Wander Without Excuses

Baby and momma elephant at the Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

What would you say are the top excuses people make to not travel, and how are you able to overcome them?

A friend posed this question to me on Facebook on a link I shared to this Forbes article about how one couple saved over the years to retire in their 30s and travel. It’s a really good question, and one that deserves a thoughtful response.

Before I dive in to some of the rationales people present about why they “can’t” travel, I want to acknowledge something — there are some people who just don’t want to travel, or who prioritize other aspects in their life over travel, and their reasons aren’t excuses and I don’t want to make anyone feel like they’ve made a wrong choice in their personal prioritization. For example, traveling for an extended period of time requires some degree of physical separation from family members, friends, your career, and material items (home, car, etc.). If you make a choice not to travel because you have an aging and ill family member you want to spend more time with, then that is your priority over traveling during that time; and that’s obviously respectable. Additionally, if one of your goals is to save money to buy a home, and your budget doesn’t accommodate both home ownership and travel, and if home ownership is the more important of the two for you personally, it makes sense you won’t choose to travel. If you or your partner are pregnant and you want to be around family and friends during the pregnancy and birth, then, again, travel may not be your priority during this time.

All this said, I want to highlight what I think is a key factor many overlook when it comes to long term travel — most middle class people in the United States can take time off to travel the world. Many people think that they “can’t” because of a mortgage, because of their careers, because of family, etc. In reality, it’s all about choices and what you choose to prioritize. For instance, in the years leading up to my first trip around the world, I chose to buy a $1200 Acura Integra off Craigslist when my previous car blew its gasket. I made this decision because I was saving money for my trip. Some colleagues at work asked me why I didn’t buy a new car since, with my salary, I could afford it. The reason is that a new car wasn’t my priority — saving money for travel was. In my mind, if my car lasted me a day longer than I needed it to, then I wasted my money. In the end, I was able to sell my car (again on Craigslist) right before the trip for the same amount I had paid for it. For me, this was one of the smartest decisions I could have made while preparing for my trip.

So, assuming you are a middle-class citizen of a country with a relatively strong currency and relatively relaxed visa requirements for travel to other countries, and assuming you want to travel, aren’t in prison and are of average health, there is no reason why you cannot travel for an extended period of time.


1. But what about my career?

The closest thing to work Tim and I had last year. Rouen, France

For many people, job security is a serious concern and leaving a secure job to take time off to travel is intimidating. The good news is, for most industries, you should be able to take time off and easily return back to your industry. Unsure if your industry is flexible in this regard? Talk to others in your field to get a sense of it, and talk to your manager about whether you would be able to take time off and come back to work when you return from your trip. If you’re performing well at your job to a degree that’s hard to replace, you’ll have a good shot of them welcoming you back.

I think people also respect the idea of taking a year off to travel the world. It shows you’re financially responsible and are saving for that goal, it shows that you’re willing to tour the world and learn about other people, cultures, places, countries, etc., and it shows that you’re responsible enough to think far ahead about your job to ensure you leave the position in a way that maintains relationships, transitions responsibilities to others appropriately, and plans for a return to the industry.

Okay, so let’s assume you’ve done your research and determined, yes, if I leave my career to travel, there will be room for me in it when I am ready to get back to work. But now you’re worried about career advancement — climbing the ladder, getting the raises, becoming more “important” in your field. This is a legitimate concern. Unless your career is in travel writing, travel advising, or some other travel-related field, chances are taking time off for extended travel is not going to help you get a promotion. This is where that bit about choice and priority comes into play. If your priority is your career and you want to focus your efforts on getting promotions and advancing your level of responsibility at work, you should know upfront that taking time off to travel may slow down the rate at which you advance within your current career path.

For me personally, I left a job where I had moved into many positions of leadership and had a bright future ahead of me within the company if I chose to stay. I also knew, based on conversations with my manager, that if I wanted to come back after my trip, that they would be happy to have me. That said, even if I did come back, I wouldn’t have been able to come back to my current leadership roles. So, to take my trip around the world, I sacrificed advancement in my career at this particular company. Thankfully, I work in an industry that is both very niche and very busy, where my particular training and skill sets are needed by many organizations — so, I had relative confidence that I would be able to come back into my industry after a year away and find work, but I also knew all those titles I had earned at my old company would go away.


2. But what about money?

This meal, at the finest restaurant in Lima, Peru, cost about $5 USD.

Traveling around the world is cheaper than you think. How much does it cost for you to live right now, right where you are? Think about food expenses and entertainment, your rent or mortgage, cost of owning a vehicle, bills, insurance and what you spend (if anything) on vacations each year. If you average that out over a year, how much does it cost per day for you to live your exact current lifestyle? Now, knowing that you can travel around the world for an average of $50 per day (cheaper if you spend more time in Southeast Asia or South America, more expensive if you spend more time in Europe or Australia), how many days can you travel and spend no more than what you do anyway?

This gives you a decent starting point. Tim and I traveled around the world on $35,000 per person, which we saved up over several years. We were not the cheapest backpackers, but we weren’t extravagant and we kept a budget that we managed against daily.

