In 2008 I went to Ushuaia, Argentina. According to the Argentines, this is the southernmost city in the world. Chileans and maps will tell you differently. On this outing, I was staying alone in a very humble hotel with questionable locks on the door. Someone decided to take advantage of those locks and got into my room and took all of my cards, cash, and identification.
I used my last 5 pesos to call my mom and let her know that her baby girl was at the end of the world, broke, with no identity. She wired me enough money to get me back to Buenos Aires, get a new passport, and hold me over until a new debit card could get to South America. Thankfully this was pre- 9/11 and I was able to persuade airport security to let me pass and get on my flight to the city.
I have countless stories like these, maybe I wasn’t robbed, but something went wrong and I needed cash to bail myself out. When you live an adventurous life, having money can be the difference between staying safe and wandering the streets of Patagonia homeless.
The Myth of Travelling the World for Free
If you are on a tight budget and looking to travel, you’ll find countless articles like this one on how to travel the world for free. I would call all of these ideas “free-ish”. You still need money on hand. Even for the Peace Corps, I still needed to make my student loan payments while volunteering.
You might squeeze a trip out using points from a credit card where you work on a farm volunteering your time and have a great trip. But that’s just one trip, if you want to live an adventurous life the solution needs to be more sustainable.
Even history tells us that adventurers required money. If we lived hundreds of years ago, we would require the support of the crown or wealthy merchants to go explore lands unknown. Happily, adventure today no longer includes raping, pillaging, enslavement and colonization. But it does still require funding.
The Great Outdoors Isn’t Free Either
The beauty of hiking is that it’s just walking. It is truly free and I encourage everyone to download All Trails and find a hike near them. The physical and psychological benefits of hiking are well documented and open to the public – if you aren’t going to a state or national park.
Once you look to up your game, then it costs money. If you want to backpack, you’ll need a significant amount of gear. I’m incredibly frugal with my gear budget- I buy used, go to REI garage sales, and push my gear until it’s falling apart. It’s still an investment. Every time I backpack I have roughly $500 on my back.
Good gear can be the difference between life and death. My friend told me a story of someone she encountered on the PCT who was trying to make the trek with camping gear from Walmart. A snowstorm was about to blow in, so she gave the man directions to get to the nearest town and told him not to come back without further experience in the outdoors.
Adventure Sports Are Even Worse
My yearly ski pass is $850. Every time I want to snowboard I get on a flight and have to book a place to stay. This year I’ll also invest in backcountry skis so I can hit the trails in Michigan on snow days. My used kayaks were $300 each, my new kayaks were $700 each.
Gear is fucking expensive, and as a good friend likes to tell me, the cheap ass pays twice. I learned this the hard way when I thought I found the deal of a lifetime and purchased a used whitewater kayak for $100. Then I spent a day on a flatwater lake just trying not to drown.
Managing Your Money Opens the Doors to Adventure
This statement is the reason I started this blog. You don’t need to be wealthy to have the money to live an adventurous life, but you do need enough to get you where you’re going and stay safe while you’re there.
There is an uber frugal movement with van life, that I frankly think is awesome while also not being for me. Nor do I think it’s for the many. As a friend who lives in his van told me, the lifestyle has been fetishized by people who probably aren’t ready to regularly shit in a bag or go without showers for days or even weeks.
Van life, unless you are able to work remotely while traveling, also prevents you from saving for your future. Additionally, vans don’t fly so you’re grounded in your home country.
For all these reasons, my solution to living a life of adventure has become grounded in money management.
Money Management Isn’t About Being Rich
It’s about setting priorities and making choices. As Paula Pant says, you can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything. So while some might question why I make a six-figure salary but live in a 1 bedroom apartment, drive a 2010 CRV, and only get my hair done once a year, I’m happy with those choices.
I’d rather be snowboarding, summiting a mountain, or surfing a wave somewhere in the world that has awesome food and new people to meet. I’d also rather continue saving a third of my salary every year.
These choices weren’t easy to make, but they are available to everyone who lands above the poverty line. Your choices might be harder, such as giving up the car or taking on roommates, eating rice and beans every day, but you do have a choice.
Personally, I’d rather have an adventurous life than a comfortable one.