Since starting my travels in 2013, most people in my life have been supportive. They realize how important travel is to me, and they recognize the legitimacy of my decisions. They understand that travel is not a frivolous pursuit, nor a waste of time. The people closest to me see not only the meaningful purpose behind my actions, but also the value of travel in and of itself.
As usual though, there's always at least one hater in the crowd.
When are you going to get a real job?
Are you sure you aren't just running from your problems?
When are you coming back to the real world?
Really? That's all you have to ask me? No questions about my unique experiences and new-found positive perspective? No inquiries about my efforts to unpack the baggage of my adolescence, or the many steps I'm taking towards creating a successful future. No curiosity at all about how travel is actually the driving force behind those efforts?
What bothers me most is not the lack of support. Rather, it's the fact those people do not take my life decisions seriously. They see my choice to live abroad as a youthful whim or some form of post-adolescent rebellion - one they hope will soon find it's end in the world of being a "responsible adult."
But what exactly does it mean to be a "responsible adult"? As long as I can remember, people have always told me it looks something like this... Go to school. Get good grades. Get job. Pay dues in entry level job. Work way up ladder. Get married. Buy house. Have 2.5 children. Build picket fence. Paint fence white. Oh, and don't forget the dog!
I do understand the allure of that path, it is what I was raised on and I can see it's upsides. I have no problem with anyone who decides that that is what they want. No, my issue is with people who see that path as the only definition of a successful life. Worse than even that, are the people who belittle my choices because I chose to go a different way.
The more I travel, read, and consider my options for the future - the more my own opinion sways away from the so-called "normal" life. Why is a sedentary life so much more acceptable? And why is travel not part of the "real world"?
1. Travel is a part of the real world.
The life I live seems pretty damn real to me. I have a 9-5 job. I pay bills, shop for groceries, worry about money, and am striving for a life marked by personal fulfillment and success. Just like everyone else. Yes, I'm doing all those things in a foreign country and do I travel in my downtime, but do those facts alone really invalidate all other aspects of my life? Does living in a foreign country make the bills I pay less real?
I considered the choices I've made thus far very thoroughly. I looked at them from every angle, weighed the pros and cons, and then proceeded with the option that seemed best. The decision to travel was not some childish whim, nor am I looking to escape real world responsibility. The choice to travel was calculated, and it has prompted immeasurable and invaluable growth in both my personal and professional self.
I do have an end game in mind. And it's not being a "real world" drop out. I refute the notion that travel represents a fantasy world. More than that, I refuse to accept the idea that because I chose to deviate from the norm, I am somehow flushing my potential for life success.
Let's review the facts.
For starters, the so-called "real world" is not doing so well.
In America, unemployment levels (especially for college graduates) are discouragingly high. At the end of 2014, college graduate unemployment rates were hovering around 8.5%, while underemployment came significantly in higher at 16.4%. Though these numbers represent a marked decrease from previous years, the picture they paint is not particularly optimistic.
I myself have witnessed the tangible consequences of these numbers. Most of my close friends who graduated with me in 2013, experienced anywhere from 6 months to even a year of unemployment post-graduation. More than that, many of those friends who did manage to find jobs are underemployed, meaning that they are working low skilled jobs that have little to no correlation with their majors. Their jobs pay the bills, but fall quite short of careers.
Adding insult to injury is the astronomical amount of student loan debt accrued by hundreds of thousands of American students each year. As of 2014, the average graduate is exiting university with close to $30,000 dollars in debt. Thankfully, my personal educational loans total less than average, but they are still in the 5 digit sums. Even with that I count myself lucky. I have more than one friend whose total debt is over $100,000.
These numbers are truly horrifying. The travesty is amplified even further when it becomes clear that America is one of very few countries worldwide to run their education system in such a way. Rather than investing in the future through the provision of affordable education, America cripples it's by ushering us into adulthood with a big fat bill and a long-term indentured relationship with Sallie Mae.
To characterize the situation as grim would be an understatement.
This was the situation left to my generation by those that came before, those who actually did follow the life path they argue for so strongly. When they told us that good grades and a college education would help us achieve success they left out the part where jobs would be in desperately short-supply, as well as the fact that our education would leave us to start our lives crushed under the weight of crippling debt. Welcome to the American Dream kids!
