Why You Need A Vacation to Realize It’s Not A Vacation That You Need

Imagine you’re riding in an elevator with one other person, a complete stranger you don’t know.  It’s gotta be the single most ordinary-yet-awkward part of modern life.  Do you talk? Or just take an unnatural interest in the fireman’s inspection notice?  That brings me to a few words on the dying art of “small talk.”

Other than talking about the weather, sports, and hating terrorists, I’m saying right now that bitching about needing a vacation is the #4 most safe topic for small talk in otherwise awkward situations.  Why?  Because everyone agrees on it.  You can share this distaste for the stress and busyness of modern worklife with anyone — friends, coworkers, complete strangers — and you’ll find some kind of sympathy or commiseration (except with your boss).

Everyone says:  “I need a vacation.”

Everyone replies: —“I hear that!”

Take a minute to think seriously about what that means.  It means just about everyone around you is in some way sick and tired, stressed out, or bored, and agrees with you about wanting to unplug from their everyday routine and occupations.

The Tropical Island MYTH

That universal feeling of “needing a vacation” that we all share has for some reason been channeled into what I’m going to call the “Tropical Island Myth,” or the completely widespread assumption that what everyone wants to do with their free time is sit their lazy ass on a beach somewhere and drink fruity cocktails and read trashy magazines until the money runs out.

Four hour workweek cover

See? Tim Ferriss knows about the Tropical Island Myth

If that sounds even remotely appealing to you while reading it, you’ve proved my point.  (And in a minute, I’ll say go for it.) That’s what a vacation is supposed to look like, and that’s what you really want, right? Right??

Don’t believe me that this the tropical island myth is a real thing?  Check out the cover of Tim Ferriss’ insanely popular book, The Four-Hour Workweek, which is pushing 2 million copies sold worldwide in over 35 languages.  It’s a book about Lifestyle Design, or escaping ‘9  to 5’ and living life on your own terms.  Now see what’s on the cover there. —->

That’s right, it’s a tropical island scene, complete with hammock and the aforementioned lazy-ass lounging away the other 164 hours left in his/her week.

But Tim Ferriss doesn’t work just 4 hours a week.  He’d be the first to tell you that he’d be more miserable freeloading most of his days away on a hammock in the Caribbean than being stuck back in the high-pressure, 14-hour workday gig at his pharmaceutical company that he left in the first place.  But he’s a sly marketing genius, and he knows that the tropical island myth sells, because that’s what most people think they want.  Hell, I did.

I “needed” a vacation, so I took one.  A BIG One.

Feeling hopeless in an unfulling job and stressed out about never having enough time, I convinced myself  that what I REALLY needed was 3 months in Costa Rica doing nothing but surfing, reading, and relaxing on the beach.  Sounds nice, right?  It sounds nice to countless Americans.

And it was, for about 2 weeks.  By the end of the 3rd week, I felt like I was wasting my life away in a worse way than when I was trapped in a cubilce, mostly because I was didn’t have anybody else to blame for why I didn’t feel fulfilled and purposeful in life.  The surf and sun were great at first, but after about the second week, a pit in my stomach began to set in, and I began realizing that despite what I told myself while I was daydreaming in my cubicle and cursing my lack of free time, 100% free time and zero work was NOT making me happy.

How could “Paradise” make you feel empty? The MORAL of the story

I know it sounds really selfish and maybe infuriating to hear me say that, “I had 3 months’ vacation and I was still bitching about something.”  Especially if you’re stuck in a worse situation than I was in with far more responsibility (family matters, financial matters, health matters, etc) that I may have had at that point in my life (25 years old).

But my point, and my grand hope for anyone who spends much of the workday quietly wishing they were somewhere else, is this:

I would never have arrived at the conclusion that my life’s purpose should be more than just having an unlimited amount of money to support an unlimited amount of “free time” if I hadn’t FIRST experienced the emptiness that kind of all-play-and-no-work lifestyle brings.

