Bring on Africa! (I Think…)

[singlepic=1808,148,,,right]Sometimes even an experienced traveler doesn’t feel prepared. Marie Elena Martinez shares with us the nerves she is facing heading off to Africa for two months, despite having experienced a two-year career break before! As part of her trip, she will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on behalf of Flying Kites.

I’ve done this already. Multiple times. And yet, the mixed feelings always come. Kenya, Tanzania, and Kilimanjaro loom large in my future, but I’m torn on leaving a very settled New York existence for the pleasures and perils of a travel-break.

In 2005, a rising Associate Publicity Director within the matrix of the HarperCollins Publishers machine, I left my job. No disillusionment with cranky authors, no falling out with top brass, no desire to continue my upward climb to Director. I just…quit. When I look back, I can remember that my position’s sense of urgency, of growth and of learning, had fallen off. So, I decided to throw myself into a new challenge and give myself a new education: traveling the world. Solo.

[singlepic=1805,275,,,right]Everyone thought I was crazy. “I mean, who does that?” wailed my sister. “Did you win the lottery?” questioned nosy neighbors. No, and no. I just needed a change. Which was odd. I had toiled at HarperCollins for nine solid years. I owned my New York City apartment. I dabbled with the same boy for half a decade. Change cramped my style. But it was time. I was on the cusp of 31, unattached, and unchallenged. So, I quit.

I remember relinquishing my company I.D. card on that final day. I could no longer pass through the various floors of my former place of business as a colleague. I would be demoted to visitor and need a nametag; I would be logged into the system at Admin; someone would have to buzz me inside HarperCollins’ hallowed halls. The dread of no business card terrified me. Who was I if not Marie Elena Martinez, Associate Director of Publicity?

A month on the road showed me that preparation only goes so far, and you’re never completely ready for life’s many challenges.
Spontaneity became my new best friend. Unpredictability, my new boyfriend. And I thrived. Oh, how I thrived.

Those fears slowly drifted as I prepared for my journey. The lack of corporate identity faded to black, replaced by worries about proper hiking boots and rain ponchos, durable yet lightweight wheelie luggage and international visas. And shots. A holy immunization hell awaited me. Ecuador would be my first stop on what came to be a two-plus year adventure, but in that solitary moment of booking a ticket to Quito, I wondered what I would wear on the plane. These became my preoccupations. Night sweats ensued. The big question loomed: was I prepared?

[singlepic=1807,200,,,right]A month on the road showed me that preparation only goes so far, and you’re never completely ready for life’s many challenges. I grew to love greeting the dawn each day, often in a new city, with a wealth of possibility and potential at my fingertips. I grew to embrace living out of a suitcase. The contents of that well-chosen wheelie bag became the only constant; everything else around me fluctuated like the wind. Spontaneity became my new best friend. Unpredictability, my new boyfriend. And I thrived. Oh, how I thrived.

More than two years have passed since I returned to New York as headquarters of my new life. In that time, I’ve struggled with re-entry. Redefining the location of your old life in relation to your new one takes work, and I wasn’t ready to go back to work. I wallowed. I did; probably way too much and for way too long, but it takes a while to process two years, five continents, and thirty-something countries in a studio apartment that doesn’t have the best natural light.

Eventually, though, the sun came out. Staying in bed until 2 PM grew old and I began to rebuild. A manuscript here, a freelance travel article there; developing travel reality programming here, working with various global charities there. Voila! New York regained a rosy glow.

[singlepic=1806,275,,,right]This winter, when the opportunity to spend the summer in Africa presented itself, it seemed a no-brainer. For charity, no less, I signed right on. But now, three weeks out, coming full circle in career and confidence, I’m mixed on leaving. Again. Thankfully, I have hindsight on my side, and my trip to East Africa ties into my budding role as a travel writer and a responsible tourist. As an experienced travel-breaker, I always think I’m immune to the feelings, and they always take me by complete surprise when they come. It’s because they always come.

This time around, they’re of a different ilk. Will I be able to summit Kilimanjaro? My first joint trip, will my travel partners and I get along? Will I have enough time to cover my assignments and bask in the continent I’ve dreamed of exploring for five years? And, of course, do I have the right hiking boots? Luckily, I know the answers will work themselves out. They always do. That’s the beauty of taking a break from real life for a solid dose of travel.

Bring on Africa!

Marie Elena Martinez is a freelance travel writer for such publications as Newsday, the Miami Herald and Women’s Adventure Magazine. She lives in New York City where she is working on a travel memoir, loosely titled One Girl, Many Maps, Many Mishaps, that details her time abroad in South America and Southeast Asia. This summer, her travels will take her to Africa where she will attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. Her adventures can be followed on her blog, Marie’s World.

Other comments

3 Comments on "Bring on Africa! (I Think…)"

  1. Alexis Grant on Mon, 14th Jun 2010 9:06 am 

    Great story! Love hearing these.

  2. Tweets that mention Bring on Africa! (I Think…) | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- on Mon, 14th Jun 2010 10:20 am 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sherry Ott and BriefcasetoBackpack, leilavm. leilavm said: RT @CareerBreakHQs: Even the most experienced travelers, like @mariesworlds, don't always feel prepared […]

  3. Betsy Talbot on Mon, 14th Jun 2010 11:42 am 

    Thank you for sharing your story. We’ve been prepping for 2 years for our upcoming trip around the world, and now that we are so close to leaving I have moments of panic that I can’t explain. It feels so good to know I’m not alone in this.

    I can’t wait to read more about your adventures in Africa.

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