Sometime in 2012 I fell in love with the idea of a long-term RTW (’round the world) trip. The thought of selling my things, giving up my apartment, and living out of a backpack made me swoon. I wanted that total freedom to go anywhere and do anything whenever I wanted. I wanted to travel for one year. At least I thought that’s what I wanted.
Six years later, I have not done that RTW trip, I’m in the same apartment with even more things, and all the money I saved vanished long ago. Was my plan to travel long-term my way of running away from something? This is the story of how I saved $25,000 to travel for one year and spent it all going back to school.
*Heads up: this is a long post
I saved $25,000 to travel for one year and spent it all on school
Ever since spending my first full year in Japan from 2005-2006, I’ve had slightly itchy feet. I like to think of this as the year I became infected with that bug we all boastfully proclaim we’ve caught: the travel bug. I didn’t travel outside of Japan during that time, which I will blame on visa reasons, though I did have fun exploring different parts of Japan.
While spending three months in Chile in 2010, I heard the phrase “pata de perro.” It translates to “dog paws,” and refers to one who is always wandering or travelling, like a dog is always moving. I liked that. I wanted to be like a dog wandering the globe.
In 2012 I came to Japan again after one year of teaching English in Korea. My then-finance and I were reunited after a year of long-distance, we got married, and I started another English teaching job. It didn’t take long for me to want to travel again. Work is so over-rated anyway. I could hardly stand the thought of my life consisting of an endless journey of early mornings going to a boring job and barely getting by. How badly I wanted to get away from it all.
So I decided I wanted to travel for one year
I came across the concept of a ’round the world trip and people who could successfully travel for one year. The more I read about it, the more it intrigued me. How much fun it would be to have everything you needed on your back, and just go where the figurative wind blew you. And for such a long time!
My husband, on the other hand, was no so excited about the idea. Yes, he wanted to travel too, but not for a full year and with no apartment to come back to. Regular one or two-week holidays throughout the year were fine.
Somewhat grudgingly he did eventually agree to do it with me. What a sweetheart. I didn’t want to do it alone, so it would have had to be both of us or neither of us. And with that, we set ourselves a strict budget of doing nothing fun.
Why choose $25,000 to travel for one year?
I feel I need to clarify this phrase. When I say I saved $25,000 I really mean my husband and I saved it. It was both of us. And I can’t actually remember how much we had saved at the most. But it was somewhere around $25,000-$30,000. It was also spread out between bank accounts in Japan and Canada, so it was in different currencies. But “I saved $25,000 to travel for one year” makes a nice title, so I’ll stick with that.
So how did I come up with this number? Actually this was not our final goal. We were planning on saving a minimum of $30,000 for each of us, so a grand total of $60,000. This seemed like a just-reasonable amount to cover transportation, visas, insurance, and a safety net for when we decided to come home and build a “normal” life again. I had gotten some cost ideas from others who had travelled for a full year (or longer), but everyone had drastically different amounts, there’s no right answer.
Looking back, I think we probably lowballed it, but I was impatient and wanted to travel for one year as soon as possible. However, I also didn’t want to spend a year on the road living like a bum, so while some people might be able to travel for one year with $25,000 or less, I didn’t want to. We thought we would probably do a bit of work here and there to make a bit of money while travelling.
How did I save enough to travel for one year?
Here’s where things get interesting. My husband and I gave ourselves a time frame of four years to save $60,000. This would be $15,000 saved each year. Our plan was to save pretty much all of my husband’s pay check each month and only survive off mine. Still, even while we were saving to travel for one year, we didn’t want to have zero trips in those four years. So we had a second savings for other trips.
It was doable too. For the first year at least. It was also hard and not a lot of fun. We hardly ever went out to eat or do anything entertaining. Something about this lifestyle was not working for me.
Then in the middle of the second year I decided I needed to go to India for a month. And at the end of the second year, we both took a trip to the Philippines. I used travel miles to go to India, and I budgeted my daily expenses well, but both of these trips cut into our main savings. By the middle/end of the second year we had saved somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000. We were not on budget.
What happened to the money?
Also around this time, I was growing increasingly stressed and frustrated with my job (life?). This is a topic for another post. But I will say that in Japan, I didn’t have many other prospects than to work as an English teacher, which is exactly what was breaking my spirit.
I thought I had no other options, so in an attempt to open more doors, school seemed like the best choice. Plus I love school anyway. A big chunk of the $25,000 we had saved went to tuition for one year of full-time Japanese language school. We didn’t count this as quitting our plan to travel for one year though. The whole thing would just have to wait a bit longer until I was finished school and working again.
