If I had ten bucks for every time someone has told me how much they would love to travel – and then followed it up with a “but” - I’d have enough money to fund my own journeys for the next several years.
Most people when asked seem to have an unrequited dream of travelling the world. Travel is something they’d “always wanted to do” until life got in the way. The dream is talked about in the past tense, not the future and certainly not the present.
There are a million potential reasons out there that you can find for not doing something that you dream of, travel included. An incredibly small number of those reasons are valid. All of the rest of them are not. They’re just excuses why you aren’t travelling, not why you can’t. Like these ones, for instance:
“but I don’t have enough money”
Sorry, in nearly every case I don’t believe you. You almost certainly do have enough money, or can obtain it within a year or two – you just choose to spend the cash that you do have on something else instead. That’s fine, it’s your money. Just be aware that every time you buy that new pair of shoes, a shiny new toy or rounds of expensive cocktails, you are making a choice about what is actually important to you.
If travelling really is your dream, it’s really not that hard to find the money to fund it. To start with it’s nowhere near as expensive as people would have you believe.
I just finished six months of backpacking round the world and it cost me around $15,000. That included learning to sail for a week in Thailand and a week on a yacht in the Greek Islands, a dozen flights, food, accommodation, booze and every other expense that I had. I was hardly scrimping and could have done it even more cheaply if necessary. They were undoubtedly the best six months of my life and my total expenses were a lot less than a hundred bucks a day.
Try finding anything else that will bring you that much happiness for that little money. A new car? Home theatre system? Diamond earrings? Forget it.
If you don’t have the cash right now, start working towards it. You’ll need to make some sacrifices, but that’s ok. It’s time to figure out the difference between needs and wants, and stop buying shit you just don’t need.
Stick a picture of your dream destination on the door and look at it for inspiration every time you think about going to the mall. Cancel your cable TV subscription – your real life experiences will be a million times better than the fantasy worlds on stupid television shows. Move into a smaller apartment and sell all of the junk that doesn’t fit into it. Oh look, there’s another lump of cash plus lower expenses.
Set up an automatic transfer into a savings account from every paycheck, and make sure it is really difficult to get the money back out again. This is the start of your travel fund. Buy one less coffee a day, or take a packed lunch to work instead of buying it. Take the money you would have spent on those and put in a jar beside the bed. Look at that for inspiration too – in a year there’ll be enough in there for a one way flight to pretty much anywhere.
You’ll find out really quickly that once you start downsizing your life and focusing on the end goal, your travel fund will grow faster than you ever thought possible. In a year, or maybe two at the most, guess what? You’ve got the money to hit the road for months on end. Now go do it.
“but I have too much debt”
Debt can be a real anchor around your neck, and although it’s easy (and true) to say “don’t get into debt in the first place” – especially credit card debt – it doesn’t change the fact that many people still have it. It is probably best to pay off your high-interest debt before trying to go travelling for a while, as the monthly payments will be a real drain on both your finances and your happiness.
Sell the stuff you don’t need (hint: that’s probably most of it) to make a decent one-off hole in that debt, and then reduce your expenses and set up regular payments to get rid of the rest of it as above. Once it’s paid off, those same payments become your travel savings instead – you’ve already got used to living without them day to day.
As for student loans, this probably depends on the payback requirements in your country. If you can defer payments for a while, then just do it – they aren’t a good enough reason to put off your travel dream, and you’ve got the rest of your life to pay them off at a comparatively low interest rate. If you wait until these loans are fully paid back before you hit the road, the danger is that too much of life will have passed you by in the meantime. Don’t let that happen.
“but I don’t know if I can do it”
You don’t know if you can do it … but I do. You can. Over the years I’ve met a lot of people travelling who really did have a reason to doubt their abilities – and they were doing it anyway. A guy who broke his back in a car accident and has been in a wheelchair ever since, who had been travelling the world for over six months.
