In December 2019, I took off for an eight-month extended trip around the world. My plan was to spend two months each in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Greece, the Balkans, and Romania, with jaunts in Italy, Bulgaria, and possibly Latvia. I spent the year prior to my departure eagerly anticipating my travels, not planning too much because I wanted to see how the trip would unfurl if I decided to go with the flow. This mindset undoubtedly ended up saving me thousands of dollars and huge headaches when trying to deal with cancellations. But there was no way I could know that at the time. I couldn’t wait to slowly travel while I wrote the book I’d wanted to write since I was a child. Several things went awry from the very beginning.
- Eight months before my departure, I injured my neck and needed spinal fusion surgery. The surgery resulted in debilitating acute and then chronic pain. I needed in-depth, consistent physical therapy treatments and the health insurance to pay for them, as well as daily pain medication.
- I was unable to keep my job long enough to save as much money as I’d hoped. I made the mistake of telling my employer that I was going to leave – but it was way too far in advance. Once I hurt myself, I had to leave when they decided, even though I strongly preferred to continue working while pursuing treatments to heal my chronic pain. I was idealistic in caring more about my project than my myself; once they knew I was planning to leave, I couldn’t take it back as they had already recruited someone to take my place.
- I was unable to rent out or sell my condo due to chronic, unresolved issues related to shoddy building construction. I had to pay a mortgage without a paycheck, watching my hard-earned savings go towards paying an empty, leaking unit.
- COVID-19 hit and my travel plans ground to a halt. I was in Indonesia when the world effectively shut down, leaving me alone and unsure of what to do next.
At every step, and during each crisis, I could have acted differently, more cautiously, more responsibly – driven by fear and anger. I could still be in Washington, DC, in my old job or with a new DC-based organization. I could be living in my condo with a roommate to help me pay the mortgage, going religiously to physical therapy, still reliant on painkillers – trapped in a place and body that I resented.
Instead, I chose to take a chance at every step of the way.
- Although my neck and back were still a huge source of daily pain, I decided to travel anyway. I took a month’s worth of medication with me, promising myself that I would find an alternative way to manage my pain once I ran out. I attended an in-depth course promoting spiritual awakening, developed a daily meditation practice, received a certification in Gua Sha therapy, started taking kratom and magnesium for my pain, and got frequent massages. I’m convinced that my stressful job was a huge contributor to my pain, so taking a break really helped. When I traveled, I paid people to carry my bags for me and went slowly when I had to move heavy things. I still have pain flare ups, but I no longer rely on pharmaceutical painkillers to address them.
- I left my job and fully committed to writing my book. I could have actively pursued finding another full-time job or even part-time consulting, but that would have been motivated by of fear. Instead, I spent my time drafting a manuscript and editing it, something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I wrote 164,000 words in five months, taking the chance to try something completely new, despite the risk of failure. I decided that if I wasn’t going to try and make money in my “normal” field, that I would ensure that I was spending my savings in a way that honored my commitment to myself– investing my time in finishing and polishing my manuscript.
- I persevered in getting my condo sold and chose to let go of my desire for legal justice around it. I spent countless hours and dollars dealing with this condo. Many people told me to hold on to it as an investment for as long as I could. At some point though, it’s important to decide when it’s no longer worth it – when enough is enough. I watched my savings start to dwindle before it sold, and committed myself to returning back to the US and finding a job if it reached a certain point. I knew that as a bottom line, my desire for minimum financial stability would outweigh my desire for adventure. Luckily, the condo finally sold before I reached that point, and I’ve set new budget targets for myself. I will do everything I can to get my book published, while also being financially responsible.
- I chose to stay overseas even though the world was shutting down for COVID-19. I was in Thailand when COVID-19 was sweeping through China. I watched closely as the disease started spreading in the US and Europe, terrified that I would get stuck somewhere without adequate healthcare. I wandered the beach in Indonesia, considering doomsday scenarios where ATMs ran out of money, all restaurants and hotels closed, and the government decided to put me in a quarantine concentration camp. In late March, none of us knew how events would unfold. I joined Facebook groups full of people hypothesizing about what might happen and people desperate to travel home. It felt like a giant door was closing on those of us who chose to stay overseas. Every day I wondered if I was making the wrong decision by staying in Indonesia. As the world settled into its new normal and cases skyrocketed in the US, I finally became convinced that I’d made the right decision. On a tiny island in Indonesia, I was able to live a relatively normal life. There were no reported cases, so social distancing wasn’t as necessary. I have had regular access to the beach, a private pool villa at a fraction of the normal cost, and delicious, cheap fresh food. I took a risk by going against the recommendations of the State Department, but it’s been the best decision I could have made.
I didn’t end up going to 6+ countries over my eight months of travel, and have instead spent six months in Indonesia alone – almost five months on an island so small that you can walk the perimeter in an hour and a half. I’ve been able to focus on finishing my manuscript, regaining physical fitness, making friends, and even dating. In fact, I may never leave!
Sometimes things go entirely the opposite of how you planned, and how to react to this upheaval is completely unclear. Uncertainty is scary, because possibilities are endless. But endless possibilities also offer us the opportunity for miracles. When we are faced with uncertainty, we should try and accept it, follow our hearts, do something even though it scares us, and embrace a life that is different than what we imagined. Amazing things can happen when we least expect them!