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, Ecuador, and Peru. 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 these intriguing countries. Where, specifically, am I going? Check back on Tuesday, when I’ll be divulging the specific destinations I plan to visit.

56 thoughts 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.


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