Many thanks to Rachel Stern, a Berlin-based journalist and travel writer, for this post.
When I tell friends or acquaintances I’m traveling to another far-flung locale, I receive a version of the following response: “I wish I could travel more, but I don’t have the money.” Or sometimes the issue isn’t money but time. Or energy. Or children.
When I hear this, I want to proclaim: “But you can travel! There’s really nothing standing in your way but yourself! Book a ticket now!” However, even existential bucketlist checking requires pragmatism (especially if you want to do it often), so I’ve devised a list of how anyone can make travel to destinations near and far a reality.
Myth #1: I don’t have the money
I used to live in Silicon Valley, where most people have money for a smartphone, a car, and a grande macchiato with soy milk and hazelnut syrup. Yet many of these people say they can’t fork down money for a plane ticket. Not true. Anyone can raise the funds with some lifestyle changes. Brew your own coffee (which some have estimated can save hundreds of $$ a year). Bike to work (and save on gym membership, too). Use your phone until it dies.
When you pick a location to travel, there are many sites, such as San Francisco-based Mobissimo, that scour the web for the cheapest tickets. Several airlines have frequent flier mile programs that actually do add up. As of this writing, for example, American Airlines requires 22,500 miles for a one-way flight to Europe in the off-season. Those miles can be achieved through a few round-trip domestic flights.
When you head to your destination, travel on the cheap. Couchsurfing allows you to stay with hosts around the U.S. and world for free — and as an added bonus to see the location from an insider’s perspective. Instead of eating every meal out, visit local markets (a cultural experience in itself) and cook, or buy low-cost and tasty street food. Instead of renting a car or going on a tour bus, take local public transportation. Buy a local SIM card for your phone or communicate with folks back home over Skype, rather than having your cell phone bill stretch into triple digits.
Myth #2: I have no time
America may have won the stereotype as the “no-vacation nation,” but most of us actually have the time. Only a little more than half of Americans use all the vacation days they are entitled to. We may not have the three or four weeks mandated by countries in the European Union, but many full and part-time positions offer at least two weeks, which can add up to a sizable trip when used all at once. Many companies also allow employees in good standing to take unpaid leave for up to three months. Check in with your HR department before assuming that this doesn’t apply to you.
What if you’re a freelancer, or student, or unemployed? That usually does not mean you cannot travel — it means you have more flexibility with your time! Take advantage of these hiatuses between whatever your normal lifestyle is to pick up or brandish a language, volunteer for a worthy cause, or explore a country (or continent!) in a way that can’t be squeezed neatly into two weeks.
Myth #3: I have children
Most children have three months off every year. This is vastly different than most of the working world (except for teachers).There are several family home exchange programs, enabling families to stay at their chosen destination for a longer time. Check LonelyPlanet’s Travel With Children, a comprehensive resource for choosing the right adventure with your children — whether it be riding ostriches in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand, or braving the summertime lines at Great America.
Myth #4: Pero no hablo español
Many people are intimidated by a language barrier. But most countries will have English speakers, at least at local tourist offices or hospitality institutions (hotels, hostels, etc.) Even if you don’t speak the language, learning the essentials (“hello,” “thank you,” “where is the best gelato?”) will carry you far and endear you to locals for making an effort. And it is always possible to communicate nonverbally: when I was in Gdańsk, Poland, running late to catch a ferry, I found a cab with a driver who didn’t speak a word of English. I quickly drew water with an object resembling a boat on it on the back of a receipt, and he took me to the nearby harbor.
Myth #5: I have no one to travel with
Want to summit Mt. Whitney, but have no friends willing to don crampons and climb nearly 15,000 feet with you? It’s possible to find like-minded traveling partners through forums such as travel buddies and HereToMeet . There’s even a site just for women.
Myth #6: It would be irresponsible of me to travel
You have a lot of clients who depend on you. You’d miss that big company call. You should pay off your mortgage before learning to tango in Buenos Aires.
Yes, you have a lot on your plate. Most of us do. But if we can’t enjoy the free time we work so hard to achieve, we burn out, and the law of diminishing returns confronts us. It’s analogous to crop production: If you add more and more fertilizer to crops, eventually you will yield less rather than more per unit. It’s the same with writing emails for hours on end. Step away from it all, come back refreshed, and actually improve your productivity.
Myth #7: I have no need to travel
I believed a San Francisco friend when he said he was so happy with his job, friends and (especially) city that he didn’t need to get away. In fact, he had not taken a vacation in five years. I did not believe, however, that a getaway would not be beneficial for him. More power to you if your favorite vacation spot is your own backyard. Many people overlook the multitude of culture and nature and fascinating influences from around the world that form a bubble of coolness around them. Yet we can all see and appreciate our own backyards even more through stepping into others.
So what’s stopping you?
Follow Rachel Stern on Twitter:/rthejournalist.
A version of this article appeared in in the Huffington Post, San Francisco, in August 2012.
Do you hesitate to travel even though you’d love to see new places and meet new people? Why?