Featured, Inside My Head, Travel Advice

What has Travel Taught Me?

58 Comments 14 September 2010

Travel's many directions...

I often get asked what my favorite country is, or what my least favorite country is. I get asked where the best food is in the world and which country has the hottest men. However occasionally I received a more unique thought –provoking question. Recently I was asked, “What is the most important thing your traveling lifestyle has taught you?”
That got my brain working…working really hard. There are so many things – but as I thought about it during a recent run in Central Park, it became clear to me.

So young...and so scared to make the 'wrong' decision!

When I was in college, the decisions of what I would major in weighed upon me heavily. After all, I looked at those decisions as how I would ensure security and entry into adulthood. This decision of what to major in was the paramount decision in my life; and I thought it would define my path into retirement.

I decided to major in Business and deliberately chose Accounting to be my focus. Why Accounting? Did I love numbers, debits, and credits? Did I love rules? No, not at all. I found nothing really exciting about accounting, but I found it to be easy to do; you follow a set of rules I memorized and ‘Presto!’ I had a good grade. Plus – the other deciding factor in majoring in accounting was because all accounting students found jobs in what was then the Big 6 accounting firms. It was a fact, in your senior year, you applied to all of the Big 6 firms and some smaller local ones, and ‘Presto!’ you had a job out of college. You passed the CPA exam and you worked and worked and had a secure life. The sole reason I chose accounting as a major was because it provided the most security and had the least risk.

(yes, I know you are wondering what this has to do with the travel question…stay with me…it’s coming!)

I started my job in accounting and then Bill Gates and Microsoft Windows 3.11 came along. As the most recent college graduate, my managers expected me to know something about this new ‘cutting edge’ application. I didn’t really know anything, but I told them I was willing to learn. Over the next 3 years I grew into a self taught IT systems analyst. I happily left Accounting behind (never did get my CPA) because I looked ahead and realized this new profession of IT had way more security, stability, and money in it than Accounting would ever have.

All of my job changes and life decisions after that were also around the idea of security and setting myself up to have some sort of perceived ‘control’ over my future. Not just from an immediate future standpoint – but one that took me into retirement and ensured that I would have a job and security until I reached retirement age.

This focus on security and stability was my primary focus as a new adult; and I think this is really the same for 90% of the people out there. I trace this intense focus back to my childhood; for some odd reason my earliest memories as a teenager include a fear of ending up jobless, penniless, and living on the streets. Strange since I don’t even think I had seen a homeless person in my home town of Peoria, IL. But my brain envisioned this worst case scenario.

It was especially vivid when I was forced with big life decisions such as college choice, college major, and job offers. I always took every job offer feeling as if I was the lucky that they wanted me, instead of me considering that the business was the lucky one for snagging me. I didn’t value what I had to offer because I was too worried about having no future and ending up hopeless and penniless.

However – something has changed, and it has changed drastically. For the first time in my whole life, I am not making decisions based on security, safety, retirement and a fear of becoming homeless. I have new confidence and feeling of invincibility that I’ve never processed before. What caused this change?

One word – travel.

Now that's the look of fear!

Once I stepped off of the ‘normal’ life highway and threw myself into the unknown of leaving my job to travel; things slowly changed. I don’t think I realized how much my mindset changed until just recently as I was preparing for Meet Plan Go in NYC. I was talking with the other panelist and we were all discussing what we were doing and how we all looked at our careers and choices differently now. Unanimously we felt we were more in control than ever of our lives. We were more confident in our abilities to find work; work we actually liked. We were confident about selling our career break experiences and parlaying that into a job. We were confident we would land on our feet. None of us seemed to make decisions based on insecurity.

Extended travel did that to us.

The act of stepping our of the conventional routines we are in and challenging our ways of thinking can be one of the most powerful ‘teachers’ there is

I also recently had someone ask me if I was worried about how I would be able to retire and support myself. Four years ago this question would have absolutely terrified me to the point that I wouldn’t have been able to sleep, and my stomach would have been in knots thanks to stress. However, now I thought about her question and said, “I don’t’ really worry about it because I know I’m resourceful and I will figure something out. I firmly believe that I’m smart enough that things will work out.”

No fear! Ok - well, maybe just a little fear....

