Many people travel to get away from the humdrum of life and relieve stress. For some, however, travel can be so stressful that they would rather stay in their comfort zone and avoid the hurdles. So how do you broaden your horizon, confront fear, and overcome obstacles to exploration?
Today, Whitney Lauritsen sits down with Jason Robinson, the author of The Beginner Traveler’s Guide To Going Nomad. Jason shares how he adjusted his lifestyle to make way for the freedom to travel. He discusses common travel misconceptions, hacks, and mindset shifts. Plus, Jason gives tips on traveling on a budget, during COVID, and with a medical condition like diabetes.
This episode is sponsored by Zencastr. Visit zencastr.com/pricing to try it out for free. And when you’re ready to uplevel, enter the code “wellevatr” to receive 30% off your first 3 months of the Pro plan!
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Break Through Your Excuses! Getting Over The Hurdles To Travel With Jason Robinson
I am looking forward to this conversation with our guest Jason Robinson because it’s about travel and it is something that feels interesting over the past few years during this pandemic. I have talked a bit about my travels, which have been fairly limited because A) I have been traveling solely by car and B) I have only been traveling within the US. I personally had not felt comfortable flying on a plane and going outside of places that I perceived to feel comfortable for myself. In reading more about Jason in preparation for this conversation, I found myself yearning to travel more and go beyond my comfort zone at some point.
The first place that I want to start with you, Jason, is asking, what has it been like traveling during COVID, especially going abroad outside the United States? Has it been a challenge for you or has it taken you out of your comfort zone? Do you feel like it has naturally worked in, based on all your experience with traveling over the years?
First of all, thanks for having me. It is going to be fun. When you say all my experience of travel over the years, that is what we will get into a little bit deeper. I’m still learning how to travel. I didn’t see my third country until I was almost 40 years old. It is a constant relearning of the things that you learned on the last trip or as you take a 2-week, 2-month or a 2-year hiatus from travel, you know that you have this skillset, but all of a sudden, you have to relearn that thing.
For the first part of COVID, I was in Querétaro, Mexico, at the beginning of COVID and at the point where the president said, “We are going to start shutting down flights coming into the country.” I was in Mexico towards the end of when that trip was supposed to end. I said, “Okay.” I’m still new to traveling and now I’m in this position where I’m in another country and they might say, “You can’t come back in.” It was all the speculation at the beginning of what was going to happen.
That was one of those months when I had to make a decision, “Am I going to tough this out? Am I going to listen to my pride and be like, ‘You can handle this. You are a big tough traveler now.’ Am I going to listen to my gut, which says, ‘This is terribly uncomfortable and I don’t know how I’m going to navigate this thing?’” I had that conversation with myself to say, “Why would I make this decision? Am I making this decision because of other people’s or society’s inputs, or what I don’t want people to think? Do I need to make this decision based on what I need?”
For that trip, I chose to come back four days early. I changed my flights, spent a little bit of money, and I came back four days early. I ended up in a corral of thousands of people in DFW right at the time when they were like, “You are going to have to quarantine.” That was the beginning of COVID. I got back from Portugal for three months, and that was my first big trip during COVID. It was a decision of number one, is it appropriate to travel? Are you abusing a system that doesn’t need abuse right now because the world is having a tough time and I want to respect that?
Number two, as a new Type 1 diabetic with a lot of health concerns, what happens if something happens while I’m over there? How do I take care of myself and get through that? There is a lot of stuff that comes into play when traveling, especially when you are still new to the game. We can get into the whole backstory of how I ended up being nomadic less than a year before COVID kicked in and also with Type 1 diabetes during that whole time.
There is a lot of change going on but one thing that I appreciate about you is that you are leaning into change and you are committed to not getting stuck in your old ways. In fact, one thing that you had written to me is that at the core of your journey is the reality that you are getting older, like all of us are getting older and you were not learning enough about others. You realize that you had to travel or you are going to grow into a cranky old man with second-hand perceptions of the world. How did you come to that realization? Was there a moment where you realized it? Was it somebody that said something or was there an a-ha moment for you, I suppose?
I’m a very introspective person, to begin with. I’m analytical. It is who I am. All my previous bosses, every girlfriend I have ever had, I think all the time and I’m always analyzing things. I do that to myself as well. Whether it is valid, healthy, or not, I’m doing it all the time. There was a point where we were not throwing my dad under the bus at all, but we all looked at our parents and grandparents. We know the lineage that we came from and we are going to pull some of those traits in.
Knowing mine and my family’s background, that was very traditional, not conservative. It was traditional in the mindset of we didn’t travel a lot, didn’t visit other countries, and didn’t have open thoughts about people around the world, other than what we were getting from the news. We know that our news is not necessarily always saying the full story. There were some intersections there in my life where I said, “If I continue to go down the road that I have gone down in these first years of my life, I see where that ends up and I see how there is potential for me to have a close mind and heart.”If you can stop ignoring the uncomfortable parts of budgeting, you can find the money to travel. Click To Tweet
Having done some learning in my late 20s and early 30s about the misconceptions in having some friends who had gone out there, I started traveling the world and brought back those stories about all the stories we all heard if we didn’t travel growing up. A lot of the things you have learned from the news are wrong. That was where the intersection of all those ideas.
I said, “You have been through a few cycles. Are you going to keep going through these same cycles and end up 10 to 20 years down the road pissed off that you kept going down the same cycles?” You saw the warning signs of where your life was going or where your brain and heart were going. You decided to keep doing that or let’s derail that right now and make them uncomfortable decisions to change that end result.
It sounds obvious and clear. There is so much discomfort that comes with people making that decision. Even having that awareness that you were headed in a direction that you didn’t feel was right for you in your life and you wanted to open your mind and your horizons. That in itself is an incredible characteristic. It is something I’m so glad that you are speaking about because I also wonder, with COVID, if there will be a big ripple effect of fear of us getting used to isolation and not leaving places. A lot of people had that already.
For me, I could take it for granted because my family traveled a lot. I had worked that would lead me to different places, but over time I have realized, especially during my cross country road trips, I would come across people who had never left their state. Hearing about me driving from state to state was shocking for them.