So, I ask again. Why exactly are my life choices in question? How is the decision to travel any less valid than the decision to buy into a status quo that systematically cripples it's own future?
Though my own lifestyle preference is probably obvious, I don't really care to argue which lifestyle is better. To me, this is not a question of better or worse. My current lifestyle works for me. Alternatively, I know plenty of people who are happy and satisfied in their sedentary lifestyle. I only wish to defend the idea that travel is a legitimate life choice.
Choosing to travel is not an automatic death sentence to your career, nor a permanent means of avoiding problems. Travel provides opportunities for gainful employment, encourages the development of marketable skills and desirable personality traits, and sustainable in the long-term. With creativity, commitment, and a ton of hard work - travel can even become your career.
2. If you're flexible about employment, it can actually be easier to find a job on the road
Travelers are not a bunch of unemployed, un-showered, hippies who only wear tie-dye balloon pants. We're also not all super-wealthy, trust fund babies, jet-setting the world on our parents dime. I would be lying if I said those people didn't exist, but in my experience they represent the minority.
I am as middle class as they come and all of my travels have been funded with money I earned myself. I have been living, working, and traveling abroad for almost two years - all thanks to my relatively well paying, benefit laden, 9-5 job.
I work as an English teacher in South Korea. I receive a steady monthly check, pay all my bills in-full and on-time, and I've managed to not only save a lot, but also pay off over 10k of my student loans. If those aren't "real world" responsibilities, I'm not sure what are.
Best of all I had this job lined up with a month of my university graduation. When I compare my situation to that of many friends who graduated around the same time - I can't help but feel pretty damn good about the fact that I chose this path over the alternatives.
In terms of finding work overseas, teaching English is one of the most popular routes. However, there are plenty of other jobs that allow you to combine travel with making money. If you have experience in hospitality or childcare you can work on a cruise ship, in a hostel, or as an au pair. Or if your aspiration is true digital nomadism, there is freelance writing, graphic design, websites building, or even starting a travel blog and eventually leveraging that for pay.
No, these jobs don't provide all the perks and stability of a corporate 9-5, but they will keep you fed, sheltered, and on the road. More importantly, they are relatively easy to find. There are hundreds of English teaching programs worldwide, entire websites dedicated to connecting companies with freelancers, and numerous platforms for hostel, cruise ship, and au pair positions. The jobs are available, you just need to know where to look.
Travel Job Resources:
English Program in Korea (EPIK) and Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET)
45 Great Jobs You Can Do While Traveling and How to Get Them - The Barefoot Nomad
10 Great Places to Teach English Overseas - Nomadic Matt
42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel the World - Wandering Earl
Work From Anywhere in the World: 7 Best Online Job Websites - P.S. I'm On My Way
3. It will not "ruin your career"
Many people, especially those in my parents generation, seem to think that taking time to travel will automatically negate any chance of a meaningful career. Years ago perhaps that was the case, but more and more employers are looking at real-world experience as equally important (and sometimes even more so) than where you got your degree.
Marketable skills have gained the upper hand over subject expertise. In fact, Google's head of hiring Laszlo Bock is quoted as saying that, "You don't need a college degree to be talented." More than that, a successful applicant should, "Demonstrate a skill, not an expertise." Though a college degree does give you expert knowledge in one area; unfortunately, it does not ensure that you will graduate with skills applicable to real work (or world) situations.
So what is a marketable skill?
On one hand, there are the tangible, easily measurable abilities such as writing copy, graphic or website design, project management, or public speaking. Skills such as these are invaluable in almost any workplace, and despite the hefty price tag they are not at all guaranteed by a university degree.
In addition to those easily measured skills, there are the less tangible attributes such as persistence in the face of adversity, leadership ability, and aptitude for creative problem solving. For my own part, I can confidently say that two years of travel and middle school teaching has allowed me to flex and strengthen these skills in ways I would have never imagined or foreseen.
Persistence in the face of adversity?
Prior to travel, I was a hot mess of nerves and unnecessary anxiety. If the plan went even a little bit awry, I completely lost my head. Travel changed all of that.
