I was going to write about the relatively good deals in Argentina these days, but that can wait a week.
The other night, while skimming through the “Travelling Around the World” message board at Lonely Planet’s site, I was struck by a plea for advice. A young woman was struggling to save all she could for her trip of a lifetime, an around-the-world journey she had been planning for ages. She is getting close to departure and instead of getting support and excitement from her friends and family, she’s getting lots of grief. Her parents harp on her for “wasting all that money to go traveling,” and her friends give her grief for not going out on the town with them like she used to do.
The same day I saw this, I read that that average vacation days taken in the US is now under 9 days per year. Even when people are entitled to two or three weeks, they’re either afraid to take too much time off and be seen as a slacker, or they’re now doing the work of a former employee as well (who has been laid off) and the whole place will fall apart if they’re gone more than a few days.
Most people in the workaholic, money-worshipping US of A don’t attach much importance to travel. It’s seen as something you do to “recharge your batteries” so you can get back to being a productive rat racer again. Then they retire and don’t know what to do with their time. Contrast this with Europe, where anything less than four weeks off is reason to go on strike. Life’s too short, they argue, to not spend a good chunk of it truly enjoying yourself. We Americans go to the Caribbean or Mexico because we can get there, sit on the beach, and be back home in a week or less. I met Dutch people in Southeast Asia however who were doing six week tours through Thailand and Malaysia. Now that’s a vacation!
I was lucky when my now-wife and I took off. We never got much grief from friends and family, especially when we managed to get employed overseas and got jobs once back in the US. But what does someone taking off for a long-term trip tell those sceptical friends and family members?
First of all, accept that some people will never “get it.” They look at the rest of the world as a scary place to be avoided and wonder why anyone would want to leave the rabbit hole. (“I’ve heard some of the toilets are just a hole in the ground! My word!”) Others can’t get past the fact that you’re stepping off the treadmill for a while. (“What are you going to do about those gaps in your resume? How can you leave a good job?”) For the rest, here are a few reasons for someone to go around the world in far more than 80 days.
1) You’ll learn far more than you ever did at a university.
Remember the old days when people got a liberal arts education? They went to Oxford or Princeton to learn about history, politics, social studies, geography, religion, foreign languages, and economics. Well you’ll learn far more about all those things by traveling than you ever can in college. Ask anyone in their 30′s how much they remember about these subjects from their university classes. “Not much” will usually sum it up. Now ask someone who has traveled around the world what they’ve learned. After about an hour, you’ll probably tell them to shut up already.
2) You’ll be a hundred times more knowledgeable about world affairs.
Most “international affairs” experts and politicians you see on TV news shows wouldn’t know a Kurd from a Copt from a Kazakstani, but that won’t stop them from pontificating all day from their comfy armchair. When you’ve seen a country and its people at ground level, however, for weeks on end, you’ll know a lot more about how the world works than 99% of the people in your home town. You’ll know you’re only getting one side of the story from your home country’s media, if you’re even getting the story at all. Read Jim Rogers’ new book to see what traveling can do for your international insight.
3) You’ll have a stronger appreciation of what you have and how lucky you are to be born in a developed country.
It sounds cliche, but people in rich countries do take what they’ve got for granted. Far too often, their life is a struggle to have more and bigger things. But when you see how the majority of the world lives, just running hot water and central heating seem pretty darn luxurious. Not to mention a huge wardrobe, a car, and a supermarket a few miles away.
4) You’ll see the world when you’re young enough to enjoy it, not when you’re old and need to be pampered.
Yes, you’ll have more money when you’re old and retired, if you don’t get killed by some random accident or disease in the meantime. But you’ll need to lug around all your medicine, you can’t be too far from a decent hospital, your hotel needs to be nice, and you won’t even want to think about taking local public transportation. And will the world still be the same? Don’t forget that people used to tour around Afghanistan, lounge on the beaches of Croatia, and enjoy gambling and working lights in Cuba. If you wait another 30 years, what else will be forever changed?
5) The economy is in the toilet now anyway.
Which is better for your sanity: spending six months trying to find a new job and then taking one you don’t even like very much, or going overseas for a year and returning to a job market where companies are expanding again? When the job market is this bad, why not give it a breather? You won’t miss much.