I suppose it’s time to tackle the biggest single problem with travelling. Stuff. Everybody has stuff. Most people have lots of stuff. Stuff is a universal first world problem. We are almost drowning in great big piles of stuff!
Okay, all jokes aside, it is one of the single biggest problems for travelers. I’m not talking about the stuff you take with you when you travel. Most-likely you have too much of that as well, but we’ll jump off the packing bridge later on. No, I’m talking about the stuff you leave behind.
Blogs that circle around the 20-something traveler have a simple solution for this problem of too much stuff. Sell it! Craigslist it, Facebook it, tell all your friends about it. The solution, get rid of it. You’re young and you can get more stuff when you’re done traveling.
To this whole Idea, I say Nay!
If you have managed to make it to the assumed plateau of middle age, good for you. You have probably managed to do a great many other things along the way. Those other adventures have probably come with trinkets and certificates and fancy stenciled beer mugs. You have probably managed to acquire a whole houseful of stuff. And, a house to put it in.
Seriously again, a house is one of the single most important purchases a first world, employed, US person can make. And, once they make it, changing it has long-standing repercussions. The loss of equity, and the inability to regain favorable interest rates a second time, maybe the inability to come up with down payments are only three of them.
If you have managed to make middle age and are considering traveling, one of your primary decisions to be made is going to be what do I do with my house? And, all the stuff inside it? It’s a major issue point that will take a long time to produce a solid decision. It might be one of the reasons that people say travel while you are young.
If you decide to keep your house and travel, then the real question becomes how do I pay my bills while on the road? We will cover this later on. If you decide to sell your house, or rent it out while you are gone, then what do you do with your stuff? If you are going to rent out your condo or home, you can always put all of your stuff in one room and lock it up. That will cut down on the storage fees. If this is not an option due to space or if you plan on selling, then moving your stuff to a storage facility is a good alternative.
At this point I find I have to admit that I’m not a fan of lots of stuff. Stuff just takes up space and collects dust. That being said, I have acquired a great deal of stuff that I would choose not to part with. I have had as little as a wall locker full of stuff and as much as a house full of stuff. I currently have a storage unit full of stuff. Interestingly, all the really important items in all those piles of stuff still take up about the same amount of space. Which, really isn’t much at all. My books, photo albums, military memorabilia, and writing manuscripts can easily fit a small storage unit. Add to it the plastic tubs of travel and concert T-Shirts and you are still only in a medium sized storage unit.
I decided to part with my house a couple years ago. Not because it was a burden, but because I was never in it. The storage unit was a massively cheaper alternative to my lifestyle. Will I buy another house? Definitely. At some point. Do I wish I hadn’t sold it? Sometimes.
The reality is that I only sold it after I thought long and hard about it. It is not a decision to be made lightly. It is the biggest single equity investment that most people make. Parting with it shouldn’t be an easy decision!
I can say after half a lifetime of doing it; travelers are travelers. It is in the blood and in the bone. And, you’re not happy when you’re not traveling. That being said, it REALLY NICE to have somewhere to come home to. Think long and hard before getting rid of your house. Look at options like renting, leasing, and such. If you are in an apartment and unattached to residency, well then, storage units are looking good aren’t they. If you have invested great amounts of time and money in a home, think long and hard about letting it go easily. It may not be so easy to get back again.
Anybody need a house. It was mine a couple years ago.
One of the two real decisions to be made once you decide to travel the globe for an extended period of time is that of employment. Most notably, do you attempt to keep a job while you are gone or do you step away from work and worry about the consequences later? If we were 20, this would be an easy decision. When you get to the middle of your life it becomes a little more daunting.
For most of us in the first world, by the time we have reached middle age, we have invested a certain amount of our life in establishing a career. If you have a decade with a company and are entrenched in healthcare and retirement options, the decision to leave that comfortable place can be a hard one to make. If you are at a point in your professional advancement where you are acquiring company bonuses and profit sharing plans, it can be even harder.
Most travel blogs would offer the advice of: Go Travel! You can find a new job when you return to your home country. While I completely agree with this mindset when it comes to someone just out of school, I would say to the middle aged crowd that you may want to consider it further. There are a great many things to consider for people that have invested time in establishing careers. The most important of which is, will it be there when I return home?
