Real People Don’t Travel

May 20, 2014 Tessa Bradford 33 comments

Real People Don't Travel

Before I realized how easy it can be to travel the world, I was going through the motions of a life that didn't make me happy.  I thought about traveling, I dreamed about traveling, but I had no idea how to actually start traveling. And all my feeble hopes of travel were crushed when the guy I was dating at the time told me, "Real people don't travel."

It started because I watched the movie, Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts. (Not a great film. I hear the book is better. But that's beside the point.) The point is that the woman in the story lived the life that I wanted more than any other.

She traveled.
She tasted.
She explored.
She experienced.

I watched the sub-par movie with stars in my eyes, images of my own life of adventure and discovery and passion dancing through my thoughts. I didn't know it then, but it was the life I was supposed to be living.

I finished the movie and walked to where the boyfriend was sitting, working on university homework I should have been doing, too. And he read my thoughts before I could even say them. So he cut me off, to make sure I wouldn't let my mind run off on some fanciful, time-wasting scheme.

"That's not real, you know," he explained to me, the way a father would to a child with an over-active imagination.

"It's based on a true story. The woman wrote the book about her own life," I countered.

"Yes, but she's a professional writer. How would you do it?"

"I don't know. But I think lots of people travel, all the time."

He laughed. "Tessa, real people don't travel. Not people who have real lives and responsibilities. How would you support yourself? How would you make a life like that work?"

Well, he had me there. I had absolutely no idea how I would make a life like that work. I didn't have an income, or savings, or even a plan on how to get a job. So I halfheartedly agreed with him-- obviously real people didn't live lives on the road. Because how could they? How would it even be possible?

But here's the thing. This conversation happened about six months before I started traveling. And I have never looked back.

I got lucky. I had a scholarship to do a summer semester in Taiwan, and then to Beijing for a fall semester for my Masters of Global Studies. Well, not 'lucky.' I worked my ass off for those scholarships. But in a way, it was lucky. Because if I hadn't studied abroad I would never have realized how fully capable I was of living abroad long term.

You don't need the scholarships. They helped nudge me on my way, but they're not an essential part of the equation.

The essential part is simply getting out the door. 

Pick a country. GO.
Go teach. Go volunteer. Go sleep on a stranger's couch.

There are hundreds of online communities and resources for people that want to start lives abroad and on the road.

If I had taken that boyfriend's words to heart, my life would be completely different right now. I would never have gone on any of the adventures from the last three years. I would never have swam in hidden waterfalls in Taiwan, ridden horses across the Mongolian Steppe, explored castles of ancient Europe or jungle ruins of Southeast Asia, tasted true Thai spices or authentic Italian pastas, played games with lions or befriended monkeys.

I would never have experienced
many of the moments that now define me.

I would have continued plodding through the motions of a life that didn't make me happy.

But I didn't take his words to heart. They were enough to make me hesitate and doubt myself, but eventually my desire to see the world won out.

And the world has been so worth it.

I tossed aside the life I was living. I started over. And I am thankful every day that I did.

I had the undeniable benefit of being young and (newly) single. I realize that this made starting over more possible than it might for others. But I still set major things in my life aside so I could make a new life.

I had a full scholarship as a Graduate Assistant for my Masters, and I turned it down. I decided to go back to Taiwan instead of going back to America. And I was absolutely scared to death that I was making the worst mistake of my life.

I don't think you're ever really ready to start a new life, it's simply something that sometimes you realize you need, ready or not. Knowing you need it doesn't make it any less terrifying, though. It's full of big risks and friends that tell you you're nuts and family members that fret about your recklessness.

But if it works out, the payoff is extraordinary.

I just want it stated, loud and clear, for the record:

Real people DO travel.
Real people DO make this life work. 
Real people DO live lives of adventure, discovery, & passion. 

This real girl does it every day.

33 Comments on “Real People Don’t Travel

  1. Very inspiring! My husband and I would love to do this. We keep putting off travel, teaching abroad, working abroad, because of kids. We keep saying when the kids are older we’ll do this. But, maybe we should just go for it. Great blog!

  2. I loved this article. I used to think that travelling was such an unreachable and impossible goal. But I’m just back from a trip to Iceland. I NEVER imagined myself travelling halfway across the world. So you’re right. Real people do travel. You’ve just got to be brave. And I’m already preparing my next trip. 🙂 It sounds like you’ve had many amazing experiences on your travels; thanks for sharing them.

  3. I am very happy for you, glad you took the risks and things turned out well for you. It’s interesting how having the stubbornness to follow your heart things turn out better than most welling meaning family and friends could ever have imagined. I wish you the best.

    1. Thank you– I think a lot of time that gut feeling of the things you really want in life is the best thing for you. Trick is following it, even when it seems daunting.

  4. Great post. I was a lot like you in my 20’s 🙂 However, I’ll just say something I think you already have astutely observed in your article, which is that it’s much easier to do all of this when you are in your 20’s. As as you get older there is a lot more at stake, and also it gets less easy to take the casual jobs, make very little money and have nothing put away for the future, etc. Also people see you differently. In your 20’s everyone thinks it’s great and wonderful that you are traveling and seeing the world. It’s pretty normal for those in other countries to do this for years. Once you get into your 30’s or 40’s it feels much more essential to figure out a way to have a real career that allows you to travel or a career you can do in other countries. I’m at that point now. I should have kept traveling, after a year I spent abroad in my 20’s but I came back to finish the degree, and then get back to my career to pay off the loans from the degree. Now I’m starting over and pursuing a career in teaching (and getting a graduate degree) specifically so that I can have long holidays and entire summers to spend abroad. I am also scoping out opportunities for teaching in high schools and colleges abroad for a year or two at a time. It’s going to take a lot more preparation than traveling in my 20’s, but it will allow me a lifetime of the ability to travel regularly and for long periods of time, while still having a career and an acceptable quality of life :). It’s all about finding a way to do something the way that works best for you!

What are your thoughts?