My guitar instructor recently asked if I were a spy. He wasn’t joking and even called me “double-oh-seven”. I was tempted to respond with the popular cliché, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you”. But I would have probably started giggling and immediately exposed the ruse. I didn’t confirm or deny his speculations since being likened to James Bond is extremely flattering. So I shrugged my shoulders and left him wondering if his student possessed a dual identity. His suspicions were somewhat justified since I often traded jam sessions for impromptu trips to exotic locations. Yes, British Secret Service agents travel unexpectedly too, but so do brave souls who quit their jobs to jet set completely unencumbered.
Like some wanderlusters, I left an established corporate job to emblazon my passport with dozens of international stamps and travel visas. That takes tremendous chutzpah for someone with a hefty mortgage and zero income. I wasn’t always such a gutsy who-cares-if-I-severed-my-financial-lifeline road warrior. In fact, the opposite was true. I was a play it safe, workaholic who didn’t splurge or take financial risks. Let’s briefly dive into my childhood to understand how this penny-pinching mindset originated.
I was a latchkey kid - independent, impressionable, and badass. While mom juggled several jobs, I foraged for food, mowed the lawn, clipped the hedges, scrubbed the toilets, and did laundry for our family of 4. I even balanced my mom’s checkbook to ensure we had enough for necessities. That’s how this former 10-year old rolled. Latchkeys are inherently self-reliant and resourceful. In fact, fending for oneself was the societal norm back in the early 80s, which made it easy to thrive without adult supervision. I could have capitalized on that freedom by frolicking from the candy store to the playground. Instead, I eased the burden of a single parent household by taking on chores and crafting my own toys until I could line my own financial coffers.
At 13, I entered the workforce as a real estate receptionist for Century 21 in San Francisco. Yes, I inherited my mom’s staunch work ethic before I could even drive. Since I wanted to relinquish my pauper status and eventually rule the Western Hemisphere, I continued to work tirelessly throughout school. This mindset carried me all the way through my post-graduate pursuits. Sound like fun? Not really. Instead of conquering the world by actually seeing it firsthand, I chained myself to a desk. With that said, travel was non-existent since career ambition and world domination easily trumped globetrotting.
It eventually took a stint in the ICU and consecutive 100+ hour workweeks in the advertising sector to finally receive a life-changing epiphany – It’s not worth it. Do I remain an overworked lemming or transform into an intrepid, jet-setting drifter? Choosing the latter led to quitting my job in 2007 and embarking on a solo sojourn across both hemispheres. This was the pivotal backpacking trip that transformed my entire life outlook and future career. Once I decided on a life-changing course as epic as this one, I made every second count.
With that said, I traded my laptop bag for an Eagle Creek backpack so I could globe trot to Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, India, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Spain, Argentina, and Chile. Traveling solo was daunting at first, but then I easily traversed from hostel to campsite with reckless abandon. Okay, not so reckless. However, it was the first time I loosened the purse strings and spared no expense. I splurged on admission fees, safaris, elephant rides, cooking classes, boat excursions, paragliding, spelunking, and so much more. It almost didn't matter that my mortgage rapidly drained my bank account while I gallivanted from ancient ruin to museum. I was finally untethered and happy.
Who was this newly-reformed, carefree woman? This explorer unshackled herself by simply letting go of convention. Had it not been for that epiphany, I would not have learned the following about the world, my resilience, and my future.
Key Lessons during my transformative journey...
The world didn’t crumble when I left my established career. In fact, leaving the rat race (even temporarily) expanded my world view beyond the office walls. I can now hop on planes, trains, cars, or buses when I see fit without the initial trepidation this solo traveler once felt.
When I'm stressed, I wonder...Is this a third-world issue that impacts survival or a first-world problem that doesn't matter one bit? There are so many women and children who begged for change as I roamed poverty-stricken streets of Jaipur and Agra. Those images are an indelible reminder that third-world problems squelch first-world problems. Always.
Getting lost can be extremely empowering. When I visited the Greek island of Santorini, I accidentally stepped off the bus at the wrong drop off point. I walked for several miles in total darkness without identifiable landmarks. By trusting my instincts and internal compass, I managed to find my hotel without incident. With that said, I now take calculated risks and purposely stroll down less-travelled pathways when it is safe to do so.
I can survive solo expeditions unscathed. This is especially true in India, where traveling alone can be extremely frightening for women. I survived a car accident, a flat tire, precarious mobs, and bellhops who repeatedly tried to enter my room. This trip honed my survival instincts, and I am incredibly more resilient as a result.
Express gratitude 24/7. There are many individuals who don't have the same creature comforts that we are exposed to in the US. My family didn't have much growing up, so I am extremely empathetic to those less fortunate at home and abroad. I am grateful for blessings and give to charitable causes as often as I can since abject poverty is still extremely prevalent worldwide.
While it would have been nice to extend my backpacking journey indefinitely, I reluctantly re-entered the workforce to replenish the financial coffers. As one would expect, I fell victim to my Type-A tendencies and nearly offset all the lessons garnered from my carefree adventure. So after 8-years of post-trip workaholism, I asked myself once again, is there more to life than this never-ending grind?
In 2015, I answered that question and relinquished my senior executive role to establish Palate Playground, LLC - a small business providing travel advice, photo/video galleries, and a blog entitled, “Eat Drink and Be Myra”. This new venture is dedicated to all those who are currently entrenched in the tireless rigmarole and yearn to live vicariously through someone who took a massive financial risk to do what she loves.
Life is about making choices that are no longer detrimental to one's health and well-being. That pivotal trip laid the foundation for this crucial lifestyle change and was the greatest gift I could ever give the sheltered, latchkey child I once was.
So I guess my guitar instructor was onto something when he compared me to James Bond and his jet-setting ways. While "double-oh-seven" is fitting, I'd rather be one of Charlie's notorious angels and conquer the world one continent at a time, wherever my insatiable globetrotting hunger takes me.
Note: This post was showcased in the book entitled, "The Trip That Changed My Life", featuring inspirational stories from over 70 travel writers around the globe. Proceeds benefit the charitable organization: Unbound. Thrilled to be part of this worldwide endeavor with fellow travel enthusiasts. Both the paperback and e-Book are available via Amazon.com.