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2. why go ?

Before you leave on your big trip, the question you're most likely to come across is "Why?" Most of your friends have probably never been on a trip of this scope or independence before, and quite frankly will think that you are nuts. To shed some light on this, let me offer my own personal story. Perhaps you’ll see parallels in your own life.

I was a graduate student, fresh out of college, in the first of five years, working on a Ph.D. in geophysics. All around me were successful students with their minds set on becoming the next generation of scientists. Although I had excellent qualification for such a program, I was certainly less motivated than my classmates were. I was more interested in reading books that catered to my own interests than to those of my academic advisors. I took a lot of time off to travel. I've always been a firm believer that school should not interfere with my education, so my excuse was that my trips generally were educational. Minute for minute, I argue that traveling can be more educational than schoolwork or academic research, which often involves a lot of wasted trial and error that is integral to the research process. Everything is new, exciting and interesting when you’re on the road. A semester in Spain as an undergraduate only gave me thirst for more, rather than satisfying my initial curiosity about life abroad. I love learning new things, and I simply believed that, as a young man with few outside responsibilities (such as family and career), there was no better time to pursue such interests as now. What am I supposed to do? Wait until I'm 65 to study the vagaries of the Key West bar scene? The other graduate students, by contrast, were doing what needed to be done to move their research along. They stayed in on weekends, they came in at night, and they almost never went out. I wasn't ready to dedicate my life to the extent that they were. I wasn't ready to accept the fact that the rest of my life was planned out... Ph.D., postdoc, assistant professor, tenured professor, papers, conferences, two weeks of vacation a year. The fact was, I couldn't shake off the feeling that the entire thing was vaguely unsatisfying to a great extent.

What I came to realize, and what I hope you realize, is that the time to do it is NOW. If you want to go to Southeast Asia, West Africa, India or wherever, just because you're interested in the place, or just because you want to call time out for self-reflection and mind expansion, then get up off your ass and do it. The only person stopping you from doing so is yourself. You’re in control of your own life now.

See some sights (the great Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon)...

Day to day expenses in most of these places are dirt-cheap, so money shouldn't be a problem so long as you've saved up a couple thousand dollars. Once you’ve made the decision to go for it, make some sacrifices (like not going to the movies often, ditching the car, cooking your own meals) so that you can save up quickly. Do not take out loans from anyone: financing your own trip will give you an awesome sense of accomplishment and personal pride, knowing that every dollar you spend is rightfully yours. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your adulthood and independence. Rather than climbing up the corporate ladder right now, why not hold off for a bit? You’ve been born into the Earth’s first globalized society, so travel abroad can only help your career potential. If you're young, single and fresh out of school, then you really have nothing to lose. There is no family to abandon, no tenured position to turn your back on, and hopefully no serious health worries to trouble you. You can spend all your money, and more, and not fret. Jobs in the Western world are easy to come by. A couple G's in debt can disappear after a couple months of cheap living and saving back home. It's probably the only time in your life when you'll have the chance to be completely selfish and have the right to not feel guilty about it. You're taking this trip only for your own personal betterment, and it's the right thing to do. What better way to learn about the intricacies of the world than on a shoestring? Do you really think that you could ever pretend to understand Cambodian village life when you're 65, on a 2-day package tour to Angkor Wat, while staying at the five star hotel? Of course not, and everybody in that situation will admit it.

... meet beautiful women (apsara, Angkor Wat)...

I want you to understand the case for being young and cheap, essentially living the life of a pauper. When you're young you can relate to people. You can relate to those your age, you can relate to young children (because you were a child not too long ago) and you can relate to older people (because you are educated, recently out of college). You can have mindless conversations and you can have intellectual conversations. You can schmooze with the opposite sex, because now is THAT time in your life. You're strong, so you can take hours on end of bone-jarring, heat-of-the-day rides on top of buses and in the bed of pick-up trucks. You're curious, so you'll try different foods, learn some of the language, talk to people. You don't have too much money, so you'll be on transport and in the cafes with the locals. They'll still think you're filthy rich (rightfully so), but at least you won't be flaunting it too much. Basically, now is the greatest time in your life to make a serious attempt to live and experience a truly foreign culture.

... experience a totally foreign culture (Sudanese mosque, Burkina Faso)...

I'm not saying you can't try to do this when you're older and/or married. I met men and women, in their 30s, 40s, and older, traveling this way. Most were single, but some had left their families to pursue some intangible dream of theirs. I'm happy to see these people on the road, finally doing what they want to be doing, but I think you get the picture. The whole thing comes much easier when you're young and have no attachments. Despite appeals to the contrary, a significant other is not an attachment until you have a ring and a wedding date.

... make great friends (Laos)...

Fortunately we live today, at the dawn of the 21st century, in the true golden age of world traveling. Until recently, wandering about in the rural third world involved considerable planning and resources. It was strictly the domain of the wealthy or the research academic. Now this is anything but the truth. All you need to go on a trip like this is a little cash, time and a lot of gumption. The dissolution of colonial empires followed by the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War have fortuitously happened alongside the rapid globalization (Americanization) of non-Western societies. This means that the world is now open, as your oyster, for discovery. English has emerged as the Earth’s language and is now widely spoken by the tourist industry and young students all over the world. Communication is never so difficult that you cannot get basic necessities taken care of (except in Europe, of course). Never before has so much of the world been so safe and accessible to the common man. Unfortunately, the corollary is that never before has so much of the world been open to exploitation and rape of cultural tradition. Truly, the time to understand how our world ticks and how you can become apart of it is NOW.

... and get away from it all, in your own tropical paradise.