There is an elephant in the room. The virtual room, that is. I recently quit my corporate job in New York City to circumnavigate the globe by couch-surfing, and one of the first questions people keep asking me is: "how are you affording this?"
It seems that as of late, fed-up Millennials are dropping like flies from the corporate world in pursuit of their "purpose," leaving many scratching their heads and wondering how on earth these young, broke, and indebted kids can afford to do whatever they want.
On my end, I could talk about how much I believe in the importance of following my dreams and achieving anything that I set my mind to, though that's probably not what you want to hear. Am I wealthy? No way. I come from a lower-middle turned middle-upper-class family who has worked extremely hard for everything they have.
I could tell you about how through perseverance, planning, self-control, a lot of freelancing, and passively saving for 10+ years, I was able to gather the funds necessary for taking this time off, but that also won't satisfy you. The means by which I was able to get to the point where I could quit my job and travel the world are tailored to my life and needs and are not likely replicable by someone who does not share the same values or very similar lifestyle as me.
Here is the secret to how I was able to put aside the funds I needed to travel the world: I identified my primary passion, and I ruthlessly prioritized my life decisions to serve that passion.
When You Really Want Something, You Put It Above Other Things You Also Want
I have many interests I'd like to cultivate. I enjoy playing the piano, I wish I was better at drawing, and I'm working on learning a fifth language. If money and time weren't an obstacle, I'd be doing all of that right now. Unfortunately, that is not the reality. In life, we have to pick and choose.
I was recently speaking with a colleague who was curious about how I could sustain my travel life. This colleague is a huge foodie who loves to cook and try new foods. When I told him that saving involved seriously cutting back on restaurants, he balked - it wasn't something he believed he could do. This is because his priorities are eating good food, discovering great restaurants, and spending hours at a time cooking and experimenting with recipes. My colleague really enjoyed travel, but he didn't love it enough to sacrifice his commitment to cuisine. Conversely, I enjoy gastronomy, but eating lavishly does not come close to the joy I feel from seeing new places, meeting people, and immersing myself in diverse cultures.
I find the willpower to put money aside for plane tickets with the similar effort that my colleague finds to eat at high-end restaurants. In this moment, what matters most to me is traveling the world and writing about it. And so, in my daily and long-term decisions, this goal takes precedence over my other lesser goals.
When There Doesn't Seem To Be A Way, Hack The System
There is always a solution out there to achieving your goals, but when it's not obvious, you have to get creative.
When calculating how I could afford full-time travel, I realized that the highest expenses would come from accommodation and transportation. My first challenge was solving for that.
I figured that I could greatly reduce the high cost of long-distance airfare by splitting up my journey into short segments, which I would travel predominantly by train, bus, or budget airlines. I specifically routed my trip to gradually make my way from the West to the East, never moving farther than a few hours' worth of flight at a time.
My next (and biggest) challenge was solving for accommodation. I realized that if I stayed with locals wherever I went, I would be able to afford this journey. From there came my idea to circumnavigate the globe by couch-surfing through my social network, something I had frequently and successfully done in my previous travels. My priority, therefore, became generating enough awareness around my vision and networking to find people around the world that would be willing to host me. This project also aligned well with the purpose of my blog, which is to write about the art of being human wherever I go.
This process took and continues to take a lot of time, energy, and effort, but it is my way of bringing my goals into fruition. My advice for those having difficulties achieving their goals is to find your own way to hack the system: identify the biggest challenge standing in your way, and brainstorm creative ways to solve it. This may require some lifestyle sacrifices, but if your goal is truly a priority, it will be worth it.
Channel Your Energy Into Actualizing Your Goals, Rather Than Being Upset By What You Can't Do
We each have our own way of perceiving the value of money, and how well we align that value with our goals determines our ability to save.
I was recently speaking with a musician who told me that whenever he considers the value of $1,000, he sees a new set of drums and music lessons. I, on the other hand, see a plane ticket. You may see a new outfit, or eating at a Michelin restaurant, or a night with bottle service at a club. Saving becomes even more difficult for people whose priorities are necessities rather than luxuries, for example, for those who struggle to pay for student loans, food, or their children's schooling. Keep in mind, however, that while some priorities may seem less glamorous than others, they are nevertheless priorities. They are determined by the individual, and fluctuate depending on privilege, income, and life situation, and so on.
My priorities reflect my specific life situation. At the moment, I choose to travel over having a stable roof over my head. That's because I'm young, healthy, financially uncommitted, and have no problem forgoing comfort for experience. To write and travel, I sacrifice stability. Other people prioritize having an apartment over the freedom that accompanies being nomadic - and that means they have to pay monthly rent. It's all about identifying which goal supersedes your other goals, and finding a way to make it work within your means.
Another common reaction I get about my project is: "I wish I was doing that." I noticed that many of the people who expressed envy at my travels actually had a lot going on for them, many of which I'd like someday for myself: a successful business, a great job, a beautiful apartment, etc.
It makes me wonder - if I handed them a paycheck good enough for six months of travel and told them I'd be taking care of primary responsibilities during that time (bills, children, loans), would they actually quit their job and leave behind their daily comforts?
I'm not convinced many people would opt to travel full-time on a budget. Right now I am writing this from the airport in Athens, after having woken up at 5 a.m. to take a flight from Paros, having to wait 10 hours for my next flight to Istanbul, where I will once again have to wait another three hours before arriving in Dubai at 3 a.m. the following day. I love what I'm doing, but it's not always glamorous. I experience long days of travel to save money, unexpected delays, dragging luggage through cobblestone in the blazing summer heat, stressing overbooking flights last minute, and so on. Everyone has downsides to their passions - it's just a matter of choosing which crap you're willing to deal with.
My advice for those looking to travel, or pursue another passion, is to identify your goals and organize your life around creating opportunities to pursue them. Rather than focusing on what you cannot do, recognize what you love and are willing to make sacrifices for. Anything that you want in life requires discipline, sacrifice, and passion. If you are able to put your goal above all else, it is only a matter of time before you achieve it.