You Can Live a “Normal” Life and Travel, Too

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I'm not a professional traveler. I do not make a living from taking trips around the world. For a long time, I was not location-independent, either — I was just your average recent-college-graduate, trying to figure out how to balance a small paycheck with my desire to travel as much as possible.

And yet, people often tell me how jealous they are of all my travels. They tell me how “lucky” I am. They say they wish they could travel like I do.

But you know what?

They absolutely can. YOU can, too.

Solo travel in New Zealand

So many of those out there who are writing about travel are professional nomads. Many of them lack a home address, and can fit most of their worldly possessions into a backpack. They flit from London to Bangkok to Sydney and back again, and we “ordinary” people think this is all so terribly romantic and awesome that we convince ourselves that we can't possibly do the same.

We psyche ourselves out and buy into a lot of misconceptions about living a life full of travel. We begin to believe things like:

  • You must be rich to travel.
  • You must be single to travel.
  • You must be brave and outgoing to travel.
  • You must be free from responsibility to travel.

We convince ourselves that we can never be one of “those people” because we have a job and debt and a family, and we enjoy having a stable address that people can send Christmas cards to.

But guess what? These misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. You can travel without being rich and single. You can travel without being particularly adventurous. And, most of all, you can travel without completely setting aside responsibility.

Yes, I'm here to tell you that  you can, in fact, travel and live a “normal” life, too!

Lupin field in New Zealand

Travel does not have to be a lifestyle for everyone. You can be a businessman or career woman and still be passionate about travel. You can work a 9-5 and still see the world if that's what you're passionate about.

The key is what YOU want.

If you want to quit your job to travel the world, great. Go for it.

But if you like owning a car and your own bed and having a permanent place to call “home,” that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your travel dream. It doesn't have to be an either-or scenario. Believe it or not, you CAN have both!

Cherokee Trading Post

I'm not going to lie and say it's easy, though. Because it's not. If you have a strict work schedule or a young family or a lot of debt to pay off, it may be challenging to live your “ordinary” life and still manage to fit in travel. But just because something is challenging doesn't mean it's impossible.

Here are some tips for how you, too, can fit travel into your ordinary life:

  • Start saving now. It's never too early to start saving for a trip. Even just setting aside $20 per week can go a long way quickly.
  • Plan your dream vacation. Even if you won't be able to take it right away, planning a vacation can keep you upbeat about traveling and give you something to look forward to. I start planning some of my big trips up to a year ahead of time.
  • Keep an eye on travel deals. Especially if you start planning and saving for a big trip early, you can keep an eye on things like airline and hotel deals. You never know when the perfect one will come along! Signing up for mailing lists from specific airlines, or from travel aggregators like TravelZoo, is a great idea, too, and can alert you to big savings opportunities.
  • Make the most of vacation time and holidays. We Americans get a raw deal in my opinion when it comes to vacation time. If your employer isn't cool about letting you work overtime or giving you unpaid days off, you'll have to get creative in order to make the most of the vacation time you have. You can stretch your 2 weeks much further if you plan travel around paid holidays, or if you can elect to work your holidays and save them up for later.
  • Don't wait for someone to travel with. Especially if you're working full-time and have friends and family members who are also working full-time, it might be difficult to coordinate a vacation. But that doesn't mean you should forego travel. It just means you may need to consider adding “solo travel” to your vocabulary.
  • Pick up new hobbies. For me, starting a travel blog has opened many doors in terms of travel. I've made a lot of contacts, and even picked up some freelance gigs here and there that have helped feed my travel addiction (and my travel fund). But if starting a blog isn't right for you, consider other hobbies that might allow you to get closer to your travel goals. Perhaps volunteering or joining a club could be an option for you.
  • Take advantage of all opportunities. Right along with picking up new hobbies, be sure to take advantage of any travel opportunities that those hobbies might afford you. For example, I traveled a lot during college because I joined the marching band. We went to places like Italy and China on performance tours at prices that a college student could afford.

And, at the end of the day…

  • Don't make excuses. Any excuse you can make about why you can't/don't travel can be overcome. If you truly want to travel more without giving up your current lifestyle, the first step is setting aside the misconceptions and excuses and going after what you want in any way that you can.
Hanauma Bay
Excuses won't get you here.

And, who am I to preach all this to you, you ask? Well, currently I'm a freelancer who works from a fixed address in Ohio. Before that, I was a graduate student working my butt off to get my Master's degree. And before that, I was a copy editor working 40 hours per week at a small newspaper. I probably don't have to tell you that I have most certainly NOT been rolling in cash since graduating college. I have to work hard to save up money and make time to travel just like everybody else. But, in the past four years, I've traveled to more than 30 countries.

