Like many other existentially anguished twenty-somethings, I had a burning desire to quit my job and travel. The nine to five existence apparently wasn’t cutting it anymore, and I pictured myself - or at least my fantasied alter ego - living a more adventurous life in an exotic location, far away from home. Unspoiled paradises and promises of a permanent sun tan were etched in my mind.
For six years after graduating university with a liberal arts degree I had found myself in the typical graduate (I have no idea what I want to do with my life) job; recruitment. What started as a way to fund my travelling for six months, ended as a six year stint. As John Lennon said, “life happens when you are busy making other plans.”
I somehow found myself stuck in the recruitment industry for over half a decade before I managed to pull myself out. In hindsight I’m surprised I lasted so long. It’s fair to say I was working to live; earning money to fund my lifestyle, yet there wasn’t anything deeper or more rewarding to the job. I was stuck in career paralysis; too tired, stressed and lacking in confidence to try anything else.
Eventually, I had an epiphany one Christmas spent in France a few year ago. I was in deepest wine country, walking through a forest with brown leaves underfoot on a crisp winter’s day, with picturesque countryside all around me. It hit me. I can’t do this anymore. These six years have gone. Disappeared. And I thought, before I know it, I’ll be thirty. This was my ‘carpe vitam’ moment. I had to make a big change.
It seemed that travelling was an obvious answer. Especially if you are a prone to reading travel blogs like me. In particular, I had my sights set on Cambodia. I had spent a couple of weeks there in between jobs with a university friend a few years ago, and it seemed like the perfect place to go back to. I had hazy memories of playing football on the beach, wearing shorts and sleeping in hammocks. It was far away from London, exotic, hot and cheap. What more could I ask for?
I came back to work in the new year with a plan; I was going to save some money, quit my job and hop on a plane to South East Asia to potentially live there, for a year or more. Maybe forever. My boss was surprised but thankfully very supportive.
Fast forward a couple of months and I was finally on a plane to Thailand, where I would spend some time before reaching Cambodia – my chosen promised land of adventure, limited responsibility and endless fun on a beach somewhere.
Quite soon after starting my trip however, I realised something wasn’t quite right. There I was, finally out of the office and with a few thousand pounds in my bank account. Surely it was time to let my hair down?
The reality was I felt quite anxious about my situation and it sucked that I was thousands of miles from home. I had envisioned that I was going to feel a certain way once I was abroad. I was expecting to feel liberated - high on life - but in reality, my emotional state was telling me otherwise. I probably wasn’t ready to admit that this whole episode wasn’t going to work out just yet, but intuitively I could tell something was amiss.
My plan in Cambodia was to get employment as an English teacher. Get a flat, and for it all to magically fall into place. An online TEFL was my entire preparation. I would be living the life. But I soon discovered that I really wouldn’t be living the life – or at least the romantic ideal that I had envisioned. I looked at over fifty apartments to no avail over the first few weeks. The noise of a rapidly developing city was everywhere and constant, irrespective of how high the flat was in the building. Not to mention the thick, unbreathable air. The capital was humid, polluted, and dirty. It was clear that my experience of Cambodia a few years ago – ambling through Ankor Wat, chilling on the islands – was not the same as actually working and living abroad. All the things that don’t matter when you are spending a couple of days in each place, do matter when you are going somewhere to live for an extended time. In hindsight this was obvious. As the days and weeks went by, I had to admit that I was struggling to enjoy myself. All the images in my mind about travelling were that I should be having a good time; surely this was my moment.
The irony was that I had flown 5000 miles to get away from the obligations that I was facing in my life; parental pressure, peer pressure, my own pressure, only to find that I was actually more stressed abroad then I was at home. It was dawning on me that going abroad perhaps wasn’t the answer for me at this stage.
After a few more weeks, I accepted that I wasn’t feeling much better. I missed home. I would have done anything for the cold air and grey skies of London at that point. I finally decided to move on from Cambodia and end my trip abroad sooner than I had initially expected.
In hindsight, my trip abroad didn’t quite correlate with my grand expectations.This was my wake up and smell the coffee moment; travelling wasn’t going to be the solution to my problems. I needed to have the courage to actually face my issues, instead of quite literally running (or in my case, flying) away from them.
After coming home to the UK, I finally had no more excuses. I knew I had to ‘do the work’ on my future and begin to resolve the difficult twenty-something (or indeed all age groups) question of what career path to choose next in the age of seemingly infinite choice. I’m pleased to say that over a month or so since being back, I have made some big steps in regards to my career future. And I feel a whole lot better.
Although my idea to move abroad wasn’t what I expected, it was also extremely useful to go and try it out. Now I’m back and sorting my future out, the constant existential itch of wanting to quit it all and live abroad, which had lingered with me throughout most of my twenties is no longer there. And I can finally start to live my life back home without the great expectation – if not burden – that I have to go abroad and travel.