After travelling half way around the world trying see everything, I realized it was a futile effort.
It wasn’t until I refocused my trip into a personalized journey that I was able to be happy.
I went from trying to explore an entire region to going on a quest.
Skill Focused Travel (SFT) is a concept I’ve coined here at TravelFinn.
It’s about turning your travels into a journey.
In SFT, that quest can be almost anything.
Learning to surf in South Africa.
Gaining fluency in Spanish in Argentina.
Becoming a spear fisher in Hawaii.
SFT can be conquered because it’s about personal growth. If you turn your travels into a quest for knowledge and ability, you can return from that trip saying you achieved something.
You’ll gain a sense of accomplishment while still getting to live in a new place and explore it.
Start By Picking Your Primary Activity
What you decide to do on your Skill Focused Travel adventure is a lot more important than where you’ll do it.
SFT is ultimately about personal accomplishments.
The external forces of being in a new place help focus that effort.
There’s no need to pick a new skill if you have one you want to improve upon.
That said, learning a new skill from scratch in a new place is a lot of fun.
I keep a running list of skills I want to learn through out my life.
Some I work on from home, but I’m always looking at my list and thinking where the most fun place would be to learn this.
If your list is a mile long, here are a few tips to whittle it down:
- Try to order your skill list from most interesting to least interesting
- If this your first SFT trip choose something with a high opportunity / risk
- (that is to say, your chance for success is greatly higher than your chance for failure to learn said skill)
- Are you on a time/$ budget? Look for skills that will be easy to progress through quickly.
Once you’ve chosen your activity, do a little research and set some criteria
Set a progression goal
Some skills can take a lifetime to perfect.
You might only have the time and interest to get to a certain level of proficiency.
Shredding monster waves like Kelly Slater sounds great, but the ability to ride intermediate waves consistently to the point of being able to enjoy a day of surf anywhere might be more ideal.
Make your goal crystal clear.
Can you tell I have surfing on the mind?
It’s much more important to clarify your goal than it is to achieve it.
The fun will be in the progression of your skill towards a primary goal more than in achieving it.
Although reaching your goal is a lot of fun too and a huge sense of accomplishment.
Think about what achieving your goal will look like?
How will it feel?
Is there some sort of event where you can put this skill to use?
Having an event at the end of your trip can really help to motivate you.
An example of this could be learning to run long distances with a marathon or IRONMAN being your event to conclude the trip.
Determine How You Are Going To Learn
Many skills can be learned on your own, but having an instructor or working in a group can give you the pressure needed to progress faster.
An instructor can be taken literal by hiring a professional when you get to your destination, or it can be more subtle like befriending a local and practicing with them.
There are many ways to find classes in person.Going online with a site like Udemy is a great way to learn or supplement learning too.
My friend Dylan went to Argentina to learn how to fly and took a pilot training course while he was there.
Work / Volunteer opportunities are another great way to learn a skill.Volunteering is a perfect option for agriculture related skills like learning to make wine or harvest coffee beans.
Create an Estimate Of Time / Training Needed
How long will you need to be somewhere to achieve your goal?
What will your training schedule look like?
How often are you going to be able to practice?
Again, the more specific you can get with this, the less time you will waste when you arrive.
This means better progression, but also allots for more time to enjoy and explore the area you’re visiting.
Remember part of the fun of SFT is the exploration you get to do in your free time.
What resources are you going to need?
Some skills are going to require specialized equipment.
Down hill mountain biking is going to require at least a bike.
But there’s other things you’d likely need like a helmet, pads, etc.
Determine if these things need to be purchased ahead of time.
Can you borrow, rent, or buy them when you get to your destination?
Some places you go to, may not have the options for resources you have at home.
Some gear may be too cumbersome for taking on a plane.
Having a packing list and budget for anything else you’ll need on your SFT trip.
Choose A Location
Choose a location where you can focus on your craft but also appeals to your budget and other interests.
There may be one specific location to learn your craft but you’ll likely have lots of options to choose from.
If surfing is your goal, there are dozens of places around the world perfect for surfing.
Want to learn Spanish?
There’s 20 countries where Spanish is the first language.
You can find Spanish classes in most others or even take online classes.
Want to learn Spanish in Japan?
I have friends who lived in a Costa Rican mansion with butlers and maids while they learned how to run drop shipping businesses.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you need help deciding:
- What sort of budget can you manage?
A tight budget might necessitate leveraging a country with a weaker currency.
Room and board costs in Germany are a lot higher than Vietnam meaning you’ll have less money to dedicate to your education.
- Where will learning be easiest?
In contrast to the first question, learning to speak German is probably going to be easier in Germany than South East Asia.
While you can learn many skills anywhere in the world, balancing the cheapest option with the best places to learn will help you find a few sweet spots to compare.
- What sort of lifestyle do you want to lead?
This seems to be the trump card for most people when choosing between a few places.
