Too many people say they love travel for us to suck so badly at it as a nation. I’m tired of hearing friends talk about one day vacations to Vegas or how happy they are to sneak away from the office for a week, a whole damn week!
Too often now, I find myself in conversations with 9 to 5ers with wanderlust. “Man, I sure wish I could travel like you” and they swirl their glass of whisky, or stare longingly into their pint of beer. Not lost in their silence is the day dreaming about a world that isn’t endless emails, responding to trivial requests from bosses, and so forth. And I’ve learned to constantly analyze and capture one moment, fleeting though it may be, when I respond quite simply and matter of factly: “You can. You just choose not to.” Life is a game of tradeoffs. I’m sitting here writing this in a pair of flip flops I’ve owned since 2006. They might be older except I bought them mere hours before moving to Santiago, Chile, after my dad’s dog Molly chewed up the pair I had owned for a year, and the pair I was preparing to bring to Chile. I’m wearing a shirt from the 2004 Los Angeles Marathon, something the kids might call vintage, except I neither bought it at Good Will nor found it on some overpriced clothing rack that is bringing styles of yesterday back at a premium price. I can make holes in my own jeans without paying Gap to do it thank you very much.
And so when I tell these friends they CAN travel like me, they scoff: “We can’t afford it.” To which I reply “Your job in marketing doesn’t pay more than my gig as an underpaid university employee?” Don’t get me wrong, we all make our choices and Laura and I have worked in the nonprofit community for a very intentional reason. We made a personal choice that amounted to a tradeoff that said this will pay us less money, but for who we are, what we believe, and what brings us life, this is the right choice. But I reject the premise that friends who often times have double my salary somehow can’t afford to travel like us, no matter the difference in day to day costs.
So you say you love travel but you just can’t do it? Bullshit. That means you’ve prioritized other things. Tradeoffs are a part of life, and if you really want to travel more, this is important, so listen up: YOU NEED TO START THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MAKE TRAVEL A REAL PART OF YOUR LIFESTYLE. Remember this: Travel is more a state of mind than it is an actual process. It’s the curiosity, the hunger for something new and unfamiliar, that motivates us. And while we’re lucky to explore the far stretches of our world in pursuit of it, we have equally good times “traveling” through our backyard: Southern California. The point is this: Don’t limit yourself with bullshit excuses. Live. Travel. Find new adventures that await.
Let me tell you about a few of our tradeoffs that we have made to keep travel high up on our list of priorities. Think of it as 5 tips on how to prioritize travel in your life.
We have chosen to rarely buy new clothes. Working at a university, I get a lot of t-shirts for free. Too many. I’m like Santa Claus when I visit Casa del Migrante, a favorite nonprofit of mine in Tijuana. Are they the most stylish shirts ever? You won’t see them in any American Apparel ads anytime soon, so I guess not. But do I really need to go with the trend of men’s t-shirts with a different color pocket? Not really. Clothing is functional and I won’t win any best dressed awards. So be it!
The iPhone 6 LOOKS AMAZING! But guess what: My iPhone 5 works just fine. Friends pay an arm and a leg for the biggest and the best phone plans with the biggest (and worst) companies. Me, I’ve got Tmobile and I’ve got the package with no added data. We’re all so damn obsessed with our phones, at the cost of the relationships in front of us, that I kind of like having just one gig of data. When I exceed it, my data doesn’t stop, it just goes back to dialup like speeds. But it’s a simple message to me: Too much time on my phone, not enough time with loved ones. Message received, put the phone down and get back in the game of life. And guess what: It’s a hell of a lot more interesting.
My iPad from 2009 has gotten quite slow. I’m sure Apple designs it this way, to start to break down so I get a new one. There’s my 15 seconds of being a paranoid conspiracy theorist. But that new iPad is $399 (before the launch of their new iPad) and I see that in a different way than most: That’s 10 nights at a mid level hotel on a beach in Thailand.
The one gadget I’m tempted to buy is a camera. My digital camera is from 2007, and well, 5 megapixel point and shoot I am beginning to see isn’t exactly cutting it, at least not when you’re trying to run a travel blog. But that’s the thing: Even when I can see that it might make good business sense, I still hesitate to buy it. Because truth be told, we spend very little time behind the camera on vacation. We have very few photos but too many memories to count and vividly recall, because we lived into them.
