I’ll admit that I suffered from travel envy not all that long ago. Magazine spreads of far off destinations would stir pangs of jealousy and the jetsetters were on my blacklist. After all I was married with children and saddled with other responsibilities like a job, car payments, and a house. Sure, David and I traveled through parts of the U.S. and Canada, but the thought of international sightseeing seemed beyond reach. That was something left to gap year kids or the independently wealthy right?
But then something unexpected happened when we slowly began transforming our lives. My husband and I worked hard to rid ourselves of debt, we cut back to one vehicle, got rid of our television, and we began to break out of the work-spend-save-retire paradigm. Once we were able to free ourselves from the chains of consumerism and media-hype of how life should be we realized that we had gained real freedom.
Our first step towards world travel was small; a simple two weeks spent in Costa Rica relaxing in lazy Playa Zancudo and exploring the mountains near Palmar Norte. It was life changing. Not because Costa Rica is so wonderful (which it is), but because the light came on for us. The realization that not only could we give up living the American lifestyle, but we could give up living in America was liberating to say the least. We loved living in North Idaho, but the prospect of being in a new country where long-term exploration was possible and cost of living was low was beyond our ability to resist, and less than a year after our visit to Costa Rica we found ourselves living in Ecuador.
Now we had more time and opportunities for visiting places I thought I’d never see. Even so, there were still responsibilities. The debt was gone, but the kids still had needs to be met. Monthly expenses were low, yet we still needed an income. And I still suffered from a mild case of travel envy.
Several years back I watched a PBS documentary on orangutans in Borneo which happened to feature Julia Roberts. I recall watching Ms. Roberts glide stylishly towards the jungle’s wildlife refuge in a motorized canoe and thinking how great it must be to have unlimited money and how that would never be me. Until one day it was. Well, I wasn’t Julia Roberts and my money was still limited, but I did find myself running up a jungle river in a long wooden canoe powered by an outboard motor headed for a wildlife reserve. That’s the moment my travel envy died, because I realized that it wasn’t about money, or status, or even time; it was about perception.
So maybe I don’t look as stunning as a movie star and maybe no one was catering to my every whim, but when it comes down to it I was having an adventure every bit as awesome as the one I watched on my television set all those years ago. As it turns out anyone can have an experience worthy of the rich and famous and it need not break the bank. My excursion that mirrored Julia’s didn’t cost any more than most people spend on a fun weekend out on the town. In fact, because I didn’t stay at a posh hotel or have a chauffeur shuttle me around, I would venture to say that I had a richer experience than what most of the Hollywood crowd find on their travels, because there were no buffers around me.
Freeing myself from coveting other people’s travels has allowed me to enjoy my own so much more. In my treks I’ve come face to face with a howler monkey, munched on live lemon ants, and witnessed shamanic rituals. I once watched a seventy year old artist at work in his dirt floor mountain workshop while a tiny monochrome television crackled an MTV pop-up video of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love in the background. It was National Geographic meets Rolling Stone and I was right in the middle of it. Celebrity status wasn’t even required to enjoy these amazing times and I’m sure not feeling those green-hued twinges of jealousy anymore.