The American Dream
- Graduate high school
- Go to college
- Start your career
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Have children
- Watch them grow up
- Send them off to college, then to start their careers
- Become a grandparent
- Retire, travel, and enjoy life
It’s the American dream, right?
Anyone who has grown up in the United States usually has some variation of what I like to call the “10-point-plan.” It has been ingrained in our brains since youth. The majority of Americans just take this life path as if we have no other choice.
As a 28-year-old married professional at the beginning of my career, that’s the direction I was heading, along with my wife. Then one evening after work, we took our dog for a walk.
“So, I was reading a blog about this couple who took a year-long trip around the world,” my wife innocently blurted out as we were strolling around our suburban neighborhood.
With that simple statement, our “10-point-plan” was about to be turned upside-down.
I have to admit that even though I loved to travel, the thought of traveling internationally for a long period of time never crossed my mind. Despite already being behind most of our friends, I still wasn’t ready to purchase a house and start popping out kids, but I also wasn’t ready to completely blow up the “10-point-plan.” My initial reaction to my wife’s question wasn’t exactly positive, and it was the reaction that most others had once we eventually decided to take the trip and told them what our plans were.
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Most Americans think it’s absolutely insane to quit their jobs to travel for a year. If it’s something you’re thinking about doing, you will probably run into many questions from friends and family who don’t think it’s possible. After a while, we found that the same three concerns kept popping up.
Here’s how you can put yourself, your family, and your friends at ease.
Misconception 1: No one else travels long-term until they’re retired, so why should I?
Long-term travel before retirement is a totally foreign concept because very few people in the U.S. actually do it. It’s just not part of our culture.
It’s not uncommon for Australians to take a year to travel after college, or, in some cases, after high school. Many Europeans do the same, or they may work for a few years to save up some money and go explore before they have children. A large number of Israelis take their military pay after their obligations are met and take off to see what the rest of the world has to offer. But Americans just don’t put international travel at the top of their priority lists.
If you do decide to buck the trend and do what many others think impossible, it will intrigue most everyone you encounter. You become a quasi-celebrity overnight. Once people find out about what you’re going to do, they will be curious and want to chat with you about it. Once you return home from the trip, the same thing happens. Everyone is excited to see you and hear all about your exotic adventures abroad. You are suddenly known as “the world travelers.”
And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like attention and feeling famous?
In addition to this newfound fame, it is much easier to get off the beaten path and make your money last by traveling on a budget when you are younger. Not many retirees have the strength or stamina to endure 24+ hour bus rides through the mountains of Bolivia. Activities like hiking the Andes and Himalayas, or skydiving over New Zealand, are obviously possible when you reach retirement age, but they’re also tougher when you reach a certain age.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but I can’t count how many people in my parents’ generation lamented that they were jealous of what we were doing and wished they would have thought of doing something similar when they were our age.
>> Read about more myths of rtw travel and why they aren’t true
Misconception 2: Taking a year off to travel will ruin my career.
The economy, while better than 3-4 years ago, is still not great, and taking time off to travel impacting your career is a concern to most people. No one wants to spend a massive chunk of their savings traveling only to come home to a jobless market. But before just assuming that getting a job when you come home will be impossible, or that the gap in your resume will cause it to be thrown in the recycling bin immediately, look at it from a more optimistic perspective.
Because so few people in this country travel the world, it becomes a point of interest when someone finds out what you did. Turn that one-year employment gap in your resume into a positive by mentioning what it did for you as a person and how that makes you valuable to a prospective employer. Add your international travel experience into cover letters just as you would job experiences. Talk about your time volunteering in Laos or learning Spanish in Guatemala.
Isn’t standing out what we were always taught was important when writing resumes and cover letters? What better way to stand out than to have experiences and attributes that very few other people have?
Turn that one-year employment gap in your resume into a positive by mentioning what it did for you as a person and how that makes you valuable to a prospective employer.
Leaving your job and traveling long-term will also afford you the opportunity to look into a new career. Even if you do love your job at home, you probably don’t love it that much, or else you wouldn’t have quit it to travel. So use this opportunity to try something new.
Put the time into something you’ve never had the chance to do before. Write, sew, draw, make music, study photography, or learn a new language. Who knows, you may tap into a talent you never knew you had, and that could possibly translate into a new opportunity once you return home.
Misconception 3: You’re going where? Aren’t you afraid of being kidnapped, killed, drugged, robbed, etc.?
Traveler: “Uh, actually, we’re not going to Europe.”
Employee (looking bewildered): “No Europe? Where are you going then?”
Traveler: “Well, our plan is to start in South America, then maybe some time in New Zealand, then Southeast Asia, and India.”
Employee (with a questionable expression): “Well, I hope you take a gun, and if not, it’s been nice knowing you.”
I can’t count how many times I had some variation of the above conversation with someone, whether it was a friend, a family member, or someone I worked with. Even after we returned, one of the first questions people asked was, “Were you ever scared? What place made you feel the most uneasy?”
I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t have safety concerns when first trying to figure out where we would be traveling. The media in this country doesn’t exactly make it desirable to head to a place like Colombia (which, coincidentally, was my favorite country on our trip). So it wasn’t a huge shock to hear concerns like these.
If I’m going on a trip somewhere, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk to someone who has actually been there?
The problem with listening to all the fear-mongering; however, is that most people who were trying to scare us into not going to these places had never been there themselves. If I’m going on a trip somewhere, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk to someone who has actually been there?
It seems so logical, but it’s difficult not to listen to the vocal majority, many of whom have no idea what they’re talking about. Once we started researching on message boards and getting in touch with real people who had actually been to places in South America, Southeast Asia, and India, our concerns became a non-issue.
Violence happens everywhere. We all know this. Literally 2 days after our departure from our nice, safe, Midwestern city, our families got a sad reminder of that point. We received an email from a family member telling us about a bomb that had gone off in the office building garage next-door to where my wife worked before we left. Luckily no one was killed or seriously injured, but while so many of our loved ones were concerned about our safety in Peru, a bomb was detonated in an affluent neighborhood known for minimal crime. How’s that for irony?
>> Learn more about which countries can be statistically dangerous, and which ones you should visit anyways
You can ask yourself all the logical questions in the world to try to prepare for something like this. Going against societal norms, affects on career, and safety of traveling in developing countries were questions we researched ad nauseam.
Any big lifestyle change, though, whether it’s heading off to college, buying a house, having a child, or taking off on a trip around the world, brings big risks and unknowns along with it.
We felt like we would never forgive ourselves if we didn’t do it. That was much riskier than any other possible ramifications.
The problem with our lifestyle change was that it was so uncommon to our families, friends, and culture in general.
Even though concerns abounded about how this would affect our futures, the main thing we kept coming back to was the feeling of regret. If we decided not to go, would we regret it ten, twenty, or thirty years from now? Ultimately, that’s what it came down to. Regret. We felt like we would never forgive ourselves if we didn’t do it. That was much riskier than any other possible ramifications.
To us, not quitting our jobs and traveling the world was crazy. Doing it seemed logical.
>> Still not convinced? Discover a few more reasons to start dreaming and start planning your trip
Need more inspiration? Check out:
- 8 Lessons to Learn from My Round the World Trip
- 5 Reasons to Take a Career Break
- How to Travel Around the World for $40 per Day
Photo credits: Matthew Kenwrick, all photos by Megan & Adam Seper and may not be used without permission