Leaving a Job, Travelling Solo – Highs and Lows of An Unforgettable Year

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Highlights of 2010 - Lily Leung

Me, at Varanasi, India. More photos on Facebook.

A year ago, I would’ve never imagined I’d be jobless, single, travelling alone in Asia – and happy about it.

In my 28 years, I can’t think of another year where I’ve:

– Experience as much change in my life
– Cried so much, out of happiness and anxiety
– Worked through so many fears
– Followed my heart and took so many leaps of faith
– Made new friends and reconnected with old friends

Every month was different from the one before and it felt like I experienced more change and excitement this year than the last 4 years combined.


Highlights From This Year

  • January – Leaving my job started to become reality. I had an idea of what I’d do with my year off, enough personal savings to fund it, and if I didn’t quit now I’d still want to leave months later.
  • February – Handed in my resignation letter and silently prayed things would turn out okay. When colleagues started asking what I’d do with my year off, I was scared as hell and all I could say was I was going to “explore for a year” (which later became the name of this blog). Meanwhile, my long-term partner had just moved out of our apartment to take a job in another country.
  • March – It sunk in I was really leaving my job next month. Becoming more confident in my decision to quit, I started better articulating what I was going to do for the year: pursue my interests in the web area and travel solo for the first time.
  • April 1 – Last day at my job. After being asked a few times if I was going to blog about my time off, I wrote my first article about leaving my job. If documenting my journey inspired even one person pursue what felt right instead of what they were “supposed” to do, I’d be feel happy.
  • April 2 to May – Flew to London, UK for to visit my partner. At the end of my stay, my long-term partner of 4 years and I wished each other well and parted ways due to the distance between us (Toronto and London). While the break-up was initially tough, the hardest thing was telling my family (it took 4 months for me to find the courage to tell them.)
  • May to September – Back in Toronto, I took a full web design course. The knowledge I gained was important, but most memorable were my zen-like teacher and a new friend I made from Spain.
  • September – With the lease on my apartment ending in November and planning to travel but not sure when or how long, I spent many nights debating between staying in my 2 bedroom apartment, moving, finding new roommates, subletting out my room while I travel, travelling sooner and putting everything in storage, selling some things but storing others and combinations of these options.
  • October – Took a leap of faith and decided to sell all my furniture on Craigslist and to start travelling the next month. With the help of friends and many kind strangers, I sold and donated all my belongings within about 3 weeks.
  • November – After a debate between buying a packaged round-the-world ticket, open jaw tickets, and setting dates for future flights, I took another leap of faith and I bought a one-way ticket to India.
  • Mid-November - With my departure date nearing, I had major anxiety about travelling solo. I worried about being lonely, homesick, getting pickpocketed, losing my belongings. Days before my flight, I cried at the idea of being away from home for Christmas for the first time.
  • November 25/end of Nov - Spent my first solo day in Delhi. It felt exciting and liberating. None the fears or worries around being by myself materialized. Days later, I joined my small group tour and had an unbelievable 3 weeks through northern India.
  • December – Flew to Thailand where I spent Christmas Eve with a relative of a friend, Christmas Day at a beautiful temple, and camping in the mountains for New Years. Having travelled for over a month, I surprised myself that I hadn’t felt lonely nor homesick, and in fact having a great time.

Biggest Lessons from This Year

  1. When in doubt, choose change. It’s easy to stay with status quo instead of following what your gut tells you. Maybe its seems too risky, unconventional or just plain scary, but each time you push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, you grow more into the person you’re meant to be.
  2. Anticipation of pain is more painful than the event itself. We spend a lot of emotional worrying about what might happen, imagining what-if scenarios, building contingency plans for worse case outcomes. In my case, worrying about people’s disapprovals or about feeling lonely, homesick. When then the actual event started happening, things weren’t nearly as bad, in fact they turned out quite great! If you find yourself worrying, rehearse the best case scenario instead and know that whatever difficulties you imagine or experience, they will all pass in the long run.
  3. Things will work out and you’ll have help on your journey. When we start going off the conventional path, you might feel alone or wonder if you’ll end up worse off than you were before. Have faith things will be fine. If you pursue your dreams and open up, you may be surprised by the amount of help you’ll get for your journey. Just through selling my belongings, I made a friend who helped me plan my entire trip to Thailand, and a scriptwriter who gave my plants a good home and guide me on how to be a more productive writer (which I’m still practicing).

Thank you to my friends for being part of my journey and for letting me be part of your story too. All the best in health, happiness, love and success, and cheers to another year of new adventures. Happy New Year!

>> What do you remember the most from your year? What was the biggest lesson you learned this past year?

