If you are a travel lover, an adventurer, or are questioning what it is you really want out of life, then maybe it’s time you find out what those three little letters mean, and why it is that you should consider taking a Round The World trip of your own.
Some think it’s crazy, some think it’s impossible, some think, “There’s no way I could do it.” I’m here to let you in a little secret. It’s certainly not crazy. It’s most definitely possible. And yes, there is a way you could do it. So get rid of those excuses and get ready to hit the road for a life-changing adventure.
1. You are only going to get older.
This is one of the most-used excuses in the book. “I’m not 18, or 22, or (fill in whatever age you think is still appropriate for traveling for an extended period of time), so I can’t do that.” That’s crap, and deep down, you know it. I was 30 when we hit the road for our RTW, and we met travelers ranging from 18 to people in their 60’s to families with kids – in hostels, taking buses, on mountain treks. We saw people of all ages, so while it may not be common to take a RTW trip at your particular age, it is not impossible, and other people do it.
Whether you’re 17 and sitting in class right now, or whether you’re already retired sitting at home sipping your morning coffee, or you’re any age in between, one thing is for sure: you are only going to get older. So now is the time. No matter your age, as time goes on, it’s common you will want more comfort and less adventure in your life. It’s a lot easier to endure 24 hour bus rides, stinky, grimy, loud hostels, and multi-day treks through the Andes when you’re young. These are many of the things you may have to do when on an extended trip around the world, and the older you get, the less likely you are to enjoy these types of activities. One thing is certain, though, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to pull the trigger.
2. In many cases, it’s cheaper to travel.
One of the biggest reasons people give for not traveling long-term is that they can’t afford it. That’s simply a myth. Having the discipline to save for a trip of this magnitude is certainly not easy, nor is having to bypass luxuries like going out for dinner and drinks and buying that new car, television, or outfit. But thinking that a RTW trip is only for the rich or those with a trust fund is simply wrong.
When we’re talking about the everyday expenses of traveling vs. living at home, particularly for those living in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere around Europe, chances are it’s going to be cheaper to travel for an extended period of time than to live at home. Mortgage payments, rent, bills, car payments, food, and drinks are all more expensive in western countries. Traveling around the world to areas like South America, Africa, SE Asia, India, the Middle East, and even parts of Eastern Europe are much cheaper than simply living your everyday life at home.
Even if you’re a little older than the gap-year traveler straight out of high school or those in their early-mid twenties traveling right after college, you can still get by easily in many parts of the world for about $35-40/day. And that’s for everything. Accommodation (even private rooms with your own bathroom), food, transport, and activities are all included in that price tag. Try living in the US, England, Canada, or Oz for that much.
3. You will learn much more from experiencing different cultures than sitting behind a desk or in a classroom.
While school, work, and a career are certainly important, they’re not the most important things in life. Educating oneself and expanding your horizons can have more impact on you as a person than your job, career, or even schooling. You can experience new and interesting cultures on a daily basis and educate yourself on how the rest of the world lives while traveling.
It’s easier to understand a country like India if you are there, talking to the citizens and experiencing their daily lives than by reading a book about India. You can see for yourself the impact that war and poverty have had in countries like Laos and Cambodia while you’re there, perhaps volunteering and making a difference. You can learn many new skills, like patience, bargaining, and communication with other cultures while on the road much easier than you can while sitting in a cube. Education and careers are important, and I certainly don’t mean to downplay either, but getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing different cultures firsthand can have a much bigger impact on your life than a year of schooling and/or work. Besides, work and school will still be there when you return.
4. If you’re not well traveled, here’s your chance.
Not everyone was lucky enough to grow up in a family that was well-traveled (mine certainly wasn’t). Many people in their twenties and thirties may never have left their home country before. And while this may deter some from embarking on a trip like this, it absolutely should not. In fact, it should be a motivator to get on the road and see the world. Don’t use “I’ve never left my country, it will be too hard” as an excuse. Yes, it will be hard at times, but the only way to become a traveler and see the world is to actually get out there and travel.
