Because my friends are so amazing, and know I am trying to save as much money as possible for my trip, they came together and bought me a ticket to Chicago to visit them before I leave! And visit I did. It was only a long weekend, and the weather was arctic, but I had a great time. Here are a few pics from my day of site-seeing...what a beautiful city!
Today I officially submitted my two weeks notice. Wow, this is actually happening! It was more difficult then I thought to sit my boss down and explain to him my decision, but in the end he was incredibly understanding, even expressing his jealousy at my travel opportunities. Of course, I promised not to check out, and to do my best to help onboard my replacement and make this a smooth transition. I truly like my boss and this agency, so I want to make sure I am not burning any bridges as I go. Who knows, maybe one day I will decide to return. Or, I could try for a job in one of Digitas' overseas offices! It has been a roller coaster of ups and downs during my time here, but I've taken every bit of it in, learned a lot and am confident and sure about my next move.
2013 is a year unlike any that have come before it, and so considering my resolutions for the year has been no small task. I have taken some time and feel like I have narrowed it down to 5 strong and accomplish-able goals.
1 - Keep an Open Mind and Open Heart My journey will certainly change my perspective on the world. I would be lying if I said I carried no preconceived notions or even prejudices about different cultures. I vow to keep an open mind and an open heart and accept people for who they are. This will not be a huge change for me since this is how I prefer to live day-to-day, but next year will be different because I will be outside of my element, immersed in unfamiliar cultures. My goal will be to take it all in and love every bit of it for what it is.
2 - Be Cautious Enough, While Still Being Relaxed and Having Fun A balancing act to say the least. I am traveling alone for the first time in my life to places I have never been. In most of the countries I will be visiting I will not speak the language and know very little about the culture. Everything will be unfamiliar so I must demonstrate a certain level of caution. However, I also want to embrace the culture and people around me and take advantage of every experience that comes my way. This will require a certain level of balance on my part. I don't want to be the scared little tourist always looking over her shoulder. I want to blend in to daily life (as well as any westerner can), while still keeping my head on my shoulders and knowing that while I would like to see the best in everyone, there are plenty of people able and willing to show me their ugly sides. I've gotten a lot of practice in this balancing act living in NYC, but it time to really flex my muscles.
3 - Breath This resolution holds a couple of meanings for me. First, as much as I like to deny it, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I expect a lot of myself and a lot of the people around me. I must accept that things WILL NOT go as planned every step of my travels. If something does not work out like I thought it would, it is not a tragedy, and I cannot freak out and derail myself further. I must take a deep breadth and move on, productively. A missed flight, or lost luggage, or whatever else may happen is not the end of the world.
Secondly, I really want to try meditation, and I will be in the perfect place for it during the first half of my trip! My goal will be to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. Just close my eyes and reflect internally on everything I am feeling and experiencing. There are going to be a lot of new sights, smells, sounds, tastes, pains, and emotions swirling around me 24/7. It will be a nice release to take some time to myself to process how I am feeling both physically and mentally.
4 - Take Advantage of the Opportunity You Have Been Given and GO FOR IT! There are so many people that would love to be in my place right now, but I am the one who has saved and planned and am taking the leap. I vow to take advantage of every minute, every opportunity, and never take anything for granted. Never say never, and never say no...unless it involves eating insects (sorry - just never going to happen) or is something that is really stupid and dangerous :)
5 - Discover What I Am Most Passionate About and Follow That Passion Furiously I do not know how this trip will change me. I am hoping it will change my perspective on the world, and that somewhere along the way I will discover what makes me tick. I am really sick of blindly following the rules of life, working over 40 hours a week in a career I'm not happy with. I hope that I not only find what I am truly passionate about, but that I have the courage to follow my passion wherever it may lead me. The year ahead will be a spring board into whatever future I choose. By 2014 I want to be on the track to the life I was always meant to lead.
It is the time of year to reflect on ones past and dream of future accomplishments. For me, this will indeed be a life changing year, full of adventures and experiences I've only dreamed of up to this point. Now that my trip is a little over a month away I am buzzing with excitement, anticipation, and a hint of nervousness. But it is more important now then ever to pause, take a deep breadth and reflect on everything that has gotten me to this point, the places I've been and the lessons learned over the years that have prepared me for whats ahead.