A couple of grandparents in their eighties who were backpacking (yes, they both carried backpacks) around Western Europe and staying in hostels most nights. A friend of mine who is dependent on medication that has to be kept refrigerated at all times, and yet has happily packed her bags and headed to the other side of the world on multiple occasions. If they can do it, so can you.
You are much more capable than you think you are, especially under pressure. Society and the media conspire to make you fearful of the unknown, to force you to stay home where it’s nice and safe (even though it isn’t). Don’t buy into any of it. You can do this. Just give it a go. You’ll be amazed at just what you can do when you have to, and that sense of empowerment will stay with you the rest of your life.
“but I’ve got kids”
Congratulations. Well done. You do realise that they totally aren’t a reason not to travel though, right? Especially if they are young – but even if they’re not – taking them on the road with you could turn out to be one of the best experiences any of you have ever had. They’ll be exposed to new cultures, languages, food and experiences in a way that they never would back home.
They’ll make dozens of new friends – probably more than you will, in fact. The education and world view they’ll receive will beat anything that they could possibly learn in a classroom. You’ll travel differently to those without children – perhaps not staying in hostels, and probably moving more slowly and spending longer in each place. That’s a good thing.
Don’t believe me? No problem, you don’t have to – I don’t have kids, after all. In that case, check out the blogs of a few parents that I’ve met in the last six months who have all uprooted their ‘normal’ existence and taken their kids on an extended adventure around the world. Colin and Tracy at Our Travel Lifestyle and the ‘Got Passport‘ family are just a few of the many, many people out there doing this. If they can do it, so can you.
“but it will hurt my career”
I seriously doubt it. It might possibly hurt your current job if your employer can’t or won’t hold a place for you when you come back, but spending a few months travelling is not going to damage a career that you might spend forty years or more in.
Any employer worth working for in the future will see the major benefits that a period of extended travel provides (problem solving, cultural understanding and awareness, a wider range of experience, just to name a few) so if anything travel is going to broaden your employment options, not limit them.
Not to mention the fact that you – as many others before you – might decide you’d like to try your hand at something completely different after your time on the road anyway. Worrying about your current career seems a bit unnecessary in that context, no?
“but my friends and family think it’s a stupid idea”
It’s hard to feel that you’re doing the right thing when it seems that nobody else understands, and travel is no exception. Tell the people that you know will be supportive early. Talk to the others after you’ve bought your ticket, and try to gently explain to them why far from being stupid, it’s probably one of the greatest things you’ll ever do. Convey your passion and ask for their support, if not their understanding. If they still don’t get it, start looking around for people that do.
One of the best ways that I’ve found to maintain motivation and enthusiasm is to start your own little cheer squad. A great place to start looking is on Twitter – create an account and search for the #travel hashtag. Subscribe to some of the vast array of travel websites out there. Check out the myriad of Facebook groups devoted to the type of travel that you’re interested in.
There’s an awesome community of incredibly supportive people out there who totally get why you want to do this. Come and be a part of it.
“but I’m going to wait until I retire”
Don’t. Seriously, please, just don’t. You have absolutely no idea what the future holds. You might get to age 65 happy, healthy, rich and full of excitement about your impending travel plans. There’s an equally good chance that you won’t.
Do you really want to spend the next few decades working yourself into the ground with just the faintly remembered glimmer of your travel dream to light the way, only to find at the end of it all that poor health or some other misfortune means that you never get to follow that dream at all?
If you were hit by a bus as you walked out of your retirement party, would you really want your last words to be “If only…”? Even if you do manage to travel post-retirement, it’s highly likely that you won’t be able to do it in the same way as you would have when you were younger. You’ll miss out on some of the most incredible experiences out there, just because you’d put them off for far too long.
I’m not saying don’t travel once you’re older – far from it. Absolutely travel then – just make sure you do it when you’re young as well. It’s not an either-or proposition.
Right, well, I think that’s most of the common excuses taken care of. So what are you waiting for now? Go book a ticket. Come back and let me know when you’re done.