Finding Nemo

Thursday, June 30, 2011

How long would it take to see the whole world?

I have often pondered this question, especially when I come across other travelers who have seen and done wonderful things that I will probably never have time or money to do.  Its one of the curses of a long trip--no matter how long you are away, you always meet someone who is going for longer or to more exotic places.  And you are left wistfully shaking your head.

So ... let's just imagine as John Lennon would say.  Imagine you won the lottery, or inherited a million dollars.  Imagine you just got rid of everything and decided to see the WHOLE world.  How long would it take?  How much money?

Well, there are between 193 and 250 countries in the world (its complicated), but the UN recognizes 192, and then there are a few more that aren't recognized but from a traveler's perspective should be (take Antarctica).  So let's round it to 200.  From my experience, just to see the highlights of a country takes a month.  And it doesn't matter if its big or small, every country seems to take at least a month just to get past the initial cultural barriers, to let it soak in and get a decent feeling of the place.  So that means it would take 200 months to just see the initial highlights of our little planet.  Divide by 12 months and you get about 16.5 years.

That's right.  If you started traveling at age 21, fresh out of University, you wouldn't be home until you were 38 years old.  The little blue ball that we see fly below us from out our plane window doesn't seem so small after all, does it?  It is the little dirty secret that every RTW (Round the World) traveler has discovered.  They say they are going "round the world," but soon find that they have barely made a dent in the huge vastness that is the Earth.

So the answer is, for most people and even hardcore travelers and travel writers, that its simply impossible to "see the world."  It can't be done, not really, not if you want to have any semblance of a place called home or a chance at a family or have a job.  But, it doesn't mean that you can't enjoy every second of your traveling.  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that it makes my trip more enjoyable knowing these things.  Knowing that the world is too big to ever see it all gives me hope that perhaps all the secret little jewels out there will go unspoiled for just a little longer.  It makes me cherish each place I come across and not worry about all the other places that I will not, because its simply impossible anyway.  As the old aphorism goes, "Worry about the things you can control, and forget about the rest."  The knowledge that I cannot see everything releases me from the burden of feeling rushed, that I have to go everywhere, do everything!  No, I do not.  Because I cannot.  And this frees me to relax, and enjoy the road, and not worry about all those other wonderful places I probably will not get to.  I will just enjoy where I am, at this moment.


Just for fun, let's imagine how much it would cost.  Now, I know plenty of flea-ridden university students who happily travel on their gap years for about US$20,000 or less (I met a guy who was doing it for US$10,000).  But I don't prefer this kind of travel.  You are constantly eating ramen, you are worried each night about your budget, and you definitely can't do that occasional splurge which mentally sometimes is required.  (Its hard to describe how nice it is to splash for a real hotel room once in awhile after weeks of chinese toilets and showers in flip-flops.)  Also, you can't up and decide to do a scuba dive or a $2000 safari tour.  Skipping things like that really makes the trip less meaningful and fulfilling.  So I have found that it really costs between US$30,000 - $40,000 to do a decent budget backpacker trip for a year.  Then you don't have to worry about cash too much as long as you stay in cheap hostels, bargain hard, and avoid packaged tours.  This means you have to work harder because you have to plan everything yourself, and you might not get the exact travel dates you want, but you also pay half the cost or less of what you would pay if you pre-booked from home.

So, let's take US$35,000 for fun and multiply by the required 16.5 years.  Now factoring in inflation at 3% a year, it means you need closer to US$45,000 on average for that timeframe.  So if you put US$750,000 in your bank account, you would be set!  Isn't that pretty startling?  You don't need to be a millionaire to travel the world forever, you just need to own a house in the Bay Area or Hermosa Beach (and have it mostly paid off, haha)!

I guess what this little exercise has taught me is that if you really really wanted it, you could save all your nickels, have a nice job, a family, and retire a bit early with just enough saved up.  Maybe at age 40 or 45 when your mid-life crisis is starting to peak and that Harley in the garage just isn't doing it for you anymore.  When the kids are off to college, you could sell the house and then travel the entire world until you are 65.  Anyone could do it.  Even me.  Even this guy, who's been traveling since 1988, or this guy, who has turned himself into a 1-man National Geographic, or this completely ordinary couple, who's blog says it all.

Quit your job.  Buy a ticket.

(Then please blog about it all so I know what I've been missing!)

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