As a 20 something, you’re at a major crossroads in your life. You’ve graduated college, or are so close that you can taste it – the stale beer, that is. You’ve already had a taste of being abroad, whether it involved studying abroad with your classes in a foreign language, or a spring break trip to Cabo. At this point, you’re settling into a phase of your life where you’re expected to be semi-responsible, which is making that creeping wanderlust you’re still feeling an issue.
On the one hand, your 20s are some of your best years to travel. You’re carefree enough to not care where you’re sleeping on any given night, but grown-up enough to know how to plan the best possible route for your adventure. You don’t have steadfast responsibilities yet (mortgage, kids, etc.), but are able to hold down a job that pays well enough to save up funds and paid time off.
WWOOF interchangeably stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. The point is that you can volunteer to work almost anywhere in the world in exchange for food, accommodation, and the opportunity to learn. These stints can last anywhere from a few days to a few years. You can choose to do everything from harvesting honey from bees on an island to collecting grapes on vineyards and coffee beans in Kenya.
The pros? You get to know people who are living a drastically different lifestyle than your own. You learn new skills, and gain a unique experience of a lifetime – no touristy schticks here. You don’t need to haul around your Lonely Planet guide, as food and accommodation are provided, and the options are basically endless.
If you only have a few days to spare, check out WWOOFing options right here in the US – there are options all across the fifty states, and you might find a hidden getaway right in your own city. If you’re free to roam, WWOOFing provides an easy way to get introduced to a country, and an excellent way to save money when your major (really, only) expense is getting there. Start here.
2. Two Week Vacation
Are you a planner? Don’t hate your job, and just need some time to explore? Save up your paid time off (PTO) and plan a week or two of adventures to spice up your routine. Your first two major decisions are when and where to go.
Choosing when you’re going to unplug for a couple of weeks requires a balance between your normal life and your exotic life. Are there blackout dates for using your PTO? When are you swamped with work, and when is there a slow season? What other days off are you planning on taking? You don’t want to request too many vacations in the span of a month or two. Then, look into your destination options. Is there a busy/hot/monsoon/touristy season that you’d like to avoid? Any major festivals, holidays, or events that you’d kill to experience in person? Give yourself some options, and plan from there.
Start saving up both PTO and funds ASAP. If you’re a mega-planner, come up with an estimated amount of money you’ll need, and how much you’ll need to save each month to accomplish that. Apps like LearnVest and Mint are great for budgeting. Keep an open conversation with your managers at work to ensure that they’ll want to make this happen for you in terms of taking time off. Purchase your airfare as early as possible, as most airlines list flights about a year in advance. Enjoy!
3. Leaving It All Behind
Spontaneously buying a one-way ticket to “anywhere but here” can be life changing and inspirational… if it’s done well. The key is to tie up loose ends before you go, and not rely solely on the generosity of others to keep you alive. Be responsible for your spontaneity – some pretty amazing things can happen if you do.
Before you take off, make sure you aren’t screwing anyone over (thank you Captain Obvious, right?). But really, this can happen in more ways than one. Make sure you have a place to forward your mail to, and a way to end your cell phone plan. Go to the doctor and secure any necessary medications. If you’re moving out of a living situation, make sure that you have an arrangement for getting your security deposit back, getting out of your lease, finding a replacement for yourself if necessary, and storing your belongings. If you’re renting out a storage unit, have a solid long-term plan for paying for it. If your parents/friends are nice enough to store your stuff for you, make sure you have a way to be contacted and a back up plan in case they need to move or use the space you’re taking up. Or, sell everything! Ebay is surprisingly easy to use nowadays, and Craigslist always has willing shoppers. That’s more money in your pocket to fund your new adventure.
If you’re leaving a job, leave on good terms. This can’t be stressed enough. Give two weeks’ notice whenever possible, and even ask for a written letter of recommendation if you can. Having months of no work on your resume is often an immediate red flag for future potential employers. If a future potential employer can back up your work ethic using a past reference, it helps immensely. If you can, volunteer for a non-profit, study, or pick up internships while you travel. Traveling is a priceless way to expand your life experience, but this doesn’t always translate in a work environment. Having a more tangible way to represent that will help you in the future.
Have too many options, not too few. Don’t just rely on coming across a hostel to stay in – create a profile on Couchsurfing, AirBnB, and Craigslist. Instead of just hopping from friend to friend living abroad, create a list of countries you’d love to visit, and sights to see there. Traveling alone is a priceless experience in itself! And yes, listen to your mom’s advice: create backup plans for worst-case scenarios. Leave a color photocopy of your passport, bank and card information, and emergency phone numbers with trusted friends/family, and maybe even in your hostel’s safe. It sounds like the least spontaneous, adventure-filled chore in the world, but it will save your trip when the wild monkeys on your campsite in Nepal steal your passport, and the hostel you were planning on staying at in Thailand ends up offering “hourly” rooms with questionably friendly hosts.
Choose the best path for your current situation. Know that you’re not limited. You can always start with a weekend of WWOOFing while you’re saving up for your couple weeks of freedom, and once you’re ready for an entirely new environment, take off! The world is your oyster, if you know how to open it.