Personal, Travel Motivation / Updated on

How Traveling the World Helped Me Turn My Life Around

Travel has a way of teaching. In the past year, I’ve come to realize that traveling is what helped me to turn my life around.

Travel has a way of teaching. In the past year, I’ve come to realize that traveling is what helped me to turn my life around.

Since I’ve been taking a little bit of time off from traveling, I’ve had a chance to sit still and to ponder a lot of the hows and whys of how I got to where I am today. It’s been a complicated, but fulfilling six years of travel, and looking back, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come.

The truth is that I was a nightmare of a child. Even well into my twenties, I had a knack for getting into trouble.

Between high school and college, I attended six different schools.

It’s not that I traveled a lot, or that my parents moved for work, it’s that I couldn’t stop getting kicked out of school. I was a smart kid (I ultimately graduated with cum laude distinction), but something about the rigidity of the schooling system just didn’t work for me.

I was different and the “system” couldn’t meet my needs. I was bored and desperate for something more, so I rebelled. Looking for ways to fulfill myself, all I did was end up getting into trouble.

Enjoying the views on the island of Santorini

Enjoying the views on the island of Santorini

I graduated from college (remarkably) in the middle of the recession, and short-term contracts were the only thing I could find. I worked the 9-5 lifestyle for just under a year before deciding that the professional workforce just wasn’t for me. So I flew to the other side of the world.

Looking back at it all, I don’t exactly have a track record of sticking around.

Six years later not much has changed. I’ve been to more than 30 countries and I still can’t even answer the question, “Where do you live?” (which, I’ll be honest, is kind of annoying). But I’ve learned to adapt, and I relish the alternative path that I ended up taking. It transformed me, and I now live a life that’s full of possibility.

A lot happened in those six years of travel. I didn’t just grow up, but I turned my life around. Whereas I was once just spinning my wheels, traveling the world gifted me an extraordinary opportunity to grow.

I Changed My Definition of “Normal”

The fact is, I’ve always been one to reject the status quo and I’ve always seen the world a little bit differently than the rest of my peers. I never quite fit in, and though I struggled with that for many years, I’ve not only become okay with it, but I’ve learned to truly love that about myself, and wholeheartedly embrace it.

From an early age, my “problem” was that my personality didn’t mesh with the idea of what normal life was supposed to look like. Society and other people told me that who I was was wrong.

But there is nothing wrong with me—my mother was good at making sure I knew that. I was just different, and hell, I still am. Nothing about this life I’m living fits the definition of normal.

In the past six years, since I started traveling, I’ve completely changed my definition of “normal.” Having seen the world, I recognize that there is really no such thing. I gave my myself the life I needed, rather than forcing myself to conform to the life that everybody else wanted me to have.

Manto de la Novia in Baños, Ecuador

Manto de la Novia in Baños, Ecuador / Photo credit: Brendan van Son

I Learned Lessons the Hard Way

Traveling the world became the platform for me to learn life lessons that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to learn. When you continue to make the same mistakes time and time again, as I did, the lessons obviously aren’t sticking.

The things I learned while traveling were framed in a way that I could understand them. Alone on the other side of the world, life lessons become intensified. You need an “all in” mentality to deal with the hardships because without it, you are in every sense of the word, royally, monumentally, unquestionably fucked.

Your sense of survival is quite literally the only thing keeping you alive. You are left to your own devices, and if you fail to support or nurture yourself in the way your mind and body needs, there is nobody else there to do it for you. There is no backup plan—there is you in the world, and you learn that the world can be a very unforgiving place.

I Built a Small Business

When I left home at 24, I hardly understood credit and I definitely didn’t understand the value of a dollar. I was reckless. I spent $9,000 in two months backpacking the East coast of Australia like it was nothing. But then I was broke, and real life hit me like a bag of cinderblocks. I had to figure something out.

My mother offered to pay for my flight home, but despite being broke and alone, I declined. The way I saw it, I got myself into the mess, so it was up to me to get myself out. And I got to work.

That work fueled a fire in me. I was forced to find a way to make money in an unfamiliar environment—I had to figure out how to make something from nothing. I learned how easy it is to spend a dollar and how difficult it is to make one.

Since then, I’ve worked my way through multiple countries, and I’ve built an online business that lets me work from anywhere in the world. I partner with awesome travel companies like Traveloka, which means part of my job description includes staying in amazing hotels and doing cool stuff all over the world.

I would never have had the discipline to do this six years ago. In a way, I was forced into it, but I learned that, especially given my track record, working for anyone other than myself simply wasn’t an option.

Exploring Brussels, Belgium

Exploring Brussels, Belgium

I Ditched the Idea of Entitlement

As a white kid from the suburbs, I grew up with a sense of entitlement. I had a comfortable childhood that I took for granted. Solo travel put me in a place, mentally, where I had to come to terms with what I had, and most importantly, what I definitely wasn’t owed.

Nobody in the world owes me a thing, and coming to terms with that was probably the hardest lesson I had to learn. Whatever I got, I earned. I worked hard to survive (literally). Some days, I barely scraped by with a grilled cheese sandwich and a hard boiled egg for dinner.

But you know what? I earned that grilled cheese sandwich, and I’m proud of it.

I learned that, given who I am, I’m going to have to work harder than most to get the same things. And when you’re out there on your own, it doesn’t really matter what your neighbor has. It matters what you have, and it matters how comfortable you are with how much, or how little, that amounts to be.

It’s funny because most people think the past six years of my life were part of an extended vacation. To be honest, for a while, that’s what I thought it was, too (and it was, at times). But all-in-all, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Traveling has taught me to grow up. At times it was more than difficult, but I’m thankful for each and every single lesson I learned along the way—I am the man I am today because of it.

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