It started on a Wednesday
You know when you wake up in the morning and you don’t want to be where you are doing what you’re doing?
I mean really REALLY to the point of never wanting to ever get out of bed ever again?
That was me one joyously sunny Wednesday morning in Oregon last April (2012). I hated everything about where I was, and I hated that I hated it (because Oregon is amazing), and I hated that I didn’t want to get out of bed on a sunny day, so I hated the sun for shining.
It was a low point. I’m not proud.
“You should be happier,” I scolded myself. After all, life was sweet and easy.
I lived in a peaceful, green town, where I’d made lots of great friends. I had a job with caring folks, good benefits, flexible hours, that let me recover from the burnout from my last job.
But I hadn’t meant to be here, and the job wasn’t the right fit. I’d kept plugging away for a year post-divorce, waiting out the grief thing, trying to figure out what came next.
But oh the grief. Oh the unholy, still-pounding-the-floor-crying grief of it.
What is it about grief and floors that makes them go so well together?
Whatever it was, I didn’t want it. Travel had always been my go-to, my magic reset button, the thing that made me feel alive when nothing else did. Anyway, I figured if I had some crying left to do, I might as well do it on a tropical island.
I didn’t know how long I wanted to be gone, so I quit my job. It would’ve cost too much to move, store, and move my things again, so I got rid of everything. I didn’t know where I wanted to go so I bought a one-way ticket.
It all made sense until I started announcing my plan to friends and family and watched the inevitable mayhem that will ensue when you announce you’re doing a complete 180 with your life.
I know what you’re thinking.
How can she afford to just quit her job and travel like that?
One thing I’d done right all these years while living the cookie-cutter college-career-marriage before 30-401K American dream was to save money. In my entire adult life I’d never bought a tv or major electronic appliance (at least not a new one). Actually, there were very few things I hadn’t purchased second-hand. My designer jeans came from West LA yard sales and my Banana Republic work outfits came from the Santa Monica Goodwill (thank you career girls of Brentwood). I’d never had a fancy phone or cable tv.
Not paying for stuff for ten years was finally going to, well, pay off.
I wasn’t new to international travel. I’d been using a passport since the age of seven, studied abroad in college, and despite being a cheapskate managed to see 18 countries already.
But at 34 I could already feel my years of happily roughing it in 16-bed hostel dorms and squatting over third-world potties coming quickly to an end. I knew I’d better travel now or I might not have the stamina later.
Embracing the uncertainty that this decision entailed was challenging. My identity was wrapped up in being a planner, a teacher, a project coordinator, in knowing what I wanted at all times and making it happen. I’d orchestrated my life with minimal drama and sufficient applomb. I’d finished my degrees in the requisite amount of time. I was married, I had a career, I had a home and a purpose. And then my husband declared his love for someone else, despite a promotion my job still felt soulless and unsatisfying, and I moved into a friend’s spare room because I couldn’t bear the sight of anything that reminded me of the man who’d betrayed so much trust.
In less than six months, the tidy little life I’d spent ten years putting together vanished.
Why not go about life differently for a change? Why not stop wanting my life to look like everyone else’s?
Why not stop worrying about the outcomes and just be for awhile? What did I have left to lose?
Finding company on the internet since 2002
When I decided to take this trip, I’d never heard the acronym RTW before. I now know it stands for Round The World. I didn’t know what a career break was. I hadn’t even read Eat Pray Love yet (and I didn’t want to). Many of my friends were chronic travelers, but I didn’t know it was a thing, and I especially didn’t know there were so many people blogging about it. Where did you all come from?
A few weeks in the decision started to feel overwhelming.
Thankfully, there was support on the internet, invisible friends who held my hand as I hyperventilated late into the night, staring at my one-way ticket, wondering what I’d done.
On long-term travel
On career breaks and creativity
The Power of Time Off: Stefan Stagmeister’s talk on TED
So I’m off in a few days, more than a little terrified by the unknown (I’ve been waking up in total panic for a week now), but even more terrified by the thought of staying put and being ambivalent about my life.
What about you? Are you out there? Are you reading? If you’re already a friend, say hi! If you’re out there on the big bad playground of the world introduce yourself. I’m probably lurking on your blog already anyway.