How to….Flee the Country

I get a variety of responses from people when I tell them I’m leaving the country for a year, from surprise to confusion, worry and indifference. One common reaction, particularly from people around my age, is “What!! I wish I could do that. You get to do such cool things.”

I always say the same thing. You can. It’s not about “getting to” travel and live abroad, it’s just DOING it. True, I don’t have a mortgage or a child or any other ball and chain stopping me, but I don’t just take off on a whim whenever I please. So here’s a little guide for anyone who wants to get their long-term travel on.

1. Find something.

What are you passionate about? Do you want to study? Work? Tour? Volunteer? Sight see? Hike? Party? Wwoof? Meet people? Lay on the beach? The internet is amazeballs, people. Figure out where your interests lie, and Google it. I’m constantly on websites like www.idealist.org, www.goabroad.com, www.matadornetwork.com, and the Thorn Tree forums at Lonely Planet. I started with UConn’s own study abroad program in Granada, followed by IES Abroad in Quito, then found Pueblo a Pueblo from Idealist.org and WorldTeach from a friend’s experience in Ecuador.

2. Save – and spend wisely.

Any type of travel, whether simple tourism or volunteering, is expensive. Make a few concessions, pick up a side job and save your money. When I’m not abroad, I’m working my tail off and trying to live as frugally as possible without actually dressing like a homeless person. Know when to treat yourself with a Guatemala vacation and when to pick up extra shifts.

There are countless resources for traveling on the cheap as well. Some people would rather travel more luxuriously, whereas others are ok with hostels and low-budget meals. Your destination is a big factor – I’ve stayed in beautiful hotels for less than $20 in South/Central America, and some dirtbag hostels in Europe for twice that. Take an honest look at your priorities, and budget accordingly.

3. Book a flight, and tell people you’re going.

If the money doesn’t get you, the peer pressure will. You can’t back down now. While you’re at it, try to rope in a friend, or two. Everyone needs a buddy.

4. Prepare mentally.

Pick up some language skills if you need them. Research the climate. Have a rough idea of what you want to do or see. Know your transportation and communication options.

5. Prepare logistically.

Take care of your bank stuff, work stuff, doctor stuff, etc.

6. Pack.

LOL. I suck at packing.

7. Go. Do. LOVE. Share.

Get on that plane, do yo’ thang. Make a friend or a hundred. And please, please tell everyone how great it was. Tell them until their ears bleed. Travel is invaluable.

Disclaimer: Not everyone is cut out for this. “I love to travel!” and “I love vacations!!” are not the same thing. You will get sick. You will get lost. You will miss the USA. You will get robbed and be cold, dirty and lonely. You will HATE your country, and APPRECIATE it in the same breath. The kids…they will take your heart and smash it in a million pieces. You will fall in love. You will want home more than anything. You will want to stay forever.

You will love it. If you think in the most minute way that this is for you, you will love it. The world effing rocks. Go down the street or go across the globe. Just go. Go.

Go. And tell me how much you loved it.

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