Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

Pachyderm Dreams
Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

I felt a bit panicky when I realized, while speaking with the bed and breakfast owner in India, that I might never work with elephants.

My husband and I were staying in the woman’s home in a rural part of Kerala, chatting with her about the wild elephants that had wreaked havoc on her banana trees the year before, when the thought of elephants caused my heart to sink. I began to tune out what she was telling us as I recalled my myriad childhood career aspirations – elephant caretaker, and also naturalist, park ranger, veterinarian, journalist, jockey, novelist. In my mind, I watched these varied and utterly incompatible aspirations fall to my sides like leaves. It struck me then as it never had previously:

There was so much I had wanted to do, and so little time.

In my actual life, I chose to be a lawyer, figuring that law school would be a good way to kill some time while I figured out if it was what I really wanted to do. And then, suddenly, I was 33 years old and I had spent seven years litigating with a large law firm – a job I quit so I could travel the world with my husband. How could I ever, at my age, suddenly decide to scrap my years of higher education and toil as an attorney to give elephant training a try (and still leave time for everything else I still wanted to do)? As I thought about this more deeply, an existential gloom settled in that I had a hard time shaking over the next several weeks.

That one of my dreams involved elephants made the thought of letting that dream go particularly bitter. Elephants have always struck a special chord for me; there is just something about the contrast of their immense size with their gentleness; their intelligence; their playfulness; their soulful eyes. Simply imagining spending my days working alongside them was enough to bring a smile to my face.

As our travels continued through India, I let some of my angst go and focused on enjoying our nomadic existence. By the time we returned home for Thanksgiving and began to ponder our next move, I had more or less forgotten about my crisis. As was my habit when we were in the planning process, I picked up the Lonely Planet guide for our next country – Thailand – and began to leaf through the first few pages. The photo that caught my eye right away was of a baby elephant, happily wallowing in a mud puddle, surrounded by the sturdy, protective legs of the herd. “Elephant Nature Park,” the caption read, going on to describe this sanctuary for rescued Asian elephants near Chiang Mai where visitors could spend a week or more volunteering with the elephants.

Though I was instantly sold on the idea of spending some time at the Park, it was not until my husband and I were actually there, spending our mornings shoveling elephant poo and our afternoons feeding the elephants bunches of small bananas and halved green pumpkins, that I realized what I was doing. I was working with elephants. It wasn’t my career, and the elephants were not exactly dependent on me for survival (the park had people who were paid for that), but here I was, fulfilling some idea I had had of myself as a child.

I felt slightly giddy every time I placed a piece of fruit on an elephant’s outstretched trunk and felt it wrap around the food, gentle yet so strong, twisting as it maneuvered the food into its mouth. And I still remember the thrilling terror I felt when I learned just how strong those appendages could be, when an ornery elephant grabbed my arm with her trunk and began pulling me – helpless, perplexed, and exhilarated – towards her. Fortunately, she lost interest after a few seconds and released me, leaving an enormous slobbery mud blotch on my bicep.

Looking back, I now see that it was only because we were traveling for so long and so extensively that I was able to achieve one of my many, possibly silly, childhood dreams. There is a sense of satisfaction I get just from having taken the trip; knowing that I truly seized the day and pursued a huge dream. But also knowing that I was able to do something I never thought I would do, and realizing that there is a way to at least try out some of the things I always thought I might do, is an added bonus.

To be sure, there is still much left untried. I will never be a veterinarian, having realized I can’t handle blood of any kind, not even animal blood. I am almost six feet tall, so my chances of giving jockeying a try are pretty slim. But it is a huge relief that after the moment of panic in India, when I saw my world closing in, came clarity in Thailand, when my world suddenly opened wide again.

After leaving her job as an associate with a large law firm, Robin Devaux spent approximately eleven months traveling the world with her husband, Pierre. They visited five continents and 24 countries, sampling the local beer in each one (except for the United Arab Emirates, where they were forced to drink Budweiser). You can read about their adventures at or meet them in person when they speak at Meet, Plan, Go! San Francisco on October 16.

Join us on October 16, 2012 for our nationwide Meet, Plan, Go! events:

Austin | Boston | Chicago | Minneapolis | New York City

San Diego | San Francisco | Seattle | South Florida | Toronto

Ghosts of Sabbaticals Past
Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Sometimes, when I walk past the hallway closet, I swear I can hear my hiking boots whisper.

We used to be your daily companion, don’t you love us anymore?”

You see, I have neglected my hiking boots in recent months. It’s been about eight months since I last paid any attention to them. They lay there patiently, covered in a mixture of caked-on sand from Namib dessert, muddy speckles from Kilimanjaro, dusty patina from the Great Wall, reminding me of this adventurous woman I had become during my career break.

I came home to New York City in November of 2011 after 9 months of travel that took me through mainly Africa and Asia. New York is home for me and I can honestly say that I appreciate this city so much more now than I did before. The assortment of cultures in New York is the reason why.