And I'm doing it all while still living a “normal” life.

If I can do it, so can you.

Are you also a person who lives a “normal” life but still manages to travel? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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193 Comments on “You Can Live a “Normal” Life and Travel, Too

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  1. Great article! I love to to travel (US only so far) extended weekend trips exploring america are my thing. People are always saying where are you off to now, or how do you do that, or must be nice but they all make more money than me! My kids are grown and I am off to see what I can while I can. I joined a great meet up group with a travel expert as the lead and I travel solo too. I scour flight sights -airfarewatchdog and travelzoo for sure -and save my extra money for it~ I got $158 to Billings in June and $89 to FLL in Jan makes me so happy! Its good to know there are people out there like me 🙂

      I love that you say you’re off to see what you can while you can. That’s a great attitude! And, you don’t have to travel far or for long lengths of time to consider yourself a traveler. There are definitely people out there like you!

    So true! I also work fulltime and travel – partly because I live so far from my family and that’s just what you have to do if you want to stay in touch as an expat. Yes, it means that I am constantly putting money away and getting creative with scheduling of trips around times I am off anyways. Yes, it means that I am not driving a new car and that the house we rent is way old. It’s all about priorities. Nobody can afford everything (well, very few people can). I get almost angry when people tell me about how jealous they are of my travels and how they could never afford my trips. BS! First I was kind of put off by that because a statement like that assumes that I am somehow independly wealthy (not the case). Now I just reply by comparing their lifestyle choices to mine (cars, apartment/house, superexpensive 4-day trips on a cruise instead of my cheapo week in Asia, etc.

      You are absolutely right that it is all about priorities. Once you make the decision to make travel a priority in your life, it’s amazing how much you’re actually able to do!

    I can relate perfectly Amanda. I think it’s a matter of life choice – we all define travel differently! I, like you, can’t currently imagine quitting the job I’ve worked hard to get, my family, my friends, having a big closet and a weekly routine. Still, I travel quite a lot – for both work and vacation. And I do work full time, 45 hours a week (at least)! So there’s not really a valid excuse anymore for not traveling if you really want to.

      It definitely is a matter of choice, Katherina. If you choose to make travel a priority, then you will find a way to make it happen! I know that’s certainly been the case for me.

    i love, love, love that last part, “Don’t make excuses”!! I constantly hear people making excuses for why they can’t/don’t travel. Ultimately, it’s all about what your priorities are and what you’re willing [or not] to sacrifice so that you can travel! Great article! I’m sending people to this when I hear them complaining about not being able to travel! 😉

      Thanks!! I’m glad this resonated with you, and that you agree that people make too many excuses about why they don’t travel! That really bugs me, too. Instead of making excuses, go out there and do something about it!

    Even though the US limits vacation time to 2-3 weeks in general. I was able to take advantage of many of my business trips and squeeze out a couple extra days over the weekend. You just need to plan ahead for it. I’ve been able to see almost the entire country this way not having to pay for airfare and lodging was taken care of too (partially at least).

      And that’s exactly what I’m talking about! If you really want to travel and are smart about it, you’ll find ways to make it happen, even if you do work full-time!

    First, my PPP – people are *envious* of your travel, not *jealous*. Your boyfriend’s ex might be jealous of you, but possibly not envious, but can only be envious of your travel 🙂

    Another thing you can factor into your “saving for travel” is frequent flyer miles. For all the complaining I hear about how hard they are to use, I don’t have any trouble. And since you need to buy stuff to live, a mileage card is a great investment.

    For example, United airlines has a new “Explorer” card. Sign up for that an it’s an instant 25000 miles once you have used it. If you get a business card, any money you spend on gas, dining, airfare with the card gets you double miles. I pay for everything with mine that I can pay with with a credit card, and rack up a few thousand miles a month. Of course, those miles are worthless if you’re not paying off the card every month.

    Watching for flight deals is also key. I’m flying cheaply ($900) Denver to Istanbul return on Lufthansa in March because they partner with United and since Lufthansa had a sale United needed/wanted to match or beat it. But you need to be ready to buy when the sale is on, and have an assortment of places you want to go. And since I used my Explorer card to buy those tickets I got 1800 miles on top of the actual travel miles.

    I can’t agree more, BTW, about the clever use of time off without pay and working holidays to accumulate useful blocks of time later. For example, I am not a fan of xmas/new years since time off when it’s cold and wintry is useless to me. So I always work those days (if possible) and take them later. Sometimes you even get paid more to work them (good for the travel fund) or get better than 1 for 1 time off.

