How young is too young to travel? It’s a question that comes up whenever the subject of family travel arises. Some worry about the risk of illness for infants on the road. Others have fears that their child will reject every food option that isn’t chicken fingers and starve. Concerns about water, weather, and boredom keep lots of families from traveling with young kids. Of all the reasons, the reason most often cited as the reason for not traveling with young kids is, “they won’t even remember.” Are these concerns, any of them, justified?
In my experience, not really.
There are precautions for illness and medical care all over the world, no child will starve themselves because chicken fingers are not on the menu, and boredom is, in my opinion, an essential element to the development of any human being. But the big reason, the one about the kids not remembering, is the one that I think deserves the most attention. After all, traveling with kids is hard, right? And babies won’t remember it anyway, right?
Can traveling with children be challenging? Yes. Are there moments that are harder than others when traveling? Yes. But the answer to both of those question is no different than if I were to ask the same questions of a family at home. There are so many things parents do on a daily basis that are “hard”, but no one shies away from them because their kid may not remember. We recognize, as the more experienced beings, that sooner or later, children will internalize our consistent messages- even the ones we didn’t intend!
An infant may not remember seeing the Taj Mahal and a four year old may forget the name of the kid he played ball with for hours in Bali. However, it is also possible that they won’t remember making cookies with Grandma for the holidays, snuggling with the family dog for naps, breastfeeding, or learning to read. Would you deny any of those experiences to your child because they might not remember? Of course not. We recognize the benefits of these experiences, whether or not our kids carry forth conscious memories of those moments. Travel is no different.
I realize it is scary to plop down a whole bunch of money on an experience your kid may or may not be able to recall. But babies “remember” things in all kinds of ways. Even if your baby won’t consciously remember all of the kind people who fawned over her in Thailand, she may have internalized, without you even realizing, that love transcends language barriers and that people with skin different than hers are not to be feared. That’s powerful stuff. More powerful than being able to recite the places you visited to aunts and uncles.
We do lots of things with our babies that they won’t consciously remember. We sing to them, read to them, play with them, smile at them, and talk to them. We don’t do these things so that they can make a collage of it one day to share with their class. We do these things because it lays the groundwork for what we want our babies to internalize as they grow- kindness, love, and connection.
Traveling with little kids is never a bad idea. Before you know it, babies become children and children become teenagers who are moving towards their own, independent life. Wait until it’s “easier” and “they’re old enough to remember” and you might miss your opportunity. Traveling early begins the intentional creation of family culture- culture built around an active involvement in life and a joy of exploring.
Besides, even if your kid “doesn’t remember” the way adults do, you know who will? You. You will forever remember watching your baby take her first steps at a Mayan temple, hearing your two-year-old sing along in Hindi to a new favorite song, and watching your four-year-old climb atop a surf board for the first time in Costa Rica. You will remember what your daughter looks like with sand all over her face and what your son looks like as he combs the beach at sunset.
There is no such thing as “too young to travel” so, what’s stopping you?
In the wake of recent terror attacks in Paris and an article in an Al Qaeda magazine that provided instructions for making a bomb that is undetectable by current airport security technology, the U.S. State Department issued the following travel warning for Americans traveling abroad:
“Recent terrorist attacks…serve as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness”
On face value, the alert might seem a normal precaution, however a week later the Department of Homeland Security said,
“there is no specific, credible threat of an attack on the U.S. like what happened in Paris last week”
A Google search for the two statements is telling. The State Department warning was found on 2,510 websites, many of which were major media outlets, while the latter statement by Homeland Security showed up on 15 sites, only one of which was a major media outlet (ABC-TV). Little wonder that Americans are mired in fear over the prospect of international travel.
