On January 3, 2013, my wife Jen and I left our home of Toronto, Canada on a one-way flight to Cartagena, Colombia. It was the beginning of a 6-month trip around the world, which would be followed by a year-long stay in Sydney, Australia. The entire experience has been completely transformative, from the first moments we considered the trip, up to today, having explored 14 countries and lived and worked in Sydney for almost a year.
It was empowering
Up to our departure date, we both had multiple jobs, commitments, and years worth of junk stored in our home. When we left, we had nothing but our backpacks and bank accounts. We went from a life of reasons to say no to opportunities to say yes. If we decided we didn’t like South America, we could hop on a plane to Europe. If we got sick of always being on the go, we could put our backpacks down, rent out a place, and see what its like to live and work somewhere new. Even if we never left Canada, this kind of life change made it possible to be anywhere and do anything that we wanted. It was the most empowering thing we had ever done, and we had never felt more free.
It expanded my knowledge of the world
There’s a lot that can be learned simply by interacting with people from different cultures around the world. You learn the nuances that make each culture unique, and you begin to understand the conditions that shape people into who they are – for better or for worse. We came to appreciate the relaxed and friendly lifestyle of South America, with siestas in the afternoon, parties in the evening, and welcoming smiles to all strangers. 6 weeks in Japan showed us a society that demands hard work and enthusiasm from all its citizens, regardless of their job or status. A road trip through the winding hills of France revealed a culture of convenience and quality of life. This kind of exposure to the world opens your mind and humbles your perspective of your own culture. You feel more connected with humanity.
It made memories that will last a lifetime
The most obvious benefit to this adventure was the adventure itself. I saw some of the most incredible sights in the world. Trekking the Machu Picchu in Peru, venturing the Sahara Desert in Morocco by camel, riding trains through the scenic Japan alps, or getting up close and personal with giant turtles on the Galapagos Islands. These are all experiences that have been more meaningful than any academic or career accomplishment in my life. There is simply no better experience for me than seeing the world.
It set a new standard for living my life
Most importantly, experiencing something brand new every day set a new standard for what my life could be. Everyone says to follow your dreams and live life to the fullest, but I felt like I was one of the few who discovered what it meant to really do it. This doesn’t mean I need to find a way to get rich and travel full-time. It means that I’ve discovered the difference between setting for a lifestyle which I have no passion for versus pursuing something that I really love. Once you’ve made a drastic life change once, nothing really seems like that much of a stretch anymore. I feel like now I could spend some time trying to pursue acting or music professionally. I could learn to be a bartender and go work on a cruise ship for a summer. Nothing feels too risky to pursue.
Now that I know life’s potential, every day that I spend below those standards feels like a day wasted. There’s a ticking clock hanging over my head, counting down the years I have to see and do what I want in life. At first this sounds like a depressing curse to have. But now I know I can make my life into anything I want it to be, so its a blessing to constantly be conscious of how I am spending my time.
So go out and do it!
One of the things I hear most commonly is “I could never do what you’re doing, because I have a career.” Or school. A house. A family. There will always be a million reasons holding you back from changing your life. Despite the stereotypes of partying 20-something backpackers, we met travellers from all walks of life. We met a friendly American man in his mid-50s backpacking in Chile who told us a story of being unable to find accommodation in town, so he paid a local to sleep on their roof. We met a couple with two children aged 11 and 12 travelling together around the world for a full year. No matter where you are in life, its never impossible to make a change as long as you have the courage to try.
As an exercise, try to imagine the worst-case scenario for what will happen if you leave. Truly, the worst scenario you can think of. Chances are, its probably not actually that bad. Maybe you won’t be able to come back to your current job. Will you then live on the streets, or can you simply find another job? Maybe your work skills will get rusty. Will they be lost forever, sentencing you to a life working at McDonald’s, or will it all come back to you over the course of a few weeks? Maybe you want to go back to school or start a business. Why don’t you come back home after your travels and do it later? Life will always get in the way of a good adventure, no matter what you have on your plate. It will never seem like the right time.
But the right time is now. There’s a whole world out there to see, and home will still be here when you get back. So go out and make some memories!
For more travel inspiration, check out our travel blog, Thrifty Nomads