The job market in the United States in definitely in a better place than it has been in some time. That being said, work availability for different skill sets and sectors of the population, not to mention age brackets, is still in a great deal of flux. If you are in technically specific industry or are coming up on that age where employers view you as more of a health risk than an asset, you may want to consider staying put. Also, if you are a family person, this is definitely a family decision. If you can escape the confines of your cubicle, then I would say that you have better options at hand.
It should be noted here that I have had one of those jobs where I traveled for work. I mean I travelled extensively for work. All across the continental United States, 40-50 weeks a year on the road. It’s easy to say go, when you go all the time. When you are entrenched in the corporate 9-5 it is not as easy a decision. It’s also one that needs to be substantiated by rational decisions.
Is the experience of traveling worth the time you invest in it? In my opinion, yes. Experience is much more important, and practically useful, than the acquisition of material goods. At the end of the day, stuff is stuff. Experience is something else. It’s knowledge of places. It’s new and rekindled friendships. It’s acquired skills. It’s a host of life’s moments stamped indelibly into your being. (Okay, that last one was a stretch – but also probably true.)
If you find that leaving your current employment to travel is not something you are comfortable with, then take heart. Most rational people aren’t comfortable with it either. It’s Okay! When you have invested sufficient time in a career to be in a comfortable place, wanted to leave that place doesn’t make a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options available. One of them might be the previously mention route of the Ex-Patriot. It can be a solid move for some people.
Another option to consider would be a sabbatical. Sabbaticals are usually thought of in the context of teachers and other academic professionals. While this is true, there are other industries where it can be an accepted practice. These areas include technology sensitive and highly skilled companies. Many companies would rather offer things such as sabbatical than lose employees to burnout and sector pressure. They also would many times rather accommodate an employee than spend time and money training a new one.
Sabbaticals are surprisingly available in the corporate world. They are also not spoken of, because companies would rather have employees producing for the company. They keep them in their back pocket and pull them out when they are needed. This being said, you may want to investigate your company’s own policy regarding sabbaticals and extended periods of leave. You may find that your employer isn’t completely hostile to the idea.
It’s my own personal opinion that experience is what we are. The sum total of one’s own experiences define who that individual is. Experience is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you, and is the only thing that you take with you when you leave. Experiences can be as small as the time spent studying the spring flowers in your local park or as large as studying the expansive mountain views from atop Machu Picchu. (I have done both with, what I would like to think is, equal merit.)
Since this is theoretically a travel blog, we are going to try and focus on the far flung. The getting out there and experiencing the world part of life. The small journeys have great merit. The large journeys also have great merit. Being able to disconnect from your routine life and become absorbed in another setting or situation is what travelling is about. The longer you spend doing that, the better and more worthy experiences you will come away with.
So, for the mid-lifer’s out there, think it through. Career stability is a worthy goal at our age. The experience of life is also a worthy goal. Someone once said; “To live is rare. Most people simply exist.” Whoever they were, I think they were right. But, that just my opinion.
Now go! Get out there. Life is waiting for you.
The inside of the Convent of Christ, Templar Stronghold and later home to the Knights of the Order of Christ. Tomar, Portugal, fall of 2009. Just one of the places you might end up.
something that isn’t considered on the average vacation, but is a definite point of concern for the duration traveler is insurance. To be specific, medical insurance.
I can understand if this isn’t something that comes to mind when I say lets go travel the world. As most people never leave their natural surroundings for long enough to make companies waver policies or get serious medical issues while at the beach. For the standards 2 week crew, this actually isn’t a major topic. Most policies, if they cover whatever you are actually doing on vacation, will cover your vacation issues. Worst case, you get sent home for treatment. However, if you plan on traveling for an extended time or ex-patrioting for work, independent medical insurance is an issue that you will need to consider.
I have been carrying independent diving insurance for over a decade now. Diving has inherent risks, especially in unknown waters. Independent medical diving insurance is a must for the traveling diver. Personally, I use DAN – Divers Alert Network – for my policy. They have also covered medical insurance for other non-conventional travel experiences I have undertaken. (Think Running with the Bulls)
For the traveler that currently has an internationally recognized carrier, new insurance won’t be a major stumbling block. Both Cigna and Blur Cross Blue Shield offer international policies. Aetna also offers an international policy. Now, these policies will have pronounced restrictions, specified deductibles, and steeper premiums than the ones you get their your employer, but hey — you’re a traveler now.
