I’m on around hour 30 of a 60 hour trip from north India to south India. I’ve just spent six weeks in Rishikesh, a community known worldwide for yoga and meditation. I’m heading to Hampi, the bouldering mecca of Asia. Three trains, a taxi, a couple of rickshaws, a ferry and I’ll be there sometime tomorrow. I could have booked a flight for a hundred dollars more, but that didn’t seem as interesting. Plus, I like the introspective time you get during a long trip…
“Why do you do what you do?”
A friend asked me that the other day. In this context it meant world travel, outdoor adventure, and photography. A loaded question, indeed. One I hadn’t thought about before. I said I do it because I don’t know what else to do. This is what makes me happy. At the time it felt too simple, but really it was just honest. I don’t need to think about it because I’ve spent too much time in the past thinking about what I SHOULD be doing.
I spent years as a freelance web designer because it was a job that paid well. I thought I should grow that business because it was financially fruitful. All it did was keep my eyeballs glued to a computer screen, stress me out, and give me back problems.
Upon realizing web design did not suit me in the long run, I decided I should start taking photography more seriously and do it full time. So I spent a year building a portrait and wedding business that sucked up all kinds of energy and money. Ultimately it kept me tied to a studio and email and a 27 inch display to make retouching easier. Not so different than web design.
Ironically, just a few weeks ago when I was halfway through my yoga teacher training course I had a minor breakdown questioning what I’m doing with my life. That I’ve tried so many different courses of action over the years and eventually scrapped them all. What if I’m doing it again? Do I really want to be a yoga instructor? What if I decide I hate it?
But I’m not doing it again because I never felt like I SHOULD be a yoga instructor. Initially I signed up for teacher training because I wanted to have a solid self-practice and better understand yoga philosophy. It wasn’t about making money.
When I decided to get an art degree with a photography concentration, it surely wasn’t about making money. I would have gotten a business degree if that was the case.
It’s easy to lose sight of the original enthusiasm when everyone wants you to define what you do and where you’re going with it. I don’t know if I’ll open a yoga studio or become some super popular instructor teaching retreats all over the world.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be paid for my photography in the way I had imagined. There are better yoga instructors and photographers that have been honing their respective practices a lot longer than me. I am reminded of and humbled by this fact every time I look at my Instagram feed.
But I know that I will trudge around the world with my camera, yoga mat, and climbing shoes because I can’t imagine not doing these things. I have no grand plan anymore. I have no idea where I’ll be in five years, or even a year, because I don’t need to know. I’m not saying goals are bad. I’m saying my goals were all shoulds that were just getting in my way. I am living and breathing what I realize now has so long been my ultimate goal — to travel the world and be outside as much as possible.
So what is it that I do exactly? I live my life the way I want to live it. That’s really what I do. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my adult life.
“But what about money?”
This is a much more common question than the first one and I’m going to be more honest than I ever have on this subject. To be clear, at 29 years old I have less money now than I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve also got some credit card debt (that I will address in a minute).
You don’t want to look to me for money advice. You definitely have more than me and quite frankly I have always been bad with money. When I had a decent salary and full benefits, I bought all kinds of shit I didn’t need. Sure, I saved a little, but never enough to warrant an extended trip across the world. On paper, I can’t afford to travel, but I do it anyway because it’s better than sitting at home wondering when I WILL be able to afford it.
Waiting for retirement isn’t an option either. There is no guarantee of later. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. And I am certainly upping my chances of that by crossing the chaotic streets of New Delhi. But as far as I’m concerned it’s better than getting hit by a bus crossing the street going to a job I hate and regretting not having been to India.
Credit card debt is something I need to address now that I’ve admitted to having gone down that particular road. It is something I have avoided talking about to anyone other than my close friends because we all know that it’s essentially a black hole of irresponsibility.
Of course I don’t recommend this path if it can be avoided. But stop for a moment and think about how much you owe in school loans, mortgage payments, or car installments. I bet I owe way less than you. And the cards I do have are travel cards which give me perks and points so as I pay them off, I use the points for travel. They are helping to finance my dreams.
If you do happen to be debt free, then are you pursuing your dreams of doing what you love? If not, then why not? It’s never going to be the right time. Everything isn’t going to perfectly fall into place.
That’s partially why I left home this time around with no plan on returning anytime soon. I want to have a mind that is free from financial anxiety so I can make clear decisions about what to do with my life rather than flailing around thinking I should do this or that to solve my money problems.
So I pay the minimum every month and know that debt is not that big of a problem in the grand scheme of things. I have my health and my happiness. Those things are far more important.
For the first time I am not trying to find ways to get paid to live the way I want to live. I am just living it. I’ve spent the last year traveling and being outdoors and doing things that genuinely make me happy. Not things that I tell myself make me happy or will make me happy in the future when X, Y, and Z align.
Along the way I have met various people much older and wiser whom I tell my story to. I tell them that I don’t see how this life is sustainable because I can’t really afford it (yes, self doubt has been a major part of living this dream of mine). But you know what they all tell me? To keep doing what I’m doing. Keep living my passion and doing what makes me happy. The money will come. And so I have faith in the path I’m on.
So how do I actually live then?
I have enough from working various angles to keep me going in cheap countries. I live simple, but that does not mean I go without. Delicious, healthy meals are the norm. I opt for a private room rather than a dorm bed.
I do yoga nearly every day whether that means self-practice or paying to go to a class that is 2 hours and $3 USD.
Bouldering in Hampi will cost me nothing but a dollar to rent a crash pad and the time it takes to meet other climbers.
If I decide to go ski in the north when climbing season ends, I’ll make it happen. Lift tickets don’t cost $100 USD here like they do at home.
I don’t have a budget because I don’t need one when life only costs $15-$30 a day (which I easily spend on one meal at home).
I buy experiences, not stuff. I only shop when I actually need something (such as the amazeballs poncho in the above photo that cost me all of $13 USD. It was freezing in Rishikesh). I know that buying things I don’t need is just extra weight in my backpack.
Luxury hotels don’t appeal to me because the Ritz is pretty much the same in every country. I want to be on a first name basis with the owner of my guesthouse.
I have a few minor bills — iPhone, computer software, and said credit card. And guess what? I business expense everything because I am indeed a traveling photographer. I am available for hire and my photos are available for purchase.
As I have made pretty clear, business is not doing so well. But my life on the other hand? Well that is going just wonderfully, thank you.
I get emails from people who stumble across my website saying I’ve inspired them to finally go travel. That is so much more valuable to me than a paycheck. This world needs more people pursuing their dreams.
Perhaps I do have a goal after all — inspiring others to do what they love instead of living a life full of shoulds.