Traveling the globe and living the dream feels impossible to most… and we can tell you why. There’s a few recurring, unrelenting biases floating around, and we’ve encountered them time and time again, literally for years. Both on our travels and at home. These “biases” as we call them, are the most common myths about traveling abroad, and we’ve narrowed them to the top three.
These myths are powerful, and have the potential to stomp out every hopeful person’s dream of reaching exotic destinations around the world. We’ve heard these myths literally hundreds of times in one form or another, and unfortunately, they may never cease to exist.
Each time we encounter these ever-so common myths about traveling abroad, either through conversations, fear-mongering news websites, or on social media, we can’t help but wonder: who’s saying this and where have they heard it in the first place? Have they ever even traveled there before?
If they have traveled abroad, and are still defending these myths… they’re doing it wrong.
THE 3 MOST COMMON MYTHS ABOUT TRAVELING ABROAD
Myth #1: You Have to be Rich to Travel.
What luxury booking websites and travel ads won’t tell you is… the conversion rate in the country you wish to visit may be incredibly in your favor. The conversion rate is the amount of foreign currency you get in exchange for your dollar, or whatever currency your home country uses.
In most cases, this rate in relation to how much necessities cost (i.e. food, beer, accommodation, and extra beer), can make things extremely affordable. Thus, you may not need that much money to sustain in the foreign destination you’ve always dreamed of.
For example, at the time of our travels in Mexico, the conversion rate was around 20 Mexican pesos to 1 USD. A nice restaurant meal of freshly grilled seafood on the beach including cocktails and a few refills of said cocktails, cost us around 200 pesos each, or 11 USD per person. Since we didn’t eat out on fancy beaches and indulge in cocktails every day, and we cooked our own meals from time to time, we saved a significant amount of money since the conversion rate was so great.
It’s no secret that accommodation and transport are the top money suckers in travel, just as they are at home. Conversion rates help with this aspect too. In Mexico, we could also find very nice Airbnb apartments, fully equipped and all to ourselves, for around 20 -30 USD per night. By using the surprisingly high-class and safe bus system in Mexico, instead of flying from city to city, we never paid more than 15 USD per person for an intercity bus ticket.
It was factors like this, and a favorable conversion rate, that allowed us to spend less than $1500 dollars each for two months of travel in Mexico. Most luxury vacation stays in the same locations we visited charged this much for just a two weeks’ stay or less.
Travel Tip! Download a currency conversion app, and play around with the conversion rates for destinations around the world. You might be surprised!
The Flight Dilemma.
Great conversion rates are all good and dandy, but you still have to pay in your own currency when you buy a flight. This can be the single highest expense you incur while traveling abroad. Flight prices, in our opinion, are one of the main reasons people don’t give the possibility of travel abroad a second thought.
However, international flights are beginning to change. There are tons of budget airlines popping up all over the world, and it is very exciting for people who finally want to take the leap to accomplish their travel goals. Through our own travels, we have yet to find international flights (including domestic ones in a foreign country) that are more expensive than those in the United States. Usually, they are a fraction of the cost.
Flight prices in the United States are monstrous, and it is a huge myth that all flights around the world are a similar price to these. We are no strangers to the flight process either: since the beginning of our one-year expedition through Latin America, we have taken 14 flights so far, and have never paid more than 350 USD each for any of them. Most of our flights have been between 70-150 USD, from country to country, or city to city. It is also very rare that we book these flights more than a week or two in advance.
The secret: one-way flights are insanely cheaper, and if you know the right websites to use, you’ll be baffled at how affordable flights can be in comparison to domestic flights in the United States. For those interested in long term travel, this is an enormous budget saver. It also adds to your travel time, especially if you practice slow travel and take flights less often.
Travel Tip! Our favorite flight websites are Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Momondo. Check out one-way flights to a place abroad, and experiment with the dates. It’s likely you’ll find some excellent prices.
Why long-term travel is cheaper than living at home
There was a time not very long ago that like so many others, we felt as if we were being buried alive in bills and daunting responsibilities. We felt that we were stuck in an inescapable cycle of living to work and not working to live. We also made a below-average salary between the two of us, only increasing our desire for escape.
