What you find when you travel the world in search of yourself
When I quit my job, sold all of my possessions, and convinced my husband to take an open-ended trip around the world with me, the only thing I knew for sure was that I was looking for an escape from the mundane reality of my adult life.
Growing up, I’d always dreamed of seeing the world and I wanted to be a writer. But, as tends to happen, life got in the way of my dreams. In college I took a part-time job that fed into a full-time job after graduation. Then I transferred jobs, slowly climbing the ladder. I got married and bought a house. I had a great life that I’d worked hard to build. The problem was, I never stopped to ask myself if I was creating the kind of life I actually wanted.
The life I wanted was one that excited me, that stretched me, that made me feel I was burning from the inside with creativity and passion. I wanted to explore the world and meet people who lived in cities I’d never heard of and spoke languages I couldn’t understand. I wanted a life that I was proud of. What I’d built instead was a life that would make others proud of me.
But who gives up a good life to become a modern-day nomad? I certainly didn’t think I could do it. Even if I did figure out the logistics: health insurance, money, plane tickets, vaccinations, I couldn’t actually give up my stable career—could I? I convinced myself it would be selfish to pursue such desires. So I put my head down and ignored what I really wanted—convincing myself that I should just be grateful for everything I already had.
But the deeper truth of what I really wanted kept poking at my ribs, rapping on the breastbone around my heart. And as time passed the poking grew stronger. The more I ignored it the harder it pushed, morphing from an annoying little nudge to full-blown anxiety. The thought of giving up life as I knew it to chase my wild desire was terrifying. But eventually the prospect of not chasing it became even more terrifying- and that’s when I leapt.
I was nearly 31 years old when I stood at the airport with my husband and a one-way ticket to Ecuador clutched in my hand. I had no idea that our open-ended trip around the world would last three years. I had no idea it would take us to twenty+ countries on 5 continents, or introduce us to lifelong friends, or push our marriage to its breaking point. I had no idea that we would swim with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands or walk hundreds of miles through the Himalayan Mountains, or that we’d emerge from our travels as much different people. All I knew was that I needed to go.
In fact, if I’d known how hard it would be I doubt I would have had the courage to leave. But I did leave, because (thankfully) we can never know what’s coming. And because I left I became the person I needed to be. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was looking for when I stepped out into the world was the outer boundary of my life’s potential. See, a beautiful thing happens when we listen to our deepest desires. That first raw truth—the one we decide to follow– leads us to the next truth. And then that new truth leads us to the next one and after a while we realize we’ve made it pretty far down the road.
My desire to travel and write led me to start a blog. The blog became a place where, without even realizing it, I began to hone my voice. Traveling enabled me to pursue my love of the outdoors by hiking, biking and paddling all over the world—and those adventures gave me the experience and confidence to land a job with Backpacker Magazine that paid me to camp and hike all over the USA. The Backpacker job gave me the funds to rent an apartment on the beach in Mexico. My home in Mexico gave me the time and space to turn my attention to writing a book. That book comes out in April. Who knows where it will lead?
Steve Jobs famously said that we can only connect the dots looking backwards and it’s true. When I stood in the airport five years ago, awaiting that first flight to Ecuador, I couldn’t have predicted any of this. From the place I stand now I have absolutely no idea what the next 5 years will bring. What I learned by setting out into the world was not some hard and true answer to what I should do with my life. No, what I learned instead was something I’d always known but not always trusted—that the inner guide I have inside of me, the one that poked me in the ribs until I could no longer ignore it, is always with me and it is always right. When I trust it I can’t go wrong.
About the writer
Kim Dinan is an author and adventurer. Her popular blog, So Many Places, was named one of the best outdoor blogs but USA Today and has been featured online by such sites as Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. Her memoir, The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World, hits shelves 4/4/17. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.