Some say that when you travel long-term, you’ll find yourself, or it will change your life forever. I would say that it’s partially true; where wandering without any set plans, interacting with colourful characters, eating weird and wonderful food and experiencing the odd meltdown does open your eyes to seeing yourself and the world in a way that you would have imagined. To what degree that we apply those experiences to change our direction in life is up to the individual and also requires plenty of inward reflection.
I’m just a couple of months shy of my two-year travel anniversary. Three quarters of that time has been at a constant and at times, a draining pace where I’ve seen some incredible landscapes, made some awesome friends and as usual, eaten some amazing food. These past few months though, I’ve enjoyed a slower pace which has allowed me the time to reflect on the past couple of years and appreciate how it’s shaped my view of the world, redefine my values, and also restore some sort of balance in my life. After one failed attempt at coming home to “settle”, I can now say that I’m at a good space to come back to Australia.
So why not just keep going? Well the original intention to travel wasn’t to permanently have my mail redirected to my mother’s place and make the world my fixed home. It was simply to have a break from work, clear my mind of the superficiality that had crept into my life and an attempt to discover what else was going to fill the gaping void that I was unnecessarily filling with work and an unsustainable lifestyle.
It wasn’t an off the cuff decision that I made over overnight, but something that been simmering away in the background for at least three years, but was partially afraid of carrying out . In order to articulate the reasons for coming back, I’ll rewind the clock a few years to give you an idea of how everything came to where I am now.
Insecurities with work life.
When researching for this trip, I read a lot of blogs on how people made the transition from an office cubicle to travelling full-time. Most of them felt burnt out, or knew deep down inside that they were over it and needed a drastic change in their routine. However, I wasn’t in that boat – I actually enjoyed my job; or parts of it. Where I needed to change was that I had prioritised work so much that it consumed my life to a point where I’d be using marketing buzzwords in everyday talk.
Going back a few years now, I was just fresh out of uni with a marketing degree and no idea on what to do with it. I ended up moving to Sydney to study a post-graduate degree in media sales (yes there are degrees in sales) and later, found a job at Better Homes and Garden magazine selling advertising space. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I wasn’t cut out for a sales career just yet so jumped ship to a media buying agency.
Back then, the industry was thriving and there were more people wanting to get into their foot in the door than there were vacancies. It was a cut throat environment with little training support, so it was a purely a matter of sink or swim. If you did a good job then you’d get promoted, but it didn’t necessarily mean that you were qualified to manage people.
My first job in media didn’t last long as I was fired for reasons I’m still clueless about today, and those mental scars ran fairly deep resulting in confidence issues and ongoing paranoia with job security. I’d always be fearing the worst every time something went wrong, and things ALWAYS went wrong.
The party monster rears its head.
I managed to pull myself together eventually, but at a cost of dedicating too much time to work, which also crept into my social life. I was going out a lot, drinking and partying at work functions while still being able to squeeze fifty hours of work onto the timesheet by Thursday evening. I’d be drunk most nights to the point where I’d lost count the number of times that I turned up hungover to client meetings.
The fact is, it was a commonly acceptable practice in the industry where the pay is so poor so that it bred a culture of excessive partying and a mentality of soliciting “free stuff” from media owners as some form of acceptable compensation. All of a sudden my career motivations became all about these things.
I was the only one to blame though. I didn’t have any other commitments except for DJ’ing and clubbing which was something I got involved with as soon as I moved to Sydney. How else was somebody to meet new friends after moving to a new city?
So at the end of a busy week and a Friday afternoon of lunching, my weekend would already be off to a flying start and then it would springboard into a weekend bender in Kings Cross which would involve hustling promoters for gigs and clubbing with friends until sunrise.
After a few years, when the Monday morning client meetings became too difficult to navigate through, I decided to give up the clubbing life in order to avoid any workplace trainwrecks. I don’t regret that phase at all, and despite meeting lots of weirdos, and deranged dance music forum users, some of my best friends emerged from that scene. What I recognised was that I had two things plaguing me: I had nothing else other than work and partying in my life, and that I could no longer connect with people without having a drink in my hand.