A lot of people were very confused by that like, “Why would you drive around the country?” That in itself feels easy to me. Traveling around the world feels a little bit harder, especially during this time. I feel that not everybody even has that moment that you had of thinking about how important travel is and prioritizing that. I’m curious about what you have learned about inspiring others. What reactions do you get from people? Have there been moments where you’ve inspired somebody directly to completely shift out of their comfort zone and start traveling?
There have been plenty of those examples. I should probably back up and this is a great time to interject the quick cliff notes of my life over the past several years. In my late twenties, I had a friend at work who said, “Me and my girlfriend are going to sell everything. We are going to go travel Europe and Asia for as long as our money holds out.” I’m like, “You are going to do what?”
They had a tag sale and sold everything in their condo. They went and traveled Europe and Asia on $18,000 for eight months between the two of them. He started blogging back then and I started reading about people around the world in what they were doing. It started to open my mind. It was one of those seeds that were planted.
From there, I got into my 30s. I tried a hostel, the first time by myself in the US. There were these early things that I would touch on in my early 30s where it was like, “I’m trying a thing but there was not a lot of lasting from that.” In my late 30s, I had been self-employed for many years at that point.
We talked about those cycles earlier. Those points in our lives where it was like, “Have I been here before?” I have looked at journals that I have written in. Several years later, I was writing the same things and I was like, “This feels familiar.” I will flip back and it is the same thing that I wrote several years prior. It was like, “These are a-ha moments that I need to pay attention to.”
The late 30s came around and I had seen this cycle of contracts with my big architectural projects that I was taking, being self-employed where if I took a contract, I was in it for 3 to 5 years period, and there was no getting out of it, big contracts for airports, signage and stuff like that. It was boring things. Every 2 years, 3 years or so, during those big five-year contracts, I would get another 3- to a 5-year contract.
It was an unending cycle of good fortune. It paid the bills and gave me opportunities, but it wasn’t allowing me to do these things like broadening my horizons and travel. I came to that point where I was going to get a contract with one of my two architects. They were bidding on the same job and I was the only one included on their teams.
I was going to get this project for 5 to 10 years. I had to look at them and say, “I’m going to pass on this because I’m going to make some changes to my life.” One of those architects got pissed at me and gave me a call and was like, “What the hell? You don’t want to work with us anymore?” I was like, “No, it’s not that. I have seen this moment many times and I need to make a change.” Those folks were unhappy with some of the decisions I made initially, but they came around and now they are asking all sorts of questions, still about things.
My family was freaked out. I gave away the opportunity for 90% of my income. I’m in my late 30s, single, but I still had obligations and health issues at that point. They are looking at me going, “What are you doing? Why are you throwing all this stuff away?” I hate that term. We have many opportunities to do the same things we have already done. If you did this thing in your twenties and you want to pivot, try it again in your 30s. You are going to do it as good, if not better, later on with your life experiences.
Don’t think you are ever throwing anything away. There are probably some examples that are true. In my late 30s, I said, “How are you relate since you cut the cord with this location-dependent life to give you the opportunity to potentially work anywhere around the world or work on a computer from wherever, how are you going to prove that this is something that is right for you?”
You can’t sit around for 5 or 10 years and wait for it to decide whether it is right for you. I said, “Let’s do some things.” In 2017, I said, “You are not going to sleep in your bed for one quarter of the year.” That was my challenge to myself. If you think you want to live this nomadic lifestyle, you better start living somewhere other than your comfort zone.
That year, I didn’t sleep in my bed for 92 days. In 2018, New Year’s came around, and I said, “You can’t do the same thing because that is stagnation. That is not progress. What are you going to do now?” I said, “A third of the year.” That next year, I didn’t sleep in my bed for 122 days. Whether that was staying at a friend’s place in another state or it was real travel outside the US or to another city, the goal there was to do the hard work to challenge yourself. Give you enough inputs to realize whether this is something you want to do that is comfortable with you or it is something you feel like you should try.
We do a lot of things in our lives that society makes us feel like we should do or, “That thing looks fun. I want to be a guy that owns a motorcycle soon.” If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it because of these pressures. That’s an example for my life. After that second year of traveling 122 days a year, at the end of that year, I was turning 40. I saw my third country outside the US, which was Mexico. I bought a one-way ticket to Mexico because I said, “You have slept outside your comfort zone. You have done these things, but you have not traveled to these other countries to see if living on the road is something that makes you comfortable that you enjoy.”
I bought a one-way ticket to Mexico and you talk about people looking at you sideways. My family, friends, coworkers, especially in the bigger corporations companies, a lot of folks looking at me like, “What are you doing?” Just because of their misconceptions that they had or their deep-seated thoughts about different countries and people, I went down to Mexico for three weeks. There were great things and extremely scary things about that trip but at the end of it, after three weeks, I was like, “Pretty good.” I was working, being productive and felt like I was still giving something. I was writing creatively as well as doing my work.
After that, I said, “I don’t want this house anymore.” I decided to sell my house in 2019. I took off after that. Six months later, COVID-19 hit and six months after that was when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. We are pretty much caught up to Portugal. That was the whirlwind of the past several years of my life and starting some of the experiments where I said, “How are you going to challenge yourself and decide whether this is something that you want, not something you think you want?”
I imagine going back to people’s reactions. You touched upon people reacting and similar to how I have experienced being a bit confused, taken aback or questioning you. What about the people that have felt like, “Seeing you do this has inspired me to do the same.” Have you experienced that yet? Is there a story of someone coming along with you, perhaps on a trip or planning their own trip because of what you have laid out for them in your experiences?Because we are always in our own heads, we have to change our soundtracks. Click To Tweet
The most interesting one that always rises to the surface for me is assuming my dad read this blog post, which he probably will. I don’t talk about it much, but it is the change that I see in my dad. It was under the surface. I think that he realizes that a little bit, but I don’t think that he realizes the extent that I do. He was part of the reason that I said to myself, “You need to work on yourself and open your mind up a little bit.” He was one of those first ones that were like, “Son, what are you doing? I’m worried about you. I don’t care how old you are. You are still my kid. I want you to make good decisions and be safe. Your health is to be taken care of.”