After we sold all of our stuff to get the jumpstart we needed to travel, we had virtually no bills to pay. This is still true as we travel. We are completely free of car payments, insurance payments, electricity bills, cell phone bills, other utility bills, mortgage and rent payments, cable and internet bills, and so much more. Though there are still a few bills to be paid while we’re on the road, living and traveling abroad has saved us thousands of dollars in monthly costs so far, compared to what we were paying to live back home.
Another big money saving difference is that we don’t buy things to last anymore – like huge bottles of shampoo or multiple pairs of jeans. While traveling abroad, you simply don’t need as much stuff as you would need at home. Everything we buy is travel sized to fit in our backpacks (and is therefore cheaper), so necessity costs are extremely low.
As you can see, by no means do you have to be rich and wealthy to live your dreams. In fact, it is a better economical choice to live and/or travel abroad long term, especially when you go “all-in” and eliminate your bills at home.
Myth #2: The World is a Dangerous, Scary Place to Travel.
Begin online research into your dream destination (or any destination, for that matter) and you will most likely be met with terrifying, shocking headlines of unspeakable atrocities, all thanks to fear-mongering news websites. It’s a real shame that the media has done such a good job to scare people into reading their content.
These days, fear is money to these companies. Making money from fear requires pitting people against each other, and working out a marketing strategy that will penetrate your deepest fears and show you the ugliest aspects of the world in return for views. Sadly, many people today see these shocking headlines and automatically adopt them as their own opinion, without much research or afterthought.
These fears and biased opinions tend to shape peoples’ views about traveling abroad as well. Which is odd… because if you haven’t visited the place yourself, how can you tell what a place is truly like? We found it even more strange that when we were planning to travel to Mexico, people were literally responding with the exact same sentence, even if they were complete strangers and had never met each other. It was: “Mexico? Don’t get your head cut off by drug dealers!”. We literally heard this phrase so many times from people that we wanted to hurl.
Not only does it sound like a biased and fear-mongering news headline all by itself, we knew this reaction was just that – a terrifying news headline that everyone seemed to remember, and thus adopted it as their own opinion of an entire country.
Having visited 27 countries and counting, half of them being in Latin America, we have never once felt we were in any kind of mortal danger. That’s even after living in Nicaragua for a month, and backpacking in a rough-and-tough place like Bolivia. Truth be told, we both had our phones stolen in Mexico (at different times, and because we were not being smart), and months later my wallet was snatched in Peru.
These are merely petty crimes, however. They weren’t a detriment to our travels at all, just a royal pain in the ass to deal with. Also, it is important to remember that this literally could have happened anywhere, even in our own hometown, and especially in our home state’s capital of Denver.
That is why it is extremely important never to judge an entire country on a bad experience. One negative occurrence does not define the people of an entire nation. The citizens of these countries are not out to actually hurt people. There are severe penalties in most of these places for those who are caught committing crimes, just like anywhere else.
We truly believe we fell victim to this petty theft for two reasons:
- ) We got careless and stopped paying attention the way we should, and
- ) everyone seems to think that it is expensive to travel, therefore travelers and tourists must be rich.
While traveling, it is imperative that as an outsider you exercise your street smarts to their full potential, and simply don’t do dumb things that would put you in a bad position. Things such as going on a late-night walk by yourself, walking through dangerous areas by yourself, drinking too much and passing out somewhere, or keeping your phone and wallet in an easily accessible place for a thief to snatch.
A Trend in Borders
In regard to traveling abroad, like any big thing you do in life, there are risks. But it is hardly ever as bad as people say it is. We’ve noticed one interesting pattern throughout our travels abroad that prove this fact.
Literally every country we’ve been in, the United States included, people will always say their bordering country is extremely dangerous. For the U.S., people said Mexico was dangerous, and for Costa Rica it was both Nicaragua and Panama. People in Panama said Colombia was dangerous, and so on. It never fails to come up in conversation when we talk to people about where we’re headed next.
