What’s keeping you from climbing Kilimanjaro?

While having tea with my aunt a few weeks ago, she told me the story about how she climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro when she was in her 20s. I’d never heard this story before, and my jaw dropped numerous times as she shared the once-in-a-lifetime experience with me. She explained how she signed up for a “camp” that planned the adventure, the few but essential items she carried in her backpack, how she dressed, the training (which she admitted was useless), and her description of the cloudy view from the top.

When my aunt spoke, I had the recurrent thought: “How can this woman be related to me?” Heck, when I was in my 20s, the closest thing I did to climbing a Seven Summit was riding an elevator to the middle observation deck of the Eiffel Tower.

In addition to climbing mountains, my aunt has visited almost every country in the world. She has lived in places I’ve had to practice pronouncing, and once while in Asia she had to do an emergency evacuation off an airplane by way of an inflatable yellow slide.

My aunt has a house and a full-time job and a husband and two grown children. She’s not a travel writer and she doesn’t have a job in any way related to the travel industry, she’s simply a travel enthusiast. When her children were young, she and her husband took them along on all their adventures.

Seeing the world is at the top of her list of what matters most to her, and she has made it a real priority. She doesn’t let distractions (clutter) get in the way of the life she wants to lead. When she wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, she planned and made the trip a reality. She didn’t make excuses or let her fears keep her from achieving something that was important to her.

I’m not interested in climbing a mountain in Africa, but I am interested in pursuing adventures as lofty and out of my comfort zone. You probably have a similar desire for a life doing more than “just getting by.” So, what distractions are standing in your way? What is cluttering up your time and keeping you from your remarkable life? Now is the time to clear the clutter and get started on your way up your own Kilimanjaro.

29 Comments for “What’s keeping you from climbing Kilimanjaro?”

  1. posted by Cathy Green on

    Have been thinking about this a lot recently after my 35th birthday and have made a list and a blog in repsonse to it. Pleae take a look: http://www.cathys40things.blogspot.com – the idea is to make my life full of the things I want to do, rather than busy with the things I have to do. Just having a written down list is really helping!

  2. posted by [email protected] on

    If you’ve ever had one of those “why do I blog” days, know that posts like this one–delivered at the exact moment someone needed to read it–are the reason. I’ve been stalling on a couple of projects, but your aunt’s story inspires me that if they’re truly important (and they are), I will FIND a way to make them happen. I’ll be sharing this link today!

  3. posted by Mark on

    I tell you what’s keeping me (and I’m sure plenty of other people) from doing all that awesome stuff: $$$

  4. posted by Jude on

    To a Colorado native, Mt. Kilimanjaro doesn’t seem that exciting, at least not when I watch the videos on YouTube. http://climbmtkili.blogspot.co.....ideos.html

    As for doing what you want in life, not everyone has that luxury. Yes, everyone has the ability to do some things on the list, but the vast majority of everyone in the world just can’t do this. Feeding oneself and one’s dependents comes first. In other words, in the US and other developed countries, we’re spoiled rotten.

  5. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Mark — My aunt rarely eats out at restaurants, she walks to work, she swaps clothes with her daughters when she wants variety in her wardrobe instead of going shopping, she spends less than she earns, and she saves for all of her trips. If you’re employed and not facing medical bills, you can do the same. Make your Mount Kilimanjaro a priority and stop consuming things that aren’t important to you. We write about this a lot on Unclutterer, so check out the archives for finding ways to finance the life you imagine.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jude — You make a good point about needing food and shelter first, with wants/dreams/desires coming after the essentials. However, you need to put something else in perspective — this is a website. People who can’t afford food or shelter aren’t spending their days surfing for uncluttering advice on the internet. People in Haiti who are trying to rebuild their lives six months after the earthquake aren’t looking for ways to slim down their possessions. We’re not insensitive, we just know our readership has the basic elements on Maslow’s Hierarchy covered because they have access to working computers and an internet connection.

  7. posted by Mary Denny on

    I am a firm believer of “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Whether you find that fulfillment in a job or a lifestyle choice. I am fortunate that I love the work that I love my life as a hairstylist of almost 30 years. I have a modest income yet I have traveled to my many dream destinations with and with out my children, who are grown now. I am now able to visit my son and granddaughter a few times a year. Everything in life is a choice. I believe gift giving should be in a form of an experience or an adventure whenever possible (instead of stuff!) By the way…what is Elaine St James up to these days…I owe my simple life to her!

  8. posted by timgray on

    No interest in climbing a oversized rock. But; I have my own list of “to-do’s” and found ways of doing items on it.

