In May this year I quit my job, sold my possessions, found my cat a new home, said goodbye to friends and family and set off to travel the world.
To describe this as something I’d been dreaming of doesn’t do it justice. Wanderlust evokes positive images, but this desire to travel and see the world was beginning to consume me. It was all I could think about, all I dreamed about, and it revealed a deep, persistent dissatisfaction within me.
I didn’t know where that dissatisfaction had come from. I liked my job but sometimes I would look across the office and think, What am I actually doing? Who am I benefitting? Because it wasn’t just a desire to visit other countries and experience new things that was eating away at me. There was something else: a feeling far less distinct; a hazy, undefined sense of restlessness; of wanting more.
Faced with such an overwhelming, relentless desire to just get up and GO, packing it all in and leaving for adventures untold may sound like it was an easy decision. But it wasn’t.
The Travel Risk Assessment
They say timing is everything. If that’s the case then I should definitely be worried. At a time when my friends are putting down solid roots and being responsible, I’m doing the opposite. While my peers are getting promotions and buying houses, I’m living out of a bag for a year. While friends’ careers are escalating and their salaries soaring, I’m exhausting all my savings with no safety net.
Yes, I’m still young, but I’m also old enough to know what I’m risking. I’m old enough to know the value of acquiring a pension. I’m old enough to understand the importance of getting on the property ladder – as well as the potential perils of stepping off the career ladder. I’m old enough to know better.
I had my own concerns, but other people had their own. What am I going to do about my career when I get back? We all know how hard it is to find decent jobs these days. What about crime in other countries? What if I get robbed or attacked? What about terrorists? What if I run out of money? What about zika, malaria and dengue?
I’m not the type of person who needs to know exactly what their future holds, but I do want some security. I want to know when my next paycheck is coming. I want to know I won’t obliterate my savings. I want to know that this extended sabbatical might help, not hinder, my career in the long-run. But I don’t know any of that, just like I don’t know the answers to the questions above.
These nagging doubts, these nasty, biting jitters, would not be pushed aside. For every twinge of excited anticipation I would feel as my trip drew closer, I would also feel a pang of fear, a prick of anxiety about whether I was doing the right thing. Whether I was throwing everything I’d worked for since graduating seven years ago away. Whether I’d find myself back at square one upon my return.
Because the thing I couldn’t get past was that it wasn’t like I had a hard deal. I left a great job – one where there was room for progression, where I got to travel, where I really liked my bosses. I had wonderful friends and an active social life. What exactly is missing? What more could I want? What am I even looking for?
Trying to Live Fearlessly
Even now, I don’t know the answers to those questions. I’ve been on the road for two months, and while I’m still at the beginning of this journey I’ve experienced enough to know a few truths now. Mainly that this was the right decision for me. That it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what’s coming next, whether I’ll get a good job when I’m back, whether I’ll ever have enough money to buy a house. Because this is all worth it.
Every now and then I still get bursts of raw, unbridled happiness that this is my life now. Thank goodness I did it. Thank goodness I’m here. It’s an alien feeling of joy that I never knew before, and while it may well lead to later complications, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I will never forget the triumph of scaling a volcano while fighting off serious altitude sickness. I will never forget having the best nights out of my life with people I can barely communicate with. I’ll never forget the sense of freedom I felt while sailing on a mountain lake more beautiful than I could imagined. And yes, cliched as it is, I will never forget how humbling – and intensely shaming – it can be to see how happy people are who have far, far less than I do.
It’s not all excitement and fun and kicking back on the beach, of course. Long term travel is hard. It’s not a holiday. It can be exhausting and stressful, especially when you don’t speak the language, when you’re covered in mosquito bites, when you’ve spent the last 19 hours on a night bus and none of the ATMs are accepting foreign cards. But the experiences I’ve had in just two months have eradicated any stubborn fears I still had about whether I made the right choice.
We’re all different, and the milestones we associate with success – mortgages, money, marriages and babies – don’t fit everyone. You have to listen your instincts and go with your gut. If you’re more motivated by tangible career success and earning money, then you should absolutely pursue that. Anyone with even a basic grasp of economics would say you’re making the right choice.
But if your desire lies elsewhere – in travel, or seeing the world, or just experiencing what else is out there – then don’t let your doubts rule you. It should never be fear that dictates your next step. Life is short, and I want to live mine as fearlessly as I can.
I was scared of quitting everything to travel, but the idea of waking up one day and wondering why I hadn’t done anything exciting with my life scared me even more. I have the rest of my life to build a career, to save money, to put down roots – but this? This is once in a lifetime.