In our opinion, this happens because news coverage (the fear-mongering kind that is so common these days) always covers the worst aspects of the neighboring country to make themselves seem better to their own people. Unfortunately, people believe this biased information and thus… adopt it as their sole opinion of nation.
Travel is a very beautiful and humbling thing, and fear should never be the basis for anyone’s opinion as it is. In fact, travel heals bias, and it shows you just how truly amazing the world is and how interconnected human beings really are – no matter where they are from.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain
Some people may have a hard time believing that it isn’t that dangerous to travel abroad, and that makes sense. It can take many, many years to undo decades of fear-based propaganda. The best thing to remember in regards to world travel is, people are traveling abroad every single day. On a further note, people have been traveling abroad for centuries – despite the perceived dangers of the time.
Travel Tip! Avoid fear-based news headlines and naysayers as you plan a trip. Seek out those who have physically traveled to the place themselves to gain your 1st-hand insight. Like The Expat Wanderers!
Myth #3: “I don’t have time to travel”.
Last year, 54% of Americans did not use a single day of their allotted vacation time. That’s 662 million vacation days… completely wasted. Showing over-dedication to your job, and never giving yourself or your family enough time to relax, is becoming a very real characteristic of the American culture.
Most jobs don’t even offer vacation benefits in the first place. Scott and I didn’t just work a lot, we had both worked multiple jobs at once in very labor-intensive positions. Being buried in bills and working constantly is indeed the way most Americans do it, and as a culture we are terrible at taking time off for ourselves.
Many of us believe that working 60 hours a week or more and never taking time off shows you are dedicated to your job. In reality, working constantly and never taking time to enjoy life only leaves us with severe regrets in the long run. It is scientifically proven that our life experiences and our loved ones bring us lasting happiness, not material wealth or what we do to get it. By forfeiting our right to the time we need to cultivate the more meaningful aspects of our lives, we are decreasing our quality of life and denying ourselves what we truly need to be happy.
Before deciding to leave home for expat travel, we believed for many years that working countless hours and going through the same routine (no matter how exhausted we were) was the only way to make a living for ourselves. As soon as we began to break away from this conventional way of thinking, mainly because we were so fed up with the struggle, we realized this is not the only way.
There are many other ways to live, and many different ways to make a responsible living. There are also other ways to give yourself the time you need to live a more fulfilled life. For example, many professional jobs have an option for sabbatical leave. If this is a viable option, you may have to work a little harder to save money for travel in the meantime, and maybe pay some bills in advance before the trip. If you’ve done a great job in your position, then you’re even more likely to get the time off you need to travel.
As a matter of fact, when I informed my job I was quitting to go on a two-month journey around the world in 2012, they nearly begged me to take a sabbatical leave in hopes I wouldn’t leave permanently, and I suspect it was because they didn’t want to go through the trouble of hiring someone else. I am so glad I chose not to take it, because that journey changed my life forever – and helped me to realize that I wouldn’t have wanted to go back to such a miserable place anyway.
If you are dead serious about breaking the cycle and traveling abroad (especially long term), and your boss won’t give you the time off after years of hard work – quit. I have done it twice now in pursuit of travel. It is a very liberating thing to leave a depressing job for good, but when you leave it in pursuit of your wildest dreams, it feels even better.
Travel Tip! Investigate your different options for taking time off. If you have vacation time… why wait until retirement to travel?
The most common myths about traveling abroad may be strong ones, but through our own experience with a travel lifestyle, it is far less complicated to accomplish than most are led to believe. The world is not scary and dangerous. It is full of rich culture and history just waiting to be experienced. Traveling abroad – whether long term or short term, does not have to be expensive, and you don’t have to be wealthy to accomplish the travel you yearn for.
If travel abroad is something you genuinely wish to pursue, there are plenty of creative ways to make the time, save the money, and plan your trip without worrying too much about the negative fluff.
Travel is one of the most fulfilling things to do with family, with your time, and for the sake of your own well-being. Making a solid decision to travel, and taking the initial steps towards your next journey, is a strong accomplishment even in the beginning. You can do it!