Where Do I Start? How to Stop Dreaming and Get Moving

I got an email from a reader the other day (edited for length/personal details):

I took a year off from college with the intentions to travel.

Well…. I didn’t travel and one year later, I find myself in the same spot I was a year ago. Being twenty, I’m not sure what I want to do with my life, not sure which path I want to take, but I do know I do want to travel. I just want to get out there and experience everything possible. Immerse myself in other cultures, enjoy art & nature, meet new people.

But when it comes down to it, down to making a decision, to figuring it out, I find myself hitting a wall. The usual issues come up- no money, no travel buddies, not knowing where to go, how to even begin.

I was just wondering if you had any advice on how to take the next steps or what are the next steps?

Making the leap from the idea of traveling to actually putting a plan into action can be daunting. There is a lot to consider and a lot of choices to be made.

Uncertain Autumn
photo credit: josemanuelerre

I think a lot of people get stuck in the phase between deciding to travel and actually making it happen, because there is so much to consider when you are trying to turn an abstract concept into a reality. This then morphs into one of the common excuses I was talking about last week, most likely the “I’ll do it later,” syndrome. When something is abstract it’s easy to push off, that’s why you need to turn your potential travel idea into a concrete reality.

So here are three crucial steps to help you transition from thought to action:

Thinking of You
photo credit: Lauren Manning

Think about what you want

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself some key questions:

Why do you want to travel?

What are you hoping to get out of a big trip?

There’s no right answer here. Maybe there’s a language you’ve been dying to learn, or a burning question you’re trying to solve. Perhaps there is a list of places that you’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe you’re really into adventure sports or big city culture.

The world is an enormous place and just setting out to see it is kind of a vague and unobtainable goal. By figuring out what you’re actually looking for you can narrow down your list of options and start to think in realistic terms.

Bryant Park, late Apr 2009 - 21
photo credit: Ed Yourdon

Consider the resources available to you

The second step is a reality check of sorts. You need to evaluate your budget and resources to determine what you can actually pursue.

First think about the restraints of money and time. How much of either are you willing to invest in this project? Are you thinking about a month long experience or a year? Depending on how long and where you are going you will have to budget accordingly.

Secondly, consider all of the programs and other resources available to you. There are a plethora of volunteer organizations, study abroad options and work visas that you can take advantage of.

Also consider friends and family you may have strewn around the world. Having somewhere to stay and some one to show you around is an excellent motivation to go somewhere.

At this point you should have a fairly good sketch of what you actually want your trip to look like. You don’t necessarily need actual dates or itineraries, but a basic outline of what you intend to do (teach English in Korea, backpack through Europe, travel overland through Africa).

photo credit: purpleslog

Lastly, sit down and sketch out a plan of action- then start making it happen!

Once you’ve got a pretty good idea of where you want to go and what you want to do, the last step is creating a to do list (oh how I love to-do lists). This will be your plan of the actual concrete steps you need to take before you can leave. Stuff like: saving money, applying for visas, buying plane tickets and buying equipment. It might also include things like graduating from school, telling your family and looking for a new job.

This list might take awhile to complete- in my case I was seriously planning and saving for about a year and a half before I left. It’s tough work, but actually realizing your dream is a great motivation! 

It really is as simple as this. I’ve always though that making the decision to travel is the most difficult part. Once you’ve really committed, everything else just falls into place. It’s just a matter of figuring out 1. what you want to do and 2. how to do it.



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11 thoughts on “Where Do I Start? How to Stop Dreaming and Get Moving”

  1. Hi I have been thinking about traveling for some time now I just want to escape reality and spread my wings. Iam 31 from Sheffield I would more then likely be taking my car so airplanes are a big no for me. I don’t no where to start on my big adventure and need to start saving for it but I just keep sitting here and watching the time go by. I have lived a troubled life and just want explore the world as there is nothing really here for me. Can any one give me advice on where to start thank you.

  2. Hello Steph,
    I was thinking about going traveling, but I’m scared at the same time. I don’t want to go on my own, but can’t find anyone to go with and so many places I’d love to see but wouldn’t know where to start.
    hope I get a reply soon
    Elodie xx

  3. Jennifer Bolster

    Steph, Ive just stumbled upon your blog and I could almost cry out of happiness. Im 21 years old and since I could remember Ive wanted to travel and adventure, in the past couple of months Ive secured a good paying job that is on a 3 week on 2 week off schedule, and Ive decided to make it happen. All of your posts are so inspiring and all the fears Im having right now are all diffusing slowly with everything I read on your blog. This is a great resource for me, mind, body, and soul, so thank you for that. Im going to continue reading now!

