Before packing our bags three months ago, Christina and I talked a lot about whether or not this was the right time for us to travel. We came to the conclusion that it was, without a doubt. Assuming you’ve been persuaded by the tales of our travels, I hope this post helps you choose the perfect time to hit the road for some long-term world travel.
Our situation was clear: we had jobs that we were ready to leave, we had some (but not a ton of) savings to make things easier, and we had a little bit of perspective on the world and ourselves. We’d both done smaller-scale trips before and spent more than five years in the workforce. I firmly believe that this last point: maturity or some sense of “knowing what you don’t know” is vital.
Here are the general options, and some pros and cons for each.
Pros: most disposable time, most time afterwards to benefit, least risk of lost income
Cons: least maturity, least money
This is a popular option, both in the US and abroad. We meet a lot of travelers taking some time between college and a career to “find themselves” or stretch their legs as adults. I think this is a great thing for young people to do, but it’s not for everyone.
I’m certain that the experience gained by living in a new culture and meeting different types of people is excellent training for all types of life. Potential employers will look favorably on the skills gained: organization, negotiation, problem solving, and critical thinking are just a few of the valuable traits that some time on the road can provide. However, not all of us are automatically able to learn these things. Some need a bit of priming in a career to have the perspective necessary to make the most of their time traveling (or time-traveling if you’re Marty McFly). I know I wasn’t ready to take such a leap at 18 or 20.
There’s also the wee problem of money at this stage. While recent graduates are rich in time, they’re usually broke in the traditional sense. This is hard to solve outright, but can be helped by traveling cheaply and utilizing work trade programs like WWOOF and Help Exchange. And honestly, it isn’t as expensive as you might think.
Pros: Some time, Some perspective, some disposable income
Cons: Potential career interruption
This is the option that we chose, so obviously I’m a proponent. I think it’s the perfect balance: you’re likely to have some money, you’ve primed for positive changes, and you aren’t taking a massive risk dipping out of the workforce at this stage.
Pros: Disposable income, lots of experience and maturity
Cons: Greatest cost of time, potential family obligations
If you’ve got a young family, this would be incredibly difficult. We do, however, hear of parents packing up their kids and hitting the road for a while. I can see such an experience reaping huge rewards for the kids involved, but it takes very unique people and circumstances to make it viable.
If you don’t have kids I can see this being successful, but not without some significant costs. Prime earning years are lost and the future benefit is diminished. These factors may not matter if you’ve got plenty of disposable income, but you could say that for all of these categories.
Pros: Plenty of free time, lots of experience and maturity, some disposable income
Cons: Physical things may be impossible
This is another popular option. Retirees that are suddenly blessed with time and eager to use every bit that they’ve got left routinely pack into motorhomes and putter around the countryside. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not one to wait for. It’s likely that age will prevent you from doing some of the adventurous things you might have done in your youth.
It’s also risky to bide your time for too long. Every day you wait gives other things a chance to get in the way and derail your plans. So pack a bag, bring a snack, and come out and join us, whenever works best for you.