I’ve traveled extensively for 40 years. In almost every style there is. Been pampered in first class: I remember a time in Bangkok where they put me up in the Grand Orient Hotel on the river and I was assigned a personal butler who sat outside my room awaiting my wishes. I’ve hitchhiked penniless, too. I walked a thousand miles on my feet one trip. Ridden a bicycle across the US, twice. Traveled as a couple in Europe, traveled with a family of five in Asia, travelled in a unwieldy group of 16, been on organized tours — and been on my own years at a stretch. I lived abroad in an old city. Once I was on the move every night for 9 months, and one time flew to Hawaii on a door-prize win! The point is I’ve travelled every way possible, and I’ve learned you need only two things (besides good health): some time and money.
When you are young you have more time than money. Not having money closes off some travel possibilities (forget Bhutan), and it forces you to go the long way around. With no bucks it may take you longer to get somewhere by local bus, but of course you will still arrive later. Without money your options are limited to where you can stay, or do (no hot air balloons!). Over many years and long stretches on the road, these limited options can feel restrictive, and tiring.
When you are older, you tend to have more money than time. If you have only two week vacation, you need to rush things so you can keep your job. You’ll pay to fly in to the hotspot rather than spend your two weeks in the back of the bus getting there. You’ll pay extra for the express train because it will save you a day — and its clean bathrooms will delight your 12-year-old daughter. Maybe you hire a guide to take you directly to the festival instead of wasting an afternoon wandering around. With money you can eat whatever you desire.
Here is what I learned from 40 years of traveling: Of the two modes, it is far better to have more time than money.
When you have abundant time you can get closer to core of a place. You can hang around and see what really happens. You can meet a wider variety of people. You can slow down until the hour that the secret vault is opened. You have enough time to learn some new words, to understand what the real prices are, to wait out the weather, to get to that place that takes a week in a jeep.
Money is an attempt to buy time, but it rarely is able to buy any of the above. When we don’t have time we use money to try to get us to the secret door on time, or we use it avoid needing to know the real prices, or we use money to have someone explain to us what is really going on. Money can get us close, but not all the way.
I have never met anyone on a high-priced tour where everything is provided, who did not tell me, “I wish I had more time.” I have seen millionaires look wistfully at time-rich backpackers and whisper, “I wish I were them.”
Time is the one thing you can give yourself in abundance. It is often the one resource the young own. Ironically, if you exploit your gift of time as you travel, you’ll gain more than any billionaire can. Without exaggeration, you’ll earn experiences that no amount of money can buy. Seriously. Although it tries, money cannot buy what time delivers.
So if you have a choice, travel with more time than money. You’ll be richer.