A New Start I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I truly believe this is the ideal time in my life to take the leap to a life of travel. From the time I graduated high school I have made a few big jumps. From New Jersey I moved to Orlando, FL for college, and after 4 years jumped to NYC to start my career. And, OK, it's only been two moves, and I have actually been in NYC longer than expected, a staggering 6 years, but I felt the itch to move on 2 years ago. I've come to call it the "4-year itch." The important thing I've learned from this is to not ignore this feeling of restlessness and become complacent because the move seems to hard or scary. Take chances on new experiences, even if it means uprooting your life and going somewhere where you may not know anyone, and everything is new. It's a fresh start, and your friends in your old home will still be your friends if your bond is true and strong. I met some of the best friends I will ever have while I was in Florida, but when the 4-year itch hit I made the choice to leave it all behind for the excitement of living and working in NYC - one of the greatest cities in the world. I've loved it here, and hated it, but I will never regret it. And, I get to take a nice vaca to Florida each year to see my lifelong buddies! I've made some pretty amazing friends here in New York as well, but 2 years ago when the itch hit, I started stashing money away for a year long trip that was still only a dream. I guess the lesson here is: your friends will always be your friends, no matter where you are in the world.
Career Many people ask me if I worry about leaving my job during this turbulent economic time. The answer is a resounding and definite NO. I have had my ups and downs working for 5 different companies over the past 7 years. I've worked in one of the most demanding industries and cities in the world and been beaten down far more then I've been built up, but again, I do not regret any of it. It has taught me to stand up for myself, and to communicate appropriately in various situations. I now value my health, well-being, and happiness over anything else, which has led to the choice to travel. Even though I am working for a great company, with excellent benefits, and an opportunity for promotion and advancement, I can still be secure in saying that the move I am making is the right move for me. My experience and knowledge is not going to go away because I take a year off. I am going to leave my company the right way, and will hopefully have the opportunity to return, if that is what I want. I love the idea of leaving my options open, because who knows what doors will open for me next year. I'm confident in my skills, and I know I am a hard worker and things will work out.
Finances Finances have also been an area of curiosity when I tell people about my plans. How do you afford to quit your job and travel a year? Well, for the past 2.5-3 years I have been putting $50-$125 away each month into a travel fund. I was doing this before my travel plans were even set. I knew it was a dream of mine to be able to one day check "travel the world" off my bucket list. Its not hard to save if you are really determined; there are plenty of places to cut spending. Mine came from buying less clothes, bringing my lunch to work instead of eating out every day, cutting back on bars and drinking (A night in with the girls and a couple of bottles of wine is just as fun!), and cable (I have actually thoroughly enjoyed not having cable over the past 2 years - sure you sometimes feel out of touch, but there is so much garbage and bad news on TV these days). Where I failed was reining in my spending on trips/vacations and self-improvement (a.k.a - $30/class bootcamp). I racked up quite a bill on my 0% credit card, which I eventually had to dip into my travel fund to pay off. Its hard to call this a mistake though, because if I had to overspend on anything I am glad it was experiences instead if things. I also was able to rent my apartment a couple of months early, and I have made arrangements to sleep on friends couches, so I am saving almost my entire pay check for two months. Between what I have managed to save, and my tax return I should be in good shape with $10k-12k. I am also resolved to take out a small loan if I need it, and will see what I can do to earn money and save money along the way. If you want something bad enough, you will make it happen.
Family The final area for reflection is an important one: family. We may not be perfect, but who is? Still, my parents have been married for 32 years, I get along incredibly well with my 2 brothers, and sister-in-law (who is practically my sister), and then there is the addition of my adorable little niece back in May. I love that I have a close knit family, but it has definitely caused a bit of hesitation as I planned my travels. There's the fear of: What if? What if I miss something important? I will be gone for the holidays, the family reunion, and summer at the beach house. My niece will turn 1-year old, start to walk and talk without me. My brother will graduate with his MBA and get an amazing job. My Grandmothers' are both aging, and there is a fear that god-forbid I may miss their final years. Many people who are close to their families feel this guilt and fear, and mistakenly think that only those with broken relationships can just leave everything behind. It's not true. It has been a difficult decision to make, but in the end I have to do whats right for me, right now, and my family will understand and support me because they are family and that's what we do. It took a little while to get my parents used to the idea that their little (29 year old) girl is going to venture out on her own, into a scary and unknown world. They are not world travelers, so I understand their concern and appreciate their worries. I have had to talk to them many times, assuring them they have raised a capable, independent and intelligent woman, that I have done my research on each location, will keep my wits about me and will call or contact them whenever possible along the way. I look forward to taking them along my journey through this blog and my pictures, proving that the world is not as scary as the media makes it out to be. I have also had to make peace with the fact that I may not see my nieces 'firsts', but there is always video and pictures, and I will be making skype appointments along the way for sure. I will also be collecting a trinket from each country I visit to gift to my niece when I return. That way she will know her Auntie traveled the world, thinking about her all the way, and if she chooses, she can do it too! Even harder to bear, is thinking that I may miss my Grandmothers' 'lasts'. Its a horrifying thought, but I have fond memories of them both, and I know they have had their own adventures and are supportive of mine. And hopefully I will be sharing all of my amazing photos and adventures with them when I return.
The take away to all of this is that the only thing keeping you from traveling is you. So many people, when they hear about what I am doing, say they wish they could do the same. It's possible, if you are willing to take the leap.