Budget Travel through Mexico, Central and South America

Have Backpack, Will Budget Travel – Time to Hit the Road Again

I let my shadow lug around my backpack while I relaxed on the beach in Byron Bay, Australia

Some people have itchy fingers. I have itchy travel feet. Since returning from my six-month round-the-world (RTW) trip in 2007 I’ve continued to travel in the U.S., staying on the road more than 50% of the time. I’ve been longing to strap on my backpack and head back out for another round of international travel but the timing just didn’t seem right. Last year was especially difficult; I finally had to tell the bank to take back a property I still owned in North Carolina, because I could no longer pay the mortgage. It was a gut-wrenching decision, fraught with irrational fears. After a lifetime of building up sterling credit, how would I live once it was ruined? Could I ever obtain another credit card or qualify for a car loan? Would bad credit keep a potential employer from hiring me? What if I settled down in one place – would I be able to rent an apartment? Even worse, I felt like a bad person, a lowlife, a loser. I had never even paid a bill late, much less default on a loan contract.

Things got worse. The bank decided to sue me rather than foreclose on the property. I won’t bore you with the gory details, other than to say my attorney is still battling this in court, but the whole experience has elicited yet another shift in my ever-evolving view of life. It all began in December of 2006, when I walked away from a successful career. For the previous ten years I had been selling real estate. I had no passion for the job, quite the opposite: even though I was a very talented Broker, I hated going to work every day. Deep down I knew I was selling my soul, yet I plodded along because it paid the bills and gave me the resources to travel a month each year. I never considered that it took every last day of those month-long vacations to regain my sanity, and that with each ensuing year my stress level ratcheted up and my ability to recover declined.

A combination of stress and illness finally brought me to my knees. For weeks I crawled between bedroom and bathroom, too exhausted to go to work and too disheartened to care. Bedridden and seriously ill, I was granted the one luxury that had eluded me over the past ten years: time to think. I realized that I could die and all the money in the world would do me no good. In that instant of crystal clarity, I knew my life had to change. I had to stop worrying about what my family would think, about letting my co-workers down, or about what society expected of me, and instead be true to myself. I decided to pursue my true passions of travel, writing and photography, regardless of the financial consequences. A year later, despite being unable to sell my house, I hit the road for my RTW trip.

By the time my trip ended, I knew that returning to corporate life was not an option. I resolved to pursue a career as a travel writer and photographer, despite being told (endlessly and insistently) that it would be an impossible undertaking at age 55, with no portfolio and not a single published clip to show. Those naysayers didn’t know me very well. Looking back, they probably did me a huge favor, since my reaction to being told I can’t so something is to do it, just to prove I can. Not only have I built up a substantial portfolio of published travel articles over the past three years, Hole In The Donut is now one of the top travel blogs in the world.

Challenges, however, persist. Because travel writing pays very little, I’ve had to make significant changes in my lifestyle. My house finally sold a couple of years ago – at a loss – and I have slowly sold or given away most of my material possessions. Letting go of my “stuff” has been a freeing experience; I now realize how much it was weighing me down. Thus unencumbered, it strikes me that there seems to be an inverse relationship between money and happiness. I have often noted that people in third-world countries, who have little in the way of wealth, seem to be blessed with an abundance of happiness. And so it is for me. I wake up each morning eager to write, to meet new people, and to learn about new cultures; for the first time in my life I am truly happy.

Occasional cryptic comments about how I am wasting my talent, or about how much money I could be making if I would just return to corporate life make it clear that not everyone approves of my choices, and it is sometimes hard to stay strong in the face of these not-so-veiled criticisms. But when I waver, I need only recall how miserable I used to be and how joyful I am today. And so, in ten days I will take another leap of faith and embark upon a four-month trip through Mexico, Central and South America. Budget being a major consideration, much of the time I will be staying at hostels and writing extensively about this mode of travel, which is becoming quite popular with the baby boom generation (after all, we invented backpacking). However it won’t all be budget; on occasion I will be hosted by upscale luxury resorts and I will be reporting on my experiences at these properties as well. I hope you will join me as I blog and tweet my way through five intriguing countries. Where, specifically, am I going? Check back on Tuesday, when I’ll be divulging the specific destinations I plan to visit.

56 Comments on “Have Backpack, Will Budget Travel – Time to Hit the Road Again

  1. Wow – quite the story!  I see that this was written quite some time ago – I imagine you have had considerable success.  I applaud you in your leap of faith and enjoy receiving your daily photos.  I feel I am in the same boat – tough to get going, yet when on the road – raring to go!  My dream is to follow in your foot steps.  Feel free to come on over, check me out – http://www.traveldestinationbucketlist.com  I would love to hear your feed back.