Frankly, the biggest expense of long-term travel isn’t the cost of travel itself, but opportunity cost — the money you won’t be making while you’re not working.

If you can find a way to work while you travel, or to get sponsorship, then that’s ideal — but it can be difficult to arrange. For our first trip around the world, we determined how much money we would need to go around the world visiting all 7 continents (this was an objective of our trip), and then, based on our salaries, projected out how long it would take us to save that amount plus a little bit extra for a safety net.

This amount of time will vary from person to person based on your desired budget and your income, but regardless, you will most likely have to reject the pursuit of material gains to stay on track. During our saving period, we closely evaluated non-essential purchases. Is it something I will take with me on my trip? If not, I don’t buy it, even if that trip is still 3 years out. For me, it was easy to prioritize my trip over new clothes, home décor, make up, etc. For others, it’s more of a challenge, and, again, it comes down to choice — do you choose to save for an extended period of travel, or not?

One side note — if you have credit card debt, you are not in a position to take time away from work. Pay down your credit card debt, and then start saving for a trip. Some articles out there on the web encourage young people to take on credit card debt to support a year of travel, because YOLO. Taking time off to travel is not a frivolous decision. It should not be financially irresponsible — be smart with your money, always, and plan accordingly.


3. But what would I do with all my stuff? What about my car, my house/my apartment, my nice furniture, clothes, etc.?

Everything you see on our bodies is everything we had for a year.

Sell your car. Rent out rooms in your house, or sublet your apartment. Get a storage unit. If you don’t want to pay for a storage unit and the option is there, move stuff to a friend’s place or a family member’s place. When Tim and I went around the world, we both sold our vehicles, I sublet my apartment, I sold my furniture on Craigslist (I didn’t have nice stuff), and what was left Tim and I locked in one bedroom of his condo. The rest of his condo (second bedroom, living room, kitchen, etc.) he rented out for the year. This gave us a place to keep our stuff and kept a little bit of money coming in. This is a great option if you have a mortgage you need to keep paying while you travel.


4. What about my family and friends? I don’t want to sacrifice time with them.

Our Inca Trail hiking group, Machu Picchu, Peru

This is another one of those choices you’ll have to make if you want to take extended time to travel. During your time traveling, you won’t see friends and family as often as you do now. You need to be okay with that and prepare your family and friends emotionally for what this may mean as well. The good news is, your closest relationships will not suffer. With Skype, Facebook and other social media outlets, and decent internet access most places in the world, you can keep in touch regularly.

You may even find yourself getting closer to your friends and family. While I didn’t see my grandmother as much during my year of travel, she said she felt like we talked more often. Without a job during the week or social demands every weekend, I had time to invest in each of my most important relationships, even without being able to hang out. Tim also found that regularly posting photos on Facebook and with us maintaining the blog, certain people in his life felt closer to him after the year of traveling; they were able to get a deeper sense of who he was as a person.

While traveling you’ll also make lifelong friends all over the world. You can’t avoid it even if you tried.

So, you may not see your friends and family as often as you would otherwise, but I can promise you that taking time to travel will add to, not take away from, the love and connection you experience with others.


5. I want to travel, but it just sounds too crazy.

In the Dades Gorge, Morocco

I think this is what holds people back from traveling more than anything else mentioned here. Taking time off to travel doesn’t fit in with the “script” we think we’re supposed to follow. Between going to school, getting a job, getting married, buying a house, and having kids, where are you supposed to fit in a year of travel? It’s just not one of those life events we are taught to plan for since childhood. It deviates from the safe script of the path we think our lives are supposed to take.

This is where you have to decide whether to rewrite the script of your life to make room for other life events (like travel). In my opinion, this is something everyone should learn to do with their own lives, whether they want to travel or not. This simply comes down to being open to unexpected or unconventional paths your life can take. And studies show, more openness leads to more happiness.

Tim even felt a bit of apprehension prior to taking the trip. He wasn’t sure if the stresses of travel would be worth the benefit of seeing so many places across the world. This apprehension subsided when he realized he could always come home if things were too overwhelming. In reality, once we were a month or two into the trip Tim was confident that he’d enjoy the entire year away — it was only fear of the unknown that had made him feel apprehensive — the reality was that the trip was worth every second, every sacrifice, and every penny.

If traveling still sounds too crazy or unobtainable to you, think about this quote that I cite often (though I can’t exactly remember where I first read it) — “Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very seriously.”

Many people see taking a year off to travel in this highly romanticized light where one day you just wake up, quit your job, and hop on a plane later that week. Of course most people are intimidated by that idea and think it’s crazy! They don’t identify with that script, but what they may not realize is that the vast majority of people don’t either, and this includes the majority of people who have taken time off to travel.

The truth is, it takes a lot of planning. There are many logistics to figure out before you get going. Most people can’t afford to just quit their jobs and go travel on a whim, so you have to save up money for years, maybe a decade +, before you can get out there.

If you dream of travel, or of anything else, what is the next step you need to take to get you closer to it? And then the step after that? And the next one? Just keep taking steps. You’ll get there.

Ready to go?

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