Saturday I received an email from a young woman who has begun her own travels across the US. She is in search of a sense of meaning and purpose and she shared with me some wonderful, vulnerable feelings I won’t share here. But she also asked me a question:
“I was wondering if you have any tips on how to trust that the Universe will provide, and how to make money while doing this soul searching.”
I told her I don’t believe the universe will provide. I’m worried I broke her heart. But I also hope that out of all the voices telling her what to do, and giving her simple, optimistic advice, maybe my voice will stand out a little because I’m trying to be truthful.
Here’s what I wrote her:
I don’t believe the Universe will provide. She is a beautiful, wonderful, rich universe but she is both loving and cruel. To love the universe is to love both sides of her, and to accept her as she is.
I found that the hardest part of my traveling life was creating a sustainable income while I travel. I still don’t make a great deal of money, but I make enough to live by and keep moving and that’s enough for now. But I was only able to do that by (a) planning carefully (b) learning from professionals how to do freelance work on the road [writing in my case], and (c) taking the risk and the time and effort to pitch many, many clients, getting a lot of “no’s” before I finally had a list of regulars.
There are people who do it very differently. You can work on cruise ships, take odd jobs, or busk and perform for tips in certain cities (other cities just aren’t profitable).
One thing that is very scary to me is knowing that, although I have enough income for right now, I don’t have enough for as I get older. I will need better healthcare, a home base and better professional equipment as I age. So I’m using the next leg of my journey to settle in one place—Guanajuato, Mexico starting in March—to do a sabbatical. I’ll focus on my career, especially putting out more books and planning how I will become a more successful writer.
I’ve also met people who travel with no concern for money, no plan and no resources. You have probably seen or met the “traveler” kids [also called: “gutter punks”] who hop trains and live in squat houses. They have happy beautiful moments but also pain, abuse, guards shoot at them, dogs bite them, friends turn on friends under the influence of drugs, sexual assault is common. Most train hoppers want to get out of the lifestyle before they become career hobos or get killed. Every train hopper has lost at least one friend.
Many people hate money and working but, within reason, it’s also the key to safe and successful travels. It allows you to have a refuge where you feel at peace. I do believe it’s best to build your income/career around your passion if possible, which is why I write professionally. I love writing. But most of what I write for clients is not stuff I would choose to write on my own. I do that work because it makes my dreams possible.
I don’t know if these thoughts are helpful to you. Some other travelers might tell you differently. This is just my own experience. For me, it takes some planning. I admire what you’re doing and I want you to succeed.
What I didn’t tell her, and I wish I had, was that this advice is not really advice I wrote for her, it’s advice I wrote for myself. This is the advice I wish I had taken three years ago.
Before I started traveling, I had set a deadline for myself: my thirtieth birthday. I had to quite my job and leave by then. As that deadline approached I scrambled to make sure everything was ready to go and I didn’t feel prepared. Like my reader above, I reached out to another traveler I admired and I asked his opinion.
He told me to wait a year, save more money and not travel till I had a nest egg.
I ignored that advice and it is something I still regret today. I don’t regret any of my travels or adventures, but I do regret making them absolutely more stressful and anxious than they had to be. I was always scrambling, and I’m sure I missed many opportunities and side quests because of it.
If I had stayed at my old museum job one year longer, I would have started my Adventure with all debts paid and plenty of money saved. I may also have built up a substantial freelance client portfolio before I started. The result would have been more freedom to enjoy my journey once I was actually on the road.
My girlfriend also works and travels, and she did this much better than me. When she quit her corporate job to freelance, she was worried she didn’t have enough clients to make a strong living. So she looked for grants for graduate work in her field, went back to school and got a PhD for free—while freelancing after-hours to build up her business. When she earned her degree she already had a successful one-woman company and money to travel the world.
Our stories are so different because when I have an ideal or a belief I can’t wait to run after it. Sometimes this is a good quality, and it has gotten me into some of the best adventures and breathless wonderful moments of my life. But many soul-searching wanderers, like me and like my young reader, share this trait and sometimes it blinds us. We will harm ourselves by insisting we cannot wait.
I don’t know if that advice applies to you, dear reader who wrote to me, but I know it applies to me. I feel happy about my life, my Journey and my career—I wake up happy with who I am. But I know I could be in a much better place right now, and be much farther along in achieving my dreams, if I had been more sensible. This is, perhaps, the fate of adventurers.
I haven’t heard back from her. I worry that perhaps my note offended her or will discourage her. I hope that’s not the case. My advice is based on my own life and for her it might not apply. But what does the universe provide? She provides us the backdrop, the dizzying endless backdrop, and waits for us to move.
The world is both good and bad.
Therefore, she is good.
To adventure is to make love to the world.
What advice would you give my reader? Please comment and share this post.
My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.