I left the US on Dec. 16th, 2010 and arrived in Quito, Ecuador on Dec. 17th so, depending on how you count, today I’ve hit the 3 month mark of my travels or the 3 month and 1 day mark. Let’s do an assessment of where I’m at and what I’ve got planned for the rest of my travels.
I’ve spent about 30% of the money I set aside for this trip and I’ve done so in the following fashion:
It’s hard to project this into the next few months because it includes a lot of one-time costs at the beginning of the trip (gear, evacuation insurance, etc.), but also was in countries that are cheaper than the places I’ll be for the rest of the trip. If I had to guess I’d say my money can last me about another 6-9 months.
Expectations vs. Reality
I knew I wouldn’t be able to predict a lot of what I’d do and feel on the trip, but I did definitely have some expectations for the trip, many of which turned out to be hilariously wrong.
Expectation: My time is unlimited! I can work on whatever I want and my only limiting factor is interest. I will devour books like candy and I’ll pump out programs I have ideas for writing almost as fast as I can think of them.
Reality: Even without a job, it’s still hard to find enough time to do what you want. Much easier, sure, but the limiting factor of doing a lot of things I expected to do remains time and not motivation. Programming takes a long time! Especially in C++. I had ideas for 3 programs to write, the first of which is a toy program for my own use that I expected to take me about a week to finish and I’m still not done. I’m still reading the first novel I started on this trip (though in fairness, Infinite Jest is a crazy long novel).
Expectation: I spend every night in hostel dorms, sharing the room with 5-10 other people and paying $6-12/night, then go to a library / internet café if I want to get work done during the day.
Reality: I almost always choose to have a private room when I can. It’s way easier to just have a private room so I can leave my stuff strewn about, I don’t have to leave to work on my programming projects or read, and (most importantly) I have total napping freedom. In Buenos Aires, I’m going to look for a short-term apartment rental and get out of hostels completely.
Expectation: I will enjoy not having a job and not get bored or miss having a structured day.
Reality: I LOVE not having a job or having a structured day! It seems weird to me now to look back and remember that I had a 9-5 job (okay, more like 10:30-5:30 with some WFH hours) for 3 1/2 years. I’m deathly afraid of going back to having a day job. I never get bored because I have books to read, projects to work on, and Spanish to learn and I enjoy doing all of that stuff.
Expectation: I’m constantly in danger of being pickpocketed, robbed, drugged, kidnapped, etc. and consequently always stressed about it.
Reality: I’m definitely always conscious of danger, much more than I would be in the US, but there are a lot of ways to minimize the risk. I’ve asked a lot of people about trouble they’ve gotten into and I’ve heard very few stories of violent attacks (let’s ignore survivorship bias) and almost every story I’ve heard where something bad happens, it immediately followed the person doing something stupid and preventable. I don’t get stressed out about danger as much as I did at the beginning (though the place where I started was the most dangerous city I’ve been to).
Expectation: Spanish would just click. I’d struggle the first two weeks or so and then I’d be mostly conversational, needing only to ask for a few unfamiliar words here and there, reaching fluency in about 2-3 months.
Reality: Learning a language is hard! I’ve taken about 45 hours of classes since I got here and I talk to locals, but even now I’m barely conversational. I can have a smooth conversation, but there’s a lot I still will not understand or will struggle to say. My goal is to be able to speak Spanish well enough that I can trick other Americans who meet me into thinking that I’m not American and then surprising them with a switch to American English. A girl did this to me in Quito and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
Expectation: Meeting lots of new people is fun.
Reality: Meeting new people is fun, but leaving people is unexpectedly tough. In all the cities I’ve stayed in for more than a week or so, I’ve found people I’ve really liked and it’s always hard to make the decision to continue on to the next city because it means leaving the people I like, too. The relationship dynamic ends up being very unusual because they’re always these hyper-accelerated relationships where I spend a lot more of my time with the person than I ever would with people in the US and then it’s suddenly over when I leave and we may never see each other again.
Expectation: The emotions of travel will be extreme highs and extreme lows with not much in between.
Reality: This was true at first, but now I’m almost always in the same mood, which is relaxed and pretty happy. At the beginning, everything seemed to matter more. If the first few days of my trip didn’t go so well, that suggested the next few months wouldn’t go so well. At this point, so much of the trip has been fun that occasional bad days (and I can’t even remember any recently) are unlikely to indicate any kind of pattern. There are only a few things I need to make me happy and it’s not very hard to find places that offer those things as I travel.
As much as I love traveling and not having a job, I’m really looking to coming home when I eventually do come home. When I was estimating costs for the time I have remaining, it meant looking up prices for flights home and things I plan to buy when I return (badass computer, Android phone, my own bed). It reminded me how much there is to look forward to and looking at flights to NYC makes it almost tempting to just buy one. There are a lot of minor hassles to traveling that I’ve gotten used to and don’t really notice anymore, but when I think about returning to the US and all of those things suddenly going away and having all of the luxuries of a permanent residence in an American city, I get really excited about my eventual return.
At this point, I’d estimate the remaining time on this trip to be about 6 months, placing me back in the US by about September or October 2011. It’ll likely be a tight race between my desire to keep traveling and my remaining travel money, but I think the money will probably narrowly outlast my interest.