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Travel for the Busy Professional

Lisa Xia has a career in corporate social responsibility and sustainability and has traversed more than 40 countries (and counting). In this series, she will address, pre-travel considerations; getting more time; planning tips and tricks; how to stretch a budget; and any other burning questions from readers about how she’s done it successfully, and how you can too. Ask any questions in the comment section. She’ll answer!

Who loves to travel?

My best friend once told me that saying you loved to travel was as generic as saying someone was nice. “Everyone loves to travel, Lis,” she said. “No one doesn’t like it, but not everyone has the opportunity.”

She’s right, of course: people are intensely passionate about seeing new places, but a chance to travel requires freedom (money + time). And generally, those who have time often don’t have money, and those with money don’t have time.

Each time I left for a trip, the backpackers and vagabonds I’d meet on the road would inspire me to take a year off, throw caution to the wind and travel slowly, with time as my friend and money as my commodity. Yet a few things gave me pause:

·         There is something about the immigrant will and growing up poor that dissuades you from ever wanting to be poor again

·         Investing in a career is everything that I’d known since I graduated from university six years ago

·         It’s good to have money (duh), not because of its ability to buy things, but its ability to afford choice

So, is it possible to have it all? To be the successful (businessperson/doctor/lawyer/any respectable profession for a daughter of China) our parents always dreamed us to be, and see the world?

I’ve spent the past six years of my life building a career, and averaging five international trips a year without breaking the bank or exceeding my paid-time-off limits.  I can say with certainty that yes, it is possible, but, like everything else, it has a cost.

As the first part of the series, I’ll address some key considerations to help define your approach on turning travel plans into a reality:

·         Choosing a career path: This may be obvious but not to be underestimated. I once said to my cousin that I was feeling not myself, having not stepped on a plane for several weeks. She laughed and replied, “You chose the wrong career! If you were a management consultant, you’d travel so much you’d be thankful to stay home.” Perfect jobs may be rare, but don’t take a job you know will require no travel and get upset that you are not traveling for work. If mobility is a priority, build a career that doesn’t require you to physically be somewhere. Consulting; computer programming; writing, to name a few. The earlier you know this and plan for it, the less travel becomes an either/or.

·         Defining priorities: advancement, salary and what you’re willing to sacrifice: You can have all, but to be clear, bits of it all. Making travel a priority does not come for free, and you must accept its associated costs (no d) all of the above, kids).

If mobility is the largest priority and finding gigs via elance or freelance writing comprise your income streams, are you ok with working for $5 an hour? Will you be satisfied fighting to make $12,000 a year while your friends at home easily make it from a raise? Do you need a title to feel accomplished?

If you choose a career that allows you to travel, are you ok spending short spurts of time in places you’d rather stay a month? Being in exotic cities and spending a majority of the time in hotels? That you can’t take a 9-day trek on Kilimanjaro, even though you’ve come all the way to Dar es Salaam? Will not getting promoted as quickly give you a proverbial chip?

The only answers that matter here are your personal truths, but define them ahead of time, because they will resurface.

·         How you want to travel: Are you destination agnostic or South Africa or bust? Do you need to stay in nice hotels, or are you ok with just a mattress to lie on? Do you lust for champagne dinners or does eating what the locals eat excite you? This can be the difference between choosing a career that allows you to travel versus doing it on a shoestring. Personally, I like an integration of both. I have no problem sleeping in a $10 tent in the Serengeti, but expensing a night at the W is just lovely.

·         What you are waiting for: Most people will say, “I want to travel, but….” Is your reason actually reasonable, and are you really working to overcome it? Many people tell me they don’t have money to travel. I don’t buy that. Travel does not have to be expensive, although it’s certainly portrayed that way (to be addressed later in the series). Fear is also another common factor. “I don’t know anyone else who is going there, and I could never go alone…” Solo travel does not mean traveling alone, and it only takes once to break the seal. Identify if your reason for putting off travel is an excuse, reasonable… or even, perhaps, that you don’t really care that much but everyone else likes it.

As for me, I’ll be honest: I do need a career to feel a sense of accomplishment. I like it that I don’t have to say no to myself because I can’t afford it. I like traveling for work. I still sleep in hostels and love it; I dread the day that I’m too old to be sleeping in a hostel and it’s just weird.  And, perhaps most of all, life always has to come first.

These are the parameters of my decision-making, and based on that, I’m willing to make sacrifices—like lower pay for more time off or a less-accelerated advancement schedule. Be realistic on what you want and what you’re willing to exchange for it. And then hit the road.

Next up: Squeezing more time out of your job.

Ask  questions in the comment section, on Facebook or on Twitter @AsianFortune_DC. Lisa will address questions in the next issue!

Asian Fortune is an English language newspaper for Asian American professionals in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Visit fb.com/asianfortune to stay up to date with our news and what’s going on in the Asian American community.

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