For those dreaming of busting out of the cube and hitting the road, there are a plethora of questions to ask yourself. While I personally think anyone is capable of long term travel if they let go of their preconceived notions and remain completely open-minded, it’s still important to find out if this type of travel is right for you.
Let’s set the record straight. Long term, RTW travel is different than a vacation. If you are contemplating a big trip and think it’s going to be the same as a vacation to the beach, then you are sorely mistaken. Long term travel is not just one long vacation. It’s a way of life, and while it is awesome, amazing, and incredible, it’s also challenging, difficult, and frustrating.
If you are thinking of taking the plunge, quitting your job, and taking off on an epic adventure around the world, you may want to ask yourself the following questions before making that final decision.
1. Are you comfortable taking a year away from your career?
Money constraints and walking away from your career are the two biggest excuses people give for not being able to take a long trip. If you have a job right now, leaving it during a still uncertain economy may seem stupid. Only you can weigh the pros and cons based on your situation. But many people would be surprised to realize that there are companies are willing to offer leaves of absence. Especially with the economy still in the state it is in, a lot of companies would be ecstatic to let someone leave of their own volition instead of having to lay someone off. Your trip could buy your employer a year.
My wife is an attorney, and her plan was to just quit her job before we left on our RTW. After discussing it with friends at her firm, they persuaded her to ask for a leave of absence. What’s the worst that could have happened? They say no? She was already planning on quitting anyway, so if they did, she would still be in the same situation. Even in a field like law where the thought of a career break seems crazy and like career suicide to most, her employers granted her that leave of absence. You never know until you ask.
>> Find out why it’s not crazy to quit your job to travel
2. Are you happy/unhappy with your job/career?
If you’re unhappy with your job or career, then taking a year or so off to travel shouldn’t be as bitter a pill to swallow. Sure, it’s difficult to walk away from a paying job when so many are still unemployed, but if you aren’t happy, then why would you want to stay in that situation anyway? A year off to travel will give you the time and confidence to ponder another opportunity. You may find a passion you didn’t know you had. Or you may rediscover a passion that has been lost in your busy life. If you are unhappy with your current situation, then change it now. The longer you stay somewhere, the harder it is to leave. There’s no better time than now, and there’s no better way to re-assess your life than to hit the road.
If you are happy with your job and career, then the decision will be a bit more difficult. It’s all about weighing pros and cons. I liked the job and career I had before we left. I was happy, I got paid well, and I genuinely enjoyed what I did. While I enjoyed it, I still wasn’t passionate about it. And that’s what I wanted, to be passionate about what I did on a daily basis. Our trip allowed me to re-discover my love of writing, and now that’s what I’m trying to do. My employment situation may not be as lucrative or stable right now, but I honestly wake up every morning looking forward to my day. You can’t put a price tag on that.
>> Check out five reasons to take a career break or sabbatical
3. Are there family or personal obligations keeping you home?
Many of us have things at home that seem impossible to leave. A home. A sick family member. Kids. While some things may be impossible to leave (leaving a sick family member is a personal decision that has to be made based on the situation), most can be overcome. Owning a home can certainly make the decision to leave much more difficult, especially if you are upside down in it like many are right now. But you are not out of options. Renting your house while gone is an option, particularly if you have any friends or family looking for a better situation. If you are in a good place in your home, then consider paring your life down considerably, getting rid of most of your stuff, and selling your house. That money can be a nice nest-egg for your return, and it will give you the freedom to truly do what you want when your trip is over (or you could just keep traveling).
When we first decided to go on a RTW, it was under the guise of doing it before we had kids and couldn’t do it anymore. We have heard it ad nauseum, “Once you have kids, you could never do something like that.” We bought into it. Then we hit the road and met families doing the same thing. While it may be more challenging, having kids and a family does not preclude you from traveling long term. In my opinion, no matter the age of your kids, they will get a better education on the road experiencing new cultures and ways of living that they will in school for a year. There’s no substitute for an experience like international travel, and your children’s minds and eyes will be opened like never before.
>> Discover how kids can benefit from traveling at a young age
4. Do you feel like all your stuff is weighing you down?
No matter if you own or rent, you probably have a bunch of stuff, especially if you’re an American. It’s our way of life. We are taught that the more stuff we have, the more successful we are. After a while, many realize this is a fallacy. Stuff weighs us down, and most of the time, a good percentage of the stuff we have goes unused and collects dust. We all know this, but we turn a blind eye to it because going through it all and throwing a bunch of stuff out is difficult, time consuming, and it just sucks. Or the stuff (houses and cars in particular) is costing us a ton of money and makes us slaves to our monthly payments.
