This trip was born from years of dreaming about extended travel. Every short trip I took only fed this desire. On the road I would meet people that were on a long trip and I must admit I was quite envious of them. For years I’ve been telling my friends that one day I would pack up and go. So why didn’t I do this? The same reasons everyone else has: school, work, family responsibilities, money, etc. The barriers that held me back the most were my graduate coursework and my mortgage.
In May of 2013 I went to Argentina and Chile. While there I met many travelers that were on extended trips. What was different from this particular cohort was that many were from the United States. For me, this was a departure from previous travelers I had met. Most of the prior ones were European or from countries with policies that allowed them to travel with less concerns. To name just one, health care coverage. For the first time I started thinking this might be something I could actually pull off. Especially in light of the fact that I graduated from my masters program at the end of 2012.
I had the good fortune to meet two wonderful travelers on at bus ride to Chile, Wilson and Muriel Korol of Living the Korol Dream. They were several months into their trip and had a wealth of knowledge which they graciously shared with me. Armed with that new information, I made the decision that I would be resigning from my job and would hit the road. Many months after our interactions in Chile they were still providing me help through their blog and via email. Through the next year their blog became my go to site to draw inspiration and stoke my motivation.
I had to figure out a bunch of things before I could leave in a responsible manner. I also had to figure out how to push the fear aside and stay motivated throughout the coming year. In my opinion fear is the biggest barrier that we all face in making this sort of trip a reality.
On the responsibility front I had to figure out the following:
1. How to budget myself appropriately
2. How to care for my homes while away
3. How to finish the construction in my kitchen, living room, and dining room.
4. What to do with my car (which had a note)
5. A succession plan for work
6. Countless other things
To achieve my goal of extended travel, I reached down into theories I had learned during my graduate course work. I set a very clear goals, with a timeline for their achievement and shared my vision with close friends (goal setting theory). This helped make things more concrete in my mind and kept me on track. I also consciously backed myself into a position where, even if I wanted to, I would be unable to turn back. I gave my resignation at work, I promised promotions to my staff members which were contingent on me vacating my current post, and I rented out my apartment. For a year I adapted my life to a more frugal lifestyle, one reminiscent of my undergraduate days. It wasn’t an easy adjustment and it meant turning down some opportunities but I knew in the end the trade off would be well rewarded. I put all my energies into preparing for this trip. I read countless blogs and books on solo travel, extended travel, career breaks, etc.
Throughout my year of preparation there were many things that challenged my resolve. The most impactful were financial and relationships (familial and otherwise). The first challenge that presented were several unanticipated financial hits. This made me question whether I should adjust my timeline and work longer. My response was stubborn in it’s approach. The same week I took some of those losses, I informed my chairman of my intent to resign. A decision that in retrospect was the correct one. However, at the time it was a very difficult one to make.
Throughout the months ahead as I had an enjoyable conversation with a coworker or friend, I questioned whether what I was giving up was truly worth what I was gaining. I love my job, I love the people I work with, and I love that I work for a prestigious academic medical center. I’ve been at the institution so long that it’s become part of my identity. Giving that up has been one of the hardest parts of this decision, eclipsing any prior concerns I had with reductions to my savings.
The biggest challenge which also impacted my departure date was my dad’s health. On December 26th 2013, my dad was rushed to the emergency room. What was to follow was an extremely complex emotional couple of months where we were unsure if he would make it. At no other point was I closer to changing my mind than during those months. In a certain sense though these events fully exemplified the unpredictability of life and how one should live it fully while one can.
While it’s difficult to leave in some respects I am excited that on May 27th 2014 I set off to make my dream a reality. It took a lot of determination, hard work, and the help of wonderful friends and family. I’d like to thank all of you as without your help this would not be a reality.