  4. Great post and I totally agree with what everyone has said so far. I faced a lot of these issues myself (no one to travel with, no money etc) but you can’t let these things stop you from following your dreams and achieving your goals.

    For my first trip, seeing none of my friends were keen, I ended up doing a group tour and meeting some fantastic people who I am still friends with today. If you don’t know what your doing and its enough to put you off then a tour is great because all your transport and accommodation is sorted but you still get time to explore on your own. It is a great introduction to solo travel in my opinion.

    And as for money I did exactly what Christine said – I bought my ticket a year in advance (which can sometimes be more expensive..) and then I spent that year frantically saving to pay for the tour and spending money. It was so worth it in the end and I had a such a great time! And now I have no problem traveling on my own or letting those issues hold me back 🙂

    Good luck to whoever wrote you that email!

    1. Great post, Stephanie! I love making lists and I’m in the point of my life where I know I want to travel but don’t know how to start. This blog has been such a great read so far.

      Renata, I like the idea of going on a group tour as it will be my first big trip. Can you recommend a tour company? I’d like to explore Western Europe specifically. Thanks.

  5. I graduated a year early from high school just so I could travel for a year. I felt at the time that I wasn’t ready to leave for a whole year for a destination, and I really wanted to see a lot of places. So I would work until I could get enough money for a trip and then book a ticket and plan! I managed to go on trips to El Salvador/Guatemala, Netherlands/Belgium/France/Spain/Morocco, Mexico, and Japan/Indonesia during that year.
    After two years of community college, I wanted another break before I entered my local university, so… I took another year off! But this time I felt ready to leave for another destination. I didn’t have much money in the bank to travel RTW, so I decided to become an Au Pair in Germany (living here right now). It gave me free housing and meals and I got extra money every month. If I didn’t travel every month, then I could save a good amount of money while here, but I love traveling so I definitely plan as many vacations as allowed. I also sold my car, and saved from my job before I moved, to fund a bit more money into my vacations. I’ve managed to travel around Germany and to several other countries in my time here so far. I’m starting get a little antsy just staying where I am at the moment, so I plan on doing some work exchanges in other cities and countries to travel a little more and have some new experiences. It was easy for me to get my visa and insurance for being an au pair, the mom and I filled out all the papers a bit before my tourist visa started running out. Checking out sites like Greataupair, helpx, workaway and teaching abroad sites can help you travel for cheaper. With the person who wrote to you though, I don’t think teaching abroad would work, or it would be tough to find a job teaching abroad, because some agencies/schools want the potential teachers to have at least Bachelor’s Degree.

  6. I think the hardest part is actually making the commitment to go. Once you take the leap and do something big (like buy a plane ticket) everything will start coming together. I think it’s also important to surround yourself with other travelers, and people who will encourage you. I have a friend who’s never traveled on her own, and I’ve been helping her plan a trip to Europe. Even though I can’t afford to go with her, it’s actually been fun to be a travel motivator.

  7. Christine is right, a non-refundable plane ticket is a great motivator, as long as the destination feels right and you’ve done some research. I’m in South East Asia right now for two months, and I saved 4,000 for the trip, including airfare. It’s been more than enough so far. Just remember to overestimate everything when budgeting!

  8. Hey Steph, great advice on how to get the ball rolling to make your travel dreams a reality! I love to-do lists myself, especially for travel.

    May I ask a personal question? You mentioned that you had been saving up for a year and a half before embarking on your journey. I was wondering how much money did you feel was a comfortable amount to begin your journey with?
    A lot of blogs advise to “save money”, but I feel the advice is a bit ambiguous. Ive been on vacations of 2-3 weeks in length, but nothing extensive like what you have been doing. So for example if someone told me theyre going to Italy for 3 weeks, Id be able to give them an estimate of how much to make sure they had to achieve the type of holiday theyre looking for. But I have no idea how much backpackers feel is adequate (and safe) to have in savings in order to embark on a 6 month or so journey. (I realize this depends on many factors and traveling styles, but Id love to know how much you thought was comfortable to leave home with to ensure you didnt come back early – hope thats not too personal to ask! :))

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