Many times throughout the history of humanity, the darkest hours were followed by triumph and rebuilding.

Traveling during an economic downturn is easier and more common than you may think.

If you were planning to quit your job to travel or start a new life as a location-independent freelancer, don’t give up on the dream just yet!

Lessons From the Great Recession

In 2008 and 2009, I was traveling during the economic downturn later dubbed “The Great Recession.” As a vagabonding traveler, it affected me very little. I kept doing what I had been doing all along: living and writing.

I continued to move around in beautiful places. My daily life didn’t change much at all. Only the headlines and negative chatter on social media served as reminders of the bad economy.

But because it was unprecedented in my experience up until then, I actually bought into what the naysayers and doom-spreaders were saying. The general sentiment was that you should “dig in” and cling onto stability. Having a job, even if it was one that you hated, was better than the alternative.

I began to worry a bit, not only for the financial well-being of friends and family, but also the travel industry as a whole. My websites such as vagabondinglife.com and startbackpacking.com were all about quitting a corporate job to go travel the world. If money was even scarcer than usual, surely people wouldn’t be traveling much, right?

Wrong.

People Travel During Recessions

As I was living and traveling in Southeast Asia those years, what I saw was actually the opposite. Counterintuitively, the number of long-term travelers and Rat Race escapees surged.

Many middle-class people had been made redundant (aka “laid off”) by big companies. These new travelers assumed jobs were scarce, so they headed out to do what they had wanted to do for a long time anyway. Many told me they put resumes in everywhere they could then began the waiting game.

But while waiting to hear back from companies, they figured they could live cheaper in Thailand than in Europe or the United States. Graduating students were in the same holding pattern. With hiring freezes in place at many companies, students figured this was a chance to take a gap year and travel the world.

The stock market had indeed taken a nasty hit, but not many “regular” people make their living from the stock market. Even the stock traders know well how volatility can be profitable — bargains can be found. Nothing is more annoying to a trader than a stock that only moves flatly sideways.

Retirees were perhaps in the worst position — many had to postpone retiring a few more years (maybe one more good argument for not waiting until your 60s to enjoy whatever makes you happy).

How Much Does the Economy Affect Travel?

The stock market doesn’t affect your ability to live an extraordinary life.

All said and done, the 2009 dip in the market certainly affected retirees and CEOs or other wealthy individuals who depend on share prices as part of their net worth.

Even still, these 1 percenters weren’t exactly going hungry.

The economic “pain” was rolled downhill in the form of cost-cutting measures. Middle-class employees took the brunt. The remaining employees who weren’t cut then often end up performing the duties of two employees.

In the end, the economy, and subsequently the stock market, oscillate — that’s just the nature of this strange animal we created to worship.

There will probably be many more wild swings, bear markets, and a few “crashes” within your lifetime. Even when the bull market was setting one record high after another, the COVID-19 pandemic immediately, within one month, put many millions of people on the ropes financially.

A large number of people and small-business owners are unfortunately living month to month, no matter how high the indexes reach.

The Stock Market

The stock market is based on human emotion and perception. It is subjective. Don’t believe the myth that a company’s stock price is a reliable indication of its profitability or well-being.

For instance, each time word of Steve Jobs’ declining health was leaked to the public, Apple stock took a hit. Sales were still superb, but the stock price fell.

As a leader in its sector, this drag on Apple caused a ripple effect throughout tech stocks, and therefore the entire market. The directors at Apple even began misleading the public about Steve Jobs’ condition; every time his health slipped a bit more, they lost a lot of money because their shares declined.

A company can have an astronomical stock price despite never having earned a profit. A stock’s value is based on the public’s perception.

Corporate America cubicles

Corporate America

While I was working at IBM, the stock price kept hitting new highs. The directors received bonuses; meanwhile, guys such as myself were asked to buy our own educational books and business cards. The company wouldn’t, citing belt tightening due to the 2000 “dot-com crash” as the reason. Cost-of-living raises and many other benefits were also eliminated.

