Over the last four weeks, I have straddled the equator line, zip-lined through a rainforest on the edge of the Amazon, and climbed to 15,780 feet above sea level on Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. I took 80 hours of intensive Spanish, learned how to make Ecuadorian soup with shrimp and plantain "meatballs," and had my first fluid and coherent conversation in another language.
But six months ago, I was sitting in a cubicle at a desk job in relative misery, anxious, heartbroken and depressed. So let me start from the beginning.
I went to college at Northeastern University, a school I immediately fell in love with because of its co-operative education program: an opportunity to spend six months working full-time in your field in between academic semesters. As an avid writer with my heart set on a journalism career, I knew the key to success in my field was gaining all the clips and experience I could get.
So over five years, I participated in three co-ops – at a small neighborhood newspaper, an IT media company, and for The Boston Globe’s Boston.com. On the side, I co-founded and helped run the Northeastern chapter of Her Campus and was in charge of the extensive tour guide program at my university. I was career-driven and determined to write as much as I could. I even gave up a traditional semester abroad (which I was dying to do) because I wouldn't have been able to interview for a senior year co-op position.
As the end of my college years loomed, I used my co-op connections to my advantage and started a job immediately after graduation at TechTarget, the IT media company where I'd done my second co-op. A few months later, a nightlife blogging position opened at Boston.com, and I took the blog on as my second job.
I worked meticulously at both jobs for a year. Don't get me wrong -- I was incredibly thankful for my jobs. I knew how lucky I was to be employed not just by one employer, but two. But in the span of that year, I'd faced two rough heartbreaks and was feeling antsy and anxious. I couldn't believe this was "it" - the rest of my life. I wanted to travel and see the world, and I felt stuck and depressed.
Everyone told me to wait it out. "First jobs are never perfect; the adjustment to the real world is really hard," they'd say. "Heartbreak just heals with time." But I knew it was something more than that.
So I started brainstorming and saving every penny I could, adding it to the savings account I’d built up over the last several years. I dreamed of a trip to Europe, a re-location to NYC. I contemplated applying for other jobs, even moving back home to Los Angeles. But in May, the stars aligned. One of my best friends from high school, who had been living in Chile for just over two years, was quitting her job in Santiago to relocate to NYC. Before she left, she was hoping to do some traveling through South America. Her sister was also quitting her job and starting graduate school in the fall, so the three of us made plans for a jaunt to Argentina and Uruguay.
With shaky hands and tears in my eyes, I took a huge risk – one that many people warned me against – and gave my boss my two weeks notice. It was one of the hardest and best things I have ever done.
My father’s proudest moment was when I, his only daughter, graduated from university. But not because I finally had a diploma in hand. It was because I graduated with a job offer, and he knew that I wasn’t one of the many recent grads who would be forced to move back home and desperately seek work. I was employed, and to him, that was success. So you can imagine his reaction when I told him I wanted to throw all of that away to go see the world. Thankfully, my Mom was a little more supportive. She understood the depression and frustration I was going through, and though she wanted me to remain on the same continent, she understood I was feeling restless.
That being said, I’ve always been independent. I moved across the country at the age of 18, and have been living on my own for six years. I knew my parents would love me no matter what, and so despite my father’s disappointment, I took the risk.
I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t say one of their life goals is to travel and see the world. But how many people really do just that? How many people quit their jobs, leave their worldly possessions, pick up their lives, and just go? Too few.