One thing I’ve learned from preparing for this trip is that I’m a heck of a lot more excited about it than I am about working. I know – shocking, right? But what may actually come as something of a surprise is that getting ready for the trip is actually a lot of work in and of itself. Different work from my day job certainly, but a good deal of work no less.
Brainstorming. First there’s the initial planning stage of the trip. You have to decide where you’re going to go, how long you can/want to go for, and how much it will cost you to do so. If time or money are a consideration (they certainly are for me), then you’re faced with having to make a lot of cuts. Sure, you can go anywhere in the world. But the flip side of this is that wherever you choose to go, you are choosing not to go everywhere else. Making cuts like this aren’t easy, and a lot of pros and cons need to be weighed. You also have to figure out how long you can set aside for the trip. What kind of obligations do you have that might require you to return home? How will an extended absence affect your career? Are you even the type of person that would enjoy being gone for months or years on end? All are variables that need to be measured and decisions that need to be weighed.
Budgeting. Traveling isn’t free, and long-term travel in particular takes a monumental amount of dedication for most people to save up for. Not only does it require months or even years of sacrifice, cutbacks, prioritizing, and self-restraint, but there’s no way to know how much you even need! From flights to housing, food to fun, there’s simply no way to accurately calculate just how much money you’ll need for your time on the road. In my case, I spent hours drawing up a painstakingly detailed Excel sheet. I outlined my anticipated costs pre-trip (backpack, clothes, computer, camera, vaccines, visas, flights, etc), during-trip (food, housing, activities, travel, etc), and post-trip (rent, food, getting to and from job interviews, etc). I then took it a step further and created high, medium, and low-cost estimates for all non-fixed items on my list (travel gear, flights, cost-per-day on the ground, etc). This provided me with a large margin of error for my savings vs expenditures by giving me low targets to aim for when shopping, but high targets for my savings. Finally, I mapped out my income from the time I started saving through until the time I expected to leave, and made sure that the amount I planned to save from each paycheck would allow me to hit my High target by the time I left.
Market research and analysis. Sure, you could walk into REI and buy the first backpack, sleeping bag, first aid kit, wicking shirts, diving watch and guidebooks you see. But for most people this is not only financially untenable, but foolish for practicality. Those of us with limited funds – and in the case of those trying to travel light, limited space – end up spending a good deal of time on product research, cost/benefit analysis, and dialogue with other travelers in an effort to find products that best suit our needs while staying within our budgets. Not only do you want to make sure your investments are the best you can make, you also want to make sure you’re not investing in things you don’t need. Not planning on going anywhere near the ocean? You probably don’t need that diving watch. Traveling through Northern Africa during the middle of summer? A sleep sack is probably a better investment than a full sleeping bag. Choosing the right gear, and avoiding the temptation of unnecessary ‘stuff’ is of course no small feat, as anyone who’s ever seen the WALLS of just backpacks or hiking shoes at an EMS can attest. These decisions can be tough with so many options – the last thing any traveler wants is that feeling of regret half way through their trip when they realize they should have bought the other _____. Research and analysis is key.
Finally, I’ve found it necessary to approach the trip with a good deal of Communication and diplomacy. Necessary for any long-term travel is telling those you care about that you’re leaving. For some people this is easier said than done. While the best reactions are support and enthusiasm from your loved ones, there may be those who, out of jealousy, differing views of what’s “prudent”, or simple concern for your safety, are less than thrilled about your decision. Whether it’s parents, coworkers, or significant others, the tact needed for breaking the news and bearing the possible consequences (especially if you’ve still got months to go before you actually leave) is of no small import. It’s key to be solid in your decision while being understanding of the concerns of others.
For me, this trip is shaping up to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to step outside of my world, outside of myself, and to see and experience the world from a totally new perspective. I’m going on this trip because I think it will be more fun than work, because I think it will be differently rewarding than work, and because I know the memories I gain will be worth more than any physical goods my paychecks can buy. I’m going on this trip to relax, to unwind, to force myself to take things day by day and situation by situation. But I know that by going on this trip I’m also testing myself. That I’m putting effort into my decisions and into my actions. That I’m investing in what I’m doing, and that it’s taking a good deal of work of its own. But I know that this is one job I won’t regret.