It has been a few weeks since I made some life altering decisions. In that time, I have received both support and opposition. The following are a few major points that were brought up against my plan in no particular order:
- Hitch hiking is dangerous, traveling alone is dangerous, I’m afraid you’ll die. People are evil and do evil things, it only takes one.
- Why would you Couchsurf when you could stay in a hotel? Why would you walk or bike when you could drive/fly?
- Why would you give up a good/safe job (read security) without having another job lined up or a real plan?
- What about the degree you worked so hard and paid so much for?
- There are people who go without because they have to and if you are doing it just for fun it’s like you’re making fun of their predicament!
- What if something should happen to your grandpa while you’re gone?
- What about everyone else who will worry about you when you are gone?
- Are you looking for something or trying to avoid something?
I’m going to address each of these concerns as well as I can, and I hope to qualm some of the worries I’ve created. Any additional comments or concerns would of course be welcome, as I’m still sorting through my thougts.
1. Hitch hiking is dangerous, traveling alone is dangerous, I’m afraid you’ll die. People are evil and do evil things, it only takes one.
I can understand why many people would be concerned about a woman hitch hiking and/or traveling alone. “The world is a scary place and everyone is out to get you” is the kind of thing I picture these people saying. But I think most people would rather maintain an irrational fear of the unknown than take the time to learn something about what they think they should be afraid of. There are lots of resources for learning about hitch hiking and other less popular forms of travel on the internet. I have personally met and hosted a handful of people who have traveled alone hitch hiking, biking, etc. and have had wonderful experiences. My last set of Warmshowers guests had each done extensive solo traveling all over the world, and not only did they feel perfectly safe in their travels, they came to enjoy the spontaneity of uncertain travel plans.
The media doesn’t post stories about the hundreds of people who successfully hitch hiked solo across whichever country, but they will sensationalize the one time someone died doing it. Because of this, society imagines that the majority of people who try this will end up like that one guy/gal. A simple Google search for hitch hiking statistics brought up numerous websites claiming very little risk and exaggerated societal views of actual danger. After doing this research, I think I am actually more likely to try hitch hiking than before I started writing this article! I will definitely be very careful and do some more research before heading out, but I would definitely try it.
I think one of the biggest problems with this anti hitch hiking thing is that people don’t trust each other anymore. Which goes into the next part: people are evil and do evil things. Just because there exist dangerous people, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust anyone or let the possibility of being harmed stop us from trying something new, like taking a ride from a stranger. I believe that people are generally good; if they weren’t, society wouldn’t work. Every day we trust that our next door neighbors, our coworkers, the lady at the grocery store are friendly enough, normal, with no intentions of harming us; but for some reason when we extrapolate that to anywhere unfamiliar, places become full of rapists and serial killers, it’s ridiculous! On occasion, bad things do happen, there are bad people, but the answer to this is not to never leave familiar places, it’s just to be aware and vigilant. Be cautious of your surroundings, blend in, don’t be stupid. Really bad things do happen, but they don’t happen very often, and when they do there’s not much you can do about them but try to be as prepared as you can be.
The last part of this question, why am I doing it alone, is very simple, I don’t have anyone to go with, and I’m not going to wait around to find someone to go with. Life is too short to always be waiting for someone to do things with. Besides, if I go alone, I can do exactly what I want when I want, no checking if someone else wants to! There are plenty of women who travel alone. Here is an article about the things a female traveler should think about before leaving. This one dispels a few myths about female traveling. There’s even a whole website all about solo female travel!