The reticence of Americans to travel overseas is a well documented fact. A consumer study by Skift.com – a leading source of news, information, data and services for the travel industry – concluded that only 13 percent of Americans traveled internationally in 2014. This is hardly surprising, given State Department statistics that less than 38 percent of the U.S. citizens hold a passport. Though this figure is slightly misleading (legal residents of the U.S. who are not citizens and hold foreign passports are not counted in the State Department numbers), it is still significantly below the percentage of passport holders in other countries. Contrast it with the 83% of non-immigrant British citizens who hold passports.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, the actual figures are even worse than the Skift study indicates. Only 29,015,463 Americans (9 percent) traveled to international destinations in 2013 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – and this includes destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, which have long been vacation havens for U.S. travelers.
American reluctance to travel abroad may have been born from our isolationist viewpoint during the Revolution, when we not-so-politely informed England we no longer needed or wanted them. Not only is isolationism in our DNA, the United States is so vast and diverse that most Americans feel no need to travel outside its borders. Exacerbating this is the fact that, unlike Europeans, whose holidays range from four to six weeks, the typical American worker receives one or two weeks of vacation. Considering that traveling offshore would take up two full days of an already short holiday, it makes perfect sense that Americans prefer to vacation in their own backyard.
The lack of exposure to cultures other than their own, however, carries a price that may not be realized for generations. Last week I struck up a conversation with two 20-something women working at a Chicagoland coffee shop. Neither of them had ever traveled outside the U.S. or had any interest in traveling internationally.
Both agreed they hated to fly, but admitted this had nothing to do with fear of airplanes. Their displeasure revolved around the endless security lines and ever-changing rules of the TSA. “We had to go to a family event in Florida a few months ago,” one of them recounted, “and we decided to drive because it was so much easier.”
“I’m just uncomfortable being around people who don’t speak English,” the other said. “And my husband is a police officer, so he is very concerned about safety. It’s a pretty scary world these days. Have you ever had problems when you travel?”
I recounted that in all my years of travel, I’ve only had one bad experience; many years ago, I was robbed while staying in a campground on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Not only have I never felt unsafe or threatened in any of the 50+ foreign countries I’ve visited, it would take me hours to recount all the kindnesses that people around the world have shown me. Locals have invited me into their homes, shared meals, and closed their shops to help me find my way in unfamiliar locales.
Sadly, most Americans gauge the safety of the world by reports on CNN and Fox, which spew fear mongering news around-the-clock, and recent coverage of the terrorist attacks has only amplified our fears. As a result, we stay home, where we feel safe. Yet are we truly safer, or is this an illusion? The European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, in affiliation with the United Nations, ranks North America as having the third highest incidence of assaults per 100,000 population, after Oceania and parts of Africa. We are far more likely to be involved in a mugging close to home than one in in a foreign country.
Do we need to be vigilant when we travel? Of course. It is advisable to leave your jewelry at home, avoid flashing large amounts of money, limit your intake of alcohol, abstain from illegal drug use, and stay away from politically motivated demonstrations. Above all, travelers should practice being aware of what is happening around them at all times. But terrorist attacks are no excuse to stay home. If we do, we become ever more insulated from the world and fearful of other cultures. If we do, the terrorists win.
When Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside, she walked away from corporate life and set out to see the world. Read first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets at Hole in the Donut Cultural Travels. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter (@holeinthedonut).
“There is a sniffy school of thought that promotes the idea that the age of travel is over, and that in 1946 when Evelyn Waugh published the juiciest selections from his travel books under the title When the Going Was Good, it was to be assumed that the going wasn’t good anymore. The book is very funny, but the thesis is faulty. I disagreed with it when I set off to see the world in the early ’60s, and I have felt over the years, and through a dozen books of travel, that it is a complacent and disprovable view.”
–Paul Theroux, “Dispatch From a Shrinking Planet,” Newsweek, May 15, 2011
In a way, simplifying your life for vagabonding is easier than it sounds. This is because travel by its very nature demands simplicity. If you don’t believe this, just go home and try stuffing everything you own into a backpack. This will never work, because no matter how meagerly you live at home, you can’t match the scaled-down minimalism that travel requires. You can, however, set the process of reduction and simplification into motion while you’re still at home. This is useful on several levels: Not only does it help you to save up travel money, but it helps you realize how independent you are of your possessions and your routines. In this way, it prepares you mentally for the realities of the road, and makes travel a dynamic extension of the life-alterations you began at home.
“Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move: On the road, we often live more simply, with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance. This is what Camus meant when he said that “what gives value to travel is fear” — disruption, in other words, (or emancipation) from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide.
— Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”
As with, say, giving up coffee, simplifying your life will require a somewhat difficult consumer withdrawal period. Fortunately, your impending travel experience will give you a very tangible and rewarding long-term goal that helps ease the discomfort. Over time, as you reap the sublime rewards of simplicity, you’ll begin to wonder how you ever put up with such a cluttered life in the first place.
On a basic level, there are three general methods to simplifying your life: stopping expansion, reining in your routine, and reducing clutter. The easiest part of this process is stopping expansion. This means that – in anticipation of vagabonding – you don’t add any new possessions to your life, regardless of how tempting they might seem. Naturally, this applies to things like cars and home entertainment systems, but this also applies to travel accessories. Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes people make in anticipation of vagabonding is to indulge in a vicarious travel buzz by investing in water filters, sleeping bags, and travel-boutique wardrobes. In reality, vagabonding runs smoothest on a bare minimum of gear – and even multi-year trips require little initial investment beyond sturdy footwear and a dependable travel bag or backpack.
While you’re curbing the material expansion of your life, you should also take pains to rein in the unnecessary expenses of your weekly routine. Simply put, this means living more humbly (even if you aren’t humble) and investing the difference into your travel fund. Instead of eating at restaurants, for instance, cook at home and pack a lunch to work or school. Instead of partying at nightclubs and going out to movies or pubs, entertain at home with friends or family. Wherever you see the chance to eliminate an expensive habit, take it. The money you save as a result will pay handsomely in travel time. In this way, I ate lot of baloney sandwiches (and missed out on a lot of grunge-era Seattle nightlife) while saving up for a vagabonding stint after college — but the ensuing eight months of freedom on the roads of North America more than made up for it.
“Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because the respect of their neighbors depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travels or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everyone else.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness
Perhaps the most challenging step in keeping things simple is to reduce clutter – to downsize what you already own. As Thoreau observed, downsizing can be the most vital step in winning the freedom to change your life: “I have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all,” he wrote in Walden, “who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or sliver fetters.”
How you reduce your “dross” in anticipation of travel will depend on your situation. If you’re young, odds are you haven’t accumulated enough to hold you down (which, incidentally, is a big reason why so many vagabonders tend to be young). If you’re not-so-young, you can re-create the carefree conditions of youth by jettisoning the things that aren’t necessary to your basic well-being. For much of what you own, garage sales and on-line auctions can do wonders to unclutter your life (and score you an extra bit of cash to boot). Homeowners can win their travel freedom by renting out their houses; those who rent accommodation can sell, store, or lend out the things that might bind them to one place.
An additional consideration in life-simplification is debt. As Laurel Lee wryly observed in Godspeed, “cities are full of those who have been caught in monthly payments for avocado green furniture sets.” Thus, if at all possible, don’t let avocado green furniture sets (or any other seemingly innocuous indulgence) dictate the course of your life by forcing you into ongoing cycles of production and consumption. If you’re already in debt, work your way out of it – and stay out. If you have a mortgage or other long-term debt, devise a situation (such as property rental) that allows you to be independent of its obligations for long periods of time. Being free from debt’s burdens simply gives you more vagabonding options.
And, for that matter, more life options.
* * *
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance”
As you simplify your life and look forward to spending your new wealth of time, you’re likely to get a curious reaction from your friends and family. On one level, they will express enthusiasm for your impending adventures. But on another level, they might take your growing freedom as a subtle criticism of their own way of life. Because your fresh worldview might appear to call their own values into question (or, at least, force them to consider those values in a new light), they will tend to write you off as irresponsible and self-indulgent. Let them. As I’ve said before, vagabonding is not an ideology, a balm for societal ills, nor a token of social status. Vagabonding is, was, and always will be a private undertaking – and its goal is not to improve your life in relation to your neighbors, but in relation to yourself. Thus, if your neighbors consider your travels foolish, don’t waste your time trying to convince them otherwise. Instead, the only sensible reply is to quietly enrich your life with the myriad opportunities that vagabonding provides.
