How to Take a Self-Directed Gap Year with Zero Starting Funds

*Update: This post was picked up by the American Gap Association blog*

Today I’m interviewing Victor Saad for my podcast, and while googlestalking him to prepare for the talk I watched his fantastic TEDx talk:

The whole talk is worth your time, but something that stood out to me was how Victor funded a 12-month, travel-intensive series of apprenticeships that he called the Leap Year Project . Victor quit his job to do this, and at age 25 without significant savings, he needed a way to fund this project. Here’s what he said:

I asked 200 people to subscribe to the project at $10 a month. They would get to learn from my lessons and see what I was doing, and I would have the means to run the project. . . Roughly 100 trusting individuals gave me just what I needed.

To help pay for flights, a family friend gave him “buddy passes” that let him fly standby. For housing, he first asked friends and family, and then tried Couchsurfing, Craigslist, Airbnb, and posting on Facebook and Twitter.

I stayed in everything from office spaces to vehicles to mansions. I was a vagabond. But it was okay. I was a student.

Before our podcast interview, I asked him if he relied on any other sources of founding to make this year possible. He told me that some of the internships and apprenticeships he did paid him $15-$20/hour, and that he sold some possessions to earn a few thousand dollars at the beginning of the year. Beyond that, he received no outside support.

It’s clear from Victor’s story that he had a lot of assets going into the Leap Year Project that allowed him to pull off this funding trick, most notably a wide social network, excellent media skills (his promotional videos are masterful), and a little bit of starting cash.

Regardless, I see a model here for any young person who wants to take a gap year, doesn’t have the cash to fund it, and is willing to put in a little legwork:

  1. Subscription service: Instead of running one big crowdfunding campaign to fund your travels (as I’ve suggested but is difficult to pull off), have people “subscribe” to your gap year for a fixed monthly rate. Provide options ranging from $5/month to $30/month. The best platform for doing this is probably Patreon. For the different levels offer different perks ranging from a monthly email update to postcards to videos (which can also serve as accountability and journaling tools). Aim to generate at least $1000/month from this income.
  2. Airline miles: To deal with the major expense of flying around the world: Ask family and friends if anyone would be willing to donate accumulated airline miles or buddy passes to your cause. And get one of those airline miles credit cards that gives you 50,000 bonus miles as soon you spend a few thousand dollars (you can launder it through your parents by buying a new laptop for them and then having them repay you).
  3. Free housing: Get really comfortable with using Couchsurfing to stay at strangers’ houses (for free), tapping your extended Facebook network to find potential hosts, and working out temporary work-trades with hostels that let you stay there for free.
  4. Part-time work: Develop a “Masseuse Model” skill that will enable you to pick up part-time work wherever you go.
  5. Frugality: Learn how to cook rice and beans really, really well. Figure out to how entertain yourself without going out for drinks or going bungie jumping. Essentially: avoid every money-sucking tourist trap.

Who wants to try this? I’d love to see the experiment in action. I’ll help you set it up—write me.