This is Part II of our Dollars and Sense Year 1 Review. Part I, our review of how much we spent in 12 months of travel can be found here.
When a traveler steps on the plane for a trip it isn’t the beginning, rather a step in a process that began long before. Much of the trip is already past, getting to the point of leaving was a result of dreaming, planning, and saving. Any travel that requires you to quit your job, long-term travel, shouldn’t be this way. Long-term travel is best left unplanned.
Travel can be one of life’s great teachers. According to researchers, among the benefits of travel, the ability to look at your life from an outside perspective is the most important (Frontal Cortex). Long-term travel provides an even better opportunity to do this than a vacation (CNN), the longer you are away the more mindful you are at different ways of approaching problems, noticing opportunities, and discovering your strengths.
Prior to leaving in 2010 we had no idea we would go to North Korea, let alone see the world’s largest musical, 100,000 comrades strong.
While stuck in the bubble of home, the familiar becomes the default. We choose jobs that are in familiar industries or with familiar people; we go to familiar places and see familiar scenes. Getting out of your comfort zone, seeing how other people live and doing new things opens our minds, therein providing us an opportunity to learn and grow. Long-term travel is a rare opportunity to see your own life from an outside perspective and discover more fulfilling options for your future than the status quo.
Most people set off on long-term travel consciously and unconsciously for the reasons above, yet the planning crushes the spirit of travel into tactical decisions of dollars, cents and days. Aspirations drift ideas of personal growth to decisions about maximizing dollars and crossing things off bucket lists. Instead of choosing the adventure along the way, taking time to smell the flowers and seizing opportunities as they come, non-refundable airlines tickets become our overlord. Our habit of making lists and checking things off eases our anxieties, but cheapens the trip. Travel should be about the richness of experience, not the completeness of itinerary.
Had we booked flights beforehand we would have missed the chance to crash our best friends’ honeymoon and enjoy New Years Eve from their posh Sydney flat.
Open-ended travel provides the traveler an alternative, it allows people to gain the insights of travel, foster new friendships over months and learn skills that may provide lasting income. Open-ended travel begins with a rough itinerary, very few must-sees, some “I’d like to see”, and dreams to see and experience what is yet unknown. Open-ended travel is as much about a one-way ticket as it is about a mindset to follow one’s heart in the moment, to take opportunities as they come, and willingness to make mistakes with time and money. Traveling this way creates risks as well as opportunities, you just may not make it to some places, but you’ll be rewarded with the joy of travel, excitement and adventure.
In 2010 when we set off on this trip we each had a few must-sees. I wanted to see the Pyramids and LOCAVORista wanted to hike in the Himalayas, but nothing that was required visiting. We made our trip as we’ve gone and have seen more in the last year than we thought we would on the trip. We’ve had epiphanies on what we want to do in the future, things that wouldn’t have crossed our minds if we had been scheduled into motion. We’ve been able to make and nurture friendships across continents, yet live within our means. Our only limiter was money, we knew how much we wanted to spend at the end of the trip and decided that the end date would be when the money ran out, not the clock.
Having met Alinor (second from the left) on our unplanned trip to Myanmar, we didn’t expect to run into her on the streets of Tasmania, yet it provided one of the best nights of the trip.
We proved to ourselves that we could plan and budget before the trip, making it to our departure date was a triumph of these skills. Making sacrifices such as staying in and forgoing fun but expensive social activities made our money go farther before the trip as it has during. Planning the logistics of moving was enough to demonstrate to us that we can make do as needed. We needn’t further refine these skills while on the road, rather we chose to focus on the experience, day-by-day, eyes wide open for new places, people and ways of living.
Looking back I wouldn’t do it another way. I wouldn’t constrain us to a daily budget as skipping a $200 experience that we want to do isn’t worth the $2000 airfare to return at some future point. I don’t want to have flights booked more than a couple months in advance, thereby limiting our time in any one place. I wouldn’t want to have a list of places to go because it would have meant we wouldn’t have visited Japan, North Korea and Myanmar last year, all of which were highlights for very different reasons. It was because we lacked a rigid budget and schedule that we have been able to experience the world as we have, learned about ourselves and our relationship, and made lifelong friends.