TL; DR: This is the post that I wish I’d been able to read before we decided to go on our trip around the world.When we were still deciding whether to pull the trigger, we would look at the travel blogs of our friends and of complete strangers and we would be awed at their pictures and amused at their adventures, but I’d always wonder, now that you’ve been back home for a year, are you glad you did it? Was completely disrupting your life to travel around the world worth it? For me at least, the answer is a resounding yes.
The time you spend traveling will pass so fast — what’s six months, or even a year, in a lifetime? And so, I think that what you gain from that time traveling is much more than what you lose by skipping out on six months of meetings, and house shopping, and bad television, and even friendships back home. And what is it, exactly, that you might gain? Perspective, I think, and confidence. And things you learn about yourself and your travel partner and your relationship. As in most things, though, I think there is likely a diminishing marginal utility to extended travel. You are likely to gain the most from the experience if you haven’t traveled or lived outside your home country much in the past. And the first six months of the trip are likely more valuable as a learning experience than the next six months, and much more important than the next six months, etc. Of course, I have a biased perspective on this because we only traveled for about 6 months, but I would say that we were learning less about ourselves and the world at the end of that time than at the beginning. (Though we were still having a blast.) And I would guess that if you spend 18 months traveling, it would be hard to resist the temptation to just set up shop on a nice beach and take an extended vacation for a time — which sounds lovely, don’t get me wrong, but probably won’t teach you as much about yourself and the world as does taking the trains through Japan, riding a motorbike in Vietnam, or taking a taxi through rush hour in downtown Nairobi. Also, I would say that Dan gained slightly more from this trip than I did, largely because, I think, he hadn’t spent as much time outside the US before. The traveling is incredibly doable, and very worthwhile.
The thing that demands real respect is the disruption to your life. If you’ve traveled or lived outside your home country for an extended period of time before, then you are likely fairly prepared for this, but it is still worth mentioning. Re-entry is tough. And it’s tougher as a married 30-something young professional than it is as an undergraduate study-abroad student or a kid going on an adventure between undergrad and grad school. We lived in my parents’ basement when we got home. They were gracious and wonderful, and it was tough. Looking for a new job is stressful, and looking for a place to live at the same time is almost overwhelming — not that people don’t do both of these things all the time for much more “real” reasons than returning from a trip around the world. Some advice: if possible, I think it makes sense to time your trip with a planned move anyway. I still miss my friends and colleagues and the community that we built in DC — moving to a new city and building a new home is hard no matter what, so you might as well take six months and travel the world. It meant that I spent a few months unemployed in my parents’ basement, whereas if we’d left straight from DC to Denver, I would have lined up a job before the move — but in hindsight, those few months of uncertainty, which were hard, were worth it for the trip. Also, it was helpful that Dan was keeping his job — so we had some income coming in almost immediately after we returned to the States.
From a professional perspective, I don’t think the trip set me back much, given that we were moving across the country anyway. Most people are impressed with the trip and it provides a nice topic of conversation. In going over my resume, not once did I hear the question, “why did you do that?” The usual response is, “that’s incredible, where did you go?” Again, just my sense here — but I think people are more likely to understand a trip that is 6 months to a year than one that is much longer than that. I’ve met three people who I work closely with professionally who took similar trips. It’s amazing to be able to reminisce about the hikes in Cape Town, the ramen in the basement of the Tokyo metro station, or the night bus to Phnom Penh over a first get-to-know-you coffee. And I have a reputation as a capable traveler among my colleagues, and so I get to spend some time offering advice about vacation itineraries and gear — both favorite topics.
So, here we are a year later. (Well, a year and couple of months — it’s hard to find time and energy to sit down and blog now that we are gainfully employed.) Our dog has forgiven us. We have a great house in a neighborhood we like. We both have jobs that are challenging and that we enjoy. And we are working on building our Denver community. We feel like we are in about the right spot for us. And we have the bonus of the perspective and confidence and relationship built over six months of fairly challenging and completely incredible travel. It was totally worth it.
Edit #1; 2-23-16 — Have now met three people in a professional capacity who took similar trips.