Choose Your Own Adventure

A whole lot can change in six months.  I am proof of that.

It was not long ago that I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working at one company for five years, and spending all my free time with a very large family and tight-knit friend group.

Now I am in Northern Ireland, in the house of a man I met four months ago in Portugal, keeping warm by the wood stove while we plan our move to Australia together.

This isn’t what I had expected or hoped for when I left to travel around the world… it is much, much better.  In the last six months, my life has gone in a direction I never would’ve been able to take it had I not relinquished control and taken some big leaps of faith.

Ever since I decided to take a solo international trip, I have had people say “I am dying to do something like that!” or “God, I could never do that!” or “Maybe I can fit in a trip abroad in 2017.”  People love to remark on how different my possibilities are than the ones they perceive for themselves.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but I said the same thing last year.  And the year before.  And the year before.  I said it out of fear for the unknown and I said it because it was a lot easier to dismiss the idea than allow my life to change in a way I couldn’t control.  At some point, though, I realized that I should not be bored at age 28 and that I wouldn’t have the freedom to explore the world forever.  So I got on a plane.

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During these months of travel, I’ve learned a lot about ways you can incorporate adventure into your life and they don’t all involve a drastic change like mine.  They don’t all involve tens of thousands of dollars.   They don’t all involve giving up every aspect of your normal, comfortable life.  There are so many ways to shake things up – both big and small.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the first step towards any change is the absolute hardest.  But it’s incredible how your entire life shifts once you take one step closer to being the person you hope to be.  So for all you saying, “I wish I could,” “I’m not as brave as you,” and “I could never,” I dare you to keep an open mind while reading this.  I have compiled my insights and ideas here for anyone who is itching for a little adventure in their own life.

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If you have the travel bug: here are some ways you may be able to incorporate some adventure into your life.

And, just to help you put this section in perspective, when I was deciding between a new job and travel, I asked one employer how they would feel about my resume (CV) if it had a big gap without work and full of travel. He said, “You would be an even more attractive candidate because being culturally aware and culturally interested translates so well to any role in the business world. You can’t teach that quality and it’s incredibly valuable.” So, if you really needed another excuse to become a more well-traveled person, feel free to use my example or to reference this article.

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    You can make an office anywhere. This one was in France.

    Ask your employer if you can work from a different location for a month (or longer). Sure, many people won’t be able to even ask this, but if it might be an option for you, why not just ask? If they say yes, you can move anywhere you’d like for that time and experience a different country or state without anything to lose.  (Once you show your interest in travel, you will likely come up in management’s mind as a person who might be interested in opportunities in other markets if they come up.)

    • Airbnb makes doing something like this so easy.  Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit and work from there for as long as you can.  All you really need is working WiFi (which is tough to come by in a lot of places, so make sure you do your research) and a good place to focus, which could be a coffee shop near the place you’re staying.
  • Take unpaid leave. Or combine your vacation time with unpaid leave. Two week’s vacation isn’t enough for you to feel relaxed and to really experience a different culture with open eyes.  Taking a month or longer can offer so much more if it’s an option for you.
  • Become a consultant.   Easier said than done, I know, but I am including it!  I met a man who had been living abroad for two years – moving every three months or so and working as a software engineer.  He was in Bali when we met and is heading to India soon.
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    Steam-cleaning a wine tank on a vineyard in Provence

    If you don’t have much money saved but you want a big trip, try Couchsurfing or WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).  So many travelers use these tools to get them around the world for months at a time.  They are both fantastic ways to experience the world for free.  Both have networks all over and are focused on offering you something experiential and culturally-rich.

    • One girl I met had Couchsurfed around Europe for 2 months straight.  It’s super social – you end up cooking dinner with the people hosting you, so you are having a great local meal but you aren’t paying for accommodation.  I think it has the reputation of being the option for the dirtiest of dirty hippies, but all of the people I’ve met who had done this were pretty clean-looking to me.  I am still hoping to try it sometime.
    • With farming, I did my own version of this when I ended up working for almost two weeks on a vineyard in Provence.  It was one of my favorite experiences of my months of travel.  I so enjoyed working somewhere other than in an office and felt great learning how to do physical labor.  You also bond with the land in a very unique way, that’s for sure.
  • Find a new job in a new place.  Escape the City is a site built by former London finance guys who couldn’t stand the 80-hour weeks, so they quit and started something worthwhile.  It’s a job-searching tool for non-corporate opportunities.  Their listings are over the world – both paid and volunteer,  including many opportunities in South America and Africa. It’s worth a look, or sign up for their weekly newsletter which has a few of the top postings for that week.
  • If your company has opportunities in other cities or countries, make an appointment with HR and find out if and how you might be considered for one of them.
  • If none of these seem do-able, find someone well-traveled and ask them to coffee. Explain your situation and ask them for advice – sometimes other people can see your life more clearly than you can see it yourself. (Or feel free to shoot me a note – maybe I can help!) Write down ideas or steps you can take towards incorporating travel into your life in a bigger way and start at the top of the list.  One step at a time.
Thailand's off-season was a little gray, but stunning nonetheless.

