“I hated my job, so I quit and started traveling the world.” Is how the stories of many long-term travelers start, but not this one. So many people say they started traveling because they hated their job. They weren’t happy where they lived. They didn’t feel connected to their community. They didn’t like their girl/boyfriend. On and on. So they quit, they broke up, they left. [and you can too! 10 reasons to quit your job and travel or whatever the new click-bait title of their freshly pressed article is]
For me, it was different. I loved my job. [Sure, it was challenging and there were things I was struggling with, don’t let me paint it as sunshine and rainbows] But I loved my job. I loved the company I worked for. I loved the people I worked with. I LOVE Denver. It’s an amazing city and community. I have amazing friends, a consistent spot in softball leagues, an awesome dog and even a Bears bar. All in all, I had a great life in Colorado. So my story isn’t a my-life-sucked-so-I-did-something-about-it story. It’s an I-wanted-something-different-so-I-did-something-about-it story.
One year ago today, my boss and I went to lunch and I put in my notice. Given the circumstances, he said he knew it was coming, but was surprised at how soon it came. Then, “well, you’re not getting any younger and it’s not like you have kids or a husband or boyfriend or anything.” Burn. Together we laughed as what he meant as a “now’s the time” comment came out so, so wrong.
Over the next 6 weeks, I burned both ends of the candle trying to balance my desire to leave my company with everything I did wrapped up tidily with a pretty bow and get everything that I needed done to be ready to leave the country indefinitely. I did neither of those very well despite how little sleep I got, how many lunch hours I spent working on my travel plans or how many emails I answered at midnight. Because, spoiler alert, there’s no such thing as ready. But instead of celebrating my anniversary as the day I left the country, I have decided to celebrate the day I quit. Because the day I quit was the day I committed. And everything that has come out of the last year has come first out of that commitment to myself.
A little backstory. People always ask what made the change. I wrote a much more detailed response here, for the ladies at Redefine Real Life. But the short version is I knew I wanted to travel the world, I got involved in a contest to join the Global Degree team, and though I wasn’t selected, I got really clear on what I wanted and how I could achieve it. More importantly, I was swimming in a sea of support and I decided to leverage that momentum to get started with a bang.
So one year later – what have I learned, other than how to speak British, Aussie and Canadian English? I’m dedicating this week’s 5 Things to the 5 themes that have recurred the most so far.
People Are Amazing as You Let Them Be.
I’m going to stray from the travel blogger script here and put it in writing. The world is scary. BUT. It’s also incredible and fun and weird and made up of people who will wow you at every turn. BUT. You have to let them. When you live in fear or shy away from opportunities to connect with people, the unexpected will, shock, never happen. Even in the “scary” places, remember that people are people. At the most basic level, we all want to take care of our families and laugh.
Feeling creeped out that people are staring at you while you walk down the street? Well, maybe they’ve never seen a white person before and are, how dare they, interested. Or wondering why not everyone you meet while traveling smiles at you like in the award-winning pictures of that photographer you follow on Instagram? Well, and especially around foreigners, a lot of people in underdeveloped countries are self-conscious of their teeth, so they aren’t quick to display them with a big smile. Surrounded by people who speak a different language? Gestures, awkward faces and Google Translate will get you much further than you think.
So you might feel uneasy at first. Push through it. Because once you do, there is a whole lot of fun to be had on the other side. People living in a settlement have taken me in to make sure I have a safe roof over my head. I have laughed and played darts with a room full of Japanese whose understanding of English was limited to, “nice one!” [the phrase that displays on the dart game when a player hits a bullseye] I have seen and felt joy radiate from people everywhere I have been, and am so fortunate to harness as much of it as I can. Don’t believe me? I made a photo post about it here. Guaranteed to make you smile.
People Are Doing Astonishing Things Everywhere.
Maybe the above doesn’t have you convinced. If you read any of my posts regularly, you know that I think that people are the best part of travel. And it isn’t just the locals you encounter. But I have been absolutely floored by the people I have met, not just in the way that we connect regardless of all of our differences. More so because they are astounding. There are people all over the world using their talents, creativity and energy to do incredible things. They’re making small decisions and big decisions that shape their lives in a way that best suits them.
It’s the Canadian sisters I met in the Philippines who decided that they didn’t want to choose between school and travel, so they’re enrolled in Canadian university online while living in the Philippines, the former NASA employee who moved to Hawaii to become a dive instructor or Elos, the nurse training to be a midwife to make an impact on women’s health in Papua New Guinea. I have never felt more inspired and intellectually stimulated than reveling in the conversations I have had with the people I’ve met. So much so, in fact, that you can keep an eye out for a podcast to launch so I can start introducing you to their stories. They have found what they should be doing and are investing themselves completely into doing it.
