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Calibrate for Travel

A massive misconception I try and stomp out whenever possible is that you have to be wealthy to travel.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not wealthy. Most of the people I know who travel regularly aren’t wealthy. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have more money to spend on travel, but it’s not a requirement. It opens up more options, but in some ways also makes a person less likely to find the really good stuff; more on why, below.

Unfortunately, money isn’t the only misperception most people have about travel. It’s these misperceptions that I want to tackle as concisely as possible in the hope that more options will seem viable, and the world will seem like a larger, more accessible place.

I Don’t Have Enough Money

This may be true. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck or can’t afford to eat, I would recommend taking care of that situation before you start perusing the web for discounted plane tickets. Travel as a goal might be the excuse you need to focus on paying off some debt that’s been hanging over your head, or to pursue a better paying job.

If you’re able to pull together a few hundred dollars, though, you have the means to travel. Maybe not to one of those places where people go on their honeymoons, but certainly to some city beyond the one in which you live. And the whole purpose of travel is to expose yourself to something new: to experience novelty and a different perspective for a time.

Overland travel is often both cheaper than flying and more of an adventure. It allows you to see the spaces between places, and those spaces seldom adorn postcards and are rarely found in guidebooks. It’s in such places that, so long as you leave yourself open to opportunities, you’ll find adventure.

Adventures are seldom found along a pre-prescribed path (though there’s nothing wrong with guided tours: they just tend to be more expensive and predictable), and restrictions on how you travel (say, you can only afford a bus ticket) tend to also force you to be more creative and put you in the position to encounter more than you would otherwise (can’t afford a hotel, so you stay with a local and see what only the locals see).

Consider that we live in the future, as and such have access to all kinds of tools that make travel cheaper. Communities like Couchsurfing are oriented toward finding locals who have spare furniture you can sleep on, and who may be willing to show you where the locals eat and drink.

Facebook and Twitter and Instagram can be equally useful for this task. More and more I find myself making local connections through friends of friends, rather than through sites like Couchsurfing, and I think that speaks to the evolution of social networks and the mainstream social acceptance of such communities. As time goes by and our parents become comfortable with social networks, we have more access to people who aren’t backpackers or adventurers, but rather just friendly folks who live in Chattanooga who wouldn’t mind at all if you slept in their spare bedroom, and who would love to take you out to their favorite coffee shop. People who want to make sure you leave their hometown with fond memories and new connections.

I Don’t Have Enough Time

This is a more difficult hurdle in some ways than feeling that you don’t have enough money, as there are any number of ways to reduce the cost of travel or save more money for it, but fewer that can reduce the time-cost of a given lifestyle.

That being said, it is possible to orient your life toward travel, the same way you would to incorporate any other hobby into your habits. If you were planning to start swimming in a serious way you would free up more time by reducing the amount of time you spend playing video games, watching TV, or out drinking with friends. “I’ll pass on the bar tonight,” you’d say, “I’m going to hit the pool, instead.” You work it into your schedule even though that schedule seemed full before you made these adjustments.

Likewise, if you brush aside life’s inessentials, particularly the habits that exist purely as a means of de-stressing or decompressing after work or your other responsibilities, or just as a means of killing time, you might be amazed at how many hours you have available to take an overnight trip to the town a few hours away, or to hop a bus for a weekend at the Grand Canyon. The more you incorporate travel into your lifestyle, the more you make time for it. Your goals will change, too, and you’ll find yourself saving a few bucks here and there for your next jaunt, and the whole rigamarole will become easy and passive.

You needn’t travel full-time to make travel a regular part of your life. I know people who work full-time jobs and have kids who still manage to visit cities they’ve never visited twice a month for a few days at a time. If you want it enough, you can make it happen. It’s just a matter of prioritizing and saying, “I’m going to do this,” then figuring out how to make it work using the tools and resources you have available.

Travel Is Dangerous

Like driving or walking to the store, travel can be dangerous, yes. But like those other two activities, the risk is worth it, and is generally not severe so long as you aren’t consistently drunk, high, or rude to locals.

Learn a bit about the place you’re going and treat the area the same way you’d treat the home of someone who’s invited you over for dinner. Respect the house rules and be polite. Don’t get drunk and start breaking things, and don’t be condescending or argue that your house is better.

If you find that the house rules are morally abhorrent to the point where you can’t stomach them, don’t make a scene, just thank your hosts and leave the house. Simple as that.

There are places where crime is more of an issue than others, but there are simple precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood of being victimized, like keeping your wallet in your front pocket, avoiding crowded tourist-heavy areas, and not leaving your purse unattended where someone might snatch it and run off. Be aware of your surroundings and hang out with locals when possible, as they’ll know best which threats are genuine and which are just our internal warning sensors going haywire due to the unfamiliar setting.

Meeting and learning from locals is the secret weapon of any experienced traveler. Figure out a means of making such a connection, respect them and their time, and try to make the experience just as rewarding for them as it is for you, whether it means buying lunch or offering to show them your city should they want to come visit someday.

Remember that in most cases the threats back home are just as real and possible as they are elsewhere. I was more likely to get robbed in Los Angeles than I was while traveling South America, but the latter seemed like the larger threat because I was more familiar with the former. Keep this in mind and don’t let concerns over things that are unlikely to happen keep you from exploring and making the unfamiliar, familiar.

Recalibration

Calibrating toward travel is really about recalibrating away from things that are less important to you. It’s about prioritizing the freedom of movement and exploration, rather than spending all your time, money, and other resources on the perceived security of possessions and locked doors.

It requires that we put more trust in others, invest in ourselves and our own ability to roll with the punches, and pull apart the traditional view of travel. That we see it not as a luxury item suitable only for honeymoons and holidays, but a common aspect of life we consistently invest in, like any other hobby or necessity.

Travel isn’t for everyone, but for those who love it, want it, desire it, are set afire by it, there’s no reason not to do it more often. Look out into the world, figure out where you want to go, and determine how you’re going to get there. Cobble together a plan and take the first step immediately. Do this frequently enough, and the hurdles, what hurdles there are, anyway, will lower until they disappear completely.

Update: April 19, 2017

This is still one of the biggest misconceptions I come across: that you have to be wealthy to travel.

It’s a perception that’s partially the fault of the travel industry, which wants you to believe you have to be spendy to go anywhere. It’s also partially the fault of modern Western culture, which doesn’t have much room for regular travel in the typical pace and rhythm of life and growing up. You maybe travel a little when you’re young, and maybe for your honeymoon, but there isn’t really any other set time for it in most cultures these days, and that’s a shame. Some of the happiest people I know, at any age, are people who spend at least some of their time each year going someplace new and seeing the world from a new angle.