Over the last few months, as our departure date has steadily drawn nearer, I have often asked myself, how the eff did I get to this point in my life? How exactly did I reach this precipice with my cushy, comfortable, happy life neatly packed away in my brother’s garage and nothing but the abyss of the unknown ahead? What undiagnosed head trauma had I endured that convinced me that venturing out into the world with nothing in my backpack but a couple changes of clothes, my camera, cleats, and @Toteymoo is a good idea?
No matter how many times I ask myself this question, the answer is always the same: because I have to. I know that I will regret giving up this opportunity for the rest of my life if I don’t take it now. And I hate regret. I try to live my life with as few regrets as possible, and so I am hell-bent on taking this trip. And because, you know, it sounds kinda fun.
A little back story: I was very sheltered growing up. My parents are Vietnamese immigrants, and they have very little interest in traveling for various reasons, chief among them: why leave a safe and comfortable home when the world out there is so scary (remember, they survived the Vietnam War)? So, I had never left the state of Colorado until I was 18 (except for a Greyhound trip to Ohio once when I was 5… far too young to recognize how sketch greyhound is). I never flew until I was 22 (though i did fall out of a plane at 19). I have a theory that this shelteredness actually led to me going the complete opposite direction as an adult and either birthed my adventurous spirit or fueled what had always been there but had yet to manifest.
The concept of traveling around the world first ambled into my life in 2007 when I was just starting out my career as a corporate stooge. I was commuting to Houston every week, and many of my colleagues were obsessed with points – hotel points, car rental points, and shiniest of all, airline miles. They would do all sorts of things to earn more points, from changing hotels every night, to taking the most painful flight home with the most stops so that they could rack up extra segments, to buying seats on a flight that was always oversold so that they could volunteer for the airline vouchers. Jaded, I would make fun of them for putting so much effort and time into collecting what I perceived as useless, virtual trinkets. What a silly little dumbass I was (am?).
Our employer even worked this into their recruiting scheme to attract potential employees: “Sure, you’ll have to fly to the middle of nowhere every week, work like a dog, and hate your life most of the time, but YOU GET TO KEEP THE POINTS!” As if my Marriott Platinum status could buy me happiness and/or booze.
Actually, it did buy me booze, occasionally.
Anyhow, it was during this time that I learned that points could also be used to buy a Round The World (RTW) ticket. Say what? Turns out that for $4000, you can get a ticket that’s good for a year to fly around the world! At this point in my life, I had never even used my passport. But the idea of being able to wander the globe for a year appealed to a part of myself I hadn’t yet acknowledged or indulged. Wishfully, I tucked away the idea of a year of travel for later.
In the intervening 6 years since that little seed was planted, I made a few half-hearted attempts at planning a trip. I’ve been on two-week jaunts to New Zealand, India, Japan and Canada that all stoked but never sated my wanderlust. I wanted more, but there was always something to keep me from committing to a full year abroad. Primary amongst the reasons not to leave:
- I didn’t want to travel alone as a single woman. I’m 5’2″ and feisty, but feistiness actually probably leads to more problems than it solves. And my partners were reluctant, unwilling or not ready to commit to a year of travel.
- A year-long gap in my work history would not be looked upon kindly. I don’t need another reason for people to NOT hire me.
- My parents’ and society’s disapproval. I have always lived the life I was supposed to: Work hard at a good, stable career. Climb the corporate ladder. Save lots of money and buy a house. Date boys. Get married. Have kids. Retire early. Quitting it all and escaping for a year was never a part of the plan. It’s not what society tells us we are supposed to do. It’s selfish, irresponsible and a waste of money.
There were always reasons not to go. There still are reasons not to go. There will never be a perfect time to pack everything up and disappear for a year, but I’m about as close to perfect as I can hope for.
- I have a great travel buddy in Matt. We have done several extended travel trips together and get along famously (and, more importantly, snarkily). We basically egged each other on to do this trip. I off-handedly mentioned the idea of an RTW trip 6 months ago, and a week later, I got a google document with a table of contents already written up! Perfect for me, the world’s most planning-averse traveler. Weeks later, we had booked our outbound tickets, and it slowly morphed from a “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” idea into a “holy shit, what have we done?!” reality.
- I am at a crossroads in my career. I have gotten more and more disillusioned with my job and career path thus far and am considering trying something else (as yet unknown). What better chance to take a year off? Maybe the perspective I’ll gain will help me appreciate my old job, and I’ll go back to that when I return. Maybe I’ll decide to go in a completely different direction. Maybe I’ll find something I’m truly passionate about and will go pursue that. One of my goals for the trip is definitely to take a step back from my career and chart a path forward. Also, I’d really like to stop using douchey buzzword phrases like “chart a path forward.”
- It’s about time to start living my life for me and not for anyone else. This video changed my approach to life a couple years ago, and I’ve sought to dance to the music since watching it. For me, that means getting out of my comfort zone and exploring this great big world.
- I’m not getting any younger. This could be argued as a reason to go or to stay, but the cold hard truth is that I’m 28 and an old maid. My years of independence and binge-drinking with few consequences are [potentially] drawing to a close. I am not currently tied down to a job, a house, a relationship or family, but that won’t always be the case. I may as well get this out of my system while I can.
While now is probably the best chance for me to go, there are things I am very sorry to leave behind.
- Molly Brown & ultimate. The last two years of my life have mostly revolved around playing elite women’s ultimate with Molly Brown, and I feel like I am finally reaching my full potential. I will never be as young as I am today — my body (especially my poor, destroyed shoulder) is already starting to give out, so I might be leaving in my prime which is sad and scary to think about. What if I’m walking away at my peak and am never as strong as I was this year? Beyond that, I love the team dearly, and it is devastating to think that I might have stepped on the field for the last time with some of these girls. Spring will come and when the flood of emails about tryouts and the upcoming season starts, it may be enough to lure me home early.
- I have a great life that I love. I have an amazing social group and community, a stable, cushy job that pays well and supports my nagging ultimate habit. I do not want for anything. And I’m trading it away for a year of adventure with no inkling of what to do when I get back. Questionable choice. What if I never make as much money as I do now? What if I decide that I’m done with ultimate? What if I become [more of] an insufferable know-it-all and lose all my friends upon return? What if my life is never as good as it is now? What if I never come home? There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty about the future, but I’ll worry about that when I have to and not a moment sooner.
So, here we are. On 11/12/13, Matt and I will be on our way to Manila, Philippines. Remember those airline points I mocked earlier? We used them so that our tickets were only $18 each! We did not buy RTW tickets because we wanted more flexibility in our travels — we want to be able to go where the wind takes us rather than stick to an itinerary booked well in advance when you have no idea what places you will like or dislike. After 17 days in the Philippines, we fly to Hanoi, Vietnam (the motherland!) and plan to stay there until our visa expires 30 days later. After that, onward to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and hopefully Nepal and Tibet by next April. Beyond that, who knows?
Away we go. Destination: Adventure.