It wasn’t until my doctor said my blood pressure was higher than it should be, that I realised I needed to restore some balance in my life. That’s when I made the decision to call it quits, do away with most of my possessions, and hit the reset button.
Identifying my passion for photography.
It took me a while to get off the party bandwagon; I was in Central America after all where the rum is cheap and where I came to the realisation that is not a place to go if you didn’t want to party. However, it wasn’t until South America that I discovered the Andes Mountain ranges and where my passion for photography took off.
Before I left I did have a desire to take better photos while and document it on this blog as it was my only saving grace from the relentless partying. Eventually, instead of researching hostels to party at, I was researching where and when to photograph in each location. My days would be taken up by either exploring, writing or obsessing over photography tutorials and YouTube clips on how to take better photos as well as master Photoshop.
Seeing the world through the viewfinder and trying to make sense of it through writing has also made me more empathetic. Making the best photos meant that I had to see the place from a non tourist perspective, understand its history and articulate it in a way that truly represents it. It’s given me a greater appreciation of local traditions and customs, and also opened my eyes to the environmental issues that plague all developing nations, commonly caused by government corruption.
Spending countless hours hiking to photographic locations also gives you a lot of time to think and reflect. It’s enabled me to look inward, to understand a hell of a lot more about myself, to a point where I’m pretty comfortable with who I am, instead of worrying about what other people think and trying to fit in. It may sound easy on paper to do, but coming from an Asian family, it’s difficult to do so when you’re raised never to talk about feelings.
Finding the right balance.
Unlike most long-term travellers and bloggers who made the decision to leave their old lives behind and make money on the road from the get go, I didn’t want to go down that path. I spent a good decade convincing bloggers and media outlets to write content for clients, so the idea of switching places was not my idea of a career break. I had saved enough money and adjusted my lifestyle and spending to a point where I didn’t have to worry about that for a while.
There’s nothing like necessity though to step things up a couple of gears. Fast forward to 600 days of travelling where eventually, the bank account is bound to dry up. Not having made any attempt to make money on the road, I finally put my arse into gear and conjured up a plan on how I could best put to good use my previous working history and travel experience and financially benefit from it.
I’ve spent the past few months here in Vietnam now, and while I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in new food discoveries as well as connecting with family and the culture here, my priorities have been putting that plan of make money into action. In a short period of a couple of months, I’ve starting promoting and selling prints of my photos, taken on freelance writing jobs, giving guided food tours, consulted on travel itineraries, taken on paying photography jobs and offered my services as a photo retoucher. I’ve also enjoyed the education side of photography and have started another blog to teach others as well.
I don’t go out partying anymore, however a lot of it has to do with the awful music scene here. The main benefit though is that I barely spend any money and I’m also staying in better shape. I still enjoy a beer from time to time but I’m equally satisfied just drinking tea; something that I learnt travelling through Iran where alcohol is banned.
The reality is that while there is enough income to break even here in Saigon, it’s not enough to get me to where I want to travel for the rest of the year. Now that I know where my happy balance is now, I am now ready to make it work for me back in Australia. While the blogging and photography side of things continue to grow, I have no urgency to make it a full-time gig just yet, but I do have longer term plans for it. For now, it’s all about maintaining that balance whatever I am doing and wherever I am doing it in Australia.
This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop travelling though. The adventure and exploration spirit is still burning, meaning that I get to see a new side of Australia that I haven’t seen before. It’s hard to believe that my passion for photography only goes back to the day that I left Australia two years ago; so my priority is to explore as much of it as I can while I am home.
I still have plans for long-term travel in the future, just don’t expect to see me travelling to twenty-seven countries in under two years again. My days of constant travel and feeling burnt out are well and truly over.