We had a conversation at Christmas. We were at his dad’s house in Ohio. We both live in the Carolinas, but we were up there visiting. It was late one night. We had a drink or two and he was like, “Aren’t you stressed out and scared all the time?” I was like, “Yes but I was that way before this. I would rather be doing things that inspire me and make me feel I’m progressing than stagnating and still feeling the same way. I was broke before and broke at the moment. I don’t want to be broke forever, but if all is the same, I want to do these things.”
Eventually, now I have seen him start to open up to these ideas of international travel in places around the world and as he sees me traveling to places where the cost of living is a little bit better. His whole idea of life was, “I got to work for 65 years. I’m going to have so much money in the bank to retire.” Now he is starting to see that, “Maybe I don’t have to work all that time. I need to change the way that I’m viewing where I’m going to live my life and where my experiences are going to be.”
Seeing that, the seed is growing in certain people like that where a lot of those folks are the ones that I have every day of my life and I can see those conversations changing in them. Some friends that you only see every few months or so, want to know what’s going on. They want to hear about your new trip. You might not necessarily see that change on the surface.
My nephew took a seasonal job and he had the same upbringing that I did. He never left Ohio. He was in that tunnel vision of he is probably going to be here for the rest of his life and the opportunities aren’t that big. I finally told him, “Why don’t you keep taking these jobs for money? Why don’t you try and take a job that you enjoy, something that you want to see? You love being outside.”
The next day, he had applied to five jobs in seasonal work and now he is on a mountain in Big Sky, Montana, working as a manager in a pizza shop because he said, “You are right. I’m either going to work in a pizza shop in my hometown for the next five months or I can go try this thing in this new place.” My mind was blown. The fact that he applied for the jobs, got the job, and didn’t have the qualifications or that he is not smart enough to do it. It’s just he’s going. That’s probably the biggest one for sure.
Stories like that show the power of telling stories because that in itself makes me want to travel. Picturing him at this job in Montana during the winter is like, “Wow.” Once I started to feel more confident traveling. Taking road trips made a big difference for me, especially given the current conditions and my personal comfort level with COVID.
I thought, “What do I feel physically safe doing versus the mental safety stretching yourself beyond that?” For me, that is exploring the country. Doing it in my car and having a bit more control, but there does require a lot of discomforts. Something that helped me push out of my boundaries was seeing things that other people were doing, especially online and noticing my reaction to it. Is this something that I find myself saying, “I want to go do that?”
I got into the practice of every time I would see a video of someone in a different part of the country or even the world, I would save that to Google Maps. In Google Maps, you can create these lists of bookmarks based on the map. I started doing this last 2021. I have bookmarked every place that looked amazing that I wanted to go visit one day and it helped shape my plan because I was seeing other people do something that looked incredible.
Speaking of Montana, one of the most incredible places I went was Glacier National Park. I remember the moment of being in that park, looking at this one particular part that I had seen in somebody’s video. I was looking at it in person, not on the screen. It was this realization like, “I did this and I can do this.” Also, simultaneously something that I didn’t intend to talk about, but I’m curious what your experience has been like in terms of documenting.
You have written a book. You are documenting it through these conversations and stories that you are writing or speaking on. What about social media? Do you feel like documenting it on camera, video, or still photos takes away from your experience and savoring it? Is it something that you consciously do or don’t do? How do you keep yourself in the present moment to take in where you are at? What a lot of people tend to do these days is capture their travels for other people or capture them for themselves in the future. I’m curious about your perspectives on that.
We touched on that before about social media and that whole hustle thing. You got to put stuff out on a schedule and make it relevant. Tag all the words in this and the other. I’m fairly conscious about those things but one of the ways that I’m wired is a little bit anti-system or something like that. I have never liked the whole be connected 24/7.
I used to be a studio manager in my graphic design firm. I used to tell people, “If you are on vacation next week, don’t check your email, call work or check with the client. Take your time for yourself.” I have had that rooted deep down inside of me for a long time. I do struggle with the idea of being someone who makes their living through these mediums or that is a major part of people finding my book or my other content is through these mediums.
I like to say that I’m bad at social media, but I think I’m quite good at it because I will ignore it for a while. There are some nice things where I can schedule some stuff. I can batch some photos together from a trip and I can say, “Set it and forget it. I don’t have to worry about plugging into that thing.” There is this trap where I’m like, “Who am I doing this for? Why am I shooting this photo and from this angle?”
I saw a girl and she was probably in her early twenties, maybe late teens, when I was in Portugal. I saw her set up her DSLR for about 30 minutes in this hallway in this old museum. It was an interesting museum, but there was nobody there. She and I were the only ones in there. I saw her for 30 minutes set up her DSLR and run over to this ledge, jump up on it, grab her book and act like she was reading a book on this ledge.
I left the room and then fifteen minutes later, I came back and she was doing it. It was at least 20 or 30 minutes and it made me so sad. We have a lot of people that are spending their time worrying so much about what other people are looking at. I have a friend who tells me that I need more selfies and I’m like, “Sorry, that is not what I do. I don’t like those. I don’t want people to be inspired by my face. I want them to be inspired by what they see in the world.” Because I do love photography, I want to learn and be better at photography, and I know that what I’m shooting is way prettier than my face.
For me, that is important. I want people to look at these images and go, “Wow.” As you said, you were in Glacier. You saw the place and you didn’t go there because of the person that told you to see the place. You saw this place and you were inspired by it. They were the conduit to getting you to see that but that’s what’s important for me.
This whole slow growth thing where it hit all my follower counts, this that or the other, or my book sales are slow. I’m okay with that because if they choose to pay attention to what I’m saying or what I’m putting out there, they are doing it for the right reasons. They are not doing it because I’m pandering to them or I’m choosing the right messages that are getting social media to reach this week. I do have to take a break quite often, leave my camera and be in those moments. Luckily, when you have never seen a lot of the world, everything is new and there is always something beautiful. It is new to you, so you know it is going to be new to somebody else.
I can go off for a day in Portugal and shoot twenty great images because if this place is amazing to me and I have never seen it, it is probably amazing to somebody else who has never seen it. My word for this year is batching. It is doing more things all at once that are within the same mindset so that you can free up some of your time to enjoy the other ones instead of being scatterbrained all the time. That is part of my philosophy going into and diving into social media.
