I went to see the new movie Eat, Pray, Love a couple of weeks ago. The movie wasn’t fabulous, it wasn’t even as good as the book, but it threw me into reminiscing. Nearly four years ago, like the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I too made the decision to abandon my existing life and job to travel around the world for six months in pursuit of my true passions of travel, photography, and writing. The book had just been released at that time and I read it from cover to cover during the 36 hours and three layovers required to get to Vietnam. I remember being intrigued by the fact that I had previously visited India and would be going to Italy and Bali on that trip, meaning I would be retracing the steps of the author.
My situation wasn’t exactly the same as Gilbert’s. I wasn’t coming out of a divorce or a bad relationship. But I was spiritually bereft. I had built numerous successful careers in corporate environments, only to abandon them to search for something that would make me happy. I knew deep down that corporate life, with its appurtenant stress and soul-sucking politics was not for me, but I kept returning to it because it paid the bills. By the time I’d turned 50 I was a lost soul. I didn’t know who I was, but I knew I had to find a way to make myself happy, to escape from the endlessness of it all.
At the conclusion of my six months on the road I decided to recreate myself as a travel writer and photographer which, frankly, were the only things I’d ever really wanted to do. Now, four years later, I’ve accomplished that goal. I travel 9-10 months per year and have no permanent home. Although I do not suggest that this life is for everyone, one part of my process – the six-month career break – was a valuable tool that can benefit anyone. It is not uncommon for Europeans and Australians to take a career break; employers in these countries seem to understand that employees return to the workplace renewed and brimming with new ideas following such a hiatus. Unfortunately, in the U.S. the career break is not an accepted part of our culture, but there is now a movement afoot to change all that.
Two weeks from today, on September 14th, the developers of the website Meet, Plan, Go! will hold a FREE series of events in major cities across the U.S. and in Canada to raiseawareness about extended travel and taking a career break. During the free event, attendees will be able to:
- MEET inspirational speakers and like-minded travelers in their area
- Get motivation, contacts and resources necessary to PLAN the trip of a lifetime
- Start taking concrete steps forward and get ready to GO!
I know what goes into planning long-term travel, especially if the prospective traveler has to make arrangements to take care of homes, pets, pay bills from the road, etc., and I wish I’d had access to this kind of program when I was planning my trip back in 2006. Whether you long for a career break, sabbatical, a spiritual sojourn, an extended global vagabonding experience or just a self-designed “gap year,”Meet, Plan, Go! wants to help you make it happen!
8 thoughts on “Eat, Pray, Love In Real Life – How My Career Break Led to a Life of Travel”
You did a very good job Barbara. That was really something! It was a great change in your life but still you’ve finally found the missing pieces in you. I adore you for being a brave woman!
Great post, Barbara. I, to, left corporate life t make a big change in my life. Until 1993, I was immersed in corp life, having been with the same org for 18 years. In 1993, I took a bog risk and accepted a buyout package. I was free to do as I pleased — but without the big salary, extensive benefit package and high profile corporate identity. It was the best move I ever made!
I’ve been writing for mags and websites for the past 15 years and loving it. (Mostly travel and lifestyle, so like you, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a great part of the world.) And I’ve started writing books and am loving that, too! There really IS life after corporate life, and I encourage anyone with a strong belief in themselves to take the plunge. Enjoy your travels!
At 54 I went to Europe for the first time and stayed for a year. It was a totally life-changing, mind-altering experience. Then I returned to live in a small southern town where I’ve struggled to keep from suffocating for 9 years since. Sometimes, just after returning from France, walking into Walmart brings tears to my eyes. My husband’s health, our inability to find health insurance for him in Europe, and a weak dollar have kept us here even after we obtained an EU passport for my mate. I dream of someday traveling full time, living minimally, accompanied by only a camera and a laptop.
And that brings me to my question: Barbara, please tell us a little about how you live both on the road and when you’re “home” — wherever that is. What do you do to make ends meet? Does loneliness get you down? Is there really a difference between an extended vacation and a life on the road?