Different regions have different lifestyles.
Depending on what you’re into, one many appeal to you more than the rest.
If tapas and afternoon naps is your speed, Spain and Portugal are ideal options.
Fresh fruit every morning might be a calling to go to South East Asia.
Focusing on budget and lifestyle are likely the only real factors you need to consider.
Most likely you already have an idea of where you want to go, but if not remember the experience of honing a craft is more important than where you go.
When in doubt start exploring YouTube and Facebook groups to get more input on where to go.
Just don’t over think it.
Start piecing the details together
If you’re the kind of person that has the time and preference to wing it, then this step is not necessary but for the rest of you…
Now that you have a location and a plan, you can start putting together a realistic budget of how much money you are going to need to pull off this little SFT adventure.
- How much should you budget for accommodations?
- What do classes / certifications cost?
- What should you budget for food?
- How much will you need to budget for entertainment (bars, theaters, tours)?
These questions can be hard to nail down as everyone has different standards and preferences, but having a budget is helpful.
If you plan on eating oatmeal and staying in hostels the whole time that’s fine, but know your costs.
I have friends who lived in a mansion in Costa Rica with butlers and maids while they learned how to run drop shipping businesses. (Their costs were less than you might think.)
It was important for them to figure out how much money they’d need to pull off that trip.
If this trip is also going to require you to leave your job, don’t forget to budget in some money to hold you over after it’s over.
After your SFT trip, you’ll need time to find another job.
Setting up a time table for your trip is going to be really important in making this whole adventure seem more realistic.
Start by figuring out how long it is going to take you to achieve your goals.
This is also going to be important for budgeting.
How long will it take you to save up for your trip?
If you can manage to work remotely, you might not need to build up the entire budget ahead of time.
For the rest of us, will need to make sure the piggy bank is nice and heavy beforehand.
With this information on hand, you can look for a date of when you’ll start this trip, but keep in mind some skills are seasonal.
Seasons are different in different places around the world.
Learning to snowboard in Argentina in January is going to be a problem. (That’s their summer time)
Don’t forget about accounting for visa requirements.
You might want to spend three months in Thailand learning to cook, but visa lengths may limit that.
There are ways to get around this with visa runs, but you’re going to have to account for this in your schedule.
One Other Tip
I recommend not booking your entire trip ahead of time unless the destination is extremely popular.
At most book a few days or so in what you assume is the ideal location.
This lets you get your bearings and shop around for better long term accommodations as well as places to take classes and such.
I’ve arrived at a number of initial places that were not what I expected.
I was very glad to not be locked into a specific hotel or even town.
This won’t always be possible, especially if travelling in high season in certain areas.
I always prefer to do my SFT trips in low season though.
Start thinking about how you will fill your time
Most new skills require at most a few hours a day of your time.
You’re going to have a lot of down time in between.
That’s one of the beauties of SFT.
You’re focus is on bettering yourself rather than trying to see everything in the destinations you’re visiting.
This allows you to enjoy your free time in new place without getting overwhelmed with FOMO.
What will you do with that time?
Are there activities in the area you’d be interested in trying out?
Are there nearby places you’d want to explore for an afternoon or even a few days?
I suggest setting up a rough list of things you would like to do in your destination.
I do this on an SFT trip because if I don’t, I find I will get kind of lazy and just hang around my hotel for most of the day.
By the time I come up with something to do, the day is almost over.
Just remember, because something is on your list, doesn’t mean you have to do it.
These would be added bonuses to the primary experience you are after.
Most likely your extra activities are going to cost some money.
Be sure to figure some of these extras in to your budget.
Start Taking Action
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to put that plan into action.
The first big step is figuring out how to put your life on hold or redesign your life to accommodate your trip.
It’s going to seem difficult, but if you become mentally committed to your plan, it’s actually easy.
I got my monthly costs from almost $2000 a month down to $250 a month
Reduce your monthly burn rate.
When you take off, what kind of monthly costs will you continue to incur?
If you look at your bank statement, you’ll realize you probably have a lot of recurring expenses.
That mortgage, car insurance, etc is really going to burn up your available cash for travel.
How can you minimize them?
I got my monthly costs from almost $2000 a month down to $250 a month right before my first big trip. ( you can get them down even further depending on what you’re willing to give up)
Start Saving Like Crazy
- Don’t eat out
- don’t buy stupid sh-t
- move in with friends or family
- cut as much extra costs as possible
You won’t need a million dollars for your next SFT trip, but you’ll need some amount of money to go.
The longer it takes you to save, the more reasons you’ll come up with to delay your trip.
Once you’ve decided to go for it, save like crazy and get to your goal as fast as possible.
Setup a note in your phone, your notebook, your computer and start hashing out the details in this guide.
Set up an outline for each process.
Fill it out.
Go through the exercises.
Before you know it you’ll be well on your way towards a whole new adventure.