5 Tips for the 20-something traveler from the Veteran Traveler.

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Yesterday was my 30th birthday.   I decided a few weeks ago to spend my 30th birthday in Portugal and Spain. Portugal was country number 35 which blew my goal of  visiting 30 countries by 30 out of the water!

Anyway, I am having a fabulous 30th birthday trip but  I also keep noticing that the other “world travelers” suddenly seem impossibly young.

I watched a shiny new group of travelers at the airport earlier this week.  A few years ago I might have joined in on their political discussion or accompanied them on a adventure to see a kid named Zven jump off a cliff.   However, as I listened and watched I was suddenly and acutely aware that I no longer fall into the category of 20-something hostel going, dreadlock donning, backpack toting traveler.

That was me for a time (minus the dreadlocks).   I did that. I was that. I had the unbelievable fortune of spending a large portion of my 20’s traveling the world. I visited 35 countries, countless cities, numerous landmarks, and have had a lifetime worth of experiences to show for it.

And while I will never stop traveling, my traveling looks different now. I have traded in the hostels for comfortable and cozy Airbnbs. I wear adult clothing, shower regularly, and do not have to worry if a girl named Forest is going to use my toothbrush in the community bathroom. I have traded in my flip flops for professional looking flats and the awkward heavy backpack for sensible rolling luggage.

So, Instead of being the crazy old lady trying to fit in with the cool kids at the airport, I sit back and listen to them with a wise knowing smile.   I let them have their youthful moment. My time has passed.

I smile as I watch them go on their way to learn whatever they are going to learn on this adventure.   I am glad that I got to experience that in my 20’s and thankful for the lessons I have learned now that I am in my 30’s.  

I have learned so much about travel and life and myself in this past decade. I may no longer be a cool youthful traveler, but I now have a new role. I am the wise sagely veteran of the trade and I have some tips for the 20 something Travelers.

My top 5 Tips for the 20-year old traveler.

#1  You don’t have to use a backpack to go “backpacking” through Europe.

Ok. I know that the backpacks with all of the patches look cool. I know that they make you feel like you are a down to earth, granola eating, world loving globetrotter. I know that they differentiate you from the retired couples who are on their 5th Viking Cruise through Europe. But lets face it. Giant backpacks are TERRIBLE. They are big and bulky and painful.  Basically they are THE WORST.  And they make it difficult (nay… sometimes impossible) to move around the tiny little European shops/ hotels/ restaurants.

Not only are they torture devices designed to leave permanent indents on your shoulders, they are also black holes that swallow up your belongings. In fact packing a backpack always has the following stages:

  1. Painstakingly spend 20- 40 minutes Rolling/smashing your belongings inside the backpack and tucking everything into all the little compartments and side pockets to “save space”
  2. Realize you packed something you currently need
  3. Spend the next 10 minutes groping around in search for said item in the unending abyss that is a travel backpack
  4. Empty entire contents of backpack onto the floor around you
  5. Locate said item only to discover that it is irrevocably wrinkled
  6. Repeat Process

And there really is no need for this painful and frustrating luggage system. Unless you are hiking, or camping, or walking El Camino de Santiago, there is not a reason to tote all of your possessions on your back like a pack mule.  All cities and even all little towns have sidewalks or roads that can be used to easily roll your bag to your hostel/ hotel/ airbnb and leave it there.

Use a small carryon sized roller and It stays perfectly controlled at your side the whole time! Long gone are the days where you have to make sure you don’t knock over a display with the 40-pound growth on your back.

Now that I am older and wiser and use rolling luggage I am so much happier and less encumbered with my stuff. Not once since my conversion to the church of the rolling luggage have I thought….Gee….I really wish I could hoist up this bag and carry it on my back right now.  I am certain there are no actual benefits to the travel Backpack. Take it from the old 30 year old traveler-Rolling Luggage is the way to go. It may not be as cool, but it is definitely more liberating and so much better for your back.

#2: Leave the fancy camera at home

Unless you are Ansel Adams, leave the fancy cameras at home. They are big. They are bulky.   And they are expensive.   Therefore they make you paranoid, encumbered and nervous. They are also literally a giant “I’m a tourist Sign” you wear around your neck.  

Also, because you have to actually download the pictures onto a computer before you can share them, they often stay on the camera during and oftentimes even after the trip. I have discovered that I never end up doing anything with my “Fancy pictures” and I often regret not having the photos on my phone. No one wants to wait until they get home to post photos. It is more fun to post as you go.