  2. I am leaving in may to satart backpacking the world on a 3 year tour. its just me and a friend, maybe 2. i was wondering, can i bring my machete across the borders or should i purchase a new one each time i cross a border? most of our travel will be by foot, or by ship, no air travel. can i bring my survival knife, fillet knife and machete with me, or will it cause problems? and which crossings do you suggest we stay away from?

  3. Wow congratulations! I’m desperately wanting to travel to South American in April. I’m nervous though and still weighing my decision. Lots of peers and friends think it’s better to get grounded and financially stable, ie. “getting a real job” but I still feel like the road is calling my name. Besides life is much more than working in a stable office job a lot of life is who we meet, what experiences we have, and other mysteries. I’m 26 years old and have travelled throughout Asia. However, I’ve always wanted to go to South America and Spain, and I’m asking myself , “if not now, when?” We only live once, enjoy your travels!

  4. Oh I’m excited! I just found your blog and love Latin America and can’t wait to hear all you have to say about your travels through the different countries! And to hear that you were unhappy with your job and have gone out doing what you love instead gives me so much more fuel to do the same, only b/c I too feel the same way.

    • Hi Christy! So glad you like it. Travel is my passion and I really love to know when people actually read what I write. Wishing you wonderful travels.

  5. Wow! I’m catching up on reading blogs and this is a whopper, Barbara! I’ve learned so much more about you in this blog post. Thanks for sharing.

    As GotPassport said, “all of the comments from various bloggers” has been powerful. While I haven’t had the chance to meet a lot of these bloggers, I, too feel inspired when I read of people following their passion!

    Safe travels to you! What a Trip. Sign me another travel blogging fan.

    • Nancy! Thank you so much for your kind words. Yep, I’m out here on a shoestring, trying to gain more traffic and visibility for the blog (aren’t we all), so it means a lot when someone with your writing success says this. Count me a friend as well as a blogger fan.

  6. Barbara,

    This post and all the comments from various bloggers have been so powerful for me (us) as a rookie(s) aching to leave the everyday trappings. Thank you for being a source of inspiration and strength that we too can make it happen!

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

    • Got Passport: Thanks for sharing that. It makes me feel that what I do has value. If I can help just one person to find their true path, then it’s worth everything I’ve given up to get to this point.

  7. Oh, this is truly such a wonderful post! Coming right from your heart hitting your audience. I did retweet it for more to read it.

    I so can relate to this, something similar happened to myself. I got seriously ill and had the time to really think over what I wanted with the rest of my life – and it was not the life I had at the moment! I changed my life, even separated from my ex!

    Though I don’t travel for as long periods, I still travel as much as I can. Absolutely no regrets, I still think I ought to travel MORE!!!

    Happy travels!

    • Hi Lifecruiser! Yes, travel is a life-changing experience, isn’t it? It’s also addicting. Spent so many years doing things I disliked, but as you say, no regrets. It took what it took for me to get where I am. Glad you’ll be following along!

  8. Barbara: My hat’s off to you. You are following your heart & your truth no matter what happens or anyone says! Most people don’t have the…courage is it? to risk all. They say they’d like to do things but somehow never quite do.

    For example when we left our beautiful community, a 40 min ferry ride from West Vancouver to live in the city for a short while, many people I met there as acquaintances & clients said they’d love to move to our Sunshine Coast. But they never did! Similarly when my daughter shaved her head 10 years ago, so many women of all ages said they’d always wanted to, & admired her for doing it – But they weren’t about to do that!

    My partner & I have finally ‘gotten it’ that we’ll never starve & are managing to go away for extended periods (just came back from 3 months in India volunteering & traveling) & running businesses when we’re at home.

    So I say to all & sundry – ‘Yes, you’ll probably have to make some sacrifices, but so what, if it’s what you long for. Go for it!’

    Ellen Besso
    MidLife Coach & Author

    • Thank you Ellen. You are so on the mark. I wonder sometimes what we are so afraid of. I’m almost ready – leave early Wednesday morning. Excited and probably won’t sleep much until then. Thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a wonderful comment – you all have given me such strength and resolve.

  9. I just wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration. Taking such a leap of faith is a step towards freedom I wish I can take soon.

    I hope you have a great trip in the lower Americas and can’t wait to read all about it!

    • Thank you, Asterisk. But truly, it is all of you who inspire me! Love knowing that you will all be reading along on my journey.

  10. Beautfiully written heartfelt piece. I identify with so much of what you say and am pleased that I have taken my journey. My limited experience of South America unveils it as one of the most special places on out planet (esp Macchu Picchu) and I only hope you get even some of the pleasure I got in seeing this extraordinary place. I look forward to your beautifully written descriptions of your travels.

