Have you ever had a big, crazy idea that just wouldn’t go away? It starts out small – a mere pipe dream, but it persists. The idea takes shape and eventually evolves into an obsession, until it reaches the point where hardly anyone or anything could talk you out of it.
I’ve been there. Not that long ago, my husband and I hit pause on our normal lives in pursuit of a crazy dream just like that. Some would call it a mid-life crisis, a gap year for grown-ups or in more traditional terms a sabbatical.
Were there doubts in taking off at age 30 – of course, but sometimes in life you find yourself at a crossroads where you’re just nimble enough to make a big life change and just crazy enough to pull the trigger. We’d found ourselves in a unique set of circumstances – we were married but did not yet have kids, and we had just enough passive income from investments coming in to keep us afloat while we made the travel dream a reality.
At the end of the day, it all came down to priorities – by articulating that travel was at the top, it empowered us to make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. It seems that the greatest fear was from the act of leaving itself, like going over the first big drop on a rollercoaster – it’s scary leading up to it, but once you’re over the hump it’s smooth sailing.
After much debate, we did it. We gave notice at our jobs, rented out our house and left Florida on a one-way ticket to Europe. Over the course of a year and a half we visited 16 countries, hiked 500 miles across Spain and spent the winter skiing in the mountains of Colorado.
While I grew up traveling extensively, the sabbatical felt different from an ordinary vacation. We practiced the art of slow travel, attempting to “live” in each new place and experience it from a more local perspective. We opted for Airbnb’s in lieu of hotels, went to yoga and the grocery store, all while still managing to tick some major items off our bucket list.
In retrospect, I’ve sometimes asked myself why we turned our entire lives upside down to travel, trading in the comfort and stability of our normal lives in search of passport stamps, airports and foreign languages we didn’t understand.
Our goal was to travel without a plan, to immerse ourselves in other cultures and to experience wonder in new places. The unexpected result from our gap year was how much we learned about ourselves and one another. Long-term travel brings up traits you might not know that you had – resilience, a new hobby, a stronger marriage, a greater appreciation for opportunities, or even just seeing your hometown through a fresh set of eyes.
These days epic travel photos seem to be the currency of our generation. We live in an age of insatiable wanderlust, inundated daily with tailored images of the world’s most beautiful places. Once hidden corners of the globe are now at risk of overexposure, we Google GPS coordinates for the “most Instagrammable” places before we even set foot in a country, or we wait in line to take the same photo as everybody else. If we’re not careful, it can make us question why we’re going to such great lengths to travel at all.
But in reality, it’s often the travel moments that aren’t photographed that carry the most weight. We travel not for the likes or the blog posts, but to challenge ourselves, to nurture our curiosity, and to find a greater appreciation of both where we come from and this wide world that we live in.
Upon returning home, I’ve been asked many times, “Are you done traveling?”
The short answer – no. I’ll never be done traveling, and as long as I’m on this side of the ground, I never will be. To travel is to dream, and for that reason I’ll always book that next flight.