Editor’s Note: Today, I am posting the guest blog for my child hood friend Andrea Johnson. She is an adventurer, sister, friend and all around awesome person. She writes about her choice to take some time and explore the world. I hope that you all find this story as inspiring as I did.
Love & Laughs,
What makes a perfectly happy 28-year-old female with a good job, an adorable downtown apartment, great friends and loving family decide that she needs to throw it all away to travel the world? It’s a good question, and even though I happen to be that woman, I still don’t have a good answer for you.
The desire to “get away from it all” isn’t something that sneaks up on you; it’s something that is there all along, bubbling below the surface. My parents took me traveling as I was growing up and always encouraged exploration, so maybe that is what planted the seed. But somehow I don’t think so. Maybe it was something I was running away from, but I must admit that I was actually pretty happy. So that can’t be it either. I am inclined to think that it has more to do with breaking the image of perfection.
Growing up, I was always the girl who got straight A’s in school; I didn’t often get into trouble, I was dependable and reliable. I was, and still am, someone who likes organization and having a plan. I don’t like to fail. I graduated from college with a degree in Business, got a good job in banking, and continued my success into adulthood. So why run off to see the world, leaving all this behind. Wasn’t I already doing all of the things I was supposed to be doing? Why not continue checking off items on society’s How to Live a Perfectly Happy and Successful Life List?
I suppose I wanted to see if I could do it: go from earning a healthy salary, drinking wine and eating tapas on the weekends with friends, coming home to my own apartment… to essentially being homeless and unemployed. This is a frightening challenge. In fact, it scared the shit out of me. Here I am, someone who likes plans and certainty: “why are you not putting a down payment on a house? Why not move up in the company, take that promotion? Why not think about long-term relationships and marriage?” I asked myself. But a little voice inside me said, “just go.”
And I listened.
I quit my job, gave notice at my apartment, and got a storage unit for anything that I couldn’t fit in my newly purchased 65-liter backpack. I sorted out a visa for Europe and then I bought a plane ticket: one-way.
The day I left, I was still doing last minute things like saying good-bye to friends and doing a final cleaning of my apartment to make sure I would get back my deposit. In retrospect, I think I subconsciously did this on purpose. I stayed so busy that I didn’t give myself time to think too hard about everything… or change my mind.
When I was finally ready to leave, I headed to my mother’s house and hefted my backpack into the backseat so she and my father could drive me to the airport. I went around the other side of the car to get in myself and everything hit me. I started to cry and panic. I couldn’t help it. Tears streamed down my face and my emotions got caught in my throat, choking me.
Luckily, mothers have the amazing habit of knowing just what to do at the right time to make everything better. Without me saying a word, she came over and hugged me. Then my father put his hand on my back, too. We stood like that for quite a while before my mom looked me in the eye and told me that it was okay to feel what I was feeling; it was okay to be afraid. She reminded me that something deep inside me, something I didn’t really understand myself, was telling me to go. And I needed to listen.
Now when I think about that moment—a moment that seems so far away—I think two things: Firstly, I laugh that I was so scared. Once you take that initial jump, the journey is so much easier. Traveling the world—new food, new cultures, new languages, new challenges every day—is not as hard as it seems. And secondly, I am thankful. I am thankful that my mother could be so brave to send her daughter off into the big, wide world; that she could be strong for both of us, setting her own fears aside to help me face mine.
In the past two years I have been in twenty-two countries on five continents. As I write this, I am sitting in a hostel on the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand, and I have at least five more countries to go before I look at settling somewhere. I have climbed to the top of Machu Picchu and felt closer to religion than I ever had before; I rode a camel through the desert in Morocco at sunset; I mushed my own team of sled dogs through the Arctic wilderness under the northern lights in Norway; I have swam in seas and oceans and rivers and lakes and had more tan lines come and go than I can count. I have fallen in and out of love, made new friends, and strengthened friendships I already had.
(Wat Chiang Man; Chiang Mai, Thailand)
(Dog sledding in Tromsø, Norway)
(Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand)
I have lived. And I have proven to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to.
I know I won’t travel forever. I am not the type of person that wants to be a permanent nomad, I still have too much desire for structure and plans and stability pumping through my veins for that. I have not found the “answer” to life by traveling; all of my problems or concerns have not vanished into thin air. When I decide to stop, I will still face the same questions everyone does: where to live, where to work, how to cultivate relationships with friends, family and my community. But traveling has given me strength and the knowledge that I can face every challenge as it arises. It’s okay to take the route that wasn’t planned: it may seem scary at the beginning, but the journey can be truly wonderful.
(Erg Chebbi sand dunes; Sahara Desert, Morocco)