2. Why would you Couchsurf when you could stay in a hotel? Why would you walk or bike when you could drive/fly?
A follow up question to my answer for #1 would probably lead right into this next question: why would you want to hitch hike anyway? Or Couchsurf walk or bike for that matter. I have a couple of reasons for wanting to do these things, we’ll start with the obscure traveling methods. When I was young, I loved to read, especially about adventures. Harry Potter, the Shannara series, Chronicles of Narnia, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Where the Red Fern Grows, Lord of the Rings (ok that one was hard to get through, but the movies), etc. I always wanted to have an adventure of my own, but in today’s modern world of cities and “danger” around every corner, what was a girl to do? When I went to college, I had my first tastes of adventure. I ventured further into nature than I’d ever gone: a two day backpacking trip that left me exhausted, but excited for more. I road tripped across the country with a friend staying with dancers we’d never met but others had put us in touch with. In Argentina I rode in a car with people I had just met to get breakfast after dancing from 10pm until 5am. Once I got my own place, I hosted strangers in the middle of amazing travel experiences of their own. I biked ~160 miles through Big Sur with the bare necessities and some good friends, twice!
I am so ready for something bigger. Yes I could take a plane or car to get to my destination, but that would take all the adventure out of the journey. I could stay in a hotel, but then I wouldn’t get to see how a local lives. Some modern conveniences seem to take all the emotion and experience out of things. If you drive your car or fly to a far away place and stay in hotels, you’ll get there much faster, be guaranteed a place to stay, but you’ll miss the little side hike off the road, a local eatery only known to the locals, the wind in your hair, a homecooked meal with a family from another culture. If you want to change your plans at the last minute, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to deal with reservations or bookings.
Another major reason for traveling this way is sustainability. I want to reduce my carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same. By riding my bike or walking, I would not be creating any pollution or using scarce resources, and I would be helping pave the way for others to do the same. Catching a ride with someone else instead of driving separately or giving someone else a ride is still helpful for the same goals, and is a way to make a new friend!
3. Why would you give up a good/safe job (read security) without having another job lined up or a real plan?
This question is tricky because there are several things involved. First, I am not happy with my current job. I realized over the last six months or so that I hate being stuck in a windowless building for 10 hours/day 4 days per week. I want to be able to make my own schedule, or at least be outside in the sunlight a significant portion of the day. It’s not that I hate the work I do, there are some very exciting aspects of my job, but I noticed that more often than not I found myself wishing I didn’t have to go in to work. I forget who I heard this quote from, but it was something like “Every morning I ask myself, ‘Do I want to do what I am going to do today?’ and if for too many days in a row the answer is no, I know I need to change something.” I hit my too many days and now it’s time for change. At first I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I chose something I knew I would enjoy that would give me the free time to figure that out (AuPairing). Once I figured out the direction I wanted to go though, I could start going. Travel is still something I really wanted to do, so I decided to just drop the AuPair part and focus on the sustainability part. No I don’t know exactly what this will look like yet, but working long days will not help me figure that out.
This job I have pays very well. I could keep working until I found a job I preferred. It would allow me to continue to pay the bills and add to my savings. But I don’t need to. I have budgeted out different scenarios of quitting dates, and am confident that even though I only have a positive net worth of ~$10,000, I am confident that money will last through the end of next year with margin. My student loan is currently paid ahead through December of next year, I have a good buffer in my Health Savings Account, I can withdraw the principle from my Roth IRA with no penalty at any time, and if I really get in a bind I can withdraw from my 401k. However, I don’t intend to not work at all in the next year. I might spend some time teaching English or some other skill. I could do some odd jobs for money. I could find an amazing job that I love.
I know that many people stay with jobs that they hate because they think that if they quit they will never find another job or they won’t find one that pays as well. There is a legitimate concern, especially for people with families, to be able to accrue “life’s necessities”. However, I don’t think a lot of people take the time to consider what necessity actually means: food, water, shelter, clothing. That’s it. Not Starbucks, not a gym membership, not eating out, not a new pair of shoes when you already have a perfectly functioning pair. When you think about what you actually need, you realize you don’t need as much money as you thought you did. Once you realize this, it becomes much easier to let go of a high paying job that makes you unhappy, even if you don’t have something lined up.