I think social media, in general, thrives when it is different and there is something special these days about someone who doesn’t post a lot on social media because it feels like some people are constantly posting. We have been conditioned through these marketing messages and the algorithm that you always have to post. You have to share everything about yourself and everything that you do. It does take away from the present moment for many of us.We do a lot of things in our lives that society makes us feel like we should do. Click To Tweet
I noticed this a lot, too, during my travels. The first time I did my road trip cross country, I felt like I had to document everything. There were moments where I felt like I had to stop and pause in my travels to post it. I found myself resisting that because of something that I learned and I’m sure you experienced this too, especially with international travel is you get so tired. Much of the travel is getting somewhere and resting from it so that you have enough energy to go do something. The thing that you are doing all day is so draining that you need to rest again.
I noticed through my travels that it helped me be more present because I had to focus on my basic needs. If I was super focused on documenting everything, it would be taking away from me experiencing it and that was such an important lesson. I also found myself feeling this pressure to eventually post. I have years of footage from the past several years of travel. When I went to Greece, I documented all my experiences there and I have never posted about it. I felt this guilt, but then I realized to your point, a lot of that was for me and was me hoping I would get some outcome from it.
The truth is that the value of that footage is either in me looking back with nostalgia for what I did, maybe revisiting some of it or truly inspiring somebody to go do it too. It is not about bragging about my life or trying to make more money. You are getting more followers. That side of it did not appeal. I value people like you, who are in that mindset.
It reminds me of a trend in social media posts I have seen a lot, where people will show a famous place and what it looks like in photos. They will pan the camera around and show what it looks like outside of that limited view that we have regularly seen. One of the common things that you will see when the camera pans is a line of people waiting to take the exact same photo.
There was one in an Asian country where everybody was in line to take the same photo or video. You see them all in the line waiting, sometimes for an hour, to take that photo and video. It is this reminder of often, what we see on social media is not as blissful because maybe if you looked at that photo or video, you would think, “They are all by themselves. They are free and have this great experience.” The reality is that there are all these strangers waiting to create that whole experience that is not true.
I felt sad when I saw that. I don’t know where it was but it brought up the sadness. Similar to what you were describing in that Portugal experience of it is not a judgment necessarily. My interpretation is that she was spending 30 minutes trying to create this image of herself versus what you were experienced walking around, taking it all in, and savoring the fact that it was the two of you there so that you could enjoy it for yourself. For her, she was almost doing the opposite of trying to create an experience for other people.
It is tough to talk about these things without having this air of judgment but the reality is that we have to have contrast. We have to see both sides of the coin to be able to make a decision to see it between one side. You need to see these things and say, “Do I do these things? Have I done these things?” Yes, we all have but sometimes you have that jarring moment where it was like, “I’m supposed to pay attention to this right now. How am I going to listen to this moment?” It is an interesting thing.
I may have seen it on your feed. I saw that video of the folks on the bridge in the lines and things like that. To speak to this nomadic life that I now have chosen to live and I say this every time I write something down or share a photo, “If you can get there early or go late and not have to subscribe as much to the tourist timeline.” That is a hard thing. You have to put in the years of work to say, “I’m going to change my life to have more freedom.” When you finally do that, then you can go in the shoulder seasons or at the times when everybody is not there.
One of the things I’m very happy about with a lot of my photography is that there are very few times when I have to wait for people to move out of the way because I make it a point to get there when I do have the place to myself. You commented on a photo from Inishmore in Ireland. Shortly after I sold my house a couple of years ago, I went to Europe for two months and that was my first real trip to Europe.
I started in Ireland and I went to the islands of Inishmore for three days, but it was at the start of the slow season where this island has 800 inhabitants technically, and every day of the summer, it goes up by 500% because that is how many people they bring in on ferries that want to visit these islands. In the shoulder seasons, they only have one ferry a day and that ferry is half full. Those people are only on the island from 10:00 until about 4:30.
I stayed on the island for three nights in one of the empty hostels. This entire three days, two nights on this island, ended up costing me $220 total. That was my hostel, the Guinness that I was drinking while watching the sunsets and renting a bike so that I could go to these places by myself. I had all these crazy, amazing cliffs and archeological marvels to myself with not a soul in sight because I had built in a little bit more flexibility of when I could travel.
The other side of that is making choices about travel like what’s important to you? Is it the time of year, following certain temperatures or this, that or the other important to you? Is being able to travel more important to you? Choosing shoulder seasons is less expensive. You might not have perfect conditions, but they are far from imperfect.
There are all these tweaks that people can do to make different choices about their travel where they can probably have more amazing things to themselves instead of following what all the guidebooks say is the right time to go to this place. The right time for me is when there’s not a lot of people there. I can explore it for myself and it happens to be less expensive.
That is when I went to Greece. It was a little disappointing because I went in November and it was cold. It was funny enough. I was not prepared with my attire because all of the advice about Greece was based on the warm seasons. Everything was about dresses and bathing suits. That was what I packed and I barely used any of those clothes.
I truly struggled to find advice about what to wear in Greece in the winter and so much was closed. There were a lot of downsides, but the upside was exactly what you shared, that I got to experience much of that country with barely anyone around. It helped with photos as well, but being able to take in with solitude, I much prefer your point. I think it did end up being much more affordable.
Greece is one of those places where a lot of the photos that you see on Instagram, especially in Santorini. One of those islands is Mykonos. You see these buildings and beautiful sunsets, but that is one of the perfect examples of, if you looked behind the camera, you would see all the crowds or people would reveal that they had to edit out all the people around to make it look like no one else was there.
When I learned things like that, it made me feel sad because the reality of the situation was so different than what the photos showed. I think that is part of the danger and speaking of perhaps a danger of misconceptions or what maybe all this social media promotion can do is the impact of tourism on places like you mentioned. I would love to touch upon that with you when you are talking about these areas where there are not a lot of people living somewhere or there is all this beautiful nature around.
We have to be very mindful about what tourism does to it, whether that is the people living there and how the tourism affects them for better or worse. Financially, there are incentives but we are also in somebody’s space in a lot of ways. Also, the nature side of it and the damage that we can do if we are not paying attention to the impact of us walking in certain areas or taking things.
