty much our only job!
M: We took care of a farm in Portugal. That was actually a phenomenal experience, to take care of a farm at the height of harvest. And you have neighbors, so you’re bartering potatoes for tomatoes and breaking bread together. It was a kind of thing that you couldn’t actually pay for. We did it for free, but it was invaluable.
A: That’s the thing with travel. Traveling inexpensively doesn’t mean you’re skimping on experiences. It’s actually shown us how to become a little more nimble and resourceful, realizing that the more creative you are with the ways you travel, the more rewarding it is.
I love that outlook. It’s really about these organic experiences. Is that something that kind of developed as you were traveling, or did you hit the road with that in mind?
A: I’d love to say that we were that wise going into this, but no. We had our bucket list. We wanted to hike Machu Picchu and scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. But it was really about the people we met along the way and the unforeseen events—the serendipitous moments. That’s the magic of travel.
Taking the photos, that’s not what leaves you fulfilled. It’s really getting to know the people. The people are what make every place unique.
M: What stands out are the moments.
A: We’re in the bayou right now in Louisiana. We went to this Cajun dance hall that’s been around forever, and they’re famous for their live music.
Well, you know what? When we were there, there was no live music that night, but instead, we wound up hanging out with the family that owns the hall. They kept the place open until midnight, just chatting with us. We learned their life story, and they were showing us these family photographs and instruments—let me tell you, we had a more intimate experience than anyone who’s ever seen them play as a band.
You can’t plan everything, and that’s a good thing.
Do you have any other examples of when things have gone wrong?
A: Oh, plenty.
M: The one in Jordan…
A: That was more of a risk, but yeah.
The buses had stopped running. Buses don’t run on a normal schedule on Saturdays in Muslim countries, and we were trying to get from Petra to Ammon. It was my birthday, and Mike had organized a nice hotel—normally, we don’t splurge on something like that.
Oh, and we were leaving the next morning, so things kind of needed to run on schedule. With no bus, we decided we could take a really expensive cab, but that didn’t seem like a great option, so we decided to just ask around.
We see this bus that is full of Jordanian women, so we ask the driver, “Are you heading to Ammon?” And he says, “Well, eventually. Let me ask the girls—we can give you a ride to Ammon, but we might make a stop on the way.”
M: Turns out they’re going to a wild dance party in the middle of Wadi Rum desert, two hours in the opposite direction.
We get on the bus, and they greet us with tea and sandwiches, then they cranked up the music. It was a full-blown dance party that they’re throwing on our behalf, just because they wanted to welcome us and share this experience with us.
So we didn’t get to the fancy hotel. We didn’t make it home at a reasonable hour. But let me tell you, that couldn’t have worked out better. It’s all about traveling with an open mind, a warm heart, and letting things unfold.
And I imagine that kind of helps to keep the stress levels low. I’m sure you get asked about that a lot, but—well, being in close quarters with another person for so long, that has to be stressful.
A: Oh, for sure. It all looks so glamorous on Instagram, but that’s not real life. We are living on the road. We didn’t know where we were sleeping or what we were eating. Your basics of survival are kind of in question every day when you travel. You don’t know where you’re going to sleep, what you’re going to eat, or how you’re going to get from point A to point B.
You’re reinventing all the time, and yes, that can be stressful. There have been some low moments, but the high moments are over the moon.
Like Mike always says, we think of this in terms of chapters. Right now, we’re in this RV chapter—we’ve got this 33-year-old Toyota Sunrader without power steering. It’s got a four-cylinder engine. It’s nothing glamorous, but then again, we didn’t have a closet for five years.
M: We didn’t have our own kitchen, our own bathroom, our own bed. Those things were always changing, so this level of consistency has been really refreshing.
We have this adventure-mobile, and we do all these crazy things, but at least the main piece is consistent. It’s our bed. It’s our kitchen, even if it’s not fancy. If you’re nimble and you change how you think about things, the stress of traveling is absolutely manageable.
Do you think that you’ll ever find yourself living in a normal house again? Is that on the horizon, or is that not even something you’re thinking about?
A: It’s nothing we’re thinking about in the near future. We stopped planning at a certain point, and we just let things happen.
And it’s working for now—like they say, don’t fix it if it’s not broken.