This is also the hardest, most heart-breaking side of travel. Everything is so accelerated that you meet people. Love them. Spend 24 hours a day with them. Leave them. Cry about it. FB message each other for months. How did people emotionally handle the heartbreak of travel before the internets?
Smart is Sexy.
We are told not to talk politics or religion because it isn’t polite and we might, heaven forbid, disagree. Those have been some of the most fruitful conversations I have had in the last year. Staying in those conversations has made me stronger in my beliefs, conviction and commitment to research; it has given me alternate perspectives that come to life over a beer instead of on a page in an article; it has educated me in ways that complement and intertwine with both my formal education and ongoing education. My queue of audio books only gets longer the more people I meet.
These are the people and conversations that I want in my life. Before I would have shied away from responding to an obnoxious article that someone posted on FB, but now I want to have the discussion about it. I want to disagree and learn. I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be called out if I’m wrong. I want people in my life who are the mirrors that show me blind spots.
You Should Quit Your Job and Travel. Or Don’t.
The best stories are between the pages of a passport. Or whatever bullsh*t flowery inspirational travel quote overlayed on a scenic picture tickles your fancy. Don’t get me wrong. For me, many of the best stories have been found in the pages of my passport. But the core problem with the travel propaganda is that it insinuates that anyone who isn’t traveling is doing nothing of value.
It seems like every week there’s a new viral article with the 18 reasons why you should quit your job and travel or the 4 things you can only get in life from international travel or the 8 reasons you should live abroad for at least 11.35 years the 7 sights on the moon you have to visit before you turn 14. First of all, kudos to the editors on these sites for writing titles that are going to get clicks. But in my opinion, all of that is one-upping garbage.
To be clear. I believe that it is incalculably valuable for a person to experience and learn through travel. There are so, so many benefits to one’s character and perspective. But I also believe that the “musts” and “bests” and age-specific deadlines are unrealistic and counter productive.
Should you quit your job and travel? Maybe. Do you have the means, fortitude and commitment to do it? Are you at a place in your life to really get the value from it or are you going to be on an international beer and drug bender, constantly tethered to home on social networks? Do you have a plan to maintain the relationships that are important to you while you are gone? Do you have relationships that will go with you? Do you have a job or a vocation that allows you to work while you travel?
You are the only one who can answer the “should” question. What I will add, though, is a challenge to the obstacles that you think are in your way. It isn’t as expensive as you think. It isn’t as hard as you think. It isn’t as scary as you think. You probably have a job skill that can be done online, not just in an office. But you’ll have to put in the work to identify your tethers and make a plan to unravel them.
What You Work for Is What You Get.
This isn’t just about making money, but where you invest your time, energy, thoughts and money is where your life goes and who you become.
Million dollar dreams don’t succeed on a minimum wage work ethic. You can’t complain if you haven’t found your Jay Z when you’re not willing to work to be Beyonce. You don’t get a Taylor Swift squad without investing in your friendships.
I am fortunate to have leveraged the mounds of aforementioned support into the start of my venture. But I am also working harder every day than I have in my life. Being a travel blogger has now earned me the specific joy of constantly being questioned for how I afford to live in my life of “luxury.” Aside from the obvious answers of “it’s not that expensive” and “well, how do you afford to eat out X times per week?”, the most obvious is that I work. I work on the blog. I work for clients I have picked up freelancing. I work on no less than 5 projects that I have in the background and am readying to debut at some point or kill because they aren’t moving. I am constantly writing about yesterday, experiencing today and planning tomorrow. It’s exhausting and exhilarating.
In the same vein, I have seen a shift in the friendships and people I surround myself with, as well as the stimuli I consume on a daily basis. I have a friend whom I met for only a few days in “real life,” but talk to as much as possible because that friendship makes me want to be better and smarter. It has grown into one of the relationships I most cherish because I get so much from it, and so I invest in it (though I’m admittedly on the winning end). Instead of ignoring the Fox News propaganda article someone shared thinking “how could people agree with that?”, I read it to understand what inputs are forming their opinions. Instead of taking a claim at its surface value, I dig deeper to see where it’s coming from. What the source is. What biases are presented. I use social networks to surface news that is important to me from sources I trust, rather than relying on just one site or source. Not doing great at all of these just yet, but I’m finding an interesting shift in my perspective as I shift my inputs.
We all have finite mental, emotional, physical and financial capacity. What we get out of that depends on how we choose to exercise it. Decide what you want and dedicate your capacity to getting it.
This point can be summed up no better than by the one and only.
One year down. Who knows how many more to go. I can’t believe it’s gone so fast and how much has happened, yet how much is still to come. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you on this journey with me. Thank you for asking questions and for letting me learn from you. It feels only fitting that I celebrate my paper anniversary by writing to you.