In the past several months, I took the decision to take time off and travel the world for a year. When I informed my family and friends about this decision, I was met with a mixture of admiration, support, and skepticism. Some people told me they were jealous and that they wish they could do the same, that it was a brave and worthwhile thing to do. Others were more critical, but not in any way that was harsh or demeaning. They simply wanted to ensure that I was making the best possible decision, and that I was continuing to invest my time into worthwhile pursuits that would advance my career, my future plans, and my general fulfillment in life.
The admiration and support I received were no doubt encouraging. However, the skepticism I was met with led to the most productive conversations. Conversations that helped me think through my decision more critically, and to justify why I was going to undertake such a seemingly vague goal. Why not grad school instead? Why spend all your savings to travel for a year just to be broke at the end? Why not continue to work, and take a few, albeit shorter, trips each year? How is it going to look on your resume to have taken a year off of work? What will you do after the year when all is said and done? There are many answers to these many questions. The goal of this article is to hopefully answer those questions and encourage others to see that they, too, can travel for a long period of time with no real danger to their livelihoods or careers.
The idea to travel the world for a year did not come about suddenly in my mid-20s. My first grade yearbook shows that at age six, I wanted to be a treasure hunter when I grew up. When I was twelve, I had a blog about the history of the Roman Empire, where I wrote about gladiators and chariot races (unfortunately I have been unable to resurface this long-lost webpage). As a teen, I dreamt of invariably pursuing a career as an archaeologist, a diplomat, or an explorer, and I read voraciously about history, politics, and world cultures. In college, I found the most fulfillment in life when studying abroad in places like Peru and Turkey. Traveling the world for a year is an idea that has slowly evolved in my head since I was a little boy, admiring the exploits of the likes of Tintin and Indiana Jones.
I get restless if I stay in one place for too long, and that is perhaps the result of a childhood spent moving between two continents. The lure of exploring the world and abandoning the routine of every day life is deeply a part of who I am. Long-term travel had been a slowly solidifying dream of mine for years, and the idea to grab life by the horns and finally commit to embarking on a year of travel was not a sudden and thoughtless decision. I was finally taking the risk to pursue a lifelong dream.
After college, I accepted a position with a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, organizing State Department exchange programs for foreign emerging leaders coming to the U.S. I met wildlife conservationists from Africa, anti-narcotics police officers from Colombia, journalists from Iraq, and tribal leaders from Afghanistan. The job was fulfilling. I met fascinating and inspiring leaders from all over the world, and learned about some of the world’s most pressing issues in the process. At work and in social life, I met so many exceptionally bright and talented people who were seeking to make a positive impact in the world.
But beyond my job, something didn’t feel quite right. Every time I went out, the first thing people would ask is, “what do you do?” even before caring to know my name. People were constantly networking or humble bragging about recent accomplishments in their jobs. I grew tired of the routine of desk life and became increasingly put off by the rat race that I saw was the fabric of life in the hustle-and-bustle environment of DC. So many people were more concerned about moving up the social ladder than finding fulfillment and happiness in their day-to-day lives. At times, it seemed fake, even unhealthy. We were all going to work, so we could make money, to pay for rent we could barely afford - and for what?
So after three years, and no foreseeable chance of upward mobility at my job, I decided to apply for a Fulbright grant to teach English in Indonesia. After a few months, I was happy to find out I had been accepted. When I announced to my parents I was going to move to Indonesia to teach English for a year, they were surprised, but not totally shocked: they knew I had been itching for a radical change in my life, and they supported me in my decision.
I moved to rural Indonesia, learned some of the language, and taught English to high school students for ten months. It was an incredibly rewarding - and often difficult and lonely - experience, but it further confirmed what I already knew: I am driven by a deep desire to learn about other cultures, to view life from different viewpoints, and to get to know the world a little better through deep and meaningful interactions in travel. With lots of free time, I spent time reading, practicing photography, and trying to use the language as much as I could. By chance, I also met an amazing woman who shared my passion for international education and my dreams of traveling the world.
Not yet ready to go back to the US, get another desk job, or pay for grad school, we agreed that this would be the year we would finally pursue our mutual dream. Before meeting each other, we had independently had the same goal of traveling for a year, and we decided that now was the best time. I was also inspired by several friends who had embarked on long-term travel, and I finally felt like I had the savings, the time, and the freedom to pursue my own dream of doing the same.
But by travel, I don’t mean going from one place to the next in order to sightsee and move on to the next town. I mean to travel in an authentic and meaningful way. The purpose is not simply to go from one tourist oasis to the next, but to really connect with each place we visit. We want to learn about the people, society, and culture of each country by reading about the places beforehand and connecting with people who live there. We want to reflect on our experiences, and document our journey through writing, journaling, and photography. We want to give back in small ways, big and small, through random acts of kindness and volunteer work. Taking a year to travel is not simply “taking time off.” It is meant to serve as a year of growth, learning, and opportunity. Opportunity to learn new skills, to improve existing ones, to learn about the important issues in each place we visit, to volunteer, to expand our horizons, to have adventures, and to learn as much as we can about our world while we are still young and in good health.
The plan is as follows. We will begin in India, and slowly make our way east all the way to Vietnam, via Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We will ride motorcycles through the Indian Himalayas, trek in Nepal, see old friends in Myanmar, explore the remote northern area of Thailand (before heading south to its beaches), discover the vast landscapes of Laos, experience majestic Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and road trip the entire coast of Vietnam by motorcycle. We will travel in some places and volunteer in others. All of this will be done on a strict budget of $900 a month, which should be plenty for travel, accommodation, food, and activities.
So: why travel the world for a year? The answer is simple. As the saying goes, “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” By the end of this experience I will be an infinitely more enriched person. This year will be a time for more growth, learning, independence, and adventure than any other possible alternative one could propose. Beyond that, it will be a priceless experience and provide for a lifetime of memories.
And if anyone asks about my resume, I will be able to say with my head held up high that I had the courage to pursue a lifelong dream: to see and experience this vast planet that we call home.