I have noticed in my travels signs up like, “Don’t take the rocks from this beach.” If everyone takes the rocks, there won’t be any left or sand even. When I went to White Sands National Park, there was sand everywhere, but they had signs up, “Don’t take any of the sand home.” I remember having to pause for a second to think about that because it felt like it was in such abundance that I realized that if everybody who went to that park took some of that sand home, there might not be any left. We have to be trained to think about these things because we can become very ignorant of our impact as tourists. I’m curious, Jason, what you’ve learned about tourism and impact through your travels and how have you shaped that into your trips?
There was a moment probably several years ago and this was before I was even touching Instagram much. I saw somebody’s post and I noticed they were at a place that I had seen before. I’m like, “I went to look at their geotag.” Their tag was very general. I started looking into it more and that was at the beginning where this conversation about not geotagging places started.If you don't enjoy it, don't do it just because of pressure. Click To Tweet
I was in Portugal in Pena Palace in Sintra. It is a tourist destination. The entire reason Pena Palace is open now is as a tourist destination. That particular massive, mile by mile property, no one lives there. It is left to represent this era that was in the past. Counter that with something like Horseshoe Bend out in Utah or Colorado but that is one of those places where they have had such huge growth in the past several years. There is trash everywhere and they can’t grow the parking lots fast enough to get people parked in the right place.
There is no great answer for this. This is a conversation that can go on forever but I think part of the answer is being a responsible person, human, or tourist. That starts with having time and that time allows you to go at times when it is not overloaded with people or in the shoulder seasons. You spread out that travel so that it is manageable by these places because people are not going to stop traveling.
We need to make sure that we are smarter about how many people we are allowing to travel into properties or onto properties. Timing systems in our national parks and things like that that get a lot of negative looks are important. I have been in national parks where I lost a tear or two because I saw how bad the destruction of the heavy season in our national parks is. This was during the first year of COVID. Our national parks were getting decimated by crowds of people.
I saw in the fall the Yosemite National Park and how bad it looked. It looked like it had been beaten up by months of over threading. There are ways to be more responsible. I think that the other biggest way is to be a human being towards the other human beings where you are traveling. That doesn’t mean to other tourists. That means, more importantly, to the places that you are traveling.
I encourage people to learn 10 to 20 words or phrases and try to speak in a language where you are going, even if it is a difficult language. Show that compassion that this is not your place. You need to show respect that you are in someone else’s home and country. How can you do that in small ways? I think if everybody did a few of these things a little bit more, it would go a long way.
I had quite a few conversations about how there is a lot of people traveling to these places that are there because they want to take whatever they can from it, whether it is visually or memory-wise. They are not concerned about how they are hurting that. There was a post by one of the parks that I follow and they have trail cams. They had 4 or 5 pictures without people’s faces or things like that of people deprecating off the side of the trail, urinating in the water, and having their dogs play where there aren’t even supposed to be dogs on the property.
That conversation was, “Come on, everybody, if we work together a little bit, we can make these places last longer and be better.” Call your friends, mom and dad out. If they do something that is disrespectful toward our lands or somebody else, look at them and go, “Why did you do that? Can you not do that? That feels disrespectful to me because I cherish this place and I don’t want that to happen.” That is back to those difficult conversations. We need to have them with ourselves but we need to be able to have them with those people around us. If you can’t break those cycles in the people that you care about, those cycles aren’t going to get broken.
I’m going through in my head. I’m sure I have done plenty of things like that out of ignorance and that was another big lesson for me. I had not camped that much before 2021. I didn’t understand the concept of leave no trace. In the number of things that I probably did while camping, that was no-noes, but I was ignorant of it. That is why books like yours are so important.
Just this all these nuances of travel and things to consider, you have to educate yourself and simultaneously have compassion for people that are not educated. To your point, that is where we need to have these conversations with each other, speak about it regularly and understand people are all at different journeys and levels of awareness when it comes to how they are doing things. Also, understand that is why there are regulations in place.
One thing I remember about the road trip going to national parks is places like Glacier had lotteries in place. Based on when you wanted to go on the trip, you had to get a special pass. They only had a limited amount to certain parts of the park. On social media, people were livid about this and saying things like, “You ruined my whole trip because I didn’t win the lottery. Now, I can’t go and it is a complete waste.”
It is angry about this, but it is exactly like you said. The reason that was put in place was because these parks are recognizing that they can’t have that many people there. Otherwise, it is going to destroy the park and it won’t be a park anymore. Also, you bring up Yosemite and Yellowstone. I saw so many posts about the traffic, in Yosemite, in particular. I’m shocked at how bad the traffic has become there and people being stuck for hours trying to either drive into the parks or within the parks. People don’t even know how to drive properly.
It can be very chaotic and it does require planning to avoid that. As you mentioned, “Get into a park super early in the morning and planning your day around the touristy parts of the parks can make a huge difference.” Otherwise, you are spending a huge chunk of your time waiting in traffic lines or being around all these people who might be super disrespectful.
Going back to your book, I’m excited to read this. I started looking through the table of contents and I think it is going to be incredibly helpful for me on my next trip. There were a couple of things that I am grateful you included. One was the section stop buying dumb shit. I’m not sure if that is referring to budgeting, “Be mindful of what you buy in general so that you can save money for travel,” which I think it is an important point. Since I haven’t read it yet, is that referencing stop buying dumb travel shit, like things you don’t need to travel with?
It could be both, but that specifically is in your normal life. Since we haven’t gone over what this book is yet, this book is started as a culmination of those several years of me creating my own experiments to take me from having never traveled and being scared of the world. Scared of all of these things that I had never done and saying, “That is not an excuse. How are you going to get from point A to point B literally and figuratively?”
After those first two years of me going from having never traveled to now choosing to be location-independent and a world traveler for all the messy parts that that involves compared to our status quo or our normal Keeping Up with the Joneses, I said, “This is a blueprint.” All of the things that I mentally through my analytical brain went through over this time look like a blueprint.
This book is all about the mental, emotional and physical, financial, all of these different buckets that you need to look at whenever you’re going to make a massive change in your life, whether it has to do with travel, a massive job shift or changing to a different state. There is not just, “I’m going to flip a switch and go do these things. “ There are all these water falling issues.