No doubt about it, count us lucky on this one: We pay no rent. And we don’t live in either of our parents basements. We don’t even have basements in Los Angeles or where I grew up in New Mexico, but whatever, you get the point. I took a job that provides me free housing. Is it fun to “come home” to a 2nd job? Not always (though sometimes it’s a blast). But the freedom it has provided a couple on nonprofit salaries has translated into travel experiences beyond our wildest dreams.
But that said, we’re currently in the beginning stages of looking for a home, and I suspect our realtor thinks we’re the weirdest couple he’s ever met. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but I’ve definitely caught him looking at us curiously from time to time. Time and again, we’ve remained committed to the budget we set for buying a house, even though all other parties involved who have worked with our finances are excited that we can afford much more than what we actually want to afford. The other day, someone was talking to me about a house coming on the market and he could barely contain his excitement about the stainless steel appliances and frameless shower doors. I knew what stainless steel was but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why it was better than non-stainless steel or whatever the alternative is to that. And I didn’t know what frameless shower doors are but my initial thought was I didn’t mind if my shower doors had frames.
I mean, I live in an earthquake zone, if there are no door frames, where am I to run in an earthquake. (Public Safety Announcement: Contrary to what you have been taught, doorways actually aren’t the safest place to be during an earthquake. Remember that- your fingers when not broken will thank me later).
I have digressed, but the point is this, as you venture into real estate as a renter or buyer, you’re in the land of large tradeoffs: Buy all the house you can barely afford (or not at all afford) and congrats, your house is awesome- and it’s also your new vacation destination because you won’t be able to afford going anywhere else.
I’ve never owned a new car in my life. Neither has Laura. Hell, she lived in LA for years without a car, and got along just fine. Turns out we’re part of a generation that Ford can’t stand: We’re not buying into the marketing about getting a new car every few years. My current car is a 2004 Honda Accord. It’s nice. It’s not shiny. I hop into the new vehicles of friends, and I’m wowed by the technology. I would love a new car. Really, I would. But again I run the numbers, and I find myself wondering how I could use a couple hundred dollars a month toward travel. Problem solved: I’m using my car until it can no longer run.
Going back to that friend staring longingly at his pint of beer, he’s got a lot of dilemmas: Does he want to give up the new car for a grand trip? Could that iPhone 6 have been a romantic weekend getaway? And would a less fancy house or a smaller apartment have provided him one badass vacation a month? I would say yes. But there’s another problem, and it’s that of time: Laura and I travel cheap because I put in incredible legwork to understand the ins and outs of the travel world. It’s not just scouting airfare prices with Kayak alerts, that’s the basic stuff. It’s maximizing miles and points everywhere, from shopping portals to strategizing how I will earn elite status for an airline that will then earn me double miles. It’s finding the best credit card bonus, the secrets that allow me to earn miles for doing almost nothing. And the truth is as frustrating as it is universal: People want their cake and want to eat it too. Most of my friends want the travel deals we get, but they’re not willing to take the time to get them.
But there’s another element of time that plays in here: As Americans, we suck at taking vacation. I know, I know. You’re patriotic, America is the best at everything yada yada yada. But being the best at being married to our jobs means we’re the worst at enjoying travel. I used to think people were afraid to take unpaid time off, but it’s worse: People are afraid to take the measly two weeks of vacation their jobs provide them. If your company looks down on you taking two weeks of vacation, I suggest you look down on that company and get the hell out of it.
What it comes down to
“Pat, you just don’t understand because you don’t have kids. Once you start a family, you’ll understand.” Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I want my child to see me wearing clothes until I can’t wear them anymore. Maybe I don’t want my kid to think they’re not good enough unless they have the latest gadget all their friends have, when every message from society says otherwise. Maybe I want my kid to ask “how much is enough?” rather than “how much can I get?” when they think about a car, a house, and any other material thing. I heard it said once that travel is the only thing you spend money on that makes you rich. I couldn’t agree more. I have a friend who took her daughter all around the world with her. Now, her daughter, as a high school student, is one of the most mature and worldly people in my orbit. That’s what I want for my kid.