Throughout my (mis)adventures, I have left my passport behind, been stranded in Bangkok, spent the night in a Korean McDonalds, and become hopelessly lost in a strange city at night. When you travel the plan goes awry almost everyday and there are uncomfortable and unhappy situations around every corner, but you learn to deal.
Travel taught me to remain calm, find a creative solution, and keep trying no matter the circumstance.
Leadership skills? Teaching ESL in a middle school is the uphill battle of the century. Imagine a classroom roiling with over 30 teenage boys who would all rather spit, kick, or yell at each other than listen to you. Not only do you have to convince them to sit still and listen, you also need to impart knowledge in a way that is both informative and interesting.
As a teacher you must manage, inform, and inspire on an hourly basis, every single day.
Creative problem solving? Travelers (and teachers for that matter) are pretty much the OG's of creative problem solving. Example: You have 1000 dollars in your bank account. How do you stretch that money so you can eat for a month, see all the places you want to see, not hate your life constantly (in terms of comfort), get your party on at least once, and find a way to have that money replenished by the time your first thousand runs out?
Whether it be through travel hacking, odd jobs, or expert money managing - any traveler worth their salt will find way to make it work. Travelers are smart, innovative, and they aren't afraid to step outside the box. In fact, they relish the world outside the box. It's where they do their best work, and they are comfortable with being uncomfortable. That kind of creative thinking is applicable not only in everyday life, but in most jobs as well.
Top 5 Personality Traits Employers Hire Most - Forbes
Why Google Doesn't Care About College Degrees in 5 Quotes - Venture Beat
Experience, Not Degree, Comes First for Employers - The Guardian
4. Far from ruining your career, travel can actually become your career
You're ruining your chances for a career! Wrong. Refer again to the two sections above if your'e still confused, but also try to recognise that travel can actually be a career.
Don't mistake me, it is not an easy prospect. Most successful travel bloggers spend 40-80 hours per week building their following, forming network connections, pitching to companies for business, as well as working freelance on the side. In most cases, their blog is not their main source of income; rather, it is their leverage as an influencer and a showcase of their various talents.
The stunning Instagram photos and cheery social media statues may paint the picture of a seemingly perfect life, but don't be fooled. Though that part of their life does exist, it's not even close to the whole picture. The reality behind the dreamy photos is significantly less glamorous.
Turning travel into a career is not as a simple as turning in a job application and showing up for your 9-5. It requires constant hustle. You need strict dedication to high-quality content, enough creativity to inspire others, countless man-hours, and commitment like you wouldn't believe. It might not be easy, but it is possible!
Some of my favorite examples of awesome professional travelers are Lee Abbamonte, Kate of Adventures Kate, Johnny Ward of One Step 4 Ward, or Matt of Nomadic Matt. Check out their various sites for inspiration and a more detailed low-down of what it takes to make travel your career.
5. Travel is sustainable in the long term.
For a long time, my view of travel was limited to vacations. You go to one destination short-term, blow a bunch of money, and enjoy yourself as much as possible. Though vacation is one of the more common travel options, it is definitely not the only one available.
There is volunteer work or WOOFing (usually 3-6 months), country hopping with temporary jobs such as hostels and bartending (time frame is quite variable), and even longer term teaching contracts like me (usually one year at a time). I've met people on the road who have lived abroad for ten years or more simply through teaching English.
Every day I find yet another story about someone who found a way to make long-term travel their life. Just Google 'Top 50 travel blogs' and you'll see what I'm talking about. When you're reading, keep in mind that those 50 are just the tip of the ice burg. There are hundreds of active bloggers who travel full time, and those people are just the ones who chose to publicize their adventures.
Above, I linked several articles about finding work while on the road, but below I've added just a few of my favorite links about the actual cost of travel in various regions (both short and long term). Spoiler alert: It's not as much as you think!
Goat Guides (Cost breakdowns and itinerary suggestions for a number of amazing destinations) - Goats on the Road
Southeast Asia Travel Guide - Nomadic Matt
56 European Cities by Price: Europe Backpacker Index 2015 - Price of Travel
Any of the 'Backpacker Guides' found in the Travel Articles section of OneStep4Ward.com
6. In many cases, life lived in transit can actually be cheaper than a sedentary lifestyle
This is the one that really gets me. After leaving Korea, I would like to go back to Graduate school, reconnect with my family and friends, and spend about a year stateside before venturing back into the world. However, looking at the rent and cost of living prices in my hometown gives me serious pause. $700 dollars is now the average rent for one room in a house in Denver. This means that $700 dollars is my base cost - that number doesn't include car expenses, utility bills, food, entertainment, or anything else.