This book takes the lens of travel, but it is more of a self-help motivational self-growth book about life and looking at what’s causing you to do certain things. How can you get over that hurdle? How can you rinse, repeat, refine and get to that next step and what does that next step? The one that you are asking about, stop buying dumb shit. Gary Vaynerchuk, who cusses about a million times more than I do, said it a couple of years ago. I was like, “It is easy and simple. Stop buying dumb shit.”
Let’s caveat back to everything we have talked about. We are going to learn until the day we die. Every time you and I make a statement, we are talking about ourselves, other people, us yesterday and tomorrow. We are going to fight these battles repeatedly. It is a matter of continuing to refine and repeat. Stop buying dumb shit is all about choosing in your normal life to say, “I have five subscriptions to streaming services and those services are costing me $1,500 a year if I don’t get rid of them.” I lived in Portugal for about $1,800 a month. There are all these things where if we can stop ignoring our finances, the uncomfortable parts about budgeting or looking at that stuff where it was like, “You can find the money to travel and then you can’t say that travel is too expensive anymore.”
I also loved a similar section, which was redefining your wants and needs, ties into how you have defined dumb shit because, as you mentioned, it is on a case-by-case basis. It is all relative to our lives. What one person needs might be different from what somebody else needs. Also, knowing the difference between wants and needs is incredibly important when it comes to our finances.
Also, as you mentioned, we can be so influenced by other people, by the media, and the status quo that we get our wants and needs confused. We think that we need to have a Netflix subscription, but maybe if we think about how much value that is giving us and what is more important, and where our priorities are, it makes a huge difference. I also love the chapter that came after that, which is don’t underestimate the power of words. I’m a big advocate for conscious languaging and try to notice what I’m saying and what it means. I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about that in terms of travel.“I would rather be doing things that inspire me and make progress vs stagnating and feeling the same way.” Click To Tweet
There is a fair flow to this book and the chapters build upon each other. Those two specifically build upon each other because we lie to ourselves a lot. Some of the examples I used in that chapter of wants and needs are like, “I need a beer.” No, you never need a beer. I don’t know that there is a physical condition that says you need a beer. You might want a beer because you had a rough day and you want to wallow and watch Netflix.
It is using those realities between those wants and those needs. This is one of those few areas where it may be more black and white than most things. I do see our world on a gray spectrum. I don’t think there are a lot of things that are hard black and white, but if there are some things where you can say, “Is this a want or is this a need?” There’s a pretty fine line between that.
“I’m a Type 1 diabetic. I need insulin.” I don’t want it. I don’t want to have to shoot it up, but I need that so I need to find money to pay for those bills. I need to do these things because that is a need. “I want a beer. I want to go hang out with my friends in that expensive place.” I can choose to say, “We are not going to go to that expensive place.” What I want there is to be with my friends.
Back to that, stop buying dumb shit. I would much rather personally spend two hours in the kitchen having a cheap bottle of wine with friends than go to a restaurant where we don’t pay attention to our surroundings but we spend 3 to 4 times more money and we have to talk over loud noises. You can accomplish both things there.
Going to that next chapter about the use of words, I think because we are always in our own heads and we do have to change our own soundtracks. When we say certain things, we need to be truthful with ourselves, “I’m not too tired to exercise. I’m choosing not to go exercise. I haven’t had time to do this thing.” That is not true. You haven’t prioritized your time in a way to where you are going to do that thing.
These are minor tweaks, but if we are more real with ourselves on the truth about these situations, we will probably make some better decisions about how we spend our time and how we spend our money in the long term. You do have to be careful not to get down on yourself the whole time because you are lying to yourself or you have created a soundtrack that is not necessarily based on fact. I think once you get over that initial hurdle of saying, “I want to be more honest with myself and I want to be more honest with those people around me.” It gets a lot easier. At least you can call bullshit on yourself a lot more than you have in your past.
This is all about getting through your comfort zones. We can be very comfortable in the things that we say and that does reinforce our belief systems. The more that we keep talking the way that we have always been speaking, we are stuck in this confirmation bias. We are telling ourselves, “This is important and I can’t change. I need to do it this way.”
When I find myself saying things like that, I take a moment to ask like, “Is it true?” A lot of times, it is not true. It is an old belief system or a habit that I have had. I agree and it is such a huge part of this all. I wanted to get back into the finances of it, too, because I think that seemingly one of the major things that people either use as an excuse and maybe that covers up their own discomfort.
They use the money to convince themselves they can’t do it or time. You talked about time as well. Both of them play a role in being a nomad. Doing work on the road is a great way to travel because some people think that they are stuck at home because of their jobs. More and more, we are finding that companies are open to working from home and home could be anywhere if you are a nomad. That is how I have been able to travel.
People often ask, “How are you able to travel on the road for three months?” It is because I work anywhere remotely with my computer. It is wonderful. Now, that is not necessarily available to everyone given their circumstances but I would love to hear more about your life and how you changed? As you mentioned, you had this old job and you chose to shift. I’m curious about how that all worked out financially in things like debt, shifting the structure of your finances, and making room for travel. I imagine this is something you touch upon in the book, but perhaps you can share some of the basics and maybe some best practices you have learned.
I had graduated college and then moved to North Carolina from Ohio. By the time I was 28, I was $50,000 in debt and single. Part of the caveat of this conversation is that I’m single. I have never been married. I don’t have kids and understand how those can change the complexion of any conversation. With that said, there are still similar hurdles and choices that have to be made to get from point A to B in any of these situations.
I was $50,000 in debt at age 28 and I realized that that was not a good long-term trajectory with another one of those times. I was getting out of our relationship, not my choice, but I realized that had I entered that relationship long-term, gotten married and wanted kids, that was going to be this massive weight in the relationship. I said, “I don’t want to be that if I ever get this opportunity again.”
Over four years, I paid off $50,000 and this is different depending on where everybody lives, but I was making $36,000 a year, living in a fairly large US city. Charlotte is one of the top twenty largest US cities. It is not an inexpensive place to live, but that was my goal. I had a crazy budget that you get $10 a week for entertainment and that includes your beer in a movie or anything. That is $10 a week and I did this for 3 to 4 years. First and foremost, you got to figure out how to get out of debt. Shit happens but keep getting out of it if you get back in and figure that equation out.
