How to Hit Pause on your Life and Nap with Tigers at any Age
Recently, I read several articles encouraging traveling when you are young. While I wholeheartedly agree with this pearl of wisdom, I immediately panicked. Did I miss my chance to experience the world at the ideal age? What exactly is “young”? Am I still “young” enough to travel for the ideal experience? The truth is you should travel, period. At any age. Preferably when you are relatively young because it’s the easiest then.
Traveling while you are relatively young has its benefits — primarily your limited responsibilities and good health. Sure, you may have school loans, a job, a mortgage, a significant other, or other responsibilities, but these responsibilities pale in comparison with those you will have later in life. Another advantage of traveling while you are young is that usually your health allows for long-term and/or adventurous travel. And most importantly, because of your limited personal and professional responsibilities you may have more flexibility and time to travel.
A friend, who is in his 50s and has three children once said to me, “When I was young, I had the time to travel but no money. Now I have the money but not enough time.” Although this is true for many people, you can still make travel work at any age.
For years I wistfully believed that long-term travel was only for the dreamers, the nomads, the gap yearers, the trust fund kids, the eat-pray-love types, the retirees, and Anthony Bourdain. I was wrong. You don’t need to be a nomad or experience heartbreaking trauma to travel. You can travel for no reason other than you want to experience the world.
Last year, my husband and I (lawyer and consultant in our early 30s) decided to put our professional and personal lives on hold to travel the world for a few months. No trust fund. No heartbreak. No retirement. Just 93 days, 63,500 miles, 40+ cities in 14 countries across 6 continents. No, we did not kill each other (although there was that one night in Phuket where we came close). Yes, it was epic.
We rang in the new year with 2 million of our closest friends in Rio, hiked on glaciers in Argentina, ate amazing food, drank too much wine, “napped” with tigers in Asia, swam with sharks in Africa, got up close and personal with diverse wildlife in the African savanna, played with Wally, the Maori Wrasse in the Great Barrier Reef, witnessed heartbreaking poverty, and encountered countless other experiences, which I will cherish for the rest of my life.
We have now unpaused our lives, are back in the city we call home and at the jobs we like, and are incredibly grateful for this amazing experience. Why did we do it? Mark Twain said it best: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So . . . Sail away from the safe harbor. . . Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I’d be lying if I said that the decision to put our lives on hold was easy. “You can read as many inspiring quotes you want,” my father said, “but Mark Twain is not going to pay your bills.” Wise man, my father. But, was it one of the best decisions of my life so far? Absolutely.
So, how did we do it? Simple: we planned.
Here’s how you too can make long-term travel a reality:
1. Know your Professional Options
Being mid-career at jobs we liked, one of the most important questions we considered was how to make it all work professionally. Consult with your employer regarding your travel interests well before you plan to travel and you may be able to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. For example, many employers realizing the importance of work-life balance in recent years, offer paid or unpaid sabbatical as a perk. Others may allow a remote work arrangement. Some employers may have flexible leave of absence policies. But be mindful of your employers’ or clients’ needs and look for a solution that is not burdensome to your employer or clients. Timing is everything. And, most importantly, use those vacation days. You’ve earned them.
However, if returning to your current job is not an option, consider other prospective employment before you plan to travel. You may be able to negotiate a start date that allows you take some time off to travel. Regardless, it’s a good way to know what your options may be after you get back.
2. Ascertain your Responsibilities
No matter your age, the first step is to take stock of your current responsibilities and obligations. You may have a mortgage or apartment lease that will need to get paid. You may have a pet that you would be leaving behind. You may have loans or other recurring bills that you will have to pay. You may have children and have to consider child-care, school schedules, immunizations, etc.
Once you have identified your various responsibilities, the next step is to, well, be responsible. For example, you may need to find a renter for your house or a friend to house-sit. You may need to board Scooby or leave him with a friend or a family member. Sites like Airbnb and Rover make these tasks easier to tackle than ever before. There are even companies such as Flightcar that let you park your car at the airport, rent it out to other approved traveling members, and pay you if your car is rented out.
3. Identify the Right Time to Travel
There is no single ‘right time’ that fits all. Depending on your situation, the right time could be when you’re between jobs, when your kids have the summer off, when your work commitments are squared away, or when you have sufficient financial resources. Another important, but often overlooked, factor to consider is the weather at your prospective destinations. For example, if your travel dreams involve extended hiking excursions in Patagonia and you prefer milder temperatures, planning a trip there in July may not be the best idea. Although the ‘right time’ may vary, identifying it is a crucial step for your long-term travel plan.
4. Realistically Budget Resources
It’s no surprise that to plan a vacation, whether a one-week trip across the country or a three month journey around the world, you need to set a budget. But it’s important to be realistic about the budget and your expectations. For example, if the last time you stayed in a hostel was 20 years ago, chances are you may now prefer to stay at a hotel or an apartment instead. Know that. Expect that your expectations may have changed. And plan for it by saving and allocating appropriate resources based on your interests and expectations.
Similarly, be realistic when you allocate time for your travel. If you plan to travel to Australia from New York, you likely will not be able to do it over a long weekend. The best part of long-term travel is its slower pace, so be sure to budget your time accordingly.
5. Be Creative and Resourceful in Planning
In recent years, the resources available to travelers have grown exponentially. When planning your long-term travel be creative and resourceful. For example, you can save a lot of money by redeeming airline miles, hotel points or other travel rewards. So start collecting those rewards months before the ‘right time.’ There are several sites and blogs (e.g., The points guy) dedicated to nothing but ways to accumulate and redeem points and miles for long-term travel. Another option is to look into volunteer tourism or “voluntourism,” one of the fastest growing trends in travel today. Also, be creative when choosing your destinations. For example, long-term travel in Southeast Asia is far more cost-effective than most parts of Europe. With the right amount of research, creativity, and planning you can make your travel dreams come true without breaking the bank.