Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog
Copyrighted sample text provided by the publisher and used with permission. May be incomplete or contain other coding.
Planning Your Trip
Getting Over Your Fears
THE most difficult part about traveling the world isn’t the logistics of a trip—it’s finding the motivation to go in the first place. It takes a lot of courage to leave your life and journey into the unknown. It’s the step that most people never get past. For me, it took a trip to Thailand to get me to make the leap. For others, it’s a lot more difficult. Instead of the nudge I required, some people require a full-on shove.
While most of this book will talk about the practical, financial side of travel, the first thing I wanted to tell you is that you don’t need to be afraid of traveling the world. It’s only natural to second-guess yourself when making a big life change.
And this is a big change.
One of the most common emails I receive asks me whether or not someone should travel the world. Do they quit their job and go for it? Are they in the right stage of life? Will everything be OK if they leave? Will they get a job when they return? These emails are peppered with nervous excitement over travel’s endless possibilities, but there is also always one underlying message in the emails: “Matt, I want to go, but I’m also afraid. I need someone to tell me it will be all right.”
In my meetings with strangers, they ask me questions about my adventures. People are curious about my travels, experience, and how I got started doing this. They dream of traveling the world. “It must be such the adventure,” they tell me. “I wish I could do it.” And when I ask them what stops them, they come up with a book full of excuses as to why they can’t:
I can’t afford my trip.
I have too many responsibilities at home.
I won’t be able to make friends on the road.
I don’t want to be alone.
I have too many bills to pay.
I’m not sure I could do it.
I’m simply too scared.
With all that fear and doubt, it’s easier for someone to stay home in his or her comfort zone than to break out and travel the world. As the saying goes, “People go with the devil they know over the devil they don’t.” Home is our safe zone. We know it. We understand it. We may not always like it, but we get it, and that is a powerful force. In the end, held back by their own fears, most people stay home, dreaming of that “one perfect day” when they will finally travel.
But you know what? That day never comes. It will never be perfect.
Tomorrow, you’ll still have bills.
Tomorrow, you still won’t have just the right amount of money.
Tomorrow, there will still be someone’s wedding to attend or a birthday party to go to.
Tomorrow, you will still second-guess yourself.
Tomorrow, you’ll find another excuse as to why you can’t go.
Tomorrow, people you know will still feed the seeds of doubt in your head.
Tomorrow will come and you’ll say, “Today isn’t the right day. Let’s go tomorrow.”
Dropping everything to travel takes a lot of courage, and while many people claim “real-world responsibilities” are the reason for not traveling, I think fear of the unknown is really what holds people back.
If you bought this book, you are probably already on the right track. Taking a long-term trip is already on your mind. Maybe you are already committed or still on the fence about it. But no matter what side of the coin you fall on, know that even the most experienced travelers had doubts when they began.
I want to reassure you that you are doing the right thing.
Right here. Right now.
You Aren’t the First Person to Travel Abroad
One of the things that comforted me when I began traveling was knowing that lots of other people traveled the world before me and ended up just fine. While long-term travel might not be popular in the United States, it is a rite of passage for a lot of people around the world. People as young as high school graduates head overseas in droves for long-term trips. As you read this paragraph right now, millions of people are trekking around the world and discovering foreign lands. And if millions of eighteen-year-olds on a round-the-world trip came home in one piece, I realized there was no reason I wouldn’t either. There’s nothing I can’t do that anyone else can do. And the same goes for you.
You won’t be the first person to leave home and explore the jungles of Asia. There is a well-worn travel trail around the world where you’ll be able to find support and comfort from other travelers. Columbus had reason to be afraid. He had no idea where he was going and he was the first person to go that way. He blazed a trail. You’re going on a trail that has already been blazed. That realization helped take away some of my fear because I knew there would be other travelers on the road to comfort me.