Sure, I also have money saved for retirement from my 14 years of corporate life, so I’m not penniless in my 401k, but I don’t worry that I’m not putting more and more into it every year like I used to. I’m not rich though, and I don’t have a huge nest egg that will take care of me. I do have confidence, confidence that whatever life throws at me, I will deal with. I have confidence in my vast amount of skills and what I can offer big or small businesses if I do decide to work in a traditional role again one day. I know the world is big and there are many, many places to retire and work and live. I know that I no longer want to make decisions based on fear and security. I want to just squeeze everything I can out of life and enjoy it.

Four years of traveling the globe, living abroad, doing odd jobs, freelancing, writing 500 blog posts, and being an entrepreneur has finally undone what it took 36 year to build up. It has broken down my image of being homeless and instead given me more options than ever.

I know it’s not the answer or the lifestyle for everyone. I know this applies to a small niche of people who are looking for something different in life and would like a little push; a push to live without fear.

I had a marathon coach once tell me, “Pain is fear leaving your body.” The unconventional decisions I’ve made in the last 4 years have been painful at times, but I believe my marathon coach. Thanks to my travels, my fears have subsided.

What lessons have you learned from travel?
This post is celebrating my 500th post on Ottsworld…how time and keyboard strokes fly…thanks for sticking with me!

Your Comments

58 Comments so far

  1. Michael says:

    Congrats on four years and 500 posts!
    Good stuff on being confident and living the way you feel it should be lived.
    Go us for living in the present :)

  2. Alison says:

    Wow! What a great post Sherry! I’ve had a similar experience with expat life. I used to be such a planner and always worried about the endless scenarios of bad things that could happen. When I moved to Belgium so many things were out of my control. If I didn’t let go and go with the flow, I would have gone completely mad. I can’t say I never worry any more, but I do plan a lot less. I also try not to focus on all of the things that may happen and instead be in the here and now. I’ve also learned to be grateful for all of the blessings my life has given me. You’re an inspiration!

    • admin says:

      I have to agree – maybe it wasn’t the travel that finally changed the way I looked at decisions, but more of my expat experience living in Vietnam! It certainly forced me to think in many different ways!

  3. Audrey says:

    Fantastic post and answer. I can relate to so much of this. I always tell people that the hardest part of our journey was handing in our resignation letters. After that, things have fallen into place and the opportunities only seem to keep expanding. When you accept this, anything seems possible. And, you also know that if things don’t work out, you’re resourceful and creative and will figure something out.

    Congrats on helping more people get over that most difficult first step – making the decision to go.

    • admin says:

      Your absolutely right – the hardest part is making that first decision – but once one is made – it’s much easier to make the next ‘tough’ decision.
      Thanks for reading…you certainly are an inspiration to many!

  4. Gillian says:

    Congrats on 500!!

    I, too, came away from our year of travel feeling invincible. I feel like I can do anything, that I am living my life not that life is living me. It’s funny that it was completing a huge project at work that made me realize that I could do more, and then it was the ‘more’ that has made me realize that I can do anything!

    Good luck in the future!

  5. Cindy says:

    On 500 and the words in this post – Bravo! Would love to see this as recommended reading for every college grad!

    • admin says:

      Ha! What a nice thought! I could make my 17 year old niece read it – but I wonder if it would really sink in. However – I firmly do believe that attitudes are changing with this next generation…it will be exciting to see the direction society moves in!

      • Efrutik says:

        I am a recent grad and I completely agree. This post has definitely touched me that’s for sure. There is so much fear in me that has been been just completely taking over my whole existence for the past half year. Finishing school, moving back with my parents, working a part time job that didn’t manifest itself into a full time job as promised, constant uncertainty and most important fear; fear of failure. Slowly but surely I am seeing as of late that I am different and I want a different lifestyle out of life in general. A non traditional path to follow in spite of being a lifelong immigrant and a recently naturalized citizen at last!

        Thank you so much this post is really an inspirational gem.

        Congratulations and cheers to more travels and explorations along the way!

        • admin says:

          Well – it seems like you are figuring it out much sooner than I did…Congrats! Thanks for stopping by the site and best of luck on the quest to be non-traditional. Have you read the blog or book – Art of NonConformity – it’s brilliant!

        • admin says:

          Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I totally understand the fear and the desire to live outside the norm. It was a long road for me – with baby steps along the way. One thing I’ll recommend to inspire you is the site Art of NonConformity – http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/ – it rocked my world! Plus – Chris also has a new book out too that is def. worth a read. It has a whole awesome chapter on fear and how to deal with it. Good luck and come back from time to time!

