When I quit my job, sold all my stuff and departed for my RTW trip on Dec. 31, 2010, I rightly expected to have a memorable adventure, but I was adamant that I wasn’t out there trying to find myself in some mushy, gushy Eat, Pray, Love feelings fiesta.
Naturally, that’s kinda what happened.
In spite of my bold assertions, those 24 long months of solo travel were incomparably transformative. While I wasn’t traveling around the world to “find myself” or escape any first world problems, in those 2 years without a home base, I actually did eat, pray and love – a lot. I found a “me” I didn’t know existed under the layers of workaholism and NYC busyness. I tasted everything new that came my way. I grew more confident in myself. I skipped from country to country, sleeping in hostels, hotels, tents, airport floors, friends’ couches and overnight buses. I rarely relied on an itinerary, usually just figuring everything out on the fly and living out of my Eagle Creek rolling backpack. I became more appreciative, resourceful, thoughtful and confident.
I didn’t set out to change, but I did.
Nearly 5 years after departure, another big transition is on the horizon: marriage! As I prepare* for the next step, I’ve been reflecting on everything, everyone and everywhere that’s brought me to this point, so here are some lessons & observations I’ve compiled from the past few years of jaunts & journeys.
*…um, attempt to prepare. How do you even “get ready” for a lifetime?! Oh yeah, more prayer!
1. Continuous travel is so much cheaper than living “real” life. People think I must’ve spent a fortune when I was on the road non-stop for two years, but the truth is, it costs far more to live an average life back home. It’s outrageous what I spend in rent, taxes, electricity, gas, Internet and car insurance versus what I spent while traveling around the world and living out of a suitcase.
2. Wanderlust confuses people. You’re considered a weirdo (at least in the South) if you don’t have 2.5 kids by your mid-twenties. Family gatherings involve a lot of questions like, “When are you going to get a real job and find a good man and have some babies?” I’m not exaggerating. Coloring outside the lines can be perplexing for people who like to follow the rules.
3. Life is not a romantic comedy. (No matter how cute the accent!) I used to have a thing for English accents… and Aussie accents… and Irish accents. All of the accents. I don’t think I’m the only American girl in that boat, right? I really thought I’d find THE ONE out there in the big wide world, because Love Actually pretty much promised me that HE would come chasing after me at some foreign airport.
After briefly dating a few blokes, mates and chaps, I got over the foreign rom-com fantasy and found my prince charming in my own front yard. Quite literally. (Which actually is simultaneously romantic & comedic… ok, maybe life is a little bit like a romantic comedy.)
4. Meeting new people can be pretty awkward, but we’re all in it together. I have a love/hate relationship with meeting new people, and as it turns out, lots of other folks feel the same way. As a closet introvert, it does take some effort to make new friends and I honestly thought traveling around the world alone would give me so much space and solo time — but I was rarely by myself. Even though the moment before meeting new folks always makes me nervous, I never regret the connections. Everyone says this so it might sound cliché, but I’ve met the most wonderful people on the road.
5. You can’t please everyone. Especially traveling/blogging snobs. There are plenty of folks who would posit that real travelers don’t take jumping photos outside of the Louvre. (Or that real travelers don’t take any jumping photos. Or they only use DSLRs. Or they only use iPhones. Or only travel to obscure countries. Or never visit popular museums. Or never write about travel blogging.) I learned very quickly into my journey that I could either worry about the definitions of travelers vs. tourists and spend time figuring out where my travel decisions/brand fit in… or I could just do whatever I wanted and enjoy my adventure. Guess which option I chose?
6. If not for my penchant for storytelling, I’d probably never leave my comfort zone. Why jump off something dangerous or hold a slimy creature if you can’t instantaneously tell everyone back home? I’ve always been a storyteller, since I was a wee little munchkin, so my mind is forever working out how best to share each adventure… even when I’m in the middle of it. (And even if it’s a plane crash.)
7. Jet lag gets worse. You’d think after years of long-haul flights, eventually I’d get the hang of time zone hopping, but I find that the older I get, the longer it takes me to adjust to time differences. If I fly to Hawaii for a week, you can bet I’m awake at 2 a.m. every single day, and when I come back home to Eastern time, I just can’t get enough sleep!
