I’ve tried being nice. I’ve tried being patient and reasonable. I’ve resorted to begging, arguing, peer pressure and bullying. All of these efforts to no avail. And then I made one last-ditch effort to talk some sense into my friends and family back home in sweet St. Petersburg, Florida. I wrote a little rant and submitted it to the local paper hoping to get it published on a slow news day. In the end, a version of my article was published as the front-page story in the tbt* (Tampa Bay Times).
I am 25 years young. I have my youth, my health, my freedom. In September 2011, made a choice to use them. I packed my University of Florida diploma and the accompanying student loan into a card board box left it in my family’s garage. I sold my car and left everything that didn’t fit into my suitcase to my little sister. I booked a one-way ticket to Indonesia and the rest is globe-trotting history.
People back home [in America] seem to think I’m some sort of lucky star, as if the universe pointed at me one day and said, ‘Tiffani Amo, you win. You get to travel the world.’ Well that never happened. In the beginning of my trip, it felt that way though. When people would say, ‘You’re having the time of your life. I wish I could do what you’re doing,’ I would think, ‘Yeah, I am pretty lucky aren’t I?’ Today all I can think is, ‘If you want to do it too, then why don’t you?’
I’m going to skip over the parts of my life on the road that include living in postcard paradises. I won’t talk about how satisfying it feels to book a one-way ticket on a whim, to learn a new language, to come face to face with creatures and places you thought existed only in National Geographic magazines. I’ll leave out the beautiful, exotic people, the fast friendships with worldly travelers, the selfless acts of kindness from strangers. They are the kinds of experiences that people equate to ‘lucky’, ‘maybe someday’ and ‘if only’. But life on the road isn’t an untouchable holy grail. It’s life. And you’re on the road. It’s a very doable thing we’re talking about here.
People tell me they ‘don’t have time’ to travel. What they mean is that they don’t have time ‘right now’ because they haven’t yet set it aside. ‘Being busy’ is not an activity in and of itself. Try this to-do list on for size: get a life. When you arrive in a new country with a one-way ticket, that’s precisely what you have to do. You have to prove your existence with government documents (visa applications, tax-file numbers, census forms, ID cards) before you can even think about earning a living. Once you get permission, you can open a new bank account, look for a job and find a new place to live. All alone in a foreign country – no friends, no family, no one to lean on. Amid the chaos of starting from scratch, I still need to buy groceries and do laundry and exercise. I still want to drink beer with my new friends and go to parties and music festivals. Sometimes, I just want to do nothing at all. On the other hand, I still manage to find time to climb Indonesian volcano tops to watch the sun come up. I go on 13,000 kilometer road trips down the Western coast of Australia. I explore chasms in the depths of New Zealand. I skydive over the Coral Sea. In short, I spend my time the same way I spend my money.
Speaking of money, that’s another fashionable excuse. People tell me they ‘don’t have enough money’ to travel. What they really mean is that they don’t have the money to travel ‘yet’ because they haven’t actively made an effort to save any. Take a minute to think about your bills and expenses. Divide them into ‘luxuries’ and ‘necessities’. Boom, money in the bank! It won’t be easy leaving the land of milk and honey for bare-bones livin’, but the Rolling Stones have some good advice when it comes to getting what you want and getting what you need. And as for loans and the like, you have your whole life to pay them off. I’m in debt up to my ears with student loans, and I still have to work for my paycheck just like everyone else, but while I’m young, healthy and free, I’m putting my earnings to good use. It’s certainly no party working 40 hours a week as a paid servant in a restaurant. I didn’t exactly enjoy packing mangoes in a shed for 10 hours a day. Eat rice crackers and carrots for dinner isn’t incredibly satisfying, but I make these sacrifices because I know they’ll be worth it in the end. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – and money is but a minor factor in the travel equation.
Sometimes people tell me that they are just afraid to travel, afraid to take a plunge into the unknown. Perhaps though, if they actually considered what they might find, it might not be so intimidating. First of all, the good stuff is always better than you could ever imagine. That’s a fact. Of course, the worst case scenario might also be worse, but if you can dream up your ultimate failure and then accept it, you’ll realize that it probably isn’t all that bad. ‘What if I quit my job and sell my car and defer my uni degree, and then I go abroad and realize I’m not happy, and I don’t want to travel?’ Then you go home. ‘And what if my job won’t take me back, and I don’t have enough money to buy a new car and I’ve lost my scholarship?’ Then you will have to apply for a new job and another scholarship and start saving your pennies again, but you’ll never have to wonder ‘what if…’
Of all the excuses people throw at me, the one concern no one ever raises is the most substantial: ‘Do I even have what it takes to survive living the dream?’ How long will you last in a strange new world of languages you don’t understand, diseases you’ve never heard of, laws you didn’t know existed, customs you were unaware of, food that makes you sick, people who rob you blind, and extreme weather you’ve only seen on TV? Will you be able to cope with the tough stuff to get to the good stuff? These are the types of obstacles for which there is no guarantee that you will have the ability to overcome them, but if you never try then you will never know.
In the end, if you really want something, you just have to make a choice, take a chance, and try to land on your feet. Life’s lows will always find you, but when you actively follow your bliss, the highs will be higher and they will last longer. The rewards will be greater and you will reap them more often. Happiness will sow itself deeper. Sounds like something you’d read on an inspirational e-card, but it’s the juicy, sweet truth about chasing your dreams, especially when it comes to traveling.
Mark Twain said it best. ”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”