When I was in college, several friends took years off to go see the world. My best friend lived in Turkey for part of her youth. When she graduated, she joined the Peace Corps and went to Hungary. I traded postcards with her and heard all about her adventures, but never got the travel bug myself. My wanderlust didn’t wake until ten years ago when my partner Glenn and I made Rick Steves Europe part of our Saturday PBS night. Glenn got sick a couple of years later. I took care of him and helped care for my parents until their deaths. In the meantime, I hurt my back from years of accumulated stress and hours and hours at the computer. I couldn’t travel, and when I got better, I decided I’d better go now, while my body’s in shape for it. As a friend told me, you have to go to Macchu Picchu before your knees give out.

In the year and half since I got on the road, I’ve stood in many of the places I saw on Rick Steves, and many more besides. Places that were only “someday, someday…” daydreams. I’ve walked the Acropolis and the Roman Forum, climbed Mont Saint-Michel, swum in the Mediterranean, and flown in a glider over the White Mountains. I’m writing this at a desk in the house in Ecuador where I’m staying for two months, looking across the lush valley at peak after peak of the Andes stretching to heaven.

What’s most amazing is how cheap and easy it’s been. I’m crisscrossing the globe and living more economically than I did staying in Pennsylvania. Going to Europe loomed as a daunting and frightening undertaking. Looking back on it, I just… went. What was the big deal?

I picked the perfect time to start. The Internet has opened unprecedented means of easing the way. There have never been so many opportunities. I’m writing this series of articles to share what I’ve learned and hopefully inspire others.

If you’re an American, realize what a unique privilege you have. Chatting with taxi drivers here, I’ve learned that most Ecuadorians never get very far from home. At best, they’ve been to Colombia or Peru. They’d like to go to the States, but they can’t get visas. Even if U.S. immigration weren’t tightening by the day, they have to prove that they have a certain amount of money in the bank before they’ll be considered. They’ll never see the Grand Canyon. We’ve taken our natural and cultural wonders — the property of the world — and walled them off.

When I landed in Quito, the customs officers barely blinked before waving me through. Appreciate how lucky you are. Just because of your birthplace, you can get a passport that unlocks the whole planet. If you respect this gift, you can spread the benefits of travel everywhere you go. You can broaden your own heart and mind and erode the walls of bigotry that threaten us all.

Coming up:

  • Books and blogs
  • Possessions and travel gear
  • Apps
  • Economical travel (including housesitting)
  • The place for cruises
  • Where to make home when you have no home

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