Learning I’m Not a Traveller; Warning to a Would-be Nomad
The quickest way to watch a dream die is to have it come to life.
After four years, eight countries, four jobs, and sleeping in over 100 different places including a dorm room that doubled as a battlefront for cockroaches and spiders, a four floor apartment with a built in waterfall (only active during Typhoons), a Japanese cabin sitting beneath a volcano, a shed beside a Buddhist Temple with a monk who was a sugar fiend, a quaint home in the French countryside with the Alps sitting in the distance, and, of course, multiple airports, I can say for certain I am not a traveller. At least, not in the style or capacity I once imagined I would be. Not in the romanticized nomadic fashion made popular by bloggers across the globe. Not in the spiritually aesthetic fashion of leaving all your belongings behind and carrying everything you own in a backpack. It’s not for me.
I had a fantasy. A fantasy I’d seen played out in my mind and in the lives of others through blogs and books alike. I saw myself travelling the world, jumping from country to country, writing about it, and sustaining the lifestyle. As it turns out, I don’t have what it takes. To be honest, I don’t think I would much like to have what it takes. I enjoy some consistency, I like having things, I want a familiar bed and pillow, and I even wouldn’t mind seeing my parents more than once every other year or so.
My travelling spirit is by no means dead. It took me almost four years of travel to realize I wasn’t doing it in the best way for myself. It’s safe to say that my interest in foreign lands is big enough to keep me going even when the style of travel didn’t fit my preference. I would never say I regret the time I’ve spent abroad. If anything, the time has only given me valuable lessons. But, there are plenty of things to be aware of and a long list of things I wish I’d been conscious of going in.
Teaching Doesn’t Solve the Money Problem
I don’t imagine I’m surprising anyone with this, but the truth is a lot of people view teaching abroad as a viable way to pay back college loans while traveling and experiencing the world. Ultimately, that’s true, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll do it with any haste, or that you’ll be able to save up a lot of money.
Depending on where you go to teach you might be able to make plenty of extra spending money. Taiwan, China, and Korea are great for this and Japan to a lesser degree. No other locations are likely to help you make much of a dent in student loans or help you put cash into savings. There are some locations that pay extremely well, namely in the middle east, but they generally have very strict specifications they are looking for and want their applicants to have a lot of experience.
The main trouble with having extra money that you COULD be saving when you are overseas is the fact that you are overseas. There are too many things to tempt you into spending your money including more travel, souvenirs for yourself and family, exotic food, and fun nights out, just to name a few. The temptation is real and you need to be very disciplined to avoid it. You’re overseas after all, so you’re going to want the full experience. Of the hundreds of teachers I met I can recall one that did well in saving his money, and he was no fun.
Backpacking is cool, and exhausting.
Maybe it’s not fair of me to voice my opinion on backpacking because I didn’t do so much of it; but there was a reason for that. The way one might define ‘backpacking’ –whether you are travelling by foot, by plane, boat, or train- could make a big difference on the effect it has on someone. For this purpose we are just talking about traveling with nothing but what you can fit in a backpack by whatever means you choose.
No matter what the method of travel is, there is a big challenge for me. The constant movement usually involved in backpacking presents a few serious downsides: 1. Little time for rest. 2. Limited experience in the places you go. 3. (Depending on your style of travel) Complete confusion of your sleep rhythms.
Generally, backpacking is for those who want to get the most out of their dollar, seeing as many things as they can in the shortest amount of time. For me, and many like me, that just doesn’t make sense. Running from one country to cross the next border is like being satisfied by seeing the Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night in your peripheral vision and moving on.
For some, the quick and tiring trip will be considered enough to check something off a list and smugly say, “been there, done that,” but that’s no good for me. Be aware of what you require to be satisfied as a traveler before you plan a quick trip. Otherwise, you might end up disappointed.
You can go anywhere you want, but you can’t go everywhere you want
When I say this, I am speaking under the assumption that you are not the child of a billionaire that spoils you rotten, or that you have already made millions and are anxious to spend large portions on a travel spree. Yes, there are ways to knock an awful lot of things off your list of places to go, but those that clear their list entirely are few an far between. Those that finish their list without finding some new things to add to it are even more rare, and quite possibly do not exist.
It is a pretty small world, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a wealth of things to see. You could spend your life trying to get to all of them but, chances are, you’re going to fall short of that goal. Don’t get caught up adding things to your list and concerning yourself with what hasn’t been crossed off. Instead…
Be Where You Are
I spent approximately one full year living in Japan, but I honestly consider it more like nine or 10 months. When I arrived in Japan I wasn’t concerned with leaving Japan, but I was thinking about all of the places I could go. In that stretch I totally neglected the amazing things that were surrounding me, and it took quite a while to get my feet on the ground and appreciate the opportunity to live in the beautiful area I was in.
During my three months in France, it was largely the same thing. I needed to have a place to go and much of my time was spent finding a job in Japan. This might sound ridiculous to someone who has not spent time travelling and working between different countries, but it is very easy to find yourself worried about the next place and forgetting to appreciate the present.
There is no point in making plans to go to one destination if when you arrive you’ll only be planning for the next. As Alan Watts wrote, “even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”
This DOES NOT Mean Don’t Travel
One of the most common regrets people have in their lives is that they didn’t do more traveling. For me, I have done a good amount, I would like to do much more, but at least I know I have that experience under my belt. If you have a desire to travel, you will regret it if you do not. Honestly, I would be more likely to recommend that you throw caution to the wind and buy the first plane ticket available rather than spending months analyzing possibilities, potential downfalls, and marking up a map of ‘must sees’
Of course, some preparation is necessary. If you don’t have a passport, you need to get that. If you can’t afford a plane ticket, you’ve got some things to consider. If you want to live in tropical climates, Russia is not the place for you. Take the necessary steps, but don’t spend your time putting your travel on delay for everything that comes up. Don’t spend all your time worrying about everything that could go wrong. Things are bound to go wrong whether you travel or not but, I promise, everything will be okay.
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