If you’ve dreamed of seeing the world and traveling for an extended period of time, then do it! This is your chance! This was a concern of ours before our RTW trip. We had only been to Mexico (to resorts) and on a short Western Europe trip, so places like Bolivia, Vietnam, and India seemed very intimidating to us. While there were certainly challenges along the way, the high points far outweighed the low ones, and forcing ourselves outside of our comfort zone provided us with lasting memories. Not having traveled much before is simply an excuse, and there’s only one way to change that.
5. You can be free from all your crap.
While I’m very far from being a minimalist, there was just something freeing about living out of a backpack for a year. Having all my possessions on my back just made life easier. There was no pondering for an hour about which outfit to wear or what shoes to put on (when you only have 3 outfits and 2 pairs of shoes, it’s much simpler). A lot of the time, more stuff means more headaches, and now that we’ve been home for over five years, I can’t count how many times we said to each other, “It was just so much easier on the road, not having a car or a house or all this stuff that can break or get damaged or costs money.”
Don’t misunderstand me here. I like stuff. I grew up and live in America, a culture built upon collecting as much stuff as you can. And while I do still enjoy having nice stuff, after having lived both ways, I can firmly say that happiness does not only come from how many possessions one has. Happiness, at least for me, comes more from experiences, from living life, from seeing amazing sites and meeting new and interesting people. You can have your 5 pairs of $100 jeans. I’ll take my dirty backpack, ridiculous-looking zip-off pants, and Chang Beer tank top.
6. You can be free to finally pursue what it is you truly love.
When you’re working 50-60 hours a week and have family, friends, and obligations, it’s difficult to pursue what it is that truly makes you happy. Sure, there are some who are lucky enough to love their job and have that as their passion. But the majority of us don’t do what we really want to do for our careers. We do what it is we have to do to get by. This is your chance to do something different.
Have you always dreamt about getting certified to teach yoga? Have you always wanted to learn how to scuba dive? Do you love photography but never had the time to really work on it? Do you want to play your guitar more? Have you thought about volunteering with young children in need? Do you want to learn how to cook a new cuisine? Or maybe, like me, you’ve thought about what it would be like to pursue that one dream you had growing up – to be a writer?
Whatever your dream or passion is, a RTW trip will allow you the time and freedom to finally pursue those dreams. The excuses for not following what it is you truly love are now gone, replaced by all the time and freedom in the world. If I was ranking these reasons, this would probably be #1. There is no price tag for getting a second chance to do what it is you love. And extended travel releases you from your obligations and gives you that chance.
7. You get to do what you want, when you want, every single day.
Perhaps the coolest thing about RTW travel is this. Waking up every day and saying, without anything else holding you back, “What should I/we do today?” When’s the last time you’ve been able to do that? Can you even remember? There are so many obligations at home that tie us down, and having the freedom, as an adult, to do exactly what you want when you want every single day is one of the best feelings in the world.
Want to go sit and lounge on the beach all day for a week with your favorite pile of books? Do it! Want to go hike to the top of a mountain or volcano? Go for it! Want to eat yourself into a coma? Nothing wrong with that! Want to sleep all day and sit in the common area of your hostel watching movies? Who’s going to tell you not to? Want to go to the pub and drink yourself silly? Hey, you don’t have to work tomorrow!
8. You can see iconic sites after iconic site after iconic site.
Over the course of a year, we hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, went on a Salar de Uyuni tour, visited Iguazu Falls, hiked all over Patagonia, went ice climbing on a glacier in New Zealand, watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, saw the Taj Mahal, and hiked in the Himalayas. And that was just a tiny portion of what we did and saw during our year-long RTW trip. I say this not to brag, but to show you what is possible with extended travel. All of these iconic places were on our travel bucket lists, and we managed to cross them all off in less than a year (though we managed to add twice as many new sites along the way).
