Monday, July 26, 2010

dream on

“How do you get to travel so much? What’s your secret?”

This is the number one question I receive on a regular basis from friends, family, and people I’ve only just met. Everyone seems to think there’s a trick up my sleeve and I must be a magician who refuses to reveal my secrets. Until now.

Follow your heart.

It’s that simple. I strongly believe that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. If I can, then anyone can. But you can’t make everything happen; that’s the trick I suppose. When you pursue a dream with all your heart and soul, other aspects of your life will suffer. It’s the sacrifice one must make if they want to make their dream a reality.

Let me make this clear now: I am not on vacation. I am a traveler and this is vastly different from going on vacation. People seem to think that because I’m in far off places that my life must be easy and without stress. Wrong.

I’ve become accustomed to living with chronic bug bites, diarrhea, and sunburns. I often sleep on the floor, in airports, and overnight buses. When I do sleep in hostels, they’re cheap, which also means dirty, uncomfortable, and most likely a bit sketchy. I can share a room with up to 12 strangers coming and going at all hours of the day and night. I get lost, confused, and have awkward conversations in languages I don’t even speak. (Usually involving crazy hand gestures.) More often than not, I’m uncertain that I’m headed in the right direction, only hoping I’ll eventually get to where I want to go.

Adventure seeking is also a physically strenuous task. In order to get the most authentic experiences, one must push the muscles and mind to their limits. From a strenuous hiking trip with a badly swollen and infected ankle to climbing down steep stone stairs face forward with my hands for marital arts training, I’ve learned that authenticity makes you incredibly sore. And while cruising in a boat through the jungle I’ve had to endure hours of downpour and get soaked to the bone, only to camp outside and never truly warm up.

But when muscles ache, they soon heal and when covered in sweat or frost, eventually you’ll find shelter and a comfortable body temperature. The pain and misery will soon fade away only to leave you with memories and a good story. I know this trauma is part of the entire experience so I take it all in with a smile and some sarcasm. Unfortunately, I’ve traveled with people who are not capable of enduring such annoyances. From crying to complaining, I’ve heard it all and this is another reason I know a lot of people cannot handle this lifestyle.

Yes, it’s an adventure, and that I love. But most people are simply not cut out for life on the road. They enjoy a sense of home; a place to feel at ease in and have all of their belongings near them. I have to live with the same very limited wardrobe for over 6 months at a go. (The majority of my clothes have holes in them. I travel with a sewing kit.) I also have to carry everything I own on my back, which makes me really sweaty and exhausted.

Most people like to surround themselves with friends and family they’re comfortable with. I rarely see the people closest to me and have to make a new “best friend” every week when on the road. On top of that, many of my friendships from home have suffered. People get hurt or jealous by the fact that I’m rarely around. I lose support, contact, and sometimes an entire friendship with every trip I take and it will never stop breaking my heart.

And of course you can’t forget about the relationship issue. A good number of people have the benefit of being in a happy, healthy, and stable relationship. I’ve had no choice but to throw my love life out the window and live a life of near celibacy. Besides, my vagabond lifestyle attracts mainly douchebags and all the good ones are scared by the fact that I could leave them behind.

So there’s the reality check folks. Sure, I see my fair share of fun and adventure. From playing with monkeys to riding camels and tomato fight festivals to illegal border crossings; I live a life most people never imagined possible. But I’ve had to sacrifice pretty much every other aspect of my life to sustain this around-the-world dream.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets. I love my life. But I needed to clarify what my life is to everyone who believes this fantasy jet-setting vacation dream is easy. To be poetic, traveling is like a rose: beautiful to all who admire from afar, yet full of painful thorns if you get a hold of it yourself.

There’s really only one main reason why this lifestyle works for me: it makes me utterly and completely happy. Seeing new places, experiencing other cultures, and finding adventure in random corners of the world is what I am most passionate about. This is what drives me and pushes me forward. From frustrating moments abroad to working at home, traveling is the carrot that keeps me going. Nothing ever seems too difficult because it’s what ultimately makes me happy. From deep within my soul, this is who I am.

But before I finish without any real advice, I’ll offer some quick tips on how to travel more often than work. First, I’m good with money. Really good. I watch every penny which means those with shopping addictions are near doomed. Also, with every trip I gain new friendships and people inviting me into their homes. This not only gives me a goal and direction of where to go and what to see next, but a free place to stay. Consider using if you don’t know anyone. It’s safe and I’ve had nothing but good experiences, nor have I heard any horror stories. Lastly, I often live off of peanut butter and banana sandwiches and (questionable) street food while on the road. I dream of burritos and cooking in my kitchen constantly, but good food has been a big sacrifice for staying on the road longer. Possibly my most missed luxury.

Finally, I want to end on the best advice I can give: design your life as you wish it to be. Search within your heart for what you want to do most with your own life. Is it a career? Or an artistic pursuit? Do you want to write a book? Or become a mother to many? Or own a company? Or maybe it even is traveling around the world. Whatever it is, find your one and only dream that works best with your personality and passions. Anything you want more than everything can and will come true, if you work hard enough and sacrifice for it. It’s that simple really. Design your life.

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