    Motorcycle trip across the country: except for the time off from work for 1 month for myself and my wife, it’s actually dirt cheap to do. No, you don’t need to go out and buy a $60,000 top of the line BMW bike… or the same harley+harley accessories.. you buy a $4500.00 used honda goldwing or if you want to do it “grungy biker style” a Harley sportster. (The Goldwing is a far better bike for this and far more comfortable…) sleep in small hotels or even KOA cabins that cost less than $35 a night, and wear the same 3 things for 4 weeks straight (you do laundry every 2 days)

    Less than $6500.00 INCLUDING the price of buying the motorcycle you can take an adventure on a motorcycle riding from NYC to LA and even take the Famed route 66 most of the way. I had zero problems because I selected a motorcycle that every honda dealer can work on without problems. Only issues were a flat tire, and Bad gas in Minnesota. Gas for the bike, not from that diner that looked like it was ok….. and when you are done… you have a million memories, 30,000 photos and a motorcycle you can sell to regain 50% of your vacation costs, or keep it and enjoy it.

    Most of your Mount Kilimanjaro’s can be done if you reduce to realistic levels and get rid of the pie in the sky aspects… Yes, touring Europe in a mint condition 1972 Ferrari sounds like fun, but getting the $240,000 for the car makes it impossible.

    Make your mountains attainable..

  9. posted by jeff parnes on

    It seems to me that if you want to climb a mountain, then spending your time either uncluttering your life or worrying about uncluttering your life would be a detriment to making the climb rather than a way to make it possible.

    Let’s see – I have a messy basement – what will I do this summer – Climb Mount Kilimanjaro or clean the basement? Let’s see – I’m reading this website so it looks like the latter rather than the former.

    My basement’s messy – but yesterday my wife and I spent the day on the Shenandoah Parkway. Choices, choices…

  10. posted by leonie on

    Our family made a similar decision regarding eating out. We travel extensively, at least two overseas trips a year and several domestic trips, since we have returned to live in the US. Not eating out when we are at home allows us to set that money aside for vacation meals in countries where the exchange rate might not be favourable and a simple meal will cost more than it does in the US.

    It doesn’t have to be abroad to be exotic. One of our favourite things to do in the US is to visit parks in the National Park system. Sliding down the great white sands in New Mexico, touring Martin Luther King’s home and visiting every single fort along the Florida to South Carolina coast has been amazing.

    And yes, we do have a lot of vacation time from our work. (5 weeks for one, and the entire summer off for me) But I am also willing to take my children out of school a day before a major holiday like Spring Break or bring them back a day later.

    Thus, I agree with Erin. I believe you can achieve your travel goals if you make room for them.

  11. posted by Dru Pagliassotti on

    Your aunt sounds like exactly the kind of woman I want to be “when I grow up” — someone who knows what her priorities are and is living a life worth reminiscing about. 🙂 Give her my regards!

  12. posted by penguinlady on

    You absolutely can do amazing things on a shoestring budget, with planning and care, if it’s something you truly want to do. I think many people think travel means “luxury”, big-name hotels with whirlpool tubs and room service. You can’t do 5-star hotels and famous restaurants on a shoe-string, you have to go to supermarkets (half the fun in a non-English country), stay in auberges or hostels or “tourist class” hotels – but it’s doable if you really want it.

  13. posted by Jodi on

    My husband and I love to travel and I have to agree with penguinlady that the best part of travel is getting out of your comfort zone. Why stay in a nice hotel or spend the day in a museum with a bunch of people from home. One of my favorite travel memories is sitting on a bench along the Tiber river in Rome, listening to the sounds of the people that live there, not the tourists. That was free and more valuable to me than the 3 hour line to get into the Vatican. I don’t make a lot of money but I make a lot of sacrifices to live my life to the fullest and in the last 3 years I have seen more of the world than in my first 27 years. If you visualize and priortize the world is your oyster!

  14. posted by L.M. on

    Regarding the $$ comments. We have traveled in about 25 world countries. We love adventure! We make average middle-class income. World travel is not nearly as expensive as people seem to think (or does not have to be). For years, we would find air tickets to places in Europe and South America cheaper than tickets from one side of the USA to another. Our attitude was why stay in USA, when we can get airfare less to leave the USA? : ) We also travel frugally. Staying in budget accommodations for example. And you often get to experience the local culture better that way, as opposed to being in a fancy hotel isolated from the locals. Lonely Planet guides give great advice on independent and frugal travel. So does the magazine Budget Travel. We even pack food (like peanut butter!) in our suitcases, to have some lunch meal options with us.