Thailand’s off-season was a little gray, but stunning nonetheless.

For once you’re closer to actual travel, I have some other learnings I wanted to share…

  • Go in the off-season.  You’d be amazed how much cheaper it is and, in many locations, it isn’t drastically different enough that you can’t experience many of the same things.  Figure out the places you most want to see, set price alerts and see what you find.  You might be amazed how far your money will get you when you aren’t competing with so many other travelers.
  • Check flight patterns. There are so many tools to use for this, but try searching for flights on a wide set of dates.  I always use Kayak’s + or – 3 day tool when booking flights.  I may not end up booking through their site, but I can see the cheapest options near the dates I hope to travel.  Then I usually go directly to the airline’s website to book flights.
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Iceland

  • Use your layovers. I only visited Iceland because my flight to London stopped there.  I happened to search the same trip but leaving 48 hours on my stopover in Reykjavik.  A lot of airlines won’t charge you more for stopping over.  For example, Iceland Air allows you to add up to 7 days in Reykjavik at no additional charge.
    • Right now I am on a “multi-destination” trip that took me from Bali to Dublin to Sydney with one month in Dublin.  I know – it’s ridiculous.  However, I never would have been able to come here if I hadn’t booked it this way.  The flights cost me hundreds less this way.
  • Don’t plan everything.  I really can’t stress this enough.  If you’re taking a vacation or trying to sightsee on a trip, figure out the absolute most important things you want to do, places you want to eat, etc.  Then only do those and leave the rest open.  TripAdvisor is an excellent tool, but so much magic comes from letting things happen organically.  Most of my favorite travel memories never would have occurred if I had tried to control what I was doing all the time.
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Leaving things unplanned led me to one of my favorite places I have ever been – San Sebastian, Spain

  • Find productive ways to save.  Don’t have the travel money you want?  Try putting the money you normally spend on clothes shopping into your savings account.  Or give up drinking alcohol and pocket that money for a future trip.  Really, really serious?  Move in with your parents if you can and save on rent.  You’ve got to prioritize it if you really want to do it.

IMG_9202If travel isn’t your main goal, but you want to spice your life up: 

I was in such a rut last year – tired and bored and uninspired.  It was only once I started playing with the idea of quitting my job to travel by myself that I started getting my heart pounding and blood pumping again. Maybe travel isn’t your thing, but there are plenty of other ways to challenge yourself if you’re in a similar place of feeling stuck.

  • Sign up for a class. Always wanted to learn Chinese? To build a wooden table yourself? To become a certified massage therapist? There’s nothing so fulfilling as learning something new and reminding yourself that you have the ability to continue growing as a person if you chose to.
    • I signed up for Spanish and street photography class the summer before I left for my trip and they helped me get out of my rut and opened my eyes to the fact that there’s so much more I want to do, see, and learn.
    • Doing it alone is, of course, more vulnerable, but it allows you the room to take more chances too because you don’t have to act the way you normally would with your friends or family.
Suhkothai, Thailand

Suhkothai, Thailand

  • Meditate on it. Clarity of mind is so rare these days, when everyone is so busy all the time. I keep hearing about the benefits of meditation – from helping you let go of a stressful day at work to helping you get through cancer.  I believe it can also help you get clarity on things you may not know or understand consciously.
    • I had always thought of meditation as a strict practice which requires you to sit up stiffly and try to clear your mind of any thoughts. As a chronic over-thinker with restless leg syndrome a.k.a extreme fidgeting, this seemed too daunting to even attempt. Only recently have I become aware that meditation can be whatever you want it to be. I’m in the midst of trying to do a five minute meditation every day. The five minutes are sat in a comfortable chair (instead of on the floor) and instead of clearing my mind, I’m focusing on gratitude: spending five minutes finding things that I am grateful for. It’s a simple exercise, but it sets the tone for the rest of the day and will hopefully become interspersed with the rest of my life.
    • I also just started using Yoga Glo, which costs $18 a month and offers a whole array of yoga classes and guided meditations online.  It’s a great tool if you move around a lot or if you’d prefer to do meditation at your own home.  They have a 15 day free trial if you want to dip your toes into the earthy-crunchy world without committing.
  • Post-surf thaw, post-surf smile. Portush, Northern Ireland

    Post-surf thaw, post-surf smile. Portush, Northern Ireland

    Try something that scares you.  I signed up for surf camp in Portugal and spent two weeks getting tumbled over and over by the ocean.  It was so scary but absolutely excellent.  I had forgotten what it feels like to have adrenaline pumping through me.  And the adventurous spirit that it brought out in me has lived on.  Three days ago, I surfed in Northern Ireland’s freezing cold water, having no plans to do so ahead of time.  This is a great example of something I absolutely never would have thought I could do a few months ago.

