Exactly one year ago, I found myself seriously facing the decision to either follow my newly-found passion for traveling, or pay rent. I couldn’t do both, because I literally only had enough money for one or the other. Since it had taken me twenty seven years to even discover this passion, and a full year after that to convince myself I could travel longer than two weeks, I ended up saying f**k it, and opting for Asia over my studio apartment in West Hollywood.
It was more than just my sudden wanderlust that fueled the decision though. At twenty eight years old, I found that I wasn’t nearly as fulfilled with life as I thought I would have been back in college. I didn’t have that token perfect relationship, and I was FAR from having a ring on my finger or dare I say, a child. I still felt like a child myself, and I knew part of that was because I never got the opportunity to travel when I was younger.
I always kind of just expected that all of our lives would fall into the same routine pattern, so when mine didn’t, I started to wonder what on Earth I was supposed to do next. It made me feel like I had failed for some reason, and that feeling made me unhappy.
All I could really think of that I knew would make me happy, was to go out in the World and figure out what did. It wasn’t exactly considered “normal” for someone “my age” to just drop everything and go travel, but spoiler alert, one month turned into one year, and now I’m sitting on a white pebble beach in front of the crystal clear Adriatic Sea in Croatia, with nothing but my laptop and a random cat laying behind me, getting ready to tell you exactly what happened…
Cue the “Gap Year”. Well, in my case, and “Adult Gap Year”
What is a gap year? If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s probably because the gap year doesn’t exist in the U.S. Actually, it only exists in Australia and a few places in Europe, but something like it is encouraged in many other countries as well.
A gap year is when students take the year off in between high school and college to travel on their own or with friends. It’s not to party or go crazy, like most of us do the second we leave home and get to college; it’s to find themselves, learn responsibility, and discover how many possibilities are in this world.
I definitely did not get that when I was younger, as I’m sure many of you didn’t as well. I didn’t even get to travel on vacation with my family because we were poor, but even so, it’s not like I was encouraged to do so in school.
So, feeling like I needed to really experience more of this world and in my life, I put my things in storage, made a plan, and left.
Photo: During my Adult Gap Year I went to over 30 countries, mostly solo, and completed seeing all 7 World Wonders, and 6 Wonders of Nature.
Yes, it was Terrifying to take the Leap, then I Couldn’t Stop
As I mentioned, I had to put all of my stuff in storage, something I’ve never done before since I’ve had my own apartment since I was seventeen. That being said, I was also technically “homeless” for the first time ever, which of course was beyond terrifying at first. I worried beyond belief that when I left I’d lose everything, that my friends would forget me, and that somehow, I’d miss something in LA.
But a month passed and I hadn’t had enough. I still had money left from what I had saved for months, and was making a steady income from online freelance work and being a digital nomad.
When the second month came near and I had to make the decision again, I opted for a month in India over paying for rent and a deposit on a place back home in LA (I’m originally from Florida but I call LA “home”). Since I was “in the area”, I figured why not make it Sri Lanka and the Maldives too? Both of which I did on an extreme budget.
I Opened Up to Opportunities, and they Came
I’ve always been what I like to call an “outgoing introvert”. I like to be around friends, but I also like to be alone, and get things done on my own, and was always convinced I didn’t need anyone else to help me.
Well, when you travel alone for so long, you start to open up to the thought of meeting people and letting them help you. The second I changed my mindset, was when I met someone who actually ended up traveling with me to four countries. (Yes it was a steamy foreign love affair, but I’ll get to that another time).
Aside from that little foreign fling, I also opened up to the opportunity of meeting locals in almost every country I traveled in. I wanted to learn as much as possible from their perspective, and from that I learned more than I’ve ever learned in school about people, cultures, religion, politics, history, and the world in general.
This new understanding, and these exciting experiences have changed the way I think of and interact with people. It has made me friendlier, kinder, and more empathetic. This change not only made me happier, but it immensely helped strengthen and broaden my career as a digital nomad as well.
I Got Used to a Minimalist Lifestyle
Throughout my entire Adult Gap Year, I traveled with a carry-on sized bag, and a tote bag. I never once got anything out of my storage unit (not that I’d have anywhere to put it), and would only shop once a month when I would switch out my wardrobe. The clothes I had been previously wearing all got donated to a local in whatever country I finally decide to go shopping in.
I also got used to, and am very good at buying groceries at local markets; even if I have to take a few extra seconds to convert the price or translate what something is.
