April 2, 2011
After speaking with many young men and women in University about traveling, it sounds like everyone wants to take a step outside their comfort zone and see what else is past the borders of the United States. Generally, most are planning to venture to new lands soon after putting on their cap and gown and grabbing the well-deserved diploma; however, most people don’t know where to begin or how to go about it along the way. This is understandable; let’s be honest, no one knows what the hell to do their first time at anything. Instead, they seek advice from others and study the matter before diving right in. Thus, that is why you are here.
This article addresses my technique for travel, and suffice to say, it is a different method of traveling that most people do not consider an option, or even possible. But, there are people that do it for many months at a time and in some cases spend years abroad. Through my travels and innumerable interactions with other traveling strangers, I have garnered many truths that I plan on sharing.
So, to be clear, what I mean by travel is not to have a social outing with your friends from home. To travel is to venture for self-discovery, experience, and the opportunity to interact with anyone you may encounter along the way. If you travel with friends, you will inevitably have to make decisions together, and therefore, you are less likely to be able to do what you want and go where you’d like to go. Unfortunately, many college students have the impression that world travel will be all sunshine and daisies, but this is not the case necessarily. You may get stuck at times, second guess the choices you make, or even see things so atrocious that they seem like surreal scenes from books or movies. But, most of the time, these rough times are scarcely dangerous or life threatening, and through these rough times you will gain experience you never thought you would. This experience will stay with you forever.
That said; remember that the good times will greatly overwhelm the bad. You don’t have to do exactly what is written, but if you want an experience that you will enjoy and truly get something out of, then I can at least say that you will achieve this if you follow some of the advice that has been given to me through my travels and that I am giving to you.
Funding the Travel
Let’s start with funding. Obviously, the first requirement for traveling the world is some manner of financing. It may be the case, that as a college student your parents have footed your bill; this is extremely fortuitous for you. A good education is a necessity. However, you’re not in school anymore, and by world travel I do not mean to imply a five star vacation in the Bahamas, where mommy will wipe your ass if you need it.
If you do get funding from your parents, just keep in mind that by accepting their money you have made it their travels as well. They have complete control over and ultimately final say on where you go, how you get around, where you stay, and most importantly, when you come back.
Again, I will reiterate that world travel should be for you and you only, and that it will be so much more rewarding if you know that you, yourself, are your own master and are taking care of your own bills. So, get a job and work as many hours as you can and save as much money as possible. Eventually, you will have enough. Make a new account just for traveling money. A solid three months’ work, for 40 hours a week, while putting half of your pay check away each week, should do the trick to have the funds necessary to keep you out of the country and on the move for a good while.
Rule #1: Travel light. Your pack is your partner in this journey, and you must carry your partner everywhere. Here are the essentials for general temperate regions: three t-shirts, a long sleeve shirt, one sweatshirt, two pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans, three pairs of underwear, and three pairs of socks. Lastly, you have the shoes on your feet and some sandals in a side pocket. You will also have whatever clothes you are wearing.
Do not worry about keeping your clothes clean or not having enough, you will likely always be able to find somewhere to wash your clothes. Next, your basic toiletries to bring should be: a tooth brush, tooth paste, soap, and a small bottle of shampoo. You can always acquire shampoo, toothpaste and any other bathroom products you need along the way, so no need to bring a ton.
You should also keep a small first aid kit including bandages and wound dressings for basic scrapes and whatever else. A sleeping bag is another important item. You will likely find yourself staying somewhere without blankets or even a bed. Alternatively, you might, one night, find yourself just wanting to spend a night under the stars.
Lastly, it is nice to leave a small remaining amount of space for food or other things you may gain along the way. If you find your pack to have more than you need, you can always trade or give away the excess along the way. Bartering is often a highly effective way to acquire goods, shelter, transportation, and more.
Now, while you’re busting your ass filling your travel fund, you need to figure out where you want to go. There is no wrong place to start. You should go wherever in the world you want. Once you have a place in mind, do what college kids do best and study the area. Know the surroundings, perhaps the language, and the culture. Try not to worry about the danger. Many people (your parents especially) will tell you: “Oh! That’s a dangerous country! You will be killed there! Or maybe robbed! Or perhaps even raped and kidnapped!” First off, contrary to popular belief, pretty much anywhere you go, you don’t get off the airplane and the first thing you see are slums. Everywhere has good areas and bad parts, just know where you are and be smart. That is why you STUDY the area!