    It is all in personal priorities too. We each value different things. We go without little everyday things (which can add up over time!), and use the money for travel. I know someone who spends $5 a day at Starbucks. I’d rather pocket that and take a vacation.

  15. posted by JC on

    Kilimanjaro can be in your backyard. Went to Crater Lake, OR this weekend and had a blast camping and hiking and swimming in the (cold!) lake with some buddies. It’s been on my list for 4-year and now I need to find the next backyard item to put on my list! Why stay in the U.S.? Because there are so many beautiful places to explore!

  16. posted by Vanessa H. on

    This is a great post for me. I have been evaluating my TV habits and also weekday spending on lunch. I also think that, without having a goal of something you want to do, you do just spend, because you don’t have a plan for what you could/would do with that money otherwise.

  17. posted by Paige on

    Wow, excuses for not doing what you want and can in life, or negative feedback on this great post amazes me. I choose life – just like you aunt did and does. It’s pretty simple. Clean out the basement, sell some of the junk, and then go climb the mountain, or take the trip, or join the Peace Corp, or start your own company, or whatever it is you are here to do. Just make sure you don’t sit on your hind end and spend your time making up excuses why you can’t have a life filled with choices. We all do!

  18. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    @Paige: “…making up excuses why you can’t have a life filled with choices.”

    Ah, choices. We often have more than we think we do. Not all are ideal, but many are liberating. When we’re not making the liberating choices, it’s time to figure out why we’re afraid.

  19. posted by Suffering From Travel Itch on

    My house keeps my wife and I from doing the travel we’d like to do. If we had the guts to sell the house (at a significant loss from the purchase price), we’d be off seeing the world for an extended period. I don’t think I could go on an extended trip without knowing how we would continue to make these enormous mortgage payments after we returned. In that sense, the house is “clutter.”

    Maybe a good compromise would be to take time to travel in short bursts so that we can keep our jobs, see some stuff, and continue to ride out the housing downturn. But I’ve done the extended travel thing before, and one-week vacations just aren’t the same. And time runs short since we want to have kids one day. A nine-day trip to Europe is not our Kilimanjaro.

  20. posted by L.M. on

    Oh..I’m not opposed to US travel, and have actually been in about half the states. Our country is amazing with diversity! I agree – don’t overlook your own backyard! But my point was just that people often assume “foreign travel is very expensive” and thus stay in the USA. But we have spent more on some USA trips than foreign ones. Depends on circumstances, of course. When we went to Brazil in 2001, the US dollar was very strong (about 3 times the Brazilian real) and the trip was dirt cheap. We ate in fancy restaurants in Rio for the US dollar equivalent of about $2! Etc.

  21. posted by Another Deb on

    I have been blessed as a teacher with travel opportunities any time I can take them. I have not yet organized a European tour for high school kids but those who do can get their fare paid through the numerous agencies who organize these trips. I have chaperoned trips to Washington and New York City, done research trips to lots of geology and ecology locations, and attended conferences and workshops across the country. A friend spent 8 weeks in Antarctica as part of a teacher project. The focus for these experiences was on subject material but they have been amazing life events for me!

  22. posted by Sassy on


    I love to travel as well and being in Australia means that pretty much everywhere is a LONG way away!

    Last year I did my own personal Kilimanjaro and trained all year with a friend and attempted to get to Everest Base Camp. Altitude sickness prevented us getting higher than 3500 metres (about 11000 feet) but it was such an adventure. We could only take 11 kilos in our packs maximum for the sherpas to take up the mountain. So nothing extra went on our holiday at all.

    Then we went to India, then Hong Kong and tomorrow I leave for an eight day South Pacific Cruise to New Caledonia.

    Budget travel is the way for me. Just like the person above, budget hotels, hostels, trains, buses, nothing fancy, eating from supermarkets.

    I have now been to most countries in Europe, travelled extensively in the US, been to Mexico, most of the South Pacific, most of the states of Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand etc etc.

    I love to travel and also manage to have a mortgage and save money because I prioritise travelling above all else.

    My next trip will be to Canada to travel on that train that has the glass top, currently saving and planning for 2013 for that.


  23. posted by Jennifer on

    I’m amazed by some comments on this post. People saying “well you have to have the money, what if you don’t, who wants to climb a old rock, I live in such and such a State, I’m not impressed by that”

    Well I have no intention of climbing anything either mainly becuase I’m a chicken but I’m impressed by that Aunt. I think she’s a person to look up to. As the writer said, her Aunt works full-time and raised two children and ran a house and obviously did a lot of planning to travel so much with children. If all you want to do is clean out a basement or your wardrobe that’s fine too but don’t put down someone’s Aunt for being so awesome and belittle her adventures.