If you are quitting your current employer, have one of the inexpensive Obamacare options, or are covered by a regional coverage group, there is a very good chance that your insurance without transition out of the country with your traveling. Fear not! Okay, maybe fear just a little, but don’t get crazy. All the above mentioned carriers, as near as I could tell, also take on new individuals. Also, the traveler standard places like MEDEX , Allianz Worldwide Care, and Healthcare International are places to shop for a medical insurance policy that might fit your needs. Another thought would also be AIG – Travel Guard.
All carrier have different coverage and different fee schedules. It pays to shop a couple and see where you can get better service for your money. But I would suggest that you think about this rationally. You do NOT want to try and argue your way through a crappy insurance policy in some far-flung land where you don’t speak the language. At least, I don’t won’t to. Maybe you like s challenge?
Like I said, if you’re part of the two week crowd this probably isn’t a major point of concern. If you choose to pick up your pack and travel the globe it might be something to think seriously about. Something as simple as getting Pharohs Revenge because you drank the water in Cairo can quickly turn nasty. (I had it, it’s not joking matter.)
Anyway, something more to consider. Face it, we’re not 20 anymore. Now, go on! Get out there!
Continuing on with the previous discussion on timing, there is one more idea that probably should receive consideration. That would be the idea of becoming an ex-patriot. As in, going to live and work in some other country for a period of time. While this is not an ideal option for many traveler these days, it does have a certain appeal to some.
I have to confess at this point in the post that I am one of the people that it has an appeal for. Living somewhere new is the best way to become fully immersed in another culture. Working in another country can also give you a different view of industry you happen to work in. Best of all, living in another country gives you a new point of origin from which to travel.
If you live in New York and can only afford to fly to Europe, you never see anything besides Europe. Not that there’s anything bad about Europe. I happen to love Europe. But, if you move to Europe to work, when you get vacation you can travel to Eastern Europe or Africa, or maybe the Middle East. It also make the previous choices of the weekender and standard 2 week usable options inside Europe, which will greatly increase the amount of land you can cover. If you live in California, you can do the same thing going in the other direction. Travel made easy!
Now, I admit, it’s not really all that simple. Actually changing work and moving to an international employer can be problematic. For one simple obstacle, most European countries look for people that are bi-lingual. There are firms out there that don’t require multiple languages, but one must be diligent when looking. Also, you will find that when you become immersed in another culture, it can be temporarily overwhelming. (Having been dropped in Germany when I was 18 years old, thanks to the US Army, I found this out first-hand.)
There are numerous other problems as well. Logistical problems with moving things to another country. Serious tax implications. If you’re married, then there are a whole host of family issues to be dealt with. Schools, housing, medical issues, etc. They are all important issues to be considered before taking off to another country.
If you’re single or divorced, the situations are simpler. Also, if you want to stay with a firm based in America, you’re situation is simpler. If you work for a large firm, the first thing I suggest is that you check with your current employer to see if they have employment options in other countries. If they do, well then, you really have things in hand.
There are a host of international employers based in the United States that can simplify the issues of working visa’s, citizenship, medical insurance, and relocation. There are also a host of international companies that will streamline these problems for new hires. They are usually especially happy to help when the project locations are in less than secure locations.
The real upshot to all these problems, once they are overcome, is that you can explore your new HOME country. Then, you can travel to new locations and see many new things without having to purchase airline tickets that drag you halfway around the globe, and drain your finances.
If you’re not locked into any specific region of the world, then becoming an ex-patriot is a viable option to be considered. It’s not a good idea for everyone. It can be a great idea for some. Working outside North America can be a rewarding travel and social experience.
Just something else to consider. Now, get out there.
The author at the Fortress of Tomar, Portugal, fall of 2009. I was doing some book research for my third novel.
Timing. Let’s face it, if you’re a working stiff and have responsibility, it’s all about timing. Where “they” would like you to believe you can jet off at any moment and spend time wandering some South Asian tropical beach, it just not really true. The “they” in that last sentence would be the Television and the Internet. The reality of things are somewhat greyer.
Adult professionals these days have structured lives. They work long hours and have high stress loads. They work all year for a valuable two weeks of vacation time each year. If our lucky, you’ll get four weeks of vacation. Sadly, that four years has to be broken up between a couple things. Maybe out of the glorious four weeks you can carve out one and a half weeks for yourself. Maybe?