Number two, this goes back to those, stop buying dumb shit and make better choices, needs versus wants. I didn’t spend money on things that I didn’t need and my want that was close to a need was to travel. That was my priority. I said, “If that is what your life is going to be, you are going to make your money pay your bills and then you are going to save everything or use everything to travel.”
It also goes back to our upbringing. I was taught travel is too expensive, it is too scary or you need to fear it. I had to get rid of all those misconceptions because I had already had that seed planted back in my twenties that travel doesn’t look like it always has to be expensive. Maybe I should learn a little bit more about that or I should learn about this side of travel where it is not expensive or how these people are doing this long-term. I feel like this record has been playing for 10 or 20 years now, but there is still a lot of people that are new to it.
There are ways to travel where it doesn’t cost a lot of money and for me, I don’t travel like a tourist. Working on the road is difficult. I had to find a place to work. For instance, this was when I was in Lisbon for six weeks. I could not work in my hostel every day and have podcast interviews while there were people in the hostel running around behind me and bad internet. I had to pay for a co-working space that I could go to every day, Monday through Friday, so that I could get work done.
I was not doing these expensive touristy things all the time. I was doing them once or twice a month and then I was simply enjoying this new part of the world for a month or two. In that, there is enough visual enrichment in a place to last 3 to 12 months and your eyes are still going to be wide open to where I think that is a shift between a tourist mentality and a travelers mentality or a long-term travel mentality.
I talk about that in the book, the difference between the tourist mindset and a traveler type of a mindset, which has to do with impact, exhaustion and the food you eat. I’m very happy to say I didn’t gain a lot of weight whenever I was in Portugal for three months with all the great food and all this different stuff because I’m not there to binge on things. I’m there to live. For me, that means paying attention to my budget, health, family, and friends back home. All of those things, I just happen to be in a different place.
That is part of the reprioritization that I did back when I started to go down this road was if travel is truly a priority, figure out financially where that fits and know how much money you need to make a year to make that lifestyle happen. I was doing my budget. I do it once a year, traditionally around January, because it is set up. It is ready to go. It is all plugged in. I need to keep an eye on it and say, “What has changed? What has not? Where is my income coming from? Can I choose to make more? Can I make less so that I can enjoy my freedom a little bit more? That is a part of this deep dive of life to say, “Where are your priorities?”
I think one of the things we have not touched on here is how long life is? A lot of people that have that why would let you throw it all away mentality think that life is fleeting and it is going to go fast. There are situations where life is fleeting but for the most part, average lifespans are 70 plus years. Just for us Americans, we are going downhill.“I don't want people to be inspired by my face. I want them to be inspired by the world.” Click To Tweet
Most of the people reading based on your demographics still have half of their life left based on pure numbers. To say to yourself, “Let me take 1, 2 or 3 years and explore something that can change the next 30 years of my life.” It is such a small amount of time to figure out what is more right for you than what you might be going through at this moment.
I think travel helps you figure out your priorities on so many levels. As you said, you need to re-examine your priorities to make it work time and financially. Also, while you are traveling, you get a greater perspective on life. I feel like you are able to be more present because you are doing something out of your norm and it shakes you awake. You can’t help but be in awe of your surroundings the most cases, especially if you are not on your phone the whole time.
That is what keeps bringing me back to travel. Even driving to a different part of the state or sometimes even the different part of your city or your town and saying, “I’m going to experience something for the first time and I’m going to make sure I have set my day aside for it. I have scheduled for it or I’m going to put aside some money.”
That’s something that I started doing for the first time. In the past, when I would travel, it would be spontaneous. I would either put it on credit cards, which is not something that I want to do anymore because I don’t want to put myself further in debt, or I would look at my current budget and decide how I could travel within that.
Now, I’m trying to plan months in advance. I set aside in my savings account a special section for travel so that when I plan to travel, even if it’s six to nine months later, I have that money set aside, or I have a plan to put money into this fund every single month. That makes a huge difference. I only learned to do that because of my past experiences. That is why traveling has helped me refine my priorities over and over again.
A trick that long-term travelers use is, if you can pay for your travel expenses, the idea of taking a week off work in our current work society, all of those things cause people so much stress. I’m not saying that people reading this don’t know that. It requires an emphasis like, “How can you reduce that stress?” One of the ways that you can do that is to pay for your trips well ahead of time. If you can continue to get ahead of that cycle to the point when your trip gets there, it is all the way paid for, even if that is an inexpensive accommodation or that your plane flight has been paid for 4 or 5 months and the only thing you need to worry about is your money on the ground, but you have saved that. That can take so much stress out of people’s lives as far as travel goes to where.
It snowballs and builds on each other because you’re like, “Why was this so much easier? Things were in order. Let me do that again and continue that.” That feeds into the long-term budgeting thing where it’s like, once you see how all of those things work, if you’ve never budgeted before, it almost becomes this game where it’s like, “This is awesome. This is working. How can I refine and make this even better?” That’s one of the beauties in them when you get into travel hacking. I think there’s a subset of people that get freaked out about the word travel hacking.
I’m not an expensive guy. My life doesn’t cost that much. I still get a free flight to Europe every year because I use one credit card fairly religiously and that gets me enough points to get a free flight to Europe every year. There are much more crazy ways to use multiple credit cards, especially if your life costs a lot more to where you can simply get free flights and do those things the right way by using credit cards in a smart way. There are all these little tricks of the trade that you can slowly learn over a few years that you can implement here and there that can make it a lot less stressful to travel more.
I have had a few guests on the show that talked about those things, specifically. One is Jessie Mecham from You Need a Budget, which is a phenomenal resource. That episode is a wonderful episode. We had another guest who talked about travel hockey and credit cards, all about the whole point system. That was Owen Beiny’s episode.
