I decided to do something different this time and touch on a few of the common myths about travel — the reasons people give after saying they could “never do what I do” (indefinitely vagabonding travel).
It won’t be easy.
In fact, it’s not easy to do much at all. I’m still in last night’s smokey clothes which have au de Irish pub clinging onto them stubbornly. The scent is an exotic mix of spilled Guinness, pheromones, and sweaty excitement, possibly only pleasant to someone who shared the craic with you at the time.
As travel writer J. Martin Troost says, “That’s the good thing about sacrificing a decent living to become a writer, I can get up, walk three meters to ‘work’ still in my boxers, and stew in my own filth for a few hours.”
So amidst my stewing, I decided to pick apart five of the most common reasons (excuses…cough) people give when they say they can’t travel.
Excuse #1: Travel Is Too Expensive
“My greatest skill has been to want little.” – Henry David Thoreau
According to National Geographic, half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. My average costs in Southeast Asia were US $20 – $25 a day. It could have been done much cheaper had I cut out some roving and partying. How much do you spend to be at home? I am willing to bet it is more than $600 a month.
Once you get over the initial expense of purchasing a ticket, it’s quite possible to live cheaper on the road than you ever have before. The big purchases aren’t really what prevent you from saving money — it is all the little things done on a daily basis.
All those $2.50 restaurant softdrinks and subscription streaming services add up over the months. One or two aren’t bad, but cumulatively, they carry some pain. The same applies to ATM fees, movies, bar tabs, etc. Sure, you have to live a little while at home, but that’s part of the sweet satisfaction of arriving to a new place and knowing that you earned the right to be there through frugality and a little sacrifice.
For the cost of a big dinner-movie-drink date night out at home, you could live for several days as a backpacking traveler in Southeast Asia.
Excuse #2: I Don’t Speak the Language
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling
If you haven’t yet left your home country, then you may not realize: English is the world’s language. English is not the most spoken language by a long shot, but it is the most widely spoken — probably thanks to all the colonization the Brits did a while back. Most of the locals in developing countries who have anything to do with travelers or tourism will speak English to some degree.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t attempt to learn the local language! Believe me, your trip will be greatly enhanced if you can learn a few words or phrases — and you’ll save money while making friends. That said, there is very little point in studying the language before you go; you will learn exponentially faster (and the correct pronunciation) once you get arrive. You have to eat a couple of times a day — why not ask your waiter how to pronounce one or two words each time?
Unfortunately, but learning the local language has become optional for travelers now. We have technology. Only while studying kung fu in China far away from the main tourist areas did I once ask for a spoon in a restaurant (both in English and my terrible Mandarin) and was brought a cigarette.
Excuse #3: Travel Is Dangerous
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure” – Helen Keller
No, I can assure you that growing old and unhappy is far more dangerous. In fact, the survival rate of growing old is zero.
Just pick up a paper and look through your local obituaries. Which killed more people this week — car accidents near home or poisonous snakes? For every one traveler you hear of being abducted overseas, ten thousand more had the trips of their lives and returned home happy, healthy, and with good stories to tell. Unfortunately, the sensationalists who broadcast news have to show only the negative stuff to keep eyeballs viewing — what pays their bills. News anchors aren’t exactly rushing out to cover successful plane landings at the airport; they’re waiting for the crashes.
Fear of the unknown is natural, but unfortunately, watching too much television can lead to Mean World Syndrome. Then you think everywhere outside your living room is dangerous.
I have pushed my luck while traveling, but doing so was mostly optional. In the last two years I have stepped over a poisonous viper, stood eye to eye with a bear in the Alaskan backcountry, swam with sharks, free-solo climbed deadly rocks, explored flooded caves in Laos, listened to mortars fired into Myanmar…the list goes on. When its your big day, it won’t matter if you are grocery shopping or cave diving. That’s your day to exit stage left. You may as well have some fun and see a few things before that happens.
Excuse #4: I Have No Time to Travel
“There is more to life than just increasing its speed” – Ghandi
Jumping from school directly into a career seems to be some twisted, unwelcomed fine print in the American Dream. Nearly every other culture encourages a “gap year” or time away before coming home to settle down. Young people are expected to go experience the world; it’s an informal rite of passage.
I hate to break the bad news, but finding time only gets harder as life goes on. The longer you stay in place, the more little roots you thrust into the ground which will have to be pulled up later. That’s why we shouldn’t try to “find time” — instead, we make time. Independent world travel is an investment in yourself and your future. Don’t believe the programming that you’ll fall behind if you take time to go. The people saying that are probably the ones who profit from your student loans.
If you were a manager looking through a stack of resumes one day, who would you be more likely to hire — the guy or girl who did the highschool -> university -> desk job route or the person who had the initiative, passion, and guts to step outside of their comfort zone and get some world experience?
Excuse #5: I Could Never Do It
“A journey of 10,000 miles [or a life of vagabonding] begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu
This is the default of the most common myths about travel I often hear. Perhaps it’s a natural response to the fear that gets programmed into us from an early age. When you leave the house, do your loved ones say “have a great time” or are they more likely to say “be careful”? For many people, it’s the latter, which insinuates the world is a big, scary place.
Trust me, I was petrified when I first walked down the street in Bangkok after arriving. The ladyboys (not my term; they call themselves that), drunk backpackers, and madness on Khao San Road didn’t help matters much. It took me a few days to get over the jetlag and realize that I probably wasn’t going to get mugged or die every time I left the guesthouse. Once you get there, you will feel the same and ask yourself, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?”
Facing the unknown is scary, but like anything in life, it gets easier — and even becomes fun — the more you do it.
As Lao Tzu said, you just have to take that first step.