    I love hearing about older people who are awesome and achievers. Awesome-ness is not a generational thing.


  24. posted by Kay Chase on

    Thank you for this post. I’ve wanted to visit Machu Picchu for my whole life (since reading about the Inca as a child), and you made me sit back and say, “well, what’s stopping me?”

    While the answer is often “I don’t have the time”, I find now that I could put that hole in my schedule. . . I don’t have the money (and yes, I’ve got a Travelocity alert up on airfare to Lima.)

    So I’m going to start a separate bank account, my “Machu Picchu” account, and figure out an arrangement for contributing to it regularly, and figure out exactly what my budget will have to be. I don’t know when I’ll find the time in a few years, but at least the money will be there.

  25. posted by Tiffany on

    I just got my second degree, a B.S. Nursing, and I want to travel at least once a year on an international medical mission.

    So far, what’s holding me back is my student loans! I’m working my behind off this year and making good progress. I really think I can make my first annual trip in 2011!!!

  26. posted by Steve on

    Wow, I only occassionally come to this site but I have never seen this many comments posted. Travel US vs travel abroad, budget travel vs no limits, short trips vs long trips. Suprised its a polarizing ocnversation.

    Life is a series of adventures; you decide which opportunities to seize and which to let go by. Its a personal decision. The 5 star traveler can experience the same enjoyment as the guy staying at KOA. IN this discussion no one is right and no one is wrong.

    I try to tell my kids to have stretch goals and to realise its not failure if you dont achieve the goal.

    Just came back from 18 day backpack trip through the Middle East with my son. Worked a second job on the weekend to pay for it. You have to decide how much sacrifice you are willing to accept to reach a goal.

    As for Kilimanjaro…your aunt is awesome! Climbing it is one my list but at 53 I realize I have only 2 years to make a reasonable attempt. The kids use to think I was going thru a midlife crisis, now they realise its about focusing on a goal and trying to make it a reality. Not sure about this one but I wont give up until i am sure I cant make it.

  27. posted by JC on

    After 17 years of marriage, my husband surprised me recently saying that he would really like to see Paris (in France). It was a huge surprise because the man isn’t into art, or museums, or – more importantly- large amounts of people. I’ve always wanted to visit the Orkney Islands and I told him that we should make it a two for one trip.

    I think that a lot of times people can’t differentiate between an “excuse” and a real hold back. For example, not having funds because you never sacrifice and save is an excuse. Not having funds because you are unemployed and struggling to survive is a real hold back.

    We have two main hurdles. The first is an “excuse”, our huge home mortgage due to a dishonest contractor (very long story). We are trying to wait out the real estate slump and sell when we can actually break even. This is a hurdle that we know we can eventually overcome.

    Our second major hurdle is a real hold back. We are currently raising a daughter with some pretty severe mental illnesses. We are realistic and accept that it will be years before we can do something like travel overseas- but we can be saving in the meantime and have something to look towards.

    In the meantime, we are doing other things that bring us joy, like camping/hiking trips in the beautiful state of Alaska where we live.

    For over 20 years DH has been entering for a specific hunt permit. This year he got it. He and our 12 year old son have been walking up to 7 miles with heavy packs 4-5 days a week to get in shape.

    We are also very aware that our goals-dreams change. When we finally have enough saved to go overseas, we may want to do something entirely different, but that will be an viable option because we will have saved in the first place.

  28. posted by Barbi Walker on

    Funny thing Erin, this post really caught my eye AND my attention. I climbed Kilimanjaro in 1994 just before I turned 30. So your title intrigued me. Suffice it to say, I have been wallowing around trying to figure out what I want to do. I want to write freelance (I was a journalist) but can’t seem to get it done. I flounder around and find “other” things to do with my time than pursue leads or write down ideas.

    Your post has made me sit down to write out my list of what is stopping me. Hopefully I can be honest with myself and move on, and “climb” Kilimanjaro again.


  29. posted by heatherK on

    It’s very true that if you’re responsible with your money and try to limit your purchases to only what you *need*, you’ll be able to save enough to travel. But I would like to point out that people should be saving for an Emergency Fund (at least 6 months of income), for retirement, for a new car, and for other unexpected big-ticket items like car repairs.

    My husband and I have been able to do save for all the above as well as do a fair amount of traveling within the US on a modest middle-income. BUT, those trips have been modest (inexpensive motels, meals at Burger King, and usually just a few days). The point I’m trying to make is that for some incomes, if you’re being responsible and saving for all the things you SHOULD be saving for, there’s not a lot of money left over to travel, and REGULAR travel, whether overseas or within the US, just isn’t within reach.

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