Do you know how much one month of living in Thailand costs? Approximately $700 dollars. This price includes your rent, food, utilities, transportation, entertainment, and other miscellaneous costs. In other words, $700 dollars will cover all living expenses for one month in Thailand. As if that wasn't enough, you would be waking up everyday in a place like that picture above.
Check out this great Infographic, this easy to use comparison matrix for different cities world wide, or this comprehensive list of 130 World Cities Ranked Cheapest to Most Expensive.
7. Travel helps to shift your perspective towards collecting experiences over things
Studies show that money only increases our happiness levels up until a certain point. After reaching an income level of $75,000 a year, consequent gains in happiness are minimal at best. After that point stress levels often increase, less time is spent on leisure activities and socializing, and people begin to appreciate life's small pleasures less and less.
Money can buy happiness, but only in a very limited way.
Still not convinced? Even more recent studies show that people who make an effort to collect memories and experiences over possessions end up happier and more content than their more materialistic counterparts. Possessions are acclimated to quickly, and are mentally tarnished by comparison to other people's possessions.
Experiences, on the other hand, are fleeting and wholly singular to each individual. This makes them not only more precious, but also more insulated from societal pressure to compete.
Travel, especially in the long term, forces you to turn a keen eye towards your consumption habits. Moving is hard, and the more stuff you have, the harder it becomes. Collecting things you don't need weighs you down - literally.
When you're backpacking, you are physically lugging all your possessions from place to place. The more stuff you have, the heavier your pack. Even if you're moving abroad longer term more stuff means more boxes, bigger suitcases, and more money for all the extra shipping and baggage fees.
Simplification of possessions and more focus on experiences can lighten your load both literally and figuratively. Memories stay bright in our minds for years to come. Added bonus? They are light as feather.
Buy Experiences, Not Things - The Atlantic
8. Travel provides endless opportunities for personal growth
Travel provides the opportunity to find deeper understanding of not just the differences between people, but perhaps more importantly - the similarities. Food, language, style of dress, and social customs might all be different, but the more places you go, the more you see that when it comes down to brass tacks, we are all human.
Mainstream media would have us thinking that the world beyond our own borders is a threatening and dangerous place. We are often made to believe that the superficial differences between people divide us on a basic level. This could not be further from the truth.
Deep down most people are kind, generous, looking for happiness,
and ultimately just trying make the best of whatever situation they were handed.
Hate and fear are emotions often born from lack of understanding. To travel is to step outside yourself, leave the confines of your comfort zone, and to view the world with more open and accepting eyes. If more people had a deeper understanding of the world and it's stunning kaleidoscope of people, it stands to reason that we as a global mass might be less of a shit show.
9. You will arrive on your death bed with fewer regrets
A while ago a read an article that really moved me. It discussed the top 5 regrets of the dying.
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
I wish I hadn't worked so hard
Now, maybe travel is not your dream - the wanderlust bug does not bite everyone. But, for those of you who do have dreams of travel - don't let yourself end up on the wrong side of "someday." There's nothing worse than wondering where the time went, and wishing you had had the courage to follow through.
Work is not life. Nor is money. Those things simply cannot be the definition of true success. I refuse to believe that any of us were put on this earth to punch a clock, and spend our days building someone else's dream.
Now, I told you this article would be about why travel is a legitimate life choice. So, what do deathbed regrets have to do with that? Everything. If personal happiness and contentment aren't their own form of validation, then what is?
A big house? A fast car? A title in a company? Is a daily routine soaked in cash and chrome a more legitimate life's pursuit than waking up each day excited for the next adventure and grateful to be alive?
It's obvious where I stand on the issue, and now it's time you decided for yourself.
As I said, I won't argue about words like better or worse. Those are distinctions that depend solely on personal taste. But don't ever let anyone tell you that you are ruining your life, or that you will never find success because you decided to travel. They're wrong.
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Enjoy the beautiful view!