          • Efrutik says:

            Absolutely will read the book. Thank you so much for the tip. Baby steps are the best aren’t they. Small pieces for the big puzzle of life :)

  6. Brian Setzer says:

    What an inspiration! Here’s to another 10 years of fun :-)

  7. Adam says:

    Great post. Even though we have come and gone on a year long trip, we still struggle with the whole notion of what we’re “supposed” to be doing. Sure, our lives have changed drastically since the trip, and we look at just about everything with a different set of eyes, but we’re back home, with my wife back in the corporate grind, with both of us trying to find a way out again. We both love traveling, but doing it indefinitely is not for us (something we learned from our trip). But two weeks a year just simply won’t cut it either.

    But even though we’re not sure what our future holds, we know that we can and will eventually do whatever we WANT to do, not what we’re SUPPOSED to do. It’s just a matter of time, and having that confidence to know that we CAN do what we want is what I have learned most from our travels.

    • admin says:

      Right on- no one should do something (especially make life decisions) just because they are supposed to do it. Hopefully more people take into account their wants!
      Thanks for the comments!

  8. How I so relate to this post! Since I’m just beginning my travels I swing between feeling confident, able to tackle anything or uneasy on finances. I hope to arrive to the same conclusion like you did one day.

    Such an honest, inspiring post! Congrats on 500 and many more!

    • admin says:

      I can’t wait to see how it changes you. This change for me has really taken about 4 years and living in Vietnam had a lot to do with it! Good luck – will follow your journey!

  9. Rachel says:

    Very awesome post. I really enjoyed it and feel the same way you do!

  10. ayngelina says:

    Congratulations on your 500th post! I’ve been reading since I started planning my RTW a year and a half ago and now 5 months on the road you’re still on my must read list!

    • admin says:

      Oh – thanks so much – it’s great to hear the the blog still holds some interest for you even though you are forging your own journey!
      Safe Travels!

  11. Dave says:

    Amen sister! I still remember the moment I discovered Ottsworld and your story while sitting in a Medellin hostel last year. Congrats on 500 posts and living the life you want. I can identify with everything you wrote in this post!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Dave – it’s been wonderful getting to know you and this great travel blogging community! 500 may not seem like a lot, but considering every post is from me (no guestposts) – it sure feels like a lot!

  12. Mark H says:

    Inspiring article and congratulations on 500.

  13. Annie says:

    What a beautiful 500th post! I love everything that you said and the way you shared your feelings about your past and your decision to travel. I am so glad that you are so happy and secure now! I love the blog and am excited every time a new post lands in my inbox!!

  14. Congrats on 500! Travel thaught me there are many different solutions for the same problem. So there is no need to stick to the same method all the time.

  15. Laura says:

    It’s funny. I’m currently writing my 100th post (yes I have a ways to go to catch up!) but also have one started on what I’ve learned from travel. It’s incredible the things that travel has taught me- especially solo travel. Or for that matter, solo female travel. You rock Sherry! Congrats on the 500th post; can’t wait to read many more :)

  16. Andy Hayes says:

    Congrats on such a milestone. Here’s 500 more :-)

  17. Anil says:

    Many congratulations on the 500th post Sherry! Btw, in that college photo you look so much like Andrea (think that was her name) from 90210. Random thought I admit!

  18. What a lovely post! It’s so true that many of us base our decisions in life on fear. The reason we often choose the options deriving from fear is because we feel there is more security in the outcome. When we choose to make decisions out of love, this usually means the outcomes are endless and this can be scary! But I choose love over fear any day.

  19. islandmomma says:

    This is such a brilliant post, on several different levels, in fact. First, literally, everything you say put into a travel scenario – yes, “Just GO” – if you have the guts to do it, then you also have the guts to make something of your life when you return – if that’s still what you want, of course!

    Second, as a mindset – I shudder to think of the number of people (my own father was a PRIME example) of people who undersell themselves and miss out on the joys achievement would have brought them, by always clinging to the “safe and secure” option. In my case, my father gave me the perfect example of how NOT to be!

    Third if people just stopped worrying so much about their own, personal security, which then translates into political votes, then the world would be a more open, friendly and safer place to be.

