The Journey Through Life Changes

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Part of the fun of living at a hostel is in meeting all sorts of people with a variety of backgrounds and stories to tell. And it’s amazing to discover how many people are out there who are going through (or have gone through) similar life changes in life as Kelly & I did.

See also: Lifestyle Inflation – How Earning More Money Sucks (the Life Outta You)

This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

-names have been changed to protect identities-


Joe is about 40 years old and from England. He led an entire life doing exactly what you’re supposed to do. He went to school, had a great job, owned a nice house, and invested wisely. Trouble is, he hated his job, had no love for his house, and was so uninspired by his life that he couldn’t even bring himself to spend his hard-earned money on anything that might make him happier. He fell into a life of getting up, going to work, coming home, and watching the tube until he could go to bed and repeat the same routine the following day.

After some deliberation, he saw no reason to continue on this road, as it was only further pushing him into a state of apathy and downright depression. So the house was sold, the job quit, and an eight-month vacation embarked upon.

I met Joe at the 6 month mark of his vacation. He had been pretty much around the world, and was on his way back to the Philippines, where he found he was truly happy. I asked him if he has to return to England after his eight-months are up. Not only was the answer “no”, but he was actually thinking about buying a small place in the Philippines to run as a hostel. He loved the true hospitality and friendliness of the locals, knew other ex-pats who were operating hostels, and had a sparkle in his eye when he spoke of it.

I saw him off on his way back there, and I hope to visit his establishment soon.

Kudos, Joe.


pink flowers, symbolic of life changes

Suzanne is from Australia, and like so many Australian travelers I’ve met, she has a taste and knack for adventure. After finishing school, there was no way she was going to rope herself into a career right away without seeing what the world has to offer. So round-the-world she is traveling, on what is becoming widely known as a “gap year”.

Through courageous solo female travel in hostels, she has made fast friends with many people, which is paving the way to stay in their homes when she travels through their neck of the woods. She is cheerful, bright, and seems to be searching for something….and not quite sure what it is yet. (I guess all travelers are searching for something, aren’t they?!)

Her life is exciting, because she is open-minded to life changes and whatever gets thrown her way. With her education and career path she could live almost anywhere in the world, and is open to just such an opportunity.

I can’t wait to see where she lands. I know it will be on her feet. Just don’t know where yet.

Kudos, Suzanne.


Walter is a fellow Canadian embarking on his 50’s. You wouldn’t know it to talk to him though; he is young at heart, and can meld beautifully into a dorm full of 20-somethings without blinking an eye. But there’s something that just isn’t clicking in his life.

He has a treasure chest of experience and skills behind him, and is traveling in search of big changes. What those changes look like are still unknown to him, but he is daily actively opening his mind to the possibilities. He is inspired by our life and is standing at the edge of the chasm of selling everything and taking the plunge into sustainable travel, just dipping a toe in the water right now to get a feel for the temperature.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he returned home to sell his house and wrap up his affairs so he can chase down a dream that both excites and scares the hell out of him. He feels more alive now than he ever has.

Kudos, Walter.

green gecko

And I know some people who just don’t get it. They think they do, but they don’t. All I get from these people are words of judgment and encouragement to do what they think we should do.

They see our tales of adventure and misadventure thus far as mostly misadventure (maybe I have portrayed it that way in this blog, I don’t know), and don’t see the humour and fun in it all. I tend to think misadventure makes for some of the best stories!

But mostly they don’t understand the concept of sustainable travel, and instead I get flack for not being “retired” to their own definition of retirement…which is not having to work at all, and sitting back on investments and a rich pension to settle into a life of regular vacations and relaxation.

Sorry – I’m only 31 years old, and I’m not rich. I never wanted to work like a dog seven days a week to earn enough money so I could eventually stop altogether. I tried, and ultimately that was what led to my burning out; it wasn’t sustainable for me.

So now, I work part-time in exchange for accommodations, write to make extra cash, and use both to experience the world as a whole. This is sustainable travel. I don’t have to clock in, and I can do it from almost anywhere in the world. To some, this defines retirement. At least to me right now, it does. It’s not ideal – trust me it has its ups and downs – but then again, rarely does something meet absolutely all our idealistic expectations.

Although our experiences in Hawaii have been varied, I know that when we leave here we will have seen the whole enchilada for all it’s worth. We tapped into the rhythm of the island, met people we would never have met as tourists, went places we never would have gone if just passing through, and spent an entire six months of winter in Hawaii. This blog is not littered with tales of daily adventure, climbing every mountain, and flitting from one attraction to another. To some this may be disappointing, and contradicts some people’s definitions of “travel” and “retirement”.

So if you feel I have misrepresented my situation on this blog, please forgive me. I’d love your feedback and suggestions.

One of the beautiful things I’ve learned in my time here (as I sit at an outdoor café overlooking the ocean just before sunset), is that everybody’s dreams are different. And they change with life. Joe’s dreams initially were to meld into the societal norms, but his dreams started to change and he’s now chasing after new ones. He’ll find what he wants in the Philippines I have no doubt. It may not be good for him forever, but nothing is forever.

