Escape the Rat Race

As a teenager I used to dream of the day when I could move out of my parents house and make my own way in the world. I would romanticize about my nice home, a successful career, and how happy I would be.

So when the time came, I did what most young adults do, I took my parents advice; work hard in school, get a good job, buy property, and you’ll be happy. Ultimately, this very advice left me feeling less than whole, wondering what I had missed in the lesson.

Are you ready to escape the rat race?
Are you ready to escape the rat race?

At 28 years of age I began to evaluate my situation and what I had accomplished in my 10 years in the work a day world. I married the love of my life, Michael, four years before, got out of debt, and bought a condo. We had it pretty good. You could say we were living the typical middle class Canadian lifestyle. We had high paying jobs, two cars, a motorcycle, fancy clothes, went on ski trips, and enjoyed BBQ’s with friends.

On paper it looked like we should be completely fulfilled.

So why weren’t we?

Something missing

Something felt terribly missing, and no matter how much shopping I did or reality television I watched, I simply couldn’t fill the void. We were in a perpetual cycle of working, buying, consuming, repeat. I would often wake up from my daily routine and feel like I was on an isolated road, racing as fast as I could toward some unknown finish line. Would simply acquiring lots of stuff eventually make me feel more complete or more numb? Was I somehow getting closer to knowing my inner self or defining it by my current lifestyle? I realized that the advice my parents had given me had left me more in a state of comfort than bliss.

We were in a perpetual cycle of working, buying, consuming, repeat. I would often wake up from my daily routine and feel like I was on an isolated road, racing as fast as I could toward some unknown finish line.

A few years back we had gone to Cuba for a vacation. In those two weeks we shed some of our normal everyday patterns and realized how much happier we felt. Michael and I lived on very little and realized that material possessions meant little to us. It felt exhilarating to be released from our bond to stuff and live in the moment again. For once we were not being subjected to the expectations of society to act and consume the way everyone else was. We would joke around that we would not miss a single possession in our home, other than our two cats, if we were never to return. We connected as a couple better than ever and laughed a whole lot more, too. We vowed to hold onto this feeling and incorporate it back into our lives at home.

As too often happens, once at home, we fell back into our regular routine and succumbed to the increasing pressures to live like everyone else. Who can stand to be different when you are bombarded by the media to conform and outcasted when you go against the grain.

Our worst fears had been realized; we were the stars in our own reality show called the rat race, and we were the rats.

Taking back our lives

Michael and I could both agree that we wanted to take back our lives. Simply going through the motions of life did not equate to quality living. We had gotten so busy with doing and getting that we forgot how to just be ourselves. That is where our journey began.

There could be no better way to change our lifestyle than to plunge it into a totally different environment and culture. In my opinion this was the only way to reset our hearts and minds and relearn how to live with joy again.

Our decision to travel the world did not happen over night and was created more out of a need for change than simple desire to travel. For so many reasons – logical, emotional, and spiritual, we needed this trip. From our experience in Cuba I knew travel was the gateway to experiencing a deeper connection with our true selves. There could be no better way to change our lifestyle than to plunge it into a totally different environment and culture. In my opinion this was the only way to reset our hearts and minds and relearn how to live with joy again.

Michael and I had both always been eager about traveling but had spent most of our travel fund going to an all-inclusive in Mexico or visiting the big ski resorts in the Rockies, like all our friends did. It seemed a mystery to me where this deep seeded desire to see distant nations had come from, considering my parents had never taken me anywhere more exotic than Disney World. Maybe it was staying up late as a child watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or seeing a curious looking colorful handbag from Guatemala, and wondering what amazing person had made it, that sparked my need to experience travel.

Looking back this was the hardest part, convincing ourselves that we could, and would, be traveling the world. Once our minds were made up, the rest just seemed to fall into place.

We both agreed that there was a huge world out there, where people were living totally different lives than we were in Canada. Perhaps on this adventure we would get to experience some of these lifestyles and discover a more meaningful way to live our own lives.

Although Michael and I were enthusiastic about our trip, the longest either of us had ever traveled consecutively was two weeks. Our decision to go for an entire year seemed out of left field, but the more research I did, made me realize that thousands of people were doing the exact same thing. I was shocked to discover a whole new network of people who were backpacking and experiencing indie travel. Why hadn’t I heard of this before? Why weren’t more people I knew doing this? At the time I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but the fact that other people, just like us, had and were experiencing round the world travel gave us the courage to pull the trigger.

Looking back this was the hardest part, convincing ourselves that we could, and would, be traveling the world. Once our minds were made up, the rest just seemed to fall into place. We set a date for one year from our decision to head South and start our adventure. We were not sure what our family and friends would think, but we didn’t really care either, because on July 16, 2011, we were embarking on a RTW trip. We beefed up our 1990 Toyota Land Cruiser for what would be its longest road trip ever. The plan was to drive as far South as we could and figure the rest out on the fly.

Overcoming obstacles

We quickly found out from talking to coworkers, family, and friends that there is a stigma about traveling for extended periods.  That it is somehow reserved for hippies or University students, not married professionals approaching their 30’s. Why were so many people content sticking to a two week vacation and spending that time at an all-inclusive that segregated them from the very culture they are trying to experience?

For us, this simple life wouldn’t cut the mustard. We wanted it all – the grimy, the beautiful, and whatever else came along our paths. No more cookie cutter vacations for us. We wanted the real experience of travel and to be as close to the locals and culture as possible. I don’t think anyone really thought we were going to go through with it. Mostly family smiled and nodded, saying, “Oh that sounds nice,” or “I wish I could do something like that.” Some of our friends looked at us like we were straight up crazy.

