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The Hey! Quit Your Whining Guide to World Travel

BY Adrienne Gagnon 

This year, you absolutely, positively, will take the trip of a lifetime

Wednesday, Jan 21 2004
Ever been caught leering at the glossy centerfold of a Lonely Planet guide? Do you pore over the package deals on Travelocity day after day, waiting for a sign? Even when wanderlust reaches fever pitch, we've all got a million reasons to stay at home and dull our existential pain with reruns of Law & Order. Too broke, too tired, too busy to travel ... and besides, who'd feed the ferret?

My plan is to systematically dismantle these excuses until you're left with no option but to strap on a backpack and go. And I'm not talking about some five-day frolic in Florida, lovely though that sounds. It's time to step up and become a traveler, not a tourist. Why not spend three months meandering through the Andes, or a year circumnavigating the globe? "Fuck the Discovery Channel, fuck the Internet," as my friend Bora declared after 16 months on the road. "You don't know a thing about the world until you explore it for yourself."

So wipe that drool from your mousepad, my friend, and go see what's out there.

But what about my career, my houseplants, my lover?

Before embarking on your epic journey, you'll need to assess your life pretty seriously. Figure out how to hold on to those things you know you'll want to return to: Ask for a leave of absence from work, find a responsible subletter for your dreamy bungalow, drag your significant other along for the ride. Some storage facilities will drop a giant box in your driveway, let you pack all your crap into it, and cart it away to an affordable warehouse, bless their souls. But keep in mind that travel can be a transformative experience -- you may not want to step back into the exact same life (or clothes) when you return.

It's all about the Abrahams, isn't it?

Yes, world travel requires serious cash. But fear not! There are many ways to raise the funds for your journey, few of which are strictly illegal:

Find yourself a sugar daddy/mama.

Oh dear, how unsavory.

Save your pennies.

Get rid of your money-sucking car! Stop drinking lattes! You'll be amazed by how fast a couple of thousand dollars can accumulate, once you're paying attention to your money.

Get a fellowship.

"But those are only for smart people!" you moan. Hey, you're smart too. But you've got to take action; the money is out there, if you're willing to work your ass off to get it. Think about what you'd like to learn from your adventure, conceive a project, and find an organization that'll fund it. Often the best trips are guided by a tangible goal: to learn a language, write a book, conduct a global comparative study of undergarments. Sometimes the key to receiving funding is simply applying -- you can't win if you don't show up.

Work abroad.

Some countries let Americans apply for work visas of up to six months. You could teach English in Thailand, tend bar in Australia, or nurse lepers in India. Working somewhere for an extended period is also a terrific way to hang with local folk -- though perhaps it's best not to get too close.

Go cheap.

If you can stomach seedy hotels (you're only sleeping there anyway, right?), budget travel in Southeast Asia, South and Central America, Africa, and many other regions of the world can be done for well under $10 a day. All you really need to raise is the airfare, and deals abound. Try buying tickets through a bucket shop, which consolidates seats to offer you ridiculously low fares. Another good option is an RTW, or Round the World ticket, which allows you to make six or seven stops around the globe, provided you keep flying in one direction. Popular routes can cost as little as $1,400.

Subject yourself to medical testing.

One mildly insane Brit I met works as a "first human trial" drug tester. "It's brilliant," he brags. "I live in the hospital for three months at a stretch while they monitor the effects of these fairly harmless drugs. Free room, free board. At $2,500 a pop, it's enough to send me back over to Thailand as soon as it's over." And that nasty twitch is hardly noticeable when he's dancing on the beach.

I'm just such a creature of habit ...

Traveling can certainly be exhausting. Navigating a foreign culture every day -- clumsy, tongue-tied, and clueless -- will undoubtedly humble you. But travel becomes its own routine. I've found, for example, that you can wake up, gnaw on a stale croissant, and sip tepid coffee in nearly every country in the world. You might also take comfort in the fact that America's cultural empire, however objectionable, has made English the world's lingua franca. You'll rarely have trouble finding someone who knows at least a few phrases of your language, though most will be even more pleased to hear you mangle a few words of theirs.

The best trips will broaden your vistas and shake up your preconceptions. If that means sacrificing a bit of comfort, then so be it. Xenophobia and ethnic conflict pose a rising threat to global stability, and the most effective action you can take is to jump off this island and arm yourself with firsthand knowledge of other cultures. If you behave yourself, you might even help persuade the rest of the world to like us again.

About The Author

Adrienne Gagnon


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