I’m from a culture which tells you to work your ass off, budget your joy, and even turn your hobbies into a hustle. Money is supposed to be saved and invested. And “if you work hard enough” you’ll be able to retire rich. Then you can go travel.
Sorry. I’m not buying into this.
Let’s back up a bit.
I’m a 33 year old married woman with two kids (1 year and 8 years old). I started backpacking while in college. Somehow I was able to save up enough money for airplane tickets to Europe from my part-time jobs at Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Dumpster diving for food definitely helped me stretch my budget.
When I graduated college, I had about $2,000 in savings. I took this money and relocated to Eastern Europe. Thanks to the generosity of people who picked me up hitchhiking or let me stay for free at their homes, and some crappy jobs waitressing in bars (where my bosses would laugh at all the language mistakes I’d make), I was able to stay afloat and didn’t tap too much into my savings.
Then I married and had a kid. Time to “settle down” and “be serious”, right?
Well, I still managed to travel all over the world. With my daughter. When the other daughter came along, she went traveling too.
I’m super proud that my older daughter has already been to 11 countries on four continents (actually five, because where we were in Turkey is technically Asia). The younger one has been to four countries and she’s only a year old.
I’m proud, and not just because these make social-media worthy bragging rights. I’m proud because my daughters have been exposed to numerous different cultures and ways of life. My 8 year old isn’t prejudiced or racist. She understands that we are lucky to have food and grateful that we can flush toilet paper in the toilet. And the many other eye-opening benefits that come with travel…
*Note: You know you are a traveling parent when you start tracking how many countries your children have been to over your own count. But, for the record, I’m at 32 countries. 😉
Work to Live. Not Live to Work.
One of the biggest problems I have with the American culture from which I came is that people live to work.
In the absence of other meaningful things in our lives (or things that society says are meaningful), we instead define ourselves by our jobs.
While there are countless gurus who will remind you that you aren’t your job, it’s still hard to escape.
It isn’t just that the second question when meeting someone new is “what do you do?” – and that answer is supposed to be your job, not something like “I like to mountain bike.”
It’s that our pecking order in the world is defined by what we do. Have a powerful job like a lawyer or a cool job like a vlogger and you get more esteem. As Joe Robinson wrote in his article about defining ourselves by our jobs,
“When your identity is dependent solely on the job, you’re conditioned to feel as good or as bad as your latest performance… all value lies in performance, that you can’t step back from production and tasks for a second, or you’re a slacker; that busyness is next to godliness; that self-worth comes from the productivity yardstick, net worth; or that taking time for your life is an interruption of production.
But Aren’t I Supposed to Love My Job?
Have you read an inspirational quote recently that said, “If you love your job, it won’t seem like work.”?
This hustle culture is one of the biggest myths – or downright swindles — facing workers today.
It is especially bad for Millennials, who have been told to “seek satisfaction” from their jobs. This satisfaction is supposed to fuel them through 18+ hour work days. Apparently this is possible if you time your bathroom breaks carefully.
As Erin Griffith writes about hustle culture, without any other meaning in our lives and told to infuse our identities with our jobs, productivity becomes almost spiritual. Productivity and ambition aren’t just a means to an end, but a lifestyle.
“Therefore any life hack or company perk that optimizes their day, allowing them to fit in even more work, is not just desirable but inherently good.”
We can see how much this hustle culture has taken over by the amount of time dedicated to work.
Despite all of those travel pics you see on Instagram, people aren’t taking vacation leave from their jobs. Approximately 50% of the US workforce isn’t taking vacation time. They are simply too afraid to go on vacation since it might put their jobs in jeopardy.
Never mind all the research which shows that this puts them at risk of burnout and health risks of being a workaholic like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Yeah, #hustle at its finest!
Why this rant on hustle culture?
Because the way I’m able to “find time” to travel is by prioritizing it. I don’t mean “prioritize” in the sense that every friggin’ decision I make revolves around saving money for travel or such. Rather:
If you prioritize the things you love instead of prioritizing your job, you’ll find you have plenty of time for them.
But won’t my career suffer?
I could dig up all sorts of research about how taking time off improves performance, job satisfaction, and so forth.
