No Walkabout

Most of us don’t have a camera crew and a big television production budget like Anthony Bourdain, Clive James, or Michael Palin, nor a local fixer to ensure an exciting experience. We don’t have independent means, nor a fat publishing advance to fund our great romantic adventure. We don’t have a year to travel around the world. We don’t have three months. It all looks nice on television and the movies: those books about rustic summers in Provence and Tuscany. But we’re not all Julia Roberts falling in love with Javier Bardem in Bali. We’re not Frances Mayes fixing up her villa ruin. We have lives and commitments — and limited bank accounts. We just have two weeks vacation.

If you want to take the leap, do it before you think too much about it.It’s possible to do it, of course. Save all your money for that once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world. Scrape your pennies together and sleep on floors, or work your way from place to place. But would you really do it? Or, would something else come up — an emergency, career opportunity, love, children — to sidetrack you from your dream? Or, are you waiting for retirement? I think retirement is wasted on the old.

If you want to take the leap, do it before you think too much about it. Like the Bowles in Tangiers, or the Burroughs in Mexico, or Bolaňo in the seventies. Before you have commitments. While you’re young.

Every couple of years, I encounter some Australian out on her walkabout, an Israeli who’s just finished his compulsory military service, English or Canadian kids in their gap year. The United States appears to be the only developed nation that expects young people to start work directly after they’ve completed their education. The secret is staying close to the ground. Stay in the cheapest hostels and eat street food. Work here and there if you need money. Go native as much as possible. When you’re young you don’t need much. You’re used to being broke. And around the world tickets are great for jumping between continents: One price for a full year, so long as you travel in one direction.

So what’s keeping you? If you’re just finishing college, responsibility can wait a few months. If you’re working your first job, find a good roommate, hold onto your old car, and don’t buy so much beer and shoes, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your travel fund grows.

It helps, too, if you’ve got a job lined up when your year is over. You’ll have a lot of debts to pay. You can’t stay broke forever.

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