“Ma’am, are you bringing any alcohol into the country?,” a customs agent asked me.
“No, sir,” I replied.
He scoffed. “You’re no fun.”
I promised myself that I’d travel to 30 countries before turning 30. Aruba is country #30, and I’m visiting just in the nick of time: I’ll turn 30 later this month.
Travel, of course, is a deeper experience than a country-count, so I want to take a moment to explain why I set this goal:
I’m the type of person who will find a “favorite spot” and return again and again. (I have a short list of places that I’ve visited 6-10 times). This goal forces me to explore new countries, rather than just re-visit my old favorites.
This goal also forces me to travel slowly, exploring with greater depth. I must spend a minimum of one week in each country for it to “count;” short visits don’t qualify. You can’t get a sense of a place if you’re only there for a few days.
(Even one week is barely-sufficient. I originally wanted to set the goal for “minimum of one month,” but that felt too long, especially for smaller nations. Even still, I aim to spend between 3-4 weeks in most countries that I visit, so that I can sink deeper into the local culture.)
I live in the era of airplanes and laptops. How cool is that?!
Never in history has travel been so easily available to the masses – especially to those of us who have U.S. citizenship and who are educated enough to be knowledge-workers. This goal reminds me to take advantage of that overwhelming opportunity.
How Going Against the Herd Can Save You Hundreds
Several people have asked me why I chose Aruba as my 30th destination. The obvious answer: Because it’s Aruba. Why wouldn’t I?
The more nuanced answer:
#1: Cheap Flights.
At $400 for a round-trip ticket (from Atlanta), it’s cheaper to fly to the Caribbean than it is to fly to San Francisco or Seattle.
#2: Cheap Accommodation.
Hotels have massive amounts of overhead: full-time desk and cleaning staff, bookkeepers and accountants, lawyers and legal fees, conference sponsorships and industry association dues. When you stay at a hotel, you’re “taxed” to support that overhead.
Sidestep this by staying at a local’s home. The free route is through Couchsurfing.com, which facilitates cultural exchange by letting travelers stay with local hosts. (I’ve couchsurfed across Europe, Israel and Australia; I’ve also opened my home to couchsurfers from across the globe).
This time, I wanted a private residence, so I rented a gorgeous two-story home with floor-to-ceiling windows, 25-foot vaulted ceilings, exposed wood beams, a zen rock garden and a rooftop patio. Total cost: $60 per night. That’s a splurge; if I were budget traveling, I could stay elsewhere for half that price (or couchsurf for free).
I’m renting it from a Dutch woman who came to Aruba ten years ago to become a scuba-diving instructor. Eventually she decided she wanted a “professional” job, so she snagged an accounting degree and began managing the finances of an Aruban aloe-vera company. She lives next door and runs this vacation rental as her “side gig.”
#3: Low Season.
“But I thought Aruba was expensive!” you might be saying.
Why is everything so cheap? Two words: low season. Most people can’t travel in mid-October: jobs or school confine them. They compete for airfare and accommodation during the holiday season, when all the prices skyrocket.
By cultivating a freedom-packed lifestyle, I can arrive when there’s low demand and take advantage of lower prices. Then I head home before swarms of holiday travelers descend upon a spot.
If you follow the pack, you’ll pay a premium. But if you go against the grain, you can save hundreds.
#4: Strong Internet.
Here’s a cold, hard truth about location independence:
When you earn a living from your laptop, your internet connectivity is your lifeline. And let’s face it: the jungles of Borneo aren’t known for their great wifi hotspots.
When I’m choosing a travel destination, strong and ubiquitous internet connectivity is my first consideration. (Unless, of course, I decide to disconnect completely.)
#5: Fascinating Culture.
Before I started exploring the Caribbean, I imagined this space as “just a bunch of sand and sailboats.” But that’s a gross oversimplification. The culture is a fascinating blend of Dutch, French, Spanish, West African, and a Caribbean flavor that’s entirely of its own.
After I realized this, I explored a half-dozen Caribbean islands. But the more islands I visit, the more I realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface.
That’s why traveling is so addictive. Traveling to 30 countries has made me acutely aware that I’ve seen very little of this world.