When Life Gives You Lemons, Travel the World

I had been looking at the clock on the wall above my desk for hours, peering up every couple minutes to check the time before looking back down to work on the computer, my leg tapping nervously away. For most of the world and everyone else in my office, it was just another Friday afternoon, but to me it was much more. It was one of a few moments over the course of my 27-year life that I would call "climactic", if it was in fact that.

My life up to this point, or at least the last few years, had become mundane, highlighted by a series of gaffes that had left me wanting. Finally, I looked up at the clock one last time, just as the hand struck five and I bolted from my desk, reaching for my briefcase, but pausing momentarily as my hand gripped onto it. I let go, choosing to leave my briefcase, as some type of symbol, instead reaching for my backpack, throwing it over my shoulders, turning off the lights and walking out of my office door for the last time. It was that day, 25 months ago, that I walked into my office with a briefcase in hand, and walked out with a backpack, never to step foot inside again. Quitting my job was the best decision I ever made, setting me out on a journey, and one that I'm still on today.

You see for 27 years I had  dreamed, and dreamed often, but that was the problem, they were always just dreams, and never acted on. But not on that late summer day two years ago. On that day I was not only pursuing one dream, to travel the world, but another one simultaneously, to also be a travel writer. Over two years later and I'm still traveling and still writing about it. Am I living the dream? I don't know what the dream is; I just know I'm living my dream.

I have fond memories of playing Tecmo Super Bowl for the Nintendo as a kid. Without fail, I would make it deep into the playoffs, only to meet the Oakland Raiders, and get destroyed by Bo Jackson throughout the game. However, rather then accept defeat, before the time ticked down to 00:00, I would simply push "restart" and begin over. It didn't change the facts, that I had just gotten my ass handed to me, and  that in that moment, the computer was inferior to me, but it rather gave me a fresh start. I could start over new, with a new team if I so decided, and with a clean slate at 0-0.  And so it was, that at age 27, I rebooted my life. I gave away or sold everything I owned, save some pairs of clothes and shoes, my laptop, and iPhone, quit my job, and began traveling, supporting myself through travel writing and blogging.

I could have had an okay life in the south. I could've stuck with my public relations job with the state of the South Carolina and built a public relations career. But I was tired of an okay life. I had spent 27 years trying to do what pleased others and what I thought I was supposed to be doing, only to be left unsatisfied and with a fragmented life. I knew there had to be more to life, and I knew that I wanted to live my life like a story - and a story that was worth telling. No one is interested in going to the movies to watch a story about a twenty-something who jumps around from job to job, builds up a pile of debt, loses his father and grandmother, and goes through a divorce. There's conflict like that in every great story, but there's no story of conflict, without resolve.

I just returned a few weeks ago from my third long-term trip, a three-month trip that took me from the Inside Passage of Alaska to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London to a surf camp in the Canary Islands to the Austrian Alps. I'm now planning my next big trip, which will take me to Asia for the first time to Thailand. I tell you this not to hang it over you, but rather as proof, that while I can try my best to put the effect of travel into words, it still can never quite communicate the true ramifications of travel on my life. Travel changes me. The person I always come back as isn't the person I go as. There has never been a season of my life that changed and formed me like those nine-months traveling around North America after quitting my job. I am who I am and I'm doing the things that I'm doing today because of that trip. And for those reasons alone, why wouldn't I travel?

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road. -William Least Heat Moon

And it's this story of how travel changes me and gives me perspective like nothing else that I'm intent on telling over and over, knowing that if there's just one person that can empathize and be inspired, then it's a story worth telling. It's then with great pride to be asked to return to Meet, Plan, Go this year in San Francisco on October 16 to share my advice on career breaks and long-term travel. While I'll be a panelist talking about working while traveling, I'll be joined by other panelists discussing everything from budgeting to accommodations to volunteering and more. Furthermore, I'm even more stoked about the keynote speakers, which includes travel authors Jeff Greenwald and Don George. While I'll be speaking at the San Francisco Meet, Plan, Go event, there are events happening in multiple cities around the U.S., which you can view on the website.

As I think about what I'll say next week to a room full of people eager to travel the world, it makes me introspective, contemplating where I've come from over the course of two years. Travel wasn't an escape of the frustrations and pains of my former life. I didn't travel for my emotional wounds to be healed. I didn't even travel to "find myself". I traveled because something had to change and if we really want to change our lives, then we actually have to do it; and that opportunity to change our lives may just come as a result of adversity. Yet there is no quote that I've held onto the last couple years like this one from Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture: “We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

How has travel changed you?