Meanwhile, my workload doubled. IBM was selling off divisions (printing, PCs, storage, and networking) while outsourcing as much as possible to India for cash. Investors only seemed to pay attention to the stock price.

This disgusting behavior is what finally made me decide to escape from Corporate America for good in December 2005.

Stock Prices Don’t Matter

Sure, having a number to quantify how well things are going financially would be convenient, but the market is no indication of daily money concerns for people stuck in the Rat Race.

Don’t base your decision to travel, live abroad, or pursue happiness on the fears of millionaires and billionaires. You’ll be fine, and they most certainly will be, too.

The stock market doesn’t affect your ability to live an extraordinary life. Downturns could potentially affect your retirement accounts but only in a negative way if you’re about to retire.

This is my perspective:

  1. I’m enjoying the things I would do during retirement right now. If I make it to that age, bonus!
  2. With dollar-cost averaging (something smart long-term investors do anyway instead of trying to time market swings), economic downturns work in your favor. You’re getting a discount on stocks that will rise again later. Although there are always economic fluctuations, the overall trend of the market is upward.

Of course I hope the market and economy thrive and we live in abundance happily ever after. But I would never let an economic downturn deter me from traveling or pursuing happiness.

The connection between our well-being and what goes on with the stock market is thinner than we are made to think.

Traveling During an Economic Downturn

People who design a location-independent lifestyle for themselves get to decide where “home” actually is.

Journal on a table for remote work
Southeast Asia is one of my favorite places for remote work anywhere in the world.

The idea seems mad—walking away from a corporate job, or any job, while the economy creaks and groans in warning. As the ripples of COVID-19 continue to affect us for months and maybe years to come, isn’t any fragile grasp on stability to be cherished?

There is an easy answer: not if it doesn’t make you happy.

While spending part of 2019 in Bali, I noticed one new trend: There were more people living on the island while still maintaining remote jobs for regular companies.

The idea that to travel indefinitely you need to be a self-employed entrepreneur (e.g., a blogger or influencer) is a myth.

Remote Work Opportunities

Work-from-home and remote work opportunities have skyrocketed due to the effects of the pandemic. People who design a location-independent lifestyle for themselves get to decide where “home” actually is.

Last year, I had a first date warn me ahead of time she would need to go to work at 9 p.m. At first I thought maybe it was just a setup for an escape hatch in case we didn’t click—after all, it was a first date.

But it turns out, she was indeed working for an office that opened at 9 a.m. EST. We were 12 hours ahead in Indonesia. Despite the inconvenient hours, she was quite content to still earn a New Yorker’s salary while enjoying life in a tropical place. The tuna-avocado poke bowls we enjoyed on the date cost $4 each instead of $20 as they would in NYC!

If your plan before the economic downturn was to escape the Rat Race to travel, don’t wait for “better times” to make that happen.

The right time may never come. You should, of course, wait to travel until it’s safe and legal to do so, but now is as good a time as any to get ready for your escape.

Travel and the Economic Downturn

One thing I can say with certainty is that a recession or economic downturn won’t be the end of traveling and living abroad. Bali and other beautiful islands aren’t going to sink into the sea. They’ll still need tourism just as airlines will still need passengers.

If anything, the “digital nomad” and remote work movement will get its biggest boost ever as companies embrace remote work more than before. The technology and bandwidth are there.

Employees and companies have been forced to adapt and learn. Many positions have already been made into remote work roles. By doing so, companies can recruit from a much larger pool of talent.

Many times throughout the history of humanity, a darkest hour was followed by triumph and rebuilding. Us humans are pretty good at adapting and overcoming. I know we will this time, too.

Escape.

Greg Rodgers Greg Rodgers is a corporate escapee, budget traveler, and location-independent writer. He created Science of Escape to help others also enjoy a thrilling life of travel.