The Decade I Learned to Travel - And How You Can, Too
During the 2000s, I talked a lot about traveling. During the 2010s, I finally turned the talk into trips.
I made it to Italy in 2006, as part of a crew covering the Torino Olympics. I explored a little bit of Tuscany in the days after those games, and discovered how much I enjoyed it. Upon my return, I told anyone who would listen that I intended on heading back to Italy as soon as humanly possible.
It would be six years before I made it out of the U.S. again (a work trip to Bermuda) and another three years before I left the continent for fun. But that quick trip to Madrid & Lisbon in February 2015 changed everything. Before I knew it, I booked another trip, then another, then another. Nearly five years later, I've been on seven more international trips, hitting more of Europe, plus South America, Africa, and Asia. I already have the next trip (to Georgia & Turkey) booked, and looking for destinations for the one after that. I don't expect it to slow down anytime soon.
So how did it happen? As I've told you, I'm not independently wealthy. I live a decidedly middle-class lifestyle. I'm not even particularly adventurous. I canceled that first solo trip to Spain & Portugal before finally re-booking a shortened version of it.
In the 2000s, I made a lot of excuses for NOT going anywhere. In the 2010s, I disposed of those excuses, one by one. I know a lot of people make those same excuses, so in my last post of the 2010s, I'm here to help you dispel them.
1) It's Expensive
Travel certainly can be a big budget item, but it doesn't have to be. If you're willing to be flexible, there's virtually always a cheap airfare going somewhere. Hostels and AirBnBs can bring the cost of accommodations way down, and if you balance out your classy restaurant meals with smaller cafes and street food, even your food budget can be manageable. And, there's a reason that my first forays into Europe were to places like Portugal and Poland, and NOT Brussels and Berlin. Some destinations are way more budget-friendly than others. If expense is a concern, pick them!
Finally, once travel becomes a priority/addiction, budget for it! I put a certain amount of money aside every week in a separate bank account that I call "TIM'S TRAVEL MONEY". And that's how I use it. The amount you put away is up to you, but even $20 a week (one meal out) ends up being $1,040 over the course of a year. Plus, there are all sorts of credit cards/loyalty accounts that will net you free airline tickets or hotel rooms over time. Much of my recent Japan trip was paid that way. My personal favorite is the Venture Card from Capital One, but there are literally dozens of others out there as well. If you're serious about traveling, they're worth looking into.
2) It's Lonely
This is one I used a lot... 'I'll wait until I have a wife/girlfriend/travel buddy to go with'. I even shortened the initial Spain/Portugal trip because I pictured myself bored, lonely and sad for days at a time. Here's the thing - it's just the opposite. Not having a partner to concentrate all your conversation and itinerary on forces you to talk to strangers, whether they be hotel/restaurant staff, tour guides, or fellow travelers. I've met so many people from around the world that I would have never bothered to talk to had I been traveling with someone else. One of my favorite nights of the Peru trip was running into a group of crazy Germans on a walking tour of Lima and then hanging out with them all night! And - trust me on this - you're not the only one traveling solo. If you need socialization on your travels, reputable companies like Intrepid and GAdventures have small-group trips going virtually anywhere you can imagine with like-minded travelers. There are specialty trips for solo travelers, couples, foodies, hikers, and people in their 30s, or 40s, or 50s and up. You'll only be lonely if you want to be.
3) It's Dangerous
Ah, the internet. Rife with stories of marauding pickpockets in Europe, of drug gangs waiting to assault travelers in Latin America, of terrorists hiding around every corner in the Middle East. It's enough to make you want to stay home and, well, build a wall.
The reality is that most of the places you will go to around the world are as safe - or safer - than most major American cities. The same precautions you would take to protect yourself and your valuables in Charlotte or Chicago are the ones you take in Malta or Marrakech. It's really that simple.
Of course, there are exceptions. I won't be going to North Korea, Afghanistan, or Syria anytime soon. I do check the travel advisories from the U.S. State Department when I research any potential travel destinations, and then I check the equivalent Canadian and British sites, which tend to be a little less politically motivated than the American ones right now.
On all my travels thus far (knock on wood), I have been assaulted a total of zero times and scammed once (and that was my own damn fault, something I'll get into on another post). The bottom line is if you use some common sense and take some basic precautions, you'll be fine throughout most of the world.
4) I don't know the language
This one is certainly a legitimate concern, but I've found that memorizing a few key phrases in the native tongue ('please', 'thank you', 'excuse me', 'cheers!', etc.) will get you through in most of the world. I am ashamed to say that like most Americans, I am monolingual, with a very rudimentary bit of Spanish thrown in, but I've learned a handful of these phrases in several languages before every trip I've taken. The big knock against traveling Americans is that they don't even bother to try. No one expects you to learn Hungarian for a few days in Budapest, or be able to read Japanese when you hit the ground in Tokyo. But throwing in an 'arigato gozaimas' or 'sumimasen' here and there will tell the locals that you care enough about their culture to make the effort. And that goes a long way in breaking down barriers between people who aren't able to have a complete conversation.
Besides, most people who work in the international tourism industry will know at least some English. For those that don't, apps such as Google Translate can be a godsend. Download it. Of course, international travel may not be for everyone, and that's perfectly fine. But if you want to travel, get out there and do it. Don't let excuses keep you from exploring our amazing world. I'll end this post with a favorite quote from Mark Twain:
Here's to another decade of exploration!