And honestly most of us are not trained to use the manual cameras properly anyway.   So, unless you really know what you are doing and are in fact going to do something with the fancy pictures, leave the big bulky cameras at home. Blend in with the locals and just use your phone.

#3 Don’t get an international phone plan. Be present!

 

Use your phone to take your pictures, but that is it!   Instead keep your head up, your eyes open and your heart ready to learn and grow.   I have never gotten international phone services. Wifi is so available and prevalent there really isn’t a need to pay for an international plan.  And really, as long as you can find Wifi at least once a day- that is all you need.  The rest of the time just live in the moment!

There are times international data would be helpful, but honestly, it is much more fun and novel to be unplugged. Perhaps one of the reasons I love traveling internationally is due to the fact that when I travel I am completely unconnected. I’m not constantly checking my phone for emails or updates or likes or new posts. I am truly and completely present in the moment.   I am only concerned with the here and now.

Plus going “unplugged” has forced me to become skilled at map reading and navigation. I am not typically the most observant person. I don’t often notice the mundane and I don’t pay attention to my surroundings unless forced. When I travel without a phone or GPS to guide me I have to notice everything or I would be lost.   And sometimes I do get lost….and that is ok too! Some of the best things on my travels have come from being lost!

You don’t have to have all of the answers. Sometimes the struggle and the wondering and the figuring it out on your own is part of the journey.  So, keep your eyes up off your phone.  Stay unplugged and learn to rely on your own intellect, not Siri’s.

#4 Talk to Strangers

 

Everyone is put in your path for a reason. The best thing you can do while traveling is talk to those around you. You never know what friendships may be forged, what advice may be given or what help may be offered.   I can’t tell you how many blessings have come from talking to random strangers on my travels.

Years of traveling alone had done much to improve my deftness of making a certain type of acquaintance I categorize as “stranger friends”.   These are random people I have met on my travels. These friendships are sometimes fleeting in length but essential and no less true than the ones formed in more traditional settings and with more natural tenures.   And sometimes these friendships have foraged into lasting real life friendships.

I am so thankful for the friends God has sent me during my many journeys. These friends provided me comfort and companionship when I needed them most.  And sometimes they provided just the assistance and guidance I desperately needed at just the right moment.

For example, Last night I was alone on my 30th birthday.  Yet, in line for drinks on a rooftop bar in Madrid I met another solo traveler.  She and I started talking and roaming the city together.   We shared a meal and even later on a birthday churro!  We had a lovely time. It all started because I turned around and started talking to her.  Even if you travel alone, you never have to be alone if you don’t want to. 

You travel to learn about the world, and meeting random people is the best way to learn and grow!  You never know what truths they can speak into your life-or what truth you are meant to speak into theirs.  God sends them to you for a reason.   

I have had many stranger friends show up in my life right when I needed them most.  You just have to have the courage to look around and talk to people.  And while the names of many of these stranger friends escape my memory, their phantom faces often flash across my mind.   I wish them well, I thank them for the kindness they showed this random traveler and I thank God for sending them to me.

 

#5 Go for it!  Don’t be afraid to spend your money.  

Let me preface this with saying that you should NEVER go into debt to travel. I have never been in debt because of my travel purchases or decisions. I have lived frugally and have learned how to creatively travel on a teachers salary. In fact out check out my blog on how to travel extensively on a teacher salary.   I save fiercely for travel, but once I’m abroad I have learned to not be afraid of spending it.

I learned my lesson early on in my travels that it is better to spend your money on the experiences in front of you than to hoard your money and leave with regrets. I call this the Gondola mistake.

The first country I traveled to independently was Italy. Venice was the first city I visited and I didn’t take a gondola ride. The ride would have cost me 40 Euros. I had 40 Euros. I just thought that was too expensive and I didn’t want to waste the money. Looking back now, this seems laughable to me.  I was in Venice and I didn’t go on a gondola ride! Really?!  For what?  Something as common as money?

40 Euros? I’m sad to admit that I have spent that much on a big brunch before.   I would not have missed those 40 Euros for one second. Money has come and gone since then. What has stayed was the regret of missing out on a lifetime experience for fear of spending too much money. I now have a desire to revisit Venice in order to have a gondola ride in Venice Italy.   And it will most certainly cost me more than 40 Euros to revisit the city.

You see, this experience taught me that sometimes things are expensive when you travel. But if you are there you might as well do and experience what you came there to do. (Within reason).

