It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

Posted: October 12, 2008    Categories: Travel

Like everyone else, I’ve been paying attention to what has been happening to the financial markets the last few weeks. It is pretty easy to get depressed about how things are going down. Because of the profile of this website, I get a lot of emails from people asking questions about traveling. Recently, I’ve been getting questions from people asking if they should continue with the plans they had for traveling. Many people have planned trips and now are having doubts about going. My answer to everyone is unambiguous and straightforward:

Go, and go now.

The question is a simple one: do you want to be around for the good times or the bad times? Why in the hell do you want to stick around for a depression, then take off once things start getting better?

Right now in Cambodia I can, if I want, easily live on $20 a day. That’s $10 for my own room with AC and a bathroom, figure $1-3 per meal. Toss in a bit more if you want some drinks and to take a tuk tuk around town, and you are still looking at not much. Hell, i could cut that figure in half if I really wanted to. Had I never left on this trip, I’d be paying a mortgage on a house (HA!), paying $4 a gallon for gas (all-time high), car insurance, property taxes, and much more for food (also an all-time high).

If you want to know exactly why sitting at the edge of Mount Bromo makes you better, I can’t tell you, but it does.

If you want to know exactly why sitting at the edge of Mount Bromo makes you better, I can’t tell you, but it does.

I sold my house (good move), have no debt, and other than an IRA, have nothing in publicly traded stocks. Financially speaking, I’d rather be here, than there.

But all the talk of money and finances aside, in the end, none of that really matters. The ultimate asset you possess is what is between your ears. Traveling can only help you. It won’t make you dumber. The experience you gain is easily worth the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, if not more. It isn’t just the knowledge you pick up about other people and places either. With limited internet and almost no television, I’ve plowed through more books, audiobooks and podcasts over the last 19 months than I have the previous five years. I’ve been reading a lot of history, but also a fair amount on monetary policy, business in China, and even some fiction (which I seldom read). I’m a better photographer, I’ve learned some basic Photoshop, and have even gotten my feet wet with video editing. I’m certainly have more skills now than the day I sold my house.

If there is one person who I’d have to credit for giving me inspiration for my trip, it would have to be Jim Rogers. Jim was the partner of George Soros and made a ton of money as an investor. After they sold their investment firm, he took several trips through China on motorcycle as well as an around the world in 1990-2 and in 1999-2002. (He makes me look like a travel noob). While he clearly demonstrated his investment chops before he took his big trips, he subsequent travels certainly haven’t hurt. Watch this video of him back in November of last year (part 1 and part 2). He basically predicted everything that is happening today and put his money where his mouth is. My of his perspectives on foreign markets came from having been there himself. He and his family recently moved to Singapore so his daughters could learn Chinese.

He was doing a travel blog and podcasting back when everyone was still using Geocities. I remember going through his entire site over the course of a day. I spent hours going through all his entries. This site is not small part due to what he did.

But I digress…

My point is, if traveling is something you want to do, don’t let the current climate deter you. If anything, it should spur you. You are responsible for you. No one is going to make you better. Once the dust settles, and it eventually will, you can come out of it in better shape than you entered. One way to do that is to go see the rest of the world.

It is especially important for Americans to do this, because quite frankly, we are not very good travelers. While every Dutch and British kid goes off on some gap year trip after high school, the number of Americans you meet traveling is very small. The experience will make you stand out all that much more when you get back.

And if you aren’t American, you owe it to yourself to visit some part of the US which isn’t New York, Las Vegas, Disney World or LA. Yes, the way we treat tourists at the border is stupid and I apologize on behalf of the Immigration and the Transportation Security Administration, but we are much better once you get past the government doorknobs who work at the airport. Lots of Europeans tend to avoid America, I think because they think they understand it from TV. Trust me, you don’t. Its a big country and every region is different.

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