    And with that I’ll shut up. A real life (I have a car, house and “home” life) definitely doesn’t have to negatively impact your travel life. I’ll be traveling 8-11 weeks next year, and working my behind off the other weeks to pay for it!

      Thanks for the great comment, Rob! Good tips on using miles to help, too. I really need to find a good miles card to start using…

      (And, whether “jealous” is correct or not, that’s the word people use!! 😉 )

    I already started making progress. On 8th of November I planned a 4-5 days trip with my girlfriend in “masivul bucegi” in Romania (search about it, you may like it if you want to visit Romania next year).
    Anyways this will be my first vacation in years and I virtually can’t wait!

      That looks like an awesome place to go hiking. Will you stay at Inns/hostels/hotels or camp?

    I’ve got to say, I am SO IMPRESSED that you manage to run an incredible travel blog (and find time to travel) while you’re working on your master’s degree. When I was in graduate school I don’t think I did anything other than read articles, write papers, intern, and teach (rinse and repeat). I might have taken my pup to dog beach every now and then, but even that was a stretch! =P

      Haha, it certainly hasn’t been easy! This first semester has been pretty brutal. But, somehow, I’ve been able to make it work. And I fully intend to keep it up!

    Amanda,

    Well said! I like how you first listed the misconceptions – all of which I’ve encountered after announcing my plans a few months ago to travel RTW next year – and how you’ve provided reasonable tips and ways to fulfill the purpose, and indeed, the very title of your post. Great timing! 🙂

      I’m glad you liked the post, Henry! Hopefully it can prove to a few people that there’s nothing particularly special or “lucky” about me or what I’m doing. I’m just very dedicated!

    I love this post. I think it can get disheartening, at least for me, when I hear that someone’s just jetting off to Asia again. But I remind myself life is about choices. Right now I’m choosing not to travel, to focus on school. But in a few months I will travel. That’s the nice thing about being a traveler, you don’t have to travel all the time to be a traveler.

      I hear ya on feeling a bit down when so many people seem to be constantly jetting off to amazing-sounding places. But I’m with you — I’m focusing on school right now, in hopes that it will help me travel more later on! And you’re absolutely right when you say that you don’t have to travel all the time to be a traveler. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    Great post Amanda! I definitely learned recently that long term nomadic travel isn’t for me, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a traveler. I’m totally addicted, and travel is an important part of my life. But you’re so right, it doesn’t have to be expensive and it isn’t just for rich people. It’s all about priorities, if traveling is important enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

      I don’t know if I’m cut out to be completely nomadic either. But hey, at least you gave it a shot, right? Now you know. 🙂

        I think I WISH I was cut out to be completely nomadic, but I’m just not. I love travel and will always be addicted to it, but I’m also addicted to, you know, having a home 🙂

          I totally agree!! I’ve never actually tried the nomadic life yet, but I know how much I enjoy having a place to come home to… so I’m not sure it’d be for me!

    Thank you for the inspiring post! I always find ways to travel even though I don’t get paid to do it either. My friend said I am “the travelingest broke person” he knows lol. These are great tips.

      Thank YOU, Marnie! I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and that you’re already out there traveling in any way that you can!

    I love that, amidst the several hundred posts I read a week, these uplifting and inspiring ones are always around. They’re all individually good and hit on different points, but it’s great to not have a week go by without some kind of reminder that I can get to where I want to go.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Aww, thanks, Chris! I, too, like reading a good uplifting post every now and then, so I try to write them myself from time to time. 🙂

    This was a great article! Very inspiring. I have always wanted to travel, but I was one of those people who thought I had to be rich. Once my debts are paid off I am going to Paris!

      Thanks, Maria! I hope this helped you realize that you absolutely CAN travel! And, if you work really hard towards it, finally making it to Paris will make it that much sweeter.

    While going home to a “normal” life terrifies me a bit, I know that even when I do have a more permanent home than my current expat here, expat there life–travel will still be a big part of that life. It’s all about making travel a priority–in time, effort and finances 🙂

      Once a traveler, always a traveler as far as I’m concerned! Travel is obviously a really important part of your life, so I’m sure that wherever that life takes you — even if it’s into a rather “ordinary” situation — you’ll still travel plenty! It is absolutely about making it a priority.

    I really liked your article, and I think it should be useful to many many people! I think its especially important to get into the ‘Solo Travel’ mindset. Also because your writing is so smooth, I think this post may inspire many to plan their dream vacation soon, solo or otherwise 🙂

      Thanks so much for the kind words! If this post inspires even just one person to start planning their dream vacation, I’ll consider it a success!

