I’ve recently announced to beyond friends and family the decision to travel to Central America with mi amor. Mostly Guatemala (so far). For an indefinite period of time. Meaning yes, I’m doing the thing where I quit my big girl job and travel.
Anyone who knows me at all is very excited for me. Hell, I’m super excited for myself!
In addition to excitement, there’s also a lot of curiosity. Mostly well-meaning and interested. When I say mostly I mean like 95%. My circles are great. But there is that other 5%. The curiosity laced with judgement. The same kind of comments and questions I’ve gotten any other time when I’ve announced my impending departure to anywhere for longer than 2 weeks, and/or anywhere other than the USA or Europe.
So here we go team. To answer both the genuinely curious (much love!) and the quietly judgmental (you do you) alike. Here are my responses to the nine most common questions and statements I’ve gotten when announcing my latest long-term travel plans. While my answers will be mostly unique to this particular trip, the questions are not.
How long will you be gone?
Minimum, probably at least 3 months. Maximum? Who knows? I don’t. And that’s very exciting.
Do you speak Spanish?
Short answer: Not YET! Longer: Rio is completely bilingual, and I’m getting pretty ok at understanding most conversations. Especially if folks are willing to slow down a tiny bit so the gringa can follow along. A huge goal of this particular trip will be learning as much as I can, and I’m really excited! It’s also so far much easier than Mandarin, which I have some experience with.
Are you shipping your stuff to you?
No way! A huge part of why I love traveling is it forces minimalism. At this time in my life I still prefer the backpacking lifestyle when wandering, so if it doesn’t fit in said backpack we aren’t bringing it. I am also privileged enough to have parents who will store our extra stuff and furniture in my childhood bedroom. So that helps :)
You’re so lucky, I could never do that.
I am lucky. And if you live in the U.S. and have a roof over your head, you probably are in some ways too. So could you really never? Really? If you don’t want to, cool. But we all have our priorities. A big one of mine is travelling. Therefore I do not have a mortgage, Starbucks habit, or children. And I’m not shaming you if you do have those things. But don’t shame me for having different priorities than you do.
How will you pay for it? What will you do for money?
See above about priorities. I’ve centered my financial life around being able to travel as much as possible. So we will be living off of savings, which will get us pretty far for two reasons:
We have chosen to go to a location that is extremely relatively inexpensive and has a currency exchange rate in our favor.
We will be staying with family or volunteering at places that will offer us a place to stay in return. So for the most part one of the most expensive parts of any trip - the roof over your head - will be the best price of all: FREE.
Oh, for a mission trip?
Nope. Visiting friends and family & tourism via volunteering at places asking for extra hands. “Mission trips” are a very complicated thing. Something I am not educated enough about (yet) to write at depth about. If you’re curious about what I mean, just do a basic Google search for “why mission trips do not help.”
Some of my favorite resources so far about doing good in communities that are not your own:
Poverty, Inc. documentary available on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert I haven’t read this one personally, but have seen it recommended by others when this topic is brought up.
7 Reasons Why Your Two Week Trip to Haiti Doesn’t Matter: Calling Bull on “Service Trips” and Voluntourism by Michelle Staton with tons of great links for even further reading at the end
What will you do?
Write. Read. Learn Spanish. Nap in hammocks. Play with chihuahuas. Learn how to cook from Rio’s mom. Go on long walks. Blog at internet cafes. Volunteer at hostels. Maybe some farms. House-sit. Visit Mayan ruins. Hike up at least one volcano. Kayak. Get way too hot. Visit beaches. Get sand in places I don’t even know I have yet. Get constipated. Or diarrhea. Or both. Or neither. Meet new people. Take cold showers. Ride in the back of trucks. Get rained on. Whatever we want! Whatever happens, it’s all to be enjoyed and/or learned from.
Isn’t it dangerous there? Are you scared? Oh, be careful!
This particular idea at this particular time is fueled by a lot of political misinformation about the places south of the Rio Grande. But in some ways, yes, I suppose one could call it dangerous. No, I am not any more scared going to Central America than I should be in many parts of America. Every country has dangerous places. And every country has regular people just living life.
I believe in the inherent good in people. I’ve also tried to plan for the things I can plan for (you should see my spreadsheets, they are BEAUTIFUL). And lets be honest. America is pretty dangerous. And I don’t walk around on the daily in constant fear. I also don’t walk around alone at night in urban areas. Which I will also not do while traveling. There’s no point assuming the worst in people and living in fear. That’s not how I want to walk through life. You research and plan for what you can, and then live life from there.
To prove that I am not being completely naive and reckless, here are some tips written by experienced travelers that fall under my ideas of “plan what you can plan for”:
And even though she wrote the above “Top 10 Travel Tips for Women” Kate also agrees with me that not all safety warnings should be paid attention to: Travel Safety: Always Consider the Source
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I’m probably not the only traveler in your life who gets these questions.