The notion that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment is exactly what leads so many of us to believe we could never afford to go vagabonding. The more our life options get paraded around as consumer options, the more we forget that there’s a difference between the two. Thus, having convinced ourselves that buying things is the only way to play an active role in this world, we fatalistically conclude that we’ll never be rich enough to purchase a long-term travel experience. – Rolf Potts
DEFINING WEALTH THROUGH MONEY
For the ambitious, when goals are achieved, when does having “enough” truly occur? How much empire building is needed to realize simplicity sheds tons of unnecessary weight. Our hunger for material possessions has led to a possession of our efforts, time, and souls. We’ve been programmed “to get rich from life rather than to live richly, to ‘do well’ in the world instead of living well.”
Under all the lies we’ve forgotten how liberating a life of minimalism is. The less money we have the less we have to worry about losing. Imagine a $100,000 gamble in the stock market and the stress one might have in the possibility of losing it all. Think about the stress one would have in actually losing it. This is a basic illustration on the idea of holding on to what we have or better put what’s holding on to us.
The idea of spending is even more ridiculous. We go to malls and get bombarded with consumerism. We watch TV and get thrown a scandalous amount of rubbish in the form of “you’re not happy until you’ve purchased everything under the sun, especially and most specifically our products.” We get wrapped up in what’s the next tangible fad and replace it with more meaningful life experiences.
Here’s your reminder of what’s possible in place of the material goods you might have purchased. While your at the mall and you see that ridiculously huge Louis Vuitton advertisement set in the middle of an Africa safari realize that you could either buy that expensive bag or you could actually fly yourself to Africa for the same price.
Monetary wealth is celebrated, constantly, while simplicity is not. There are lists of the richest people in the world. But these lists narrowly define what wealth is, it is always assumed that the indicated wealth should be defined nominally, specifically in dollars and cents. This shift from the material abundance mindset to the simple is essential in sustainable long-term travel. Of course this simplicity requires a bit of personal sacrifice.
“You’re rich so we can afford to travel.” This has been the accusation, an accusation often times sprinkled with Hateroade, disgust, envy, jealousy, and mostly a misunderstanding of what we are truly doing. If you ever see a travel article on people traveling long-term even if it’s clearly backpackers narrating the story, go down to the bottom and look at the comments that accompany it. At first we couldn’t understand where this was coming from but as it became more frequent we would simply laugh at the comments we read. What we’ve chosen to do is, take the time we’ve been given and move through this world in an effort to understand and love more.
Recently we we’re fortunate enough to catch the attention of a senior editor at Elite Daily and got a feature. On Elite Daily’s Facebook post there were a lot of people who were truly inspired and happy for us but on the other side of the coin we saw a few trolls throwing out a lot of negative statements. Do these people just pull money out of their asses? Too bad most people have 9-5s and can’t afford to waste time traveling.
While our response usually stems from an effort to try and understand, it’s sometimes difficult to do so. Many people, either by choice or unconsciously agree to the norms and standards society has presented and move through this world allowing their lifestyle to be dictated by these pressures. However, under the false illusion of the rat race being the best fit for all we’ve decided to go against the tide and managed to tailor our own lifestyle.
Most people are under this illusion that time is money and put a preference on money as the most fulfilling currency in life. So while we stress about the money, what we do or don’t have, we forget about the abundance of something more precious, our time. Salaries are measured in years, months, and hours. But time is immeasurable except by the man made creations of a clock and our counting system.
(*Read more here The Art of Time While Traveling)
Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. – Harvey MacKay
OUR EXPENSIVE JOURNEY COST US ALL WE HAD
Even when most people realize the minimal amount of stuff we carried around this past year they still accused us of being monetarily wealthy in some sort of snobbish way. Camille averaged 13 kilograms on her back, while I stuffed as much as 20 kilograms (usually averaging 17 kg) of our possessions into my bag. And with our less than 70 pounds of essentials and non-essentials we were able to make the choice of globe-trotting through a small fraction of this earth. Reflecting back on what we carried on our backs we know that we had much more than we needed. Most of the added weight came from food we’d buy at the local markets. Also, water weighs a ton.
At the time of writing we’ve spent all that we had, 443 days. The amount in dollars is less significant but those 443 days we’ll never get back. When reflect on whether or not we spent our money wisely we can simply brush that off as the wrong question. Instead we can ask ourselves whether or not we spent our time wisely. Of course having spent all our money and all our time the most precious things we take with us are the memories we created rather than the purchases we made.