Suzanne is looking at a blank page in designing her life and is living the dream, painting in large strokes and seeing what colours look good to her. What she chooses for the next 10 years of her life won’t be a life choice. It will simply be a start.

And Walter already understands that nothing is written in stone. He is in the process of reinventing himself yet again, a difficult and cathartic journey. He also knows that no decision he makes now is forever either.

None of these people are doing anything rash or irresponsible either, including us. We are not poor, even though we pick up loose change on the streets. We have money set aside and invested for “retirement” when we can’t (or choose not to) earn money any longer in our elder years, we have money set aside for “settling down” and setting up a home if and when we choose to do so, and we have money aside for traveling now and for the next few years between odd jobs and work-trade arrangements.

Joe, Suzanne, and Walter are traveling to mould their lives and destinies into what they want them to be. Each of their stories is very different, and each of them brings around the world with them a whole different set of values, backgrounds, and financial situations.

If you are reading this blog and you just don’t get it yourself, I appreciate that, and would love to hear from you in the comments section. (Supporters and those who empathize, please don’t stay quiet either)! I don’t expect to be on the road for the rest of my life (although who knows!), and I expect the nature of our travel will change many times over.

To me, life is about the journey through change, not the prize at the end of the road.

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16 thoughts on “The Journey Through Life Changes”

  1. I’m usually a lurker, but since you asked for comments, I felt I needed to speak up. I’ve been reading your blog for months, and it is one of the influences that finally convinced me to give notice and quit my high-stress, soul-killing job. I’m in my 40s already, and I realized it was long past time to go on the walkabout I’ve dreamed about and craved since I was a child. So I’m getting ready to go on my open-ended worldwide backpacking trip: I’m getting rid of the clutter that I’ve accumulated over the decades, and putting my condo on the market. My target date for leaving town is 15 September; I am *so* looking forward to getting on the road and not having to come back, being entirely free to stay somewhere — anywhere — for a day or a year.

    I don’t think I could have made this leap without exemplars like you. Thank you for sharing this wonderful life you’ve made for yourself.

  2. I think there are more of “us” than you realize Nora 😉 .. I have been judiciously following your adventures, ever since in an act of utter synchronicity, I bumped into your blog just as I was embarking on my trip to Hawaii for a few months to pursue my windsurfing passion, leaving a highly paying engineering job behind, and all the stern warnings from EVERYONE on how I needed a good whack on the head. Its a lonely road living outside the system. At least it is when you are flying solo (not complaining.. I never do that anymore 😉

    Oh, and I’d call my adventures plan Freedom 34. I guess you beat me to it by 3 years. Some of us are slower learners 😉

    And yes.. sometimes its tough when you get negative comments from people on how you are being irresponsible, and childish, and immature, and grow up already… sound familiar?. Today I was feeling a bit down, but reading your blog gave me a bit of a push to think I am not completely crazy yet, and at least someone else sees it like I do.



    PS: And I am also from Canada.. lol.

  3. I loved this. It is one of your truest posts yet, so honest and speaking from your heart, not reaching for something you think others may be interested in, a snapshot of your life and your mind on paper. I am a writer, too, and I struggle for these perfect essays, the ones that flow from the pen so easily. I am a mom of two with a traveler’s heart, and my husband and I are going through this right now. He works like a dog and has no time to spend with the kids. It’s not that he’s lazy, it’s just that he’s searching for a life that’s more enjoyable than it is right now. He doesn’t want to wait for retirement, because lord knows it never comes for many. Life is about living in whatever moment you find yourself in, and it seems that you and your husband are doing just that. Keep it up. 🙂
    –Lynda Gregerson
    [email protected]

  4. Wow! I am touched with these comments…and flattered and honoured that my words are not only be read (!) but are being taken to heart.

    It seems there is a growing contingent of restless people out there who know there is more to life than what we are “expected” to do. I hope that anybody who feels this way will learn from our mistakes, our adventures, and our victories.

    Thanks, and feedback is always welcome. Stay tuned…the adventures continue!

  5. I am also usually a lurker, but felt I couldn’t stand around while everyone was bashing a life of travel. I recently spent one of my last college semesters in Australia, and was completely in love with how so many students take a ‘gap year’. I got a taste of travel road tripping around New Zealand for two weeks, and met many other people who have defied norms to live their lives how they wanted. And let me tell you, I graduate this May and I don’t plan on getting a “real job”. Too many Americans (and Canadians?) feel that there is only one way to be successful, and I plan on breaking those norms. I’ll likely be in South Korea teaching some english, so if you make it to Asia and need a place to crash, let me know! Good luck on your travels, I admire you for your sustainable travel, and your writing!

    Cheers, Alicia

  6. Hi Nora! Just ran across your blog via another article you wrote while I was searching for inspiration on things to post on for my own travel blog.

    Small world, huh?

