When I When I got to college — the State University of New York at Albany, to be specific — I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to major in, so I chose Communication because I really enjoyed writing and thought maybe I could do marketing, public relations, script writing or even acting (I was a theater minor).
While I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do professionally, I did know that I loved travel. I grew up traveling with my family, road trips to amusement parks in North America and cruises to the Caribbean. One of my favorite college memories is studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, where I got to have so many different experiences like living, working and going to school in a foreign place, not to mention exploring a new country in depth and getting to know its unique culture. Studying abroad is what really sparked my travel bug. I felt like my curiosity about the world was ignited, thinking to myself, “Anything is possible .” I’d done so much in seven months, but there was still much more to do and see. Before I even returned home from the semester I was already planning my next trip.
The following semester I convinced a group of my girlfriends to plan a backpacking trip through Europe for the summer. I spent hours upon hours researching where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and how I could spend an entire summer in Europe on a college waitress’s salary.
Everyone seemed really into it; however, as summer approached the group began dwindling. What started as five girls quickly went down to four, then three, then two, then only me. It was then that I had a decision to make: I could either give up this amazing trip that I had spent the entire semester planning, or I could go by myself and have an adventure. In the end I decided to go on my own, figuring that if I really hated it I could always change my flight to come home early.
A Rough Start
I’ll admit I was a little nervous about going away for an entire summer on my own. While I had technically flown to Australia on my own, orientation and school allowed me to make friends immediately. This would be much different. I decided to test the waters slowly, and went online to find a backpacking buddy.
I ended up planning to spend a month of my three-month trip with a Canadian girl I had never met named Kim. While over emails and Skype we seemed to be on the same page about what kind of trip we both wanted, I soon realized once we landed in Europe that impressions can be deceiving.
She was the type of traveler who needed have everything done her way, on her schedule, within her budget. She also needed us to be together at all times. If she felt like reading a book on the hostel patio, she expected me to do the same. If she didn’t want to eat lunch, neither could I. To her, budget travel meant not even splurging for the metro or street food, so I was left missing out on many experiences and attractions I was interested in.
It took a full week for me to wake up and realize she was completely ruining my trip. I dreaded waking up and having to spend the day with her, not to mention I essentially paid to go to Europe and be miserable. Long story short, we parted ways, leaving me to enjoy ultimate freedom and complete control of my trip.
Hooked On Travel
It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I fell in love in Amsterdam, learned flamenco in Spain, went wine tasting in Italy, took the ferry over to Morocco, explored castles in Portugal, island hopped in Greece and hiked the hillside in Scotland. Everything was an eye-opening adventure, from bungy jumping in Switzerland to buying a pastry at the local bakery. I also made friends that I still talk to and see to this day, six years later.
These were the types of experiences that made me feel like I was truly living. Unfortunately, college would soon be over, and I would no longer be able to keep worried family and friends at bay by telling them it was just a phase, and as soon as I graduated I would settle down. In my mind time was running out, because I knew when I got a 9-to-5 job I would no longer be able to explore the world in the way that I wanted, at least not without getting fired.
In order to buy time, I went for my Masters Degree. My parents were really proud, thinking I was doing it to enable myself to get a better job. And while part of me was trying to set myself up for the future, the other part was giving myself a few more years until I had to “settle down.” Once in graduate school, I spent summer and winter breaks backpacking solo through South America and Canada, traveling with friends to Mexico and the Caribbean and road tripping with a boyfriend through Colorado. I felt like I had to pack in as much as possible before graduation.
Post Graduation Pretending
Once I did graduate I knew I didn’t want an office job. I would pretend to apply for positions to keep my parents at bay and would go on interviews here and there; however, I was never enthusiastic and always hoped I would blow the interview. When I finally got a job it didn’t last very long, as they wouldn’t let me have any time off for travel until I had been there for six months. And even when I got the time off, it was only two weeks for the whole year.
I loved slow travel and really spending time in a place to get to know it, and that was not going to be happening if I stayed behind a desk. I couldn’t stop thinking about how alive travel made me feel and how stagnant I felt working in an office. I was on someone else’s schedule following someone else’s rules; I wanted to live my best life and do things my way.
Quitting And Not Caring What Others Thought
When I quit, my friends and family of course did not approve, but travel was something I felt really strongly about. I decided I didn’t care what they thought. If they loved me they would accept my choice. I didn’t want to be one of those people that did the same thing everyday and lived a similar life to everyone else. I wanted to live my life.
I waitressed to make money, which was great because they let me take off when I wanted. I probably could have done that forever — waitress for five months working doubles like crazy and then go away for 3-4 months and do it again — but I had to get my family and friends off my back, not to mention I knew I eventually wanted to do something a little more gratifying.
Discovering Travel Writing
Then one day I stumbled upon a travel writing class and signed up. I loved writing and loved travel. Meeting the other students and alumni and reading blogs, I realized it was possible to combine my passions and make a living doing what I loved.
Today I travel as much as humanly possible. And even though I travel all the time — mainly on my own — I still have a bucket list and things that make me nervous. But once you take one step in the direction of your dreams you’ll be able to take another.
Remember You Only Live Once
Yes, it can be scary taking a career break, or to decide to not have a traditional career at all. But you really need to remember you only have one life. Live it. When you reach that age when travel might not be possible anymore, do you want to remember all of the reports you handed in on time and the four walls of your office, or all the amazing places you saw and people you met?
Nobody Knows What You Need More Than You Do; You Just Need To Trust Yourself To Make It Happen
It took about three years for my family and friends to finally accept my lifestyle and that I didn’t “waste my degree”. I’m not kidding when I say my family would beg me to apply for jobs that were soulless and paid almost nothing — I made more waitressing and on my blog — but were in an office, so they considered them “real jobs.” While loved ones have given me great advice over the years, that is one piece I am glad I didn’t take. Nobody knows what you need more than you do. You just need to trust yourself enough to make it happen.
What are your thoughts on travel’s life lessons? Please share in the comments below.
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