7 mins

How travel helped pay my bills

Fresh from finishing her big around-the-word adventure, Marie Javins finds herself on a plane again, in an attempt to save on rent and health care

Broken toe (Marie Javins)

The first time I threw myself off the proverbial cliff-without-a-parachute and into the world of the unknown – away from the safety of work and home and into the frontier of backpacks and buses – I bought into a lot of silly platitudes about travel. Leap, and the net will appear. You’ll change your life!

You might end up with a few bruises but, except in rare cases, you won’t need that net. The proverbial cliff turns out, both wonderfully and a tiny bit disappointingly, to be only a dip in a small hill, and landing involves the first lesson of travel.

Nothing to fear here. There isn’t a cliff at all.

A decade later, after that first year-long trip around the world by bus and freighter and stints living abroad in Berlin, Australia, Barcelona, Uganda, Namibia, Kuwait, and Cairo, I launched a second round-the-world trip, with significantly lowered expectations about external events and locations affecting my internal dialogue and future.

The math works something like this: One traveller plus a little seasoning equals the awareness that people are pretty similar all over the world, with everyone sharing the same types of hopes and dreams of comfort and happiness for themselves and their families.

Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike? Is that statistically possible?

More or less, but they’re still snowflakes.

Once I understood I’d be OK out alone out there in the world, stepping off the bump in the hill became much easier. Ideas like going abroad for a few months to avoid the high cost of New York rent or US health insurance became practical solutions rather than farfetched fantasies.

And so I found myself, in July and August of 2013, heading to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for the summer. My regular job had ended in a strange twist of new ownership mixed with one part international intrigue and one part Hollywood flavoured by xenophobia and political posturing – anyway, that’s not as important as the end result, which was the choice of leaving my comic book career (one I’d willingly made in 2001) was taken out of my hands in 2013.

My first reaction was panic. How would I pay the bills? A quick look at the want ads revealed not a lot of interesting jobs in an anemic employment market. What does a travel writer and comic book editor do in a world of dwindling paying creative options?

Well, I reasoned, if you can’t increase the income, you’d better cut the bills.

And so I handed my apartment (bills included) off to a friend, cashed in some frequent flyer miles, and headed south with a few freelance Marvel jobs until my teaching gig would begin again in the autumn. 

I managed to sprain or break a toe by walking into a vacuum cleaner the night before I left, so I bought some fancy flip-flops and taped up my foot, and on arrival in Mexico, feebly hobbled off the plane into Queretaro Airport.

My plane had been delayed and when the shuttle bus driver left me at the flat I’d rented, I had to call the property manager in the middle of the night.

"Hello?" A sleepy woman answered.

"Hello, I came in late, and no one is here with the key."

"Why didn't you call?"

"What, from the plane?" I laughed. She didn't. She gave me a lecture on calling when you're late.

I took a breath. Surely I wasn't the first tourist to come in on a late plane. And I’d sent the flight number and arrival details. Was it really so hard for someone to check if I was late?

"I was on the plane. You can't call from the plane and I don’t have a SIM card yet.” I was calling from a landline loaned to me by another guest in the same building. “Should I go to a hotel tonight?"

There, I stopped her lecture.

"No. Just wait."

A minute later, a rumpled man with a key wandered out of one of the guest rooms. I’d suspected as much, and felt like lecturing him on leaving a sign up on which doorbell I should have leaned on. But instead, I watched as he carried my luggage up a ridiculously steep spiral staircase to a lovely studio apartment three flights up. I limped up behind him, to admire the fireplace, the skylight, and the ornate tiling job just long enough to realise I didn’t have local currency yet or any single dollar bills.

I was about to start my trip by not tipping the man-with-the-key.

I thanked him profusely, locked the door behind him as he left, and fell fast asleep on my first night in Mexico. 

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