When this becomes your life, whether it’s for a few months or a couple years, it’s pretty amazing. Sailing up the Mekong River one day and then being at Angkor Wat two days later was just incredible. Hiking to different glaciers in Patagonia three days in a row was a powerful and awesome experience. Walking through the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu for the very first time is a memory burned into my brain forever.
9. Putting your career/relationship/purchases on hold is just temporary.
These are perhaps the biggest excuses out there. “Quitting my job will be career suicide. I’m saving for a house and just can’t do it now. My boyfriend is most likely going to propose soon, so I can’t do something like this now.” I’m going to let you in a little secret. That job? It will still be there. A new house? They have many of those, too. A proposal? Well, maybe if it hasn’t happened, yet, there’s a reason for that. Or maybe you can get your significant other to share this amazing experience with you.
For those of us who grew up in cultures where you go to school, graduate, start a career, get married, buy a house, and have kids, straying from that path can be daunting. Believe me, I know. We were on that exact path before deciding to go on our RTW. But what if you don’t really want that path? What if you constantly think of doing something different? What if you just want to quit it all and go explore for a while?
You can do that. I assure you. While you may be met with negative words from some people, most of the time it’s because they wish they had the guts to do the same. All that stuff you’d be leaving behind? It will still be there when you return. You may not be able to get the same job, be on the same career path, have the same boyfriend or girlfriend, or buy that same house.
But after a trip like this, chances are you won’t want all those same things.
One of the things I didn’t expect from our trip was how much it changed me. I knew I would probably look at certain things differently when we returned. But our experiences completely changed how I viewed the world, my life, and what I wanted out of it. Maybe it was the horrific poverty we experienced in some places. Maybe it was the freedom of being on the road and doing whatever we wanted for an entire year. Maybe it was seeing and reading about other travelers pursuing their dreams.
It was probably a combination of everything, but suddenly, I wanted more out of life. Whatever I was going to do when we returned, I wanted to love it. I was no longer satisfied with a job that I enjoyed, a life I really liked.
I wasn’t unhappy before we left. Quite the contrary, I was very happy with my life. But after the trip, I wanted more. Call me greedy, but I wanted to not only enjoy my job, but feel passionate about it. I wanted to not only be happy with my daily life, but love where I lived and what I did. The trip really hit home for me and made me re-evaluate what I wanted out of life. As corny as it sounds, our RTW trip made me realize just how short this life is, and it gave me the confidence and motivation to seek out the life I truly want.
This was the biggest reason of them all when it came down to why we decided to chuck it all and head out on the road for a year. Regret. After reading about RTW trips, talking to others who had done it, and thinking about whether or not it was right for us, what it came down to was this: If we decided to bypass the trip and go on the path that we were on, would we regret our decision 5, 10, 20 years down the road? On the flip side, if we were to get rid of most of our stuff, quit our jobs, and take off on this epic adventure, would we regret it 5, 10, 20 years down the line?
Once we broke it down like that, the answer was easy. By not going, we were setting ourselves up for a lifetime of “What if’s…” By going, would we really ever regret doing and seeing the things we were going to experience? How would it be possible to regret volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia? Or spending New Year’s Eve with a local Argentine family in Buenos Aires? Or being invited to a home-made lunch at a painter’s studio in India? Or teaching English to college kids in Laos and learning about their lives? Or waking up to the view of 23,000 foot (7000 m) Himalayan peaks?
The answers? We wouldn’t, and we haven’t.
It’s never easy to do something that isn’t deemed normal or popular by the culture you live in. Some will denigrate you, some will put you down, some will dismiss your plan as stupid. What’s important when making a decision of this magnitude is how you feel about it. Disregard what others think. Do what’s best for you as a person; what’s best for your life. RTW, long-term travel certainly isn’t for everyone, but there are tons of people who would benefit from a trip like this.