I suppose it’s inevitable that taking a lengthy trip around the world may appear to some to be an attempt to run away. And to some extent, that perception is accurate. It doesn’t necessarily mean the traveler is running away from some crisis at home; it could simply be the overwhelming fatigue that comes with years of drudgery and responsibility. Sure, Pierre and I have always had the urge to wander regardless of what was going on in our lives at home, and I still think the primary motivation for our Big Adventure was that we both felt we needed to see more of the world while we were still on the young side. But we can’t deny that a part of each of us happily gave our old lives the finger as we boarded the plane. It was time for us to enjoy some freedom, while we figured out what was next.
And so now, the question that forms the title of this post: did it work? Did we experience the elation of absolute freedom for a year? Did we learn more about ourselves, what we wanted from life, and what was really important? Did we hit the “reset” button?
Speaking only for myself (I’ll let Pierre tell you about his own feelings if he wants to): Yes.
Before I left home, it seemed that everyone I knew had gotten married and begun to enter that phase of life where the only thing that matters is buying a house and having a baby (or three). Everyone our age was settling down, nesting, building a comfortable, stationary life with a mortgage and daycare and play dates. I had zero interest in these things. I already felt trapped in my high-stress job, where I actually enjoyed the work most of the time, but felt that I could never relax or make any plans because at any minute (literally, any minute; there was no such thing as “working hours”) I could be buried with more work. I couldn’t imagine being trapped at home too.
After I quit and we hit the road, it took me a couple of months before I was able to stop keeping one ear attuned to the sound of my phone alerting me of an email; before I could realize that no one was going to demand that I stop what I was doing and pay attention to them and their problem. Slowly, though, I was able to relax and relish having each day to myself, to do with whatever I pleased. The only responsibility we had was making sure we had a roof over our heads and food on our plates every day. The rest was details.
But as much as I enjoyed being on the road, rootless, the idea of establishing a place of our own back home began to sound more and more appealing as the months went by. Perhaps it was because we were wandering for so long, or perhaps I just grew up a little, but the desire to buy a house and, yes, to have a baby kicked in as it never had before. By the time we got home and settled back in, I felt ready not only to go back to work, but also to buy a house, get a dog, and have a kid or two. It was as if our year of travel had jolted me from a sense of complacent discomfort to a readiness for adulthood and reality (or whatever you want to call it).
Quitting my job before we left home also forced me to consider what I really wanted next in my career. For the first few months on the road, I toyed with the idea of a total career change. For no real concrete reason, I decided I should make a go of being an editor, even adding my name to various email lists for those in the field and investigating classes I could take once I was home again. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I probably actually could be happy and satisfied as a lawyer (and that maybe being an editor wouldn’t be quite as rosy as I was imagining) – I just had to find the right job.
I was reminded of this recently when talking with a good friend. I was telling him how I thought it might have been better if I could have taken a sabbatical instead of quitting my old job, because I would have enjoyed my travels that much more, knowing I had a secure job to return to at the end. “I see your point,” my friend said, “but then you would have been unmotivated to explore other options.” He’s completely right. It was only by spending months thinking about it, and then weeks looking for it, that I was able to find my current position – one that allows me to remain a lawyer, to write a lot, to think deeply about issues that interest me, but that doesn’t require me to keep track of my life in six-minute billable increments and lets me have my evenings and weekends free (most of the time).
No matter what I ultimately decided to do, it is undeniable that taking a year off from working really did serve to reset my mentality. While I wouldn’t call our Big Adventure a “vacation” (more about that in a future post), it was a break, and it was refreshing in its own way. I was a very, very stressed person before we left. I had some idea of that, but I didn’t comprehend just how stressed until I was able to look at my life in the rearview mirror. By comparing my unhealthy prior self to my saner, more relaxed traveling self, I realized both that the break was accomplishing one of its purposes and that I needed to never let myself get sucked under again.
While I reassessed my career during the break, I certainly did not reassess my marriage – not in a bad way, anyway. I thought I knew pretty much everything about Pierre after all of these years, but traveling the way we did for as long as we did taught me so much more – and I loved it. Sure, there were a few bumps along the way, but I have no doubt that we’ve emerged from this trip as a stronger, more grounded, more in love couple.
So yes, it worked. We recharged our batteries, we grew closer to each other, and we figured out what our next career steps would be. And I’m not even going to get into the things we learned, the sights we saw, and the perspectives we gained.
One of my favorite things I’ve seen recently is the Holstee manifesto, which is all about finding purpose and taking charge of your life. Perhaps not surprisingly, the line I found most relevant and instructive was this one: “Travel often. Getting lost will help you find yourself.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.