Back into the blogging… In the time I have been away, I had the unique experience of having one of my blog entries go “viral,” something which I never anticipated would happen, and I honestly wasn't sure how to react. I ended up removing my other posts for the time being, just until the popularity of the site died down, which it appears to be doing. I will likely put the posts back up in the next few weeks, and do plan on continuing to share my experiences though I may have a few more followers than before. I am writing this entry from Santiago, Dominican Republic, where I have been for less than 24 hours so there is not much to share yet. I can say that the weather is literally 80-100 degrees warmer (Farenheit of course) than what I left behind in New York yesterday and in Cincinnati the day before. For this, I am quite grateful! =) More to be posted about the DR soon!
A few people have asked me throughout this travel experience, how did you do it? How did you manage to quit your job, sell most of your stuff, and plan out such a trip? To those friends, I promised I'd put together a blog post about it. I am sure there are many ways to go about doing this, depending on individual circumstances, but if I were giving myself advice and planning this trip again, here are the steps I would suggest:
1. Make the decision to travel. This step is perhaps the most difficult one, and requires some reflection. It involves examining the circumstances in your life, your job, your finances, family, etc. Is traveling even feasible right now? How is the job market in your field? Are people depending on you at home right now? Timing is everything.
2. Decide when, where and for how long. For me, this step was largely dictated by my budget, how long would it take me to save, how far away could my savings take me and for how long could they last? It is a good idea to figure out the answers to these questions before starting step three, because people will surely be asking.
3. Tell everyone you know. Well, almost everyone. This step is very important because, at least for me, it can be really easy to chicken out of such a big life change. I started talking about my plans to several friends and family members who helped me to stay excited and motivated. At this point, I would still avoid posting your plans on social media networks, especially if you're concerned about your place of employment finding out. Also advise your friends to keep it more or less on the down low.
4. Start saving! For this step, you will probably need to figure out a way to cut corners. For example, I realized in order to save money I would have to get a housemate or two to cut down on rent expenses. I cooked at home rather than going out when possible. I tried not to buy anything new that I didn't absolutely need. And I opened a separate bank account called “travel savings” and didn't let myself ever withdraw money from it.
5. Network. A few months before you decide you are leaving, email everyone you know and explain what you are doing, where you are going and when. Ask if they can put you in touch with anybody in the places you plan on going and ask for those people's contact information. You will be very surprised how small this world actually is. After you tell your boss you are leaving, you can also post a message on social media asking for your friends' input. Be sure and stay in touch with the contacts you've made as the trip approaches. (I even made an Excel file with my full list of contacts!) Couchsurfing.org is also a great website for making local contacts and finding (free!) places to stay.
6. Put together a flexible timeline. Based on the contacts you have made, decide more or less what your travel path will be. Buying plane tickets can be tricky. In general, the earlier you buy them, the cheaper the price, but the less flexible you can then be in your travels. You may end up wanting to spend more time in a place and don't want to be restricted by a scheduled flight. Of course, flights can always be changed, but sometimes this ends up costing more than the original ticket. My suggestion is to buy as few plane flights as you can get away with, and, to me, one way tickets are definitely worth the option of leaving your return trip open-ended. Buses or trains are also often a comfortable, more flexible, more scenic and significantly cheaper alternative to flying, if time is not a concern.
7. Put in your notice at work. Depending on your job, you may need to give a few months or just a few weeks notice. Leave on good terms, explaining that your choice to leave is not out of unhappiness, but rather out of your desire to travel at this time. If you think you would like to return to your current position, or one within the same company, leave on extra good terms, and explain that you'd like to be considered for rehire in the future. Having your “paid time off” hours paid out at the end can also help you buy your first plane ticket, so take that into consideration when using your vacation hours before leaving. On a side note, you may be lucky enough to have a job that allows you to take a sabbatical or a long leave of absence to travel- if this is the case, make sure you discuss it with your boss sometime around step number 2 or 3.
8. Start sorting, donating, disposing, selling and sorting. I recommend starting this process as soon as possible as it will take some time, depending on how much stuff you have (and you always have more than you think!) What you decide to keep and get rid of is a personal decision. I ended up getting rid of the large majority of my furniture and appliances, and keeping my kitchen stuff because I love to cook. I pared down my clothing as much as I felt I could at the time. Craigslist is a wonderful website for selling your stuff now and for buying stuff later. Remember, stuff is stuff, and it's incredibly freeing to let it go.
9. Start packing. Even if you aren't a list maker, make a list! There are lots of good websites that give sample packing lists, or you can always contact me to get mine if you need help. You may need to acquire some new items- I would say your backpack (or suitcase) and footwear are the two most important, and worth the money to find ones that fit you right. Make sure to leave enough time for these items to ship if you decide to order them online. Pack light, if it all possible in a carry-on sized bag no matter how long you plan to travel.
10. Get going! Now comes the fun part- actually doing it! Remember to stay flexible, knowing that things will in no way go exactly as you planned them, knowing that you will be constantly planning as you go, and knowing that the world is not nearly as big as you think. Trust your instincts, keep an open mind, allow contacts to lead you to other contacts, have a plan B when possible, and let your heart lead you where you need to go next.
More soon! =)