(34 days to go)
Step 1: Decide where to go and who to go with
Basics. If you can’t come to a decision on this, you aren’t going travelling. “Really, Pete?” I hear a nomadic hippie scream, “I went to an airport with nothing but my wallet, closed my eyes and got on the first plane I could. True freedom follows surrendering what you think you know…” and so on. I suppose you could do that, but that advice is about as helpful as trying to solve an equation by chewing bubble gum – that’s not to say that you will find this ‘How To’ guide more useful, but I think it (hopefully) at least comes from a practical point of view.
Anyway, this decision was made for me in the form of a woman. A strong-willed, decisive woman with plans of petting every living animal she can; I find myself inexplicably following her where ever she goes. This made a lot of things a lot easier for me as I am a strong contender for the ‘Worst Forward-Thinker Ever’ award. We’ve both seen a lot of Europe so that was scratched off the list, and both want to see Africa but felt this would be better done as separate trips later in life, so that too was disregarded.
I’ve been in love with the United States of America ever since I realised that it was just on the TV and I didn’t actually live there. This became our starting point. From there we continued drawing a line around the globe until we hit Asia – Thailand to be precise. She will tell you that she’s drawn to the people, the culture and the breath-taking landscapes but her eyes simply scream ‘elephants’.
Next, we found some large looking land masses in-between; some place called Australia and ‘Not Old Zealand’. We were then advised that we could get cheaper flights if we made some stops along the way. Through gritted teeth we both agreed that we could suffer through hitting Fiji, Bali and Borneo, and now we had our outline.
Step 2: Absolve yourself of earthly possessions
OK, this sounds extreme and obviously would be an incredibly Buddhist way of living. This also sounds quite alien in terms of everything we work towards in our modern lives. But I don’t mean that you need to get rid of everything you own or give it to charity or sell it to bystanders. Once you think about it, there are a lot of things that you can either live without or at the worst, replace at a later date. I sold my car; monthly payments for insurance and tax aren’t what you need when you’re not earning money for almost a year, or even living in the same country as the vehicle. This was quite an upsetting stage for me as I’ve always loved driving. From the minute I passed my driving test, it’s been a freedom I’ve enjoyed to its fullest. But you’ll be surprised how your mind changes when someone hands you a wad of bank notes.
We don’t have a mortgage. This is a huge plus if you’re planning something like this as, going back to insurance and tax, any reduction of monthly outgoings is paramount to being able to properly budget and make the most of your time. If we did have one, then renting out the property rather than selling is probably the best option.
But in addition to the big things I still have a mobile phone, a TV, a PlayStation, a DVD collection, books, furniture, kitchen utensils, sentimental keep-sakes and old clothing that ‘definitely will be worn again’. We could have found an easy-to-use long term storage company to help us to relocate these items but, yet again referring to monthly payments, we found that parents’/friends’ homes and garages were a much better solution.
This leaves our ‘earthly possessions’ in safe keeping with people we trust and our rented flat went back on the market. Freedom is within reach.
Step 3: Realise how much money you need to do these things and have a bit of a panic
We don’t need to beat around the bush – doing this is expensive. It isn’t a secret or a surprise that you need some financial stability (or recklessness) to undertake this once in a lifetime experience.
We’ve been lucky as we have savings, decent jobs and loving relatives who are willing to live vicariously through our travels. Referring back to the ‘strong-willed woman’ I described earlier, in order to save money it is vital that you feel capable of fighting, haggling and arguing for the cheapest price on absolutely everything you can. She barely comes up to my chin but if she feels like she’s owed something she can be 10 feet tall.
Even when you’ve found the cheapest flights, cheapest rentals, cheapest (liveable) rooms to sleep in you’re still touring foreign countries with no income and an exchange rate that hates you as much as you hate the word ‘moist’ (seriously, everyone does, right?). Even now, thinking about the cost of such an endeavour causes my heart rate to climb and my breathing to change – although that might be all the caffeine in my system. And all of this is in the best-case scenario. We have insurance but god forbid we get into any difficulties or need medical attention or lose our stuff or get losT OR GET KIDNAPPED AND NEED TO RANSOM OUR WAY OUT OF A GUNFI- OK, I need more coffee.
Step 4: Try to replace that panic with excitement. Fail.
“But Pete,” she pleads, “that’s the worst-case scenario, think of the amazing sights we’ll see and the culture we’ll absorb. Don’t think about what could go wrong, we can’t do anything about it anyway”. And she’s right (as always). This is quite literally a once in a lifetime experience. Most people have said that they wish they could have done it when they were younger, and others have told me that they did do it and it’s the best thing they’ve ever experienced.
It’s going to be incredible, I know that; absolutely mind-blowing and life changing. I wish to come back a completely different person, shaped by experience and worldly knowledge and probably with even less hair.
Step 5: Come to terms with the panic and do it anyway. Oh, and quit your job.
I find quitting a job a surreal experience. I’ve done it a couple of times previously but only ever to move onto bigger and better jobs, never to jump without an income safety net. Depending on how valuable you are to a company and what they have planned for the short term future, the outcome can vary tremendously.
Example A: I had a one-on-one with my boss. He knew something was up immediately as we rarely have ‘sit downs’ and I’d made time especially for this one. I told him that a great opportunity had come up and that for this experience I would need to quit. I told him I thought it would have been unfair of me to ask for a career break, knowing that the company wanted to grow strong and fast. He agreed and let me hand my notice over with just a hint of disappointment in his eye.
Example B: She said she needed to leave her job for a huge travelling adventure that she’d waited her whole life for, was offered a career break and has a great job to come back to.
So, when it comes to quitting your job, you should be able to go into the meeting with at least an idea as to how the meeting’s going to go. I, for one, relish the opportunity that has now laid itself out in front of me, but cannot tell you how much I value the certainty of her career prospects once we’ve run out of money on the other side of the globe.
Step 6: Wait.
This is by far the hardest part of what I’m doing. I’m in a state of limbo where everyone knows I’m leaving. Landlord knows we’re leaving, boss knows we’re leaving, mother knows I’m putting stuff in the garage and yet, I’m not quite there. Each time you think about it you’ll be filled with trepidation, excitement, anxiety, joy and any other feeling that too much of makes you just a little bit nauseous. But you must wait.
I write this with just over a month still to go until I board the first of many flights, before I pick up a rental van, before I spend Christmas in another country for the first time in my life. I write this still waiting and I can tell you from here, with so much still unexplored, it will be the hardest thing I have to do.