    Great message. What you say is absolutely true. If you want to travel, you can make it happen.

    I often have people tell me the same thing they tell you: “You’re so lucky.” It’s true, I am. I travel as much as I can. But part of my luck is luck I have made. I chose a profession (Training & Development) that requires business travel. And then I maximize any trip I take, tacking on vacation time and exploring the surrounding regions.

    I also find travel opportunities through volunteering and naturally – vacations! Those are the best trips of all. I look for opportunities to travel anytime, anywhere. Even if it’s only to a town in Ohio that I haven’t been to. A new experience? Sights to see? Count me in!

      Thanks for reading, Juliann! I feel the same way you do — that I am indeed very lucky, but that I’ve worked very hard for that luck. I’ve made travel a priority, and have grabbed at every opportunity that’s come by. Yes, I’m “lucky” to be able to travel so much, but it’s not like all those experiences just fall into my lap!

    Good article. I recently came to the realization that when I say something is impossible for me what I really meant was it was inconvenient or scary so I was choosing to do something else. That realization has changed my life. Some people say I have just gone crazy. 🙂

    I’m almost 64 years old and always wanted to be a nomad traveler so I just recently sold my house and everything else I own. What wouldn’t sell I gave away or threw away. All except what will fit in one 46 liter backpack. I leave next week on my perpetual, around the world trip. Naturally, I’ll be blogging all the way.

      Wow! Good for you, Gar! It certainly takes guts to choose a life of permanent travel. But if it’s what you truly want to do, then you can’t go wrong!

    Amen sister! Preach it =) I’m a 9-5 40 hour a week girl which is probably why I can’t dedicate too much time to making money from my blog but I save like crazy, prioritise my spending and try and sell a few bits here and there to make the money.
    In the past two years I’ve taken 3 months off to travel around Asia solo and did 6 weeks around Africa this year, not having to quit my job – I guess they realised that I was ‘too’ valuable to lose. There are ways around it and actually, my employer says that I’m a better employee now that I’ve returned because I can ‘handle anything’. However, I think they realise now that they’re eventually going to lose me to the open road =D

      You obviously have an awesome employer!! I wish more employers were willing to do that! My former employer let me take 2 weeks of unpaid time off to go to New Zealand earlier this year, which was awesome of them. But I’m not sure they would have been okay with 3 months!

      And you definitely don’t have to make a ton of money to be able to save if you can also spend wisely. I have a “travel fund” that I constantly put money into, and I don’t let myself spend any of it unless it’s on something travel-related!

    You are right, it’s about priorities. It’s easy to make excuses for not traveling, but that just means that traveling really isn’t a priority for you, even if you are saying it is. I’ve made traveling a priority for me, I took a sabatical from my work just to travel for a year. And it really isn’t as expensive as people think it is. But even when I am working, I do travel extensively, it really is just a matter of prioritizing and deciding what you want.

      Yup, it’s all a matter of whether you’re willing to make travel a priority or not. If you are, then you’ll find ways to travel. If you aren’t, then you’ll just be left with those excuses.

    Great article! I’m in the early throes of planning a RTW trip with my partner – he’s worried about the lack of “normality” that would come with travelling, so we’ve agreed a compromise: travel for 5 to 6 months, then go and do a working holiday visa somewhere (we’re thinking Germany – he can do it as a Korean, and as an EU citizen I don’t need to go through any visa formalities), with the idea that the working holiday visa will give a sense of “normality” whilst travelling, due to having a home base for a little while.

    I’ve been working for a year in South Korea solely to pay off my debt so that I can up and travel in 2013 (next year will be all about saving money for the trip!) I haven’t been rolling in cash since university either – a call centre job, and a teaching job in S Korea so I can pay off my debt – so I agree totally when you say that you don’t need to be super rich in order to pursue your travel dreams.

      Well it’s great that you two have worked out a compromise that sounds like it might work for both of you. I think half of year of travel and half a year of a working holiday would be great! Good for you for pursuing your travel dreams!

    I guess I would be what you term as “abnormal” 🙂
    I work on a cruise ship and although I get to travel, I’m not always traveling. I guess in a way, I’m the complete opposite to your scenario!

      Well I don’t think I’d call you “abnormal,” Roy! But yes, your situation is quite different than the average 9-5’er. Though I’m sure people just assume that you’re traveling and having fun all the time in your job, when I’m sure the reality is much different sometimes!

    I always tell people it’s like anything in life- If you want to do it there will be sacrifices involved. I’ve always found those to be worth it, but it’s a personal decision.

    I love how you tell people- If I can do it, so can you. I try that, and I’m surprised at how many perplexed looks I get.