Long-term travel isn’t usually a decision that is made overnight. There is often a deep, long-lasting desire within a person to tread on dirt roads, watch sunsets from other horizons, see new colors woven together by diverse histories and traditions, share unique moments, appreciate differences, learn to be self-sufficient and free, enjoy simplicity, and to rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul. For some, the dream to leave a life behind to follow an uncertain road seems impossible or too scary to attempt. But when the desire to go surpasses the desire to stay, one should prepare for the waves of emotions that follow. As a single mom with two young children, there were almost too many emotions to sort through.
The decision that it was possible
Marriage and kids kept me in one place, and my travel dreams were reduced to pictures on a Pinterest board. In 2011, I was divorced and broke. I had a small, empty apartment in Austin, two children (then ages 2 and 4), no job, no car, and a blank canvas with which to create a brand new life. I began an online marketing business that allowed me the flexibility to be at home with my children and to travel when we wanted to.
After a year of running my business, making sure it was successful and profitable, I envisioned what my life would look like in 6 months. I saw turquoise blue waters, warm weather, and knitted hammocks. So on Christmas morning of 2012, new luggage, passports, swimsuits, and beach toys were wrapped beneath our tree. My gift to my children and myself was a long trip to Cozumel, Mexico, which seemed like the perfect introduction to traveling outside of the US. I sold, gave away, and packed our belongings, and anticipated our departure date in May. I was overwhelmed with excitement until one late night 6 weeks before we were scheduled to leave, I wanted to cancel the whole trip.
Fears set in during the planning stages
I had been spending my evenings reading travel articles, travel blogs, travel tips, cultural differences in Cozumel, Mexican laws, and other books. I mapped out a detailed plan that exhausted me to look at, but I felt secure that everything in Austin would be taken care of when I left. I hired staff to take care of tasks that I couldn’t be present for, and on paper, my plans for my exciting journey seemed thorough. But exciting journeys aren’t about a plan on paper.
About 6 weeks before leaving, I began to feel displaced. My thoughts and energy had been focused on Cozumel, and it pained me to feel uprooted from my comfortable life in Austin. I felt adrift- some place between Austin and Cozumel. Knowing I wouldn’t be with my friends in a month, I stopped making plans with them, and I was sure I would be forgotten. I feared that there would be nothing to come back to, that friends would move on, and that I would no longer have a place.
I questioned whether this was best for the kids- to uproot them when we had made a comfortable spot for ourselves in Austin. I was content there to a degree, so maybe I could be okay. Maybe life abroad isn’t really what I had imagined, and maybe I was setting myself up for disappointment. I was sure of my life in Austin. I knew what was coming, and I knew what to expect. But in another country, I didn’t know what to expect. Was the excitement of the unknown worth the risk of having no permanent home?
I questioned everything. I began to panic and started holding on to any reason to stay in Austin. Talking about my trip made me cry. I couldn’t sleep, and I cried more in that last month than I did in the past year. I wrote out how much it would cost to cancel my trip, get a new place (since I had given notice at my apartment), put the kids in a new pre-school, and continue living just like I always had. I was so disappointed in myself- I claimed to be a free spirit, but I was terrified of venturing out with only a couple of pieces of luggage, my two children, and my little dog.
So did we go?
I thought I needed comfort and roots, but what I really needed was resolution and wings. I began having long chats with a seasoned world traveler friend of mine. He assured me that these feelings were normal, but that I needed to find a way to put them in their place. I could cancel the trip and go on living the way I was, or I could take this chance, and get a glimpse of something that could be incredible. If I didn’t like it, I could always return to Austin, but my friend assured me that if I would just get on the plane, I wouldn’t regret it. I was allowing fear to ruin the possibility of a deeply-rooted dream, of a free vagabond lifestyle that I had designed in my head for years. But I wanted this adventure enough that I had rid myself of all material things, structured a business around a travel lifestyle, and prepared my children to be little world explorers.
I had been blindsided by the waves of emotions I felt from day to day and even hour to hour (sometimes minute to minute). Finally, a couple of weeks before leaving, I found ways to manage my fear and move forward. If I failed, I could still have a good life in Austin, but if there was even a glimmer of hope that I could pull this off, I was going to find out.
I began envisioning myself in my new life, free in my spirit, but grounded in who I was. My stability would be within myself. My children would find their safety in my own stability. My comfort would be in knowing that the world was an exciting place, and that my children and I had the privilege of living in it- all of it if we wanted! My fears would not be passed on to them, and they would feel free and open to wander and discover, while I watched them in amazement. I realized that I could have roots, but also be fluid and mobile.
I ran, I meditated, I drank hot tea, I listened to soothing music, I took bubble baths, and I began to surround myself with only positive, calming energy and people. I reflected on all the amazing memories I had in Austin, but looked forward to new ones. I read books written by other wanderers and vagabonds who discovered things they were looking for and found even more that they weren’t. I studied maps, and beautiful cultures, and revived my excitement for seeing them myself. I recognized my fears, and then released them, as I began to expect the best from our trip. I spent time with people who had been traveling, I saw their appetite for life and exploration, and I regained my own enthusiasm for my journey. There were moments of fear, but I had resolved that we were going to do this. On May 23, 2012, the kids and I boarded a plane together, each of us with a stuffed animal in our hands.
What about now?
Questioning this move was a really helpful part of the process, now that I reflect on it. It helped me realize how strong my desire was to travel to new places. Had there been no struggle in my decision, in the end, I may not have been so resolved and focused to release myself from my own boundaries. My children and I have been in Cozumel for 3 months now, and we have all adjusted well. We have extended our trip through the school year, and we plan to live in Costa Rica next.
Sometimes, I wonder what I’m doing here, or I fall into habitual fears and mindsets. I worry that we may lose everything, that my business will fail, and that I won’t have the ability to pay for our home here.
But I guess even in a worst case scenario, I could just tie a couple of hammocks between two palm trees on a beach, and really, that doesn’t sound too bad at all.
Autumn la Bohème is a single mother of 2 who left her home in Austin Texas to disprove the word “impossible”. Always labeled a gypsy soul, she had a dream to live absolutely free, to travel with no geographical ties, to roam, to explore, and to make the world more real to her than the pictures she saw in books and magazines. She is a writer and online marketing manager for Bodhi Leaf Media, a business that she started to fund her travels. She also documents life and travel on her blog It’s All About a Journey. She loves daydreaming, open skies, and listening to tales of other nomads and vagabonds on their journeys. Her children’s adventurous spirits have added to the excitement of their journey, and now they have their own list of areas to visit as they slowly explore Central and South America.
Photo credits: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.