I’ve always had to learn things the hard way.  I could never take leaps of faith.  So I couldn’t be told what I just said to you and actually believe it.  I had to see it and feel it myself.  Sometimes you have to give yourself what you think you want to find out what you really want.

Take a Vacation of 3 weeks or more.  Or don’t and act like you did.

Marketing guru Seth Godin is always talking about “permission,” and how people never act on their dreams because they feel like they need permission to go forward with something out extraordinary.

I don’t have the authority to give you that permission, but I do have your attention long enough to say this:  Give yourself permission to take at least 3 weeks fulfilling whatever vacation dream you have.

Even if it seems irresponsible, you might learn what I learned — that the thing you really want the most has nothing to do with the selfish pursuit of comfort and leisure.  It has everything to do with purpose and helping others.

It’s an odd paradox.  So pampering myself will make me want to live a life that helps others? Yeah, kinda.

Now, I still don’t know what’s going to make me happy all the time, and in practice, I’ve been learning that a balance of many different kinds of activities (work, service, play, and leisure) is becoming my prescription for happiness.  But my vacation helped me to quickly learn that the hammock-between-two-palm-trees idyll is a MYTH, a lie that had been distracting me from pursuing my real passions.  And that my real passions are a lot less selfish than they were before I traveled.

I simply hope that your big vacation will do the same for you.


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What you can get for $1000 around the world

Good evening everyone!  Hope you’re finishing up Sunday dinner, cozying up in front of the telly, and well on your way to being half in the bag for the Olympics closing ceremony tonight in London!

We actually worked some today, so this is the first fruit of our new obsession – Piktochart.  It’s a free online infographic creator and we DIG it, bigtime.  Let us know if you like this one, as we’re seriously considering forking out for the PRO (paid) edition and would rather know if you’d hate seeing more of these things before we pay our $40.  Update: already bought it, like the clip art way too much.

Infographics are catching on in a big way.  We’ve been seeing a lot of them lately, notably several from the site Upworthy, where we subscribe and get 3 top memes in our inbox every day.  Check it out if ya fancy.

Speaking of fancy, aren’t these things just so much fun to look at?  We love them so much we figured we’d try our hand at making one.  Next week, we’re going for an old-timey, Wanted poster kind of aesthetic, so you have that to look forward to as you get ready to plunge into another work week.  Not really, but I would if I could find the template, I’m obsessed with these things.

What you can get with $1000 around the world - infographic

Click on this thumbnail to expand to the full-sized infographic

Do you think our very first infographic EVER doesn’t suck?? Then please share it on Twitter or your facebook!  Thanks for reading!


5 Reasons Why Round-the-World (RTW) Tickets Suck

The first sentence of physicist Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality goes like this:  

“If, when I was growing up, my room had only been adorned with a single mirror, my childhood daydreams might have been very different.  But it had two.”

He goes on to describe why the “trippy hallway” effect (my words, not his) created by the two mirrors ultimately got him interested in the field of theoretical physics, his life’s calling.  The point is:  Just like that, the tiniest, most seemingly insignificant details left to chance can change the course of an entire life.  Similarly, it’s quite possible that Kelly and I would never have decided to quit our jobs and travel the world if we hadn’t decided to stop for ice cream on our walk back from the beach on a hot July afternoon in South Florida.

Finding the “golden ticket”

The quick version is that Kelly and I got to chatting with the ice cream store owner — who happened to be a seasoned traveler who’d visited dozens of countries in her younger days — and she told us about the existence of these “Round the World” tickets, where you just pay a couple thousand dollars for a single ticket that takes you to pretty much any destination you choose at a lower cost than buying the tickets individually.  We were instantly hooked on this amazing idea — we’d been just starting to talk about seeing the world, and here was this amazing ticket that practically does it for you – just pay your money and take the ride!