But of course those of you reading this are looking for a dollar amount on what it takes to travel the world. No matter your income level and the amount of money you’ve saved don’t ever feel like it’s not enough. Depending on your willingness to create a lifestyle on the road, simply put- all you need is a one way ticket to your desired destination and a bit of money to cover you’re first week. If you have an unlimited amount of time, skies the limit with possibilities on the road. Find a cheap bed, get some cup of noodles and start a conversation with people who will likely help you go to where you need to be.
Prior to our trip we worked, a lot. We took in any opportunity to freelance. In the AM Camille was at her interior design job, got a couple hours of rest during her commute, then prepped for 2-3 hours of private English tutoring, in the PM she would be in the kitchen baking brownies, cupcakes, muffins and any other dessert to be sold at weekend markets and for events. For me it I was working at an international school from 7:00-16:30 then would go home and learn about real estate investments reading, listening to podcasts on runs, and networking in the states. In the end after all the extra work and a nice bonus from my job we gathered about $30,000 USD. We learned about the art of travel hacking trying to get as many air miles and hotel points as possible and while on the road started our blog.
We initially set out with a budget of $75 dollars a day for the two of us and a willingness to take what the world had to offer in terms of accommodation, food, and the occasional (more frequent near the end of our year) work exchange. As the journey grew longer, we moved slower, thus not spending on daily transportation, gathering up local goods to cook, and creating more friendships. At the end of our 11th and 12th month we averaged about $30-40 a day ($1200 a month) between the two of us, not each. We could have easily lived off less than that $20 a day each but found this to be quite comfortable and provided us with the occasional splurge. The slower we moved the less we spent, so in an effort to save more we simply walked to most places we went to.
The simple exercise of walking became an exercise in possibilities. Understanding and knowing there were an infinite amount of choices you have in each step revealed an array of life choices. In each step there is risk but in each step there can also be courage and huge rewards. The act of walking is not one that is of cost to any of us and those with two able legs, can participate. Occasionally when we were tired of walking we would stick out a thumb (again taking whatever this world had to offer) and hitchhike. If we we’re going longer distances we’d take whatever chicken bus drove by and paid the $0.50 per hour fare (of course in some countries the payment for basic public buses ran between $0.25-1.00 per hour times however many hours the journey.
Whenever we got into a specific town we would ask about different places we could work given our skill set and our willingness to learn new skills (including how to clean toilets and mop floors). Long-term sustainable travel carries with it a deep sense of humility. Just because you hold a master’s degree doesn’t mean you can’t hold a mop. Each time we rolled into a beach town we would ask where the fresh market was, whenever we we’re at tourist offices we would gather information and maps then find out how the locals commuted in between point A and point B and we figured out how we could DIY the tours. If we we’re in a hotel, hostel, or guesthouse we’d check out Facebook to see if they had a business or fan page. If they didn’t we’d try to exchange a few days in a room for some social media consulting. If they did have a Facebook page we’d simply exchange some photography, tags, and blog posts for a bed. We even we’re able to get some tour passes in exchange for a couple hours of translation work.
In Central and South America we could easily get into a hostel and find tons of opportunities to volunteer and work exchange at our upcoming destinations. On the backpacking trail there is a continuous conversation of where one can pick up any of these opportunities. Sometimes they would be in the form of turtle conservation efforts, farm work, or hostel and guesthouse work exchanges. Of course what could be more glamorous than hand-washing your clothes, sweeping floors, and cleaning after guests? Doing it in front of gorgeous sunsets on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, doing it in the Amazon surrounded by its immense biodiversity, or in the middle of the Andes mountains with surreal views. You don’t travel to see glamour you travel to see the simplicity of being and of life.
We incorrectly associate experience with money. The art of money while traveling is simply a shift in the way we view our lifestyle, our time, our definition of wealth, and how we move through this world. We are consumed with the idea that money is the key to experiencing this world, that it is the key to happiness even. We sometimes make this declaration, that it isn’t the key to happiness, yet somehow we don’t believe our own words. While we will never argue that money isn’t a necessity for living it isn’t the ultimate necessity. What good is a million dollars when there’s no health or time to spare and you’re buried six feet under. The more we associate experience with money the more we believe in the lie that money is what is needed to live. Time is what’s needed.
*If you enjoyed this article and found it inspirational you’ll surely enjoy The Art of Asking while Traveling.