Travel doesn’t have to be expensive… and other things I learned in my gap year (part 3)

That's a good start.

That’s a good start.

This is the third part of a series of posts I am writing about the lessons we learned from taking a gap year.

Stress really does affect your health

I definitely feel better after taking some time away from the corporate world, but I had not actually quantified the effects of stress until recently. A few years ago I started tracking my blood pressure using a home monitor. I was nicely surprised when we got back and I found my systolic baseline had dropped 15 points. I can’t claim that simply traveling helped but I think the behaviors we adopted (e.g., life simplification, reflecting, etc.) have cumulatively resulted in this change.

Travel doesn’t have to be expensive

In his awesome book Vagabonding*, Rolf Potts first talked about how to travel for extended periods without breaking the bank. His book provided a good perspective for us to start with when planning our traveling.

I suppose I still didn’t quite believe that we could travel inexpensively for extended periods until we actually began our travels. We had visited Buenos Aires, Argentina for a few weeks in 2010 so we had firsthand knowledge of the global living costs arbitrage that Tim Ferriss detailed in Four Hour Work Week. What we found was that travel costs are directly tied to four variables:

  1. How much time you have to get somewhere,
  2. How much time you have in that place,
  3. Your desired level of safety and convenience, and
  4. How prone you are to going crazy with money.

Our ground rules are simply to be as safe and as clean as possible (i.e., not going to get knifed, not going to go home with bed bugs, and not going to catch a sketchy disease). A couple of quick tips for safe but affordable travel are:

  • Airbnb was our go-to for lodging.
  • Buses and trains worked well for intercity travel in Europe. In other places, such as South America, regional and in-country flights sometimes ended up being better options while still being cost-effective.
  • Walking and public transportation worked well for intracity travel
  • Cooking, when we could, was cheaper and healthier.
  • Museums sometimes offer discounts on certain days or in combination with other museums.
  • Walking around cities on your own is a good way to explore without the cost of a guided tour.

Some locations are expensive regardless of what you do (e.g., Switzerland). Other locations end up being a good bit cheaper than living at home (e.g., South America). I think travel gets a reputation for being expensive because people extrapolate the costs of a week-long trip to London or the Caribbean to all other potential trips.

In the end, just like your choice of a restaurant will dictate the total cost of your bill more than your entree selection, your selection of destination(s) and time frame will influence your travel costs the most.

No admission fee out here

No admission fee out here

It is stressful when people ask what you do

This past year I have absolutely dreaded getting asked the question, “what do you do?”. I usually stumbled around saying something about being an accountant or into company finances before quickly switching the conversation back to that person’s occupation.

When you are not currently employed full-time somewhere you realize how closely tied your work is to your identity. It seems like Americans are more likely to ask the “what do you do?” question than other nationalities but I can’t say for sure this is always the case. Regardless, I’ve tumbled this question around in my head a lot over the past year. The main lesson I’ve learned is that work – even work building a startup that can help a lot of people – should not be your sole imprint in this world.

More lessons to come

While we traveled I started writing in my notebooks quite a bit. I’m now in the process of going through these notebooks to figure out what might be helpful for someone else who wants to simplify, travel long-term, and/or just pick up useful bits.

Please comment below if you have learned any lessons from your own travels or have questions about some of the things I learned. Thanks!



* Vagabonding is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it many times over the years for inspiration. I even read it one more time while we were traveling this past year. I finally picked up on some of the subtle points he made about experiencing life in other places. If you are thinking about traveling  – even if just for your normal vacation allowance – borrow or buy a copy of this book before you go.

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