That conversation, and indeed, the perceived allure and simplicity of the RTW ticket, gave us a much-needed push from just daydreaming about traveling the world to actually taking steps to achieving that goal.  For that, R.T. Dubs, we thank you.  But that’s all the credit I’m going to give to the “golden (RTW) ticket.”  Because as we matured in our understanding of travel, and why we were traveling, a one-way ticket to our first destination became the obvious best choice.  (Especially because it was nearly free.)

Here’s why nothing gold can stay (without a fee, at least):

1)  Scheduling every departure and arrival date severely limits your freedom. The first step of buying a RTW ticket is picking your destinations, which is a lot of fun (until you read #2), but then you have to actually schedule the flights — I’m talking flight numbers, exact days, exact departure times, etc.    This is beyond daunting no matter how much research you’ve done.  I can’t decide how long to microwave a cup of coffee after the pot’s gone cold.  How the hell do you know if 17 days in Indonesia is exactly the right amount of time?  How do you know if two weeks in India will be enough time to achieve nirvana, or even too much (if you’ve been yogi-ing hard)? What if you fall in love with a place (or with a sexy person in that place) and want to stay longer?  What if you hate a place and can’t wait to get out?  You’re stuck, unless you want to pay a fee, which is why this the #1 reason RTW tickets kinda suck.

Some ticket rules do allow (relatively) cheap changes and cancellations (around $50 for the most lenient), but enough of those, and you’re left wondering if you’ve actually saved any money with the RTW instead of just booking the right flights at the right time, as you go along, sans fees.  The bottom line is, you’ll have no clue exactly how much time you’ll want to spend in any given destination until you get there.

2)  Dream itineraries of 10 or more stops start to add up in cost — BIGTIME.  RTW tickets really do make the world seem like a small, conquerable place.  “You mean we can ‘do’ South America, Australia, SE Asia, India, AND the Middle East all on one ticket?”  After spending hours at my cubicle playing with Oneworld Alliance’s RTW trip planner, my itineraries grew to the point of irrational exuberance, with a price tag to match ($3,000 to $5,000).

Furthermore, with all the ultra-low-fare airlines out there nowadays (AirAsia, Ryanair, EasyJet to name a few), not to mention all the sketchy but cheap national airlines, you can fly many common short- and medium-haul routes worldwide for under $200.  That fact still leaves us with the pricey transoceanic flights to get halfway across the world to begin with, but we’ve got a nifty solution for that, which you can read about till it’s not exciting anymore on the rest of the The Escape Artists’ main site.

3) RTW tickets encourage short-stay, superficial experiences.  This goes hand in hand with #2.  RTW tickets artificially make the world seem like a small place.  They tacitly endorse (in their very definition) grand plans of hitting five continents in a single year — After all, you have to literally go around the world, so why not try to cram in as many countries as possible on your way back home?  Here’s the problem:  it’s a fact that the less time you spend in a place, the less likely you are to connect with locals, learn something new, and get off the beaten path.  Isn’t that the reason many independent travelers leave home in the first place?  It was for Kelly and I, so we leaned ever further towards the one-way ticket leap.

I’m going to defer to Sir Rolf Potts (note to Britons: he’s not actual royalty, just so in my eyes) for the rest of this section:

“The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — and the slow, nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.”

4) Overland travel is one of the best ways to experience a geography — and a culture.  I’ve heard many city dwellers say that the best way to “learn” a new city is to stay out of the subway for a while and take a bus.  This way, you’re not “gophering” around the city, popping up disoriented in discrete locations.  Traveling above ground is a continuous experience, you get to see how one neighborhood flows into another, how the landscape changes and flows.  And you can actually get your bearings by seeing what the hell direction you’re headed!

