I planned the trip of a lifetime for my 40th birthday -- a solo trip to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. They were hosting the World Cup during my birthday week, so even though I don't follow soccer, it seemed like the perfect chance to party in South America with people from all over the world. I booked my flight and put in my vacation request at work. You already know what happened. They said, "No." Well, not exactly "no", but close enough.
They approved me for three vacation days (not consecutive, sigh) and said that if I wanted the rest of the time off, I'd have to find someone else to cover my shifts. I worked in a hospital pharmacy on the night shift. Nobody ever wanted to work my hours. I hardly even want to work my hours. So, I took matters into my own 40-year-old hands and called in sick from Brazil. I'd earned paid vacation as part of my compensation package, so why did I always have to beg to use it?
This was a long-time problem for me that repeated itself over and over again with every job I'd had. I made IVs for hospital patients. Sure, my job was an important part of providing patient care. But I needed time off. And so do you.
Everybody needs time to rest from work and replenish their mental energy.
Courtesy of Stephanie Perry
It turns out that during my wonderful trip to Brazil, I met two millennials from San Diego who put me on to a new work philosophy. They worked jobs that were always hiring. So, they worked and saved up their money to travel long-term. And then they'd quit and travel to places where their money stretched further than it would at home. When they ran out of money, they went back home and got new jobs. I knew immediately that this was what my near future would look like. At least for a year or two.
I went home to Delaware and back to my hospital job -- short a few sick days -- with a new mission. I needed to save up enough money to travel around SE Asia for a year.
Fifteen months later, I was on a plane headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I broke into a serious sweat the day I went in to give two weeks' notice at work. But I'd already paid for my flight, so there was no turning back. Once I took some deep breaths and told my supervisor September 15 would be my last day, it was smooth sailing.
Elephants in ThailandCourtesy of Stephanie Perry
For a year, I backpacked around SE Asia right alongside the 21-year-olds from the Netherlands who seem to be everywhere. I slept in dorm rooms in hostels and once volunteered on a cricket farm for free room and board. I had adventures that, at 41, I used to think were out of my reach. I bathed elephants in Thailand. I took a three-day motorbike tour in Vietnam. And I met people who showed me kindness and generosity like I'd never imagined.
The trip was both harder than I expected and more fulfilling. Sure, I got to check things off my bucket list. But I also learned how resilient and resourceful I can be.
And the sabbatical gave me time to dream.
Most days during that year, I set an alarm so I could drop what I was doing and watch the sun set. When I worked night shift, I often slept from sun up to sun down, especially in the winter time. But that winter I was on a beach in the Philippines watching the sky put on a show like I couldn't believe.
A sunset in the PhilippinesCourtesy of Stephanie Perry
When we're always busy and always tired, our minds don't have a chance to play. We don't have the time to ask ourselves if we are who we want to be or set goals for our future that make our hands shake while we write them.
I quit my job just to see the world without someone else being in charge of whether or not I could go. But somewhere during the trip -- maybe while I was riding in a tuk tuk in Cambodia on my way to see the Temples at Angkor Wat -- it became about more than travel.
I was free to BE anywhere and DO anything I wanted. And what I wanted was to keep it going.
I traveled from country to country until my money ran out -- exactly 52 weeks later. I went back home to Delaware and even got offered my old job back. But I knew that the next job I took wouldn't last long. I had to get back on the road. So, I took a different job for a few weeks while I set up my next adventure. I used that time to find better ways to stretch my newly earned money, and I found a few ways to support myself while I travel. And then I quit that job too.
I don't regret quitting two jobs to travel. And I don't regret taking time off of work to explore myself. And most importantly, I'm so glad I don't have to regret never taking the chance in the first place.
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Featured image via Stephanie Perry/Instagram