When my 10-year-old Chevy Cobalt came to a screeching, smoky halt on a Georgia Interstate last week, I knew I was totally screwed.
I had spent an epic five days in the Blue Ridge Mountains—hiking around waterfalls along the Appalachian Trail and taking sweet afternoon naps in a cabin where I didn’t have cell phone service. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a champagne toast next to a fire place and played board games with friends.
I knew I was pushing the limits when I decided to take my car on the nine-hour trip north. In November I had nearly given up on my car after three weeks and several trips to the repair shop for a serious oil and transmission leak. The dealership said my car was a goner but I dug my heels in. Finally, a friend was able to seal the leak. I vowed to start getting serious about saving up for a down payment on a car in the New Year.
But I was too late.
A bearded mechanic named Mike walked in the waiting area of his repair shop in Cordele, Ga., holding a metal L-shaped rod his in hand.
“Your engine is gone,” he said with words that hung in the air. My connecting rod had snapped and torn through my oil pan.
The price of fixing my car would have exceeded its value. Suddenly I was stuck in a rural town with no way home.
It was 5 p.m. and the shop was closing. Mike said if I gave him the title of my car we could call it even. Thanks to a man named Cowboy with the only cab in town—a beat up minivan piled high with fast food wrappers and a TV to watch Bernie Mac DVD’s— I was able to make it to the nearest car rental place an hour away.
To add insult to injury, I got a speeding ticket on the way home. Apparently crying doesn’t get you anywhere with Georgia State Troopers.
For the majority of my adult life I have been fortunate enough to avoid car payments. And that’s mainly because I could care less what type of car I drove. As long as it got me from point A to B, I’d drive anything with wheels. My main objective has always been to be as untethered as possible, in the hopes that I could easily pack it up and move abroad on a whim if the mood struck me.
I never wanted the weight of something like car payments to prevent me from following my bliss. I wanted to steer clear of the treadmill I see so many Americans on: juggling an ever growing amount of debt while doing everything they can to make an extra buck.
I was in denial that I would have to eventually get another car. It seemed so far off. After deciding that I would make travel a priority in my life, I’ve spent the last two years putting most of my disposable income into amazing adventures.
I saw every trip as an investment into what I thought would eventually become a revenue-generating blog to offset the cost of traveling once I built the audience. But that has yet to happen.
As a writer I think it’s important to be honest about traveling. If you are spending money traveling abroad, that’s money you aren’t spending on another aspect of your life. What are you willing to do without so that you can have adventures of a lifetime?
I was willing to live pretty cheaply but also without a backup plan for the unexpected.
I’ve spent the last several days asking myself if I regret any of the trips I’ve taken. If I could do it again, would I have canceled a trip so that I could have had a better safety net?
And the answer is no. But this recent event has been a bit of a wakeup call that I need to find some middle ground between nomadic idealism and adulthood.
Over the weekend I bought a slightly used car—one that I’m happy with and is within my means. Having reliable transportation is a new level of security that I haven’t had for the last couple of years and it’s kind of amazing.
But it’s not lost on me that what I’m now putting towards a car could buy me a domestic flight every month for the next five years.
This change in my life will likely mean some changes for Parachute Journalist, my weekend adventures and puts planning a trip to Ecuador this spring in limbo. I haven’t had the mental energy to sort all that out yet, but I plan to share my next steps when I get there.
For me travel will always be a priority but now I have to re-evaluate what I’m willing to give up to make it happen.
What have you sacrificed for your passion? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!