The same goes for “hopping” via airplane from one major city to the next, from country to country on an RTW itinerary.  By taking buses and trains, you’ll not only save a shit-ton of money (12-hour buses in Thailand can cost about $14, and the non-stop Korea-pop music videos are thrown in for free!), but you’ll also be seeing the countryside up close.  Even better, you’ll be in close quarters with locals for long periods of time, so tons of opportunities for small talk and cultural exchange will present themselves to you without leaving your seat.  Plus you can learn a lot about the human will to sleep when you see how some people arrange themselves on an over-nighter in second class (yourself included).

Don’t believe me?  Ask travel writer Paul Theroux if anything worth noting takes place when you’re traveling by train.

5) A start-to-finish itinerary is really just a package tour in disguise.  Longer stays are necessary but not sufficient for those authentic travel experiences most people crave.  The other missing links are uncertainty and freedom.  That’s right, uncertainty, that dirty word that makes most of us run and hide beneath our desk chairs.  Actually, the sheer uncertainty about what was next on our itinerary — coupled with the freedom of pointing to a country and saying, “why not there?” — was hugely significant on our journey.  Talk about a choose-your-own-adventure story.

When we told our friends and family at Christmastime that we were leaving the next month for a year-long trip, the thing that shocked them most was that we had NO itinerary planned beyond our first stop, a one-way ticket to Indonesia.  If we had bought the RTW ticket, we’d know exactly where and when we’d be in which countries, which would have made us miss out completely on what Kelly and I agreed (so you know it must be powerful) was the #1 coolest thing about travel:

The most incredible feeling I ever got from travel is looking at where I was on a map, and knowing that I could literally go ANYWHERE I wanted from there, any time I wanted.  It was 100% pure, unbridled freedom, and that is the true etiology behind the “travel bug.”  It becomes an addiction.

Last thought: A trip is organismic (not to be confused with orgasmic, especially if you’re traveling as a couple): it grows and changes and morphs into unexpected, unpredictable forms.   You never know what you’ll get out a trip, and the more you try to plan away the uncertainty, the more likely you are to return home, unchanged and uninspired.  After all,  something as unplanned and spontaneous as a trip to an ice cream joint probably changed our lives for good.  Keep yourself open, and see what good stuff you just stumble into.  RTW tickets don’t kill a trip, but they sure do clip its wings.

Ok, you hear us.  Now what?  How do you proceed with your first (or next) big international adventure?

Here’s the solution, as far as we see it.

1) Use award travel for long hauls. Those long-haul, trans-oceanic and transcontinental flights cost thousands, and that can instantly decimate your entire travel budget, costing you more than money, but time and experiences as well.  So we use our points and miles that we’ve racked up using the same strategies we devise for people at The Escape Artists to pay for the big-ticket flights.

2) Use local or ultra-low-fare carriers wherever possible for mid-range “hops.”  The $50 to $200 you’ll spend on a budget airline is negligible compared to a $5000 rtw ticket.  And you can even use those paid flights to earn miles on your existing flyer programs.

3) Travel overland anywhere it’s safe and possible.  Notice we didn’t say comfortable.  But you’ll be traveling the way the locals do (unless you bubble yourself in upper class luxury), will have tons of opportunities to have authentic travel experiences and conversations, and you’ll be saving a boatload of money, since most trains and buses are super cheap compared to flight costs.

If you do this, you’ll spend less than you would on an RTW ticket, and will have a lot more spontaneity at play along your own journey.

Was this (long) article worth the read? If you got anything from it, please share it on your Twitter account or like it on Facebook using the buttons down….well, down there somewhere.  We will totally like you back!

PS – The ice cream store went out of business about a month after the owner told us about the RTW ticket.  On the fated trip described above, we each got a double scoop of ice cream only to realize we left all our money up in the apartment!  We promised to come back and pay the $10 or so, but we forgot to do it the same day and then the next time we came by to pay, the shop was closed!  We tried to contact ’em, no luck.  Where do you think we should send this $10 we owe?