4. What about the degree you worked so hard and paid so much for?
This question relates to the last one, I have an Engineering degree. I went to college for 4.5 years and paid a lot of money (not nearly as much as some people pay, but still a lot). But it’s not like taking a break wipes that away. Even if I take a year off, I still have valuable skills. Just because you take a year off, does not mean you are unemployable. It might take a while, and I might have to take a part time job in the meantime, but when I get back, if I want a job, I am confident that I will find one. Changing my focus does not negate my degree either. Just because I want to get into sustainability now doesn’t mean everything I learned in college is worthless. Yes it would have been easier if I had known that I would’ve chosen sustainability sooner, but I am at a greater advantage having gotten my degree than having no degree. I do not regret my choices at all, I loved college, it was a great experience, I learned a lot, and if I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t be where I am today. Even if I decide I hate engineering and never want to do anything related to it ever again I wouldn’t regret it.
5. There are people who go without because they have to and if you are doing it just for fun it’s like you’re making fun of their predicament!
This was brought up specifically to address the eating out of dumpsters that Rob Greenfield does to raise awareness about food waste. Basically the concern was that by eating out of a dumpster just because you can, you are mocking those who eat out of a dumpster because they must. I think this type of thing just depends. If you are doing it to mock them, then yes it’s wrong and you should stop. But if you are doing it to help them and actually bringing the problem of food waste to people’s attention so that the food could be donated instead of thrown out therefore making food more accessible to those who might otherwise have had to resort to eating from a dumpster, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I make a significant effort to never waste food. I typically shop at a local Farmer’s Market, that way I can buy unpackaged and in small quantities, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what I eat lately, so I know pretty precisely how much I’ll need. When I do eat out, I always take leftovers home with me to be eaten later. If I have something at home that I know is going to go bad soon, I’ll make an effort to use it up right away. I even get to pick and eat the oranges from my tree!
To get back to the point of this question, I’m not trying to live frugally because I want to mock those who cannot afford a lavish lifestyle. I’m trying to live frugally because the less money I need, the more free time I’ll have to do things that matter to me; because the less I buy, the less I have to worry about; because the less and more fresh I consume, the healthier I will be, my community will be, and the Earth will be. I am trying to live more sustainably. If I am mocking anyone, it is the people who complain that they don’t make enough money but they have two brand new car payments, season tickets to some sport thing, a giant flat screen with all the cable channels, and a huge outstanding credit card debt. This guy got rid of his debt, so can you.
6. What if something should happen to your grandpa while you’re gone?
This is the hardest one for me to answer. For those who don’t know, my grandpa is in a declining state of health. I love my grandpa, but I know that one day, possibly soon, he will be gone. I intend to spend as much time with him as I can in the near future, but I don’t think I should postpone my travel goals indefinitely just because overseas travel would make coming back at a moment’s notice difficult. Maybe I’ll travel domestically for a while first just in case, I’ll decide that later I guess.
7. What about everyone else who will worry about you when you are gone?
I don’t know how to answer this really. I guess the only thing I can say is I’m sorry you’re worrying about me, and I’ll stay in contact as much as I possibly can. In reality, I don’t think there is anything I can say to make you not worry. I love you and I would rather you not worry about me, I appreciate your concern, but I feel confident in the skills you and others have taught me and I would appreciate your faith in my abilities and support in my attempts to achieve my goals.
8. Are you looking for something or trying to avoid something?
Yes! I am looking for adventure! I am looking for something more fulfilling to do with my life! I am trying to avoid spending my days doing something that makes me unhappy just because society says I have to! I’m not depressed or hiding something, it’s all here! I don’t know what else I can say about this.
I hope I have somewhat eased the concerns of the naysayers to my plans. I also hope I have helped others who may have opposition to their own plans. I’m sorry for how long it took me to get this post out though, I’ve been working 10 hours/day, 6 days/week and will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks :/ I also wanted to be very thorough with this piece and it took me a surprisingly long time to get my thoughts all out. Future posts will be slow coming through November, but once I get some free time again I’ll get right back into it!