I had no idea how much I’d lose when I gave up everything: The unexpected costs of traveling long term

I know everyone wants to know exactly how people afford to quit their jobs and travel the world, and I WILL write about that eventually, but this isn’t that article. I can tell you that I have more money right now than I did 10 months ago when I left the U.S., but what I really want to talk about are the non-monetary costs of leaving my life behind to travel indefinitely.

When I decided to leave it was because I couldn’t stand the idea that my life might be settling down into a routine that I was going to have to live with forever. There was nothing particularly wrong with that routine, it wasn’t unpleasant or terribly restricting, and I wasn’t miserable at all, but I just wasn’t ready to accept sameness. I craved adventure and risk taking. I felt like I was missing out on so much that the world had to offer and I decided I either had to go for it, or risk regretting it forever.

I knew on the surface what I’d be giving up; relationships with friends, my two and half year relationship with my boyfriend, my dog, time watching my niece grow up, financial security, a promised future, career building experience, my apartment, and almost all of my belongings, but since I’ve been away I’ve lost so much more than I could’ve ever expected.

Traveling has cost me my self-doubt. It hasn’t completely disappeared of course, but I’ve never before in my life been this sure of myself. I’ve had months and months of alone time to think about myself, my goals, and who I want to be as a person. I’ve developed a deeper understanding of myself than I’ve ever had before, and my courage has increased ten-fold. I look at everything that I’ve done over these last 10 months, the chances I’ve taken, and the challenges I’ve faced, and for the first time in my life I can say that I’ve been successful on my own. Looking forward, I have more confidence in myself and my abilities than I’ve ever had. If I can do this by myself, I can do anything.

Traveling has cost me my dependence. Shortly before I decided to travel I realized that I had never really lived on my own. When I was an exchange student for a year before college I was thousands of miles away from home, but I lived with families. When I was in college I was in another state alone, but I had a roommate most of the time, and I knew I could always call my parents for help if I really needed it. Then when I graduated I immediately moved in with my boyfriend who was older and already established in his career, so I didn’t have to go through the financial hardship that a lot of recent grads suffer. While I always thought of myself as being independent, because I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon and I paid for my own college, I was never TRULY on my own until I left the U.S. in December. It’s a frightening and liberating experience to come to terms with the fact that YOU are your only resource, but I’ve been financially smarter this year than I have in my entire life because I know I have nothing to fall back on. And now that I know I can do it on my own, I’ll never limit myself by being dependent on another person again.

Traveling has cost me my insecurities. Again, not all of them, but I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I just don’t care very much about what other people think. I’ve always struggled with wanting to be liked by everyone, but it’s not a priority anymore. I realize now that my insatiable desire to be accepted probably stemmed from my inability to be alone. I always needed to have people around me, have friends over, or be in a relationship. From the time I was a child I couldn’t even stand to be in a room by myself. Now I value my alone time and can finally enjoy my own company, so I don’t feel the need to impress others. I know what I have to offer, and I know what I’m looking for in return, and if other people aren’t on the same page I’m perfectly fine with just being on my own. Sure, traveling alone is still nerve wracking at times, but instead of tying my plans to someone else just so I don’t have to feel alone, I do what I want, when I want, and most of the time that doesn’t include others.

Traveling has cost me a lot of my social anxiety. I’ve always been social, but still pretty introverted. I like to go out and be part of the action, but crowds have always made me nervous. I always expected judgment from people and I had a hard time striking up conversations or integrating myself into groups. In high school and college I absolutely refused to walk into anything alone, be it a football game, party, dance, or bar. Now I’m fine going out by myself, taking myself on movie dates or going shopping alone, and I don’t break out in a nervous sweat when I walk into a room full of people or have to strike up a conversation with a stranger (being a solo traveler requires me to ask strangers questions all time!).  I enjoy meeting new people, but I go into social situations without expectations and just take what comes out of it.

Traveling has cost me my ability to follow. When I first got to Australia I got into the habit of going places and doing things that I didn’t really want to just because other people wanted to. When you’re first getting used to being on your own it’s really easy to latch onto the people around you just for the sake of staying busy, but what I ended up doing was drinking a lot, losing sight of my fitness goals, and spending a lot of money I didn’t need to. It definitely wasn’t all bad, I wouldn’t have gone to Tasmania if my friend hadn’t had the idea, but a lot of nights I went out just because everyone else wanted to and I didn’t want to feel like the only boring person in the group. Now, after spending six months working in the outback and putting in so much effort to get my fitness level back, I have a MUCH clearer idea of what I actually like to do for fun. I prioritize myself and what I like over not wanting to feel left out, and if that means coming home and watching Hotel Transylvania on Netflix instead of going out drinking on a Saturday night, so be it. It wasn’t easy to get here, and I still get tempted to go out and party just because other people are doing it, but I ask myself if it’s what I really want, and usually the answer is no. As it turns out, not being a follower is great for my bank account too.

Traveling has cost me my fears. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty fearless; I was willing to leave home and travel the world on my own after all, but doing this has made me confront fears I didn’t even know I had. I was afraid of getting older, planning a future, committing to anything, exploring my potential, never being happy, staying in one place…a whole list of things that have caused me to hold myself back. I realized I never actually planned for my life past college, and it wasn’t just because I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder (which I still don’t). I was afraid to set concrete goals because I thought I’d quit if it got too difficult, or not live up to my own expectations. I was afraid to want or plan for a family because of my strained relationship with my own mother. I was afraid to commit to a person or place because I thought I’d end up feeling stuck. Now I realize no one can make me feel stuck but myself and my own choices. I’ve finally taken full control of my life, and without any outside influences pushing me in one direction or another I can choose the path that will truly fulfill me.

Traveling has taken a lot from me, but it’s given me even more. I’ve had amazing experiences, both personal and professional, I’ve met great people, I’ve lived out some of my dreams, I’ve learned how to be completely on my own and ENJOY it, but most importantly I’ve gained a new sense of self-determination. People have always told me I can do anything and be anything…but for the first time I believe it.

 

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

– William Ernest Henley

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