This type of lifestyle also made me extremely healthy, and I can tell a clear difference than from when I wasn’t traveling full time. I never get sick when I travel because I make sure to eat right, and I’m more in shape because I choose to walk everywhere…even if that’s mostly to save money…
But Maintained my Adult Comfort
I won’t lie, there’s a 0% chance that I would sleep in a shared dorm in a hostel, or couch surf. I’m a grown ass woman who makes a good income on her own, so you better believe I’m going to travel with certain standards.
Most of the time I do a really good job at finding last minute deals online for decent and even really nice hotels…even if some times they’re all sold out and I have to opt for a scary place.
I’ll also treat myself to a nice lunch or dinner now and then. I don’t think I should have to miss out on the luxuries of nice dining just because I don’t have anyone to take me out! I’m actually super proud of how confident I’ve gotten with eating out alone…”Just one?” “You’re damn right just one!” Although it’s hard to really stay alone once people realize you are…if you know what I mean.
I Was Never Afraid to say No...or Yes
Part of being comfortable as an adult is knowing exactly when you do and don’t want to do something. I’ve learned to easily say no to peddlers, promoters, all-too-charming men, etc., which has really helped in my normal life, especially with decisions I want to say yes to, but I know I really should say no to…that mostly applies to men, business, and dessert.
On the flip side, this Adult Gap Year has also taught me to easily say ‘Yes’ to a lot of things I probably wouldn’t have before. I don’t think twice about how long it will take me to get somewhere, especially if it’s a hike to a waterfall, and there’s literally nothing I think I can’t do.
This mentality change has not only made me a stronger, happier person, but a successful entrepreneur with a constant stream of dreams and ideas that turn to realities.
I Learned How to Adapt to Any Surrounding
One thing I can distinctly notice after my Adult Gap Year, is that no one can ever guess where I’m from. That’s because when I travel, I immediately adapt to the culture, customs, and local life, mostly because it just makes everything easier. As I said, it’s important to try to make your life as “normal” as possible when you know it’s not normal at all.
Before I took my Adult Gap Year, I worried non-stop about what it was going to be like in another country, and so far away from home. Now I show up and assume chameleon mode, which also makes things a lot more interesting.
I Checked off a Bucketlist I Never Knew I Had
The bucket list I do have basically just includes “travel the world” and “get to Antarctica”. But during my Adult Gap Year I found myself constantly thinking, “I’ve always wanted to do that”, then doing it, and then adding it to my bucketlist just so I could check it off.
Aside from traveling to almost 40 countries in a year, which I was NOT expecting to do at all (remember, I was only supposed to be gone one month), I had a lot of other firsts as well. Most of them were things I thought were too late to do since I was already almost thirty and an adult, but low and behold, I did them anyway, and couldn’t be more satisfied.
I got scuba certified and dove in five different countries including Egypt, the Maldives, Indonesia, French Polynesia, and the Bahamas. I learned to drive on the opposite side of the road in New Zealand, and live out of a camper van.
I learned “Hello, how are you, please, and thank you” in about ten different languages. I bungee jumped, and also cliff jumped…way too many times to count. I climbed to the top of a tree in the Amazon rainforest, after swimming in the Amazon river with pink dolphins. I swam with Manta Rays in the wild in Indonesia, and also hung my feet over a volcanic crater lake. I chased so many damn waterfalls that people are starting to ask me when I’m going to make a coffee table book with all of the photos.
I completed my list of visiting all of the new 7 World Wonders, a huge achievement for me; and perfected the art of getting a photo in front of each one with absolutely no people in them. I also made it to 6 of the 7 Wonders of Nature...and continents...both of which I intend to get to the 7th of this year.
I became inspired, encouraged, and ambitious to see more, do more, and be more, not just for me, but for the people I show my new lifestyle to.
I Now Have a Solid List of Big Goals
After accidentally traveling full time for a year, mostly solo (AKA an Adult Gap Year) and achieving as much as I did, my list of life goals has not gotten shorter. It has basically grown from being the size of a lizard to the size of a dinosaur, with the aggressive behavior to match.
Thanks to this adult Gap Year, I truly feel like I can do anything now, from traveling the world, to starting my own business. I may have risked a lot; a home, a relationship, friends, family, MY DOG, but through the clarity I’ve found, I know that there’s time for that, and everything will happen when it’s supposed to. And that applies to everyone.