“He must be rich.” One of my students said this to his parent about my ability to travel the world, but I suspect this student isn’t the only one who thinks this.
I do think I’m rich, but that’s only because my perspective has changed after so many opportunities of living, traveling and working with people around the world who live on so much less than what we are accustomed to. I didn’t have a secret stash of money that made this travel dream possible; I just learned to live on less, and discovered it was not so hard to do and had many benefits.
What are you afraid of?
I have realized that the biggest obstacle people face in pursuing their dreams, whether it’s traveling the world or learning how to play the violin, is not money, but fear.
I had many fears before I took off on my adventure. So many things could have gone wrong, and a few did. In the end, I have to really think hard to remember what those fears were, because it turns out they didn’t really matter.
I worried about whether or not to sell my house, and when I decided to sell it I worried about if it would actually sell. I worried a lot about money and missing out on working a year towards retirement. I worried about getting sick. I worried that my grandchildren would forget me. I doubted my ability to follow through on the Fulbright project. I didn’t worry much about my safety, but there was one flight over China when I thought it might be my last, and I worried and prayed throughout the experience. I wondered if I would really like this year abroad much as I wanted to like it. I worried a lot about coming home to a country that had changed quite a bit during my time away.
Eleven Steps to Follow Your Dreams
In an attempt to get this blog going again, and in response to many comments and questions I’ve had about my trip, I’ve decided to create a list of how to take a year off and travel the world, though I think it could be applied to any dream you may want to pursue.
- Write down your goals. Why do you want to do this? What do you want to get out of it? It doesn’t mean your goals can’t change, but these goals will help you in making decisions as you proceed.
- Find mentors. Follow blogs of people who travel, invite travelers into your home (Couchsurfing is a great way to do this), ask lots of questions (or Google them), learn and be inspired.
- Face your fears. Realize that this is probably your biggest obstacle.
- Understand that life is short. If you want to travel the world, start planning now. Do it as soon as possible. Don’t wait until retirement or for your kids to grow up. Make it happen because you might not be able to do it later. While traveling, I met people from all walks of life living their dreams – young, old, married, single, with kids or not, luxury or budget travelers, first-time travelers and seasoned explorers from many different cultures. I met families whose children were helping Buddhist novice monks improve their English, who made friends with children who didn’t understand a word they said, who interacted with travelers from every corner of the globe. The education these kids received was much richer than anything I could provide my students in a 50-minute period.
- Plan ahead. My advice isn’t to throw caution to the wind and just go. Most of the travelers I met had spent a fair amount of time planning, from months to a year or more. The planning is part of the adventure and pays off in the end. My planning began with an online “course” on how to travel for a year. Not everything in the course applied to me, but it was well worth it. The more you learn, the better prepared you will be. The BootsnAll Travel site has a wealth of information and tools to plan your trip.
- Make a budget. Again, there are many online sources to help you do this. I started with a spreadsheet from A Little Adrift and then switched to an app called Wallet. Some travelers budget right down to how many cups of coffee they can drink. I had more of a rough estimate of my costs, which can vary greatly from country to country. Having a daily budget and keeping track of my spending helped me to make my money go farther, but it didn’t prevent me from splurging when I wanted to.
- Know your limits. Understand the type of traveler you are. How many nights can you sleep in a bamboo hut with no electricity and a bucket shower? How often will you need to splurge on an air-conditioned hotel with a pool? Can you take sleeper trains and long bus rides? Are you willing to work in the hot sun for a few hours or teach a few English classes in exchange for a cheap place to stay and an amazing experience? A great way to travel cheaply and immerse yourself in a culture is to volunteer. See this post for more resources. And don’t worry if you need more luxury than this. It’s still possible to travel cheaply and enjoy the comforts you’re used to. Housesitting and Couchsurfing are two options.
- Have a backup plan. I had money saved and wrote a grant to help fund this trip, but I also had a backup plan. What if my house didn’t sell and I had to continue to pay the mortgage and upkeep? What if I had to come home early for some reason and had no job? Knowing I had answers to these questions gave me peace of mind while I was traveling.
- Take it slow. Don’t try to do everything in a year. This trip is just the beginning. The more time you spend in a place, the more connections you will make there, the more you will fall in love with it. Don’t worry about missing out on the next temple or ruins or country. Travel slowly, see less, experience more.
- Pack light. The best packing advice I received: “The lighter your backpack, the happier you will be.” Be prepared to shed items along the way. You’ll love letting go of things. And here is The Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist from CoWorker, a comprehensive packing list for every type of traveler. It includes details such as how many blank pages you should have in your passport and how to get your home in order before traveling. Wish I had this checklist before my trip!
- Follow your heart. This little list of mine is just one of thousands you can find online, but none of them are right for you. Make this trip what you want it to be and then write your own list of how to travel the world.