I was deep in a quarter-life crisis. I had spent years preparing to become a reporter, and then realized that I hated the TV news business after just a few months in the field. And without the ambition and the label to define me anymore, I didn’t know who I was.
So, when my boyfriend suggested that we start saving money to take a big trip somewhere, I grabbed hold of the idea like a lifeline.
I started reading travel blogs obsessively, I made a beeline for the travel section in every bookstore I entered, and I put every extra dollar I earned from my new, dead-end job toward an ambitious savings goal. Before long, I had taken a suggestion my boyfriend made in passing and turned it into my new identity—I was going to be a traveler.
After two years of saving, my boyfriend — now my husband — and I had enough money to leave home indefinitely.
We took off for New Zealand, where we spent three months living in the back of a minivan. We meandered across Southeast Asia, spent a month in Morocco, and got caught in a heat wave in Slovenia. In Poland and Croatia, we met our parents and gave them a taste of our new lifestyle on the road. We spent a month house-sitting in England, and nearly went broke in Denmark and Norway.
Every day, we ate at new restaurants, wandered down new streets, met new people, and had our eyes opened to the way the rest of the world lives.
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It was exhilarating.
But after ten months on the go, we were tired. We had both been sick, I had caught bedbugs (twice), and we missed our dog back home with Ben’s family. We had just enough money left to kickstart the next phase of our lives, whatever that might be. It felt a bit like giving up, but the timing was right to call it quits.
So, we flew back home to Colorado and started looking for jobs.
I arrived home to the realization that I had flown all the way around the world and it still wasn’t far enough to escape my identity crisis. Now that I wasn’t traveling full-time, I didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted to be—again.
To be honest, I had kind of expected that traveling would fix me—that I would wake up one morning in Thailand or Budapest, and find that I suddenly had the answers and everything had fallen into place. I think a lot of people make that mistake when they leave on a trip around the world.
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But you can’t escape your issues. Either you bring them with you, or they’re waiting for you when you get back.
Since I didn’t have a job waiting for me back home, I had plenty of time to figure out what was really important to me. I realized two things:
I had spent the entire year writing for free. Nobody was paying me to write the blog I had been keeping up (and I’m not sure anybody was reading it either). I wrote because I loved to do it. That seemed important.
I may have gotten burnt out living on the road full-time, but I hadn’t for a second fallen out of love with the thrill of waking up somewhere new and forcing myself out of my comfort zone.
I didn’t have the financial ability (or even the desire) to pack up my life and hit the road again full-time, but I knew that I could find other, more sustainable ways to make travel part of my life. Along the way, I needed to find a fulfilling career (as a writer) that made it possible and easy for me to travel.
It’s been almost a year since I got back to the US, and I’ve reached a place where I’m traveling enough to not get antsy, while building a new career essentially from scratch.
Here’s how I’m doing it.
I went to work for a travel company.
During 10 months navigating foreign countries, communicating through language barriers, and constantly adapting to new situations, I built up a set of skills and knowledge that was worth something — not just to me, but (ideally) to an employer as well.
I bookmarked travel companies that I admired and constantly looked for new job postings on their websites. I scoured job boards for travel-related writing gigs (LinkedIn has a “Leisure, Travel, and Tourism” filter on their advanced job search). And I made it clear to everyone in my personal and professional networks that I was looking for a job in the travel sector.
It took months to get an offer, but it was worth the hard work and patience. I ended up with a job that couldn’t be more perfect for me: I’m now a copywriter at a company that runs tours around the world. I actually get paid to write about some of the places I’ve seen!
Because it’s a travel company, management encourages everyone on staff to travel as much as possible, whether it’s on a tour or independently, and new employees get four weeks of paid time off—pretty generous for a US-based company.
I moved cross-country to a brand new city.
My new job happens to be in Boston, a city where I have good friends, but had visited only once before (for a total of two days).
Massachusetts and my home state of Colorado might be part of the same country, but they couldn’t be more different. Every day brings some new surprise, whether it’s the friendliness of the locals in my new neighborhood of South Boston, the taste of a fresh lobster roll, or the coastline views around the city.
It’s almost like being on the road again.
I joined my local Wanderful chapter.
I already have friends in Boston, but I can always use a few more. Plus, when I moved here I wanted to find a great group of women who understand why travel is so important. Wanderful is the perfect fit.
The local chapter in Boston meets up for happy hour once a month, and it’s always in a different part of town. We also have a monthly “tourist in your own city” excursion to discover something fun about the city and the surrounding area.
You can find events hosted by your local Wanderful chapter (or start your own) here!
I made day trips and weekend getaways a priority.
While my husband and I are still building our savings back up, we can’t afford to go on too many big trips. But anything within 100 miles is fair game for day trips, and we have been getting out of the city almost weekly to find someplace new.
Plus, there are occasionally some great weekend airfare deals to cities around the US. Check websites like The Flight Deal, which lists airfare flash sales, or The Points Guy, which shows you how to use loyalty programs to get free tickets.
If you know which dates you want to travel and want to see which destinations will be cheapest during that time, check out Skyscanner. When you search on Skyscanner, you can set your destination to “Everywhere” and it will sort results by price.
A long weekend away is sometimes just enough to keep the travel bug at bay.
I started planning big trips farther in advance.
In the past, I was happy to buy plane tickets last-minute and go on spontaneous adventures. I still think that’s great, but on a tight budget it helps to start planning big adventures in advance (plus, if you know ahead of time how much you’re going to spend on your trip, you can start putting away a little extra money every week).
I am learning to enjoy the anticipation almost as much as the journey itself—and when the anticipation builds over a few months instead of a few days, that much the better!
Six months into this new phase of my life, I’ve learned that there are as many different ways to travel as there are places to travel to.
With a little creativity, anybody can be a traveler.
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How do you pursue a travel lifestyle even when you’re not traveling? Share in the comments!