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  12. Good luck Barbara, I’ll look forward to hearing about the adventure. I can recommend the couchsurfing network (I use Hospitality Club), although I haven’t stayed with anyone yet, I’ve hosted lots of people, got loads of invitations back in return and I tend to use it to meet interesting locals when we go to a new city.

  13. Yes, right now I’m bit behind on my saving schedule but it’s looking pretty solid for April/May. Hope to see you there as well 🙂

  14. I’ve got no money either but love my life. Your post reminds me of the Turkish saying, don’t worry too much about money because you can’t take it to the other side. Time is the most valuable thing we ever have and I think you’re spending it one of the best ways possible.

    Will definitely be keeping up with your travels and might even bump into you along the way 🙂

    • Hi Anil: Still planning on Macchu Pichu? Might I see you there? Hoping so. 🙂

  15. WOW, you are really inspiring Barbara!! It proves that when you want something badly no one can stop you, and it doesn’t matter the age or the social background, when you have a dream you should just pursue it, cause that is what would make you happy. We look forward to read your adventure, when it’s the big day?

    • Hi Marta! Next Wednesday – and I’m frantically running around trying to get everything done! But I’ll make it; I always do. Glad to know you’ll be traveling vicariously with me.

  16. It’s amazing how as time goes by we forgot all of the details of the unhappiness and tears and can be tempted into going back into the miserable existence that we worked so hard to escape. Good for you to hold strong and continue doing what you love! I can’t wait for your upcoming adventures!!

  17. This is so great, Barbara, and I am envious and inspired and so excited for whatever your adventures bring you. Here’s to safe travels, the wind at your back, all those things the traveler’s prayers should bring you.

    Fly, be free!

    • Pam, Liz, and Britt – thanks so much for your comments and your support. I’ve come a long way in this travel writing business in three years, but I have to take it to the next step and get back on the road more or less permanently. Great to know you’ll be reading and following me. As Pam says, I’m flying free like a bird, flowing free like the river.

  18. It seems to me that part of the reason so much writing on the internet is substandard is that it’s written just to have something to point traffic towards. It’s not written to convey anything, to change the world a little – to endure. So it bobs to the surface of Twitter, SU, Digg, what have you…and sinks quickly and forever.

    Internet writing is like any other form. To touch people, you have to open up and give a little of yourself. You have to *care*, every time. If you do that, your writing has a shot at immortality.

    Your journey’s been a hard one. But you care. It oozes out of your writing and compliments your talent beautifully. For that reason, it’s obvious that this is the job you’re born to do. 🙂 It’s your calling.

    Good catch.

    • OK, now I’ crying. Everyone has had such wonderful things to say – and I’ve even got lots more comments in direct emails. Thank you all so much – Mike I will treasure what you said about my writing.

  19. Barbara, you are such an inspiration! I was glued to the screen! I wish you only the absolute best! Enjoy! I so look forward to read about your adventures! Stay safe and happy travels!

  20. I am looking forward to hearing about hostels and couchsurfing. Sounds like a lot of fun to me….there are so many interesting people out there and I see all those hostels and couches opening up to you along the way in just the perfect way. You are going to have the richest next few months filled with laughter and joy. Stay present and enjoy every nanosecond. Stay out of the way of fear….it can only pull you down. Remember….thoughts held in mind produce after their kind. Keep happy and pleasant thoughts and enjoy your travel. I’m going to enjoy reading your blog!! One of these days I just might join you! 🙂 Till then….happy trails. I wish you all the best and an abundance of love!!

    • Jeanne, I absolutely agree. What we focus on, we draw to us, so I try to never live in fear – I can definitely go there on occasion but it doesn’t last long. Ultimately, fear and faith cannot exist in the same place. That doesn’t mean I do foolish things; it just means I rely on my sixth sense a lot and use my street smarts. When it comes right down to it, most people are good people who just want to help, and being fearful can keep us from having incredible experiences when we travel. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to add your words of support. Really appreciated! Much love to you too.

  21. You know, sometimes you just have to follow your own heart regardless of what others think. You sure have had your share of bad stuff and still show a remarkable resilience. I wish you all the best in Mexico. I have to give you a lot of credit.

  22. It’s hard explaining to others why you’re anxious to give up the life you’re expected to live for another. I like to simplify my response to these questions as: “Don’t knock it till you try it!”

  23. Life can be a pain sometimes, but the ups and downs are what make you feel truly alive. Enjoy your travels, you definitely deserve it. We are all looking forward to learning more about your adventures!

