Travel has been an important part of my lifestyle for the past five years, a hobby I live and breathe in any way I can. I subscribe to travel blogs and magazines, follow travel Instagram accounts, troll through Flickr for inspiring travel photography, anything to maintain the fuel in my wanderlust engine. I have made it a priority in my life to go somewhere new every year, and this year, I’m taking a big step by going on a five month solo adventure through South America.
This decision has been met by varying emotions and feedback. For the most part, people are happy and excited for me. Others (like my mother) respond with tepid anxiety; fears not only of me going out into the world on my own, but of the life, job, and responsibilities I’m leaving behind.
But the response that gets under my skin is this: “Wow amazing you’re so lucky!1!1!!”
In several regards, there is a bit of luck to my life. I won the birth lottery growing up in a Canadian city as part of a middle class family. I’m white. I did well in school growing up and experienced not one, but two sets of post-secondary education. In those regards alone, I know that my quality of life is better than the vast majority of the planet.
But, this decision to go on this adventure, though finalized only weeks ago, is a decision two years in the making (and saving. Oh god the saving).
It’s “Travel Memes” like this one below that perpetuate ANYONE can spontaneously quit their jobs, buy a plane ticket, save an African orphanage, etc., and it takes nothing more than luck, positive thinking, and “wanting badly enough to live your bliss” to make the adventure of a lifetime happen.
The truth is, none of what the travel memes tell you can happen without a decent amount of sacrifice (and a certain degree of privilege, as I said earlier).
As I mentioned, I decided that I would do this big trip two years ago. I went on a solo three week trip to Iceland after a particularly devastating and difficult time in my life, and was amazed at the healing power of travel. I committed to myself that in 2016, following the completion of my second round of post-secondary education and some saving time, I would go on a long, solo adventure. Back then, I didn’t know what it would entail or where I would go – I just knew I would go. And I knew that, in the meantime leading up to 2016, I would have to make some significant sacrifices in order to make this happen. I am incredibly grateful (perhaps lucky) that I was able to keep this promise to myself. And over the past two years, this is what I have given up in order to make this travel goal a reality:
- When I made the decision in 2014 to travel, I was living in a lovely downtown apartment with a roommate, close to everything I love in my city. I discussed with my roommate my plans, and in February 2015, when our lease was up, I moved back home into my parents’ basement in northern suburbia, and have been living there ever since. I live rent-,utility- and grocery bill-free, but I’m a 25 year old with a big girl job who lives with her parents – try explaining that one to strangers you’ve just met.
- As an aside, living in northern suburbia in the sprawling city of Edmonton makes it impossible to be without a car (it’s close to nothing, I have a long commute to drive as it is let alone public transit), so I have kept paying for my car and gas, though this is something I could have also given up to save even more money. I will likely have to sell the car before I leave.
- I have turned down several promising job opportunities in the past year because I knew I would be leaving and it wouldn’t be fair to the employer. Which, consequently, has resulted in me keeping the job I have. This has made conversations with my “successful” friends who are my age, who prioritized their careers more and subsequently make much more money (I haven’t gotten a raise in 2 years), awkward and damaging to my feelings of self-worth.
- I make my own lunch and avoid the $6 lattes every day. (Though this helps with cutting back calories too!)
- Shopping, which was once my greatest form of therapy, was cut back by a ton (unless I could justify it for my trip, and I’m reeeeally good at justifying clothes).
- I stopped partying. Nights out with the combination of cover, cocktails, and cabs (again, cabs to far out suburbia are not cheap) are expensive. If I do go out, I often drive myself. The last time I really partied was at a wine festival I went to as a free guest (with free drinks!) six months ago – and I had a free Uber ride home, too.
None of the above, as you can imagine, has been easy throughout this past year. But I’ve saved money. I’ve been able to deliberate absolutely everything over a significant period of time and how this will impact all areas of my life. Last year, I actually sacrificed the length and location of this “big trip” so I could do a trip to Spain and Portugal with my boyfriend – which obviously took a big dip out of my savings. Also, he entered the picture AFTER I made this decision to do a big trip – which left me hesitant to be away for the length of time I originally envisioned. Life happens, ya know.
The focus of this trip will be predominantly to travel and not work, but I could extend this adventure by even more (and, consequently, wouldn’t have had to save as much money) if I found an English teaching job, traded time for accommodation at a hostel, or pursued another “workaway” option. These are options that make travel a possibility for those who aren’t able to save as much money for a trip – and many travel bloggers go into great detail about how to make this work. I’d rather see more (and write more!) – so I had to save more money.
It has never been as simple as kicking a job to the curb and buying the first plane ticket out of dodge. Yes – this was a thing that I BADLY wanted to do, but I had to make it happen. A meme didn’t make it happen for me, nor did an overused (and taken out of context) Lord of the Rings quote, or a clickbait article telling me all the reasons why I should quit my job and travel the world RIGHT NOW. LIKE RIGHT NOW. DON’T EVEN STOP TO PEE FIRST.
If you want a life of travel adventures to be your reality, you have to make that decision for yourself. And if you don’t want a life of travel adventures, and are more comfortable at home, THAT IS FINE TOO. Your life is no less better or fulfilling than “the woman who travelled the globe” if you stay at home, as long as that is what makes you happy. Don’t let the travel memes make you feel bad about yourself, friend.
And maybe this kind of trip like the one I’m about to embark on will never be possible for you due to circumstances beyond your control, and with that I can empathize. You have to make financial sacrifices – and maybe that’s just too difficult at this time in your life. Maybe it will always be too difficult. That’s a choice, like all things in life are, that you make.
Depending on where you go and what you do, you may not need a LOT of money to travel, but you’ll need SOME money, and maybe you have to consider working abroad to be able to do that. You have to make plans. You have to be brave enough to break from your comfort zone.
It isn’t easy.
(I’m pretty sure it’s worth it though).