Once we told people our plans, they would proceed to bombard us with questions that went something like this: What about your job? What will you do when you get home? What about your condo? What does your boss think? What about all your stuff? Don’t you want to have a family? ( like traveling somehow sterilizes you). Let’s just say we got some bizarre looks when we didn’t have answers to all of these questions.

It’s amazing how much fear mongering surrounds foreign travel and how it prevents some people from for filling their dream of exploration.

We had heard it all in the months and weeks leading up to our departure. We would surely be decapitated in Mexico, end up in a Colombian prison, or be sold into sex slavery in Thailand. I’m not sure if these stories were told from a place of genuine concern for our safety, ignorance, or as a form of subconscious sabotage. It’s amazing how much fear mongering surrounds foreign travel and how it prevents some people from for filling their dream of exploration. People are so held back from fear of the unknown, I’m surprised they can even leave their own homes.

The fact is some friends and family did not want to talk about our trip or to us for that matter! They would become extremely uncomfortable every time we mentioned it, and we could see them start to squirm in their seats. I guess the reality of seeing someone reach for a big dream and step out of the constraints of the norm was too much for them to bear. That song, Crabs in a Bucket, played in my head a lot those days.

It wasn’t all negative

For all the weirdness and negativity we encountered before our departure, we had an equal amount of positivity. Friends and family were coming through for us in ways we never expected. Thoughtful gifts and favors were pouring in, from left over foreign currency, to a water purifier, everyone just wanted to see us through to our goal. People were catching onto our dream band wagon like it was a contagious disease. It was rewarding to see people get reinspired about their own lives. Trips that had been put off for years got booked.  Hobbies that had been forgotten were rediscovered, and some people even got the courage to pursue new careers they had always dreamt about. In a way these experiences were just as rewarding as the trip itself.

We look back on this time and smile. Not only does going after your dreams invigorate your own life, but it can also kick start some others, too. Chasing your goal, it seems, can often be as fun as reaching it. In the three weeks leading up to our departure we quit our jobs and said our goodbyes. We had saved a lump sum of money through hard work and determination, and now we were ready to start burning it up on the road. Our cats would be well taken care of by Michael’s parents. Our condo was rented for the year, and our life’s possessions had been reduced to what would fit neatly inside our truck. Getting rid of almost everything we owed was cleansing and felt like a perfect way to start out our trip.

We felt light, free, and ready.

After 13 countries visited and countless adventures experienced, I can tell you that round the world travel is an amazing way to learn more about yourself and the world we live in. Nothing can ever compare to the magical memories you will make and the unique things you will see.

Smelling the fresh air in the Amazon rainforest, scuba diving with sharks, hiking on a volcano, or drinking tea with a shaman are all experiences that you will cherish for your entire life. Talk about a compressed education in geography, language, history, and international relations, not to mention some great introspection. Although no one can fully understand what you have experienced once you arrive back home, you can share your stories and help them see the world as a place to be delightfully discovered and not feared.

After 13 countries visited and countless adventures experienced, I can tell you that round the world travel is an amazing way to learn more about yourself and the world we live in. Nothing can ever compare to the magical memories you will make and the unique things you will see.

For us, the trip reignited our passion for new experiences, near and far, and reinforced our belief that you are never too old to travel. We learned a slower, more in depth way to go forward with our lives and how to appreciate the little things.

You would think after a year on the road we would be tired of traveling and all our goals would have been achieved. Wrong. We are even more passionate about seeing the world today, and our list of places to visit keeps getting longer and longer.

Do we have any regrets? Yeah, one, that we didn’t do this sooner.

Was the trip worth all the trouble? Yes, and like I mentioned before, the preparation and months leading up to our adventure were exciting and fun.

Did we have things that could have held us back? Of course we did. Instead of looking at all the reasons we couldn’t make our trip possible, we chose to look at all the reasons we could. It’s all about changing your focus and chasing down your travel dreams, because you only live once, and time is a wasting.

Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:

All photos courtesy of author and may not be used without permission

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  • Route nach Unbekannte Straße said at 2014-07-23T08:12:59+0000: Hitting close to home. My boyfriend and I have just set off to do this exact thing, and we found everyone was either extremely supportive (including, thankfully, his employers!) or they brushed it off, perhaps because they thought it wasn't so easily achievable, or because it's so removed from what they consider to be within the scope of daily life. To me the most difficult reaction was, "Oh, I'm so jealous!" Really, setting ourselves up for long-term travelling wasn't all fun and games--there's hard work involved! But it's also something everyone can, and should, do at least once. So don't be jealous... just do it.
  • Julie Jane said at 2014-07-23T00:56:58+0000: Great article. The points you make are so like the way I am feeling that I could have written it myself! Just under 3 months before I jump off the corporate hamster wheel for good and become an indie traveller. Sooo excited!
  • Anita Oliver said at 2012-10-08T14:36:17+0000: Great article which puts into words so many of the reasons we were compelled to change our lives to include slow travel as a new way to live. The world is too big and life is too short to be unhappy and put your dreams on hold.
  • Mandi Basinger Abdulally said at 2012-10-08T18:00:58+0000: Great, inspiring article! I really enjoying reading about your experiences and insights. Travel can be a great way to learn about ourselves and the world around us.
  • Charlotte Olssen said at 2012-10-09T18:16:33+0000: Completely agree, great article! I took my son (12) out of school and we traveled for one year in 2009. Absolutely the best thing I have ever done! I would not hesitate to do it again and my son and I are so close, even during his "teenage" years. We kept a blog www.travelpod.com/members/worldtraveler2.