What I Discovered By Quitting My Job To Travel the World
Have you always fantasized of quitting your job to travel the world? This author did just that, and—from the Amazon Rainforest to the Arctic Circle—here’s what she discovered on her journey.
In the past 12 months, I’ve trekked the Great Wall of China and embarked on a husky safari above the Arctic Circle. I’ve ventured into the Amazon Rainforest on a tiny, motorized canoe after nightfall, the stars in the sky reflecting on the black waters of the Rio Negro. I’ve risen at dawn to catch the sun rising over the Caribbean Sea in the West Indies and been woken from sleep to the sound of hippos returning to their riverside enclave in the Masai Mara at dawn.
I could go on (and on—never ask a travel writer her favorite stories, we lack a self-imposed word count), but to put it succinctly: I’ve traveled to five continents and 25 countries within the last calendar year.
If someone had told me this would be my travel schedule one year ago, I wouldn’t have believed them. Though it’s long been my dream to traverse the globe, the fact that it’s become my professional identity still feels somewhat surreal. I’d always longed to be a writer, however. And when I left my corporate career two years ago to pursue this ambition, I figured that travel would be the one luxury (and in my opinion, occasional necessity) that I would have to sacrifice. When I found myself publishing more and more travel stories, however, I discovered that—not for the first time in my life—I was entirely wrong.
While the risk of shifting from a steady career ladder to the life of a freelance writer seems delusional in retrospect, it was a risk I was willing to take. Travel writing combines my two favorite activities in life—writing, of course, and meeting new people. Socializing, if you will. But with complete strangers.
And I’m happy that I was naïve enough to take that leap in my career—one that would manifest itself in the years to come as a series of transatlantic (and transpacific) flights all around the world. So, what have I learned from it all?
From the moment I began traveling professionally, I discovered a renewed appreciation for the kindness of people. All people. The man in Dominica who went out of his way to drive me to the airport when I didn’t have a ride. I was waiting with my luggage on the side of the road, and he went out of his way to make sure I made my flight. That behavior is the norm in Dominica, a country where it’s not uncommon for complete strangers to close conversations with the words, “I love you.”
This generosity is not restricted to islands in the West Indies, however. There was the deputy president of Kenya, who shook my hand and said “welcome home” after I landed in Nairobi. (Kenya is the capital of mankind, after all). Or the bartender in Belize who didn’t hesitate to invite me to his future nuptials after I expressed my ardent desire to attend a Mayan wedding—I can never resist a multi-day celebration.
Or the hiking guide in the Swiss Alps whose refreshing candor and infectious energy motivated me to not only keep on climbing that one specific mountain in the Engadin Valley, but many others to come. And thanks to social media, I am still in touch with most, if not all, of the friends I’ve made.
Travel, I’ve learned, is other people. And, to quote the viral hashtag that spread throughout social media in 2017: travel is love. Perhaps—or, most certainly—Mark Twain said it best when he declared, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Living out of a carry-on bag this past year (thank god for packing cubes and travel toiletry sets), has broadened my perspective on the world, and the people within it. I’ve found myself sharing intimacies with people I never would have encountered in my former day-to-day life, and I’ve been consistently moved and overwhelmed by the friendships I’ve formed, the people I’ve met.
Ironically, though I’m often alone in my travels, travel has taught me that I am not alone. That all around the world, human beings are all going through the same things. Love, loss, death, the Game of Thrones finale, etc. Recognizing these similarities helps foster enlightening conversations about our differences as well. Ask questions, be curious, be open to new ideas and different ways of life.
In the words of another philosopher poet, Bill Murray: “I try to be available for life to happen to me.”
Maybe you’re tired after your flight and you want to go to bed early. Or you’re too obsessed with the new Drake song to resist putting on your headphones and not talking to your cab driver. It’s easy to tune out the world around you. But life happens when you engage, when you’re present. When you force yourself to go to the fish fry and then the local karaoke bar in Bridgetown, Barbados, and end up having the best night of your life.
Though this mindset can be harder to incorporate when you’re in a routine, you don’t need to travel the world to have these discoveries. You will find that everyone in the world has a story they’re eager to share, and it doesn’t require a travel writer to get them to tell it. So why not pack up and find your unknown.