Updated: 02/03/20 | February 3rd, 2020 (Originally posted 6/20/12. Updated for links and content)
Remember last month when I wrote about Jessica and how she’ll never get to Ireland?
That’s ok. Read about her here and then come back.
OK, now that you’re back, I’d like you to meet someone similar to her.
Let’s call him “Bob.”
They’re different people, but they’re two sides of the same coin. Whereas Jessica won’t travel because she is held back by the travel industry’s marketing, Bob is our resident travel naysayer and held back by his own cynicism.
Bob (I’ve changed his name — both here and in his original comment) came to my attention when he responded to my blog post about how I make money and afford to travel. He wrote:
I love this – “Anyone can do it”… Then we find he was able to save $20,000 before his first trip. Most of us are paying off student loans whilst juggling rent. See, folks? There’s always more to it – former high-paying job or lived with his parents so could save, a monetary gift from parents, taught English abroad, fired or laid off, took a trip, in right place at right time & got hospitality job or teaching or gardening job. It’s all very individual. There is no formula that’s why no one comes out and says. They want you to buy something. This site doesn’t seem that big/popular enough to generate enough money to fly 25 times/year. My niece has a bigger blog than this. [Matt’s comment: OUCH!!!]
Like I said, everyone wants to seem lucky. There’s always more to it than anyone will let on. I’ve been to 20 countries, but that’s because I’ve had rich friends/lovers & affluent parents. I once had a job that took me places, too. See? I said it. That’s honest. No expensive books w/some secret. I’m not trying to sound lucky or like I know something because I’m not selling anything.
I don’t know Bob personally. He’s probably a nice guy, and I’m not here to pick on him; I simply want to discuss his line of thinking because I think it is shared by far too many. People like Bob assume that someone must first have some sort of helping hand, that saving money in order to travel can’t be as simple as I make it seem — and that I, and others like me, are just here to make a quick buck by selling a pipe dream!
Why Bob is a Nice Guy But Completely Wrong
Jessica will never go to Ireland — not because she doesn’t think she can, but because she will never break out of the mold the travel industry puts her in. On the other hand, folks like Bob might travel far and wide but will never believe it is possible to do so without a lot of money. I call this the Sarah Palin Syndrome, which I’ve defined as:
“The persistent belief that only those with means, helpful parents, or an upper-class upbringing can afford to launch a travel endeavor for any sustained period of time because normal people have too many bills, loans, debts, or obligations to travel.”
I’ve named it as such because while running for vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin stated:
“I’m not one of those who came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and go off and travel the world. No, I’ve worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of that culture.”
This is a pessimistic mentality. It is one that blames the outside world for your ills and then creates a “no” mentality so you never try to find ways to travel.
Bob assumed that I could only afford my original trip with the help of my parents. This goes to the heart of Sarah Palin Syndrome: the assumption that you need a lot of money (either through a good job or helpful parents) to get going and that if you don’t start out with a fair amount of savings, you can’t travel. In his follow up email, Bob told me:
I’ve lived in the South End. A $30,000 salary, in a city like Boston, particularly w/school loans, doesn’t bring forth $20,000 savings in three years. That math doesn’t exist, mate…unless you’re living w/your parents.
Yet, as I’ve pointed out before, the math can work on that kind of salary. I wrote a list months ago of 20 ways one can drastically cut expenses. These are the exact 20 tips I used before I went traveling. It becomes pretty easy to save 33% of your salary when you are fully committed to your goal. (And, in the name of transparency, for the last 6 months I was home, I did live with my parents.)
I think folks like Bob don’t think that it’s possible to save money in such a hyper-consumption world. But it is. Because when you stop buying crap, your bank account goes WAY up. When you cancel your subscription services, the bills they generate disappear. I lived like a pauper and made my salary work. And I have always said that I lived with my parents for the last six months before my first trip.
I’m not the only one. Here’s just a sampling of people I’ve interviewed on this website who have done the same:
You don’t need a high paying job to save money to travel. You just need the right focus and money management skills. Your bank balance isn’t going to double overnight. It doesn’t have to. Slow and steady wins the race.
