When I was a very little kid, before I could even read, perhaps, my parents bought me a globe. The globe sat on the far right of my desk.
When I was a little older and started school, doing homework always took forever because instead of looking at my books and writing the lines and lines of scribbles my teachers and parents wanted (when you’re cursed with shitty fine motor movement, you have to do a lot of remedial work), I’d peer at my globe. I would look at the countries to find the biggest, the smallest and the ones with the funniest names.
I would ask my mom about these countries and, because this was before the internet, she probably couldn’t answer me very well. But, still, every night, I’d neglect my forced calligraphy exercises to contemplate the hugeness of the world. I’d dream about going to all these far away places to see what they were like. I couldn’t wait to be a grown up and leave on an adventure.
There were two major, in my little girl eyes, events in my life that really developed my relationship with my globe.
One was when a family friend sent me a Christmas present. It was a little doll with a note saying how it was hand-made in Peru. “Where is Peru?” I asked my mom. “Far”, she told me. (Did anyone else have that problem with their parents and unsatisfying answers?) I got my globe and she showed me where Peru was. I was amazed at this family friend who went ALL THE WAY TO PERU and bought a doll for me. I wanted to go ALL THE WAY TO PERU too. It was a double gift. A doll for the little girl that I was, and a dream for the person that I am.
The second event was of a more sombre nature. My family and I were in the living room watching TV. News that Canada was to take part in the Gulf war came onscreen. I was 5 years old. My mom’s family had come straight from Germany, so my childhood had been filled with tales of World War II, of being bombed and of running away with “nothing but the clothes on your back”. The news said we were going to war. I thought of my house burning, I thought of bombs falling everywhere and I pictured myself running into the street with a big pile of clothes strapped to my back (I was a very literal child). I started to cry. Quickly, my parents sent me to bring out my globe. They pointed to Kuwait and Iraq and showed me how far away the fighting was.
I was relieved at the time, but I like to think that it set the framework for the global consciousness I wanted to develop in myself later on.
The Birth of the Epic Journey
I didn’t get much opportunity to travel as a kid. My parents weren’t fond of the hassle and were of the older school of thought that believes travel is expensive, dangerous and pointless.
We did, however, take a lot of family vacations to different regions of our home province as well as visited family in Toronto and New Brunswick. Which is more than most kids got back then, so I won’t complain. Besides, on my current journeys as an adult, I’m constantly shocked at how most of the fellow travelers I meet have seen so much of the world, but know absolutely nothing of their own backyard. It’s important, I think, to know where you come from and to understand and love your homeland. It adds an extra dimension and meaning when encountering and adapting to new cultures and environments.
I traveled a little bit in my early adulthood. Mostly in my own country and in the US. I didn’t have much freedom of time or money, so instead I took opportunities for student exchanges or inter-provincial internships as they came. That’s how you do it when you can’t afford to take time off school or work. You fit travel in when the chance presents itself.
A lot of my high school friends went into career fields like international development, human rights law, environmental engineering, international commerce, etc. earning them jobs that let them relocate all over the world. For some reason, despite all my dreaming, I wasn’t particularly attracted to those lines of work and ended up studying psychology and pharmacy, which tend not be as accommodating of globe-trotting needs.
During a pharmacist’s conference in Victoria, BC when I was in first year (see! taking advantage of travel opportunities!), I stopped by a outdoor-adventure-slash-travel shop to buy a travel towel because I had forgotten my travel towel at home. There was a sign on the wall about a presentation that night by a girl my age who had just gotten back from backpacking in South East Asia. I didn’t have other more pressing plans, so I went to the presentation.
That’s when I decided that my graduation gift to myself, after 10 years of college, was to take off to South East Asia to just backpack around.
I’ve always been a sensible person, though, and it dawned on me that a burden of 10 years of student debt is probably not the best thing to bring on this trip. So I took a two year contract. The first year, I decided, I would pay off all my loans. The second year, I would start saving.
Sometime around there, I found myself in Winnipeg, getting drunk with an Australian who worked in Banff (this is what Canadian life is like!). He told me about Australian travel holiday visas. Basically, there are jobs, mostly farm jobs, that no one wants to do, so they hire tourists with promises of visa extensions in exchange for hard labour.
“I want to do that.” I thought.
At first, I was ready to go pick fruit or zucchini or something. Then I started reading and OMG. Some people with working holiday visas get to work, on, OMG OMG OMG…CATTLE RANCHES!!
Another childhood dream of mine. A real Australian cattle ranch! I want to do that!
Of course, you say that where I live in Alberta and people just give you funny looks. “A cattle ranch? Why go all the way to Australia? You could come work on my cattle ranch.”
The State of Planning for the Epic Journey
In case you were wondering, I did more or less hit my milestones.
It took 13 months to be 100% debt free. A month behind schedule, but still, not bad considering I bought a car, moved across a continent and furnished an apartment.
A year after that, I have more than enough money saved up to travel. While I’m only considering going for a year and a bit (I’m allowed to go without working for 2 years without losing my pharmacist’s license, but I’m afraid I’ll forget too much stuff), I could easily live abroad for several years. So no worries there. (Pharmacy may not be a very travel-friendly profession but, at least, if you’re willing to face challenges and do the work no one wants to do, you can make enough money to just buy the freedom to do whatever you want.)
But, because I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, I agreed to delay my trip an extra year, to help out my store.
It’s ok though.
It gives me more time to plan, to organize my finances and to tie up loose ends here. I do worry about time ticking away – life is long but youth is short and my health isn’t the greatest – but it’s all about priorities, I guess. I do want a family at some point (at least children, I don’t think I really want a husband) but there are things I need to do on my own first. I can accept not having children until my mid 30s, but I don’t want to go through life having never done the South East Asia and Australia epic adventure on my own.