Get up, go to work, come home and repeat.
It’s a routine so many of us know all too well. But last year, on another routine day of my routine year, I decided to make a change. I decided I wanted to see the world.
It wasn’t like the decision was one I had never pondered before. I had always been a traveler, taking brief vacations with friends and family. So on a regular day, like so many of you, I was sitting in front of my computer, planning my next short vacation, just as I had many times before. And then the lightbulb went off. I could continue to plan four short vacations a year or I could take the chance of a lifetime, quit and travel for as long as I wanted to.
The idea itself seemed foreign – even frightening — but my mind wouldn’t let up. Little by little, I began planning, still not sure exactly what it would look like.
As I weighed the decision more, I found myself thinking about my age and what I wanted the next few years of my life to look like. I was 31 at the time and I began questioning what I would do upon my return. I factored in when I would want to get married and have children. Years became like currency in my mind’s lifetime budget. If I came back at 32, I told myself, it would give me enough time to do all of that. Slowly, the thought began to gain steam in my mind.
I had a pretty decent savings account, no children and nothing holding me back. So there it was; this idea I could no longer shake from my soul. I would quit my job and go on an adventure.
Seven months and 16 countries later, that is exactly what I did.
Now, admittedly, the explanation you just read seems far simpler than it actually was. To be perfectly honest, like most people would be, I was actually terrified to travel the world alone. So I turned to my friends, hopeful that they would be as willing to leave their lives behind to join me on an adventure. I didn’t expect much – I’m well aware of the obligations of most friends my age, from children to jobs to financial obligations. When a friend, Omar, agreed to travel with me, I felt temporarily appeased of my fear of, quite literally, facing the world by myself.
But much like how adulthood brings us different living styles, so to does it bring out the difference in traveling styles. Before long, Omar and I ended up splitting up, burdened by traveling with one another for so long. So, after my desperate attempts to escape my fears, I found myself facing them square in the face – I would be forced to travel alone.
As a woman, I learned that my safety always had to take precedence. I had to be aware of myself, my decisions and my surroundings. And while language barriers also proved to be a real challenge, being alone in the world as a woman relying on herself turned out to be a blessing, in addition to the curse. For the first time in my life, I was finally my own woman, waking up every day with the freedom to do as I chose. I went where I wanted, when I wanted and did so without having to answer to anyone.
It was pure bliss.
Still, the reality of our society is that nothing comes without a price. And travel often comes at a high one. But the second most valuable lesson I learned was how to adapt my lifestyle to allow for the luxury of travel.
To begin with, I didn’t wait for my mind to catch up to the dreams of my heart before I made a plan. While I was pondering the trip, I began saving for about a year and a half. On top of that, I researched which countries I would be able to live on a conservative budget. Once I knew where those were, I began planning accordingly, knowing that for the duration of my extended trip, I could probably live off of what most of us spend on living every month in the US.
Next, I decreased my expenses dramatically. I am the owner of a rental property, and therefore, thankfully, had a small source of income. But when it came to bills, I deferred my student loans, lowered my car insurance and cut off luxuries like cable and internet. That provided me nearly $300 monthly savings.
When it came to lodging, this was where I truly found myself most frugal. I opted to stay in hostels, usually with a max budget if $15 nightly. Sometimes, when the mood struck, I splurged and stayed at nice spots for 25$. In addition, I did a bit of couch-surfing and staying with locals. Let me tell you, this certainly kept things interesting.
Finally, I opted to use credit cards wisely. During the process of my planning and saving, I opened up 3 major credit cards. Whenever friends and I took our short trips, I would book everyone’s flight on my cards. This left me with enough points for just about 5 free flights. With 8-9 flights total during my trip, this left me with a price tag that I still sometimes can’t believe. For 16 countries in 7 months, my total out-of-pocket cost was $1200.
Still, despite this cost breakdown, I can truly say that the experience has no dollar amount.
During my travels, I learned so much about myself and what it means to actually live your best life. A woman’s power to create is limitless. If you really want something, line up your life with full intentions and go out and get it. Stop making excuses; just find ways to get it done. You won’t be the first (or the last) and you really don’t have much to lose, except for your inhibitions. It sounds cliche, but we really don’t have forever to live our lives.
So go out and find yours.
You can follow Natay Hayes on her Instagram, @diamondstamps.
Have you done or experienced something that tested your belief in yourself and changed your life? We want to hear from you. Send your submissions to email@example.com
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