I had been daydreaming and planning my escape from society for the past two years. On paper, everything looked pretty good for me. I had a job at a management gig at a Fortune 500 company, trained BJJ, and had a great support system, but on the inside I was dying. I would stare at meaningless spreadsheets all day long while wondering if there was more to life. Each day, I contemplated whether or not I could go through this routine for another year and dreaded the thought of doing this for another 30 years. I would constantly look up at the Exit sign by my desk whenever I had a bad interaction with a boss or coworker. I lived a minimalist lifestyle, grinned and bared the BS at work, and weighed the pros and cons of what I was planning to do with my life. Last Spring, I told my friends and family, I was going to quit my job and take a year off to travel starting in February 2016. The first question, most people asked was “How are you able to afford this?”
I saved money over the years just in case, lived a minimalist lifestyle, didn’t accumulate debt, and researched how I can do this on the cheap.
Second question I was asked was “How can you just leave your career?”
Easy. It was making me miserable. When I was driving to work each day, I would tell myself how ashamed I would be if I died today, knowing I wasn’t living life on my terms. Also, I had very successful friends who have dealt with bankruptcy, failed businesses, and losing long-term personal relationships and they all bounced back.
During my research, I read numerous blogs and travel sites to learn how to travel on the cheap and train BJJ while I was traveling the world. Here are a few tips I have picked up on training BJJ while traveling through southeast Asia for the last seven weeks. I am planning to stay on the road for 6 to 8 months, so I definitely need to be conscious of my budget.
Join BJJ Globetrotters: I joined BJJ Globetrotters and their group page on Facebook. During my stay in Yangon, Myanmar, Yangon BJJ House allowed me to train with their club for free since I am a member of the BJJ Globetrotters community. This has been a wonderful experience since I have been able to connect with both locals and ex pats who share a passion for BJJ. The members of the club have invited me to join them for dinner and have also provided me with insight into Yangon’s history, culture, how to get around town, and what to see and eat.
Reach out to schools ahead of time: Prior to training at Yangon BJJ House and other academies, I reached out to the schools ahead of time to introduce myself and to confirm fees and schedules. Three years ago, I reached out to Bangkok BJJ/Ralph Gracie Thailand and was told I could train there for free since Ralph Gracie and my home gym Renzo Gracie Los Angeles were affiliated. Reaching out ahead of time will help you with your budgeting, scheduling training around excursions and give you an idea of how often you will be able to train based on your budget.
See if open mats are free: When I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I reached out to Chiang Mai Fight Fit and Team Quest Thailand to check on their weekend open mat schedules and fees. It turned out both schools offered free open mat sessions on both Saturdays and Sundays. I dropped by Fight Fit on Saturday and Team Quest on Sunday and found 10 or more people at each open mat session. While I didn’t get the chance to receive instruction, I had the opportunity to meet new people and roll around for a few hours at each stop.
Stick with your affiliation: If you are part of a large network like Alliance, Gracie Barra, Checkmat, or Gracie Elite, then membership definitely has it privileges. As stated above, I was able to train at Bangkok BJJ/Ralph Gracie Thailand since I was part of the Renzo Gracie and Gracie Elite teams. When I dropped by Singapore, I was able to get my mat fees waived at Evolve MMA in Singapore, which is considered the top martial arts facility in Asia and a Renzo Gracie affiliate. When I am back home in New Jersey, I have been able to train at Renzo Gracie Middletown, Ricardo Almeida Academy, and Garry Tonon’s Brunswick BJJ for free through my affiliation with Renzo Gracie Los Angeles.
Ask your coaches for contacts: Before you go on your trip, check with your coaches to see if they have any connections at schools you are interested in visiting. While your school might not be directly affiliated with another academy, your coach might have a relationship where you will be able to train for free or at a reduced cost.
Pack a lightweight Gi: There are two thoughts behind using a lightweight Gi on the road. I have packed light on this trip with just a few shirts and shorts stuffed into a carry-on sized backpack. This helps me avoid airline check-in fees since everything I have on me can be carried onto a plane. A lightweight gi takes up far less space and is much lighter than a traditional gi. I am using the OTM XLC 240. The second reason for a lightweight gi is drying time. A heavy, pearl weave gi will take much longer to dry than a lightweight, rip stop gi.
Learn to wash your Gi and clothes in the sink: You won’t always have access to a washing machine on the road. I have learned how to wash my gi and other equipment in the sink and then hang it to air dry in my room. This helps to save on laundry service fees and the hassle of dropping and picking up your laundry. I used the video below to learn how to wash laundry in a sink.
Hostels, AirBnB, and cheap hotels: I am not staying in 5-star resorts or hotels. Through AirBnB and Expedia, I found rooms in private apartments, guest homes, and cheap hotels for $17 to $25 a night. The rooms are pretty bare bones and sometimes in sketchy neighborhoods. Just use your head and if necessary, your BJJ skills and you will be fine. If you are serious about training frequently, book a place by where you will be training to reduce taxi and bus fees. When I was in Bangkok, I stayed half-a-mile from the BJJ school and it made my life so much easier than the 1.25 mile walk I had to make each way to the gym in Phuket.
Use cheap airlines: Yes, traveling by bus is way cheaper than traveling by plane, but way riskier too. In Asia, buses are not inspected or regulated by the governments, which has resulted in many bus accidents due to brakes failing and buses driven by unlicensed drivers. Also, from my own experience, the drivers are speeding through winding, countryside roads with little regard for safety. I flew from Phuket to Chiang Mai in less than 2 hours for only $65, which beats the 12-hours, $25 bus ride from hell.
Stay by a super market/grocery: Ideally, you will stay in a room close to both a BJJ school and grocery store. In many Asian countries, there are cheap street food options for only $2 to $3 per meal, but there is a high risk of getting an upset stomach to full-on food poisoning from street food. A safer option is going to a reputable super market for fruit, water and snacks. Also, many super markets in Southeast Asia are located in the basements of large shopping centers with food courts which also offer low cost dining options.