Fall is a special time for me, travel-wise. Historically, it’s been the time I get fed up with the daily grind and seek out somewhere, anywhere but here. Before long-term travel was even remotely on my radar, I’d spend Black Friday cruising the web for an irresistible discount on a pre-packaged European tour. I had a lot of wonderful experiences that way and made friends I continue to keep in touch with.
When the blogosphere starts that regular, resounding chorus of “There’s more to life than a week-long vacation!” it can often sound like a bunch of pretentious hipsters declaring their infinite superiority to the average tourist, because traditional Western tourism and vacations are bad. Rest assured, that’s not my message and it’s not usually the message other travel writers are promoting either. Any kind of travel can be rewarding, and for some people, a brief jaunt overseas might give you everything you’re looking for in a tourism experience.
But if learning a new language, exploring strange territory, and immersing yourself in a different culture are what makes you tick, there are other ways to do that. If you spend 50 weeks a year counting down to those precious two where you get to leave home behind, maybe it’s time to consider a different approach.
My first exposure to the concept of round-the-world (RTW) travel was a post on Spartan Traveler that an acquaintance shared on Facebook: “How I flew around the world for less than $220.” If that’s not click bait, I don’t know what is.
In it, Clayton Cornell primarily breaks down how to get, use, and redeem frequent flier reward cards. But it was much more than a practical resource for me — in October 2013, it was my spark of inspiration. It was this revolutionary new idea that travel could be a lifestyle and that lifestyle didn’t have to come with a million dollar price tag. I signed up for three credit cards on the spot, and by the following March had earned well over 100,000 miles (all without going over my usual budget), which I used to fund my last ever vacation — a farewell tour of sorts, saying goodbye to the whitewashed, whirlwind views you all too often find on a tour bus.
I continued reading about RTW travel over the next year, but it was still little more than a pipe dream to me. Juggling two jobs to make ends meet would have been a break for me. I usually had three or even four commitments on my plate at a time. And still, I made barely over $20,000 a year.
There are, of course, a lot of ways I’ve been not just lucky, but extremely privileged. An distant relative took care of my education, so I’ve never been in debt, and not a day goes by that I don’t count that blessing. I don’t have a family to support, so that $20,000 stretches farther than it would for many American women. And naturally several part-time jobs is a far better position to be in than no jobs. All the same, two years ago, it just didn’t seem practical for me to devote that much to a travel fund.
Enter fall of 2014. Through the travel newsletter grapevine, I was invited to a day-long seminar about all things long-term travel, hosted by Meet Plan Go in New York. I didn’t learn anything there I couldn’t have found elsewhere, I didn’t hit it off with any fellow attendees, and I didn’t come out with a clear plan for my own RTW journey. But damn if it wasn’t a turning point. Simply being there, seeing over 100 people who had goals and visions like mine, and hearing from half a dozen regular folks who had lived those dreams — it cemented everything for me. Long-term travel wasn’t some nebulous pipe dream, it was real. Real for them. Real for me.
It’s taken another year for me to turn that vision and conviction into a true, strategic plan and there’s still a lot that remains to be decided, and even more that needs to be saved — I only have about 12% of my goal.
So many of the travel stories I hear gloss over these early stages. The narrative runs “I hated my job, so I took my life savings and traveled around the world and it changed my life.” I can’t blink without hearing a story like that, and in the face of so many people chatting about how easy travel is, how you just have to pick up and do it, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to get disheartened with my seeming lack of progress.
So what is my inspiration to keep going this fall? I am. Invitations to participate in The Indie Travel Challenge 2015 may not be exclusive, but one year into my RTW plans and at least another year away from the trip itself, it’s time I stopped looking to other writers for the answer to my personal motivation and started answering these questions myself. I can think of no better way to reaffirm my commitment to stop vacationing and start traveling.
So why do I travel? Because I couldn’t live my life any other way.
For more travel motivation, read these blog posts: