The year I turned 30, I made a significant life change. I quit my job in London, the dream publishing career I had worked towards for 10 years, left my home and big network of friends, and set out to travel the world alone.
As daunting as uprooting my life to Latin America with no real plan was, the thought of doing exactly what I had been doing for the last ten years was far scarier.
As we approached the big 3-0, my circle of friends began buying houses, getting engaged and having babies. It dawned on me that we’d somehow transitioned into proper adults with responsibilities – and I was not at all ready for it.
I’d imagined that we’d have had so many more adventures and seen so much more of the world before we arrived at this point! I hadn’t done enough adventure travel.
As I watched my friends settle down, I realised:
a.) It was now or never for me to make a big change
b.) I needed to go it alone
I was already used to a good salary, Instagrammable holiday destinations and a nice home, so I figured the longer I waited, the harder it would be to leave my increasingly comfortable life in London.
The longer I stayed in my comfort zone, the more starting a new life in another country would seem too daunting and risky, and the less likely it would be happen.
So while I was pretty content with my life, the thought of continuing like that forever made me feel claustrophobic. As I hit the milestone birthday and turned 30, I decided it was the right time to leave and travel the world.
So I quit my job: I ended up handing in my notice to my great boss, selling almost all my worldly possessions and buying a one-way ticket to Latin America.
I had no contacts, no job and no backup plan. Only the ambition to travel the world.
After a few wonderful months of solo travel, I wound up living on a beach in a Mexican surf town – worlds apart from my hectic, stressful, city life.
For many who feel trapped in the 9-5 commuter London cycle, this is the dream. But, as I quickly discovered, starting a new life alone wasn’t without its own set of challenges.
When you build a new life the other side of the world from your network of family and friends, you realise how much you rely on them for general life advice and support.
Moving abroad on your own and overcoming a language barrier challenges you in ways life in your own country never could. And suddenly navigating the smallest things like bus routes or how to top up your phone becomes a feat.
Thrown in at the deep end and far out of your comfort zone, you’re forced to be resourceful and fix things because you can rely on no-one else to do it for you. But life becomes so much more rewarding because of it.
I discovered that the sense of achievement from small successes, like making a hair appointment over the phone in Spanish, can easily rival any accomplishments in my professional life.
The reality is that starting again in a new foreign town or city can also be daunting and lonely.
Whilst, at first, I enjoyed the novelty of the completely commitment-free diary that comes with a ‘travel the world’ mindset, before long I was craving human interaction. I knew I needed to get out there and make some friends. By staying in hostels I was able to meet lots of new people, often other solo travellers who were up for hanging out and exploring together.
When I finally settled in that Mexican beach town, I immediately investigated opportunities to volunteer there. It was there I met a fantastic group of friends.
I discovered that volunteering not only allows you to give something back, but also gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with locals.
Of course, the language barrier can be challenging to navigate but I recommend investigating local language exchange nights. They work like speed dating. Or find an ‘intercambio’ partner – a local who wants to improve their English.
Read more: The happiness habit of solo travel
Intercambios are great because not only do they help improve your ability to speak the lingo, they can also show you some hidden gems of their hometown. Spots that only locals know about.
I made it my aim to really nail Spanish. I listened to podcasts, made small talk with waitresses and taxi drivers and relied on a lot of mad gesturing and mime. I’m pleased to say it definitely paid off, and I now have no problems communicating and making myself understood.
I quickly adjusted to life on the beach – a far cry from city living with its pressures and stresses – and have no regrets about my Big Life Change.
My work life balance improved dramatically and, while I may have taken a significant pay cut, the experience has allowed me reassess the priorities in life. I would rather live with less material possessions and fancy dinners, and have more free time to do all the things I never had time for when I was juggling a stressful career and busy social life in the city.
Beach life has given me a new perspective. Being time-rich (although admittedly, cash-poor) and rarely feeling the need to rush anywhere means I don’t stress about the small stuff.
This is a welcome shift for both mind and body, helping me to achieve an equilibrium that no amount of expensive yoga classes in London would have managed.
While I was worried about how taking time out from my career would affect my future employment prospects, I found that being around people, for whom pursuing a high-flying career isn’t the number one priority, allowed me to re-evaluate what I want from life.
My solo travel experience has provided the opportunity to meet people who are able to work whilst they travel the world, and has given me the head space and courage to take the plunge and go freelance. I’ve learned new skills and developed existing ones.
As a result, I am now lucky enough to able to choose where I want to live in the world and work remotely as a freelancer.
It turns out quitting my dream job opened up the possibility of other dream jobs, ones I would never have known about if I hadn’t taken the initial risk to travel the world alone.
Quitting a successful career, taking a huge pay cut and making a radical life change isn’t for everyone.
But for me, at least for the time being, it seems to be working well.
Three adventures to go kick-start start your career break
Savour the sweet life in Sri Lanka
Take on a leopard safari, climb to the summit of Sigiriya Rock Fortress at sunset and release baby turtles as part of a conservation project. Then soak up the good vibes in luxury, boutique beach resorts and prepare for some total chill – with plenty of time for some self-reflection, too.
Beach life and island-hopping in Brazil
Paddleboard and snorkel through warm, tropical waters, learn to samba in the Bohemian district of Lapa and go island-hopping across the beaches and lagoons near Paraty on a private day-long boat trip. And let’s not forget Copacabana beach. This is Brazil at its best.
A foodie awakening in Mexico
If you’re a foodie, this one’s for you. Take an off-radar culinary safari through Mexico City, followed by a tequila tasting masterclass. Hike between volcanoes in Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park and then conjure up a feast at a private cooking class in Oaxaca, the culinary capital of Mexico. Hope you’re hungry.
Images: Eve Warlow, Flash Pack, Shutterstock, Unsplash