I tell friends or acquaintances I'm traveling to another far-flung locale, I receive a version of the following response: "I wish I could travel more, but I don't have the money." Or sometimes the issue isn't money but time. Or energy. Or children.
When I hear this, I want to proclaim: "But you can travel! There's really nothing standing in your way but yourself! Book a ticket now!" However, even existential bucketlist checking requires pragmatism (especially if you want to do it often), so I've devised a list of how anyone can make travel to destinations near and afar a reality.
Myth #1: I don't have the money. I live in Silicon Valley, where most people have money for a smartphone, a car, and a grande macchiato with soy milk and hazelnut syrup. Yet many of these people say they can't fork down money for a plane ticket. Anyone can raise the funds if you make some lifestyle changes. Brew your own coffee (which some have estimated can save upwards of $1,000 per year). Bike to work (and save on gym membership too). Use your phone until it dies, rather than waiting for the next model.
When you pick a location to travel, there are several sites such as San Francisco-based Mobissimo that scour the web for the cheapest tickets. Several airlines have frequent flier mile programs that actually do add up. American Airlines, for example, requires 20,000 miles for a one-way flight to Europe in the off-season. Those miles can be achieved through a few round-trip domestic flights.
When you head to your destination, travel on the cheap. Couchsurfing allows you to stay with hosts around the U.S. and world for free -- and as an added bonus see the location from an insider's perspective. Instead of eating out every meal, visit local markets (a cultural experience in itself) and cook, or order low- cost and tasty street food. Instead of renting a car or going on a tour bus, take local public transportation. Buy a local SIM card for your phone or communicate with folks back home over Skype, rather than having your cell phone bill stretch into triple digits.
Myth #2: I have no time. America may have won the stereotype as the "no-vacation nation" but most of us actually have the time. Only 57 percent of Americans use all the vacation days they entitled to, as opposed to 89 percent in France, according to a recent Reuters/Ispos poll. We may not have the four or more weeks as mandated by countries such as Germany and Japan, but many full and part-time positions offer two weeks, which can add up to a sizeable trip when used at once. Many companies allow employees to take unpaid leave for up to three months if they are in good standing. Check in with your HR division before assuming that this won't apply to you.
What if you're a freelancer, or student, or unemployed? This usually does not mean that you cannot travel -- just that you have more flexibility with your time! Take advantage of these hiatuses between whatever your normal lifestyle is to pick up or brandish a language, volunteer for a worthy cause, or explore a country (or continent!) in a way that can't be squeezed neatly into two weeks.
Myth #3: I have children. Most children have three months off every year. This is vastly different than most of the working world (except for their teachers). There are several family home exchange programs, enabling parents to stay at their chosen destination for a longer time with their children. Check Lonely Planet's Traveling with Kids for a comprehensive resource on choosing the right adventure with your children -- whether it be riding ostriches in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand, or braving summertime lines at Great America.
Myth #4: Pero no hablo español. Many people are intimidated by going to a country where there's a language barrier. Most countries will have English speakers, at the least, at local tourist offices or any hospitality institutions (hotels, hostels, etc.) Even if you don't speak the language, learning the essentials (hello, thank you, 'where is the best gelato?') will carry you far, and endear you to locals for making an effort. And it is always possible to communicate non-verbally: when I was in Gdańsk, Poland, I was running late to catch a ferry. I hailed a cab, and received a driver who didn't speak a word of English. I quickly drew water with an object resembling a boat on it on the back of a receipt, and he took me to the nearby harbor.
Myth #5: I have no one to travel with. Want to summit Mt. Whitney, but have no friends willing to don crampons and climb nearly 15,000 feet with you? Especially in the Bay Area, it's possible to find like-minded traveling partners through offline and online forums such as Meetup.com. Try San Francisco World Travelers, Travel Buddies in San Jose, or Bay Area Bucket Listers.
Myth #6: It would be irresponsible of me to travel. You have a lot of clients who depend on you at your job. You'd miss that big company call. You should pay off your mortgage before learning to tango in Buenos Aires.
Yes, you have a lot on your plate. Most of us do. But if we can't enjoy the free time we work so hard to achieve, we become burnt out, and the law of diminishing returns confronts us. It's analogous to crop production: If you add more and more fertilizer to crops, eventually you will yield less rather than more per unit. It's the same idea with writing emails for hours on end. Step away from it all, come back refreshed, and actually improve your productivity.
Myth #7: I have no need to travel. I believed a friend in San Francisco when he said he was so happy with his job, friends and (especially) city that he didn't need to get away. In fact, he had not taken a vacation in five years. I did not believe, however, that a getaway would not be beneficial for him.
More power to you if your favorite vacation spot is your own backyard. Many people, even in the San Francisco Bay Area, overlook the multitude of culture, and nature, and fascinating influences from around the world that form a bubble of coolness around us. Yet we can all see and appreciate our own backyards more through stepping into others. So what's stopping you?
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