What was wrong with me?! Why was I throwing my plans out the window? The plans I had been so adamant about two years earlier and practically begged my husband to agree with. I was ashamed of myself. But you know what, I don’t regret it.
I spent my travel money on school
My graduation from Japanese language school was immediately followed by grad school. A small amount of our $25,000 was still left in the bank, but tuition for grad school in Japan was going to be another expensive two years. Thankfully, I only had to pay half the tuition, due to my husband and I being a “low income family.” Still our savings was disappearing rapidly. But I was happy, I guess.
I don’t remember the point when my husband and I decided that we weren’t going to travel for one year. Maybe it happened gradually and became so obvious that neither of us needed to say anything. It was just understood. Maybe there was a point somewhere when someone asked the other if we were still going to travel for one year, and the other (me) sheepishly replied, no.
Neither of us were terribly upset as our plans flickered and died. My husband was never that excited in the first place. And I had found something that was making me happier than travelling would have: school. Or rather learning and knowledge.
Before you get on my case about how you don’t need to go to school to learn, yes, I know that. But going back to school felt like the right thing for me to do at the time. (Do I still feel that way? I don’t know.). My brain is the most stimulated in the best way when I am in school, taking a class, reading a book (non-fiction of course), researching something, learning a new skill, creating something, and discussing deep philosophical questions. School was the spark I needed to wake up my brain after three years of singing head, shoulders, knees, and toes to five-year olds.
Now here’s the kicker…
There are disagreements on whether we should spend money on school or travel, but I don’t regret spending the $25,000 I saved for travel on school. In fact, I’m glad the money was there when I needed it. It was not planned this way though. It was never my intention to save $25,000 to travel for one year and then turn around and spend it all on school. I wasn’t secretly scheming. I genuinely wanted to travel for one year. Or more accurately, I should say I thought I wanted to travel for one year.
But sometimes the universe has different plans.
Along the way, maybe I realized that, like my husband, I didn’t actually want to travel for one year. The uncertainty and spontaneity of having no plans or place to come home to was exciting at first, but eventual it would have stressed me out. It’s not who I am. Hostels are always dirty. Even when they’re clean, they’re dirty. And there’s always full of people I don’t want to talk to. A whole year of that would have been too much for me.
On a deeper level, maybe I just wanted to escape. Escape from society and work and routine and pay checks and everything mind-numbing.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love travel, but not in the way I was planning. Not in the way I thought I did. And that’s okay. People change. Our ideas and opinions change. Our understanding of the world changes. And our understanding of ourselves change. We are not static beings. We grow and learn, and what we thought we knew or wanted turns out to be different as we gain knowledge and experiences in the world.
Thus is the beauty and complexity of life. And I’m still learning.
What lessons can you learn from this story?
There’s no right way to travel and no dream trip we all should have as an end goal. A huge RTW trip of travel for one year or more might be captivating and entrancing when you read about others who have done it. But seriously think about it before such a huge undertaking.
Does such a trip really suit your personality? Will you be comfortable living with an endless parade of strangers sleeping in the same room as you for 365 days? Does the idea of making the same small talk with every person you meet make you irrationally angry? Will you have fun rushing yourself from country to country only spending a few days or hours in one place at a time? Are you going to get homesick halfway through your trip? How can you afford it? Are you running away from something? And loads of other questions.
These are just a few questions to ask yourself. There are lots more. But if I can sum the whole thing into a single question it might be, are you travelling to run away from something?
For me, spending that $25,000 on my education was a better investment (I hope) than spending it on a year of travel. (Though the more I think about it, maybe more school is just another way I am running away…) Even if I’m only investing in my well-being. I’m not telling you to abandon your travel dreams and go back to school. That’s ridiculous. I know that’s not for everyone. But a full year of travel is also not for everyone. And that’s okay too. RTW travel is not for everyone. University is not for everyone. Neither are right or wrong, and it’s possible to do both if you want. Or neither.
All that matters is that you do what’s right for you at any given moment in your life, but think about whether you are travelling to run away from something.
And that’s the story of the time I saved $25,000 to travel for one year then spent all the money going back to school. Did you like this story? If you liked it or if you can relate, join my travel tribe for weekly updates and smartphone travel photography tips. Sign up here.
I’m curious. If you had $25,000, what would you spend it one: a full year of travel or going back to school. Are you travelling to run away from something?