    • Arlene and Jennifer: Thanks for your support. I feel good about things. Especially with everyone behind me!

  24. Barbara, you know how much we support you and that we know the difference your decisions have made in your life. We all have to let go of our stuff at different times in life to realize “what’s most important now”! Keep reading the message I gave you when you left.

    We’ll be following you on your journey. Enjoy each new experience.

  25. Barbara, I’m looking forward to reading about your travels through Mexico, Central and South America. You and I have approached the point in our lives where it’s time to fish or cut bait. Who knows what’s around the corner? Go while you can and feel good about using your writing talents to show others that they can do it too. Happy (but safe) traveling to you.

    • Thank you Donna. I am overwhelmed by all the support I have received in the form of comments.

  26. Barbara, i surely wish you well in your new adventures!! I have always believed that I could do just about anything I wanted to because I did not know I couldn’t.. I believe you must be alot like that too. I hope you go for your dreams knowing that you will be provided for because you don’t know you can’t. Your a gustsy woman and I admire you in your endevors to live an uncluttered life. Best wishes in your pursuits, I will be following you through your blog. Someday who knows maybe I can follow your footsteps in a great adventure.

    • Hi Carol: Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It is so good to know there are people out there who understand and support me.

  27. I am sooooo looking forward to following you on this trip! Your article is inspiring, not only because you’ve succeeded in doing what you wanted to do, but because so many of us (Boomers) are facing the same types of challenges these days.

    Ditto, Ruth: “You GO, Girl!”

    • Hey Suzi: Wow! I am feeling the support out there. Thank you so much for your comment. I plan to post three times a week as I travel, with tons of photos (except when I am in very remote areas with no Internet connection), so it should be great fun for my readers as well as for me.

    • Hi Suzi: Go Boomers! I believe we can do most anything we put our minds to and I really feel the love. Thank you for taking time to leave me a comment!

    • Thank you Ruth – always gives me more faith when I know people are traveling along with me vicariously!

  28. Fun photo! Trust your heart & have a ball!

    So sorry it has been a rough road. You’ll transcend all of it. Travel doesn’t cost much, maintaining stuff does.

    Getting rid of stuff is so freeing! We sold our dream home & most of what we owned in 2005 before we took off on our open ended, non-stop world tour. Best decision we ever made & we love being this free & ultra mobile!

    The “new economy” (plus coming oil peak & climate change) teaches us all that less is more & to choose what is truly important in life. The western world has lived an unsustainable life of “stuff” and over consumerism that is no longer healthy for individuals or the planet.

    I think you were very smart to get out of real estate business when you did as housing still has a long way to fall. You were in it the right decade & got out in the nick of time. Hopefully you saved during the boom times to make those long hours worth the effort.

    As you probably know there will be a new big wave of foreclosures this year/summer and more banks will continue to fail, so that should work to your advantage. The banks can’t sue everyone or waste all funds on lawsuits.

    Many economists are saying it is smart to walk away if you are underwater. Homeowners like you have not failed, but government policies to promote housing into unrealistic stratosphere in conjunction with loose monetary policies at the Fed is what failed.

    Have you read law professor James E. Rogers?

    Luckily that business also gave you lots of training in living a freelance life so you are already use to not living on a weekly paycheck.

    Enjoy your new found freedom & adventure! It’s never too late to live a happy & fulfilled life. 😉

    • Soultraveler: You are absolutely right in everything you say. My attorney (a wonderful man) advised me to get on with my life rather than waiting for all ths to be settled, so that’s what I’m doing. I’ve followed your travels a bit and you are an inspiration to all digital nomads. I especially liked your comment about how I have not failed. That’s the same conclusion I came to, when I finally stopped beating myself up. Again, I listened to advice of others who pointed out to me that there were other entities who were just as responsible as me – the government, the banks, etc., so I shouldn’t be shouldering all the blame. And I am fortunate to have been my own boss for years – although I worked for a big real estate company (they were good people), I was an independent contractor, so I know the discipline needed to be a successful freelancer. Bottom line is, I try to stay in the moment and be fully present so that I can enjoy life. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  29. I admire you that you are pursuing your dreams even though you have critisism from others, telling you that you “can’t”. So what if you are not earning oodles of money? If you are truly happy, you can take care of yourself, and you are healty, that’s all that matters. 🙂 Good luck on your journey!

    • Hi Drusilllah: Thanks so much for the kind words of encouragement. I am healthy and really happy, and as yuo say, that’s all that matters.

  30. Goodluck on your pursuit of happiness. I hope it works out for you. I don’t think it will be easy, but if this is what you truly desire then I believe a way will open up to you.

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