Next, if you have never traveled in an area, it is good to find a program you can join. To start with, it’s best to find one you don’t have to pay for beyond airfare and personal needs. There are plenty of programs out there that will be more than happy to give you food and a place to stay in exchange for your labor. It will ultimately be much easier for you to adjust to wherever you are if you start-off by working with locals. By doing so, you will also be able to ease into the culture and network until you can stand on your own feet. Then, you have yourself a good launch point. Also, it is good to find a couple programs you can work with in the area, that way, if you dislike the work, conditions, or people, you can hop on over to your alternative.
In Your Program
It is not unreasonable to be nervous or scared in a foreign country, especially when you might be used to having your parental safety net. This is natural, and why starting with a program is a good stepping stone. In your program, you will likely learn several skills you probably would never have learned. The majority of the time, you won’t be alone. There will be people all around, and you will find that if you need help because you are lost or looking for something, if you communicate, mankind will step forward and show its true colors of kindness.
This tendency of kindness should go both ways. For example, you should learn that if a woman or man is working; say, painting a fence or carrying materials, and they look like they could use a helpful hand, don’t feel shy go ahead and offer your hands. They are the one thing you will always have to offer abroad. If you can learn to adapt this sort of mentality, you will never have trouble forging connections.
On The Move
Moving from the first place you go is challenging. You will feel comfortable, and not want to start a new in a different country or area. You will not want to pull up the roots you have just established. But, a good thing to keep in mind is that one can have a great experience anywhere. A new local may not be the same, but it can be just as amazing as the last place you visited.
Be sure to try and give a fair chance to each place you go. It is important to remember that wherever you go will likely have a different culture and customs. People aren’t going to adjust to you, you must adapt to them. This is especially important in labor. In many countries, “work” is not sitting behind a counter for forty hours a week; it could be, seven days a week, tending to a farm starting from sun up to sun down. Keep this in mind when choosing where to visit. If you are not ready to perhaps put in that kind of due diligence, then maybe traveling there will not be for you.
Remember that guy you offered to help paint a fence? He might offer to give you food, a place to stay, and ten dollars a day, but remember that his idea of that work will likely be different than yours. If he tells you to do it a certain way, his way is the right way. Even if you have an easier way, or more effective way, only his way is correct. Which is not to imply working abroad is a bad thing; in many cases, it has changed me in the best way possible.
By working for food, lodging, or trace bits of cash, you should be able to get around any country anywhere.
Transportation really depends on where you are in the world, and where you want to go. There are many ways to get around such as planes, boats, trains, buses, and of course hitchhiking. That said, if money is your issue, and if you’re not trying to cross an ocean, hitchhiking is an interesting way to get around and meet some interesting characters. For example, say you’re backpacking around west Europe. You already have in mind, and have researched, the places you want to go, but with hitching it’s rare to catch a ride directly to your destination. Often, the best places you will ever find are the ones dotted on the way to what you thought was your destination. You will at times probably end up sticking around in small towns, working under the table, and hanging around, just because the people are cool. When getting picked up, it is good to realize that your driver didn’t have to. It’s nice to give hitchhikers a good name by giving them some good company for however long the ride, and offering to buy them a drink, a meal, or, if they smoke, a pack of cigs.
The Art of Boat-Hopping
One great method of travel that people tend to overlook is boats. If you find yourself someplace on the coast, for example, say, in Senegal, and want to get up to Europe, you can hop a boat. To do this you must be two things, 1) patient and 2) a catch. First, head to the main port where all the boats come in and out. Next, talk to the locals and ask questions about who is at the port, and where they are going next. Once you know the boats that are heading to Europe, go and talk to the captains. Introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. Don’t ask for the ride outright, because that would be pretty rude in any culture. If you do get turned down, it is probably going to be because they don’t have room for an extra person, or for personal reasons.
Don’t become discouraged, keep in mind that most ports are busy, and there will always be more ships coming in and out. One of them is bound to say yes. Depending on the captain and culture, they will likely want you to bring your own food supply, and/or work a bit on the voyage. If you have no experience, they will likely teach you everything you need to know. You will learn quick. This brings me to the “Catch” aspect. If you are a decent worker, you will be a catch; and, if you have experience working on a boat, it will become easier and easier to be able to hop rides.
Keeping Funds from Running Dry
Your travel fund is there to support you by paying for transportation, food and places to stay. Quickly, you will find if that even if you’re just using your fund for these three major necessities’ it will eat up your money quicker than you want it to. There are some tricks that can support these three basic needs. First, is locating an under the table job, these can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. You want to explore and find small shops or restaurants that aren’t chains; at these places you will have the best chances.
