The Event that Changed my Life

"Well this is as good of a time to stop as any." All I needed was five minutes of free WiFi, and McDonald's was always my go-to place for WiFi in a hurry like this. I had my resignation letter drafted, but since my mom didn't have Internet, I knew I would have to stop sometime during my four hour drive back to South Carolina to send it to my boss. I gave a few lines of the "it's not you, it's me" speech and clicked send. I closed my eyes briefly and a complete sense of calm came over me. When I opened my eyes I could see the sun rising above the horizon through the rear view mirror.

It was quite poetic really, like something that would be written for a movie, except it would go straight to DVD, since nobody wants to watch a movie about a guy with a thick southern accent who went to an unknown public university, got a degree in philosophy, worked a string of dead-end jobs, piled up debt, and got divorced. Yet, as I sat there in the McDonald's parking lot with the sun rising behind me, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that this could be one of those decisions, where years down the road I say to myself: "That was the best thing I ever did."

That was one year ago today. In an attempt to be just as climactic, I'm writing this from the top of a hill in San Francisco, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and waiting for the sun to set over the Pacific Ocean. Evidently, you can't plan climatic moments like this, as it's the third day in a row (And ninth time to the Outer Richmond neighborhood and I haven't seen the sun once) I've come here to see the sunset and I can't even see the Golden Gate Bridge because the fog is so thick. However, that by no means takes away from that event one year ago, which was the single most important event of my life.

When I set out for a stint of long-term travel last September, it wasn't so that I could be "healed" or "fixed". Travel can do a lot of things, but I'm not convinced that that's one of them. I set out to travel simply because I wanted to. Throughout my life I had done what was expected of me and what I thought I "should" be doing. I could have probably kept doing that and had an okay life, but it really hadn't worked out very well and I was tired of having just an "okay life".

While turning in my notice was what set things in motion, there was one day of travel that especially stands out for me. It was my last week in Costa Rica in month seven of travel. I was sitting on the beach in Coco, watching what was going to be one of my last Central America sunsets. I sat sandwiched on the beach between two dogs, both of whom were turned to the horizon where the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean directly in front of us. Two kayakers did crisscross patterns as they went further out to sea.

Beyond the kayakers was one solitary sailboat. The pink, purple, and orange colors made for a beautiful backdrop against the thin clouds scattered across the sky. In that moment, a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment came over me like never before. What is it exactly that I had accomplished? I don't know, but I just know that I've never felt so proud and accomplished. There was no money, promotions, or awards to show for it, but that didn't matter, because to me, I was living.

My trip ended in May, but by  no means has travel and adventure ceased to filter into my life. I came back to the Carolinas, only to pack up a couple bags and move 2,500 miles to San Francisco. Whether it's been eating a larvae taco, playing tourist around the city, or taking road trips, there has been an adventure every day. While there aren't any long-term trips on the radar, I'm still figuring out what my future travel experiences will be like. So far, that consists of a trip to Hawaii in November, a few weeks in Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras) after the holidays, and a few weeks in Europe next summer around the 2012 Olympics in London. That guy who was eating pizza and ice cream out of the tub while watching movies every night last summer -- I don't know that guy. Travel changed me. And I'm not saying it will have the same effect on your life, but I want more experiences like that, where the guy who comes back, isn't the guy who left.

While I'm not currently traveling, I'm thrilled that I can inspire travel lovers right here in San Francisco. I'm doing so by speaking at the Meet, Plan, Go national event, which is taking place in 17 cities around the U.S. and Canada on October 18. I attended last year's New York City Meet, Plan, Go event the week I began traveling. I found many people, like myself, who were at a crossroad. I wasn't alone. I was inspired by other people who had taken similar types of trips. A few days later and I was off on the adventure of a lifetime, which included road trips across America, peering into volcanoes in Nicaragua, feeding monkeys on a river safari in Costa Rica, flying in an airship, waking up to the sound of howler monkeys every morning, and riding on the highest thrill ride in the world.

Have you ever wanted to travel more than just a week or two at a time? Have you wanted to do more with your life? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I hope you'll come out to our San Francisco Meet, Plan, Go event on October 18. I'm honored and thrilled to be speaking at this year's event, sharing my stories and inspiring other travel lovers. If you're not in Northern California, there are 16 other cities hosting events. Panelists will be sharing their travel stories and answering questions that include:

  • What kind of budget do I need to travel long-term?
  • How can I support myself while traveling?
  • Should I buy a RTW (Round The World) flight?
  • How do I transition back into a career once I return?

I'll be joined by several other travelers who will also be sharing their expertise:

Have you ever considered a career break to travel long-term? If you've done it before, what were your experiences like?

Addendum: Life has a funny way about it. I originally wrote this post two nights ago during my third attempt of viewing the sunset in San Francisco. So last night, after finishing all of my work much earlier than usual, I decided to give it one last shot for the fourth day in a row. What I saw, I can't even put into words. When I climbed to the top of the hill and could see the Golden Gate Bridge just around the corner to the right and the sun setting directly in front of me, with no clouds in the sky, and a light haze above the water that gave the sun a slight ripple effect, I just lost it. The lone barge just in front of the setting sun, the seagulls running below me on the shore to escape the waves crashing toward them, the planes intermittently flying above me, and the sound of the foghorn in the distance -- it was perfect and the single most beautiful sunset I've ever experienced.  I barely cried for several years. I didn't cry at my father's funeral four years ago and actually tried to after my marriage collapsed, but couldn't. However, now when I think about the last year and what I've personally accomplished, it just leaves me with such a heavy sense of joy and gratitude. I needed to see for myself that life was indeed beautiful. I ventured out and lived life, and what I found was that it is full of beauty.

For further inspiration, these are people who have inspired me this week:

Krista Gray - "There is only NOW. Now IS the rest of my life."

Britt ReintsInspired by a New York City Street Musician to Live from the Heart

Srinivas RaoRemember Your True North