I get this question a lot when I tell people that I spent a year in Australia. Why did you go? What made you want to go? How could you just leave everything behind? I guess the unquenchable thirst for adventure and travel isn’t a good enough explanation for most. The majority of people dream about packing up and taking off. But very few actually go through with it. They’re comfortable in the structured life that they’ve built for themselves, and that’s fine. For many, that is enough. But it never was for me. I started traveling at a young age. Not internationally, I didn’t leave the country for the first time until I was 16 when we took a trip to Cancun, Mexico. Although I have heard tell about cross-country road trips when I was just a teeny-tiny thing , I was too young to remember. But my family always made at least two annual trips, so I was used to getting away. When I was 18, I took an impromptu trip to Montreal, Canada with one of my good friends. But we only went for the night, and I was extremely drunk for most of it so unfortunately my only memories stem from a few low quality pictures. My hunger to see more, experience more, taste, live, learn more grew stronger as the years went on. My sister and I started traveling together when I was 20. It started with a few trips to California, Arizona, New Orleans, Hawaii. (I say New Orleans specifically because we didn’t go anywhere else in Louisiana.) Then they started to evolve into road trips, one through the Southern states (Maryland, the Virginias, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee). And then when she decided to take the plunge and move out to California, we made a trip of it. Taking the Southern route from New Jersey, all the way over to Los Angeles. The experience of travel is truly intoxicating, and addicting, like any other drug. But it’s the best sort of addiction, because it makes you wiser as well as humbled.
My best friend (since we were 13) and I also became active travel buddies. Starting with a trip to Las Vegas, a week in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, and then our grandest excursion of all: our first trip to Europe. This is really what broke the seal for me. We didn’t go on our own, we booked a program called EFCollege group. About 40 of us from all over the states, and one kid from Puerto Rico, ages 19-26 all flew to Madrid to meet up and take this epic journey together. We went from Madrid , Spain to Barcelona, Zaragosa, and then we ventured to Nice, France, and lastly Pisa, Florence and Rome in Italy. It was incredible! It had been my first experience staying in hostels, and exploring foreign countries (somewhat on my own.) But the program was extremely structured and we were always on a schedule. I don’t regret it, it was a great introduction to international travel, but I won’t travel with one of those programs again. That particular summer was jam-packed. I believe I took 20 separate flights within those 3 months alone. Just to give you an idea, I had been at a festival in Vermont prior to leaving for Europe. I drove back home to New Jersey, just in time to throw my suitcase together and jump in the car for the airport. When we returned to the states, I had three hours to repack my suitcase (which was all the more difficult because the Italian airport had cut my locks and replaced it with a new one, which I obviously didn’t have the keys for. So I had to cut the lock off before repacking!!!!) And then drive up to Rhode Island, to fly to Colorado in the morning. It was full-on. I was in total travel mode. I’d decided I was going to take the year off after I’d graduated to travel and “get it out of my system.” And that’s exactly what I did. I couch surfed around the states, visiting college friends and exploring their cities. I’d spend a week in Hawaii here, another week in Florida a few days later, then an impromptu trip to Italy because, what the hell! Why not! I was working as a Personal Chef at the time so I had the funds.
Needless to say, I hadn’t gotten the travel out of my system. If anything I was feeding fuel to the fire. I needed more. So I took the plunge. I booked a one-way ticket to Sydney, Australia with absolutely no plans. It was superbly exciting, but extremely daunting. But I was confident in my decision. So why did I do it, do you ask? How did I do it? Read on and I will tell you.
To Escape Complacency
This was the biggest one for me. Some people love to have a routine. To have stability. A well paying job, a nice apartment, a nice car, a close knit circle of friends. At the time, the idea of routine was suffocating me. I had a routine. I’d successfully branched off to freelance as a Personal Chef, and was building a steady clientele. I also started a small Vegan Body Care Line called: Jennabees Body. I’d started making body products as Christmas gifts, but received a lot of positive feedback and decided to create a small business. It was all coming together and I was settling. I had a decision to make, I either had to go all in and devote my time to my businesses, or back off while I still could. In a way, I dropped everything I had going for me to free-fall through life for a while. But the walls were closing in, I felt trapped. I wasn’t happy. And in this life, despite what people may tell you, happiness is the most important aspect. If you aren’t happy, you aren’t really living. And that’s the truth. Free-falling was the best decision I ever made. Because at the bottom, I landed on my feet; I hit the ground running. And for the first time, I knew which direction I wanted to head in.
No Strings Attached
Yes, I had a few clients and a small business. So in that sense, I did have some obligations. But in my mind that hadn’t been established enough that it was something I absolutely couldn’t leave behind. I considered it as something that I could come back to again, or start up in whatever place I landed. Which proved to be true. I didn’t have a boyfriend, pets, and my family is pretty scattered and not hard pressed on spending a lot of time together. In a way, I felt like nothing was there for me. At the time, I felt like no one would actually care if I took off. Which in the end, proved not to be true. And I’m very grateful to have made that discover, that I do have a wonderful support system. But it took going away for me to appreciate those who truly loved me, and to discover who really cared. If I hadn’t left. I would have taken that for granted, and continued to overlook it. I guess in a sense I had to leave it all to see what I really had. And during my journeys, I came across many “Old Nomads” as I like to call them. And their encouragement substantiated my decision. Do it while you’re young. Do it while you have no strings attached. Don’t wait until you’ve “established yourself” and had a family. Because you might lose that job, you might get a divorce. Life throws so many things at you, you can’t put it off until “someday” because more often than not, “someday” never comes. This is the hardest part: don’t worry about not having a giant heap of money. The money will come. Do side jobs, enough to get by. Settle down for a few months to work in whatever country you’re in, and you’ll be able to fun your travels. Trust me. And even though you’re working, you’re in a new country, among a new culture. And working alongside the locals is one of the best ways to really appreciate the culture.
To Gain Culinary Experience
This goes hand in hand with real world experience. Every place you go to will have a culture that is different from yours. Whether it’s a slight variation, or complete culture shock. Either way, you’ll be exposed to new things that will completely alter the way that you see the world and your place in it. Well, this is the same for my culinary career. In my opinion, the best Chefs are well traveled. It’s one thing to experiment with a different varieties of cuisines. But it’s a whole other experience when you’re submerged in the culture. Speaking to the people, learning their techniques, tasting the food that is indigenous to the area. Authenticity is key. While in Australia, I was able to work in a multitude of kitchens, with many different Chefs, with many different styles, in many different venues. Exposure cannot be learned, you need to live it.
To Find Myself
If you’re gagging at how disgustingly cliché this point is, I don’t blame you. But there’s so much truth to it. Traveling alone, in a completely foreign place was the ultimate test. Sure, I faltered. One of the most challenges things I had to face was myself. Stripped of my everyday dressings. My job, my friends, my family, my hobbies; keeping up appearances. Without all of that, it was just me. I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for it. Being totally on my own, stabilizing myself when I’d been cradled most of my life. As frustrating as it was, in the end I found that I was the happiest I’d been in my entire life. I was surrounded by likeminded people. People who understand that living free, living in the moment, is so much more important than having a good job and an obedient pawn of society. I felt so centered, so aware. The world is too big to stay in one corner of it your whole life. And I’ve left a piece of myself in every place I’d gone and fallen in love. And in return, I’ve discovered a part of myself that I never knew existed. I left America feeling a bit empty and unfulfilled. And when I returned, I’d filled in those voids with experiences, and confidence. Because I took the plunge, I went for it, and I succeeded. And if I can, anyone can.