You Are Just as Capable as Everyone Else
I’m smart, I’m capable, and I have common sense. If other people could travel the world, why couldn’t I? I realized there was no reason I wouldn’t be capable of making my way around the world. I’m just as good as everyone else. And so are you. Early in my travels, I managed to turn up in Bangkok without knowing one person and live and thrive there for close to a year. I made friends, I found a girlfriend, I had an apartment, and I even learned Thai. It was sink or swim, and I swam. I recently navigated my way through Ukraine, a country where few people speak English and even fewer signs are in the Roman alphabet, as they use the Cyrillic script there. Then there are little things like figuring out a local subway, using a map to navigate unknown streets, and making yourself understood without learning the local language. I once went “choo choo” to a taxi driver to make it understood I needed to go to the train station. It worked. Nobody steps out into the world knowing it all. They pick it up along the way. Don’t doubt yourself. You get by in your regular life just fine. The same will be true when you travel.
The World Isn’t as Dangerous as the Media Says
CNN, FOX News, and other major media outlets often make the world outside our borders look like a pretty scary place, where you’d be crazy to leave the safety of the United States. They paint a picture of a world filled with violence, anti-Americanism, rampant natural disasters, and lots of crime. But in all my years of traveling, I have never encountered any problem or suffered from any anti-Americanism. One of the main reasons why the world seems so dangerous is because we have instant communication now. Whenever anything happens, we can know about it right away through twenty-four-hour news, Twitter, or Facebook. Earthquakes have always happened, but we could never find out about them instantaneously through online media before.
My mother constantly tells me when I go anywhere in the world to “be careful,” as if the world is a big scary place. She’ll tell me how nervous she is if I end up in a country that she once heard about in the news . . . in 1975. I try to tell her that the world is not that scary and I could get mugged just as easily in New York, Miami, or Houston as I could in London, Beijing, or Brazil and sometimes she’ll agree, stating “I guess you have a point.” Many of my old coworkers do the same. My friend was going to join me in Thailand, and when she told her coworkers that, they replied, “Why would you want to go there? Hawaii has beaches and do they even have electricity in Thailand?”
We believe what we hear on TV so easily because we don’t hear otherwise. I remember watching The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and he often did a sketch called “Jay Walking” in which he would ask Americans questions about foreign leaders or countries, and most people were stumped. According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2010, only 10.5 percent of news coverage is related to international affairs. That is shockingly low. It’s no surprise to me that so many people know so little about the world, when they are exposed to such little information.
However, realize that everyone around the world wants the same things that you want. They all have jobs, families, and things to do. They want their kids to be safe, earn money, and be allowed to live life. They want to be left alone. They aren’t looking for trouble. Travelers from all corners of the world are crossing paths every day without any problems. In any city in the world, use your street smarts to avoid dodgy situations, and you will be fine. Parts of New York City can be just as unsafe as other parts of the world.
As a whole, the world is no more or less safe than any part of the United States. Using common sense, you will not encounter any problems you can’t find in an American city.
You Will Make Friends
People always ask me how to make friends on the road. They tell me they’re not very social and that it’s hard for them to meet and talk to strangers. After all, not everyone can walk up to a stranger and say hello. You might spend the first few days traveling by yourself, afraid of making the first contact. I was really shy when I hit the road. I could talk my friends’ ears off, but when meeting a stranger, I grew silent. Now I have no problems talking to people, and I can thank travel for learning that skill.
The good news is that when you travel, you are never alone. There are many solo travelers making their way across the world who are in the same boat as you. They want companionship. They want friends. You’ll find people who will come up and talk to you out of the blue. When people see me sitting alone in a hostel, they walk up to me and ask if I’d like to join them. I was recently having a beer in Bangkok, and another guest at my hostel came up to me and we struck up a conversation. Two of my best friends were met because I said hello in a guesthouse in Vietnam. I have attended the weddings of friends I met while asking to join their Frisbee game on the beach. After a while, it becomes normal to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.
Travelers are friendly people who want to make friends. And one of those friends is you.
You Are Never Too Old
Budget travel, backpacking, round-the-world trips—these trips aren’t just for the young. While I was in Poland, I met a sixty-five-year-old American in my hostel. He was traveling around Europe before heading to India. And people were talking to him. He was sharing stories from his youth and drinking a few beers with the younger backpackers. He was never an outcast. My friend once saw a man in his seventies making a big trip around the world because, as he said, he didn’t have much time left and wanted to see the world. It was now or never. And he had a number of ailments and carried many prescriptions, but he still went.
