I remember walking into the airport at midnight, color blocked in neon wearing hiking boots and a yellow fanny pack with a smile that could have lit the runway. I was on my way to Costa Rica for the first time.
Little did I know when I stepped onto the plane, that I had made a decision that would alter the course of my life.
Back then I had barely even traveled and certainly did not consider myself “nomad” material. I had the money and the two-week vacation allowances like most 9-5ers in the United States, but travel was not high on my list of priorities.
I was far more interested in decorating the most fabulous apartment, throwing the perfect dinner party, and finding the perfect boyfriend than I was in sleeping in hostels, eating street food, and spending hours by myself in nature.
I worked in an office as a Project Manager, went to trendy cocktail bars with my friends almost every night, spent hundreds of dollars on clothes per month, and I always found myself in a committed relationship with a guy.
So what changed? Why did I, someone who never studied languages in school and has always had a fear of flying, put all of her belongings in storage, hand over the keys to her apartment, and step onto a red eye flight to Costa Rica?
Because something had to give.
Leaving behind my life as I knew it wasn’t that hard because that life had never really made me happy. I constantly battled with anxiety, never exercised or practiced yoga, rarely did things to take care of myself, and I didn’t have a clue how to relax.
Like most people I know, I was working a job that didn’t fulfill me. I had taken the traditional route when I graduated from high school, and went to university not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. That’s what everyone else was doing, and consequently what I thought I was supposed to be doing as well.
I knew the things I loved to do. I loved to design and make beautiful things, I loved to perform in musical theater, I loved to write poetry and stories, I loved to cook and throw parties for friends, but none of those things were practical. None of those things would ever make me money, I thought. So I pursued Marketing, a career that seemed like the most creative and artistic of all of my boring options.
The summer I graduated from University was also the summer of the financial crisis in the United States. Companies crumbled like pyramids made out of sand, millions went bankrupt, and I had done my internship at Washington Mutual (considered the largest bank failure in American history).
I applied for hundreds of jobs before I finally received an offer working for an Internet Marketing company. It wasn’t the glamorous “Mad Men” career I had envisioned, but it paid my bills.
As comfortable as it became to show up to the office Monday through Friday, make a good salary, and live for the weekends, I’ve always had a strong passion and drive, and I knew there had to be more for me out there. I just didn’t exactly know what.
Interior Design had been a hobby of mine when I was in college, and while working my Marketing job, I managed to find time to get a gig working as an assistant to a top Interior Designer in Seattle. It didn’t take long before I had my own clients and even worked on a high-end restaurant.
I often talked about going back to school to get my degree in Interior Design, but I was way too comfortable, and way too scared to take the plunge.
Then the universe pushed me into the deep end.
After working for two years at my first job out of college, I went to work for a small web start up. There, I met my friend Andie Mitchell, who worked as a social media expert and had her own food blog Can You Stay for Dinner.
That job only lasted a few months. Long story short, the company’s traffic was majorly hit and they had to completely shut down operations. I didn’t have a job anymore.
Fortunately, I quickly picked up another gig working for a different web startup with a friend I had known for years. The salary was double what I had been making and I had the chance to invest in a company that would reward me with big returns. My dream of going back to school went even further on the back burner.
I worked long days and weekends, attended daily meetings, answered to five different bosses, stayed out late partying with investors, and put all of my energy into that job.
Once again, just a few months in, I lost my job. This time, with no explanation and no warning. “We decided we don’t need you anymore,” was what I got.
That afternoon, drunk at the bar with my friends, I declared that I would never work for someone else ever again. So I picked up a restaurant job to pay the bills and decided to finally take the plunge and apply to get my Master’s Degree in Interior Design for the next Fall term.
Over the six months while all of this had been going on, I was also dealing with extremely intense heartbreak. Around the time when I lost the first job, I had also broken up with my boyfriend. Our relationship had ended but we’d still see each other and have moments where we pretended nothing had actually changed. It was a complete mind fuck and emotionally exhausted me.
I had been in that relationship for nearly three years, immediately after I had ended a four-year relationship with someone else. Sleeping alone felt strange to me and I couldn’t really fathom the thought of not having a man by my side.
The relationship had never been stable and in the three years we were together we must have broken up and gotten back together at least ten times. He is a wonderful person who I still love dearly, but I’ve ever felt so lonely or insecure as I did in that relationship. Instead of get out, I tried to do everything in my power to make it better. I recall thinking that if I could channel that level of energy into something productive, I could seriously change the world.
The endless cycle of breaking up and getting back together felt like a horrific merry-go-round I was destined to ride forever. I knew I had to break it but I didn’t feel strong enough.
