Three years ago, I put all of my belongings in storage and bought a one-way ticket to Rarotonga, an island in the Pacific Ocean that my mother was sure I had pulled out of my imagination. At an early age, I diagnosed myself with the condition of wanderlust, and had dreamed of doing something this ridiculously adventurous and equally frightening for all of my adult existence... but what would I do with my dog? There's no 24 Hour Fitness Out There in the World, and then there's the matter of the car, and how would I pay bills? I had a convenient excuse for not traveling every time it crept into my thoughts, until the right time presented itself finally.
My lease was ending in a month and I realized that eight years in landlocked Colorado was too long and it was time for something big and impetuous. Plus I was freelancing, and a simple comment from a friend -- "So you can write from anywhere, huh?"-- had been replaying in my head for weeks. My original plan to up and move to the Bay Area was thwarted when I met a fellow wanderlust sufferer who had spent a few years in the Philippines, a year in Thailand, and was posted up in a paradisiacal island off the southern tip of Brazil called Florianópolis, which I told him sounded like a destination concocted by Dr. Seuss. It had only taken him a few months to learn Portuguese with total immersion, and he made traveling abroad seem not only possible, but also a piece of cake.
His adventurous life and the obvious happiness it brought him made my California relocation seem way too vanilla, so I kicked my wanderlust into high gear, got a map of the world, and started pinning locations. I spent days plugging islands into flight search engines and found a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Rarotonga for $500. Clicking on that "Purchase Ticket Now" button was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. I was on this natural high where my heart and soul felt nurtured by the rightness of it all, and I wasn't scared because I had no space left in my body for that emotion; every cell was full up with total excitement and the infinite tasks on my "Things to Do Before You Get to Live Your Dream List."
Ticket in hand, now what? "You'll figure it out as you go," said my wanderlust buddy, "and you'll be a better person when you get back." I proceeded with an anti-plan, which meant I would do as little planning as possible with the hopes that the Universe would write the story in my favor. I had two months to deconstruct my current reality and prepare for solo travel: Put stuff in storage, break the news to my parents, close bank accounts, find an adoptive family for my dog, get the required immunizations, and figure out how to pack for an indefinite amount of time. I was able to get a Skype online number, which let me call the States unlimited for next to nothing, and I set up a business account where my bank would let clients mail in checks, which solved the physical problem of how to get money in the bank.
I learned that upon arrival in another country, you'd better provide proof that you'll be leaving soon, or risk being denied entry. This shot down my plan for total spontaneity, but I found a way to still keep the mystery alive -- I would wait until the last minute to decide where to go next while still keeping Immigration happy. So before I left the states, I purchased my ticket out of "Raro" to Auckland. While in Raro, I would buy my ticket out of Auckland, and so forth. Fiji, Tonga, and Bali were all possibilities, and I was intrigued by the island of Niue, which is tiny as a teacup (100 sq. miles), but became the world's first Wi-Fi nation. Fascinating.
My family was not too pleased with the uncertainty of this anti-plan, but I wanted to leave room for my journey to flow unscripted. The one anchor that would play into my destinations was the Internet -- wherever I went I needed to be connected, both to appease my writing clients and make good on the promise to email my mother every other day, plus I planned to start a travel blog so friends and family could peek in on my life abroad.
My quest for adventure cultivated eight months of sheer joy and became a successful marriage of the awe and innocence of my inner child with the authority and self-reliance of my adult self. Every day was a mission in self-discovery and cultural prospecting. I delighted in the littlest of differences, like the way the community mailboxes in New Zealand are shaped like coolers with mouths, or how up until a few years ago, kissing was blurred out on Tongan television. I learned to be aware of my environment at all times and tweak my body language to project confidence. I also learned that luggage (a.k.a., "stuff") is a burden and you should have as little of it as possible while seeing the world.
If you are having symptoms of this affliction known as wanderlust, it may be time for a treatment plan. It's easier than you think if you can rework your lifestyle to become a minimalist and buy the ticket. You'll be surprised at the hustle and drive that follow once you get that scary first step out of the way.
By the way, I actually saved money while Out in the World, as having no bills or rent freed up my income substantially. (You can get a bunk for $8 a night in Fiji, or a private suite with bathroom for $40!) Aim for locations where the dollar is strong and don't spend with a tourist mindset, but rather a "survival" mentality.
Although it's a bit inaccurate to say this trip "cured" me of my Wanderlust, it gave me sublime memories I can pull up in an instant when I'm feeling the weight of monotony, and I definitely make traveling a priority now. Next stop (fingers crossed): Argentina and Brazil in 2014!