Anyway, that being said, you have to decide how and when to spend your time. The travel advertisers out there want you badly to believe that you want a destination. You should pick a destination and go. I have picked many destinations over the years, some I’ve actually managed to get to. Some – are still on the list. Like I said, I stray.
The vast majority of mid-life working stiffs tend to do something that is much more typical. They look at how much time they can afford to take off, and then find a vacation destination/activity that fits their allotted time. When you actually get your coveted time off, hopefully you have enough time to do what you want to do, and sometimes you dump your ideas and do what you have time for. I have done this many times. Once again, I tend to stray from the path.
Having limited time to travel, things fall into categories of availability. In my opinion there are three different types, or durations of travel. The weekender, the two-week vacation, and trips longer than a month. They all have benefits and drawbacks, depending upon how you like to do things.
The weekender. One of my favorites is the weekender. You can see a lot of territory in a weekend, and not chew up coveted vacation time. I’m pretty sure that I started my traveling experiences with the weekender. When stationed overseas in the military, it’s unlikely to get more than seventy two hours off without taking leave. When those seventy two hours comes you jump a train and head it. Hopefully, you make it back to post before Monday formation. (Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t.)
Now days, the weekender means checking out some new city or hitting the Vegas Strip for the weekend. You can be on a plane Friday night, and be back by Sunday night. If you want to push it, take the red eye in for Monday morning and hit work with no shower. (I have done this numerous time in my life.)
For reference, I have numerous places in the United States over a weekend. Places like Yosemite, Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, Key West, Monument Valley, Charleston, and Austin Texas in a weekend. I had a great time in all of them. You can also do international travel in a weekend as well, though you really need the red eye return flight. I did Bruges, Belgium, in a weekend. It was a great Idea. I also did Rome, Italy, in a weekend. I was not a great idea. You live and learn. At least I didn’t burn any vacation time.
Next on the list is the two week vacation. This is what I would consider to be the “standard package” travel option for hard working people. You have four weeks, of which you can carve out two weeks of actual travel time, and you want to pick a great vacation idea/package.
If you don’t believe that this is the standard timing idea in travel just take a good hard look at the internet. The vast majority of vacation packages are bundled into two loose groups of times. The seven to ten day package and the twenty one to twenty eight day package, with the hands-down winner being the seven to ten day option. European vacations, Caribbean cruises, South American adventures, they all come in seven to eleven day versions. You can actually leave the US and travel across Russia in eleven day with the right vacation planner. You can also just, buy a plane ticket and bomb around Europe or South East Asia for ten day, and then come back.
For the record, the buy-a-ticket-and-go plan is my preferred option. I do it as a rule. I like the freedom that the lack of an itinerary brings.
The Next option is the extended trip. Extended trips usually fall into the category of durations that are more than a month in length. These types of trips require a little more planning. They also require that numerous tactical decisions be made beforehand. Do you take a leave of absence from work? Do you keep your house or apartment while you’re gone? How do you handle paying bills on the road? What about insurance coverage when out of country? These questions and numerous others will be the topics of upcoming blog posts. Frankly, I’m also attempting to figure these out for myself.
The extended travel option has benefits. There are trips and places that just can’t be given justice in 21 days for packaged travel. Traipsing through the jungles of the South America or chasing surf waves around the South Pacific, maybe trekking around the Dark Continent of Africa, all of these really require more time than your standard vacation window allows. Trips that you put off until you can’t put them off anymore. Trips that need to be done. (For any number of reasons.)
Duration is always an issue. Lack of More Time is one of the big emotional issues that need to be faced down before planning a trip somewhere. There are no real answers for the issue of Duration. You take weekenders when you can. You take the two-weeker because you have to, most times. And, when you finally have to do it, you go All-In and do the big trip.
The assumption of the remainder of this blog will be based around the idea of the extended trip. Someone in mid-life that wants to go out on an adventure. An Adventure, not a Vacation. It’s the way we’re gonna role it.
Now go. Get out there.
Riding motorcycles around the four-corner’s area of the South-Western United States with two of my crazier friends, Billy and Curtis. Summer of 2010. A little short on sleep. A little long on beers. Started in Las Vegas and Ended in Las Vegas. It was a weekender.