At the beginning of the year, my boyfriend and I left our corporate 9-to-5 jobs to travel around the world. We are from ordinary and relatable circumstances, working professionals who prioritized travel and saved up enough to travel the world for a year. Eleven months, six continents, and 25 countries later, here are my most inspiring lessons I would like to share from our journey around the world.
One thing is for sure, I would do this journey again in a heartbeat.
Don’t risk spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.
It’s not bad to work a 9-to-5, the one I happened to be in before we departed on our world travels was frustrating and discouraging. I was a creative and passionate marketer trapped in a highly regulated industry, with no room for new ideas or growth. We stayed because we needed the work experience, we liked our coworkers, we needed the money, we needed the stability of a full time job, we needed to stay a certain number of years so it doesn’t look bad on a resume. We have so many excuses for putting off our passions and our dreams, thinking we can always pursue them later. Don’t risk spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later — because there’s no guarantee that your future will give you the freedom or health (especially health) — to pursue your dreams at a later time.
Travel is the only thing I felt would be impossible to fail at.
People have told us we are brave for doing what we did, but in reality, I felt neither bold nor brave. I am a very risk-adverse person; if I’ve decided to make a move to travel the world, you can bet I’ve thought this through very carefully. So why did we do something so unconventional like take a year off from “reality” to travel the world? Travel is the only thing I felt would be impossible to fail at. No one ever regrets seeing more of the world — in fact, I’ve heard more often than not, it’s NOT travelling that’s the regret. No matter how I sliced it, I felt like I couldn’t fail at travelling the world.
One unavoidable concern I had, however, was not knowing what our “work situation” would be like after our travels. Would taking a year off to travel hinder our employability? We reasoned with ourselves — at the very least, taking a year off to travel shows that we are confident in who we are and our existing skillsets and experience, and we would have a memorable backstory or conversation starter for interviews. If there was any employer who could not understand why we left our jobs to travel for a year (or saw it as a negative thing), we probably don’t share the same values anyway and wouldn’t be a fit to work for them anyway.
Wellness is also a measure of success.
In North American culture, we measure success by materialistic standards like wealth, prosperity and power. Buying luxury goods and fancy cars are a sign of status. Working long hours is a sign of dedication to your work. But too often, we forget that wellness is also a measure of success. Ultimately, everyone wants to be happy and well, however, the path to get there is different for everyone. It’s easy to get stuck in the rat race where you’re working to live, and living to work, leaving little time to cultivate hobbies, interests, and relationships — the things that contribute to our wellbeing. For us, travel took us out of that cycle and gave us the opportunity to think and recalibrate our values and priorities and challenge the standards by which we measure success.
Put yourself in a position where you are open to opportunities and a solution will manifest its way to you.
Put yourself in a position where you are open to opportunities and a solution will magically manifest its way to you. There are some things in life that work out so unbelievably well — right place right time — that there was no way you would have ever been able to forecast or plan for it.
Steve would like to add: “That’s a cool one. Just be open to opportunities”
Despite worrying about finances (who wouldn’t?) during our trip — especially when we arrived in Australia and New Zealand for our final month of travels — the “universe” aligned and we had free accommodations the whole way thanks to our relatives, and the days we were on our own, my cousin hooked us up with a sweet camper van in New Zealand for a fraction of what it would cost to rent from a car company. The owner of the camper van just had a baby the week before we arrived so wouldn’t be using the van while we were in town — what were the chances of that?!
Meanwhile, Steve’s old company (the one he left before our travels) hired him back on contract so he’d have a short term job right away when we returned to Vancouver, and for me, a web copywriting project fell into my lap while I was in New Zealand.
All our lives on social media have a filter on them. Is that more harm or good?
While we were travelling, we heard about the passing of Avicii, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain — public icons who seemingly had it all together in success, fame, and fortune. It made me think that maybe we only saw their filter but not who they really were, what they were suffering from, and the demons they battled in their fairytale lives. I think the big lesson here is that all our lives on social media, to some extent, have a filter on them — including mine. Is that more harm or good? Let’s be kind and support one another so no one has to be afraid to show their behind the scenes.
Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.
From living out of our backpacks for nearly a year, we learned that you need waaay less than you’d think. Our best memories came from the places we saw and the things we did, not the (few) things we bought. No one ever wishes for another designer handbag on their deathbed. More often than not, a measure of a long and fulfilling life is from shared memories with relationships and experiences.
Travelling the world has been a dream come true, but, like everything else in life, comes with sacrifice.
We left our most stable source of income to fulfill our personal dream of going on a round-the-world trip. While my friends back home were getting engaged, married, having kids, or upgrading their homes, we were blowing our savings on this trip of a lifetime. It comes down to what you prioritize and the order you want to do things in life. For us, travel was a priority so we focused our effort, energy, and savings on making it a reality. But nothing comes without sacrifice. We put off other things, like a car, a bigger home, or a wedding, which are examples of purchases that might financially hinder people from travel.
Our budget style of travel was also not for everyone — I certainly know people who would be a firm hell no to how we travelled. Many times we sacrificed comfort in our travels, to stay within our budget. A lot of what we did on our travels would certainly not be someone’s dream vacation — but then again, we were travelling, not vacationing, and there’s a big difference between that. We wanted to see the world, not go on vacation.
You don’t have to be rich to travel well.
Time is more valuable than money.
There are many, many, countries in the world that have a much lower cost of living than where you are from. Another eye-opening realization: what each of us spent on a year of travel is comparable to what someone might spend for a year’s worth of rent in our hometown of Vancouver. I should also mention that we had relatives we stayed with in London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland, and Malaysia — so that was about seven weeks where we had a break from paid accommodations and spent time with our extended family.
Being travellers on a long term journey meant we had to budget carefully and pick and choose our experiences. We often look for free, natural attractions to discover. Sometimes the simplicity of a gorgeous viewpoint that we wandered to on our own, is all we look for in a new city.
Practise “Lagom”, the Swedish concept for balance and moderation.
In North American culture, we constantly strive for bigger and better — a vicious cycle that defines our approach to life and often leaves us feeling empty because we are always searching for more. But what if we could just enjoy what we already have and better appreciate the small but important things in life? In our travels to Sweden, I discovered the beautiful concept of “lagom” which means something like not too much, not too little, not too noticeable, and everything in moderation. The dominant values in Swedish society are caring for others and quality of life. In fact, quality of life is what the Swedes view as a sign of success. Quality over quantity: I love this mentality where work life balance is a priority.
Travel between jobs, between clients, between contracts, between school terms and life obligations. Just do it.
The time we spent in some of the countries we’ve travelled to this year is what would have been our entire annual vacation while we were still working our 9-to-5 jobs. Our North American vacation time off is way less than our European counterparts — some of whom get a minimum of five weeks a year! How are we supposed to be inspired by newness, develop as people, understand other cultures, and gain independence away from the comforts of home, if our society dictates that we get such little time off to do so? My advice: if you ever get a chance to travel between jobs, between clients, between contracts, between school terms, between life obligations, just do it. It’s so rare to get a chance to see the world. If travel is a priority to you, make time for it.