By Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel
In 2009 I made the decision to quit my job and spend a year backpacking around the world.
I wasn’t happy at home and I thought that maybe if I took some time out of my life it would help sate my wanderlust and help clarify what I wanted to do with my life.
I spent over a year living with my mom, working like a crazy person and saving every dollar I could spare. I spent every night dreaming about the exotic places I would go and the adventures I would have.
Stephanie Yoder at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
As it turns out traveling long-term was nothing like I anticipated. Here are some of the things that shocked me during my first year of travel:
Fear was Irrelevant
I spent dozens of sleepless nights trying to psych myself up when in truth, I was terrified. Terrified of quitting my job, terrified of traveling alone, just scared stiff. When I boarded my first flight to Japan it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.
Strangely, it didn’t matter one bit.
Once I got off the plane in Tokyo I was still nervous, but I went into auto-pilot and did what needed to be done.
You don’t need to be particularly brave to travel. As someone who freezes up when she has to call for pizza delivery, I was pretty worried about how I would fare out on the road. As it turns out I was fine, if anything, travel forced me out of my comfort zone and made me more outgoing.
My Plans Meant Basically Nothing
I’d carefully worked out an itinerary that would take me around the world in 12-14 months with stops in Asia, Oceania, the Middle East and Europe. I had my plane ticket to Japan booked but thankfully nothing else, because the entire thing went out the window before I even left.
You see I met a boy, at a travel blogging event, just weeks before I was supposed to leave.
He was headed out to teach English in China for a year and invited me to visit him. To my surprise, I almost immediately agreed and started applying for a visa and re-arranging my plans. This was just the start: in the end my trip looked nothing like the one I had originally set out for, and I’m glad.
The famous torii in Miyajima, Japan
Sometimes Things Sucked
This seems obvious but it was quite the shock when I found myself in a guesthouse in Vang Vieng, Laos, completely miserable.
I was homesick, and I hated this party-town, then I hated myself even more for being miserable on what was supposed to be the greatest trip of my life.
When you’re traveling, especially for a long time, you’re not exempt from the nasty feelings, the self doubt and the bad days that plagued you back home.
When travel is your life, it’s going to behave just like normal life – sometimes things are awesome, sometimes things are terrible.
Normalcy is Incredibly Relative
Similarly, you can get used to nearly anything.
In Australia, I lived out of a camper van with no internet for months. In China, I breathed air thick with pollution and ate street food with no regards to cleanliness. I’ve spent 8 hours on a sweltering bus weaving through the mountains and slept in some seriously questionable guest houses.
These things don’t faze me anymore.
On the flip side I’ve lived next to amazing beaches, and barely looked at them because I was so busy working. Traveling for a long time is an exercise not just in endurance but in consciousness. It’s easy to become jaded, and important to remember your incredible luck.
Cocktail on the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand
My Wanderlust has Grown, Not Shrunk
Anyone who plans a long trip to get the travel bug “out of their system,” is in for a nasty shock.
The travel bug isn’t a disease, it’s an addiction. The more you travel the more you feel the strong pull to keep going. Every new destination opens a door to three more places you absolutely must see. As far as I can tell there is really no cure.
It’s Not Always Easy to Live On Your Own Terms, but It’s Worth It
I’m writing this post from a little sunlit apartment on the coast of Mexico, while my new husband types across the table from me (yes, the guy I went to China for).
Things aren’t perfect. Life is still life with its random swings of ups and downs, but it’s pretty damn good.
As it turns out things worked out nothing like I expected. Life and travel threw all kinds of curve balls my way. Four years later my life looks totally different than I could have dreamed. It’s better.
Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can’t sit still. She wrote the full story of her first year of travel in an ebook: A Year Without Make-Up. You can also read more about her adventures on her website, Twenty-Something Travel.