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Why I won’t hang up my travel shoes.

worn running shoes

Probably should’ve bought new ones before leaving on my recent trip.

 

“A few months at most… I’ll go back home to the U.S.  just long enough to find another job to get me back to Korea.”

That’s what I told myself.

Returning to the U.S. was the furthest thing from my plan.

My Hindu astrologer in Dharamsala quoted  over a year in the States. I had difficulty believing him.

A year later,… the stars felt right.

Did I travel? Yes, but not to the extent I’d grown accustomed when living abroad.  I traveled only twice. Once in country and the other, I was flown out for a job interview in Korea. To some, those trips might fill the quota for an annual vacation.  For my personality type – it wasn’t enough.  My travel appetite felt like it was on a miserable diet.

Getting work on television production sets and pursuing other passions helped curb my itchy feet. A big reason why I pursued that career in the first place was for the travel and creativity.  But in Hawaii, those jobs weren’t like when I lived in New York and that travel itch was like a bad case of STD that couldn’t hold out long without the need to scratch…

 

Travel highs you don’t want to come down from

When I came back to the States, the sign I put out around my neck initially read “temporary”. I needed a rest from my travel hobo-ing and the U.S. economy, I suspected, still wasn’t ready for me to re-enter its atmosphere. Also, I certainly wasn’t ready to take off my travel shoes and cast anchor.

Not yet. Why?

Quite simply, traveling and living abroad is a “high” you don’t want to come down from!
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6 reasons I won’t hang up my travel shoes:

1. The sense of adventure and the learning doesn’t stop.

They say in travel, “The world is your classroom” . Well, if that’s so, then learning through your travel adventures is a drug.

Experiencing foreign cultures  gives me a broader, deeper and more meaningful experience of the world. I’m in a constant state of awe. From thrills to struggles, I feel like I’m living life and one that’s raw, unpredictable and unfiltered.

With travel, it’s easy to live in the present.  You never know what will happen from one moment to the next. From a bus breaking down, narrowly detouring scam or meeting locals through a friendly exchange, the only thing you’ll know is that when a situation arises, you’ll deal with it in the best way you can!

2.  You’re continually discovering yourself

How can you not know who you are? Well, that’s easy. Locked into social relationships, we get comfortable playing specific straight-jacket roles with friends, family and work colleagues. Life can feel scripted and we get to playing a role more than we play ourselves. Those empty roles can feel like a burden of adjectives to maintain. In work I have to be “intelligent”, “in control”, “capable”. With friends, I’m expected to be “compassionate” and a “listener”. At home, I’m the “immature teen”…

But on the road, I’m  ‘just me‘ meeting ‘just you‘ and my interactions are like my situations,… spontaneous, magical and honest in the moment.

In travel, you can be naive, silly, idiotic and all the faces never dare show to the world back home.  With no roles to play, I’m liberated to be myself. It’s as if traveling makes us free-forming, sincere  and more open and accepting of what life brings us. I feel closer to strangers from foreign countries, because I feel closer to myself.

 

3. You get to live the life of a bachelorette!

Who says guys get to have all the fun being single? Girls get to have fun too. The biggest bachelorette perk is the ability to pursue travel dreams!

4.   You discover you’re all the exciting things you never thought you could be.

Could I see myself as a pirate, a cowboy, superhero, sage… or just a damsel in distress? 

Before going solo, I wasn’t the type to wear robust travel adjectives, like ‘adventurous‘ or ‘daring‘. Friends think I’m a tough travel chick, because my travel adventures keep growing. But each time I tackle a country on my own, I start off as that damsel.  To outsiders, my success seems predictable. But on the inside, it doesn’t feel that way…

Every country stands unknown to me; and it’s that unknown, which contains a huge part of my self-doubt and fears. Being solo forces me to prove to myself that I can accomplish bold and daring things. It’s taught me to dig deep into my survival resources, trust myself wholly and tap into some of my traveling Atlas figures (i.e. a cunning pirate, a pioneering cowboy, a brave superhero, a wise sage…).