If you are constantly stressed by all the stuff surrounding your life, consider a change. Taking a RTW trip will force you to get rid of the stuff that is weighing you down. It will force you to re-assess your priorities and realize that more stuff does not necessarily equal happiness. And once you get out on the road with one backpack, you’ll realize even more how unnecessary all that stuff really is.
5. Are you okay with missing out on things at home?
If you head away for a year or so, you will miss things. You will miss weddings, births, sporting events, and concerts, amongst other things. Are you okay with this? I am a sports nut, and I was honestly worried about how I’d feel missing major sporting events while gone. No matter how stupid some may think it is, it was something I thought about often leading up to our departure.
God bless the internet! Taking off to travel has never been easier than it is now. Technology makes it possible to keep up with the goings-on at home like never before. Skype allows you to see your loved ones. While we would have preferred to celebrate events like holidays and birthdays in person as opposed to on a computer screen, it was still awesome to be able to see our niece and nephew grow in the year we were gone. To actually see them was something not possible even a decade ago. Downloading and streaming of sporting events and concerts can help you stay up to date with your obsessions. While all this technology is a great way to keep in touch, try to have a sensible balance. If this is all you do, what’s the point of even leaving?
>> See how traveling can help you appreciate home more
6. Are you ready for life on the road?
Once you get through that initial stage of excitement, when everything is new and awesome, you’ll get to the point where travel is your life. No longer do you get up and go to work every day. Now you travel. It’s an odd transition, but suddenly not everything is great. Not everything is exciting. Not every new destination is the best ever. You will get sick of staying in hostels or hotels. You will get sick of eating out. You will get sick of constantly being on the move.
If you are traveling solo, the challenges can be even greater. Sure, you will meet tons of people on the road, and you may remain friends with some for years to come, but the majority will just be short-term acquaintances. If you are traveling with someone else, no matter how close you are, you will get sick of that person from time to time, and there’s not much escape. It will test your relationship like nothing else. All are things to contemplate and think about before making that final decision.
>> Find out the signs that you are ready to settle down
7. Are you prepared to not have a home for a year?
Repeat after me: “A RTW trip is not a vacation.”
Again: “A RTW trip is not a vacation.”
Realize it, know it, accept it, embrace it. Until you take a big trip yourself, you most likely will not believe the stories, but you will suffer from travel burnout at some point (probably several times). Life on the road is not always great. Constantly moving around, packing and unpacking, embarking on long, uncomfortable overland journeys, experiencing new cultures, and not speaking the language can all be difficult and frustrating, especially when you are doing it day in and day out for months at a time.
Having a home and a familiar place to settle down, the very thing you longed to get away from is going to be something you start to long for again. You’ll want to have your own kitchen to cook in. You’ll get sick of sharing refrigerators. You’ll get tired of getting woken up by loud, drunken idiots in the room next to you. In short, there will be times you’ll wish you were back home. Most of the time these thoughts are fleeting, and you can get back into your travel groove quickly. But these feelings will crop up, and they’ll be something you’ll have to work through at some point in your trip. Slowing down will help tremendously, and renting an apartment for a month or so gives you a chance to have a home again.
>> Learn lessons from my round the world trip
8. Do you long for something more?
There are certainly many challenges to traveling long term. It’s not easy, which is a reason why so few do it. While I do firmly believe that everyone would benefit from a long trip and some time off from normal life, I do realize it isn’t for everyone. You need to weigh all the pros and cons before deciding for sure to take a trip of this magnitude and turn your life upside down.
But if your desire to travel and see the world tops everything else, then it’s time to take that next step. There will always be a reason not to do it. There will never be that perfect time. There will always be an excuse. If you’re waiting for every single thing if your life to fall into place, you’ll be waiting forever, and before long, it will be too late.
With all the questions you ask yourself and all the things you consider, it really only comes down to one big question. It’s something I wrote in the very first article for this RTW Wednesday column: If you decide to bypass the trip and go on the path that you are on, would you regret your decision 5, 10, 20 years down the road?
Ready to get started? Read about saving money for your adventure:
- How Much Money Do You Really Need to Travel?
- Five Countries to Visit for Under $500
- How to Travel Around the World for$40 Per day
- 28 Ways to Save Money for Traveling
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
Now Adam is going to tell you how you can plan your own epic adventure. Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” he’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.