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I Am a Traveler
October 16th, 2012, 17:30
In the Toronto airport, panic strikes. Hard. I’ve been sitting here with Odin, my big orange backpack, for about 5 hours. In hindsight a ten hour layover in Canada wasn’t the greatest idea. And the next one in Frankfurt probably wont be great either. Fear fogs my vision while I stumble-run into the cold sterile bathroom with Odin weighing me down. As I slam through the door, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, flushed face and all. Reality hits. I’m going to India. Alone. With no planning whatsoever. For an obscene amount of time. Six months. Half a year. Is this too much? Should I quit halfway? Make it two months instead? Did I bring enough money? Am I wrongly trusting strangers? Are these people I found on couchsurfing going to kidnap me or rob me or kill me? What the hell was I thinking? This is a mistake. I’m stupid. This was wrong.
All of these thoughts and more strike me all at once and fly around my head. And I haven’t even left North America yet.
October 20th, 2012, 13:00
As the wind blows over my face, I feel a profound sense of calm mixed with euphoria. The wet sand squeezes between my toes as I stop to stare out into the ocean. Nothing went wrong. Sure there were a few language related mix ups, but I’m still alive, with all limbs intact. As the wind dies down, I get a chill despite the 110 degree weather. I did the right thing. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
And So Can You
In much of our society, traveling is seen in the context of taking a vacation: a two-to-ten day trip, with every second planned and accounted for weeks in advance, running up a huge expense. Anything other than that is just not on the radar. Stories they’ve heard of others taking six months or two years to travel seem fantastic but impractical.
Before, during, and after my trip a lot of people told me they wish they could do what I did. My response: why can’t you? Their reasons were very similar:
“I just can’t do that.”
You really can.
“It’s too much work to plan a trip like that.”
Why spend (read: waste) your time at home planning and reading up on different cities and ideas in the foreign country? Do some basic research on which country you’d like to go to, maybe get a couple of main cities you might want to reach, but don’t do heavy research. You’ll have plenty of time once you arrive to read up on exactly what to see and what cities and places you’ll want to go.
I did literally no reading about India before I went. A family friend gave me a stack of guide books that sat unopened on my desk for months. I planned a general route of my trip just by looking at a map, without knowing the names of any city except for the airport I would land in. When I landed I talked to a few locals I became friends with and they recommended cities for my next few weeks. I would open up Google maps and make a general plan and route, which sometimes I kept and oftentimes I didn’t. I would look up each city someone recommended on my travel guide app and read a bit on the bus or train ride to that city. I kept adding cities to my itinerary like this every couple of weeks.
“I don’t know where to start.”
1. Make a list of where you want to go. Preferably cheap developing counties.
2. Read Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. It got me through the near mental breakdown in the Toronto airport.
3. Get a 30-40 liter backpack. No bigger.
4. Pack extremely light.
6. Repack only 1/4th of what you originally packed. You don’t need things. You can buy stuff there.
7. Get your visa(s), bank accounts and other documents in order.
8. Go to a travel doctor.
9. Buy a one way ticket.
10. Say goodbye. Be ready for them to not accept it.
11. Fly away.
“But I don’t have time. I have a family/job/car/responsibilities!”
And? Repeat step 2. While you’re at it, read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
The Cliff’s Notes version: quit, or work abroad.
Depending on the country you pick, it’s probably not as dangerous as you might think. Obviously there are some countries that are fairly dangerous for travelers. I do not mean to make light of that. However, many countries get a bad rep because of a few instances in certain parts of the country, or just for no reason at all. Do some research, read some backpacker forums, and see what different types people who have actually been there for some time have to say.
“It’s different for me, I’m a girl/woman.”
Tell that to all of my girl/woman traveler friends who have traveled alone to more dangerous places for years and years without significant incident. Are you perhaps more likely to get harassed? Maybe. But again, do some research and see what others have to say of your countries of choice.
“I can’t afford it.”
Have you looked at your expenses lately? If you go to the right places and do it the right way, a six month trip might cost you a just a month’s worth of expenses sitting at home. By picking a country that is relatively inexpensive for travelers, signing up for couch surfing, and living within or below your means, you’ll be able to achieve this fairly easily. The experience will teach you a lot about how little you can survive on. (Hint: it’s much less than you think.) You’ll probably end up splurging a few times, or a lot of times, and that’s okay. You’re living. You’re free. Do what you like. Just don’t go overboard or you really won’t be able to afford it. Be smart, be minimalistic, challenge yourself and have fun.
Don’t be afraid.
Or be afraid. It’s more fun that way.
In no time you too will find yourself hearing “Wow. I wish I could do what you did.”