    Many congrats on 500 posts (I didn’t realize no guest posts, so double congrats!). Many congrats on MPG – which sounds fantastic. At least once a day I wish I were North American, but never more so than when reading about this! Mostly, many congrats on getting out there, on exploring the world and its options, and on giving us the opportunity to travel along with you!

  20. bessiejulia says:

    Great post, Sherry. Really appreciate hearing your fears, and how your travel experiences have alleviated many of them. I’m still a little restless about the lack of 401k contributions, but your perspective has a lot of truth – you know how resourceful you can be and the opportunities out there. That makes it a lot less frightening.

    One thing I’ve realized traveling is that there are much bigger things to worry about in life than the mundane things that occupied my mind pre-travel lifestyle. There’s such a big world and different ways to define success and getting out there to see them and try on those lifestyles for a while is so valuable.

  21. Katy says:

    Wow! This post really spoke to me…I stayed at the same job for 6 years after college feeling like if I messed up, I might lose everything. Then I took a month and a half off to travel Europe/Morocco. When I got back, I felt like I could do anything and that the worst case scenario would just have to be dealt with when/if it came up. There’s too much to experience to spend any time worrying. It took some time, but I eventually quit! I still have a pretty regular job now, but not the fear that comes with it and am planning my next big adventure :)

  22. Lisa L says:

    One of my favorite posts, Sherry!
    You already know I relate.

    So true about how so many live their lives in a way so they will be secure and okay in the final quarter of it…but what about the ‘life’ part; the journey?! That’s the best part and it’s great to be ‘living’ it and jumping in.
    About the resourcefulness -i couldn’t agree more.
    This saying is true: Jump…and a net will appear!
    Happy 500!

  23. Alisha says:

    Congratulations Sherry on your 500th post, and thank you for being an inspiration to keep planning for a non-conventional life! Travel teaches us so much throughout various stages of our lives. I am thankful for the privilege of travel, and the ability to meet great friends like you along the way!

  24. Lynn says:

    Hey Sherry,

    So great to see all the comments on this post – congrats on number 500! Hey if you are homeless and penniless in your old age you could always come live with us – rent free if you’ll do my house-cleaning for me! :)

    See you in Minneapolis!


  25. Earl says:

    Such a great post and message. I’ve always felt that the most difficult challenge of my traveling lifestyle was boarding the first flight out of the US some 11 years ago. At that point, I was filled with endless worry about how life would turn out but within a very short period of time, that worry turned into endless opportunities that I simply never knew existed before. And once I realized that my dream was not some ridiculously unattainable goal, my worries about the future began to disappear.

    Congratulations on the 500th post!

  26. Wow! Pain is fear leaving your body. That is profound, especially since I am dealing with quite a lot of pain at the moment and I’ve just been through a horribly frustrating travel experience in China that put me in a bit of a fear mode – fear that I’d lost my travel smarts and the ability to travel independently.

  27. Gray says:

    Congrats! I’m really impressed with your confident attitude. It’s something I’d like to cultivate in myself more.

  28. Jenny says:

    Great post Sherry! Your story is very inspiring… and I hope it gets other people to get up and GO! Stepping outside the box and making a decision that could backfire is a very liberating experience. It definitely gives one more experience and confidence. It’s a great feeling to know that the awesome life your having is because of the choices (sometimes scary) you have made!

  29. The major lesson I learned is that to only speak one language is a damn shame!

    Travel is fantastic!

  30. Rosaline says:

    I’m now 10 months into my own career break and was just starting to go back to old thinking – what about the future, what about security and money, etc. Thanks for reminding me how I felt when I first started……empowered, in control of my own destiny, confident that, yes, it will all work out fine in the end…..and far more amazing experiences than I could ever get in an office!

    Congrats on your huge achievement. Onwards and upwards some more!

  31. Priyank says:

    Very inspiring post, Sherry! At the end of the day, when I look back on my life, I want to be able to say that I did things that I liked. :-)

  32. Meg says:

    Sherry, thanks for sharing your experience so honestly. eloquently and with humor. I am just a newbie on the journey of walking through fear but you are absolutely right, it is only through getting out of your comfort zone that you become more comfortable! Who knew?! Just another one of life’s paradoxes…Great post!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks Meg! I’m glad the post was helpful. I try to live my life taking on my fears – I have a big travel challenge planned summer that I’m a bit terrified of – but the only way to get over it is to do it!