When my friend Andie, the blogger I met back at that small Internet start up, told me she was leaving to spend two months in Costa Rica, I saw my way out. She had just gotten a major book deal with Random House to write her memoir (which is now an Amazon top 10 best seller I might add) and wanted to escape to a beach somewhere.
I decided to go with her with two goals in mind: to finish my graduate school applications and to finally learn how to relax. I even packed a book called “Learn to Relax” that had sat on my bookshelf for years. I didn’t read it in Costa Rica, but I most certainly did learn to relax.
To my surprise, it wasn’t all hibiscus flowers and sunshine.
For the first time in my life, I truly discovered what it meant to be alone. Our cabin sat in the remote jungle with no bars, no shops, no restaurants, no wifi, and no other people. The distractions I had used my entire life to avoid being alone no longer existed. Plus, Costa Rica was more expensive than I anticipated and I didn’t have much money saved. The first week I actually considered flying home.
Though the beauty and the serenity of Costa Rica quickly worked its magic. I began to surrender to my surroundings.
I walked for hours down the wild jungle beaches, sat and watched the sunset every evening, swam in the Caribbean ocean like a mermaid, read books just for the pleasure of it, barely ever opened up my computer, danced with reckless abandon in bars I would have once turned my nose up at, had an exciting love affair with a gorgeous local surfer (which did turn out to be a total disaster), and found myself happier than I had ever been in my entire life.
I realized I had everything I needed from the sun, the sand, the sea, and most importantly, from within myself. I felt completely content.
I began to reconsider going back to school. I wondered if I even gave a crap anymore about designer bathroom tile or paint swatches. I was starting to really like being somewhere taken over by the jungle instead of designed by the hand of man.
But I didn’t believe that Costa Rica was real life. I didn’t know anyone who was actually sustaining a life like that. I thought that pursuing that life further was an unrealistic fantasy.
The last day before I flew home my Mom wrote me that I had been accepted into the best schools in the country. One of which was Pratt in Brooklyn, a school I had always dreamed of studying at.
Culture shock hit me hard when I returned to Seattle. I didn’t relate to my friends anymore and I couldn’t understand the purpose of things like phones, cars, and jobs. Still, I didn’t believe that going back to Costa Rica was realistic, so I prepared to move to New York and study design.
Yet rather than research housing in Brooklyn or register for courses that fall, I stayed up late reading my Lonely Planet guides and travel blogs. School had not even begun and I was already planning which tropical countries I would backpack through on my breaks.
Knowing I wouldn’t need any of it in New York, I sold all of my furniture that was in storage and I sold my car. I worked my ass off waiting tables and doing Interior Design consults. In two months I managed to get about $20,000 in the bank and flew to New York with a one-way ticket.
My first day in New York I knew it was a no go. Pratt felt like a prison and I asked myself why I would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted, in a place that I didn’t want to live in.
Instead, I went to go travel more in hopes of finding myself. I knew I had until the fall to decide on school, so I took advantage of my freedom. I traveled with my friend Andie down through Mexico, Belize, and back to Costa Rica. When she went back to the states I stayed behind in Costa Rica. This is when I really opened my eyes to the idea that I could travel on my own. I began to recognize that perhaps this lifestyle suited me better than the one I had always thought I was meant to live.
For the year that followed I continued to travel, to Europe, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica again. I kept thinking that I would get over the travel bug and eventually come to my senses. That never happened. Finally I realized that I was never going back to school for the simple fact that I was incapable of doing anything with my life other than travel the world. I loved traveling so much that doing anything else simply was not an option anymore.
I still haven’t forgotten that day, two years ago, when I wrote in my journal, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make this life possible.” Because there was no other option anymore.
Since then, I’ve backpacked on my own through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Scandinavia, Western Europe, and Morocco, become a certified yoga teacher, established a home for myself in Costa Rica, started a popular travel blog, earned a living on the road, made hundreds of friends across the world, found a tribe of people who speak the language of my heart, and discovered that all of my dreams are possible if I believe in them.
Losing my job and my boyfriend, and having a friend tell me she was headed to Costa Rica, may have been the catalysts that led me to leave my old life behind. But that’s not why I left my fancy city life to become a globetrotting gypsy.
I left because of the tiny hope within me for something better.
The small belief that despite how I had felt for most of my life, I was capable of attaining happiness. Happiness that extended beyond a fun night out with friends or the early butterflies of a new relationship. Happiness that extended beyond the instant gratification of a new outfit or a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Happiness that was more than a promotion or a paycheck. Happiness that came from a deep place within me. Happiness that could only come as a result of truly living my life’s purpose.
I chose that happiness and I will follow it wherever it tells me to go, for as long as I live on this planet.
Create your own life changing trip to Costa Rica. My eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica will show you how!