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When my husband and I quit our jobs to travel the world in our late twenties, we faced a thousand questions from co-workers, family, friends, and honestly, people we didn’t even know but had heard of our plans and felt they had the right to an opinion on our lives.
Over time the repetition of these questions wore me out, made me anxious, and had me questioning our plan and belief in ourselves. As the only people that we knew who had quit our jobs to have a year and a half to travel, we had no idea this was coming and were blindsided by these repetitive and invasive questions.
My husband dealt with them well. For me, everyone felt like an affront to why we were living our lives the way we wanted to, and I felt the need to answer even when I didn’t know the answer. So here are the main questions we faced, how I answered, how I wish I answered, and how you can to save your sanity.
How Can You Afford to Quit Your Job for a Year?
This one is annoying. Obviously, you saved money for your trip. Or you had a great uncle who willed you money and you’re using it to live. Why does it matter? Because you living your life is going to make other people question why they aren’t living theirs. This question comes in degrees, some will be genuine curiosity. Others will be snakelike with venom. It’s up to you if you want to answer or not.
My answer depended on the state of the question. If someone was curious, I’d tell them the truth: we paid off our debts, lived leanly off one income, and saved the other. If it was venom, I’d say we saved our money, the same as you do when you want something.
How Are You Going to Pay for Things While You’re Gone?
With gold bars and rubies. This is another strange one.
Factually, the answer is with money. I think that the actual meaning of this question is how are you going to continue to pay for things if you aren’t working. Again, the answer is that you saved. The other answer is that you won’t spend $1000 a day.
Many people associate traveling with all-inclusive resorts and expensive vacations that last a week. You won’t be traveling that way (unless you really did have a great uncle who willed you a million bucks), but the majority of people think of traveling as what is advertised on TV.
If you have the energy, take the time to actually answer this question by saying that you will be staying in hostels or home rentals, working seasonal jobs in a National Park, or eating grocery store food and drinking tap water. This question can turn into an engaging and enlightening conversation where both parties are able to learn about one another.
What Are You Going to Do When You Get Back?
Sell coconuts on the highway. Dumpster dive for rotten toast. Find a commune that requires me to cover myself in peanut butter all day long.
It’s confusing for people to imagine what it would be like to walk away from their lives and “start over”. Even though they aren’t the ones doing it, they want reassurance—how do you know that everything is going to be okay when you come back to “real life”?
Truth is you don’t know. My husband got his old job back and I transitioned into being a stay-at-home mom and focusing on writing. You could return to where you were or start something entirely new, and that’s part of the beauty of your journey.
What About All Your Stuff?
I’m taking it with me. No, really, I did. We sold all the stuff we didn’t need and when we were down to a couple backpacks, we took it with us. This could be different for you. Maybe you’re going to rent your home out while you’re gone and your things can stay there. You could put them in storage. You could leave them with family and friends. You could sell them.
There are options here. Easy ones. The pick is just up to you.
Where Are You Going?
Maybe you have this all planned out. Maybe you have a list of stops with a full itinerary for each day of your trip. Maybe you don’t. I didn’t. I was flying on flight prices, what I liked and didn’t like, and what we felt like we were into.
But I felt like I had to answer this question anyway with “I’d like to see Kilimanjaro” and “somewhere off of Bali”. All this did was make it so that when I got home I had to answer questions about why I didn’t go certain places I “said” I would (I never said I would go anywhere, I said I’d like to).
If you have a plan and you are a plan sticker, say it. If you don’t and you want to blow with the wind, that’s okay too. Or if you are somewhere in between. It’s your trip. It doesn’t matter where you go. It matters that you’re taking it.
Answer this question carefully. In my experience too detailed of an answer about where you want to go will lead to even more questions before you leave and questions when you come back if you forwent a certain destination.
What Are You Going to Do?
What are you going to do fourteen Saturdays from now? It’s not easy to answer as a stationary person, and it’s even harder to answer traveling. I said I want to hike, see Mona Lisa, go into the Sahara, ride a train through Sri Lanka. I did a lot of these things. I didn’t do others.
You’re going to do whatever you want to. Whatever you can afford to do. Whatever is comfortable for you. Don’t feel you have to wow and dazzle with this answer. It could be I’m going to drink beers and make friends. That’s amazing. You’re going to do you.
How Do You Know You’ll Be Safe?
The truth is you don’t. Just like the person asking the question doesn’t know that they’ll be safe even if they do the exact same thing every single day that you’re gone. Cars crash. Cancer comes. People choke on their dinner. It’s sad and unfortunate, but it is life.
Ultimately, this was the question that got most to me because I can’t protect my husband and myself from everything. If a mosquito has Dengue and bites despite the fact that we are wearing long sleeves and pants, I can’t guarantee we won’t be sick. I don’t know that each taxi I enter has a good and honest driver. I’m not sure that a shark won’t have an off day when I’m snorkeling.
You make decisions. The best decisions you can make. The same as you do at home. You take calculated risks but not unnecessary ones. You don’t drink tainted water. You don’t swim in murky spots. You keep your money in your pockets when you are walking down the street.
I never knew how to answer this question. If I had it to do over again, I would say I don’t know. The same as you. And I’d leave it at that.
How Long Will You Be Gone?
Until I’m not.
We said hopefully we won’t be back in the USA until my brother-in-law’s wedding and year-and-a-half from now and won’t need to work until then either. But things happen. We got a rental car in Croatia and fell in love with the freedom of driving wherever we wanted and came back to the USA a month later, bought a truck, and spent close to a year driving cross-country.
We took a seasonal job in an area we really loved so we could spend more time there. We helped someone out when they wanted to go away for a week by watching their dog in our hometown.
I’d just tell them that you’ll be gone until your back. If you have a solid end date, say it. If you don’t, say maybe here, but I’m open to possibilities.
What I learned from answering questions is the best answer when you don’t is you don’t know. Answering with I don’t know takes the pressure off of you. Why do you need to know anyway? You aren’t asking Aunt Nancy to predict what she’s going to have for dinner three months from now.
Or your co-worker how they’re going to stay safe the year you’re gone when they smoke like a chimney and will be driving to work in the winter on the interstate during snow storms. Life happens, we don’t know the answers. Traveling is life multiplied.
You can’t expect yourself to predict the future. To know if you’ll like some where you’ve never been. To be sure you will be gone 247 days and only eat organic produce from local farmers. As someone who answered questions that didn’t need to be answered and gave themselves anxiety from trying to predict the future for others, just smile and say you don’t know, but you’ll find out.
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Author Bio: Laura Forrest Hopfauf lives in West Virginia with her husband, daughter, and dog. She spent a year living out of the back of a pickup truck driving across North America, months backpacking Europe and Northern Africa, and hiked across an island in the Caribbean by sleeping in the jungle in a hammock. She is currently in the midst of submissions for her debut novel under the guidance of Jennifer Lyons of Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Her work has been published in The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Catch, The Citizen, and Pregnant Chicken.
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