April 19, 2009

All Work And No Play Make Homer Something Something

The most common reaction that Zhou and I get when we tell someone of our upcoming plans is "Really? That sounds amazing!" Then we tell the person that we're going to travel the world for a year after we learn all the seven-letter words in the Scrabble dictionary (taenias: some sort of tapeworm; banties: small hens), and the person gets even more excited. This inevitably leads into a conversation that starts with the details of the trip and ends with somebody chanting Sanka's Jamaican bobsled song. It's the middle part of the conversation that always makes an impression on me though.

At some point, the person always says something like “I wish I would have done this at your age,” and then goes into a rant about his or her spouse and/or kids. (Yes, Zhou and I are too boring to hang out with people our age.) This makes me realize how fortunate Zhou and I are to have not only the time to travel, but also the money, motivation and moxie to make it happen. (I specifically am fortunate to have a Zhou who is very good at planning and very forgiving when I don’t put in nearly as much time as she does.)

To me, the problem is that it does take a very fortunate set of circumstances to be able to do what we’re about to. And the further we’ve gotten into the planning of our journey, the more I realize that it’s the right thing to do at this stage in our lives. So while it’s nice to be idolized by everyone now, when future Kevins and Zhous announce their plans to travel, I dream that the more common reaction will be, “cool, I just did that myself!” The more I think about it, the more I think that this actually could become more popular among motivated recent college graduates who don’t yet have kids.

There are four major obstacles to overcome to enjoy a trip like ours: motivation, time, perception and money. Fortunately though, I believe there are also four good solutions, and as it turns out, one solution remedies each obstacle.

Motivation: This is less of an obstacle to be overcome, and more of a strainer to separate the chunky slackers from the fluid world travelers. If you aren’t motivated, no need to travel. However, it doesn’t take a lot to be motivated for an adventure of a lifetime. Zhou once wrote that she wasn’t sure what motivated us to turn our dream of traveling into a reality. I imagine though that the conversation went something like this:

Zhou: I just swept the floor [twice], can you eat that chili dog over the sink?
Kevin: You know, we could travel the world for a year and it won’t matter where I eat.
Zhou: In the meantime… sink!
Kevin: I’ll book the tickets. [Zhou then booked the tickets.]

So you see, it doesn’t take much. However you end up deciding having fun is something you’d like to try, feel free to read this earlier post to help jump-start the planning process.

Perception: I get the sense that some people would frown upon young travelers who don’t contribute anything to society. (“When I was your age, I used to walk four miles to work, uphill both ways!”) It’s bad enough that I didn’t contribute anything to society for 18 years, unless you count my summer job of eating Graeter’s, the best ice cream in the country. (The job itself wasn’t to eat the ice cream, but one of the perks was free food while on the job. I think that we actually ate more in ice cream than we made in hourly wages, but that’s really not saying much.)

However, when I talk to my backup friends in London and Sydney, I find that time for world exploration is practically encouraged in those countries. It’s called a “gap” year, most likely short for global awareness period. (Ok, maybe not – I just like making acronyms of everyday words.) I’ve heard that Zhou and I will probably bump into a lot of Europeans and Australians while on the trip, and not just while we’re in Europe and Australia. If the people across both oceans promote young travelers, why can't we?

Time: College usually ends in May, and for most jobs the work year starts in January (sure people start working in June, but then there’s that stub year which is hardly a year at all). That leaves around 6 - 7 months of free time for one either to try to mooch off the parents again, play a marathon game of Settlers of Catan, or go out and see the world. As much as I like Settlers, seven months would be a really long game…

Maybe there could be a program run through colleges – a “ninth semester” program of world travel. I know that my seventh semester was pretty tough, and the eighth was 10x easier, so it makes logical sense to do a ninth that involves nothing more than playing with real Swiss Army knives and hanging out with real Brazilian models. And of course eating as much foreign McDonald's as possible.

This program could be set up like a semester abroad, only without classes (maybe do some volunteer work at some of the stops, like Vanderbilt’s Alternative Spring Break). I have no idea how liability and that type of stuff would work, but I do know that liability is bad and drinkability is good.

Money: At first glance, this appears to be the biggest obstacle. However, with a well-planned out budget and an acceptance that you won’t be staying in four-star hotels everywhere, world travel is actually much cheaper than you may think. One extreme example is that Zhou and I should be able to do our trek in Nepal for approximately $10 per person per day. This is an all-in cost that includes everything from lodging to buying lots of cheap DVDs. The DVDs in other countries aren't quite this cheap, but our average daily budget for the entire trip is around $35 per person.

Despite it being less expensive than it may appear, traveling isn’t exactly like eating peanuts, or whatever the phrase is. The biggest cost is the fact that we won’t be getting paid during our time away. (Not everyone is as lucky as these people.) And if sleeping through Econ 101 taught me anything, it was opportunity cost.

There are a few solutions for the money problem. (1) Inherit a lot of family money, or win the lottery. (2) Become an investment banker, date another investment banker and both of you bust your butt at work for a couple years after college. This solution though is no longer recommended, as there’s this whole recession thing that may or may not have stemmed from me piling too much debt on big companies. (3) Save. This one deserves its own paragraph, so let’s do that.

I really don't want to preach on how to save money, but Zhou feels that it is necessary. Maybe a simple algebra problem will make this seem informative. Let's use the $35/day number that I mentioned earlier, and say that you travel for six months (180 days). Your total daily budget would then be $6,300. After throwing in the cost of transportation, immunizations, visas, insurance and gear, the total cost of a six-month getaway could be approximately $12,500. In order to save this much money through your four years of college, you would need to save a little under $8.60 per day. That's just one hour of work, or two less drinks at Starbucks, or eight less rolls of toilet paper (switch to leaves - it's probably better for the environment) per day. And if you need 118 more ways to save, click here.

Once the Kevins and Zhous of the future are able to become motivated, spare some time after college and save money, I envision that the gap year for world travel will become increasingly popular here in America. Tune back in as we actual start traveling to get our advice on where to go.

Puzzles for Postcards: Today's we'll try a new type of puzzle, fresh out of the Jeopardy! oven. Below are four words (single words, not hyphenated) from a common category, only they all have their consonants removed (the opposite of VQs). You're job is to be the first to solve three of the four, and we will then be obligated to add you to the list of winners.

Consonantless Colors:
(1) aea
(2) aee
(3) ioe
(4) oie

Scrabble Games: 39 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 22; 367; 365; VITTLES, ASExUAL
Kevin WPLB: 17; 361; 364; PARTIERs


  1. Y'all two are awesome, keep up the good work, and the good play.


  2. Half an hour to get it Hadley... really... REALLY!?! Well done though, not as easy of question as I thought.

    And it's true KC and Jojo, there are lots and lots of European and Australian travelers. Having been in Australia, I can't comment too much on the Aussies, but there were Europeans abound, most in their gap year. They really made my road trips a lot more interesting, cause you'll meet some cool, unique people in hostels. Some of these Euros brought journal-type things, that they would have the cool people they met in their travels fill out a page. I thought it was a great idea, because even though I was cool enough to get into a couple of people's "books", I have nothing but memories of them (and a few facebook friends). So make sure you take the time to meet some of these people. You'll definitely learn a lot and may make a few friends while you're at it.

  3. I wish too that a trip like this would be more common. I got the same type of reactions when I told people I was going round the world. The one thing you didn't mention on this list that holds many back is FEAR. Fear of many things:
    fear of what people think of them
    fear finding a job/making a living after coming back
    fear of the unknown

    RTW travel is like skydiving. Many SAY they would love to do it, but only a few are going to follow through.