Today I'm bringing you the first of a 2-part series about making your travel dreams come true. The reason I thought to bring you these posts is that every time I mention any of my travels here, I always get comments along the lines of, "I'd love to travel... someday." So these posts are all about why and how to make that someday TODAY, or as near to today as possible. Because many people keep saying 'someday' and then never make that someday a reality, and that's a terrible way to live your life. My personal philosophy is that I'd much rather regret things I did than the things I only WISH I'd done.
Classic cars on the street in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Today I'm going to cover the common excuses for why people put off their dreams of travel, and why I think those excuses are bogus. Hopefully by the end of this post I'll have convinced you that you really have no excuse not to travel, and tomorrow I'll talk about different strategies for making it happen.
Memento mori in the extreme; the Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Remembering that someday you will die is probably the most compelling reason to start acting on your dreams right now.
Excuse #1: I can't afford it.
Sure, this is a valid reason if we're talking about buying a ticket to Marrakesh right this very minute. But if your biggest dream in life is to travel, then believe me there are plenty of ways to figure out how to make it happen financially. You can't assume that you'll ever be richer than you are today. I'm not trying to depress you, I'm trying to motivate you to figure out what you can do today to save for that trip. Because if that trip is the big dream of your life, it's not just something you WANT to do, it's something you truly NEED to do.
But wait! There's more. Travel absolutely does not have to be a bank-breaking expense. Even notoriously expensive cities such as Paris or London can be visited without dropping thousands of dollars, so before you write off travel as a hobby for rich people, open your mind a little and prepare to rethink that notion. Tomorrow I'll share all sorts of strategies for how and how much to save for a trip, as well as some tips for traveling on the cheap, which oddly enough can also make travel an even richer experience.
The colorful landscape of the Kastellet; Copenhagen, Denmark
Excuse #2: I'm waiting until the kids get older.
Let me break the news to you: there is never going to be an ideal time to travel with kids. If you go when they're younger you'll be limited in what you can do and how much they'll get out of it. If you wait until they're older the expenses will be greater and you'll probably end up arguing with them about where to go and what to do. But if you wait until they move out, it's entirely possible that health or other circumstances could prevent you from going at all, so you might as well just figure out how to make it work now. Lots and lots of people travel with kids and do just fine, so there's no reason you can't do it too. These days there are all sorts of online forums and travel guides that cater specifically to families, and many destinations worldwide offer delights for adults and children alike. Tomorrow I'll provide a brief synopsis on a couple of destinations that I think would be great for families.
If taking the kids along doesn't suit you and you're lucky enough to have family or friends that are willing look after them, then by all means go that route. Travel will most certainly be cheaper and easier without the kids, and let's face it, even the most devoted parents need a break from their kids once in awhile. If you're feeling guilty at the thought of going on a fun vacation and leaving them at home, don't. Travel is YOUR dream; later on if it becomes theirs, they can plan a trip of their own and you'll have just the experience to help them do it.
The eerie Hill of Crosses in Siauliai, Lithuania
Excuse #3: It's a hassle/It's too dangerous.
Again, I hate to break it to you, but travel is probably never going to be less troublesome or more safe than it already is. In fact, you can pretty much bet that by this time next year there will be some new ridiculous TSA rigmarole that we'll have to go through to get on a plane, and undoubtedly it will be something that doesn't even make us any safer. But if travel is really and truly your dream, forget about all that; the actual flight is just a necessary evil, like going to work or paying your taxes; if you want to earn a paycheck or not go to jail, you just do it. Believe me, the rewards of travel more than make up for the hassle of getting there.
As for the safety aspect, I could point you to all sorts of statistics and discussion boards about whether it's safer to travel by car or by plane, but what would it really matter? Many, many places simply cannot be reached by car, so the point is moot. If you want to get there in any sort of reasonable time frame, you're going to have to get over any fears you may have about flying. Unless your phobia has to do with getting dry skin or catching someone's cold, the reality is that flying is still safer than driving any day.
