This article was first published at The Planet D in Jan 2014 and republished here in May 2014 with permission.
There was a time in my life that I forgot to travel.
I was a recent university graduate working hard at my new job in the advertising industry. Long hours turned into longer days, which became endless weeks and quite suddenly, it was a new year already and my office manager was telling me I had a pool of unused leave days that were about to go to waste if I didn’t take some time off.
Sound familiar? Sadly, it’s not that uncommon for a lot of working people to not make full use of their annual leave days, some even see it as a sign of dedication to their job, and boast about how little leave they take in a year. For me, every unused leave day represented a lost opportunity to go somewhere and a step down the slippery slope to being stuck in the rat race. When did I start becoming one of those people? It was just a much-needed wake-up call, that I had to do something about it before it was too late.
So it wasn’t much of a Eureka! moment or a thunderbolt life-changing epiphany – I quickly realized that I didn’t need to make a drastic change in my life – I often marvel at these inspirational stories of other brave folk who chose to walk away from cushy lives to pursue their dreams, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was pretty happy earning a steady paycheck and being around my friends and family, I just needed to figure out how to work more travelling into my current way of life.
The problem really boiled down to the fact that I had always travelled with someone else, whether it was family vacations or trips with my friends, and that I usually left the planning and details to them. My lack of travelling in recent years was partly because I couldn’t match work-holiday schedules with family and friends as easily as before, and without a trip planner to push things along, I had been content to just let time go by.
It was then I made perhaps the most important decision – that no one was responsible for my time but me, and i had to take charge of my travels. Instead of waiting for people to help me out or for timings to miraculously match up, i had to be the one to move everything into the right place.
The only ways to surmount that was to plan way in advance, or go on my own. The thought of solo travel had never really occurred to me before, but the more I thought about it, the more plausible it became – I was a healthy sensible 20-something year old adult, if so many people can do it, why can’t I? I had to try at least once in my life to see whether I could do it or not – a thought which is now a motto I live by.
The opportunity came when I landed a new job and found I had a week free before starting in my new role. With such short notice, there was no way to find someone else to come along with me so I decided to go on my own – I booked a week-long trip to Seoul with no agenda other than to explore the city.
It was quite an experience being completely on my own, in a foreign place where I didn’t speak the language. I found myself free and untethered, wandering at my leisure, going where my mood took me instead of where someone decided we should go. I stayed in touch with family and friends through the occasional email, and I made new friends in unexpected places, by speaking up when I would usually remain quiet. I learned that I valued my privacy most and I could live with shared bathrooms, that I really did like looking at old buildings and scenery, but was quite happy to compromise on good food with a convenient cheap meal.
Cliched as it may be, solo travel is a the quickest and best way to figure yourself out – what makes you tick and what you can do without, and I wanted to learn more. It’s also freeing – I could go where I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, without worrying about what anyone else thought. My next resolution then was to take at least one solo trip every year – I’ve since spent a week in Vietnam, taken a jaunt to Munich, and visited Dublin and Prague, all in the name of personal adventure and self discovery.
My friends often express envy at my travels as if they were something extraordinary, but all I can say is that it comes down to making that choice; that I hold a full-time working job like almost every one else, and if I can enjoy a life of fulfilling travel without having to give up much of my current lifestyle, there’s no reason why you can’t either if that’s what you’ve chosen to do! It’s why I created The Occasional Traveller in the first place after all.
Many people might not have the luxury of that choice due to their circumstances, or some simply just don’t prioritize travel the way I have, and that’s perfectly fine too. But for those yearning to go somewhere but haven’t already done so, my only advice is to just go do it – if you really want to, you’ll find a way to make it work!
Right now with the new year and a new set of leave days, I’m making plans for my next holidays, some with friends, and some on my own. I’ve had an inkling to try longer term travel, so maybe that’s something I’ll plan for in the long run. One thing I know for sure though – I’m never forgetting to travel again.
I wrote this piece for the immensely popular adventure travel blog The Planet D’s Inspiration Series – they were looking for stories from inspirational travellers out there, and while I don’t have some wonderful amazing tale of chucking my job for a life of adventure to tell, I think my story of how I was inspired to travel more is something more people can relate to.
Writing this piece was hard – it took me around 3 months of pondering, deletes and rewriting till I was satisfied enough to press [send] without freaking out too much. It’s also one of my more intensely personal pieces – I like to think of it almost like the the origin story of a comic book superhero – herein lies the tale of how I got started with The Occasional Traveller, which is something I’ve had to explain to folk in real life, but oddly enough never really expounded on in my own blog.
I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, consider checking out the Travelling Occasionally series with tips for other fellow working travel lovers out there. Thanks again to Deb and Dave for the opportunity and encouragement to write this piece :)