Three months ago, I boarded a ship, and left the United States. I lived in one of the most beautiful towns in California. I socialized amongst a wonderful group of friends, worked in the best CPA firm west of the Sierras, interacted with a large family, and dated the most beautiful, supportive woman I’ve ever known in my 27 years.
And yet, I left. I left the comfort and safety of home, of a successful life, to take a year off, to see the world.
There is a dusty painting in my childhood room showcasing a flying character in a small, single engine cartoon-like plane, whose scarf, blowing in the wind, bears the words “Welcome- Nicholas Victor! May 22, 1989.” My mother, who has a special, unspoken way of understanding the world, says she knew, when I was born, that I would want to travel.
During a 9th grade global studies class, the teacher assigned the project of hand-drawing maps of all the continents and countries of the world. Most students groaned, but I reveled in the challenge. Hours I spent, examining maps. I recall drawing Europe, and thinking, how small! I recall painstakingly drawing each island of Southeast Asia, fractured and segmented amongst larger, more contiguous landmasses. I recall drawing Africa, and thinking it looked like a puzzle piece that broke off from the Americas.
During my junior year of college, I spent a year in Italy. I loved discovering a new culture, new ways of thinking, a new reality. When not practicing Italian, I spent most of my weekends traveling, exploring Europe.
After graduation, I set to work. The real world. I procured a job in a Santa Barbara accounting firm, and spent the first two years studying hard to obtain my CPA license. I spent the following years dedicating my life to the job.
The work was challenging, but good. I derived satisfaction from the long hours, from being part of a team, from earning trust and respect of clients and and colleagues. Steady learning and experience, along with a steady paycheck, breed confidence and comfort.
The life I led was charmed—literally, billions of people dreamed of it. But, as the years went by, something irked. Those hand-drawn maps from 9th grade called to me. I wanted to climb the world’s mountains, navigate the coastlines, and walk beside the great rivers.
A voice in the back of my head kept talking to me, urging me to leave, to go explore. I kept ignoring it. One day I thought, with a fright, what if that voice one day stops?
If I decided to execute this plan, this adventure, earlier in life, I would have wanted for money. During my years working as a CPA, I saved enough to travel for one year—365 days—on 100 dollars per day, with a small cushion for margin of error.
If I decided to execute this plan later on, “later on” might never come. Some of my close friends were already married, with one or two squirming, screaming children in tow. One of my Dad’s friends, a CPA, in fact, worked 70 hour weeks all his life, the promise of travel a gleaming prize upon the retirement horizon. Retire he did at 65, but not for long. He dropped dead of a heart attack one month later.
And so, even though my conscience invented 100 different excuses, my heart resolved. I honored the voice in the back of my head. I decided to travel the the world.
Fantasies are easy to entertain. Reality poses more of a challenge. Not only did I abandon a steady paycheck that supported a sizable mortgage and comfortable lifestyle; I also had to say goodbye. Goodbye to co-workers, client, friends, and people I loved.
First, I told my girlfriend, Karrmen. She cried, but not in despair. I think she knew, understood, all along. She, who had grown up in the bustling city of Hong Kong and moved to California of her own volition—alone and foreign—understood better than most my desire to travel, and knew it didn’t arise from any fault of her own. And she supported me, against her self-interest, in every step I took.
Next, I told my family. My mother burst into tears. My father slammed the table with his fist, and said, “can I come?” My siblings supported me.
Yet, I still debated, going back and forth in my head.
Why am I not satisfied, when I have all the opportunity in the world, and all the love and support one could ask for? Am I trying to prove something? Am I trying to run away? What the heck, man?!
Of all people, Karrmen, the one with the most to lose, stepped in.
What did she say?
Go for it.
Be true to yourself.
You want to see the world. If you let this opportunity pass, you will always regret it.
Go for it.
Initially, I was terrified of breaking the news to clients, to co-workers. What would they think? A quitter, a wayward slacker, drawn to dreaming and nonsense. I built up these Maginot lines, these dark preconceptions that people would begrudge me for my decision, or would just be angry about the whole matter.
But, one by one, my preconceptions proved wrong. Entirely wrong. Every phone call I made, every meeting I held to “break the news” to clients was met with universal positivity. I imagined the first question people would ask was “but, who will take care of my finances??” But, the responses were overwhelmingly “Ahh, good for you! This is so cool!” and “Where will you go first??”
So, as one of my patient bosses predicted, “everything fell into place.” I found eager, willing substitutes to uphold my obligations at work. I collaborated with a property manager to rent out my house. I created travel spreadsheets and budgets. I packed.
And so, here I am, three months into my adventure. I spent a month traversing the Pacific Ocean, through Hawaii and Fiji and New Caledonia. I spent another month in Australia, the ancient, windswept continent. And yet another, driving 4,000 miles and trekking over ten marathons through New Zealand, the land of wizardry and beauty.
And now I sit, three months into my year-long adventure, poised to enter Indonesia and many more adventures beyond.
Do I sometimes miss home, and friends, and family?
Do I sometimes feel alone?
But, I’m supported by more than I know, and with a smile on my face I’m very excited for tomorrow.
(And, here are some pictures from my last weeks in New Zealand. Couldn’t resist)
Happy in Hobbiton