Exactly one month from my departure date, I find myself already over the skies, en route to Los Angeles to spend some much needed time with one of my best friends. I’ve been anticipating the next ten days for quite some time, as having been best friends with Jess for half our lives now, there’s no better therapy for me than to spend time with her. To say the past two months have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. I studied, failed, then thankfully passed, my PMP exam. I completed an online marketing course to help with my site development and presence. And most dauntingly, I quit my job of the past four years, saying goodbye to the people I have grown so close to and spent the most of those four years with. This flight is the first time I have had to actually detach from the things/loose ends I need to close prior to my RTW trip and just turn my brain off. It turns out I don’t do nothing well.
I’ve been researching goals people often make for their sabbaticals and have been giving a lot of thought as to what I want to accomplish. Stefan Sagmeister, a huge influence of mine, really drove it home that without a plan, or at least the semblance of the plan, one won’t accomplish much. Given that, I’ve come up with the below goals, two focusing on my mental growth and two on my physical growth:
– learn a new language: given the amount of time I’ll be spending in each South America and Asia, either Portuguese or Mandarin seem plausible. Even if not fluent, having conversational skills in either language seems like both a smart and attainable goal
– expand my cultural knowledge: I feel like this is a given provided everything I will be doing, but I don’t want to fall into the tourist traps of each country the entire time I’m there and not experience the real local cultures of each place. I really want to share my cultural experiences with others so that even if you, reading this, are unable to go to a particular place, I’ll have provided you with the basis of an understanding of the people, what makes them beautiful, what are the real challenges faced in that region are, and why we, those living on the other side of the world, should care
– develop healthier eating habits: I think removing myself from the North American food culture makes this an inevitability, but I’m very much looking forward to broadening my currently somewhat limited palette and to continue with this habit when I return
– develop healthier exercise habits: this goes hand in hand with the above, yes, but my logic here differs. People make so many excuses as to why they can’t dedicate time to fitness, be it family, work, any kind of commitment they can think of. But for me, with no work and essentially zero commitments attached to my time, I will have no excuse. Do or die time when it comes to my fitness!
I have no doubt there will be innumerable other life lessons and experiences that come my way during the course of this RTW trip that I just can’t foresee, but I feel with the above I have a solid foundation to get started!
It’s funny how I remember the exact moment my sense of wanderlust was instilled in me, considering I’d been abroad and travelled so many times before. Growing up I was fortunate that my family often went on vacation. They were what I consider the typical family vacations, south to Orlando, Florida, for Disneyworld, even further south to spend a few weeks at a resort in Mexico, and a few Caribbean cruises, as bless my mother’s heart, she is a cruise fanatic. My father was born and raised in Ireland, which has provided me my Irish citizenship, and thus, a European Union passport. Growing up my parents would take vacations together without my sister and I, most memorably to China for two weeks which they booked on less than a week’s notice. In University, a flyer for a student conference in the Czech Republic caught my eye, so after securing funding from the school, I was off to Prague on my own. Then a few years later, my decision to go to Ireland by myself to visit my sister who lived there didn’t seem like a big deal at all. Suffice to say, it’s clear the travel bug was always in my blood; it just laid dormant until I was twenty five.
At the age of twenty five I became single for the first time in almost eight years. To say years of subconsciously feeling held back from doing the things I really wanted to do suddenly burst out of me would be an understatement. My sudden desire to see and experience so many things – both locally and abroad – took over me in a way I could have never foreseen.
I was going through a period at work where things were quiet and work was slow. Thankfully I have friends who are as crazy and spontaneous as I am, as what started as a joke one minute ended up changing the course of my life. Talking to my friend Andrea, who found herself in the same work rut I was, we were joking about how we should just take off, get on a plane and go anywhere. This was a Wednesday. After an hour of conversation and the cliché ‘are we really going to do this’ questions, followed by another hour of coercing our parents to let us use their credit cards without asking too many questions, flights to England and Ireland were booked, departing in less than three days.
The first few days in London, England were fantastic – your typical tourist experience that can be read on any travel blog. It’s what happened after that no one saw coming. Literally, no one. We hoped on an Aer Lingus flight over to Dublin. Not even a full day into our Irish adventure and I received an odd message from my mother reading “All flights in Europe are grounded!” I showed Andrea, laughing and joking about the extent to which my mother was obviously exaggerating. But oh, she was not exaggerating. Not. In. The. Slightest.
After street shopping and taking lots of silly photos with the Grafton Street monuments and memorials, we stopped into what would become our favourite pub in Temple Bar, the Auld Dubliner. We ordered pints and pie, and as we waited, we watched the BBC breaking news. It would seem a volcano, Eyjafjallajökull as the world would come to know it (although not pronouncing it!), had erupted in Iceland and was interrupting European airspace at an alarming rate. Andrea and I just looked at each other, with a mutual ‘oh my god’ moment being shared without saying a word.
