The Cost Of Walking Away From Life

Like many college educated Americans in their twenties and thirties, I entered a college with no debt, and walked out with tens of thousands of dollars of it, in both student loans and credit cards.

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At the end of my Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of A Dream post the other day I mentioned I would touch on what was involved financially in pursuing this dream of mine. I suggest checking that out first if you haven't already, it will explain the trigger and part of the "why" for doing what I'm doing (the rest of the "why" will come soon).

I'm traveling the world now, and doing it to seek adventure and embrace misadventure, among other things. This is a dream I've had in my mind for most of my twenties, roughly 10 years now, and while it's taken different forms over the years, I was always telling myself it had to wait because I had to get enough experience (I was working as an engineer) to get enough raises to make enough money to pay off all my debt to save enough money so MAYBE one day I could take off and travel the planet.

Why did I find it so important to take all those steps BEFORE doing something I was dreaming about doing for a decade?

Because of fear.

Like many college educated Americans in their twenties and thirties, I entered a college with no debt, and walked out with tens of thousands of dollars of it, in both student loans and credit cards. I was fortunate enough to both choose a versatile major like engineering and then land a well-paid opportunity in beautiful San Diego, California upon graduation. Over the years since then my levels of debt fluctuated as I paid it down, incurred more during bouts of unemployment, paid it down some more, incurred more, so on and so forth, until I hit 30 and felt like I hadn't budged the needle much.

If you read my last post you'll know my values in life took a massive sudden turn, and that led me to give that life I was leading a big middle finger and finally take the steps necessary to pursue the life I'm building now.

 

But what was the cost of such a decision?

 

Well, in the 6 months since I made that decision my credit score went from a decent 740 to a laughable 438.

I left the country with around $11k in savings, and almost $90k in debt, from a combination of student loans, credit cards, and auto loans.

Student Loan Pile

Yes, I simply walked away from paying the government and a bunch of banks thousands of dollars per month.

Some of you might be thinking, "Ok, that's extreme, but if you're just planning to travel the world for the rest of your life it's not like they're going to find you."

Except that's not the case. Probably.

While there is a possibility I might not return, at this point I do imagine returning one day. San Diego is still home to me, but my soul and my heart need this adventure before I have any hopes of settling back down in civilization. It may take months, or it may take years (personally, I'm hoping for the latter).

So, if I'm planning on returning one day, what the fuck am I going to do about all that debt I owe?

Well, I could file for bankruptcy, but that still leaves me with about $40k in student loans (student loans are exempt from discharge in bankruptcy) that will be accumulating late fees and interest in the years between my departure and my return, so that's not an option at this point in my mind unless something drastic and unforeseen occurs (which is life, isn't it?).

There are three requirements in my mind that must be met before I will be comfortable returning to the states:

 

1. I make at least one full lap around the world

2. I can comfortable pay off my debt upon my return

3. I figure out what I'm going to dedicate my life to working on

 

The path to number 1 is obvious enough, the path to number 2 is not as obvious, and the path to number 3 is just plain absent, but I will cover that in a later post.

So, how the fuck am I going to not only make enough money to travel indefinitely, but ALSO pay off more than $100k in debt once fees and interest are taken into account?

Well, for one thing, traveling indefinitely is not as expensive as most people think, depending on the experience a person is wanting, of course.

I am a minimalist at heart, and I am on this journey for the adventure. I am NOT on this journey for the 5-star hotels, Michelin 3-star restaurants, and first class flights all over the world. I'm not even on this journey for 2-star hotels and coach class flights (I mean, who goes on ANY trip for coach class flying?).

Cramped legsYeah, that's how I feel after flying, too, buddy

Hostels can be found in many countries for $5-$15/night (I've been spending $8/night in México) and couchsurfing is free

Street food can be had for less than $5/meal (I've been spending $5/day in México)

Bus tickets might be $5-$20 (my ticket from Mérida to Tulum was $18), other modes of regional transport are even less, and hitchhiking is FREE (at your own risk, depending on the area)

Beyond that, my goal is make enough friends and build a large enough network that I have places to stay throughout the world, reducing my monthly expenses even more while allowing me to stay with people who have intimate knowledge of the area and potentially even more connections to develop.

In the meantime, however, I do want to work during my travels.

I want to be a bartender, for sure, but not in any kind of popular area. I want to "replicate" the situation I had in Tonsai, Thailand, where it was just a makeshift bar that sold beer (see images below). I would love to simply be the guy behind the bar, serving beers, making conversation with everyone coming through, and getting paid enough to stay in a hostel and save some cash over a few weeks or months before moving on.

Sunset Pirate Bar Entrance
Sunset Pirate Bar Entrance
Sunset Pirate Bar Entrance
Sunset Pirate Bar Entrance

Next, I think it would be incredible to work on a farm. Nothing special, just a small farm, preferably on an island or near a body of water, but I'll take just about any geographical location as long as it's away from civilization. I want to learn what it's like to be a part of such a complex, integrated biological process. I want the satisfaction that comes from cultivating the land and growing my own food. I want to understand what goes into the entire process from start to finish, and develop a much deeper respect for it than I have now. And of course, it would be an awesome opportunity if working on a farm provided me with room and board.

Lastly, and probably the one I'm most excited about, is being a deckhand on a boat. I don't know how I feel about working on someone's chartered yacht, dealing with stuck-up shitheads, but I would love to work on someone's sailboat, or for a company that transports them up and down a coast or waterway. I want to be on the water and understand the differences between sailing a smaller boat like those I've taken out in San Diego, and the larger ocean going types. Getting paid to be on the water, learn how to sail bigger boats, and travel – now THAT is a dream I want to see fulfilled.

Those jobs, however great they may be, are not going to allow me to return to the United States. To be ready and willing to re-enter life in the states, one of two things will need to occur.

1. I finally devote enough time and energy to my writing, grow my audience online, have a solid subscription base through something like Patreon, publish a few successful e-books, and knock out at least one New York Times bestseller. Writing should never be looked at as a way to become wealthy, but if

2. I stumble upon another path that is both fulfilling and incredibly profitable.

Either way, I have to luck out with enough success that I can write a few checks and wipe out the debt I left behind. Right now I'm banking on No. 1 since I know I have the ability to accomplish it, it's just a matter of putting in the hours and doing it consistently, but it would be interesting to see what could come along to take the place of writing in my heart.

Wish me luck, I'm going to need it!

 

Have you ever taken a big risk in life that paid off later? Have you ever worked abroad? What was your experience like in either case? Comment below and tell me about it!

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2 Comments

  1. Could be the smartest thing you did was ignore the debt — whether you return wealthy enough to pay it off or broke enough to file bankruptcy and start from scratch, it provides the hook for your bestseller.

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