I love to travel.
Almost everyone who has met me knows this to be true. In any conversation, I usually find a way to talk about where I’ve just been, or where I’m going next. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, what I get distracted thinking about during the day, and the last thing I think about before going to sleep. Traveling even permeates my dreams (when I’m not having nightmares about work, that is).
So, this year, I’ve come to a decision. I’m going to start traveling on a long-term basis.
Why travel long term?
I read somewhere that Americans travel internationally a lot less than people from elsewhere in the world. In fact, only about 20% of Americans even own a passport (I’m proud to be one of them). Part of it is that our country is so big, most of us travel to other parts of the US before traveling internationally (and indeed, most of my travel has followed this pattern). But that’s not the only reason:
- We can usually only take one or two weeks off at a time, and a 14 hour flight each way doesn’t sound appealing,
- The media paints other countries as something to fear,
- We’re ignorant of cultures that aren’t ours, so we don’t think to go and explore them.
Traveling, for me, is a way to learn more about the world we live in, meet awesome people, and gain life experiences in ways I can’t do any other way. I’ve met people, learned lessons, and had experiences that would be impossible for me to have if I’d never left home. As much as I love reading, and learning, you can’t beat sitting down with someone over a drink or a meal and having a conversation.
I already travel more than most people, I think, and I’m grateful that I am in a place in my life that I can. Due to the fact that I work retail, I can schedule my work days around traveling, giving away shifts as needed, and optimizing my use of vacation days. This year I’ve taken 5 major (week-long) trips, and a few small ones visiting my mom in DC or spending a day somewhere nearby like Boston or Philly.
The most difficult part about traveling this way, is that at the end of a whirlwind week of activity, I have to return to so-called “normal life.” I spend the other 47 weeks of the year thinking about where I want to go next, where I want to go back to, and lamenting the fact that I’m not there now.
Maybe it’s just a case of “the grass is always greener,” but my thoughts seem to always be in another time zone.
I’ve been wanting to travel long term for a while now. We’re talking at least a decade (or more). Once a year or so, I get obsessed, and plan out where I want to go. Then, I get a little distracted, or realize that it’s a lot of work, or I just don’t have the money.
So why is this moment in time different? Well, for one thing I’m much more financially stable now than I was even a year ago. I finally have the ability to save money decent amounts of my income.
I’m still young and foolish enough to do this. I don’t have a lot of responsibilities, either familial or financial. I don’t have a spouse or kids, and I don’t own a home or have a large amount of debt. While I do have some student aid debt, it’s not a lot, and if I plan right, I’ll be able to pay it off even as I travel.
Also, in the last two years, I’ve actually gotten to take trips on a semi-regular basis (4-5 times a year). In March 2012, I took my first (and so far, only) transatlantic flight to London (with a side trip to Paris). Since then, I’ve been to twelve other cities in the USA.
I’ve caught the bug, and I want more.
The main catalyst, though, is that December 12th was my 29th birthday. I know, you’re thinking, “What’s so special about 29?” Well, I realized that I only have one year left to make my 20s awesome. So, yeah, I’m having the “30 years” crisis-mode thing a year early. I don’t like being late for things.
So, for my birthday this year I wanted to set a goal. I picked six months (because a year just felt too far off to be a tenable goal). So, I’ve decided; by my 29 1/2 birthday, June 12th, 2014, I will be jumping on a plane and heading away from the USA.
My goal is to travel the world! I’m going to try to get a Work and Holiday visa in Australia, which will allow me to live there and work short term jobs (lasting no longer than six months) for up to a year (allowing me more time to save money). That way, I can transfer to an Apple Store for six months in Australia as my gateway to the world. After that, I might hop around southeast Asia for a bit, or head to South America, Europe, or wherever my journey takes me.
I plan to use this blog to keep an ongoing journal of my travels, including my preparations leading up to the big jump.
I know what you’re thinking, though: How in this world can I afford it? It’s a matter of setting priorities.
We spend money on what’s important to us. That could be tech (like the iPads and iPhones I’ve bought over the past few years), movies, going out, ordering in, etc. If travel isn’t a priority, you don’t save up for it. Since I want to make travel a priority for me, I need to evaluate my priorities.
So, I’m cutting back on expenses. Every cent that doesn’t go towards food, rent, or bills (and the occasional night with friends; I don’t want to be a hermit). I’ll buy cheaper food, refrain from snacks, and cook as much as I can. I should be able to save around $150-200 from each full-time paycheck alone, and that doesn’t even include the “extra” money coming in from the freelancing.
I should be able to save around $8-10,000,enough to get me to Australia, between savings, selling some of my things (like my keyboard, my bed and desk, etc.), and the freelance work that I do. Plus, I’ll be able to keep working on the freelance stuff while I travel.
And I’ll be able to save more money in Australia, so once I leave there, I’ll have plenty of funds to take off and explore.
Thankfully, traveling in the parts of the world I’m going to focus on (after Australia, that is) is a lot cheaper than within the US or Europe. We’re talking places where you can live comfortably on $10-15 per day (including food, room and board).
A good meal is often the equivalent of $2 USD, and food at the market is pennies. Buses go everywhere for just a dollar or two, and who knows, maybe I’ll find new friends to travel or stay with for a while.
Even still, it won’t be a years long vacation. I’ll have to work hard to save up money, make it last, and find ways to earn my keep along the way.
There are extremely cheap hostels (I’m a card carrying member of Hostelling International), and things like couch surfing, etc. to help me save money along the way, too.
Aren’t I scared?
Well, of course I’m nervous, but I intend to live by the motto, “Do what you fear, don’t fear what you do.” I’m ready for an adventure. I have friends and family that love me that I know I can rely upon of I get stuck in a jam, and I have a job that will be relatively easy to come back to if times get too tough out on the open road (Apple is always hiring, and new employees you don’t have to train are always valuable).
The fact is, the world is a lot less scary than we tend to think it is. I want to get out there and experience it for myself. Will I get into tight spots? Sure, I will. But, to me, the benefits of seeing the world far outweigh the risks.
I need your help!
I’ve read a lot about being a lone traveller, and what I’ve learned is, the effort is rarely by just one person. I’ll have to rely on my friends and family for emotional support. A couple of people I’ve talked to about this have mentioned they have family in another country that would love to host me, but if you know of anyone else, or anywhere in particular I should go, please let me know!
I’m excited to begin this journey, and I hope my friends and family are excited for me, too. I know there will be worried questions about my decision to do something different with my life.
While I’m sure there will be questions, roadblocks, and the like, I’m confident that I can make this happen.