15 things I’ve learnt since quitting my job to travel one year ago

The Americas

L-R: USA, Canada, Peru, Bolivia Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua El Salvador, Mexico, Belize, Cuba

It’s been exactly one year since we quit our jobs, sold everything and flew out of Melbourne airport with laughably vague plans to travel indefinitely. In that year we’ve visited 16 countries in the Americas and tonight we are flying to Europe to continue our trip. I’m not a travel expert by any means, but here are some things I’ve learnt in the past year.

1 Things really do work out

You’re on a 1970’s American school bus hurtling through the Costa Rican countryside, all of a sudden the bus slows slightly, the bag containing all your worldly possessions is tossed out the door and a man on the bus is yelling at you in Spanish to follow it. Just as you think you’re going to be deserted by the roadside, another bus with another man swoops in and collects you. And somehow, magically, you end up at your destination.

So much about travel involves simply ‘winging it’ and hoping for the best. And I have to say, in all my experiences everything really does work out. Thinking too far ahead can be really daunting, but if you live day to day, relax and go with the flow, things figure themselves out. I remember feeling really overwhelmed telling people about our route: “first we’ll road trip all over America, dip into Canada, then leave our car in Florida, fly to Peru, do South America, then Central America and then come back”. I felt like a liar. How on earth were we going to pull all that off?! But we did. Things just work out.

2 There is far more inherent good in the world than evil

Being mugged certainly was a low point on this trip, but it was so heartening how many people came out of the woodwork to help me. The bartender who helped me immediately after the assault, the random security guard who held my hand on the walk home, Lex, the guy who took me down to the police station, the friendly Chilean guy at my hostel who helped as an interpreter plus everyone around the world who sent me kind words over the internet. That right there is about 100 people versus the one jerk who stole my bag.

Furthermore, so many kind people have approached us to offer directions or check we knew what was going on with a delayed bus or to point out how to get a taxi. Those lovely people far outweigh the others and help restore your faith in the world.

3 No matter the climate, a down feather jacket is always useful 

Seriously, that thing is super lightweight and doubles as a pillow, a blanket and is 100 per cent necessary on the freezing buses of South and Central America. Read about my other top 8 travel essentials here.

4 You will not know real fear until you have faced it (and its source may surprise you)

Neither being mugged, riding a bike down Death Road nor hiking ridges with thousand foot drops on either side invoked real fear in me. It wasn’t until I sat on that stupid plank of wood to slide down the side of a volcano that I understood what genuine fear was. My heart was pounding, my head was spinning and when I got to the bottom I was shaking so hard I could barely stand. And I immediately burst into tears.

It seemed so ridiculous at the time (and it still does) but that was true fear right there. Who knew volcano boarding would be my undoing?!

5 Travel insurance is worth every penny

See the mugging post for further clarification! Also, I’m so glad I brought all the receipts for my electronics with me. You’ll need them when you make a claim.

6 It’s ok not to enjoy every second 

With long term travel, you are going to have off days. With a week or three week trip it’s kind of easy to stay ‘on’ the entire time and milk every hour of your vacation. But when you are travelling for months on end, you’re bound to get tired, grumpy or even bored sometimes. You’re bound to get to at least one place and think “WTF is this?!” And that’s okay.

7 It’s ok to say ‘no’ to stuff 

I really have the worst FOMO (fear of missing out) and used to constantly say ‘yes’ to everything even if it wasn’t really my thing or if I was tired or sick. This entire trip has been an exercise in saying no and not feeling wracked with guilt for doing so. It’s ok to just chill out sometimes. I soon learnt to stop beating myself up for the rare times I chose to watch New Girl episodes instead of exploring a city or a museum for the afternoon.

Stuff I’ve said no to: at least three big nights out (once when I was sick, other times when I just couldn’t be bothered), hiking into the Colca Canyon, a night mangrove tour, going surfing and I’m sure there’s more.

8 Not having a routine can suck

Turns out routines are the key to success. I used to think nothing of my alarm going off at 5:20am twice a week for spin classes, not because I’m superbly motivated but because it was routine. Same with eating well and exercising after work, it was just programmed into my routine so I did it. Well. While leaving the routine of work behind is glorious, your other routines will take a massive hit too. Suddenly it will be really hard to go to bed at a regular time, to find the will to get up and exercise, to curb alcohol consumption and to eat well. The #YOLO lifestyle paired with the “I’m on holiday!” excuse eventually takes its toll on your health and clothing size. Awkward.

