Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making Your Travel Dream a Reality, Part I: No More Excuses

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.

Here I am in 2005 at one of my favorite places in the world:
the cliffs at Dyrhólaey, Iceland.

Tune in tomorrow, when I will continue this series with the how-to's of travel on a budget!


Sarah said...

Yay, this looks like fun! We took my two year old to Italy last year (when he was 1 1/2) and it was fantastic. Of course, we brought the grandparents along too, so that helped. But it can be done!

Kimberly said...

Oooh, awesome series! I can't wait to read more. Traveling is definitely something I love!

Tanya said...

I don't think I've ever commented on your blog but I subscribe to it and love seeing your style. I just felt compelled to give you a big THANK YOU for posting this. I am the person who wants to travel and always has excuses why not. I needed to hear this and can't wait to hear what else you have to say on the topic. Thank you!

Kacie said...

I totally agree! I don't get why people say "I wish I could go there." It's like -- as long as you aren't banned from a place, you can go! So go already!

We're making plans to get my toddler his passport this summer. We're starting small -- driving to Canada. But still, it's going somewhere and it ought to be fun.

Oh, and my biggest regret from college was that I didn't study abroad. People still in school -- DO IT.

Emily Kennedy said...

Woo hoo! SO TRUE! I will be posting about this topic soon... because I have a fun trip planned that's just around the corner. Woot!

Ria said...

Hi Audi!
Loved this post. I am actually traveling to Italy for a week in about two weeks. I never had enough time, money or anything to travel before...yes I was a naysayer. But this time we have saved up some cash and took advantage of my husband's conference in Munich and bought our tickets to Rome. I am looking forward to your ideas on budget travels. Despite having one of those jobs that offer minimal vacation time, I am planning on traveling some place cool at least once a year. So any advice from you will be much appreciated. Thanks very much.

Jennie said...

Great post! I'm looking forward to the next one!

This is kind of weird, though. Just this morning, I woke up thinking "I HAVE to travel back to Europe soon." I think the travel-bug is in the air...

I went for a few weeks to Europe last year with some friends and had a BLAST. Basically, we just threw caution to wind and decided to buy our tickets with no real purpose in mind. It was great. At that time, I didn't have any vacation time saved up at my job. Thankfully, my boss is really cool and he let me go with unpaid leave. At the end of the trip, I was out X number of dollars (travel expenses and not getting paid at work), but gained priceless memories.

Michelle said...

We're HOPING to go to Iceland later this year or maybe next. In the summer, though, I'm a total wuss when it comes to cold ;) I'd actually like to do a...Scandinavian? tour - Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. This was a great article, thanks for writing it, Audi!

Andrea Eames said...

I SO agree with everything you've said here. When people tell me I'm lucky to have travelled to certain places, I always say "Well, you can, too!" It's not like I'm a millionaire or some kind of multilingual superwoman. It's just a matter of planning and DOING it.

Anonymous said...

True - as I'm about to graduate from college, I realize I should have traveled more. I went to Belize and Guatemala as a sophomore, but there are so many other places I want to visit.

One of my criteria when I'm looking for jobs is to find a company that either has me traveling or has vacation time. I think I'll enjoy planning my own trips, rather than having to apply for programs and not having autonomy in where I go and what I do. Academic travel can be stifling sometimes.

Raquelita said...

I don't want to be a bah-humbug because in general I do think that people should travel and make an effort and sacrifices to achieve their dreams. However, I have to say that in some cases Excuse #1 is valid for many people. Considering the unemployment rate and the fact that many people are really struggling to make ends meet, I wouldn't necessarily recommend that they travel before they pay off their credit cards, especially when banks and credit card companies are often hiking up interest rates and charging extra fees.

Tracy said...

I love to travel, in fact I'm traveling right now! But it brings to mind a question I've been wondering about lately. I try to dress well while traveling, especially for business trips or traveling in Europe (Europe brings out the fashionista longings in me!), but I hate dragging tons of suitcases around and prefer to stick to one bag when possible. With such an amazing wardrobe to select from, how do you manage to dress stylishly and still pack light while traveling?

WendyB said...

Gasp! That's my kind of memento mori!!!

Jess/Daytime Night Owl said...

Fantastic post! I can't wait to read the next edition.

scicurious said...

Iceland is one of the places I REALLY want to go!! I would love to hear about where you went and what you did. The best time of year to go would also be good (I imagine it's sometime in August?).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post! I couldn't agree more with everything you wrote.

Between my junior and senior year of college I spent 5 weeks studying in England. Definitely one of the best decisions I ever made and anyone still in school NEEDS to take advantage of study abroad opportunities.

I love travel and I can't wait to do more. I'm starting grad school next fall so I'm hoping I'll be able to do some more traveling soon--possibly get an overseas internship or something.

Bethany and Isaac said...

Hi Audi! I'm a recent reader, thanks to Angie of YLF's recent link to your scarf-tying tutorial. (Thanks for that, BTW. I've worn the first knot 3 days in a row - in Florida, of all places!) I just wanted to say that this post is so true. My husband and I were blessed to take a backpacking trip to England, France, Italy and Greece. We stayed in hostels and cheap hotels, ate a lot of bread, cheese and fruit, and hardly bought a thing, but it was AMAZING. In the end it was just over $5,000 for BOTH of us to go to FOUR countries for THREE weeks. I realize most people will not travel that inexpensively (and as amazing as it was, we probably won't either), but it was so worth it. If we can do 3 weeks in 4 expensive countries for $2,500 per person (including airfare!), anyone can travel anywhere they want, I think. And they won't regret it!