In the days that would follow, the now infamous 2010 ash cloud changed both who I am and the journey I was on. Andrea and I moved from our hostel to stay with my future brother-in-law’s parents, who lived in Dublin and were our angels while abroad. With a roof over our head and familiar faces to feed and keep us company, we were fortunate to treat our unplanned week long extended vacation as just that. This is where I need to give huge props to the companies and people in my life. The organization I worked for at the time, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, told me not to worry about the extra time I was missing, they would not dock my vacation or my pay for what was considered an Act of God. Air Canada, with whom I’d booked my flights, kept rescheduling me on to the next flight, and then when that day of flights was cancelled, they would get me on to the next one. Not once was I given a hard time, never told I’d have to pay change fees or the price difference in flights, nothing. Air Canada earned my lifelong respect during this experience, as they made what had the potential to be a horrible ordeal a smooth, seamless process.
Andrea and I spent our days having the time of our lives. With my return date unknown and analysts predicting I could possibly be stranded for up to a month (a month!) all I could do was make the best of it. News organizations from the Globe and Mail to The Dean Blundell Show on 102.1 The Edge, called and interviewed us for their Canadians Stranded Abroad segments. I drank in Irish pubs who gave me free pints because they felt bad for me. I saw far more sites than I should have seen in what was supposed to be three days in Dublin. I made friends with my fellow stranded travelers and have maintained those friendships to this day. By the time the ash cloud cleared – which, for the record, the sky was clear and sunny the entire time I was there – I was genuinely sad having to come home. I’d never before felt such a rush of adventure. It’s something that can’t be described until you feel it, but when you do, there’s no turning back. The wanderlust has already set in.
Today is December 9th, 2014. 125 days from now, on April 14, 2015, I will begin the adventure of a lifetime. While everyone around me is getting excited by the Christmas spirit, the decorating of trees and the carols on the radio – all of which excite me – I have butterflies in my stomach not for any holiday, but for the unknown that lay ahead.
The groundwork is all complete. I have an around-the-world flight booked. I have a 45litre backpack, into which I will be fitting my entire life. I have bought a mini travel-sized hair straightener and blow dryer that can be used with any voltage. My closet has been purged down to only the essentials, with styles appropriate for the different cultures into which I will be embedding myself. I have my travel insurance in order. My bank accounts and visa have been switched over to ones which are travel focused, with minimal withdrawal fees, the best travel benefits, etc. I have – for the first time in my life – bought myself a tablet which will serve as my laptop while abroad. I have international adapters. I have water tablets. I’ve had numerous inoculations for every disease imaginable. I have everything (I think) I need to leave. So now I wait.
With everything booked and all the plans in motion, the only thing left for me to take in is everything I will be leaving behind. As of today, I’ve not told many people about my big adventure, but those I have all say the same thing: “You’re quitting your job?” “Are you crazy?” “Can’t you just take a leave of absence?” and so forth. And I get it, I really do. To many people I must seem crazy. But when the prospect of being able to see almost the entire world is right in front of you, crazy would be not to jump on it.
Here’s the thing about my work situation. I’m not in a rut, I’m not leaving a job that makes me unhappy, and I’m not running away. I have an amazing employer, I work with brilliant people who inspire me daily and I have an opportunity to grow within my role. It’s when I think of all this that I do, just for a moment, question if maybe I am crazy. The leave of absence question is a delicate one, because every logical fibre of my being is saying that it is in my best interest to at least ask. I just can’t get past how unfair that would be to the people who have treated me so well. They have given me opportunities and allowed me to grow, yet I would ask them to put that all on pause for an endeavor that to everyone else seems self-serving? I can’t bring myself to do it. Furthermore, to commit to a return date terrifies me. With every experience ahead of me being a great unknown, how can I commit to anything? It just feels wrong.
I have been reading travel blogs obsessively and have found one thing very few people write about, perhaps because the emotions associated with it are all so personal, is the mixed emotions leading up to the departure date. I’m leaving loved ones behind and the reality of that is hard. I have 6 and 4 year old nieces and one and a half year old nephew whom are my world, and while only gone not too long of a time, I feel like when I get back they’ll be so grown up from when I left. I have friends I’ve let down as a result of this trip; I’m missing a few weddings, a multitude of birthdays, and so many milestones that I can never make up for. I’ve actually hurt people with my decision to leave. So I’ll forge through the next few months as I have been since making this decision. I’ll keep it to myself, quietly writing my heart out, waiting to post anything until my colleagues know. I’m excited – giddy with excitement in fact – but some days the nerves get to me, if I think too much on the reality of what lays ahead. But with all that said, life itself is an unknown, so why not throw ourselves our own curveballs?