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  • Rishabh

    you are truly an inspiring writer, mentioning you on my blog!
    be ready with a lot more answers for comments :)

  • Maracorfariu

    Well done :) We are starting our 1 year trip within 3 weeks (me and my boyfriend) I understand and feel the same as it is getting closer to depart day,  however just need courage and to keep on reading blogs as yours …makes me fell that everything will be all right :)
    Our blog : http://www.travelphotoreport.com/
    All the best,
    Mara

  • http://twitter.com/MilkThePigeon MilkThePIgeon

    Lily, that’s awesome.

    Congrats!

    It looks like your 2 year mark is coming up in January right?

    What are you doing these days, and what are you up to in the future?

    Alex

  • Sugarcanenomads

    hey lily! your blog is really inspiring. i just have one question though: what if you had not broken up with your partner? Would you have asked your partner to go with you or just try to work out a long distance relationship as you travel?

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Sugarcanenomads,

      I would have gone travelling alone because that’s something I’ve always wanted to do and we would have maintained a long-distance relationship (he would have probably joined me in travelling a few parts of the world).

      In my experience, long-distance relationships take energy and so does long-term travel. The benefit of being single is that you have more attention to dedicate to yourself and your immediate experiences and it forces you to be a stronger individual.

      I think both options (travelling with a long-distance relationship or alone) could have worked, as long as there was a will to make it work.  

      Thanks for stopping by! If you want to talk more about this, feel free to contact me.

      – Lily

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  • Rachel

    Wow. Reading your blog has certainly validated my plans of quitting my job and take the risk (and excitement) of being a photographer and travel blogger,full time! Since I graduated from university, I never thought of working for a bank for 5 years but at the same time never imagined that I’d want to take a risk of pursuing an unconventional career.Whew!

    Thank you so much for sharing this.I’m looking forward to inspire people just like how you did,for me.
    -Rachel

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for stopping by, and it’s exciting to hear about your plans to pursue your passions! It sounds unconventional but once you go down the path, you’ll find yourself surrounded by similar-minded people and then it’ll start feeling normal ;) (that’s a good thing!)

      If you’re interested, I did an interview with my lawyer-turned-pro-travel-photographer traveller friend: Aussie Lawyer Turned Photographer: Interview with Holger Mette. He talks a bit about what inspired him and how he makes money.

      Keep me updated :)
      – Lily

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  • Kate

    Hi, I’m considering leaving my job too – I totally know where you are coming from.  A year ago I made 2 trips to Europe and one to New Zealand within 9 months- all on my own and the first time I had travelled any distance in my 55 years.  It was challenging and scary and I loved every minute of it.  Since returning to Australia I cant sit still, hate my job and am planning another solo escape back to see more of Euope.  Loved your story and inspirational encouragement.  Kate

  • Mimsey

    Dear Lily –
    You have inspired many young people to step out of their comfort zone and travel or do whatever fulfills them.  You may be surprised to know that you also have inspired me – a 70-year-old retired woman!  My husband and I have made a couple of trips to Europe, traveling mostly on Eurail, which we love.  But, all of my life I’ve had the desire to travel the world as you have, but we always took the ‘safe’ path.  We have had a happy life, but,  I still have the wanderlust.  I hope to be able to travel freely without all those reservations and group escorts (who are nice, but not what we like).  My husband is virtually blind, uses a white cane, and is 78 years old — but, I see no reason why we can’t travel safely and happily.  Hopefully, we will be able to save enough money to travel for an extended time and still have our home to return to!  But, even if it doesn’t happen, I will live vicariously through your blogs of your travels!!  Wish I’d had your courage and foresight at your age.  God bless you, Lily, and happy travels!! 
    Mimsey

  • Trudy

    Hi Lily
    You did inspire someone – me, I found your blog by chance at the time I was trying to make a decision to leave a job that no longer made me happy and to find a new way of living my life!  I’ve left the job and done things I never thought were possible, may have caught the travel bug too, I’ve been back from a trip to Italy for a matter of days and I already need to go away again!! I’m excited about the future now and choosing change has been just amazing!
    Enjoy!
    Trudy x

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Trudy,

      I’m so happy to hear you are well. You sound so energetic and lively, like you’ve had many breathes of fresh air. Your journey sounds beautiful, exciting and I’m proud of you for choosing what makes you happy. All the very best!

      Thanks again for your words, you make my heart smile :)

      Warmest regards,
      -Lily

  • http://www.lisaoverman.com Lisa

     I’ve given up regular life and done similar things. I loved your piece and your perspective. I’m in the midst of heading off again and I appreciate reading your piece today. thanks!

  • Peng

    I really love to read your article,keep going!
     
    peng

  • Abby

    Hi Lily:

    I

    absolutely adore your blog. It inspired me to start my own blog noting the little adventures in Toronto and my voyages abroad. Similar to you, I have my own goal of moving/living abroad soon and hopefully it will be as amazing as your adventure has been so far!

    Love all the helpful tips/hints too!

