Job, money, health, and family… These are the topics of frequently asked questions I typically get when I share my big trip story at events or in casual meetings. This post includes my answers. They are not the only answers, but I hope they give you enough information to feel confident to plan your big trip and travel around the world.
How did you do it (travel around the world)?
Me on safari in Kenya, feeling very grateful that I made the decision to begin to travel
There are couple things I did that made “it” – two years of traveling around the world possible.
1) I made the decision and commitment to travel. I had always wanted to “travel the world,” but what did that mean exactly? In 2008, I was married and with a great corporate job, but suffocating under a heavy coat of unhappiness. It was when I spoke my truth – I wanted to travel the world – that a door opened in my heart and I was able to start thinking about what that actually meant. I don’t think one has to do something so dramatic as leave an entire life to travel the world. I do believe that one must make the decision to take a big trip and commit to that decision. It’s the first and very important step. After that, I’ve learned that things tend to fall into place.
To give me courage, I placed this quote on my mirror. I took strength from the words each morning to move forward toward my dream of traveling the world.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
2) I made the trips a priority over everything else. Once I had made the decision to travel and my first trip to India started to form in my head, I made that trip a priority over everything else. I focused my time and energy into saving and planning for that trip. Every choice I made had two paths – one that supported travel and one that didn’t. The black and white nature of decision made choices that I once fraught over – from not putting that extra item in my shopping cart in Target to saying no to attending a friend’s wedding – easier and easier.
After my first big trip to India, I returned home to a frigid Midwest winter and had one focus: to travel again. I wanted to go to the Great Pyramids of Egypt. I made every choice from the moment of touch down to the moment of my next departure to support that second trip. “Does this choice get me to the Pyramids or not?”
3) I paid for my trips with savings and by finding short-term consulting projects.
For my first trip, I went to India for about 3 months and it cost $6000. I paid for this all out of savings and returned home with a bank account so empty that I had to cash out a small Roth IRA before returning to live with my parents. I knew that I wanted to travel again, so I thought about ways to earn enough money in a short amount of time. I found a position online in user experience – something I had done before business school. I called the recruiter and said that I could absolutely do this work on a contract basis, but not full time. It was February 2009 and the U.S. was in the depths of the recession, so a contract employee was more attractive to this firm than a full-time one. I joined a project for 6 weeks, dusting off skills that were old, but very lucrative and relevant for this client.
How did you leave a “good job” to travel the world?
Me standing on the River Arno in Florence, not thinking about the good job I left behind.
I didn’t just leave a good job to travel the world. I left a very good job to travel the world. I quit a promotion-track, brand management position at the world’s largest food company to travel the world.
And here’s why: because it wasn’t for me at the time. My wanderlust had never been satisfied. I had to make a major change and reset my life to live it as I wanted instead of what I thought it “should” be. Those two years at the food company were invaluable experience – I’m glad I have them in my portfolio. It was that experience and skill set that I parlayed into a full time job upon my return.
I’ll say this a million times, your career does not go into a black hole once you leave a “good job.” Your career is your own collection of skills, network, and portfolio. Those do not go away when you leave a job to travel the world. They are right there when you return AND can be enhanced by traveling long-term because you are seeing different ways of living and working.
Jobs can serve many purposes. At the core, the function of employment is to trade money for your time, skills, and energy. If you have in-demand skills, then there will always be good jobs upon your return. If you don’t, you can use travel to determine what your next career move can be by observing things you are interested in and talking with the people – locals and travelers – involved. You may find that working abroad, going back to school, or changing careers is best for your situation.
How do you leave it all (i.e. family, house, pets, etc.) behind without feeling guilty?
Me at Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, not feeling guilty about leaving friends and family at home
I believe guilt is a choice and it’s one that I don’t make. I chose to think of my choice to leave my family and friends behind to travel as taking time to invest in my well-being. My family and friends want me to be happy. I wasn’t being “irresponsible” or negligent; I was making the effort to live my dreams.
Would you feel guilty if you made the choice to go to college, get married, have kids, and buy a house? That is, in some aspects, “leaving things behind” because you are making a choice to focus on things in your life that you feel will give it meaning. Traveling long-term requires the same focus, commitment, and leap of faith; it’s just not as societally acceptable as the other life stages, so that’s where guilt may come in.
I like this quote from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Guilt’s just your ego’s way of tricking you into thinking that you’re making moral progress. Don’t fall for it, my dear.”
And this Oprah video on “How Guilt Can Hold Us Hostage.”
What if I get sick while abroad?
Me at Machu Picchu in Peru with a raging head cold
I’m not a doctor, but depending on the illness, I can think of a few actions you can take if you get sick while sick abroad:
- You go to a pharmacy and get medicine to treat your symptoms. If you and the pharmacist do not speak the same language, then I recommend using Google translate or pictures to describe the illness. You are not the first tourist to come to the pharmacy clutching your stomach or pantomiming a head cold.
- If it’s bad enough, you talk to the front desk at your hostel or hotel and get to a doctor. If you are staying in an apartment, contact the U.S. embassy for a list of recommended doctors and hospitals.
I got a nasty rash on my second visit to India. I found a doctor by talking with people at my hotel. The doctor’s visit included a consultation, a hormone shot, and some topical medication for $16. I did not file the claim with my insurance.
You most likely will get sick abroad, either with traveler’s diarrhea or some cold. It’s important to remember that countries considered “developing” do have doctors and hospitals.
Here are a few resources to make you feel better:
What did you do for health insurance?
Me in Amsterdam, fully covered by travel insurance
I usually get World Nomads Travel Insuranceand am now an affiliate for them. Here are some FAQs about finding Travel Insurance from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association on how to pick a plan. I also like this post on Wanderlust and Lipstick about the different travel insurance options. It’s now the law in the U.S. to have health insurance, so I recommend keeping a very basic plan while abroad. Here are the full details on the U.S. Healthcare law and the exemptions.
I hope your fears are assuaged a little bit and the “hows” have been filled in a bit in your mind. I recommend getting started on planning your big trip by reading my how to guide here and list of RTW Travel Resources here.
Featured photo credit: Suitcase by ljcybergal on Flickr.