Trip Flip on the Travel Channel – 10 Reasons People Say No to a Free Trip

Kelly and I (and my mom) just discovered the new show Trip Flip on the Travel Channel (give us a break if it’s been out for 4 months, we’ve been in Asia for half the year), and we found something awesome that happens at the first 5 minutes at the beginning of every show that says a lot about what we’re doing here at The Escape Artists.

The basic premise for each episode is this:  the show’s bearded, energetic host Bret Kreischer convinces two people he just met on the street to drop everything that moment and agree to go on vacation with him NOW.  It’s totally free, he reassures them, but they have to commit now.  The couple that says ‘yes’ is handsomely rewarded with some pretty outlandish and crazy stunts and activities while traveling to that week’s destination, and everyone has a great “adventure,” an “authentic” travel experience, and isn’t travel great?, etc. etc. See you next tuesday!

What really interested me though, is the first 5 minutes of every show when you see clips of all the people who say “No” to poor, bearded Bret.  Granted, if a big, bearded man approaches me on the street and asks me to “go on vacation” with him I’m gonna probably ask a few questions before I jump in the van, but seriously, if he’s got a big camera that says “Travel Channel” and a sound crew behind him I might be willing to break my rules on Stranger Danger and give him the benefit of the doubt (beard and all).

Anyway, it got me thinking about what we do here at the The Escape Artists.  The main tagline on our business cards that we hand out to people who want them is this:

“If you could fly for free anywhere in the world, would you go?”

It’s not, “where would you go?,” a question about your dream vacation destination which automatically assumes that IF you could fly for free, DUH, you’d totally be there by now.  The card instead asks “would you go?,” because we learned through our own difficult journey from cube-sitting to globe-trotting that where to go is a concern about 11th in line behind worries about money, time, responsibility and tons of other things that always get between people and the true ambitions.

Here’s the list we came up with for the top 10 things that get in between between people and their travel dreams.

1) MONEY (Public enemy #1)

2) TIME (Tricky one, it is what you make it.)

3) CAREER (What about the gap in my resume?)

4) SAFETY (Isn’t it dangerous over there?)

5) HEALTH (I’ll probably get ebola.)

6) KIDS (Maybe when I was younger, but now we’ve got the kids.)

7) EDUCATION (I still don’t even have a degree, dude.)

8) DEBT (I still owe on all these credit cards, dude.)

9) POSSESSIONS (I still make payments on this car / house / Segway, dude.)

10) LACK OF INTEREST (who cares anyway? I’m happy at home.)

And concern #1 is always money.  That’s one reason why we kicked off The Escape Artists around flying for free, because if we take away the “money issue,” then we can realllly get behind what’s stopping people from living the lives they know they can live, but won’t claim for themselves. (It also helps that we’re experts on the subject after hours of research motivated by the fear of being stranded in third-world countries.)

In other words, the reason we framed the message like that is because the kind of people we wanted to attract to our community — and more importantly, the kind of people we want to work with, learn from, and can relate best to — are the ones who want to challenge these traditional notions of work, travel, and life.  One thing at a time, but it’s our (lofty) goal to systematically break debunk each and every one of these.

Attacking the “money obstacle” for travel is just our first battle front, and fortunately we’ve got some damn big guns in that fight.  That’s our field of expertise, but now that we’ve found a way out of jobs and an existence that wasn’t “doing it” for us, we’re empowered enough to want to take this “escape” thing as far as it will go — escaping normality, insecurity (financial and emotional), boredom (especially!), and lack of purpose.

But despite my cavalier trust of bearded strangers, I’m guilty of saying no to a good thing, too.  Yesterday, I was on the phone with STA Travel booking a one-way flight to Dublin for $253, which to me ought to be a no-brainer at several hundred dollars below normal fares, but I balked when the rep was ready to take my credit card info after like 2 minutes and I still had concerns about my student status meeting the requirements for the fare.  I ended up booking eventually, but waiting an hour cost me $30 in fare increases while I neurotically checked the guidelines to make sure I was good to go.  Fear and worry, man.