Interestingly, some of the harshest responses I’ve received in reaction to my vagabonding life have come while traveling. Once, at Armageddon (the site in Israel; not the battle at the end of the world), I met an American aeronautical engineer who was so tickled he had negotiated 5 days of free time into a Tel Aviv consulting trip that he spoke of little else as we walked through the ruined city. When I eventually mentioned that I’d been traveling around Asia for the past 18 months, he looked at me like I’d slapped him. “You must be filthy rich,” he said acidly. “Or maybe,” he added, giving me the once-over, “your mommy and daddy are.”
I tried to explain how two years of teaching English in Korea had funded my freedom, but the engineer would have none of it. Somehow, he couldn’t accept that two years of any kind of honest work could have funded 18 months (and counting) of travel. He didn’t even bother sticking around for the real kicker: In those 18 months of travel, my day-to-day costs were significantly cheaper than day-to-day life would have cost me back in the United States.
The secret to my extraordinary thrift was neither secret nor extraordinary: I had tapped into that vast well of free time simply by forgoing a few comforts as I traveled. Instead of luxury hotels, I slept in clean, basic hostels and guesthouses. Instead of flying from place to place, I took local buses, trains, and share-taxis. Instead of dining at fancy restaurants, I ate food from street-vendors and local cafeterias. Occasionally, I traveled on foot, slept out under the stars, and dined for free at the stubborn insistence of local hosts.
In what ultimately amounted to over two years of travel in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, my lodging averaged out to just under $5 a night, my meals cost well under $1 a plate, and my total expenses rarely exceeded $1000 a month.
“When I was very young a big financier once asked me what I would like to do, and I said, ‘To travel.’ ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘it is very expensive; one must have a lot of money to do that.’ He was wrong. For there are two kinds of travelers; the Comfortable Voyager, round whom a cloud of voracious expenses hums all the time, and the man who shifts for himself and enjoys the little discomforts as a change from life’s routine.”
— Ralph Bagnold, Libyan Sands
Granted, I have simple tastes – and I didn’t linger long in expensive places – but there was nothing exceptional in the way I traveled. In fact, entire multi-national backpacker circuits (not to mention budget guidebook publishing empires) have been created by the simple abundance of such travel bargains in the developing world. For what it costs to fill your gas-tank back home, for example you can take a train from one end of China to the other. For the cost of a home-delivered pepperoni pizza, you can eat great meals for a week in Brazil. And, for a month’s rent in any major American city, you can spend a year in a beach hut in Indonesia. Moreover, even the industrialized parts of the world host enough hostel networks, bulk transportation discounts, and camping opportunities make long-term travel affordable.
Ultimately, you may well discover that vagabonding on the cheap becomes your favorite way to travel, even if given more expensive options. Indeed, not only does simplicity save you money and buy you time, it makes you more adventuresome, forces you into sincere contact with locals, and allows you the independence to follow your passions and curiosities down exciting new roads.
In this way, simplicity – both at home and on the road – affords you the time to seek renewed meaning in an oft-neglected commodity that can’t be bought at any price: life itself.
Excerpted from Tim Ferris’ blog, 05/12/2010
Age: 45, 49, 12, and 10, respectively
Hometown: I grew up in Nevada, Heidi grew up in California, and we started our family in Apex, North Carolina, so I guess I’ll use that as the “Family Hometown”.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
While I already have quite a few posts about what travel hacking is, I think ultra-beginners to the topic can benefit from hearing about it in a context of what it ISN’T as well. Because to be honest, the media has picked up on bits and pieces of the travel hacking hobby and…as is often the case with the media…twisted it into the most sensationalist version possible.