8. Not everyone is an easy breezy traveler. As I continue to plan all the details of our October destination wedding, I’m reminded on a daily basis that jaunting to the Caribbean is not the norm for everyone. I’m so used to flying hither and thither and not knowing where I’m sleeping and not needing an itinerary that I forget I’m the exception, and most folks need more guidance and reassurance when leaving the country – even if it’s to a relatively easy destination like The Bahamas. I’m learning patience as I answer the same questions over and over. Yes, YOU NEED A PASSPORT.
9. I share my highlight reel, not b-roll. During my RTW adventure, my social media feed was filled with smiling photos of me checking off my bucket list, but behind the scenes, that first year of perpetual travel was peppered with revolutions, terror attacks, tsunami warnings, earthquakes, gropings, scams, delays, pick-pocketing incidents, injuries, heartbreak (see: Men with Accents above) and illness. Life is a challenge, whether you’re living and working in the “real” world or traveling around the actual world.
It helps to remember that all of us in the travel industry are promoting a lifestyle, but what we post online isn’t always indicative of the complete picture. We all struggle with the same dramas, the only difference is the scenery.
10. Travel blogging professionally is harder than it looks. If it were only about experiencing cool stuff & then writing about it, then yes, travel blogging would be the easiest & most fun job in the world. There’s much more to it if you’re doing it professionally, something I’ve learned as Angie Away has grown up over the past 5 years.
While I started out with the simple intention to travel the world and write about it, mostly for fun, ultimately I turned it into a career. It’s unbelievably time consuming work, made ever more challenging if your boss is a workaholic and your boss is you. (Boss’s Day is awkward. Do I buy myself something?) It’s still an awesome job, and it’s head and shoulders above wasting away in a cubicle, but it’s more work than I ever imagined.
…and travel blogging on its own isn’t terribly lucrative. I’ve got another post in the works where I detail how I make money, because it occurs to me that folks who don’t know me personally think I make a living on just travel blogging. And that’s just flat wrong! I have many pots in the fire, from public speaking to freelance travel writing and PR/social media consulting to red carpet hosting. If I were still traveling around the world with no home base, I would be able to eke out a living on the blog income alone, but it’s not my only source of revenue.
11. Travel experience means people mistake me for a travel agent or free vacation planner, or assume I’ve been everywhere. If I haven’t written about a place on Angie Away, chances are I’ve never been. I’ve been to 44 countries to date – that’s roughly 25% of the world’s recognized principalities. Not a huge number, even for a world traveler. That means I don’t have tips for 75% of the places people ask about – yoinks! (Here’s a list of travel questions I just can’t answer.)
12. Travel can burn you out if you turn it into work. I swore I’d never get tired of traveling around the world, but I was wrong. You can take any passion, turn it into a career with tasks and deadlines and responsibilities, and find yourself in the same position you were when you quit your “real” job. There’s a trick to finding balance, and I’m working on it!
13. No fancy purse or red-soled pump will ever satisfy me as much as visiting a new place. I wasn’t into “stuff” before I left for my RTW trip, but traveling around the world has made me even more sure that I don’t give a hoot about designer duds or keeping up with the Joneses. I love functional clothes and gear and I don’t mind looking cute, but I will always spend the majority of my discretionary income on travel and new experiences. Studies show the happiest people do.
Whether I’m going on an adventure excursion from IfOnly or making my own way, travel is in my veins.
14. Gratefulness is a natural byproduct of seeing the world. My experience traveling around the world constantly fills me with gratitude for necessities like food, water and shelter, which so many people don’t have access to. And it also brings me to my knees when I stop to consider all the luxuries I’m blessed with, from fast WiFi and unlimited data plans to a million choices at the supermarket to having a car I can just drive anywhere I want. I could fill pages upon pages with everything I’m grateful for – big and small.
15. Traveling around the world young was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to wait for retirement to see the world. I quit my wonderful job, despite warnings from many who said it wasn’t prudent, because it felt right. What would’ve happened if I failed? I don’t know. It’s not really failure unless you give up, and I don’t give up.