Before I set out to travel the world, I made my first big move of independence from Northern Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina to attend College of Charleston. 4 years of school and bad decisions were tough and I always planned to escape my problems after graduation. Instead, I rented a bright and charming apartment in midtown that became my home for 12 years.
With no roomates, and no drama, my time there allowed me to discover who I was. I taught myself how to cook in this kitchen. I became more secure and my passion for food started to feel purposeful. Food connects people and I could now confidently open up and share something I loved with others. I created an environment people wanted to be in. My natural homebody tendencies felt accepted and I started throwing dinner parties and my kitchen table was where I built friendships, relationships, and memories. This home was my safe space. When people came to my home, I invited them into my heart.
I identified myself with my home.
Over the years, my life in Charleston started to round-out into a fulfilling life. I surrounded myself with an incredible group of friends, I was content surfing small waves, dabbled in several careers such as interior design, art gallery mangaement, and finally cooking in a restaurant.
I witnessed as Charleston grew up around me. It had become “THE TOP TRAVEL DESTINATION” in the US in too many magazine. Charleston was getting gentrified, money was coming in, pushing people out, suburban sprawl extended further, fast construction with little consideration for nature or planning started popping up everywhere, traffic got worse, flooding got worse, parking more expensive and less available. Charleston’s small town charm was evaporating at a pace quicker than you could blink and taxes went up.
It was inevitable that my rent controlled, lease-free apartment would be due for price hike. 12 years I lived in and loved that home. When I finally recieved the dreaded letter from my landlord and felt like the world was crashing down. My world, as I defined it, was my life in this home.
My mother has always been my personal sound board. I griped about my 40 minute commute, my 60 hour work week, paying for an apartment the past two years that I hardly had time to enjoy and that I would never own. Back and forth, talking in circles, I reached my Aha moment, my clarity, my resolve. “I’m 34 years old, I have no place to live, no boyfriend, no pets, no debt, $1,800 in savings. I am going to travel the world and I’ll do it alone. What’s stopping me? Why not spend a year exploring? This is the time. Right now. What the hell – I’ll do it!”
All of a sudden my world felt small and the urgency was pulsing. I needed adventure, I needed exposure, I needed experience. Years had gone by, with me captivated by travel magazines, books, and movies, uttering the perpetual and non-committal phrase of “I’d love to go there, someday.”
So, what did I do? I made the list of every place I wanted to go. I bought a world map, stuck it on the wall, looked at it every day with a large reminder when in the pits of my despair, “this is why I work!”
This is why I work!
I packed up my boxes, had a handful of emotional meltdowns, hosted the last of my dinner parties, and unloaded my stuff in my sister’s garage. Two months later, I moved into a doublewide trailer with a steady rotation of strange and sometimes horrible roomates closer to work. And like my home I just left, I knew that I needed to make this temporary space feel as much like a home as possible to keep my sanity (this skill would later come very useful when handling travel burnout).
Up to this point, I really didn’t have those experiences. I was 18 years old when I took my first flight. When I was 20, I traveled to Spain and France to visit a friend, and had a bipolar episode leaving me anxiety ridden, filled wth fear that something like that would happen again if I traveled. I went on a handful of roadtrips within the US, some successful and others not so. And overseas felt unattainable, expensive and I couldn’t wrap my head around how to do it. The desire was there, but there was never enough time, money, or fitting schedules with others to do it together. Up to this point, my only goal I had continuously set for myself was to shed 20 lbs. ( and that never seemed to stick long after New Years).
I had also never set a financial goal, nor budgeted before. Now, I had a goal. Now, I had to stay accountable. I downsized my clothes, I sold some books, my mother bought my car, and I hustled. Dog sitting, housesitting, odd jobs, organizing, cleaning, taking on overtime shifts at the restaurant, picking up more shifts at another restaurants, whatever I could do. Preparing for this journey was begining to shift my priorities and lifestyle.
I stretched my departure date from October of 2016 to April of 2017, I wanted to continue to enjoy my life and cherish my time with my friends, not feeling burdened on whether I could afford a concert or dinner. When I leaked my plans to my friends I was surprised by the great amount of support that started to come my way. My initiative to travel stirred their desires as well. They started reaching out and asking “Are you going to Ireland? Can we meet in Greece? I’d love to go to Spain!”
As I began building my dreams, they became our dreams, not only holding myself obligated to stick with something, but them as well. And this solo traveling began feeling more exciting than intimidating.
At work, I kept my mouth shut. The support wasn’t there, the respect wasn’t there – I learned that you need to know your network. Who lifts you up and who is going to shut you down. So while I had my own doubts and fears, hearing others opinions were toxic and negative. And just as expected, when the cat was let out of the bag, my boss replied “You’ll end up in the back of someone’s car.” I was determined to prove him and any other hater wrong. I had no space in my head for other peoples judgments.
I was emotional, nervous, anxious, stressed, scared, doubtful, excited, elated, empowered and somehow I could make a strong cocktail of all of them at the same time. After 17 years in Charleston, I knew it was time to move on.
And so I went!