But this isn’t the point.
A long time ago, I made a decision not to let my job take over my life.
I chose to take a much lower paying job in exchange for having lots of flexibility. My husband did the same. He left a 9-5 (often 9-7) job that paid well for a lower-paying job with flexible hours and that let’s him work remotely.
Both of us can take vacation time whenever we want. If our budget requires it, we can work while traveling. That’s what we did when we went to Peru for 2 months in 2016. It was an awesome trip. My daughter was only 6 then and she has so many good memories from it.
That flexibility was also saved my mental health (literally) after we had a child in 2018. Having my husband around in the mornings to help out made a huge difference. I could actually take a shower or make myself breakfast in relative peace.
Remote working also meant we could take a break from the drudgery and go on a trip to Turkey with the kids.
Admittedly, I am a bit worried about retirement. Maybe all this travel will come to bite me in the ass when I’m much older.
Somehow I doubt that though.
The data shows that people who work a lot get sick and die earlier. Workaholics even die earlier than alcoholics. So, if I did everything the hustle culture told me to do, I would probably end up dying rich instead of retiring rich and traveling as an old grandma.
Some other things that I’ve done to make travel possible:
Live in a really tiny apartment.
Yes, I wish our apartment was just a little bit bigger. It is 55 square meters (about 600 square feet). The baby shares our room with us. My older daughter’s room is always a mess with her art projects. There’s only one bathroom, and it’s often occupied by bones I’m cleaning.
But living in a small apartment means that we save a lot of money on rent and utilities. And then there is all the time we save by not having to spend hours cleaning the entire thing.
Budgeting for Travel.
It’s hard to save money if you don’t have a specific goal in mind. For example, my husband and I haven’t been able to buy a car yet but we did manage to go on numerous trips this past year.
What’s the difference? We have a bank account specifically for travel and don’t have one for a car.
Be Stingy As Hell. Except for things which matter.
There are a zillion blog posts which will tell you how to save money in your life. A lot of these have great advice – but many of the ideas require you to make great sacrifices.
For example, one way to save money is to work longer hours and not go on vacation. No thanks!
Instead, I try to cut down on expenses that actually make a difference. I will still willingly shell out money for the things that matter.
Like paying for the babysitter so my husband and I can get out together.
Or paying a housekeeper to come over occasionally. I’d rather be spending time with my kids than scrubbing the floors.
I admittedly miss having work colleagues. I even miss going to work. It’s nice to have a commute so you have some distance (physical and mental) from your work.
I’ve been able to overcome some of these downsides by going to a coffee shop to work (a decent portion of my budget goes to coffee!) and meeting up with friends who also work remotely to work together.
I love the freedom that comes with being able to work anywhere that has an internet connection. With a good solar panel, I could even get some work done on my backpacking trips in the wilderness. I just choose not to.
But you don’t have a job where it’s possible to work remotely? You probably do. All of these jobs (and many more) can be done remotely at least part of the time:
Teacher, architect, doctor, secretary, attorney, psychologist, accountant…
Becoming My Own Boss.
After working for clients for nearly a decade, I decided to work for myself instead. I still have one client, but he’s great and knows that my employment is contingent on flexible hours and no deadlines.
It is scary as hell to become your own boss. It’s much easier to just do what someone tells you than make big decisions.
It’s also very hard to stay out of the hustle trap when you run your own business. I often find myself working “after hours” (because there are no set hours) to “finish up” some small tasks. If I’m not careful, I could end up working 24/7 in order to advance my business.
But being your own boss also means you get freedom to make your own hours, work on the projects you want, and take time off more frequently (this does require some smart planning though, like how I’ll schedule blog posts in advance and set up auto-responders so I can go backpacking in the wilderness for 2 weeks).
Even if you aren’t ready to make this step, you could switch jobs or positions to one that allows more flexibility.
Ultimately, being able to travel – or whatever it is you want to do with your time – means you have to prioritize it. Think about how you are currently spending your time and whether this actually brings you joy. Then adjust it so your lifestyle is one that you actually enjoy, and not just one that looks good on Instagram.