PS — if you’re either under 26 (I’m not) or a student you can take advantage of some occasionally kick-ass low student-only fares at STA Travel.  Teachers can also qualify for the low fares if they submit proof of their position on letterhead.   They’re not my favorite channel to deal with, but cheap is cheap.  I don’t have any agreement with them.


Ok, so I came up with the above 10 reasons people say no to free trip, but I know there are lots more out there.  I just used mine and Kelly’s own fears/worries and those of some of the people we’ve had a chance to help along the way to this point.  Do you have any to add, or insight on how worries like these made you say no to a good thing?  We want to hear from you. Comments are much appreesh’!

Are you pickin’ up what we’re puttin’ down on this blog?  Please subscribe using this link to receive our weekly posts in your email, as well as tips on all the best deals for flying for free.  If you’re serious about flying free now, send us your plans at www.the-escape-artists.com.

Don’t wait for cancer: Arguments for why everyone should travel NOW

Kelly told me one of the most amazing stories last year, right about the time we were getting up the nerve to plan a trip to Central America for 3 months.  She was taking a class at the local community college (it’s called Palm Beach State College now, actually), Creative Writing I.  What happened around her in that classroom on the first day of classes still sticks with me whenever I find myself putting off the trips, plans, goals, and other dreams I really want until the nebulous, ambiguous future.

If you’re thinking about a big trip, or a big project, or anything new and different, but are scared or doubtful or otherwise paralyzed, I hope this helps shake you out of the same rut that both Kelly and I were stuck in before we decided to get serious about hitting the road and following our dreams.

One year to live

OK, now we’re back at our little school desks, under the institutional fluorescent lights, on the first day of  Ms. Aguila’s Creative Writing I class.  As part of a thinking exercise to get the timid, reluctant class thinking that creative writing is as simple as engaging your own imagination, Kelly’s professor declares that each person in that class now has only a year to live.  Kelly watched as “Dr. Aguila” (actually I think she really is a Ph.D., but I’m using quotes to mean “M.D.” – just go with it) went around the room, person by person, diagnosing each with an imaginary illness (for some reason everyone assumed it was cancer) that will kill them dead in 12 months, and asking them this question:

“What would you do with your time if you only had a year to live?”

All but about 2 of the 15 people in the class said that if they found out they only had a year to live, they’d drop everything and “see the world.”  Despite a couple of dissenters, one of whom said he’d spend millions on credit cards, buying exotic cars with exotic spinning rims with impunity, Kelly and I were shocked to hear that some kind of travel or adventure was on the “accelerated bucket list” of almost everyone in that classroom.

Breaking down barriers

Kelly told me she left that class feeling gratified and proud of her imminent plans to travel the world, but also a little bit sad that all these people relegated their ultimate hopes and plans to something they thought they would only achieve as a literal last-ditch, go-out-with-a-bang type circumstance.  And she felt a little guilty that at the end of the semester, she’d be heading off to the far corners of the globe for what many of her peers would spend on a (refurbished) iPod or a pair of designer jeans.

I think it’s safe to say that this was when the seeds were first planted for what we now work at full-time — helping people break down barriers that keep them from going to the places they’ve also wanted to go.   We’ve all got our reasons for staying put and playing it safe, and a lot of them really are very practical, pragmatic, and sensible reasons.  But that’s what’s so great about Dr. Aguila’s exercise — who wants to have “practical, pragmatic, and sensible” carved on their tombstone?

It’s our goal as we continue to write for The Escape Artists blog to systematically break down the barriers that we faced, and that most people face, before they can break free and start achieving the things they want to do.  That’s a broad reach, and we don’t have all the answers, but we’re already making meaningful progress within a specific battle front:   people we’ve helped at The Escape Artists have successfully obliterated the “money problem” as it relates to international travel.