My new career is in real estate- I’m not someone that particularly enjoys sitting in a cubicle for 9 hours a day. I need to be moving, meeting people and doing something. Besides, I have always been fascinated with the variety of homes in NYC and I enjoy meeting new people, so this career is an ideal choice at this stage in my life. However, it sadly does not require my hiking boots at all!

Thankfully, here in New York,  I can be reminded each day of what a great international city this is. When I stroll through Harlem and spot the Kilimanjaro Restaurant on 116th Street- and I feel an amazing sense of pride. Climbing “Kili” is no longer just an item on my wish list, I was actually was there in the flesh and I climbed it!

On the West Side I see the mural of an elephant in the Natural History Museum subway stop, I reflect first on how completely out of scale it is and then that the mural simply does not do any justice whatsoever to the true majesty and grace of an elephant! But for a split second or two a can feel as though I’m in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. I know the thrill first hand of being just inches away from one of these creatures, and for a few minutes I feel that I’m there.

Now I understand so clearly why people call it a travel bug. I definitely have it and can’t kick it- nor do I want to. I have become determined to find a way to make a trip like this happen again. Why? Solo long-term travel gave me the ultimate sense of freedom. I finally felt alive for the first time in a long time. As a traveler, I could let go of any and all pretense and be myself in the truest form, without the makeup and suit and fancy handbag. It forced me to push my limits mentally, physically, psychologically, and even gastronomically!

It’s as if I had grown wings for nine months and could truly fly. That’s a great feeling! It was not hard for me to decide that I would need to structure my life in a way that would allow me to travel long-term again at some time in the future. Solo adventure travel is way too exciting to only do it once in a lifetime!

While I work in real estate, I have decided to invest in reshaping and redefining my blog I am also working on a small business idea that would enable me the freedom to perhaps not travel for nine months at a time, but that would allow me to take a one month journey from time to time. My ultimate goal for this phase of my life is the location independent lifestyle.

Perhaps I’m just experiencing adrenaline withdrawal, but I find that I’m a curious person. I need to explore new things- not just within this city but also on a global scale! I am determined to create a mobile lifestyle that will allow me to work from anywhere on the planet that has a half decent Internet connection.

I look forward to the day when I can strap on my hiking boots once again!

Sonia Virtue was born in London, but has lived in New York since the age of eight. After 15 years in sales and marketing, she saw her daughter off to college and took a career break in March 2011. She spent 9 months traveling from Nairobi to Cape Town, Portugal, Spain, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  You can read about her travels at

The Only Way Out is to Jump
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

My first time skydiving was about on par with the stress level I have been experiencing with the planning and everything else associated with our round-the-world trip. It is bizarre to think that jumping out of a plane could be as frightening as stepping onto one bound for Iceland, but right now, I keep finding myself covered in a cold sweat, hoping that we will be okay.

It is not as though Tara and I have not done a good job researching and planning this trip. Most of our blog posts so far have detailed the deadlines and goals we have had, and met. However, there is still so much uncertainty that we simply cannot plan for. Uncertainty swirling around elements of the trip, our pre-departure, our return, how it will affect us individually, as a couple. These variables prevent us from making decisions, and as someone who likes to attack problems early and head-on, this fills me with worry.

This helpless feeling can be compared to the look you see on my face the split second before I “jumped” out of a plane (I skydived tandem, strapped to an instructor, so it was a cross between being thrown and falling out of a plane. I know, a far less glamorous characterization than the one often described). Before experiencing the thrill of the fall, the weightlessness of the air, extension of the parachute and all the other feelings your body grapples with during your oh-so-brief skydive, you are forced to face your own mortality. This is done by requiring everyone to sit through a video informing you that you could die, sign multiple releases explaining you could die, and ultimately strap on a parachute that warns you in big bright words that, yes, you could die doing this.

Facing the warning of death via pre-recorded video and lawyerly documents blurring together is one thing, but once you are strapped to someone in a small prop plane with a cargo door open for the majority of the ascent, your fear can really take hold of you. Before jumping, your instructor must receive a verbal affirmation acknowledging you’re ready to go, but that usually happens far away from the jump door. Once you are at that door, the only way through it is by letting go.

Jumping out of a perfectly good plane and traveling the world for an extended period of time may not seem like the most logical of bedfellows, but even now, I know my fear is just as irrational as it was before exiting the plane. Tara and I will have a life-altering trip. We are choosing an experience that few people dare to attempt, and we hope the reward will ultimately outweigh the risk.

But right now, I’m staring out of the cargo door; the wind is whipping past me and the ground is not even in sight. I turn and my wife is behind me and I feel safe but nervous. It’s too late to ride the plane down to the ground — and we step out into the nothingness.

Mike Shubbuck is one half of the the traveling duo known as Two Travelaholics. He and his better half, Tara, are about to embark on a round-the-world trip, starting on June 6, 2012. As an award-winning filmmaker, Mike is excited to document their journey through videos and photography. You can follow him and Tara on Twitter (@2travelaholics), on their website, Two Travelaholics, or on their Google + page.

Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go