    • Facing one fear makes all the others a lot less scary.  Give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself.  (Yeah that sentence sounds weird, but you get the idea.)
  • A very romantic lunch alone in Barcelona

    A very romantic lunch alone in Barcelona

    Take yourself on a date. On my first solo business trip, I remember how awkward I felt sitting down to dinner alone. It was uncomfortable, vulnerable, and I was desperate for something to do to distract myself.  Now, I’ve been to hundreds of meals alone and I love it.  I do some of my best thinking during these moments.

    • Why go through life trying to distract yourself from yourself?  Go to a meal, a movie, on a trip, whatever…. just do it alone!  It’s empowering to be comfortable on your own and I suggest everyone makes it a priority.  It will only help you get more in touch with your feelings and desires, which will, in turn, improve the quality of your close relationships.
  • Make a 1 Second Everyday video.  I started using this app 10 days into my trip and it had a huge impact for me.  It links to your phone’s photo album and pulls each video from a single calendar day.  You select your favorite 1 second clip from each day and link together a string of days so that they create a more active scrapbook.
    • Doing it will force you to find a moment of your day that you think is worth taping.  And if it sucks, you’ll be more likely to find a better one the next day.  It becomes a motivating challenge to figure out which moment to show for each day.  Here is one of mine to give you an idea..
  • It ain't cooked, Bali, Indonesia.

    It ain’t cooked, Bali, Indonesia.

    Create a Challenge A Day.  In Bali, my little group of friends did this.  They’d go around the table at breakfast and assign each person their own personal challenge for that day.  Some were silly and some where serious, but they were all things we wouldn’t normally do.  Here are some ideas:

    • Ask 5 people a personal question – it could be a close friend.  Get to know them better in a real, vulnerable way.
    • If you’re single, approach a person you think is attractive and ask them a question.
    • Do a handstand.  Set a mileage or time goal for a run.  Try something physical that’s out of the ordinary for you.
    • Don’t say anything negative about your {fill in the blank with whatever body part you normally obsess about} for 24 hours.  I have an issue with my love handles.  You might hate your hair.  Whatever it is, don’t talk about it or think about it for a whole day.
    • Go to three new shops, restaurants, or parks.  Get to know your hometown better and find new things within it.
    • Eat raw and vegan for a day.  It’s only one day.
  • Leave your phone at home. This is something I had to get used to in Southeast Asia because people would grab iPhones out of your hands or pickpocket you, so it wasn’t safe to carry your phone around with you. Instead, I’d put $20 and a room key in my pocket. Without my phone, my nights out like this felt so different – I’d be more relaxed, more present, more engaged. It was hard to miss photo opportunities or to try and figure out where I was without my map sometimes, but it forced me to be more resourceful and was a nice reminder to myself that I am capable of living without being constantly available to anyone and everyone.
    • As an added bonus, if you’re single and out without the ability to scroll through your Instagram feed, you might even notice the people around you. You might even talk to one of them. Crazy concept, I know.

Those are my two-cents.  I know there is a wide variety in there, but even trying one little thing might help lead to bigger things for you.  Things I haven’t thought of.  Not feeling inspired?  Write your own ideas down somewhere and see what you come up with.  I don’t know you or your situation, but I hope this list, at the very least, sparked some ideas.

And if you’re still feeling like it’s just not possible for you to live the life you want, don’t blame your job, your significant other, your dog, your kids, or your lack of savings – it’s your responsibility to make a life you’re proud of and excited about.  You can always put up roadblocks and talk yourself out of things, but if you continue to, nothing will change.

IMG_0917And if you still want to say, “Well Charlotte, it’s easy for you to say all this, you have x, y, and z and I don’t.”  Well, maybe that’s true, or maybe I’m just using the things I do have to their full extent (keeping in mind that your version of “the full extent” may be entirely different from mine).

It’s a lot easier to play victim than it is to take action.  I get it.  I did it too.  But only once you can accept the situation you’re in, can you find ways to work with it and enrich your life in whatever way possible.

When you finally do step out of your comfort zone, the universe has a way of surprising you and showing you what you’ve been missing.  I only hope more people get to find this out firsthand.  It’s given me a lust for life that I hadn’t thought possible before I left.

I’d love to hear other ideas for ways to spice things up or to incorporate travel more easily into one’s life.  What do you do to stay inspired?  To live authentically?  To challenge yourself?

3 replies »

  1. Thanks Charlotte for the great ideas and inspiration!! We moved to CO for 5 months to make a change and it’s the best thing we have ever done. I joined YogaGlo and love it! There’s always something there for whatever type of day I am having. The one thing that I have been doing is to “do the opposite”. I remind myself of it everyday. So instead of getting up and heading right to my laptop with a cup of coffee (which makes me feel “blah” the moment I wake up), I take my coffee in a travel mug and I walk my dogs to where we can see the sunrise (laptop work can wait). And I have reduced my to-do list significantly. I get done what I need to and then I do something that I have never done before. Life has become so exciting and stress-free
    again! Thanks for sharing your experiences – they have helped me to engage fully in our changes here. Safe travels!

    Liked by 1 person

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