Hi Gigi: My heart goes out to you. For many years I denied my travel passion and it suffocated me. The short answer is that “home” is wherever I am. I have discovered that I am happiest when I have few material possessions; as you say, as long as I have a laptop and a camera it’s all I need. After my round-the-world trip in 2007, I returned to the States and got an apartment in Florida, using it as a base from which I traveled about 50% of the time. However, over the following two years it became readily apparent that I was traveling more and more and maintaining an apartment made little sense, so at the end of last year I made the leap to being a total digital nomad. I had previously sold most of my material possessions, but the few remaining things I had I actually gave to a nice young woman who was starting over and moving into the apartment I gave up. My personal items – mostly sentimental things like photo albums – got stored in my Dad’s house in Illinois, and I took to the road permanently. These days I travel 9-10 months per year and when I am in the States I either stay with my Dad, who is always happy to see me for a month or so, or with really good friends (my extended family) in Atlanta, who have a small apartment beneath their house that I am welcome to use when I’m in the U.S.
Financially, it’s been a long road. In order to pursue this dream I had to make some hard decisions. I finally sold my home, at a loss, and walked away from another property that I could no longer afford to make the mortgage payments on. The bank refused to foreclose and instead opted to sue me for more than $350,000, which is laughable. For a person who had never even paid a bill late in her entire life, it was emotionally wrenching. I felt like a loser; a deadbeat. But I had to finally do what was right for me. That lawsuit finally got settled last month so I feel like a huge burden has been lifted. Then, there was the issue of writers being paid a pittance. I went the traditional route for a while, pitching articles to magazines and newspapers and even writing for free to build up my portfolio of clips. I was fortunate with timing though; I got in on the ground floor of blogging and eventually decided to ignore the traditional venues and concentrate on online writing. This didn’t pay any more (probably less) but it drove traffic to my personal blog, which eventually resulted in companies paying to advertise on my blog. I wish I could do it without ads, but the plain truth is that I have to have some means of financing my travel. I’m not making a fortune, but after four years of living off my meager remaining savings, I am finally earning enough to cover my expenses. Of course, that means I must stay in the most budget of budget accommodations, but I don’t mind. In fact, I really enjoy the hostel environment, where I get to mingle with other intrepid travelers like myself.
And that brings me to the question of loneliness. Do I ever get lonely? No, never. For the first time in my life, I have a “tribe” – a place where I feel I belong – the international community of travel bloggers and digital nomads. We interact online and I really feel like they are my extended family. I have met many of them personally and many have become very good friends. I guess I am just one of those rare independent souls. I can talk to anyone, and I do talk to everyone, so I never feel totally alone.
As for your question about extended vacation, I would like to disabuse everyone of the idea that this is some sort of extended vacation. What I do is hard work. I spend my days and evenings touring and interviewing people and gathering information for posts. At night I must download and label the 200-300 photos I take every day, research online for information in order to write posts, attend to my many social media obligations (Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, etc.), produce videos and slide shows, research my next destination, etc. Just answering emails and comments can take hours each day. And that doesn’t include time for writing guest posts for other blogs and online articles for paying clients. Many nights I sleep only 3-4 hours in order to do it all. But the point is that I finally am working at something that I love instead of working 70-80 hours at a job I detest.
This life is not for everyone and I don’t glamorize it, but for those who, like me, have a passion for travel, it is a dream come true. If you, too, have this passion, you will find a way to do it, despite what may seem like insurmountable obstacles. The key is to do it, rather than finding reasons not to. Fear gets in the way. But take a leap of faith, like I did, and you will be amazed at how things can work out.
Awesome, very excited for Meet Plan Go and congratulations on fulfilling your dreams. You are an inspiration Barbara!
Thanks for sharing your story and being a living example that you don’t need to be a young 20-something to travel around the world and start afresh. Congratulations on finding your true passion and making it all work!
Hi Audrey: Thanks for that comment. Quite recently, a guy who claimed we had in Mexico started leaving comments on my blog, saying I was too old to travel and write about places. I think the guy was a troll, because over time, he even changed his name in comments, but it didn’t change the fact that what he said was rude and hurtful. I didn’t respond to the trash talk in his comments, but I did engage him in a respectful conversation about some of this other accusations, while never lowering myself to his level. So I really appreciate what you had to say.
And we’re SO glad you did! You have certainly done a stellar job of all this, the amount of hours you put into documenting, writing interesting articles, and keeping it all together while clicking away on your laptop while sitting on your bed is some hostel in some exotic and wonderful place. . .you have taken the bull by the horns and wrestled it to the ground. Cheers to you!