Oh yeah, and the only place we spoke the language was England, although my slight knowledge of Spanish was occasionally helpful in France and Italy, and my husband's study of Biblical Greek at least meant he could pronounce the words. LOL.

bucktick said...

actually I've found that alot of jobs don't have flexible scheduling. Especially minimum wage type jobs will simply "let you go" instead of letting you swap hours. Because often people are at the max allowance of hours before the workplace would have to provide benefits so you're prevented from taking your coworkers hours to bump yourself up to the amount of hours you might get benefits like health insurance.

Speaking of, the worries of not having any financial cushion in case some sort of sickness or injury might occur for you overseas is also a very big concern.

Una said...

Fantastic and inspirin post, Audi! Back in the 80s, I backpacked through Europe with two friends for an entire summer. We were 19 and had no sense at all, which made for an incredible, memorable time. We somehow managed the whole trip for $800 each plus the cost of our Eurail passes. I could never travel quite that way again, with a small child and a little more caution, but I'm so glad we did it. I travel with my son all the time and it gets easier and easier... He'll be coming to India with me this year. For parents, another suggestion is to skip the expensive holidays and birthdays to give them the priceless gift of experiencing other cultures instead.

Julia said...

Unfortunately I'm one of those people who is afraid to fly.

The thing is, I realize it's an irrational fear. I KNOW there is a difference between possibility and probability. I know it's the safest form of travel. That doesn't remove the fear.

For me the fear isn't that plane crashes typically result in death - we're all going to die someday, fine. It's the type of death - I'm afraid of being aware that the plane is going down and death is imminent in a matter of minutes. It's not an instantaneous death, or at least not always (which I'd be fine with).

Again, I know it's an irrational fear, but that doesn't mean it's easy to get rid of.

I still fly, I've still traveled overseas. I still go to conferences for work, etc. But I don't like it one bit. If I didn't hate to fly, I would probably travel more though.

Audi said...

Tanya: So happy to give you some inspiration! Be sure to stop back in if/when you decide to take a trip, and tell me about where you're going!

Michelle: Now is a great time to go to Iceland because it's abnormally inexpensive. The summer is best, but don't expect it to be overly warm! You'll still get rain and chilly days, but the long hours of daylight more than make up for it.

Tracy: Be sure to read my posts about packing, which I provided links to in Part II!

Julia: I hate flying too, especially takeoff and ascent. I find that a couple of cocktails before I board mellows me right out, and once we're in the air I can relax. I don't think I'll ever like it, but to me it's worth the reward.

Anonymous said...

Regarding jobs, leave, and insurance, it is true that in some cases employers do not cover insurance and benefits during unpaid leave and may be resistant to giving unpaid leave simply due to increased administrative paperwork.

But, if leave is granted, and even on regular vacation, I would recommend travel insurance. Many places offer it for a relatively small fee. You may have said this already, but any travel related benefits attached to credit cards can also be researched (and conditions of applicability should also be researched).

Another random comment about cheap lodging: I'll be staying with my friends in a villa for a week near Barcelona, which is going to break down to $20 or less per person per night. Another great option if people are creative and (lucky like me, or) research ahead of time.

Eyeliah said...

my excuses are money, and time off work, I'll need to train someone else in the office to do my job before I can leave for more than one week but I've been accumulating time and by this summer could take 2 full weeks. :)

Allison said...

Thanks for this post. It is full of amazing pictures and I absolutely love them. Serendipity!

Ana Paias said...

Travelling... my dream :D

You are so right in everything you say! :D

Being a student, I try to use every opportunity I have to travel...

We are in month 3 of this year and I already visited 3 coutries besides my own! :D And of course I won't stop here... I am already planning my Summer :)

Thank you :)

Karri said...

Hi! I came across this series of posts a little late, but actually at just the right time! I have always stated that my dream was to travel "when the kids grow up" and spent the past 23 years as a mostly single mother. Well, I am about to be the mother of 3 adults at age 40, yet I've still maintained this attitude that travel was still far into my future. Stuck in a rut, I suppose. This post was my wake-up call. Even though I'm on a tight budget, I am planning a trip to Istanbul in July to spend my 41st birthday there. I've already booked my hostel! With some of your tips and some of my savvy, I think I can get it all in under $800 easily. So, thank you! My question for you is this: how do you find/choose your shopping sources? Do you research in advance, ask while there, wander with fingers crossed,or a little of everything?

Audi said...

Hi Karri! I'm so glad you found these posts helpful. Coincidentally, Istanbul is my next vacation destination as well; I've heard nothing but rave reviews about it, many people saying it's the most wonderful place they've ever visited. For shopping during travel, I usually research areas of town rather than specific shops, and then just wander about until something catches my eye. Hostels are also a great source for info once you get there, because they're filled with people who are either locals or longtime ex-pats. Many have someone who acts as a social director of sorts, leading walking tours, hosting movie nights, etc -- you need to make friends with this person straightaway. :-) Have a fabulous trip!