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So You Wish You Could Travel?

It irks me when people look at what I do as some great and mystical thing, when in reality, I just buy a plane ticket, pack a bag (that, more often than not, ends up being too full of clothes that I never wear), and work out the details on the way.
12/16/2015 12:38pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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One of the most frequent comments travelers hear about their lifestyle is, "[Insert excited exclamation here]! I wish I could do that!" This sentiment frustrates me to no end, mostly because the people expressing it have no great impediment keeping them from traveling. They simply don't, whereas I do. It's not that one is better or worse (although I will continue to tout the benefits of experiencing other cultures); sometimes I wish I could stop bouncing around and create some permanence in my life, but the travel bug is still too strong.

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There are, of course, legitimate reasons why some people can't travel or live abroad, including family, children, finances (but more on that later), illness, and any number of other situations. And yet, it irks me when people look at what I do as some great and mystical thing, when in reality, I just buy a plane ticket, pack a bag (that, more often than not, ends up being too full of clothes that I never wear), and work out the details on the way.

Of course, it's undeniable that my experience makes things easier for me. I fly several times a year, so navigating airports, from security to flight delays, is second nature to me. I know luggage weight limits like the back of my hand, and I can tell you which airlines serve the best food (hint: none of them are based in the U.S.). Having lived in and visited many different countries, I'm pretty darn good at figuring out public transportation, interacting with people in foreign languages that I don't speak (or speak to a very small degree), and pointing randomly at menus that I can't read and (usually) cheerfully eating whatever results. Although these things are familiar to me, I recognize that they could be incredibly daunting to people who don't do this regularly.

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But there was a time when I didn't do this regularly, either. I remember the first time I traveled by myself: I started in an unfamiliar but still English-speaking country, followed signs, and asked a lot of people for help. There are almost always signs (which will sometimes be more amusing than helpful, depending on the country), and if there aren't, there are always people willing to help. If you happen to get the ticket agent at the train station who is in a bad mood or the local on the street who is running late and doesn't want to deal with lost tourists, keep trying. In my experience, the vast majority of people are willing to take a moment to point you in the right direction. While it's always worth learning as much as you can of the local language for situations like these, you'd be surprised by how many people around the world speak moderate to excellent English, or will be willing to try to help you even if they don't.

If all of this still sounds intimidating, know that I'm equally impressed with you for living in the U.S. (if you do); I'm currently more comfortable with life abroad than I am with living in my native country, although I'd like to get reacquainted sometime. I don't know how U.S. taxes work or how to get around in American cities. Don't even get me started on the confusion that is American healthcare after having experienced the easy, breezy, inexpensive way it works in other countries. We become familiar with what we're exposed to, so while you might be impressed with my globetrotting lifestyle, I'm impressed by your ability to function in places where driving is required because public transportation stinks. I'd be more apprehensive about a solo trip to L.A. than Tokyo because my brain is currently wired internationally, but that doesn't mean I'm more adventurous than you.

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If money is your reason for staying put, know that there are plenty of possibilities. I've funded my past few adventures by teaching English. I didn't even go to huge moneymaking destinations like South Korea or Saudi Arabia, but in the Czech Republic and Taiwan I was still able to maintain a very comfortable lifestyle, pay student loans regularly, buy plane tickets, and still save money. All of this was in addition to the priceless experiences of immersing myself in completely unfamiliar cultures, meeting new people, and making new friends.

If you enjoy working with children but don't want to get certified to teach English (which can be a relatively easy certification, although a financial investment), there's always working as an au pair. Of course, you'd want to vet the family thoroughly through a reputable agency, but many families offer food and housing in addition to a salary. This would be a great option if you're nervous about striking out on your own, as a local family could help you out with the basics of life abroad and act as a contact in case of emergencies.

If you're more adventurous or don't want to be tied to just one city, you can always travel around and get short-term work. Travelers can often find work in hostels, restaurants, resorts, as tour guides, the list goes on and on. What I've learned from my own experience and from my friends who do similar things is that you can always make the money work.

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I may have an advantage because I set off abroad immediately after graduating college, so I didn't have a chance to develop a comfortable hub here in the U.S. It's admittedly harder to leave when you have a job, a routine, and family and friends all around you. It's a lot easier when you decide to travel because you don't know what else to do at the time and you've had wanderlust for as long as you can remember. But don't ever let yourself say, "I wish I could do that, too" to people who travel. Chances are, they could sit you down and tell you exactly why and how you can. If you really mean it, just skip the envy and ask them for some pointers.