On October 18, I’m hosting a big event to extol the virtues of long-term travel and encourage people to think outside the box in terms of their career and life choices.
I have a confession to make: I’m nervous about speaking publicly as a quasi-expert on the topic, because lately I’ve been feeling very tied down and travel-challenged.
At the Meet, Plan, Go! event in San Francisco (one of 17 such events taking place around the country), I’ll aim to inspire people to use travel to get unstuck, learn, grow, and try to be a force for good in the world. By “travel” I don’t mean spending a week or two at a resort; I mean journeying to new places to live a different way and connect with different cultures. I’ll say it’s the best thing you can ever do as a family, the greatest gift you can give your children. And I’ll use myself and my husband, Morgan, as an example since we took off with our kids in 2009-10 and experienced extreme quality time around the world.
Yet I find myself struggling to walk the talk. We had a “once-in-a-lifetime” journey that many envy, and it led to an important move career-wise—but that was then, this is now. Taking a big, meaningful trip again is starting to feel impossible for a number of reasons:
We’re focused on work as Morgan develops a new business and I work for him part time, which means we need to be in an office to build a team and cultivate clients. My 8th-grade daughter is devoting herself to a performance troupe and academics, so she doesn’t want to miss rehearsals or school. Extended family members have health issues, so I feel that any time off and money for plane tickets should go toward visiting them. We just sunk a chunk of money into house repairs, and we need to save for the kids’ educational costs.
Only my 5th-grade son is relatively untethered, but he looks horrified when I float the idea of spending a semester of his 6th-grade year in Central America to learn Spanish. He doesn’t want to leave his school and friends to travel for longer than a few weeks.
So, when you’re feeling like I am or in a situation like ours, how do you get unstuck and go from dreaming to doing?
Here are five steps that helped me gain a more optimistic, forward-thinking outlook about the feasibility of future travel.
1. Remind yourself “why travel”
Ask yourself, why is a long trip worth it? Why spend the money, go to the trouble of planning it, and cope with the major complications it may cause with your work, home, and your kids’ schooling and social life?
For us, the reasons boil down to a few truths, including: Travel teaches us immensely about the world and ourselves. It brings out the best in us individually and as a family; that is, we’re closest to one another, most collaborative, most adventurous and most open-minded when we leave our house and community, where we all have our individual spheres and separate, over-scheduled routines. It helps keep our 21-year marriage fresh and passionate.
As a parent, I want to raise kids who know and care about the world. Living more frugally to help pay for travel, spending money on experiences rather than stuff, traveling lightly, and seeing how the rest of the world lives is the best antidote I’ve found to the I-want-itis that we pick up from peers and the media. Most of all, travel is fascinating, fun and challenging, and even the hardest “we’ll-laugh-about-this-someday” days are worth it in hindsight.
2. Think big and make a list
Envisioning and documenting a bucket list of things to do and places to go before you die is a first step and powerful motivator. I sometimes won’t even admit to myself the places I hope to go or things I hope to achieve because they sound so impractical, so out of reach. Recently, though, I listed some of the “someday” destinations and experiences that crossed my mind, in the following categories:
- Alaska wilderness
- Torres del Paine, Chile
- Rafting the Colorado River
- Croatia, Greece and Turkey
- U.S. History road trip through New England and the South
- Costa Rica and Honduras
- South Africa or Botswana on safari
Running trips I want to take, ideally with Morgan:
- Inca Trail
- Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Grand Canyon
- Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
- Appalachian Trail
- Western States 100 (what ultrarunner doesn’t secretly dream of it?)
Places we want to go back to and live for a while:
- Northern Italy
- South Island, New Zealand
3. Think smaller and go wherever and whenever you can
We took a full academic year for travel because we wanted to roadschool the kids for a whole school year and rent out our house to help pay for the trip. We also recognized that Morgan’s career shift would take many months to consider and carry out.
That said, we know lots of people who go on unforgettable, meaningful trips that last “only” a matter of weeks or two months max. The allure—dare I say, the trendiness—of year-long, round-the-world journeys overshadows the potential for fabulous short trips over the period of several seasons. Our neighbors, for example, took their three kids—two college-aged, one in high school—to Africa for most of August (and I have them to thank for the two landscape shots in this post). As kids get older and commit to programs in high school and college, family travel gets harder to fit in. The precious weeks of academic holidays may be your best opportunity to travel—so seize it.
Also, keep in mind that the process of family travel—of getting from Point A to Point B as a team and adjusting to unfamiliar circumstances—is often as meaningful as exploring the destination itself. What matters is how you relate to each other, and to the environment and people, wherever you may be.
4. Get a trip on the calendar for next year. Now.
Looking ahead to our 2012 calendar, I felt a wave of depression when I repeatedly told myself, “We can’t go anywhere then because [fill in the blank].” Our routine and responsibilities kept throwing up roadblocks to travel planning.
Then a summer running camp in Alaska captured my imagination. It seemed selfish to even consider it—what would Morgan and the kids do if I ran off to this by myself?—but I clicked through to the website. When I mentioned it to the kids, they loudly reminded me they want to go to Alaska. (One positive upshot of Sarah Palin’s campaign: It made the kids interested in that state way up there.) Morgan got excited, and we started researching. Long story short, we blocked out two weeks for a combination of the running camp outside of Juneau and a family tour around the Kenai Peninsula, and then I sent in deposits for reservations. Getting it on calendar, budgeting for it and knowing it’s on the horizon makes us significantly more excited about the coming year.
5. Seek inspiration and support from others
I follow several travel and running blogs (see the Links page) for inspiration and escapism. I also subscribe to Afar and peruse catalogs of the high-end travel tour companies Austin Lehman, Backroads and Geographic Expeditions the way some people flip through Vogue or Architectural Digest. More recently, I started following Travel Massive and attended one of their meetups to meet interesting travelers and travel industry reps. The point is that even though I’m not presently traveling for any significant length of time or in any adventurous way, I’m trying to stay connected and inspired by those who are.
If you, too, would like to meet other travel-dreamers who are contemplating a detour off their current life path, then get a ticket to the SF Meet, Plan, Go! event or one of the ones happening around the country (get info on the locations here).