Learning, Growing, and Figuring It Out While Traveling

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I’ve visited seventeen countries and have lived in three. The average person I meet is incredulous and I face quite a few misconceptions. No, I am not rich. No, I am not particularly brave. And making friends is actually quite easy. In fact, I think traveling is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

In the conventional world (I refuse to call it the “real world”, my real world is on the road), I feel disconnected. I spend my days working, going to the gym, and then binging on TV in order to forget the mindlessness of my day. I find myself overly concerned about the way I look and the things I want to buy. Getting together with friends requires making an appointment weeks in advance and half the time something comes up. I try to meet new people but I find there’s a protective shell around them that’s hard to penetrate. And everything– from rent, food, and bills – is out of my price range. At least I’m not in debt like everyone else my age, I would tell myself.

Yet I know many people who are grateful to live in the SF Bay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very beautiful and has a lot to offer. But there, I feel as if I work in order to afford to work.

My parents are avid travelers so I caught the travel bug quite young. When I was 21 I took a semester off college to backpack throughout Europe. When I graduated, I got a Working Holiday Visa to Australia, taking on short-term jobs as a barmaid, barista, and waitress. With the money I saved and earned back through taxes, I made my way throughout Southeast Asia. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy me, so I got another Working Holiday Visa, this time to New Zealand. When I eventually got back to California, I joined a conservation corps, and had the opportunity to explore my home state. During that whole time, the most I ever had in my bank account was $3,000, when I first arrived in Australia.

I realized that the less things I have, the less things I need. I learned that travelers and adventurers are the most imaginative and ambitious people I know. (Ambition isn’t necessarily having status and money; it’s about pursing your dreams, whatever they may be.) I became aware that traveling breaks down barriers, whether they are cultural, financial, or racial. I learned that confidence comes from self-reliance. Traveling, I soon realized, is an important learning tool.

Eventually I hit a roadblock. I got unhealthy living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I got tired of going to the bank and discovering that I literally had nothing left. It always ended up working out but I wanted to be able to save. Living a nomadic existence won’t last forever. Really the responsible thing to do would be to settle down. “You have to start thinking about your pension,” my Dad told me. So I stayed home for a year and did some soul searching. Eventually, I managed to find a job as the Membership Representative at The International Ecotourism Society, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable tourism initiatives worldwide.

I am looking forward to a career in the sustainable tourism industry, as I sincerely believe that as international tourism grows, there will be a new kind of traveler, one that wants to have a positive impact on the local communities that they visit. This is an industry that is on the forefront of sustainability – in green infrastructure, gender equality, conservation, agriculture, and indigenous rights.

The best thing about this job? I telecommute and get to live wherever in the world I want to (so long as there’s internet). And my immediate thought was to go back to Boracay, the Philippines. So here I am, pursuing my own dream.

  • Elsa Y..G.

    Great writing and this is looking like the perfect job for you. All your travels and experiences put you in the place now to do a great job in your next adventure. Stay centered, continue to grow, do good, stay connected and have fun!! Your family and friends are proud of you!!

  • Stephanie lentini

    Julia, wow! This is an awesome intro and I am inspired by your persistence to your dream! I am so happy you have found a way to make it work and I am confident that as you continue to follow your heart your ideal life will unfold in front of you. Best wishes!!

  • Oliver

    From an ambitious 24 year old sat by the roadside in Cambodia,
    Thank you.