I’ve seen families with their children on buses in Southeast Asia and retirees camping in Australia. The point is that you are never too old to go. Some of my favorite encounters on the road have been with older travelers, as they always have the best stories. Like they say, you are only as old as you feel.
You Can Always Come Back
If you make it three months into your trip and decide that long-term travel isn’t for you, it’s perfectly OK to return home. I’ve met a few travelers who, months into their trip, realized that they really liked being at home and missed it terribly. They missed their friends, family, and significant others. So they cut their trip short and went home.
There’s no shame in doing that. There’s no such thing as failure in the world of travel. Your trip is your own. You went away for yourself, not for other people. And, in the end, you only need worry about yourself. Getting up and going is more than most people do, and if traveling isn’t for you, at least you tried it. That in itself is a major accomplishment. Whether you are gone for one day, one month, or one year, you still will have learned and grown from your adventure.
If there is anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that these fears, like all fears, are unfounded, because in the end, life works out. Your bills disappear when you cancel your cable, phone, and Internet.
Walking away was easy for me, but I understand that not everyone can just cut loose as quickly as I did. Some of us have mortgages, parents to take care of, or children. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to travel.
People think that once they have children, they can’t travel. But every year, families set off to travel the world. Having children didn’t stop the James family. Craig and Dani James of thewidewideworld .com took their two children on a yearlong trip around the world in 2008. As Dani (the mom) puts it, the James children “would soon be on their way to adulthood. We were rapidly approaching our last chance to do something really special together as a family—to do something that would impact the way we thought of ourselves, individually and as a family.”
The Jameses saw an opportunity to travel as a family. They wanted it and went for it, but it wasn’t always easy. Taking your kids out of school can be a real concern too. To which the Jameses said, “You can minimize any disruption to schooling with some careful planning. Conor was missing sixth grade and Caroline, ninth. Conor’s middle school was excited about his adventure and confident he could handle seventh grade when we returned. For Caroline, it was slightly more complicated because there are state requirements for high school graduation. We needed, at a minimum, to get Caroline through English 9 while we traveled, to keep her on grade level. To keep Caroline on track we enrolled her in an online homeschool program accredited by Montgomery County. This way, she had a professional teacher available via Internet and we would get a transcript, making reentry into the school system easier. We had no trouble getting either kid enrolled with their peers in the fall. I had worried a lot about the high school credits being easily accepted. It turned out not to be a problem.”
Having a family doesn’t need to be a barrier to world travel. The James family did what thousands of other families had done before them and have done since. Don’t believe having a family means ending your travels.
Moreover, owning a house doesn’t need to be a hindrance to your travels. Sean and Dawn Lynch of wanderingwhy.com had a house before they went away. As Dawn put it, “Being a homeowner is only an excuse if you make it one. Sure, it was something we had to figure out how to handle while we were gone, but it is really not all that difficult. Decide if you are selling or renting, take action, and go—you’ll have no regrets.”
Having a home creates many questions, such as what do you do with your home and your stuff? As Sean said, “Look into a reputable property management company to watch after your home while you’re away. For 5 to 10 percent of the rent, they should run a complete background check on any potential tenants and have the means to handle the property maintenance while you are away. The objective was not to turn a profit on our home, but to hit the pause button while we were away.”
The James family also had to do something with their house. Dani recounts, “A friend of ours needed to rent a house near Washington, DC, for a year, so our house in the Maryland suburbs was a great fit. It was a fortunate circumstance—our friend needed a furnished house, so we didn’t have to put any furniture in storage. We had no worries about our house or our belongings—we knew they were in good hands.”
For every excuse, there is a solution.
As people in your life offer both praise and criticism of your trip, you may be nervous and wonder if you are doing the right thing. It’s normal to have these fears. Just remember the above tips, calm your nerves, and ease your fears.
Your future may hold mouthwatering meals in foreign countries, tropical beaches you only thought existed in a postcard, winding alleyways in European cities that throw you back into the Middle Ages, or jungles so dense and teeming with wildlife you’ll feel like you are living in an issue of National Geographic magazine.