When I look back on the variety of people I’ve met and the colorful travel adventures I’ve experienced, I surprise myself!

5. You get to be the star of your life

Do I miss not being a relationship?   I’ll be completely honest with you…  No.

Entering “middle-age”, I always imagined myself falling into tears if I were as single, as I am now.  I actually feel the opposite!  Traveling solo and learning self-sufficiency, brought about many unexpected and awesome revelations in my personal life, like…

“If there’s a reason why I’ve not been in a relationship, gotten married or had a family, it’s so I could greedily  pursue my dreams to its fullest potential. I get to realize my greatness!”

In fact, had any of my relationships worked out,  I’d be a quarter of the amazing-ness I am today; and rather than inspiring you, I’d be living in the shadow of a partner I helped create! Seriously. In relationships, I’ve spent more time building up and supporting my partners, while forsaking my own direction. You could say it’s my fault, but many women I know do this. To nurture and sacrifice is in our nature. Did my partners do that for me? Not really…  This finally hit a nerve with me when after the breakups, I realized that I left my partners with better lives than what they left me. That’s just a bullshit way to live.

I’ve no regrets being single. I get to be the star of my own life! My dreams and passions get to matter. That’s not being selfish. That’s just being plain healthy.

It took me a long time to see that being solo meant I could live out my passions. That it was actually cool vs. lame.

It took me a long time to see that being a solo travel gal meant I could live out my passions and be extraordinary…. that I was actually pretty cool vs. pathetically limp.

6.  The comfort of strangers: It’s easy to make friends on the road

As a solo traveler, would you believe I’m seldom lonely? I may not find travel partners at home,…but on the road, I meet many!

So why settle for just one?

It’s surprisingly easy to make travel buddies — both, male and female– when you’re traveling. In many cases, for me it’s been instantaneous! Away from home, people are more apt to drop their guard to embrace unpredictability and new friends. I may change my plans and join another traveler on their wing-it-adventure, because it sounds more exciting than what I planned or I might share accommodations with another traveler to pare down costs. In travel, invitations aren’t always a proposal for romance or the long-term; but, it can create fond memories, a fun adventure and a friend in another part of the world!

Despite how casual the encounter, the bond you experience with another traveler, will probably feel deeper than that of a work colleague or a casual acquaintance. Why? You’ve shared something together and it’s more extraordinary than everyday life!

 

7. Living abroad feels like a wonderful and strange fairytale.

“I moved my entire life across the globe to live in this strange country.  How unbelievable!   Congratulate me, I’m a fucking genius!”

I wonder how many expats and travelers feel this type of disbelief with themselves and their ability to live and travel abroad?  If you ask me, nothing can equate to expat life. Even “travel” might run a close second. Each day is a cultural adventure filled with wonder, awe, shock, surprise, horror, worry, joy, anxiety, fear, curiosity …and the infallible greatness of living it all !

I had a normal 9-5 job working as an English Teacher in Korea and most times, my life felt like a blessing. I had a rent-free apartment, I paid $12-20/month on utilities,  shopped for kimchi and linens and had lunch in a school cafeteria, where kids ate with chopsticks! There were daily mysteries my foreign head couldn’t grasp or fathom (read about some them here).

On the weekends,  I traveled the countryside, loved to relax occasionally at the korean bathhouse, hiked, while watching 50-60 year-old ajummas and ajosshis race past me with walking poles and neon gym suits!  And aside from taking regular trips to neighboring Asian countries every holiday,  I also found a supportive community of expats to do things with.

Living and working in another country is a surreal opportunity to prove to yourself that despite language and cultural barriers, food issues and culture shock, you really can live and adapt to life in foreign culture.

 

Note: 

A month ago, the dam broke– I could starve nor lie to myself no longer. I jumped on the first cheap ticket I found and booked a month-long trip to three countries. With only two days of preparation before flying out, it was the craziest solo traveling stunt I’ve pulled, showing the extent of my desperation.  But that story will come later…

 What are some travel highs you experience when you travel?