Don’t ask for a job outright, and definitely do not expect to necessarily get all the guarantees of a job that you might have had back home. You will not be making ten dollars an hour, and you probably won’t have an hour long lunch break. To get a job, talk to the owners of smaller shops or restaurants; just shoot the shit, and get to know one another. If you have been talking, and they like you, then you can ask the question. Be ready to accept nothing more than some food, and a few bucks, for a good bit of grunt-work, like dishes. Chances are, though, that the offer will sound good to them.
As for places to stay, two of the best options are camp-sites, and hostels; especially in Europe, where lodging can be particularly expensive. If you can afford a small tent, it is a good investment. Otherwise, try offering to clean bathrooms or parts of facilities to managers of hostels or campsites in order for a free stay. It is not a lot of work, and can save you loads of cash if you can just manage to swallow your pride for an hour or so. Remember, though, there are always others who are going to have the same idea.
You probably find that, at your nice comfortable college with hundreds of students, you tend to speak and hang out with just your regular friends that you see on a daily basis. Well traveling on your own you will find that every day you will meet, speak and hang out with new and different people. People often think they might be too shy to do this, but if you spend enough time alone, it becomes easy to muster up the courage to find companionship. Even despite language barriers you might face.
Being on your own, you may find you enjoy meeting random people on the street. Simply asking someone if they want to have a drink, male or female, can yield loads of entertainment. Most of the time, a local will have somewhere you must see and you could end up spending the whole day with them. Sometimes, they may even offer their home for you to stay a couple nights. Conversely, it could just end up being 15 minutes of an amazing conversation by the subway, while a man selling flowers says you must buy one for some beautiful young woman you’re talking to. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, or to ask them questions. The worst that could happen is that they tell you to get lost, or they just don’t respond. It happens, and the great part about it is that you can just turn to your opposite side and trying talking to the person over there.
Throughout my travels, I have often encountered women traveling, and unfortunately, the vast consensus is that most women seem to think they can only travel in groups or with a strong male figure to serve almost as a “protector.” However, lone female travelers DO exist, and most of the time they have expressed to me some understanding of added risk, but have appreciated their freedom gained. It is true that women can tend to be more of a target for robbery, and unfortunately the burglar might even be after more than just their cash in pocket. This fact is saddening, but it does not have to prevent you from traveling if you are female.
The lone female travelers I have encountered in my travels have always had a great deal to say on the subject of a woman seeing the world. They encourage it, but with an air of safety, of course. First, one of the largest disclaimers they have cited pertains to clothing. It is not a secret that college ladies like to dress to attract the opposite sex. When traveling alone, it is best to do quite the opposite. The best attire is that that makes you look plain, or even unappealing. Blending in is the name of the game. When it comes to walking around, it is easy to use common sense and stay safe. Avoid places where you can’t be seen by the public, and avoid meandering about at odd hours of the night. Of course, definitely avoid more dangerous areas, which you can usually pinpoint by asking around. Be sure you always have something on you to defend yourself. Most of the female travelers I have known have had at least a pocket knife of some sort, and know how to use it decently. This isn’t to say you need to be a kung-fu master, but just that you can handle it.
In any sense, it makes little sense to spend too much time being paranoid, especially if you tend to behave sensibly from the get-go. One of my best friends, a swiss-traveler has been and the road for seventeen months and she has run into zero problems. Though, this doesn’t mean that she expects danger never to rear its ugly head. The simple fact is that if you keep your cool and don’t act foolishly, the dangers for female travelers and male travelers are not so different, and are pretty equally unavoidable.
In The End
Having returned from my travels temporarily, I went to a college party with a friend and spoke with a student. He expressed that in high school and the beginning of college he really knew who he was, but that he had begun to have doubts recently. I used to be familiar with this sentiment. Ultimately, you can travel however you want, but to spend a long period of time marauding the world is an experience that will test you, shape you, and make you realize exactly who you are and what you want.
You will learn skills you never would have, appreciate work you never saw yourself doing, meet so very many people, and make innumerable friends. By traveling, you can see life in the many perspectives of the world, and by doing so fashion them into what you can call yours. Chances are, there will be those that contradict your plans: your parents, friends, or even just the general American philosophy. But, you will always be reminded, while on the road, why you are there. Perhaps, while hitching a ride from a trucker, moving from the on ramp of one small French village to another that you have never heard of; with your bag between your legs, you might try and keep your eyes open to listen to his story, even though you are dead tired from walking. As you watch the landscape of the French countryside go whipping by in the window, you will be reminded of why you are traveling. Doing exactly what you want, wherever you want completely in the moment.