It’s your time. You’ve been working hard for years, building a career that maybe isn’t done yet, but it’s time for you to have a different experience. How do you make the call and create the space in your busy life to do that, to travel to a far off exotic corner of the world? How do you create an experience that isn’t JUST looking at temples, sipping umbrella drinks on a beautiful beach, and wandering around villages hundreds of years old?
My decision might be different from yours, after all I was deciding if I should leave everything and travel for a year around the world, alone. You probably are going only for a few months, and not giving up everything like I did (job and house, specifically). Still, you may have many of the same issues running through your mind. So here’s what I thought.
In 2014, I was 56, a recent empty nester with my twin college student sons gone. I was an MBA professor and academic center director. Great jobs, but at a place where taking time off wouldn’t have a huge disruption on my life (and no, I didn’t have a sabbatical, I just quit). In anticipation of this adventure, I had sold my house a couple years before. So really, I had nothing to bind me to a specific place other than good friends and plain old comfort. It took me a couple years to get everything lined up, but it WAS lined up.
One day I was musing on adventure and travel, surfing the web, when an ad for a travel hack site came up. Clicking through aimlessly, I landed on a page that talked about how you could buy a 1 year around-the-world ticket for the low price of $6,000. And then another page explaining how you could do it for nearly free by playing games with credit card signups (which I didn’t end up choosing to do). I’d always wanted to travel and I’d done a little bit, but wow…a whole year to roam around the world! Given where I was in my life, I was …mesmerized.
And that was my germinal moment for this trip. The possibility that I could travel around the world for $6,000 in a year crystalized the reality for me. Obviously, it would cost more than that (punch line: after ALL expenses were accounted for, I spent $48,000 over 12 months and 28 countries) but when you see a solid number that is attainable, and you stop listening to the stories that say you can’t or shouldn’t do something like this, the dots all line up and before you know it, you’re seriously planning.
When I told friends what I was plotting, the conversation usually went something like this.
Dave “I think I’m going to take a year to go around the world and do free business consulting for social enterprises”
Friend “What? Why would you do that?”
Dave “I don’t know, seems like a fun thing to do?”
Friend “Is this one of those Eat Pray Love things? Are you trying to find yourself?”
Dave “Nope. I’m actually pretty clear and comfortable about ‘me’. I’m not running from anything, and I’m not really searching for anything. I just want to look around a bit”
Friend “But…it’s dangerous out there! I mean there are terrorists and thieves and violence. How will you stay safe?”
Dave “Well, there are terrorists and thieves and lots of violence here too, you know. Anyway, I’m not looking for danger; I’m not an adrenalin junkie. I’m not going to countries where there are wars. Not on my agenda”
Friend “But you’ll stick out like a ripe target for terrorists.”
Dave “Maybe. But in the realm of risk, I’m more afraid of driving on our highways than I am about some random terrorist coming after me. Anyway, most terrorists aren’t interested in people like me, except randomly. And I’m not going to live my life avoiding random events”
Friend “Well, that’s a very brave thing you’re doing”
Dave “Brave? I’m thinking it’s mostly self-indulgent fun. Why is it brave?”
Friend “You’ll be alone in strange places with strange people speaking strange languages that you don’t know!!!!!”
Dave “Oh, that. That’s actually the fun of it! It doesn’t take a lot of courage to have fun.”
Friend “Fine, but isn’t it going to take a LOT of money?”
Dave “Well now, that’s true. It will take a lot, and I’m really not sure how much it will take. That’s probably the biggest issue for me. I’m very lucky, I have enough in savings to spend up to $60,000. And yeah, that’s out of my retirement savings. All the experts would say that’s stupid, that I should NEVER take money out of my savings principal. And I’m not real comfortable about doing that, to be honest. But…I have a close friend who’s in his 60s, and just got diagnosed with blood cancer. He always wanted to go around the world, and planned to do it after he retired in his 70s. But now he’s not going to make it to his 70s. I’m 56. I don’t have any health problems yet. I’m no athlete; in fact I don’t actually exercise much. But I can still walk, and carry a backpack. I can still climb steep stairs and I can still sleep on beds that maybe aren’t so comfortable. I have no meds to take, nor any ongoing conditions that need medical attention. Who knows if all that will be true in 10 years? My biggest fear, that trumps the fear of not having enough money, to be honest, is lying on my deathbed and regretting NOT seeing this world.”
Friend “You’re lucky that you have that kind of money in savings”
Dave “Yes, I am very fortunate. And I’m deeply grateful for my good fortune. But I have it. So how best to use it? Plus, if I stay here in the Bay Area for another year, I’m going to spend a LOT of money just “being”.
Friend “What about your friends and family, won’t they miss you?”
Dave “Yes, and I will miss them. But an ex pat friend of mine who lives in Thailand found that visiting his family every 6 months was enough to keep the connection. So I’ll come back half way through for a few weeks, to reconnect. Plus, have you noticed how cool the Internet is? I’ve taught my Mom how to use Skype so we can make free videoconference calls whenever we want to! And my sons…they’re away at college, so they aren’t going to spend much time with me anyway. They should have the opportunity to live independently, right?”
Friend “But you’re going to sell your house and quit your job to do this. What the hell are you going to do when you get back? You’ll be a homeless unemployed bum!” (I have compassionate friends)
Dave “Yep, that re-entry will be a challenge. No doubt about it. But…it’s a consequence I’m willing to accept for the adventure. And who knows, maybe my experience will create new income opportunities that I can’t imagine right now? It MIGHT be the shrewd move to do this and see what turns up!”
Friend “(Sigh…) You’ve thought this stuff through haven’t you? Well what are YOU worried about?”
Dave “You know…pretty much everything you just mentioned. I’ve worked through most of it in my mind, and with my family. But I’d be lying if I said the stories running through my head weren’t going nuts. Mostly, I worry about spending money without earning any. But I also worry about being lonely. I worry about dealing with petty criminals. I worry about getting so homesick that I turn and run home early, and embarrass myself. I worry about missing out on some really cool people and adventures “out there” because I’m just not adventurous enough or culturally/linguistically savvy enough. I worry about finding myself in some dark place with no friendly types. I worry about getting bored. I worry about missing my friends. I worry about re-entry and what I’ll do to make up the retirement funds I’m using up. I worry about where I’ll live when I get back. I worry about getting food poisoning and having no one to take care of me, and me not knowing how to find a good doctor. I worry about…..many things. Just tell yourself “I’m going around the world alone for a year” and see all the kinds of stories that your brain just loves to throw around to scare you!”
Friend “That’s a lot!”
Dave “Yeah, it is. But I really believe that we either control our stories or let our stories control us. That choice is our control. And so I’ve chosen to trust that all those worries will get resolved, safely and well, when they need to get resolved. And so worrying or living in the future that doesn’t really exist yet, isn’t all that productive.”
Friend “Okay, but aren’t you planning ways to deal with some of that?”
Dave “Oh, absolutely, I’m not just showing up at the airport with my bag and a toothbrush asking where the next flight is going! (Although that would be cool). I’ve figured out some ways that make most of those worries go away. And I’m sure I’ll adapt and figure out more ways as I go”
In the end, I decided that the reasons to not go were just not as compelling as the reasons to go. So I went.
Whatever your hesitations about traveling abroad are, I found that having a noble cause, a reason you go that isn’t just self-indulgent, can help you get past your stories, doubts and fears. And helping a social enterprise helps hundreds if not thousands of people who, by virtue of their place of birth, suffer…what could be more noble than that? Being a Lean Volunteer gives you that reason.