 

 Related posts for added inspiration:

8 Life Skills Traveling Teaches  by Wandering Educators
Why I won’t hang up my travel shoes
Returning from a Gap Year(s): 9 Tips to Starting Over
Coming home after a gap year: Starting Over
Coming home after a gap year? Well, get ready for a shock…

 

 

23 Comments

  1. I love this – you’re such a travel inspiration – and full of excellent advice!!

    • @Jessie: Thank you, Jessie. And I appreciate your site and its latest post on ‘What travel teaches us’. I found it a wonderful supplement for readers who might extra encouragement and reasons for breaking away! 😉

  2. Kathy (Trekcapri) says:

    Awesome post! Inspiring and validating as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  3. dennis says:

    what enjoyable writing. the first few paragraphs more than the rest. just the writing style was enjoyable for itself, and then there was your point adding its interest as well. I hate traveling, because of airports and airplanes scare me. and, (no apologies for being ungrammatical) although i remember the joy of being in a new place, I now have a joy anywhere that I am. (not so hard to do when ‘where you am’ is ‘doing yoga’ twice a day on waikiki beach and kapiolani park…) and, right now, where I am is enmeshed in responsibilities, so traveling away from my responsibilities would be very stressful; you don’t leave the house with a pot of beans on the range. so, i’m not sure if i don’t ‘get’ your travel urge, or i’m just blocked by overwhelming responsibilities from being able to smell the same air. but i did get this question yesterday, from a spa client: “do you like it here?” to which i replied: “millions of people spend lots of money to travel thousands miles to come here, (to waikiki) and then upon arrival, they give me more of their money!” anyway, i double loved your post! in a way, i can travel through posts like this, while dunking my oat cake into a hot cup of soy chai latte with extra water. oh- you should post photo of alien korean perm!

    • @Dennis: Well, D, I always love your different points of views. 😉 You’re a traveler in general, but having a successfully growing business and working alongside the tourism industry, I have no doubt can be strife with responsibilities. You’re a wonderful cross-breed of yogi, a butoh artist and businessman, so travel and home may be a similar state of mind. Perhaps, there isn’t anything for you to ‘get’?

  4. LOVE this article. Really love how expat living means exerting my brain every time I step outside to do everyday errands. Really keeps you on your toes!
    It’s my 4th anniversary of expat life, and I just wrote a post kind of similar to this. Definitely cited your article near the end – such a well-written piece, and I know many of my readers will get a kick out of it!
    You can check it out here, if you’re interested: http://ourdearladyexpatriate.blogspot.com/2012/12/wayback-snap-celebrating-my-4th-expat.html

    • @Our Dear Lady Expatriate: Wow, I’ve been so crazy with the holidays, but just read your post and CONGRATS on the 4th year anniversary! From Korea to Cambodia- that’s just awesome! I love how you say “expat living means exerting my brain every time I step outside to do everyday errands”. It’s definitely a daily journey of learning! Glad you’re feeding your addiction.

  5. Jessica Wray says:

    I love how you explained that, “I’m ‘just me’, meeting ‘just you'” feeling. That is really how it is but I could never put a finger on it! Interactions seem to hold less importance when at home. (I’m at home now for Christmas, so I’m sure I’ll be reminded of a lot of these things)

    Great post, and congrats on finding so much ‘awesome’ in life and never settling for less than you deserve!

  6. This really has to be one of the best posts that has been written on reasons for traveling or not to stop. There are so many aspects to it that I find incredibly inspiring.
    I too have approached middle age as a single female, and consider myself incredibly lucky. I get to travel on a whim and continue my passion for travel. From that first travel experience that i had 20 years ago, I knew “stationary” living was never meant for me. I love exploring new cultures and landscapes, its a high that I want to experience again and again. Thanks for the great post! Keep living the dream!

  7. SOLTATIO says:

    The bamboo forest is in Kyoto Japan if I remember correctly?

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