    Your fellow Wise Bread blogger,


  7. Nora,

    A few years ago, on my way home from work in the middle of traffic, I saw a bumper sticker that said “Life is a journey, not a problem to be solved”. I think you & Kelly are doing that very well. I read your blog occassionally and both envy you and cheer you on at the same time.

    Looking forward to your next adventures. 🙂

    North Carolina, USA

  8. Just found your blog recently and read this old post tonight. I love what you are doing and am considering it myself. However, I am a 59 year-old, who has been retired four years (and have at least taken the leap of spending winters –this one for six months– away from home. And I love living in a completely new place and meeting new people! I don’t get “homesick” at all, except for my son and grandchildren, which I take time to go see.)

    I’m in a little different situation, but have always, always wanted to do what you are doing. During college summers, I used to sit for hours with my Eurrail map, plotting out a summer in Europe. I had no money, though, and no idea how to do what you are doing.

    Having been divorced at 28 with a baby on the way and having raised him to adulthood alone, completed a teaching career, and learned to be happy alone (never remarried) I am ready!

    My main point, however, is to say I am shocked at all the naysayers you say you younger adults are encountering! When I graduated from college, it was my experience that parents and the older generation would tell us, “If you want to travel, now’s the time! Do all the things you want to now while you’re young and before you settle down. You never know what the future holds and you might never get another chance to do them.”

    What on earth has happened to cause such a reversal of opinion? I say, “Go for it, guys! You are growing in so many ways by your travel experiences! Just ignore the naysayers!”

  9. @Barb – Thank you so much for your awesome comment, story, and encouragement! I have to say that 90% of people out there are quite supportive of our travels. This one fellow in particular surprised me because I thought he was in the “supportive” camp, and said/did many things to paint that picture. It was in our later correspondence that I learned of his different perspective. It caused me to wonder how many other people might pay lip service to me (and other travelers) only to turn around and wonder why we do the things we do. I appreciate his opinion and the time it took him to express it to me. If anything it helped me to further clarify my goals and intentions. Everything comes to us for a reason, I think!
    PS – Enjoy St Pete’s/Clearwater! I was there many years ago, and thought it to be a wonderful spot.

  10. Hi Nora my name is Steve.I just ran across your site in the process of duing research for hiking Europe.In the past two years I lost first my mom and then my dad.I’m adopted and now feel my life is full circle.You inspire me two travel and the only thing holding me back is my loveable cat Sally.Being that I’m 43 do you think its too late?Dad left me some money and after many career changes I’m burnt out and feel its time.1 Do you have any advice for me I.E. traveling by myself and 2 how much do you think it will cost for say a 6 month travel.Looking foward to hearing from you.Thanx.

  11. Hi Steven – thanks for dropping by!

    No age is inappropriate for travel; that’s the beauty of travel – it’s so different for everybody. Your particular style and destination list will be very different from the next person’s – and there is no right or wrong answer.
    Unfortunately this also means that there is no right or wrong answer for how much money you’ll need! But here are a few tips on travel for you:
    Everything you need to know about planning a sabbatical (including some of the finances) can be found in the ebook Escape 101. I have read it and quite enjoyed it, and you can get your hands on a copy by clicking the link on my left-hand sidebar (Escape 101 book cover). (Yes, I make a small commission from the sale of e-books from my site, but it doesn’t affect the total price and I only sell things I endorse).
    Also, for Solo travel tips, you might want to check out the Solo Traveler website, chock full of tips:

    Cheers – and please do keep coming back! I’d love to know how you go with your trip planning. Good luck!

  12. Hello agian Nora.Thanx for your reply.Ive been doin some practice runs like short traveling and camping. In feb. I’m taking a train ride across country from chicago to seattle just to get the feel of train riding.I’ll definitely keep you posted take care.

  13. @Steven – You’ll love the train ride! I have fallen in love with train travel, and see as many countries as I can that way. It’s cheap (usually), you see more of the country than you do from the air, it’s considerably less stressful than flying, and way more environmentally friendly. Take some time to chat with other passengers on the train….you may find you’ll make some great friendships!

  14. hi nora. i agree with you when you say that everything comes to us for a reason…i happened to stumble upon your blog when i’m in the midst of self-reflecting whether what i’m doing right now (i.e., on a career break and backpacking–first time) is a sane thing to do. negative thoughts have been harbouring lately (e.g., i’m running out of pocket money–do i have to drag myself to go through the same old job hunting again in order to save up so i could travel again, etc.), but when i saw your blog, i felt inspired to continue with what i have started. i learned a lot from it (e.g., means of sustainable travelling) and my major takeaway is that travelling shouldn’t be rushed–take time to just sit, relax and read travel blogs–you’ll definitely learn something new.

    thank you for sharing your travel experiences.

  15. @Micci – Thanks! It takes a leap of faith to find a way to travel sustainably (at least it did for me), but it’s worth it! And despite having established my platform for full-time travel, it continues to evolve with my life and ambitions. Keep chasing those dreams! 🙂


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