I often ask myself if my decision to buy or not buy passes the gondola test.  First I make sure I have the money.  Remember- Never go into debt for travel.   Then I ask myself, will I get home and regret that I didn’t spend the money. Will I feel the need to return to do this experience in the future? Will I spend more money on a return trip than just doing said activity now?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions I go for it. I spend the money, because money can be regained. Experiences, once lost, are lost forever. I will never again be able to feel the joy of taking a gondola ride in Venice on my fist day in Italy on my first international trip.   So, my advice to the 20 something traveler- Just go for it!  You have my permission.   Open your heart and eyes for any new or interesting experience and live your life as fully as possible. 

The world is so full and so interesting!  Take it from the seasoned traveler- The world is an amazing place if you just have the courage to step out your door and look!

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That time I visited 30 countries before I turned 30 years old.

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About six years ago I decided I would visit 30 countries before I was 30 years old. This obsessive goal of mine that ended up defining and directing my early twenties originally had more modest origins.   When I was 17 and relatively untraveled, I wanted to visit 15 countries before I died. I dared not ask for more than this. Traveling to 15 countries seemed about as likely as traveling to the moon to a 17-year-old girl from rural Indiana.

However during a college back-packing trip to Europe I officially caught the travel bug. And this expensive disease is not easily satiated. Like a race where the finish line keeps getting moved further and further away, the more I traveled the more I wanted to travel. I realized I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of all of the humanity, the history and the natural beauty God had placed on this amazing planet.

So as my experiences expanded and I matured into a veteran traveler my goal simultaneously grew and changed as well. Therefore at the age of 22 and with 10 countries under my belt, the humble goal of 15 countries in my lifetime suddenly became 30 countries before I was 30.

And so I had 8 years to visit 20 countries.  This may not seem like such an outstanding accomplishment to those living in Europe where international travel is common, cheap, fast and as easy as jumping on a train or taking a short flight. But to a girl from Indiana, where a large majority of the population has never owned a passport or been outside of North America, this rare aspiration seemed like my own personal mountain.

It was ready and waiting for me to climb, but its fulfillment required careful planning, strategic decisions, personal sacrifice, good money management, reliance on God and His faithfulness and the ability to recognize and seek out opportunity.

Today, through the grace of God, I accomplished this goal of mine. This morning I took a train from Stockholm to Copenhagen and when we crossed the bridge into Denmark I silently smiled to myself. I allowed myself to relish quietly in my personal triumph and say a quick prayer of gratitude for all God had done to get me to this point.  I know that I could not and would not have had any of these experiences without Him and His provision.  And I celebrated- I was in country number 30.  I had reached my personal summit and I had officially met my goal! And with two years to spare!

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As I think back on all of my experiences in 30 different countries I am amazed at what God has done in my life.  I can’t believe all of the outstanding ways God has blessed me.  I can’t describe all of the incredible places I have visited, people I have met and opportunities that have presented themselves.  I can’t express the gratitude that fills my heart as I look back on the past 30 countries and all of the life-changing-experiences, friendships and lessons they have given me.   I am truly blessed and truly amazed at the ways God has worked in my life and how he has provided me such amazing opportunities to see his perfect and beautiful creation.  I have had more than a life-times worth of experiences and I do not deserve such amazing grace, love and blessings.   However, that is what makes my God so fantastic!  He gives them to me anyway!

So…with a grateful heart full of joy and thanksgiving I realize I have reached my goal.  I have visited 30 countries!  Now, the real question is….  What is going to be my next mountain?

10 Tips on How to Travel Extensively with a Teacher’s Salary!

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I decided my first year of teaching that I would do something interesting every single summer vacation.  This usually means finding ways to spend a few months traveling the world.  I have been able to travel to 20 different countries since I have been a teacher to meet my goal of visiting 30 countries before I am 30 years old!   However, because I am a teacher, I had to find ways of doing it economically. The key is to think outside the box and find interesting alternatives to traditional vacations.   You must also have the follow through and drive to accomplish these plans.   You can’t sit around and wait for travel and adventure to knock on your door- that only happens to Bilbo Baggins. There are more opportunities out there than you could ever imagine, but you may have to do some leg work and research to find them!

1. Apply for grants and awards. 

One summer I got to visit 7 different countries in Asia as part of a self-designed independently conducted research trip to Asia. I got funding from an Indianapolis based company (Eli Lilly Foundation) that provides grants to teachers with interesting creative summer projects. With this special funding I was able to spend two glorious months learning about Asian education. Two years later I applied for a Fulbright research grant and I was selected to receive a Fulbright Distinguished Award in teaching. The amazing opportunity has allowed me to spend 5 months in Helsinki researching Finnish education. While these experiences sound intimidating and far-fetched, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! My advice is to find out what opportunities exist in your own community. If none exist, don’t hesitate to ask! You are capable of so much more than you realize but you will never find out just how much you have to give unless you take a chance on yourself and try.