Second, Bob assumes that you can’t do this while carrying outstanding debt. I am simply going to show you my student loan balance, which I have been paying off ever since I left my MBA program six years ago. Take a look at how much I still owe:
Traveling with debt is possible if you are smart about your money. I made sure to cover my expenses before I went away and put money aside to cover my loans.
But Bob’s main thrust in his argument was this: I’m selling a lie. Bob emailed me the following after he posted his comment:
Hey, Matt – This is a response to your About Me page. Why doesn’t anyone every just say how they do it? Those backpackers in Thailand told you how. Why can’t you just share what they shared for free? Everyone wants to keep it some mystery or say, “Just decide to,” knowing full well the average person can’t just up and leave or doesn’t know how. Do you just save enough for a cheap flight, then, once you arrive hustle, camp, hostel, look for jobs as a gardener, network? Is that it? Once the bit you’ve saved is gone, how do you generate enough to continue to eat and live? No matter how cheap it is, you have to do something to generate money for food and hostels and trains and planes. What is it that folks do? Did I guess it right? Teach English, hustle, take odd jobs, garden, tutor? Can you just be real, honest and upfront? That’s a lot more helpful than just saying, “Look what I can do”.
In responding to my experience with those backpackers in Thailand, Bob demonstrated that he had looked around my site but clearly only saw what he wanted to see, because I’ve answered all his questions in previous posts and have always been upfront about the practical nature of this site.
But then he figured it out:
There’s no secret or book needed. All anyone has to say/do is exactly what I communicated very briefly. All you need is $2,000 for an initial trip and week stay to make connections. It will get cheaper from there. Once you take a trip, go for a teaching job or hospitality, hustle, network. The more you do, the more things unfold. That’s the secret to most things. Just start. Figure the rest out as you go.
Bob, I agree. There is no secret to travel. It’s exactly about what you just said. Save up some money. Just make the leap. Here are all the times I’ve made that point myself:
- Why There is Never a Perfect Time to Travel
- How to Overcome Your Travel Fears
- Everyone Says I’m Running Away
- There is No Secret to Long-Term Travel
How to Deal with the Cynics
The world is full of cynics. The world is full of people who want to get you down. Anyone who has lived for more than five minutes knows that. Folks like Bob simply believe that it’s impossible to do what I do without some sort of helping hand. They sneer at the thought that travel could be easy or affordable to all. Pssh, they say, you must have a trust fund. You aren’t telling the whole truth.
Bob isn’t as far off as others because he knows what I have long said — there is no secret to travel. You just go do it! You need to make the leap. But he is wrong that in order to make that leap, you must be well off in advance. Hard work and dedication can get you where you need to go. I worked my butt off to so I could go travel. I taught English to recharge my bank account.
But cynics only see and hear what they want. I told Bob that I had loans, that the math worked out, that I wasn’t selling him an unrealistic dream, linked to all the articles I’ve written to share my experiences, and talked more about my past.
But I never heard back from Bob.
Sarah Palin Syndrome doesn’t let you see the truth; it only seeks to reinforce your beliefs. Once Bob knew my story (a story I never hide but that he didn’t take the time to learn), he went away. Cynics like to be cynics.
Bob is right — there is no secret to travel. You just need to take the leap. I’m not selling any larger dream than that. All I am doing is pushing you out the door and then telling you how to save money when you get outside.
There are bound to be Bobs in your life. People will dismiss your goals, accomplishments, and dreams. They will try to give you a sense of reality and tell you “the whole story.”
I believe people like Bob can’t dream the impossible. Where Bob and people like him go wrong is that they believe that only those individuals who hustle or have outside help can go live their dream. But your average person? They can’t do it.
They are completely wrong.
Travel is possible, even with a job paying $30,000 USD per year in a major city like Boston. The Bobs of the world will never believe that, though, because if they did, then they would have to accept that anything would be possible.
And then they couldn’t be miserable and cynical.
But I like the Bobs of the world because I can go out and prove them wrong. And, hopefully, I can inspire many of you to do the same by crushing the myth that travel is expensive or unattainable.
And then we can all say to Bob: “I know you’re wrong. I won’t let you get me down. I’ll only let you inspire me to do better.”
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC guide the “bible for budget travelers.”
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Need to book your trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. The are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.