  33. Hi Sherry — I love this post. I’m also glad to see the comment from my friend Meg above. You and she have a good deal in common!

  34. jayceelar says:

    Wow wow wow! So incredibly inspiring to readthis. Thank you for writing seems hardly enough since your words carry forward to changing the lives of so many peoples futures. I haven’t all the answers yet but certainly reading about your experiences and relating to them so closely definitely helps me to push forward in my quest for the non-traditional. Keep up the great work!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s weird as I don’t ever think about changing people’s futures when I’m having so much fun doing what I love. If I can EVER be of assistance in helping you move towards your quest to the non-traditional – let me know! Have you see my other site about taking non-traditional career breaks…there you’ll meet lots of people with your same dream! http://www.meetplango.com Thanks so much for following along and supporting our adventure!

  35. A couple of years late; but..

    So true right? I hate the question “Whats your favourite place so far?”, and another one “Did you win the lottery or something?”, and “When will you go home?”.

    I don’t know, no, and I don’t know :)

    But right now I’m happy being me. Crossing off my bucket-list items, and not worrying about the future. Just enjoying whats left of my youth, building confidence, and knowing that whatever decisions I make are the right ones.

  36. Vicky says:

    And now you get to travel the world – yay! I wanna be like you oo oo…

  37. I am very glad that you start to travel. But I have only one question. How could you make fotoes with tigers?

  38. Kristin says:

    Love. Love. Love. This post. Faith in myself and my skills was one of my biggest lessons in traveling long-term. I want every future big tripper and career breaker out there to realize that we own our careers and experience. We have this blessed freedom to shape and mold our lives to fit what we want vs. what others determine.

    Thank you Sherry!

    I also echo Ethiopian Airways question on the tigers. :)

  39. I like this site..Its nice and it gave us lots of ideas..Thanks for sharing great info. on tours and travels,

  40. Rhonda says:

    I LOVE this post. Extended travel has, and is, teaching me the same thing. Not only that I’m smart and resourceful but also to put some trust out there in the universe that you will find your way. Many friends think my husband & I are crazy for not being “set” for retirement but we dont’ really want to retire! We want to work doing what we love as we traverse this amazing planet. What could be better?

  41. Really inspiring Sherry :) Are you ever tempted to go back to safety of the 9-5 grind?


  42. Jennifer Smith-Parker says:

    I’m sorry, but the reason that travel writers such as yourself frustrate an aspiring writer blogger such as myself are posts like this.

    “Sure, I also have money saved for retirement from my 14 years of corporate life, so I’m not penniless in my 401k,”… you have likely saved a crazy amount after working at a six-figure job. 90% of people, including myself, will never work that kind of job so saving for later in life (retirement, whatever) is a paycheck by paycheck endeavor that has to continue forever.

    “…but I don’t worry that I’m not putting more and more into it every year like I used to.” Then you really are not very bright. I also never want to “retire,” in the formal sense, and just keep traveling, but want and real-life are different. I’m smart enough to know even though I’m healthy now, and have always been, I won’t be forever and will need to keep in mind healthcare expenses. Also, maybe your parents or close relatives are dead, but for those of us who have ailing family, we have to keep in mind their healthcare expenses will likely affect our budgets.

    “I do have confidence, confidence that whatever life throws at me, I will deal with.” Again, you sound like a teenager. Basically, throw up your hands and money will just rain upon you, somehow, somewhere.

    Just wow. Wow.

    • Sherry says:

      Jennifer – I’m not going to apologize for working hard and saving for my retirement. I was not privileged, no one gave anything to me. I am no teenager, and my family is still alive and I understand that health is one of the most important things as you grow older. In fact it was that reason why I took off initially from my old career and traveled – as I didn’t want to wait for retirement in fear that I might not be in good health. I have a positive outlook on life, work very hard at what I do, have sacrificed many things to do have this life and difficult career I love. I would never recommend that people become travel bloggers and I seldom write about the business of blogging here. It’s very difficult to make money and I do many other things to keep a float. Good luck on your writing career, but I would maybe suggest that you stop worrying about others and lumping them into generalities, and start worrying about yourself and how you can achieve what you want.

  43. Tom Bartel says:

    Sherry, when you’re running a marathon, I’m pretty sure pain is your body telling you that you really shouldn’t be doing this.

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
New here? Then Start Here.

Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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