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1.  Find a summer job abroad

The fall of my second year of teaching I took an online course to become certified to teach English as a foreign language. I then found an organization that connected me to a Spanish family who wanted to learn English. In exchange for a few months of room and board I conducted a few English lessons a week and conversed with them over meals. The rest of my time was my own to travel and explore as I wished. This was an incredible opportunity to learn about Spanish culture, make new friends and get to live in Madrid for a whole summer for free.  There are great opportunities to get a short term working visa Australia if you are under the age of 25.  Plus- minimum wage in Australia is 25 dollars an hour!  Also check out WWOOF- New Zealand.  This allows you to live and work on an organic farm in New Zealand!  What an amazing experience.   http://www.wwoof.co.nz/  These are two great options for young teachers looking for amazing experiences!

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3.  Plan, Plan, Plan

While I simply abhor a tediously planned travel schedule and I often market myself as a traveler without a plan I actually send a lot of time planning my trips.   While the day-to-day activities are usually uncharted, unplanned and always open to spontaneous adjustments, I do usually have a basic agenda to most of my travels (i.e. what countries I plan on visiting and how I will get there. ) To accomplish the goal of 30 by 30 I had to spend a lot of time planning a logical path and plan for my trips. I always try to maximize my time and money while also visiting as many countries in one trip as possible.

This takes time, up front research and an ability to think globally. I had to train myself to think in terms of regions instead of countries. For example, while I was in Singapore I decided I might as well make a stop in Malaysia and Thailand. While I was living in Spain I took the advantage of the cheap transportation in and around Europe and I visited many different countries and cities.

It is much cheaper to visit nearby countries while you are already “across the pond” than to make a second trip back. If you want to get to a lot of countries in a short amount of time you have to plan and organize your trips in a way that capitalizes on both time and money. I suggest you always look at the area you want to visit and see if there are any nearby countries or areas you also might want to see. Then you must research and find the cheapest way to get there be it an economy flight, a bus or a train. Don’t be afraid to think BIG, but also know that it will require a lot of pre-planning and work to pull it off.

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4.  Get creative with saving strategies

While planning can cut back significantly on expenses, the travel bug is still an expensive disease and teachers do not make that much money. I had to get creative with my spending and saving habits. For example, before my two month backpacking trip to New Zealand, I did several money saving contests with myself.   For 6 months the only store I allowed myself to patronize was a Kroger, my local grocery store. I did this after I realized that if I entered other mega stores like Target or Wall-Marts I would inevitably be tempted to buy unnecessary items. Is shampoo and face cream more expensive at Korger? Maybe.   However I certainly saved money in the long run because I only bought household necessities like food and toiletries. I also went a few years without cable, only let myself go to the grocery store once a month and didn’t allow myself to turn on the heat until after January 1st for 4 consecutive years. Now, these contests with myself were a little extreme, but these strange self-challenges did end up helping me save enough money to spend my summer in New Zeland and Australia. The key is to be creative! Think of fun ways you can cut back and save money.

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5. Don’t be afraid of budget travel.  Hostels are your friends! 

You learn pretty quickly that you do not have to stay in a fancy resort to have a great time in any location. I suggest staying in hostels to anyone and everyone. I know I know….sleeping in a room full of strangers sounds like a nightmare to most Americans who are used to building a wall of protection between themselves and anyone who is a little different. Yet, we go to summer camp as children. We sleep next to strangers on airplanes. Why are hostels any different? I promise they aren’t scary and they aren’t dirty (usually) and you won’t get killed in your sleep. If you do your research you can find pretty awesome Hostels- even ones with private rooms! Plus all you really need is a place to sleep and shower anyway. Everything else is superfluous luxury.   So why pay 100 to 200 dollars a night when you can pay 20 dollars a night for the same thing and travel 10 times as long?   Also in a hostel you get to meet new exciting people who may have great advice on what you should see and do.   See- Hostels provide built in friends!

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6.  Say “Yes” to experiences and “No” to things.

I decided a long time ago that I would spend my money on experiences, not things. Things can rust and rot and be lost. Experiences stay with you forever; they become a part of you and help mold you into who you are destined to become. Experiences are worth my time and money; things are not. I don’t have a house, a fancy car or any furniture. I have either rented a small apartment or lived with a roommate. I am fairly content with hand me down items and free or really cheap garage sale finds. If I am tempted to buy something I often ask myself if I will still want/ need this item in 6 months. I also put the item in terms of a percentage of a plane ticket. I look at a new set of decorative curtains and think….that would be half of a plane ticket somewhere or a new dress and think….that is ¼ of a flight to New York. Ultimately I would much rather have a memory of an incredible experience than a new outfit or household item.

