How to Answer the Question "You're Doing What?!"
"You're doing what?! How?! That's awesome." Most common reaction to my life right now.
I knew that some heads would turn when I was recruited from my relatively “safe” state government affairs job two years ago for a riskier environment at a startup. More would turn when I applied to grad school and quit that startup job after 1.5 years. Eyebrows would raise when I told people that after spending time with family I planned to travel until starting graduate school.
I've seen a mixture of reactions but most can be bundled into the following:
1) “OMG That's amazing! Good for you! How exciting! I trust you’re doing what’s right for you, and I support this.”
2) “Whoa! What? How? Why? I'm curious.”
3) “That's irresponsible and frivolous. Why are you wasting valuable time and money when you could continue climbing up and save for your future?” Or they reacted with jealousy in a negative way.
Luckily 98% of my closest family, friends, and mentors have been nothing but supportive. And those who fall under #3 are clearly not meant to play a big role in my life.
The decision had to be mine alone. I currently don't have many deal-breaking obligations -- I don't have a mortgage, spouse or children, student loans (until I start grad school!). The time is NOW. After seriously reflecting for quite awhile, I made some very difficult decisions and I am the happiest I have been in a very long time if not ever.
So here's how I do it, since the world begs to know.
When we set our budgets we prioritize where we want to spend and save.
I caught the bug at a young age and knew that's what I wanted to spend my money on -- experiences, not materials. It's a mindset. It's not going away. Ever.
I have always, always, always been a saver -- ask my parents! I was the first kid in third grade to save enough rewards sticks to take the teacher to dinner, requiring the highest # of sticks on the rewards chart.
Always pay bills first. ALWAYS. Then spend with the remainder.
During college, I started depositing a percentage of my budget into a separate savings account specifically so I never missed it in my real savings or checking accounts. I operated my life as if that money was untouchable.
I put almost 75% of my first two year's worth of "travel savings" into a 24-month CD so I would face a penalty for removing it. This was intentional. I took the following two years' worth of savings and put that into an 18-mo. CD then purchased shares in my favorite companies, which luckily saw a value increase.
Furthermore, I opened a credit card that earned 3 points for all travel expenses and 2 points for almost everything else.
I do realize I am very fortunate to not have to pay student loans from undergraduate school. And no, my parents do not pay for a single bill and haven't since before I graduated in 2013, thank you.
I've worked since I was legally allowed to including summers and during the school year.
I'm not wealthy. I do have bills to pay, and yes, I do live a big-city single girl life. It's about spending and prioritizing what I spend money on.
I'm innately rule follower; I don't budge on my budget.
About two years later, I finally felt that I kind of had this adulting thing at a balanced place and had a solid budget figured out. I reevaluated my life after a series of personal events, and I was reminded by a few close friends that personal travel was a great healing method for me, and I needed it.
I accepted a promotion that I ended up disliking almost immediately and moved to another part of the city, but I was still unfulfilled. (Note: I didn't say unhappy.) I was comfortable. Too comfortable. Something was still missing. I was not truly living.
I needed to change.
I got rid of cable, switched to a slower bandwidth for internet, and turned my thermostat down. I bought all of my furniture at garage sales and Hobby Lobby/IKEA or made it myself. Most of my artwork in my apartment is photography or maps that I've collected from my trips. I go to the library instead of buying books. I listen to podcasts, Pandora, Spotify and the radio instead of buying music. I even fixed my car's basic repairs by myself! I use the free bus or bike for downtown area travel. I don't pay for a gym membership since my new apartment already has one, and I stopped splurging for amazing seats cultural affairs in favor of finding out when they had special events, free days, or last-minute cheap seats.
These aren't drastic changes -- just a simpler lifestyle. I became less stressed at home as well.
I DO spend money on good, comfortable shoes, outerwear, and wine. I also like to try new breweries, but I skip the apps and dessert. I try to cook as much as possible. It's also helped me to become healthier!
Every decision I make I think about the financial, practical logistics, and overall goals I set for myself and balance those with my mental health and passions in life. There are ways to save every day to make life more practical, less stressful, and overall more fulfilling.
Think about HOW you travel, the value of the US Dollar, and your destination of choice. For example, it was significantly less expensive to spend a week traveling and exploring the beaches and rainforest in Costa Rica than it was to spend a week in the heart of the spectacularly lovely city of Paris.
When I book flights, I consider convenience vs cost. I often use Momondo, Skyscanner, Hopper, and Hitlist (an app) to browse nearby airports with flights departing or arriving near my destination or home. I receive cheap flight alerts from my favorite airlines and only bring a carry-on!
While traveling, public transit is often cheapest and surprisingly easy in many places. Uber and taxis add up quickly anywhere. I walk everywhere whenever possible. This is great for my health and my wallet. Many places now have rentable bikes that you can use throughout the day, too.
What kind of travel
Consider your needs vs wants vs could live withouts.
I love using Hotwire for last-minute savings on great hotels! Hostels are also quite common outside of the USA for solo or young travelers and often has kitchens, laundry, and food options right there and are a great way to meet other travelers.
Camping in the USA is a fabulously inexpensive and relaxing option! Many have water and electricity access with communal bathrooms and showers available nearby, and you can even rent equipment online if you don’t own any.
Cruises are excellent for solo vacations. (Notice I said vacation, not travel. It’s not the same.) I find that cruises are about the experiences on board or excursion trips and less about the ports of call in many circumstances. Many cruise lines have major discounts as dates get closer and often have single-accommodation options. It was a brilliant last-minute decision to go to Key West + Cozumel, Mexico solo.
Group travel vs. solo travel
Group travel has many benefits, especially for newcomers to the idea of solo travel. It can be a little intimidating but hands-down worth it. You’ll save on transportation and accommodation costs, and it lessens the planning time and stress levels to have a guide and your itinerary relatively mapped out. My U30X trip to Costa Rica was the launch pad for what is becoming my favorite travel year. I am so grateful for that experience and the people I met. I continue to keep in touch and share with U30X alumni, and even met two during my spontaneous trips whom I had previously only interacted with virtually!
Solo travel allows more flexibility to go anywhere at the drop of a hat. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone to meet and interact with locals. You realize how much you have in common with people if only you quiet the voices in your head causing fear and worry.
Embracing the fear
Traveling solo and semi-solo with a group of new friends has been incredible. I have met and talked with interesting people every single day and that has helped with the fear that a lot of people experience about being lonely.
So far since my epic decision, I spent 6 weeks with my aunt in Florida during her surgeries to remove an absolutely insane cancer. I took a last-minute cruise solo to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico and a spontaneous train trip to Canada. I drove to Milwaukee, Wisconsin (twice), saw Maroon 5 in front row seats after a friend scored last-minute tickets, and stopped in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Dayton to see friends. I visited a graduate school in Denver, plus stops in Golden, Boulder, Aurora, and Colorado Springs. I also booked my dream trip to Morocco for three weeks at the end of April (probably to add Paris, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Madrid before/after), and I am planning tentative to see more of the USA's National Parks this summer. Perhaps a visit to Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia before moving for grad school this fall?!
This is a series of the best decisions I have ever made. I am proud of myself for making them and for allowing myself to take this time to travel. I have no regrets!