On The Financial Consequences of a Year Around The World
Sometimes the avalanche of reality slides down on you and leaves you with no choice but to eat metaphorical snow and wait for the rest to melt. Good thing I love snow! Reality, not so much. But I’m warming up to it.
In short: a lot of things are happening in this Pocket Gypsy’s life. They’re fresh and exciting and, after two or so months of post-travel existential soul-searching, distracting in a good way. But unfortunately, I’ve neglected this poor blog – though, to be honest, you’re probably used to that by now.
So! I don’t want to talk business, since this isn’t about business or start-ups or entrepreneurship or mentoring (coughcough) but I felt an introduction to this new chapter of my life was necessary. And there you have it! The shortest story I’ve ever told. Moving on.
I’ve written quite a bit in the months following the end of my Voyage, and this month-long hiatus in no way represents a puttering-out of this rickety machine I call my brain (oh god, at 23, I would hope not!). I have a spiral-bound notebook full of future posts and a draft folder of 70+ unfinished articles eager to be published. But for some time, I felt strange evangelizing the joys of travel, because I found myself in the uncomfortable twilight zone between infinite travel mode and the alluring phase of settling down (at least for a little while).
I love traveling, of course, and I would encourage as many people as I can to invest in regular escapes from their current zip codes. Even putting aside $50 – $200 every month can add up to a pretty sweet get-away. But I felt a bit dishonest; how could I sing the praises of a life on a road when I’ve decided that where I need to be right now is back home in the Bay?
Most of that reason is financial. Even with my parents’ support (and frequent flier miles) in covering three of my most expensive, long-haul flights and extending sizable loans when I began running out of steam near the end, my trip became a bit more threadbare than I had intended. This is not to say that I wanted lavish five-star hotels and only the finest Michelin-rated cuisine – that, clearly, would take away from the fun opportunity of meeting other scrappy young travelers, and it would tremendously drain my bank account without offering much cultural profit in return. But I definitely stretched my budget too thin. I do wish I had more money to spend on – for instance – getting my PADI certification in Koh Tao, or paragliding in Granada, or marveling at the Galerie des Glaces in Versailles, or getting so drunk I would have actually enjoyed the debauchery-fueled week of the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. Sometimes money can buy happiness, though obviously I found satisfaction in cheaper alternatives as well.
That’s not to say the Voyage was a letdown: I’m now a great resource for traveling cheap, and I think I would have missed a lot of interesting and bizarre stories had I always taken the more expensive route. Plus, I know I am incredibly lucky to even have had the opportunity to travel as extensively as I had; my parents had covered my tuition fees, so all of the money I made from my two side jobs went directly into this trip. But at the same time, I knew ahead of time that my trip would be incredibly pricey for a recent graduate – it spanned all four seasons, three continents, and most of a year. Had I planned a bigger buffer, shortened the length, or restricted the geographic span, I might have had more fun and avoided the daily headache of evaluating whether I could afford something/anything/everything. I spent too much time stressing about money, and my lack of any real budgeting led to a mini-panic attack every time I checked my bank balance. This was an important lesson, and I’m glad that I learned it, but some part of me wishes that I had learnt it before I set myself up for a shoestring year! Now, my account is in the double-digits, and working for a start-up means that cash-flow is a luxury, not a given. Travel might be on my mind, but it’s not on the table.
To complicate matters more: despite knowing that the main advantage of traveling alone is that you choose how and where to spend your time and money, I compromised my gypsy freedom and private frugality to join forces with another adept traveler. He enriched my experience and offered important emotional currency, and I appreciated him so much that I invited him along for the whole trip. As I quickly learned though, if you have different opinions regarding social interaction and personal finances and your partner doesn’t respect them, harmony and happiness are the first two things to die, quickly followed by the relationship itself. The small things added up: I’m an extrovert, he’s an introvert; he’s an adrenaline-junkie, I’m more cautious; I had been traveling for a few months and was a bit burnt out – both financially and emotionally – whereas he joined in Month Seven with boundless energy and a freshly filled bank account (some of which I helped him secure). I couldn’t afford to splurge as often, because I had already spent more than half of my budget (i.e. all of my savings) – but not wanting to leave me behind, he often felt restricted from doing what he wanted. As it turns out, opposites might attract, but it takes work to keep them together. Unfortunately, travelers tend to be – on one level – a hedonistic and impermanent bunch; work and responsibility take a backseat to cheap thrills, and as a result, so many relationships fall apart on the road.
So as wonderful and ridiculous and MacGyver-esque as my Voyage ended up being, financial considerations played a more severe role than I had anticipated. Rookie mistake. So obviously, coming home was the natural response. Living in the Bay Area makes one painfully optimistic to the world of financial security, and exiting this bubble of burgeoning opportunities made me realize just how impossible it is to get a job outside of the States without a solid resume, tons of recommendations, reliable foreign language skills, and a rich, diverse work portfolio.
I’m definitely not giving up on gypsy life, but I think the chapter of my life that covers “indulgent post-graduation world travel” has officially finished. In order to make meaningful change in the world I love to explore, I need to now make myself into a person of value, such that finances don’t dictate my decisions but neither does the aimless pursuit of some generic drunk happiness. Though I might have missed a few stories here and there, it’s undeniable that the money I spent went towards one of the most powerful educations I’ve ever received, and that’s impossible to regret.
As a result, I’ve learned enough to know that not traveling now is a good idea. I need time to process the lessons of the Voyage, fill my coffers for a better funded – or at least shorter – trip in the future, and work on the person I now know I want to be. And if I’m not traveling, there’s nowhere better to be than the Bay. (Yeah, yeah, Californians are famously arrogant about our home state, but it’s hard not to be!) When I go back out into the world, I hope to be wiser and more compassionate, both with others and with myself. That, in and of itself, lends value to my experiences, by helping me discern which things are worth my time and money, and how to reject situations and people who seek to take advantage of either.
I was discouraged from writing about my trip before because I felt that coming home was quitting. Documenting the memories I missed so much just inspired a strange mix of nostalgia, sadness, and disappointment. But due to a recent paradigm shift, or a random critical breakthrough, or maybe just a result of maturity, I finally feel like coming home was the correct decision – moreover, the responsible decision. Sure, I might dream of scootering around Pai, but writing about it allows me to relive the experience for free! And moreover, it might influence someone reading this to do something, to find their own way, to learn their own lessons, and they in turn will help someone else and so on and so forth. And that’s awesome! The travel bug is contagious and lives forever, and I was so silly to forget that!