If you're putting off travel because of the flight, you really have to ask yourself if it's the flight you're afraid of, or the travel itself. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful force, but don't forget that literally millions of people flow through all those exotic places every year, and they make it home just fine. Once you've dipped your foot in the travel pool, you'll find that the water is actually quite welcoming and comfortable. So please do not stay home because of safety concerns. Life is dangerous, but don't let that stop you from living it.
"Halt! I need to see your library card."
The magnificent national library in Vienna, Austria.
Excuse #4: I don't have the time.
This one is going to vary for each individual; some people actually don't earn any vacation time and others just fool themselves into thinking their place of business is going to come to a grinding halt if they don't show up for a couple of weeks. I think you can probably tell how I feel about the latter type; that's just plain bullshit and the weakest possible excuse I can think of (I used to be married to someone who subscribed to that belief, by the way). So let me move on to the true difficulty of not having vacation time. Only you know where you fit into this spectrum, but my feeling is that if you're working the sort of job that doesn't have any vacation benefits, then a few things may be possible:
- Many jobs have flexible schedules whereby you can trade shifts with other people or work extra hours to save up some time off. It might require months of sacrifice and long hours worked, but trust me it will be worth it.
- If you're confident in your ability to get another job, just quit that sucker and look for something else when you get back. Seriously. If you're not getting vacation benefits, the job is probably not worth sacrificing your dream for.
- Are you a student? Even better; vacate your dorm or apartment at the end of the school year, put your stuff in storage, and go abroad for the summer. Make sure you save a little money to get yourself set up again when you get back. Now is a great time to travel, because you don't have kids or a mortgage or a career to tie you down. IT IS LIKELY THAT YOU WILL NEVER HAVE THIS MUCH FREEDOM AGAIN. Don't waste it.
I'd love to hear from you on this point. Obviously I'm in a full time, 9 to 5 job with very good vacation benefits, and it's been years since I've had to deal with a school schedule and/or hourly jobs. Please chime in if you have figured out other ways to travel without having vacation benefits; this is a forum for sharing ideas! Tomorrow I'll talk about ways to prepare for your time off.
Sunset at St. Mark's Square; Venice, Italy
Excuse #5: I don't speak the language.
Oh, come now. Do you think I speak Lithuanian and Czech and Polish and Italian and Icelandic? Okay, I speak a little Icelandic, and French. But I've also gone happily skipping right into countries where I didn't know a lick of the language and I got by just fine. People can be amazingly kind if you let them, and there's no better way to elicit that kindness than by being humble and polite, and letting a little vulnerability show. Even in notoriously snooty Paris, my rudimentary French got me zero snubs, rudeness, or haughty looks. ZERO.
That said, it takes very little effort to at least learn a few polite phrases that will get you most everything you need. There is no need to spend months studying a language in preparation for a trip; these days English is widely spoken and even where it's not, you'd be surprised at how far a few key words combined with gestures and drawings will go. Not only that, but it's actually quite fun finding those alternate ways to communicate.
The ultra-modern Sony center in Berlin, Germany
In closing, let me tell you about a few of the things that travel can bring to your life. For me, travel is not about the big, well-known landmarks; those are nice enough, but the real draw is the joy of experiencing a new culture, with all its intricacies and subtleties. And interestingly, it's also the misadventures and things that don't go according to plan that can create some of the most rewarding travel experiences. For example, one of my closest friendships was forged when I had my wallet stolen in Rome and a generous fellow American, a Chicagoan who I had only just met a few days before, loaned me enough cash to get me through until I could get my credit card replaced. I told you, people can be amazingly kind if you let them.
More than anything, travel is about the people you meet along the way. Not only do you encounter the denizens of wherever you're going, but you meet fellow travelers as well, and believe me, travel enthusiasts are some of the coolest people you'll ever know. Just last year I went to Austin and reconnected with a friend I met in Budapest. A couple of Christmases ago I went to Mexico and spent the holidays with a Scottish friend that I met in Iceland. Travel opens so many doors, whether it's enriching your knowledge of places and cultures and languages, or having friends to connect with anywhere you go in the world, or just finding out from other travelers about where you ought to go next. To me if you haven't traveled at least a little, you haven't really lived.