All summer OM will feature posts and stories from black millennials traveling the world. Check back for Leah’s next post Friday, 7/14.
My brain felt like a deflating balloon slowly blowing out stale, old air. Every blink was sandpaper- the effects of the grueling 15-hour plane ride I had just endured. I thought I would feel the blissful release of beginning a new chapter in my life, except I had just landed 7,898 miles from home, into Taiwan, and already wanted to go back.
As my girl friend and I exited the plane, we met and hugged the owner of the school where we’d be working. We’d signed up to become teachers for a year. She and her husband loaded our belongings into the school van and we pulled onto the highway heading towards our new home. Already, hot gulps of the early August air felt like breathing under a blanket. My skin felt sticky. Splashes of sunlight flitted by as we passed mountain after mountain. My eyes widened at a massive religious statue in the distance.
Could this really be happening?
I tried to be normal and made friendly conversation with everyone from the backseat. Less than two hours later, we arrived at my friend’s and my new apartment building. What followed was a hazy blur. We met our new landlords—one who only spoke Chinese and one who spoke both English and Chinese, and nodded through lots of laborious translating, signatures, and more translating. After paperwork was settled and everyone left, I shut the door, sitting on what I thought was the box spring for the mattress I would be receiving (I was wrong—the “box spring” was the mattress). My carry on and two suitcases sat perched on the floor, looking as forlorn as I felt. I didn’t want to unpack. Why did my “grand adventure” have to be so far from home?
In 2013, the U.S. government counted about 2.2 to 6.8 million Americans living abroad. What convinced me to become one of those millions?
Well, all my life I’ve known I wanted to write. As the middle child in a middle-class family who lived on the edge of the city and the suburbs, I always felt stuck. I moved schools a lot and lasting friendships were few and far between. Instead, my family was my life and my friends were my books. Books kept me company on car rides, in waiting rooms, during the dog days of summer and soothed me to sleep at night. As an adult, I put my imagination aside and one day realized the truth, like so many 20-somethings my age: I had a college degree and still no idea what the heck I wanted to do with my life.
Yet I still found a way to wander from reality, but this time, through travel. I dreamed of the things that felt impossible: seeing the seven wonders of the world, diving in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, exploring the jungles of the Amazon—the kind of exploration my childhood self would’ve dove into.
Throughout college I looked into countless programs, study abroad, language exchange and volunteer programs, but always to no avail. The cost was always too high, or my time too limited. In late 2015, I had yet another wakeup call that time was passing me by. Soon enough I realized I’d be damned before I continued to live a life of dreaming without seeing those dreams come to fruition. That year, inspired by a friend who was teaching in China, I worked up the courage to make long term travel a reality and completed a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) degree. This single decision would demand more moments of courage from me than I knew.
Turns out signing up for the TEFL course was the easy part—the sacrifice that followed was hard. Working full time and spending nights online, completing my certification course was hard. Then I had to complete a required 10 hours of teaching and the fear from reading about teaching, to actually teaching was almost debilitating. I was afraid to lead. I was afraid that my lessons would be crap. I was afraid to teach. But I couldn’t let this single step stop me from my decision. Little by little, I completed the necessary hours, and gained more confidence.
The sacrifice continued. I stopped going out to eat and stopped spending money on drinks and pricey activities. I opened a specific bank account for my move and with every purchase I didn’t make, I deposited money into the account. I stopped buying clothes, and purged my closet, whittling my necessities down once, twice, three times. I even stopped buying lunch at work. Four months passed quickly, peppered with late night skype interviews with English schools in Taiwan. By late July I had been hired at a kindergarten/after-school English school in Northern Taiwan. Whew!
Now I just had to quit my job.
It was a fear-inducing step. In the 11 months I had worked at my job, I had connected with so many different people, and I sensed that they all thought I was there to stay. And truthfully, the conversations were agonizing. But the support was overwhelming. My coworkers threw me a going away party and I received gifts from those who connected to my journey. The outpouring of support from family and friends was also amazing and it was the last push of courage I needed to pack my suitcases as waves of emotion poured over me at the airport. But, I did what I set out to do and boarded the airplane on my biggest adventure yet.
There are countless articles circulating the travel world that advocate for an easy ‘quit your job to travel’ escape. Many imply that leaving your job will fix your problems, that it’s as easy as a 5-step system, or if the author can do it, you can too. And who’s to say any of those things won’t happen. But for me, quitting my job wasn’t the hard part. There were many. It was the active choice of courage over fear at every crossroads that got me 7,898 miles from home. The day that I realized that my own fears had been the only thing stopping me from achieving travel, was the day I found freedom in travel. So, if you’re ready to quit your job to travel, just do it. It was the scariest and best decision I have ever made.