Part I [The Travel Life]
When I was little, my fiercest desire was to be a National Geographic Photographer. [Or a veternarian] I was the elementary school kid reading National Geographic and being mesmerized by the stories and photographs on those pages. I stalked my cat–hardly taking National Geographic-worthy images, but getting some really good shots of her. I took my little camera everywhere and there were tons of pictures to prove it.
Fast forward 20 or so years… I still take a camera with me everywhere. I still stalk my cat. [not the same cat, obvs] I know that I will probably never be published in National Geographic, but that doesn’t stop me from traveling. And taking pictures. And making up stories to go with the pictures. The only [well, not the ONLY] difference between me and those National Geographic photographers–I don’t get paid to do what I love… not one little cent. In fact, every trip I take, costs money… $100 for a weekend trip away to $1000 or more for a month away. I could play golf or tennis or going out, but I choose traveling as my hobby of choice. I absolutely loved my time in South America. I would do it again in a heart beat.
international friends crammed onto our tiny sofa in the Peruvian apartment
Part II… [The ‘normal’ life]
I have a job that I love. It is not travel related at all. It is not location independent. I rarely have weekends off. I have to be where I have a license to practice [currently SC and NC]. I have to be where there are sick children. I am in graduate school to hopefully get to what is my dream job… As it is, the program will take me about 4 years or so to finish. I have an address. I have a car and a cat. And I like that.
Part III… [Straddling the line]
How do I make it work? I work in a field where 3 days a week is considered full-time. I choose to work on an as needed basis [I am almost always needed somewhere so there no fear there] so that I can make my own schedule. Do I get paid time off? Nope. Insurance paid partly by the company? Nope. Participation in the company’s retirement plan? Nope, again. Do I get ‘guaranteed’ hours each week? Nope, but neither do the full-timers [I may be the first to go, but not usually the only one].
So how do I make it work?
First, I buy insurance as if I were self-employed. I have a catastrophic health plan with a Health Savings Account attached to it [Tax benefits#1]. I am generally a healthy person and don’t take any medications on a regular basis. Second, I opened up an IRA on my own. Non-profits generally don’t have the best plans anyway, and I don’t have to wait until I am vested should I want to leave. [Tax benefit #2]. Third, I work in different facilities. This way, if one place slows down, I can usually pick up more time at the other place. It’s a win-win situation. Fourth, I have a $100 a week deposited into a separate account. This is my discretionary income. I could use it to go shopping or out to eat or whatever; I choose to use it to travel. $5200/year can go a long way. Fifth, I let my boss[es] know that traveling is a priority for me. When I am home, I am available to work 95% of the time. When I go away, I am not. It’s that simple.
Since starting this way of life in 2007, I have managed to take 16 months off to travel in South America, one month off to travel in New England and Quebec, Canada, another month to enjoy Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier National Park, and another month to travel in Central/ Eastern Europe.
People constantly tell me how jealous they are of all my travels. They tell me how “lucky” I am. They say they wish they could travel like I do.
But you know what?
They absolutely can do it. They just choose not to. For whatever reason. [Usually it’s a job, relationship, home, money, or some combination of these four things that holds people back]
A lot of travel blogs are written by professional nomads who are actively traveling. Or people who have been professional nomads at one point. Many of them lack a home address, and can fit most of their worldly possessions into a [somewhat large] backpack. [I have one of those too] They flit from here to there to back again, and we ordinary people think –“wow, I wish I could do that”, or “this is so awesome that I will never be able to do that”, or “I would do that if I didn’t have significant other/mortgage/car payments/ kids or whatever.”
We psyche ourselves out and buy into a lot of misconceptions about living a life full of travel. We begin to believe things like:
- You must be rich to travel.
- You must be single to travel.
- You must be brave and outgoing to travel.
- You must be free from responsibility to travel.
- We convince ourselves that we can never be one of “those people” because we have a job and debt and a family and pets.
These misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. You can travel without being rich and single. [Although I am currently single, I am certainly not rich. I traveled for nine months with a boyfriend at home] You can travel without being particularly adventurous [ I am not the most outgoing soul. There are things that I will never do voluntarily such as jumping out of a plane or off a bridge with a rubber band on my ankles] And, most of all, you can travel without completely setting aside responsibility. [Find a good pet sitter/house sitter. Find a job that allows a modicum of flexibility. Work two part-time jobs if necessary.]
There are ways to have a normal life and a traveler’s life…you just have to be more creative to make that happen than you do in either one.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, though. Because it’s not. If you have a strict work schedule or a young family or a lot of debt to pay off, it may be challenging to live your “ordinary” life and still manage to fit in travel.
But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Here are some tips for how to fit travel into your ordinary life:
- Start saving now. It’s never too early to start saving for a trip. Even just setting aside $25 per week can go a long way quickly [$1300/year and you will probably never miss it]
- Plan your dream vacation. Even if you won’t be able to take it right away, planning a vacation can keep you upbeat about traveling and give you something to look forward to. I really, really, really want to go to Spain, but I want to have the time to do it right. The right time for Spain is not now, but it will happen…someday.
- Make the most of vacation time and holidays. Americans get a raw deal in my opinion when it comes to vacation time. 2 weeks is a joke, and if it’s like most places I know, you can’t even do the two weeks consecutively. If your employer isn’t cool about letting you work overtime or giving you unpaid days off, you’ll have to get creative in order to make the most of the vacation time you have. You can stretch your 2 weeks much further if you plan travel around paid holidays, or if you can elect to work your holidays and save them up for later.
- Don’t wait for someone to travel with. I would love to have a travel partner, but no one I know wants to travel the way I do. They all have full-time jobs and/or small kids. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to be able to coordinate dinner with friends. But that doesn’t mean you should forego travel. It just means you may need to consider adding “solo travel” to your vocabulary.
- Pick up new hobbies. I am a shutterbug. Part of my reason for traveling is wanting to capture a fresh perspective on life. And see some amazing scenery along the way. I have taught photography in Peru, public health in Brazil, and English in Mexico. I have helped with sea turtle conservation in South Carolina and Uruguay and animal conservation in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I have volunteered with big cats in Bolivia. My goal is to volunteer my way around the world.
- Take advantage of all opportunities. Right along with picking up new hobbies, be sure to take advantage of any travel opportunities that those hobbies might afford you. For example, I traveled a lot during college because I was on our the fencing team. We weren’t great and didn’t get to compete internationally [like Notre Dame’s football game in Ireland this year–so jealous], but we did get to go to a lot of places in the USA that I would have never thought of visiting before… and it was [mostly] paid for by the school.
Most of all [and this one is important]
- Don’t make excuses. Any excuse you can make about why you can’t/don’t travel can be overcome. I’ve seen parents eschew traditional schools in favor of the education traveling gives. I’ve seen professionals take jobs in other countries. I’ve seen couples travel in a RV [or motorcycle] from Alaska to Argentina. I’ve seen people start location independent businesses so they can be anywhere. In the famous words of Nike–JUST DO IT.