When Everything Falls Apart
I’m committed. Not to an insane asylum, although some of my friends and relatives may think that’s were I should be headed, but to a new career and life as a long-term travel blogger and writer. I plan to leave the U.S. and travel around the world for a year, or however long my retirement savings lasts, couchsurfing and house sitting to make things more interesting and affordable. It’s where I’ve wanted to go for a long while, but fear, lack of funds, concern over what others might think, and a need to follow the norm, to fit into our society’s idea of what a proper life looks like, have kept me from following my current true calling. These things haven’t stopped me before, like when I was 5 and decided I was an artist, but changes in the economy and marital status sometimes scare us into thinking about the path of security. Until everything falls apart and you realize that security is just an illusion anyway, and sometimes the least secure looking path is in reality, the safest way to go.
Have any of you lost your job? Gotten divorced? Lost your home? How about all three at the same time? When things fall apart, the “bug soup stage,” as life path guru Martha Beck calls it, that’s when life gets really interesting, when the opportunity arises (or kicks you in the butt) to make some major life changes. It happened to me about 7 years ago, when most of my income disappeared due to the economy, my beautiful 3,400 square foot home of 19 years went away, as my marriage was failing, my mother had died from a rare form of cancer, and I was about to send my youngest daughter off to college.
Through a crazy synchronicity, I walked 200 miles coast to coast across England, had an epiphany that I could be really happy with just what I had on my back, came home, sold almost all of my possessions, rented a room over Craigslist on the other side of the country, got in my little Corolla and drove 2,500 miles from Michigan, where I was born, raised, and had lived my whole life, to California, where I’d always wanted to live. (Thank you TV Disney and Rose Bowl parade for showing me at a very young age what winter could look like).
Amazing doors opened up. There’s a Zen saying about taking a leap off the 100 foot pole and the Universe will catch you, and that’s exactly what happened. I attended a week long silent meditation retreat, explored San Francisco and the California coast, took part of my nest egg and spent a month in Thailand and Bali, traveled with a rail pass throughout Europe for 3 months, slipped into the wine business in the Napa Valley, hiked in the Sierras, visited most of the National Parks in the Southwest, and much more. In other words, losing almost everything led to a very interesting life!
But then suddenly, the owner of the winery where I worked put the business up for sale, cut my position, and I found myself in my 50’s with no job. After quite some time looking for work that would support my now relatively minimal lifestyle (a 500 square foot apartment and a 10-year-old car, and some very budget travel), I gave up my apartment as savings ran low. Friends and relatives have been kind, providing a temporary roof over my head (yes, technically I’m homeless, but I clean up pretty well, and most people on the street wouldn’t mistake me for, well, homeless). I’ve applied for jobs in wineries, as a flight attendant, painting instructor, at libraries, and bookstores, a bakery, and on and on. Seems I’m overqualified or under qualified, or in most cases, though nobody will admit it, just too old. Yes, they hired a 20-something-year-old at the wine shop who knows nothing about wine, but I have to admit, she’s blond and very cute. The economy was down at this time, and job openings were minimal.
This could all get pretty morbid and depressing, if it weren’t for one thing – attitude. I can go into a party and when someone asks what I do or where I live, I can answer in a variety of ways, the two most accurate being, “I’m unemployed, homeless, and divorced,” which usually elicits some kind of discomfort or pity on the part of the enquirer. Or, my favorite answer, “I’m about to leave to travel around the world, couchsurfing, house sitting, doing odd jobs, photographing, painting, blogging and working on a book about my experiences.”
The most common response to that? “I’m SO jealous!!!”
The very fact that I have virtually nothing left of a material nature is exactly what frees me up to go on the most exciting adventure of my life! People want to know, “How can you afford to do that?” meaning really, how can THEY afford to do it. I tell them, if I can do it, anyone can do it. But it’s a matter of priorities, like possibly giving up their job with benefits and a steady paycheck, (after paying off their debt), selling their house/cottage/fancy cars/boat, even furniture/clothes/dishes/grandma’s silver/artwork/mountain bike/appliances, and on and on. Most people I know aren’t willing to do that. And I probably wouldn’t have been either. That’s where those cataclysmic life experiences, where the rug is literally pulled out from under your feet, give you a true advantage, if you choose to see it that way. Janis Joplin once sang that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. It’s that loss that can truly set you free.
And so, after selling and donating everything a second time (it’s amazing what you can accumulate in 7 years after getting rid of everything the last time), I am taking the leap off the 100 foot pole again (really being shaken off while clinging for dear life) and heading to Australia, and then around the world.
Why start in Australia? Because as we head into winter in the US, it’s summer down under! And I’ve wanted to go there for 30 years, but postponed my trip to marry, raise children, have a career, and live in the suburbs. Plus, as happens when you take a leap, doors have started opening. Through a tele-class on finding your calling, I met a woman who lives in Australia and has offered to host me and introduce me to other friends who, as she puts it, are great tour guides.
I’ll take the rest of my savings, which I’d spend anyway living in the US on paying for a tiny apartment, gas, car insurance, phone bill and food while looking for jobs that don’t pay a living wage even if I could get one, and instead, buy a one way plane ticket and see how far it’ll take me. I believe I can make that money go a lot farther traveling through places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Slovenia and Croatia than staying in the US. (Visiting inexpensive countries, or couchsurfing and house sitting in the more expensive places – more on that in another blog). Could I end up back here broke in 6 months or a year? Possibly, though I don’t count on it. And even if I do, would I ever regret going? Not a chance!!
Forget unemployed, that sounds so depressing. My new job description – travel blogger, author, artist & photographer (and possibly English teacher, au pair, wine educator, sailing crew, hospitality worker, whatever odd jobs I might find along the way). My calling – to live authentically, out loud, and to inspire and encourage others to follow their own dreams!
Feel free to tag along. My phone is my camera, and although I don’t have fancy equipment, I’ve got a good eye and promise to post some great pics, maybe even a painting or two, for your enjoyment. I’ll tell you the good, the bad and the ugly, (the latter usually make for more interesting stories), and maybe, just maybe, inspire you to take a leap of your own!
*That was written in 2014 – here’s a brief update in 2018: the first year of travel I visited 14 different countries, and discovered it’s much less expensive to travel than to live full time in the US, so instead of coming back to my home country, I spent 6 months back in Thailand. After that, I housesat in California, traveling down the coast, and did three different 6 month stints in various places in Mexico, with visa runs in between. Finally, 3 1/2 years after I left the US that snowy November of 2014, I took the Coast Starlight train from LA to Oregon to Vancouver, and now I’ve come back to the US for the birth of my granddaughter. One year turned into four. You never know what life and the future will bring!