Twenty-Three–Cooling Off That Crucible

The other day I went off on a mini-tirade about some of the reasons that being twenty-three (or in any part of one’s twenties for that matter) can feel like a crucible of suck. When I feel lost, it’s easy to get bogged down in little details like the highest levels of poverty in the US since 1959 and 85% of college graduates moving home after graduating.

Since the bad must be balanced with the good, here are some cooling experiences that someone in their twenties in 2011 can dip the crucible of suck into after the purifying flames, producing strong and flexible adults, like tempered steel. One hopes.

#1 Freedom-Being in one’s twenties means that one can ask in the middle of the night, or upon waking in the morning, “Is this what I want?” more easily than at any other point in life. Few responsibilities, few ties, few financial obligations. We can decide to move to a new state or continent on a whim. Even if one is lucky enough to have a job, a lot of time can be devoted to developing whatever traits one wants to grow. Want to learn guitar? Sweet. How about Thai cooking? Do it. Want to take up underwater scuba rock-climbing? Invent that new sport. It feels pretty fantastic not to be tied down to any one place, person, or thing.

#2 Ability to get by on almost nothing-This goes with the freedom…and the necessity of getting by on very little if there’s no job. Or just a small salary. Luckily for many of us, responsibility is being delayed and we can continue to get by on minimum wage or less. I made a total of $800 dollars while I was volunteering in Chile, and that was almost enough to get me through six months (travel not included). Yes, I was in South America, where it’s all a little cheaper. But I will most likely not be employed at all in 2011, and though I will be broke I will be able to get by. And to pay for some pretty incredible experiences, through traveling like a broke backpacker.–Amazing experience in 2011 #532, swimming in the highest thermal pool in the world outside San Pedro de Atacama

#3 Massive changes-This is the point in life where one can still change considerably and rapidly without messing up responsibilities too much. Didn’t like a college major? No problem, study something else for graduate school. Don’t like a relationship? Now’s the time to explore being single. Want to move to a new country? Do it. It’ll be easier than at any other point in life. I chafe a bit under the constant changing, but it’s worth the trade offs. Stability? Pstsch, that’s what my thirties will be for!

#4 Potential-Because of all that change and freedom and total lack of direction, the possibilities are pretty unlimited for someone in their twenties. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but the great part is that life is a chain reaction. Each new opportunity brings a suite of others, until it gathers momentum and you find yourself in a Talking Heads song.

And you may find yourself...drifting on a cheap green screen

A friend summed it up best–“It’s already worked out. I just don’t know how yet.”

#5-Consciousness-Many people in their twenties these days are trying to grow up in the most thoughtful way possible. I’ve met more vegan, non-car-driving, volunteering, relationship radical, fundamentalist pastafarians in my generation than in any other. This is not to say that there weren’t crazy-conscious folk in who went through this in their own roaring twenties, and it doesn’t mean that we have it all figured out (or…any of it…at all). It feels like an amalgamate conscientiousness drawing from everything, and an attempt to really figure things out before just calling ourselves “adults” and moving on. Maybe that’s why it’s taking longer for people to leave their parents’ houses and get married and buy houses. We don’t want to do those things just to say that we have.

#5 Excuses-Just in case the job hasn’t come in yet, the confusion about relationships or what to do in life rears it’s head…brush it off. Being in the twenties means that we can just let it roll off our backs, since there’s always next year to settle down and actually have an apartment or something. People keep telling me how cool they think my traveling is…which is a pretty good excuse to keep doing it.

#6 Pain…I mean growth-Being twenty-three brings some pretty incredible

opportunities and experiences. The whole of one’s twenties is filled with change and growth. And pain. Growth and change are empty without a bit of pain to breathe life into them. Maybe the painful things will still hurt in twenty more years, or maybe it will fade into the backdrop like an errant drop of paint on a Jackson Pollack painting.

Weekly Outfit

When it draws a compliment in the line at the grocery store, it might be worth documenting.

-Tank from Target $8
-Shrug by Olivia Sky $14 (Clearance at Nordstrom Rack!)
-Skirt from Plato’s Closet $4
-Boots from DSW $50
-Earrings with Andean Cross by Taller Rayo de la Luna, Puerto Natales, Chile $10
-Necklace with semi-precious pendant $10 (Clearance bin at Nordstrom Rack!)
I’m hoping to make these little fashion interludes a regular thing. It helps that my style appears to be evolving into an even-more-hippied-out and yet modern grown up wardrobe.
That was a ton of adjectives. I’m still working on how to label it, I suppose! Taking suggestions!

How to Afford to Travel Like A…Broke…Backpacker…

“So, uh…how is that working financially?”

It’s the question I dread every time I tell someone about my latest transcontinental plans. The barely-veiled under questions are “How can you possibly afford to travel so much?” followed by “Why can’t you just be broke like the rest of us?”

Travel is expensive, let’s not parse words. It eats up savings and leaves my bank account coughing and sputtering. In 2011, I will spend eight months on the road. It will be the most money I’ve ever spent.

In one month, I’ll be on a plane out of the country again. I avoided telling anyone in the program I recently finished until I absolutely had to, because it causes more problems than I wanted to bring up. Even amongst experienced travelers, the simple fact that I can continue after living abroad for six months is fodder for conflict.

So how did I do it?

1)   I lived at my parents’ house for six months. The money saved on rent alone was enough to put away significant funds for travel. In my area, one pays at least $500 a month for a shared apartment, without utilities or food. Total saved over six months: $3000.

2)   I didn’t go out much. Or…at all. Or I went to the only bar in town with a $1 a shot happy hour. I reigned in my partying side quite a bit, and saved at least $25 a week compared with the summer before I seriously began planning to move to South America. Total saved over six months: $600.

3)   I started selling my clothes, jewelry, and generally getting rid of all my worldly possessions. Total earned over six months: $300

4)   I mooched. A lot. Usually only from food people brought to work to share. And my parents’ cabinets. Total saved over six months: Not sure. Hard to put a price on leftover carrot cake.

And the biggest one…

5)   I put a price on each paycheck that came in. I allowed myself $100 from each paycheck for food, unexpected expenses, and fun. That’s all. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The rest had to go into savings. And I told people about it, so I felt accountable.

Once I’m on the road, I drink very little. I stay in cheap, sometimes sketchy places. I ride local trains and busses. I survive on bread, cheese, and art. It’s not like I’m staying in a five-star hotel and dining on caviar every night.

The truth is, it isn’t easy to save for travel. It takes sacrifice. I have never owned a car. Or a house. Or a dog. I had to give up stability in exchange for the amazing opportunities to see the world. I realize that taking the extreme steps that I’ve gone to are not possible for some people, but it starts with the mentality that I am willing to sacrifice to be able to travel. And even if it starts with a morning Starbucks being swapped for homemade tea, that small step will make a difference eventually.

And don’t let anyone get confused. I am going to be incredibroke by the end of this year. To the point that I will have to take whatever job comes my way first.

But it will be completely worth it.