Now…while I just told you to fiercely save your money- you can’t be afraid to spend it on exciting opportunities, exciting adventures or unique cultural experiences!   I learned the hard way back in Venice that it is better to do what you want to do on your travels than to experience the later regret of being at a location and not “going for it”. When I was in Venice I decided that 40 Euros would be too much to spend on a gondola ride. I can tell you this- I would not be regretting or mourning the loss of that 40 Euros now- what is 40 Euros in the scheme of my life? However, I do regret the fact that I was in Venice Italy and I didn’t get to explore the canals via a gondola. I now have the desire to go back and rectify this regret and I can assure you it will cost me a lot more than 40 Euros to make it back to Venice.

Ever since Venice I have always had the mentality of spending my money while I am on my travels- Travel is what I saved it for after all! I might as well use it. Now while I would never condone going into debt for travel, I don’t regret spending all of my savings on experiences.  It isn’t unusual for me to end my summer travels with around 100 to 25 dollars left in both saving and checking accounts.   Even with only 12 dollars in my back account, I have never ever regretted a single dime I spent on travel or experiences. I do not wish I had more money. I can always make and save more later in life. Money is common and I wouldn’t trade all of the things I have been able to see and do in my life for a giant pile of cash in my bank account.

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7.  Don’t be afraid to travel alone.

If I had waited for someone to be available to go with me on every one of my adventures I never would have gone anywhere. While there have been moments where it has worked out for a friend to go with me, more often than not I was going on these adventures on my own. And I have learned to actually prefer solo travel. You meet so many more people when you are traveling alone than when you are focused and dependent on a companion. Plus there is the added benefit of getting to make all of the decisions, having total flexibility according to your whims and fancy and time for personal self-reflection. You also learn to rely on God to send you help and guidance in different forms along the way.

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8.  Make “stranger friends”. 

Stranger Friends are random people I have met on my travels. These friendships might be fleeting in length but essential and no less true than the ones formed in more traditional settings and with more natural tenures. These friends have helped and guided me on my way. They have given me advice, companionship and at times they even provide a place to stay for the night. We have shared meals and experiences and have become great friends. Sometimes I only meet these stranger friends once, we visit for a short amount of time and then go our separate ways. However, sometimes we become great friends who invite you to visit them in their country someday. And suddenly the woman you met on the street in Barcelona inspires you to come visit her in New Zealand. These random people you meet-these stranger friendships- often give birth to new adventures and experiences and locations.   And you will miss these experiences if you don’t have the courage to start talking to that stranger on the street or on the bus. 9 times out of 10 they are more than happy to talk to you- They just think you don’t want to talk to them.

9. Make personal sacrifices and decisions

Although I am pushing 30, I don’t have a house, a husband, a family, a dog or even a plant to my name. To be a true world traveler you do have to give up the need for some stability and commitment.   These have been choices I have made for the time being. And while there are times I think I might want these things, I have decided that for everything there is a season and right now my season is travel. Perhaps I can get these things in the future.   Or maybe I will never be able to surrender the adventurous, commitment free, nomadic lifestyle I have come to love and treasure.   The truth is that it would be very difficult to have the typical American dream (husband, house, kids, dog, plant) and travel at the same time. And for right now, I choose travel.

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10.  Remain Thankful, Content and Open.

The best advice I could give anyone who wants to be a globetrotter is to learn to have a constant heart of thankfulness, contentment and gratitude. I know that I could not have had ANY of these experiences without God providing and guiding my every move.  He is the one who gets all of the credit and the glory for everything I have been able to see and do.  I am so thankful for all of his provision, love and guidance.  He also thought me how to be content in any situation.   If you learn to be content in any situation you will never be stressed or dissatisfied with anything that comes your way.   When you travel things will go wrong.   Things will be confusing and things could get stressful if you don’t have the right mindset. The key is to be content, and thankful! If you are simply thankful for any and all experiences negative or positive, you can’t be mad or stressed. You also need to be open and go with the flow. This not only limits the stress you might experience when faced with difficult or confusing situations, but openness also can lead you to unexpected adventures that exceed your wildest imaginations! My favorite moments in my travel have not been planned, but were in fact the result of being open to whatever opportunities came my way.

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