When you think about undertaking the grand adventure of world travel, you can easily get bogged down by the logistics: how (much) to save, what to pack, where to go… Particularly the money question can be overwhelming; in the course of everyday life it’s tough to imagine coming up with a RTW trip budget in a reasonable period of time. Yet attending to these concerns before shifting your entire thinking is like treating symptoms without addressing root causes. To make a life of travel happen, you must first change your entire outlook. Shifting priorities for a life of travel requires work.
From teenage dreams to adult reality
As a teenager, I dreamt of living in a different country every year. I swore I’d never end up like the character in a famous Czech comedy How Poets Lose Their Illusions who charted his life on a graph, hung on a hallway wall, with milestones for wife, first child, vacation in Yugoslavia, car, promotion, house, and so on. Living a life prescribed by social pressures seemed antithesis to personal happiness.
In college I lived out of my backpack (my Serbian friends gave me an unprintable nickname that suggested the wind and I were more than good friends). I continued traveling in graduate schools abroad, in Hungary and Holland, while my friends were settling down with serious jobs, starting families, and buying apartments.
Having traversed the U.S. and hitchhiked around Europe, I came to America after my third and final college graduation, married the love of my life, and soon faced the harsh reality of having to work full-time to pay rent and groceries.
Real life caught up with me. I worked my way from a day laborer to a nonprofit marketing director, the backpack found a permanent spot in the back of the closet, and the vast majority of trips I took were to visits to in-laws in California and vacations in Slovakia every three years.
Lindsay and I still can’t decide how and when we came up with the idea to take a yearlong trip around the world. But in late 2005 and early 2006 we found ourselves looking for a house with the intent of selling it in five years and using the proceeds to finance our world trip.
It didn’t quite work out that way—the mortgage, remodeling, jobs to pay for it all, and the housing market plunge weighed us down like a giant anchor. Destinations, packing, or blogging were the last thing on our minds, if they ever occurred to us at all. But as much as we struggled, we were following our plan.
When the five-year mark came around, in early 2011, we thought we’d made it and would leave that October, as planned. But the realtor told us we’d lose money if we sold. Our hopes drained: we saw our dream slip away as we had to postpone the house sale and with it our departure date. We were living the greatest disappointment of our life together.
Then something changed.
I am not sure I can explain it, even in hindsight. In martial arts you deflect the attack, absorb its force, and turn it back on itself—that’s how the switch felt.
We had worked hard for years to give up on our dream. We refused to stay down and instead scrambled back to our feet and kept fighting. Even though we felt defeated, we didn’t throw in the towel—we ditched it.
“Life gets in the way,” the saying goes. When that happens, you must move life out of the way and keep going after your dream.
New life order
Perhaps our biggest mistake was thinking that making our dream of travel will be easy, that we could do it alongside living our regular lives. This was false. A life of travel, which for us means alternating trips with working to save for the next one, requires a major shift in values.
In other words, traveling must become your first priority. This is a difficult change to make, chiefly because of the endowment effect, the human tendency to value what we have more than if we did not have it. Even a crushing mortgage and a soul-sucking job may seem more valuable than not owning a home and being unemployed.
The switch I described earlier happened when Lindsay and I realized we wanted to take our big trip more than anything else and were willing to do anything do make it happen. The epiphany was both liberating and challenging.
We prepared to sacrifice the house, the car and 99% of our possessions along with our jobs and the comforts of our adopted hometown in order to lead a life of travel. We prepared to uproot ourselves and feel at home wherever our toothbrushes were, they way we used to in our respective backpacking days. We prepared to live a life uncharted by adulthood and its commonly-conceived responsibilities.
It was only sometime during the trip when I understood I was traveling not just in space but also in time—back to the life of cavorting with the wind.