Who Are These RTW Travelers?
To find out the types of people RTW travelers are, why they embark on RTW’s and if their journeys are worth the money, the time and the risks, I surveyed folks who are either on the road or who have returned from a RTW trip. They willingly shared both details and feelings about their trips.
From their responses, I discovered RTW travelers are from all walks of life. Their careers range from the more artistic, such as writers, to the more business and technically oriented, such as computer programmers and management consultants. The majority of the respondents were in their late 20’s and early 30’s during their RTW journeys, though there are others who waited until later in their lives to travel.
Emil and Liliana Schmid began traveling in 1984 when they were 43 and are still on the go after visiting 128 countries and gaining entry into the Guinness Book of World Records as the Longest Driven Journey. According to Emil, “[We began] driving through Africa for at least one year, and then it became longer and longer and longer and is still continuing.”
Most of the survey respondents traveled as couples, but there were also single travelers and family travelers. Jason Cochran traveled solo from April 1998 to October 1999 to countries including Scotland, Nepal and Australia. “I went alone but came back with dozens of soulmates. Are you really ever alone if you do this right? You have to try to be alone on a RTW journey.”
George Mason and his wife Salli Slaughter took a year trip with their daughters, who at the time were 24 and 7 years old. “At dinner with my wife celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary, we realized our lives were in a rut, our daughters growing much too fast, and it was time to do something very dramatic to change it all.” To change it all, they traveled for a year across the US, Europe and East Asia.
Why Do They Do It?
Though there are many differences between RTW travelers, ages, careers and stage in life, they all share a taste for adventure, learning and a willingness to walk away from conventional lifestyles. A long-term journey around the world involves a myriad of risks. Examples are the risks of not finding a job upon return, getting sick from the water, and stolen baggage. RTW travelers understand and consider these risks part of the adventure.
Gregg Butensky, who embarked on his 1999-2000 RTW responded to why he decided to travel around the world, “Because there is nothing like being here. You learn everyday – in ways you can’t from a book a photo or a web page.” Christie Wiley, currently in the middle of her RTW with her husband, emailed from Nepal, “We both have a clearer understanding of the issues people face in the countries we’ve visited. We have a better appreciation for world events, and feel like we have more educated opinions about what our foreign policy should be.”
Is it Worth It?
Journeying around the world is not a lazy vacation. It is a different kind of work. Every day RTW travelers must learn how to adapt to a new culture, language and place. The simplest chores such as washing clothes and mailing letters become difficult.
There are a lot of conveniences and luxuries that RTW travelers do without. They miss communication with family and friends. They miss greasy American burgers and baseball. They get tired of living out of a bag. But despite all of this, their common view is that the work is intensely fulfilling.
Chris Farrell, who traveled with his wife Paige from 1998-1999 explains, “Let’s be honest: not working is pretty fantastic. But anyone who thinks that traveling is a vacation has never done it. It’s hard work, perhaps the single hardest thing you’ll ever do. But therefore it is also infinitely more rewarding than anything you’ll ever do.”
On these trips, the travelers learn not only more about the world, but gain a better understanding of themselves and inwardly change. The main response to “what did you learn on your RTW?” was “Patience.” In their daily lives after their RTW’s, several discovered they react to situations differently than before the trip.
Jason Cochran’s friends noticed changes in him, “The changes were so gradual, they’re hard to pinpoint. But my friends tell me that I am infinitely more patient, noticeably less neurotic, and now prone to impromptu poetic rhapsodizing.” Janet Anderson, who camped across the world with her husband from 1995 to 1996, gained more confidence in all areas of life, “Our biggest lesson was that we can venture into the unknown and survive it. We have much more confidence now in the things we take on in life. We have since started our own company (something we wouldn’t have done before) and feel secure knowing that we can handle things better than before.”
The most definitive answer to “Is it Worth it?” is that every survey respondent emphatically replied “yes” when asked if they would embark on another RTW. In fact, some already have embarked on a second or third RTW. Tom Landerberger’s response to whether or not he would undertake another worldwide journey answered, “Since I just left home for the second time three weeks ago, I would have to answer, ‘Hell yes!'”