9 You will end up more tired than when you were working

When you’re at home, you actually spend a decent amount of time on auto-pilot. You know exactly which way to drive to work or where to get the train and where to get off, you know where the supermarket is and pretty much can shop for your usual stuff with your eyes closed. When you’re switching environments every week all of that is gone. And it’s super tiring.

No you aren’t working. But constantly having to think and adapt will tire you out. As will sleeping in different beds, in dorm rooms with loud inconsiderate jerks and taking overnight buses. I went from someone who struggled to nap during the day to someone who starts to nod off sitting upright in public.

10 Booking flights in advance will not save you money

We have learnt the hard way that booking flights way in advance on an open ended trip will only result in the costly exercise of changing those flights. Save yourself the heartache and book closer to the date.

11 It’s hard to fight the urge to buy stuff

Schlepping your stuff around does little to stop the modern affliction of materialism. We are all caught up in the endless cycle of consumption and constantly wanting to upgrade. I hate that I still want shiny new things, but I’m glad my circumstances prevent me from buying pretty much anything unless I’m desperate.

12 The world is a tiny place

Figuratively and literally. Yes you will bump into friends of friends from home seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But more interestingly, famous, world renowned cities you always regarded as huge will turn out to be tiny. Like Seattle. Only 650,000 people live there! About the same number live in Boston.

13 No wifi is better than bad wifi

It’s the ultimate first world problem but patchy wifi makes my blood boil. Need to get over this.

14 Stressing about money won’t change a thing

We are in a privileged position of not having to pay bills or support anyone but ourselves so we choose not to count every dollar. For us, that would suck the fun out of travelling. But I still find myself occasionally worrying about money. I try to remember that worrying won’t change my bank account and when the money is gone, flying home won’t change the amazing experiences we have had.

15 You will not regret your decision

Apart from a brief period in Montana around the three month mark when I wondered WTF I was doing with my life, I have not regretted a second of this trip. I take comfort in knowing I won’t one day be on my death bed wishing I’d worked more. It’s hard to vocalise just how amazing this year has been, needless to say I feel so fortunate that this is my life.

It’s not over yet and obviously I’m still learning stuff all the time. I need to stop obsessing over getting the perfect photo and I need to stop being outraged when the weather doesn’t do what I want it to do. Thanks to Andrew for such an awesome year.

Excited for the next chapter! Thank you for reading 🙂


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8 Responses to 15 things I’ve learnt since quitting my job to travel one year ago

  1. Faye says:

    Love this post 🙂 think i’ve discovered many of the same things over the last year! Look forward to reading about more of your adventures 🙂

    • Bec says:

      Thanks Faye 🙂 Your photos of penguins in Chile are amazing! We didn’t make it that far south unfortunately. Next time!

  2. Lynne O'Brien says:

    Hard to believe it’s been a year! Your posts have been so much fun (apart from the mugging), and make for great reading. I can’t wait to see how much you love Ireland! (umm, my Mum was a Fitzpatrick, and her Mum was a Flannigan, so I’m a tad biased :-)). The Irish are such lovely people, and they have the best pubs! Enjoy every minute.

    • Bec says:

      Thanks so much for all your lovely comments Lynne. Been in Ireland for two days now and I just love the beautiful green countryside.

  3. Jess Carey says:

    I loved this post, and have loved ALL your posts so far on this trip! I’m still in awe that you guys had the courage to just do it all, and you’re still a huge inspiration to me in terms of living life your way and not to anyone else’s standards and expectations 🙂 Cannot WAIT to see where the next chapters take you guys to!

    • Bec says:

      Thank you so much Jess, I never thought of our trip in that way (living our lives exactly how we want) and its a huge compliment! I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂 But I can’t pretend your amazing Melbourne posts don’t make me a tad homesick!

  4. Nix Stix says:

    Amen to number 9. So cringey to tell people this when they think you are on ‘holiday’… But it’s so hard sometimes!!

  5. djeanane says:

    Interesting and exciting

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