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I just returned from 10 days in the Caribbean, where I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. This wedding was particularly poignant because the bride and I were together the day she met her future husband.
It happened three years ago. She and I were trekking in the Himalayas. My bum knee was slowing me down, so she reached the hut below Annapurna Base Camp several hours before I did. By the time I limped into camp, she and a tall, tanned Frenchman were tangled in each others arms.
The couple became inseparable from that moment on. We lost track of each other within a few days — I ventured south to India, they headed north to Tibet.
Eighteen months later, I reconvened with the couple in Central Australia to swap travel stories. We had followed the same basic path — a wide loop across Southeast Asia, followed by a jaunt down to Australia, a standard traveler route — but our timing had always been a few months off. They would enter a country just as I was leaving it or vice versa.
Yet we shared a bond from experiencing the same places and enduring the highs and lows of our distinct lifestyle. Our lives were in our backpacks. We had no jobs, no home, no car. Only a map and a limitless imagination.
Another year passed by. I returned to the U.S. after two and a half years of overseas vagabonding, while they forayed into the “real world” by moving to the Caribbean, where they rejoined the world of the employed, waiting tables at an upscale pizza restaurant. When I flew to their wedding last week, we swapped “settling down” stories.
“I mean, I write about how to live the life you want to live,” I said. Their faces brightened. They knew exactly what I was talking about.
“I write about how to use money to create the lifestyle you dream of living,” I said. “I write about how you should cut ruthlessly on the things you don’t care about, so you can spend lavishly on the things you love.”
The French groom smiled. His English is now smooth, solid, after three years of dating my American friend.
“Everyone asks how I could afford to travel for three years,” he said. “It’s easy. Once you decide to do it, it’s easy.”
Other Friends Ask How I Traveled for Two Years.
Our other friends assume I must be rich. Or that my boyfriend must be ultra-rich. Some people assume I held odd jobs during the trip (I didn’t). Others assume I’m in debt (I’m not, and never have been).
Oddly, these same friends don’t bat an eye at someone who:
- Buys a brand-new car. I don’t care if it’s “just” a Honda Civic sedan. Those still cost $15,800 new.
- Goes to grad school. That costs about $40,000.
- Buys a home. A 20 percent down payment on a $250,000 home is $50,000 in cash.
No one ever says, “OMG, you bought a car? How on earth could you afford that? You must be rich!”
No one ever says, “You’re going to grad school? You must be dating a sugar daddy! What does your boyfriend’s father do for a living?” (He’s a retired sixth-grade math teacher).
People don’t question spending thousands on “conventional” expenses.
But as soon as you spend a fraction of the cost of graduate school on an unconventional life — an exceptional life — the questions (and assumptions) start popping out of the woodwork.
Ignore Convention. Spend on Your Dreams.
If a new car is what you truly want — if every morsel of your soul yearns for a brand-new Honda Civic — then by all means, buy one.
But if you dream of quitting your day job, selling your car, packing your life into a backpack, and buying a one-way ticket to Egypt to see the Pyramids and “go on from there” without a plan … and that’s PRECISELY what I did … then cut ruthlessly in other areas of your life to make it happen.
It’s Not That Hard.
It’s not hard to “give up” driving a nice car or living in a chic apartment. None of these so-called “sacrifices” are tough, because you’re not giving up anything you truly wanted.
The year before I set out on my trip, I lived in a small studio. I mean, a TINY studio. I could wash the dishes from my bed. I’m not exaggerating. It wouldn’t be the most comfortable position for doing the dishes, but it would be possible.
My car had no seat belt. It was almost 25 years old, with 285,000 miles on it, and the fibers on the seat belt wore through. The rust hollowed out sections of the door. Snow blew onto my lap as I drove through the holes in the door. In hindsight, driving it wasn’t the safest decision.
But my bank balance was climbing at a frightening pace. Every month — heck, every week — I’d watch it scale higher and higher. It reached an amount with which I’d be comfortable traveling for one year. Then it doubled.
I was free. And what had I really sacrificed? A car that everyone at my office lovingly joked about? A studio apartment that was perfect for cozy nights in?
I traded the mundane for the exceptional.
And my life has never been the same.