Sometimes a Part-Time Traveler Has to Go Full-Time
Some of you lovely readers may have noticed I’m spending some time traveling in Asia!
When I’m working, I try to stretch my vacation time into as much time abroad as possible each year, spending as much as 4 weeks away at a time before heading back to “real life.” I’ve been on the road for only one week so far. Most days it still feels like I’ll be going home after a few weeks.
But I won’t. Not this time.
I had intended to write and publish this post in the weeks leading up to my departure.
Here I am now, sitting in my bed in northern Vietnam…and I still can’t find the proper words to explain my decision to take this extended time to travel.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t yet fully understand why I want, why I need, to take this time to travel– to places that scare me–at this stage in my life.
The short version…
Who: A part-time traveler, leaving the part-time behind to see what full-time travel brings.
What: Four months of travel throughout Asia, Middle East, and Eastern Europe
When: April 1st – ??
Where: Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar(Burma), India, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Greece.
How: Savings, work/life coordination, and more to be announced.
Why: See post…
There is so much uncertainty, before, during, and after this trip, as to where my life is headed. I think a large part of what travel has already taught me is to embrace the uncertain.
Let me interrupt my regularly scheduled programming to get a little personal and elaborate on this restlessness or uncertainty, if you will.
I really have no idea what I’m doing with my life. In many ways, this is a first. I grew up seeing and knowing exactly what I wanted, working hard to get it, and eventually, achieving it. Whether in school, extracurricular pursuits, hobbies (okay, mostly it was school,) I became used to my “overachiever” approach to life, and to be honest, I liked it. It treated me quite well.
In many ways, however, this is also NOT a first. I’ve been out of school for five years now. As soon as academic and personal achievement no longer lit the path to my identity, I kind of lost one.
I’ve spent the last five years in a “great” job. I graduated right as the economic downturn began to define my generation, and as a result, I hung on desperately to make a job work that quite simply, was not a good fit. I had never really failed at something before, and I wouldn’t let this be the first…even if it really didn’t make me the slightest bit happy.
A wise woman (my mother) had told me years ago that it was time to make a change. “Either stop complaining about this, or do something about it.” I knew then she was right. But I had to be in the right place to hear it. And do what for some reason I felt was so difficult to do: just take action.
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Why didn’t I take action then?
It’s my belief, though admittedly oversimplifying, that it boils down to fear. I had a manager once call this “paralysis by analysis.” Many of the men in my life see this as “overthinking.” Those, while true, encapsulate the mind side. This was really a “heart” problem. And that I explain as fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of not being able to pay the bills. Fear of not making the “right” next step. Fear of leaving my comfort zone. Fear of embracing uncertainty.
So I stayed. I gave the job “a good run.” I tried to conquer the fear.
And a lot of wonderful things happened along the way. I moved to a beautiful place for the job (though I still struggled with my own expectation that I would be living in some big city), I met some wonderful people, including friends and colleagues I now can’t live without, and an incredible man.
I fell in love. I learned some important lessons about life and people – coworkers, roommates, old friends. In short, it hasn’t been all bad and I wouldn’t change it. But it’s time to stop talking about the past and the present, and look toward the future (without planning each step of it!)
So, a few months ago, this opportunity to travel presented itself, and I finally said farewell to my fear of the next step. I’ve definitely said goodbye to my comfort zone. And am working on welcoming uncertainty (it’s a process.)
It’s true that the months leading up to this leap were some of the most anxiety ridden in my life. This goes back once again to my ol’ pal uncertainty. And while I am taking a step out of the familiar, and I don’t yet know where I’ll land…travel is the one thing I’m certain of.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Travel has given dimension to my life. It gives me the freedom, the challenge, the change in perspective that helps me grow. Me as just me. Not me as a professional, as a friend or partner. Me as a person. That’s not what I’ve been searching for while I’ve been lost for the last five or so years—but it is what I need to explore now.
Travel forces us all (even me, the compulsive planner) to live in the moment, to trust others, to trust ourselves. Even after all my beloved years in school, it’s the best education there is. Travel never stops challenging, teaching, enlightening us – mind, body, soul.
I met a white-haired woman in her late sixties traveling with a rolling backpack on the bus ride back from Sapa to the train station bound for Hanoi. She told my friend and I about her plans to travel Asia for four months. She was bound for China next. At that age. No tours. And by herself!
She could no longer wear a large backpack like the rest of the backpackers, but in every other way, she was like us. Except she was braver than us. I’m still, in a way, a lost, twenty-something backpacker looking to find myself. She defies the clichés. And she didn’t seem to be afraid. She made my fears and my hesitation look puny in my eyes. Perspective, you’re already here.
So for me, for now–the future means 13+ countries, both with a friend (the best travel companion ever!) and solo. It means living out of a backpack, and sleeping on trains. It means awakening the senses with strange and unfamiliar sounds, sights, and (yes!) tastes. It means I’m not sure if I will have a job a few months down the road. It means I’m not even certain where I’ll live at the end of all this.
Right now the future isn’t five years down the line. My biggest worries aren’t my contribution to the world or when I’ll get married. Today is my future. My worries are how to get around Vietnam, where to sleep tomorrow night, where to find the best phở in the city.
It may not last, but it’s just what I need in this moment. So, I embrace my future, today.
Thank you for reading, for your support and for following along. I hope to share some part of this journey across the world with you.