For instance my husband and I were approached by a TV scout once and it was painfully obvious that he wanted the travel hacking of days past. He wanted us to have stories of digging through airport trash-cans for ticket stubs we could turn in for miles.
Well that’s (mostly) not how it works anymore.
So in case you too have heard bits and pieces about travel hacking from the media, let me clarify what it isn’t.
1.) Travel hacking is not illegal.
If you’ve heard about the unfortunate situation Aktarer Zaman is now dealing with because of a computer program he was using to help people book “throw away tickets” that would make their trips cheaper, this point may seem a bit confusing.
But let’s be clear about the fact that there is a difference between breaking a law and breaking terms and conditions of a program/product or service. Technically the strategy Zaman was using on a large scale was against United’s terms and conditions. (Article II, Item 31 includes “throwaway ticketing” in the definition of “prohibited practices.) So that means United absolutely has a problem with what he is doing and can absolutely attempt to sue him if they wish.
But Zaman’s “throwaway ticket strategy” is one thing. Basic travel hacking is another.
Most travel hacking practices are NOT in violation of terms and conditions and are instead simply designed to take full advantage of existing benefits. For instance getting a credit card with a mileage bonus even if you aren’t otherwise interested in the card. This is the most common travel hacking strategy for earning miles and is neither against terms and conditions nor illegal. It’s simply intentional.
But aside from the debate of whether or not these practices are or are not against terms and conditions, travel hacking strategies are not against the law. It is not illegal to collect and use points, even if you do so obsessively. It is not illegal to do what you want with your own credit, applying for or canceling cards as you wish.
2.) Travel hacking did indeed inspire the pudding-cup part of “Punch Drunk Love”, but it’s hardly ever that interesting anymore.
Once upon a time “Healthy Choice” decided to give away a certain amount of miles for various products if you mailed in the labels. A man who the travel-hacker community calls “Pudding Guy” discovered the cheapest item included in the promotion was a 25 cent pudding cup so he went all out and bought over a million miles’ worth of pudding cups. You can read more about his incredible story on his wikipedia page and of course, you can catch the reference in Adam Sandler’s Punch Drunk Love.
His is not the only amusing story about mileage enthusiasts buying pallets of food they didn’t intend on eating because of mileage promotions, but I don’t expect many more for current or future enthusiasts.
Why? That’s just not the trend of marketing these days for products outside of the credit-card world. More and more mileage earning opportunities are appearing in credit-card bonuses and spending rather than other markets.
Perhaps a new movie will come out including a scene inspired by obsessive credit-card collection, but I doubt it will seem as entertaining as the obsessive collection of pudding cups.
3.) Travel hacking isn’t the “extreme couponing” of travel because not everyone can do it.
Many people have compared travel-hacking to extreme couponing, but the truth is there is one very important difference between travel hacking and extreme couponing. Not just anyone can be a travel hacker.
The core strategies of travel hacking are accumulating miles via credit cards. This means you need to have a good credit score to get anywhere in this hobby. Sure, there are few strategies that don’t require a good credit score, but the bulk of travel-hacking comes down to collecting rewards credit-cards. And these are the kinds of credit cards that will require good credit.
Not to mention it is significantly more difficult for non-US residents to pursue travel-hacking. Again, this has to do with the trends we see in various marketing strategies as well as the credit-card culture of various countries. Europe for instance just does not have the same kind of credit-card culture that we do in the US.
4.) Travel hacking isn’t backpacking.
If you’re earning hotel points in addition to frequent flyer miles, you will find yourself staying in fewer and fewer hostels. Why? Because they’re honestly not as cheap as the free luxury hotel you could get by using hotel-points.
Ironic as it is, it’s true. We spent over a week at the InterContinental Fiji for free using points.
Now, sometimes I kind of miss the social aspect of hostel-life. It certainly serves a purpose other than just budget. But when I want a free place to stay, the luxury hotel is where I’ll be.
Maybe this article doesn’t spell out exactly what travel-hacking is, but hopefully if you thought you knew what it was, this article has helped to clarify some of the common misconceptions.
