I get a lot of emails asking for my secret. People read my posts about how I manage to travel but still wonder if I am holding something back. What am I leaving out? What, they ask, is my secret to escaping the cubicle and being a nomad? Did I win the lottery? Do I have a trust fund? There must be something that makes me so special.
I’m so sick of these emails that I am finally going to spill the beans. I will probably get kicked out of the secret club of travelers for this, and Rolf Potts and Bill Bryson will probably send their goons after me, but I will let everyone in on our big secret because you deserve to know.
The big secret to traveling long term is…
There is no special secret.
Vagabonds, nomads, and long-term travelers are nothing special. We have no super powers or secret Swiss bank accounts. I used to think these types of people were special — unique for what they were doing. They had found the secret to breaking free from the cubicle I was chained to. I was jealous. I was envious. I was determined to live this romantic life of travel, globetrotting around the world and having amazing adventures that you only read about.
But once I got on the road, I saw that their secret was that there was no secret. Lots of people did this. It wasn’t special. It wasn’t unique. I had left thinking I was going on an exciting adventure few people go on — then I went to Khao San Road and hung out in Amsterdam during the summer. I met travelers young and old doing exactly the same thing as me and none of them were trust fund babies either. Nope, I wasn’t special. Lots of people did this. Just none of them happened to be my friends from home.
Extended travel is a big deal around the world. The gap year is a rite of passage for many people. It is normal to take a year or two to live and work somewhere else around the world. In some countries, it is actually abnormal not to. The problem is one of those countries is not America, which is why I thought it was something special. However, I quickly found that it didn’t take any fancy footwork or large bank accounts. The only thing these people had that I didn’t have before was the desire to do what they wanted to do free of the expectations of society, just because they enjoyed it. They simply said “I want to travel” and then did it and made it work.
They did what they wanted — a revolutionary idea for me at the time. But after years of travel, I realize that it’s not so revolutionary. If people really want something, they do it. If you want a big screen TV or a DVD, you go buy it. If you really want to eat sushi for dinner, you are going to have sushi for dinner. If you want to travel, you will do that, too. It is that simple. Just like you find a way to pay for that TV or your new car, these travelers simply arranged their life so that they could afford to travel. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
People ask me about whether I worry about bills, retirement, and yada, yada, yada. When you travel, all those things disappear. I have no bills now. Just what I spend day to day. I’m a big believer in the idea that we shouldn’t work our lives away and that we should take short breaks to pursue our passions. Why should I spend my best years in an office, saving money for an age I may not even see or if I do see it, might be too sick to enjoy? Yeah, we long-term travelers save a bit for a rainy day, but we don’t worry about the future. We enjoy now. Take care of your present and your future works out. When I stop traveling, I’ll figure out what is next.
So when you ask travelers how they do it, they aren’t lying when they say they did nothing special and that there is no secret. We simply made a conscious decision to do it and, after that, just worked toward our goal, saving money and making plans just like what you would do with any other venture in your life.
And that’s our big travel secret.