I’m so grateful, Jason, for you coming on. You have re-inspired me. You made me even more excited about my travel budget and contributed to that more. One other thing I wanted to mention about that is it opens up so many possibilities for you when you do plan ahead. I saw a TikTok of this couple who was flying first-class and in the comments section, people were saying, “Easy for you to say, but not everybody can afford to fly first class.” The person that made the video commented back and said, “We planned far in advance so that we could afford to fly first-class. We knew this was going to be a long flight. We wanted to be comfortable, but it took a lot of work for us to get here.”Be a human being towards other human beings where you're traveling. Click To Tweet
I read that thinking, “It is such a big reframe.” It is not about the next time you buy a plane ticket, deciding which one you can afford, but maybe anticipating your needs moving forward and putting money aside so that you have the ability to make decisions that bring you more joy and comfort. Saving money even a few dollars can have accumulated or made decisions which credit cards you use that is happening automatically. There are so many tools online now that you can use to make all this happen that you don’t even have to think that much about.
I also wanted to mention that it has come up once or twice that during all of this, I got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which type one is an autoimmune disease. Somebody could wake up tomorrow with it because your autoimmune system decides that it is going to attack a part of your body. In my instance, my pancreas. This was another one of those shifting perspective moments and that is why I want to bring it up, especially for somebody who is tuning into this. It is tuned in for travel, fear, self-motivation, and growth advice.
One of the things that I had to overcome in the past year is number one, I sold my home in the summer. A few months later, COVID hit and eight months later, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I had transitioned from being in one location for fifteen years to having the ability to move around at ease and then ending up back in the US.
During that time, I ended up losing 20 pounds. I was drinking a gallon of water a day. My vision changed. All these things happened over the course of a month. Now, I had this, “Oh shit. This sucks.” I want to curl up in a ball, not go out and do anything again. I did have that two weeks where I shut down completely. I think we all have to allow ourselves time to take the time that we need and that is what I needed. Luckily, I had some friends that helped me through.
I then realized, “This thing is not going to stop me. How am I going to figure this out?” One of the ways that I continue to have to tell myself, especially traveling across the world for three months, not knowing how I’m going to get insulin and what I’m going to do if I get into trouble? Number one, I got to figure those things out and go with it. Anybody who has a major pre-existing condition or anybody who knows somebody who does this advice is for you. I think I covered everybody there.
These pre-existing conditions and big life-changing things are not only for us in the United States. Everybody around the world deals with them. Once you can put your brain around that and get your mind around that and say, “These people in Portugal have Type 1 diabetes as well. What are they doing? How are they getting through their days?” That means there are probably resources there for me.
If the shit hits the fan, it is a matter of doing what you need to do in those places they get by. Money is not an object when your health is concerned and if you get into trouble, you are going to need to do what you need to do. That is the way I have had to start approaching things. It’s like, “I’m not going to allow this to stop me. I need to figure those things out.”
Now, I try and add that to my conversation and help other people that might have pre-existing conditions and deal with the travel medical insurance around the world and those conversations. It was a huge empathy moment for me and an awakening moment for me when I realized that my vision went away within the course of a week. I have had perfect vision for fifteen years and all of a sudden, I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me. All of a sudden, I could see 10 feet in front of me, but I couldn’t see 30 feet from me. It switched and it changed.
All of that went away when I got my blood sugar right. That was a fun side effect of having too much water in your body and you are drinking gallons of water a day. Your lenses float or there is too much water in your eyes and your vision changes. My sister had a bad vision her whole life. She has had her retinas detached multiple times to where she has had to have surgeries face down. That was one of those moments where I went, “Holy shit.”
I never realized what it is like for somebody and when I joke with a friend about wearing glasses, what does that mean? I’m not sure how I tangent into this empathy moment, but being able to realize that there are other people dealing with things that you don’t understand and vice versa. It gives us all a little bit more of a pause when we can do that on a regular basis.First and foremost, you have to figure out how to get out of debt. Click To Tweet
It opens up your mind to the reality that people around the world are dealing with this. If you have these problems, they are overcomeable in travel, even in long-term travel. Sometimes they are even easier because my insulin is about 10% as expensive when I’m over in Europe. I had to find that out because I lost a couple of insulin pens. They got frozen on the plane on the way over there and I had to figure it out. I wanted to speak to that audience that they are dealing with bigger things than finances, budgets or fear. There are some other things that are under the surface.
That is also a great lesson of the empathy part of it. I have seen that travel is not about you. It is about all the people that you meet and all the people that your travel impacts, thinking about all these different things. That in itself could be overwhelming but thank goodness you have The Beginner Traveler’s Guide to all of this to help you finally kickstart your travel life or go full nomad.
I can’t wait to read this. I am already planning my trip many months down the line, as I said. I love reading things like this well in advance so that I can start to account for them in my budget, my schedule and my thought process. I’m grateful that you provide this resource to everyone. Thank you for coming to the show and sharing your stories. You shared so much wisdom. I’m probably going to struggle to decide which quote to feature on our Instagram account.
I hope also that the readers reach out and share with either me or Jason about what inspired them or what they have learned. Maybe you can tell us about some upcoming trips. Do you have any online community, like a Facebook group or a platform where people talk to each other because I always find those so helpful for travel as well?
I have been a part of a paid group called Location Indie for several years. The whole point of that group is to help people go from location-dependent to location-independent. I have a community of folks that I have gotten to know over the years, as far as that goes. I spend a lot of my time on Instagram because I do love photography.
My website is TheNomadExperiment.com. On Instagram, I’m @TheNomadExperiment and that is where I’m happy to have more in-depth conversations and talk about uncomfortable things. There is a lot of destination photography there, but I do also tend to talk about those uncomfortable moments, things that we are going through and the realities of life. I do like to write, and I do like to photograph. That seems like a good platform for me. Beyond that, on my website, folks can always comment on articles and things like that. I’ll have that conversation through that.
I can’t wait to go check out all of the work that you are doing. I look at it from a whole other perspective now but I have gotten to know you over this time. Thanks again for sharing and for being here. Thanks for inspiring me and many others that are reading. I can’t wait to see where you go next. I will be watching on your Instagram account. Thanks, Jason.
Thank you. This has been great.
- Jason Robinson
- Jessie Mecham – Previous Episode
- Owen Beiny – Previous Episode
- The Beginner Traveler’s Guide
- Location Indie
- Instagram – Wellevatr
- @TheNomadExperiment – Instagram
About Jason Robinson
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