David Lee – Realizing a Dream
[singlepic=1654,250,,,right]David Lee’s path to a life of travel started with a job layoff. And after spending 20 months on the road, David is still keeping the travel spirit alive through GoBackpacking, MedellinLiving, and Travel Blog Success. He shares with us his career break experience, including some great preparation advice.
What made you decide to take a career break?
My first unofficial career break occurred after a layoff. I suddenly had the free time to reflect on how I’d lived in my early 20’s, and spent my money. I realized backpacking was not a part of those years, and committed to making my next job a means to travel around the world. Ultimately, I chose to save money to spend on experiences, rather than material wealth or a new home.
What was your travel experience like prior to your break?
Aside from family trips when I was younger, my first backpacking trip abroad was a Summer spent in Europe after college graduation. I started off with a few of my best friends, and when they went home after just a few weeks, I stuck around to explore on my own, developing a newfound sense of independence and self-reliance in the process.
The knowledge that I was about to do something amazing always trumped my fears.
What were some of the ways you prepared for this new experience? Were there any experiences from your corporate life that helped you in the preparation process?
As I’d been backpacking for a few months before, I knew how it worked to travel by way of hostels and guidebooks, so I didn’t have to prepare too much. In 2005 and 2006 I took short trips to Costa Rica and Belize to stay motivated for the bigger trip around the world which began in late 2007.
I used my experience with Microsoft Excel at work to create a few spreadsheets using Google Docs to track both my pre-trip “to-do” list and budget, along with my actual costs once I hit the road. By posting my plans online, I was able to ask for feedback on my budget and itinerary in the BootsnAll message boards.
[singlepic=1650,250,,,left]Did you face any anxieties while preparing? If so, how did you deal with them?
My biggest anxieties were breaking the news to my parents about the trip, which I did 2 years before I eventually left home, and notifying my boss at work, which I did about 2 1/2 weeks before I was ready to hit the road. I found the best way to deal with both situations, as well as the lesser anxieties about which malaria medication to use, and so on, was to remind myself how amazing my trip would be once I boarded that first plane. The knowledge that I was about to do something amazing always trumped my fears.
How did you decide on what to do and where to go?
Since this was my dream trip, I drew up a long list of countries that sounded appealing. My knowledge of most of them came from talking to other travelers, reading about them in magazines like National Geographic Adventure, or seeing them in TV shows or movies. The list ended up being at least 30 countries long. I knew I wouldn’t be able to visit them all, so I prioritized, selecting “must-see” destinations that I wanted to visit the most.
As for my route, I decided to head west to the Pacific and Asia first, as I wanted to arrive in Nepal during good weather for trekking (April). I also figured that if I started off with the countries farthest from home, then as I ran out of money toward the end of the trip, the countries I missed would be the least expensive to visit in the future.
[singlepic=1649,250,,,right]What surprised you the most about the destinations you went to? What surprised you the most about yourself?
I was surprised at how easy it was to get around despite my lack of language skills. Even in places like Chengdu, China, I’d manage to get around with smiles and body language. Of course it was always a richer experience when I could speak to someone in English, or knew a little of the native language (such as Spanish in Colombia), however it showed me that not being able to speak the language is a very weak excuse for not traveling somewhere.
While on the road, what helped you through any doubts or struggles you encountered?
When I got a throat infection on Phuket in Thailand, it was leaving me so lethargic that I considered coming home. It was a little scary to feel such a lack of energy, and not have had the chance to make any travel friends. I e-mailed my parents every day, and just hearing them say that I could always come home for a break helped a lot. In the end, I stuck it out, recovered, and spent the better part of another year traveling!
I remember after having been in Asia for 7-8 months, feeling unenthusiastic about some of what I was seeing and doing. I messaged Gary from Everything Everywhere and he suggested jumping to a new continent. I decided to skip Vietnam, and hasten my jump to South Africa. It worked like a charm, as the minute I was flying over the African continent, peering out the airplane window, I felt that special sense of excitement again.
Did you feel you could have been better prepared in any way? If so, how?
Nope, I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for long-term travel, and that’s part of the excitement.
[singlepic=1653,175,,,left]How was your experience returning home? Did you struggle with reverse culture shock?
The last 6 months of my trip were spent living in Medellin, Colombia, so it was especially strange to return to suburban Virginia after living in a Latin American city. After a few weeks though, it felt like I’d never left, except for the fact that I was far more confident in myself as a result of overcoming all the challenges – physical, mental, financial, and emotional that I experienced while traveling.
To overcome the reverse culture shock, I started doing yoga regularly, which I didn’t get the chance to do much of in India, and I kept up with my salsa dancing which I had begun in Colombia.
Reflecting on your career break, what insight have you gained?
It feels incredibly empowering to set a big goal for yourself, work toward it every day for years, and then realize it. In my case, since traveling was my goal, I felt as though I had the chance to realize my dream every day for 20 months.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this?
My best advice would be to set a dollar amount you want to save, and a time frame for achieving it. Then work backwards by setting yearly, monthly, and even weekly goals for getting there. It’s like the Confucius saying, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Also, it helps to find a support system of likeminded people. Luckily, the online travel community is incredibly supportive.
I’m excited for the February 1st launch of my new online community, Travel Blog Success. I’ve spent the last few months building an online course around everything I wish I’d known about travel blogging when I got started back in 2007. In addition to the lessons covering everything from buying a domain name to making money online, there will be an exclusive Blog featuring audio interviews with popular travel bloggers and a Forum where members can interact, collaborate, and support each other.
Be sure to vote for Go Backpacking as Best Travel Blog and Medellin Living for Best Latin American Blog in the 2010 Bloggies!