Recently I’ve seen a movement towards people trying to become travel writers so that they can travel. Sounds reasonable. They have a dreamy ideal of hitting the road on a company’s dime (or a hundred dollars, if you factor in compound inflation since the term was first coined), rafting down rivers, eating French cuisine in France, bushwhacking through cultural backwaters, and writing about it all in just a few hours of work.
When I left home eleven years ago I had my own dream. I wanted to be “That Guy.” You know, that guy who can land anywhere in the world and make a living. That guy who is creative, resourceful and good with his hands (yes, he’s shockingly handsome too). I’m talking about a mix of Macgyver, without the mullet, and Liam Neeson’s character in Taken (such and awesome movie). We’ve met this person so we know he exists. He’s the guy who sold everything, bought a boat and sustained himself for years by working at each port. Or she’s (yes, of course we are being gender sensitive today) the woman you met in Thailand on your two week vacation, who’s writing for the Bangkok Post and will move to a new country when she feels like it. (note: I’ve actually met these people, they do exist).
What do these two amazingly awesome archetypes have in common? THEY DON’T EXIST. Sure there are people who are living these lives. But the idea of becoming these people so that we can travel is backwards. As a new travel writer I doubt you are going to get paid to jaunt off right away. I certainly never would have left my house if I was waiting to be “That Guy” before I felt ready to leave. The truth is you have to strike out first. Somehow, as I look back on the last 11 years I have become “That Guy” without ever realizing it.
I just had a conversation today with a 22 year-old woman from Sweden during which she said, “I hope my life is like yours in 10 years.” We had this conversation in Kosovo, so guess what? Your life already is. We can never become who we want to be without doing it. So just do it (I hope I don’t get sued by Nike). To help give you a nudge here are three things I have found invaluable in my journey to being ‘That Guy” and traits I see in others I meet on the road that have helped them.
I know it sounds overly simplistic. But so many travel dreams end up in the trash because they remain just that, dreams. If you don’t go now, you might never. There will always be a reason why you shouldn’t go, money, family, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But the truth is, no one is going to hand you your dream job, or pay for your dream life if your not willing to pay for it yourself.
I’m not saying run out of the house in your underwear and jump on the first plane. But if you do please get pictures of Home Land Security wrestling you to the ground. Instead make a plan. If you want to be a travel writer but are having trouble realizing the getting paid writing part of the plan then just travel and write for free. Pick a country that you are passionate about, a volunteer job you believe in, or whatever and go. You don’t have to do that job forever, but it gets you out the door and hands you something a travel magazine never will…a new life with plenty of inspiration. I didn’t want to be an English teacher for my whole life. But it got me to Japan for 5 years and started me off. It allowed me to travel all over the country, learn Japanese, and travel throughout Asia. It’s also providing me with material for my first book, and endless travel writing ideas.
Take Risks and Look for Opportunities
You can sit around dreaming about your future life all you want, but you’ll be wasting your current one. Look for the opportunities that are present right now and take advantage up them. When I was in Timor-Leste working I had the opportunity to move to Sri Lanka. I didn’t have a job lined up and I was taking a risk on a 2 month old relationship as well as with my career in development. But my exact thoughts were:
“Well, there’s a war going on in Sri Lanka so its worth going.” Yes, I realize this is not the normal line of thinking.
“I’d rather give the relationship a try and have it fail than wonder what would have happened.”
The end result was that I found an amazing job doing amazing work and I ended up marrying the girl in the story. Happy endings do happen (no, not the kind you pay for sicko). Everyone has their own risk tolerance, and you don’t have to move to a war zone to reap the rewards. But you DO have to step out of your comfort zone and take advantage of what life offers you. Which in my experience is a tragedy of riches which we fail to see as there is so much on offer.
Being Passionate is the Best Form of Networking
I hate networking. When my career advisers at graduate school talked about it, it seemed so fake. Having a 1 minute elevator pitch or making business cards just to give out wasn’t my cup of tea. I naturally rejected it and found my own version: love what I loved and find people who were like minded to talk about it with. That’s it. If you show true passion for something people pick up on the energy and want to be close to it. Networking is the way to find new jobs, meet great new people, and have a ton of opportunities open. Just remember to help others out for the sake of helping them out. Once you become settled new people will enter who need help. No one likes someone in it only for themselves…at least I don’t.
That’s it, some simple advice that takes a ton of hard work. If you step out your front door, are open to new opportunities, take the risks necessary to capitalize on them, and love what you do then everything will work out. As I have moved from country to country (usually without a job first) I thought I was just reacting to what I found and who I met. The truth is that I was being “That Guy.” It seemed natural to me, but to the person viewing my life from their cubical it might have seemed unattainable as they weren’t like me. If we switched places they probably would have made it work as well, or even succeeded where I failed. I’m really glad I never waited for someone to pay me to travel, or I might be reading this from my own cubical
I would love to hear your stories of breaking free or getting ready to do so. Or if you think I’m full of it I’d love to hear that too, it’s good for the soul.