    Abby

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  • Vicky_bryant

    Hi Lily,

    I love your blog. I just read your story in the Toronto Star today and had to read the rest of your blog. I’m 27 and saving to do a solo trip around the world. I’m also from Canada, 4 hours north of Toronto actually :) Very inspiring and great to read about all of your experiences. I must say, you are very courageous to try a 10 day meditating course. Kudos to you! I can’t imagine having the patience to do it. Look forward to your next posts. Take good care!

    Vicky

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Yor-Yoryor/507785247 Yor Yoryor

    Hi Lily,
    If you are back in Toronto, would you like to meet up at some coffee place called Jet Fuel (Toronto) and exchange our travel stories. For example, I survived Tsunami when I was in Thailand but I still cherish my time there. I also met an amazing group of Deaf Thais there as well. Let me know…..

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Yor,

      My gosh, sounds like you’ve had amazing travel adventures! I’m in Thailand right now (and loving it) and plan to continue travelling longer, but keep in touch. I always love exchanging travel stories. Thanks for stopping by :)

      – Lily

  • http://experiencingrevolution.com Tessa Zeng

    Hey Lily, I really love this! Congrats on taking the plunge into such an exciting new life! Something tells me you’re not going back to that job :P

    I’m always curious- what was it that triggered such a drastic switch for you?

    I’m about to run far, far away from the status quo myself by leaving school & moving across the country for a few months to work on my new web project. After that, I hope to be traveling around the world! Your story is inspiring :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Tessa,

      Congrats on your upcoming move and project. Is that the Experiencing Revolution project? Keep us updated on Twitter :)

      I think the catalyst that started my journey was realizing that every individual has potential to add value and change the world – and that I could do more with myself than what I was doing at the time.

      I used to be the mind frame that I was “just one person”, that I didn’t have the power to do anything “important” or “big”, but I think deep inside we know that we’re capable of so much more, and once we acknowledge that we have a personal mountain to climb, there’s no ignoring it. I think I had to leave my job (mostly due to the sheer amount of time we spend our day at work) to let go of the old thinking and practice exploring the world.

      – Lily

  • http://dominicanrepublichotelsandresorts.com/ Spencer

    Sounds like you had a wonderful year of travel. Good on you!

  • http://twitter.com/MattBailey84 Matt Bailey

    Hey Lily,

    Great post! and congrats on the big change. I did this a couple years back and now I am doing it again but for longer this time as I plan to fully go digital nomad entrepreneur in 2011. Are you from Canada?

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Matt,

      That’s awesome! What will you be doing when you go full out digital nomad? Yes, I’m from Canada, Toronto to be exact :)

      Just followed you on Twitter!
      – Lily

  • http://twitter.com/shirley916 shirley Fung

    Lily,

    I recently found your blog. love love love your courage! I am about to do the same soon.. i am trying to sell my stuff now.. then i will quit my job to go for holiday and i want to learn something new and start with a new industry. I used to work in banking too!!

    I will be keep following your blog! enjoy your trip .

    also.. i am from NZ. let me know when you will be visiting nz.. maybe i can show you around.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Shirley,

      Wow, wow, wow! I’m so excited for you and your amazing adventure. It’s almost like we’re twins, but on the opposite sides of the world :)

      I’d love to stay in touch – just followed you on Twitter!

      – Lily

  • http://twitter.com/shirley916 shirley Fung

    Lily,

    I recently found your blog. love love love your courage! I am about to do the same soon.. i am trying to sell my stuff now.. then i will quit my job to go for holiday and i want to learn something new and start with a new industry. I used to work in banking too!!

    I will be keep following your blog! enjoy your trip .

    also.. i am from NZ. let me know when you will be visiting nz.. maybe i can show you around.

  • http://twitter.com/gastrategist Jennifer Barry

    Wow Lily, what a year of ups and downs! I had a crazy year when I was 28 although I didn’t leave the country. :) I totally agree that things are scarier when we imagine them than they are in reality.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Jennifer,

      Remembering that things are scarier in our imaginations than in reality is something I always have to remind myself of when I feel anxious or worried, which exactly the circumstances I often find myself imagining worse case scenarios.

      – Lily

  • http://www.christine.biz Christine McCarthy

    Awesome post, Lily. So much inspiration. Especially, “When in doubt, choose change”

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks Christine, glad you enjoyed it :)

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  • http://www.regardsfromthebalcony.com Tony

    You have achieved so much Lily! This is incredible stuff – I mean INDIA! THAILAND! Amazing. I understand it’s been an emotional year, and I’ve been going through some of the same issues myself – the strength of some of the emotions has surprised me to be honest. But it looks like it’s working out great for you! Great lessons there too! Thanks! p.s. you are a great writer because you are authentic (you’re not a poseur like some I could mention) :)

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca Ayngelina

    Love love love the first tip. That could be my New Year’s Resolution this year.