Hometown: Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA
Quote: At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much. -Robin Lee Graham
“What you see on large news channels is not the only truth, or even the only news. In fact, often it is the bad news. If you want to hear the good news, then travel. People are basically good and worth knowing, whatever the race or culture they hail from.”
–Mike Spencer Bown, What I’ve Learned: The World’s Most Traveled Man, Esquire, October 25, 2013
Traveling slowly with my husband across Southeast Asia has been a great way to leave our jobs and lives in Canada behind to explore the world on a small budget. It also means we spend a lot of time together. Every meal, every walk, every bus ride to a new city, is together. Where once we saw each other only in the evenings and on weekends, we now see each other all the time. Where we once had schedules and habitual activities alone, there was now a much more shared and aligned schedule. This is fine, really, but we don’t always agree that something is worth our time or energy. Sometimes we need to split off and spend some time apart.
When we were living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I felt the need to take our scooter to some neighboring towns to see other temples, other roads, other food stalls. This little adventure interested only me so I took off down the highway with the scooter and left the husband behind to revel in his alone time with his fantasy football activities. I put a single earbud in, had Google maps speak directions to me and put on some music. I immediately got lost on a small residential road due to my inability to grasp the distance of 200 metres and turned too soon. I almost ran over a chicken that was literally crossing the road (why it was crossing the road is beyond us all.) Once back on the highway, I decided to trust the navigator voice and made my way south on Highway 106 to Lamphun. The drive passed under towering rubber trees that lined the road and went in and out of clouds of incense and smoke from barbecued pork. Each rotund tree had an orange swatch of fabric tied to it, indicating it was blessed by monks, therefore protecting it from logging. The roots had overgrown past the road and were pushing up the pavement along the edges. I took it slow and drove only as fast as I wanted with Blood Orange’s Chamakay setting the mood.
I stopped at a couple of different wats (temples) in Lamphun: Wat Phra That Hariphunchai and Wat Kukut respectively. The first was almost deserted compared to the wats I had visited in Chiang Mai. No more than four tourists and about five or so Buddhist monks were wandering the grounds. This was a much more peaceful way to visit a wat than pushed around in a throng of tourists, constantly moving and talking over each other. Little bells blew around in the wind and broke the silence with soft tinkling sounds like wind chimes. Wat Kukut was completely deserted. The only human I saw was a Thai man who came into the front gates briefly to release a small bird from a tiny wicker cage and then leave. I had a great opportunity to take my time and photograph every small detail that fascinated me: small wooden elephants casting long shadows, tiny figurines placed in flower pots and along walls, standing Buddhas along the walls of the chedis, catching just the right amount of light on my lens.
On the way back to Chiang Mai, I waited at a stoplight and saw a small girl staring at me from the car beside me. She shyly opened her window and waved. I waved back from my scooter with a big smile and saw the delight in her face right as the light turned and I sped off up the rubber tree highway, Kanye West’s Bad News taking me home.
Had my husband been with me, this day trip would have looked quite different. On the back of our scooter I would have been navigator, looking at my phone and directing rather than driving at my own pace, stopping whenever I wanted, and taking my time in the deserted wats. I probably wouldn’t have had my headphones in. Sometimes it’s nice to have a soundtrack of my favorite music to accompany an experience. It was nice to have a day that was my own with my own agenda. If we had been on a short two-week vacation, we would have been rushing to maximize our time and fit as many activities into our schedule as possible. A day trip to Lamphun wouldn’t have been considered when there are flashier attractions nearby that we would both enjoy. It’s a healthy exercise to spend time alone and be forced to rely on your own strengths and spend time with your thoughts as you travel. Growing up as an only child, this was standard. Spending time alone used to come so naturally to me. Since being married, I can sometimes forget the way my brain works and thinks differently alone. While it is an incredible journey my husband and I have taken on together, having a solo adventure here and there has enriched the overall experience.
To read more about Maryanne’s travel adventures check out Unknown Home.
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Quote: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost