‘Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.’ -Rumi
When I arrived in Bali in early January 2017, I planned to spend five weeks exploring the island of the gods. Little did I know, but my experiences in Bali would change the course of the next year of my life, inspiring a last-minute decision to cancel my return ticket back to California.
Instead of returning to San Francisco, I would choose to travel onwards through Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. The list of countries I planned to visit in 2017 was rapidly growing longer than the list of countries I had visited in 2016.
Deciding to extend my travels indefinitely felt a little bit like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. The last four months of travel now felt like a warm up for the real adventure, which was just beginning. I asked the people I loved and trusted for advice, and it was pretty much summed up into one sentiment, ‘Be bold with your life.’
My pros/cons list went something like this: I knew I wouldn’t regret staying abroad, but I was certain I would be haunted by what might have been if I returned home before I was ready. I could clearly visualize where I would go and what I would do if I continued to travel, but my once crystal-clear imaginary future life back in California now seemed a little hazy (and also like it would still be there whenever I decided to return). I worried that if I flew home and started a life in San Francisco, it would be years or even decades before I had another chance to wander the world freely. The top of my pros list pretty much trumped every con I could think of…”because you only live once.”
If you’ve ever experienced the feeling that everything up until now was actually just preparing you for this moment and what comes after, then you’ll know how I felt when I canceled my ticket and decided to adventure on.
Arriving in Bali in early January, I was ready for some rest and relaxation. I hadn’t spent more than four nights in the same bed since September. More typically, I was switching locations every other day. The non-glamorous side of backpacking in Southeast Asia (the kind you don’t see on Instagram) included a lot of cramped, dirty hostels, transportation delays, and way more white bread, white rice and fried food than I ever wanted to eat again, ever. Oh, and did I mention the squat toilets?
Was I getting jaded? Not really. But I was seeing the flaws in my see-all-the-sights and hit-every-highlight travel strategy, especially with an itinerary that covered entire countries in seven to 21 days. At some point, traveling the world had stopped feeling like a vacation and was starting to feel like my life, which meant I needed to adjust my approach a little bit.
Luckily, Bali was the perfect place to slow down and indulge in some restorative yoga and healthy food. I immediately headed to Ubud, Bali’s acknowledged yoga capital made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, Eat Pray Love. Ubud was exactly what I needed… I ate salads, drank smoothies, chilled by the pool and got my stretch on at The Yoga Barn for seven days straight.
After a week in Ubud, I traveled to coastal Canggu for some surf and sun. Canggu was hectic, but it was a fun kind of hectic… scooters whizzed by with kids and dogs clinging to the back, surfboards loaded on the side rack and bohemian Cangguians in stylish beachwear at the helm, while the beaches were crowded with sun worshippers sipping fresh coconuts and the waves were jammed with beginner surfers. Each night a different bar hosted a social crowd of travelers and locals. The streets were lined with hip eateries, trendy coffee shops, stylish boutiques and surf shops.
During the two weeks I spent in Canggu, I stayed at Matra Bali Surf Camp. Matra Bali was my first Workaway, a work-trade program that enables travelers to volunteer their time with businesses and families in exchange for room and board. I also helped a friend build a website for her business, which made me realize that I had a skill set I could use anywhere in the world to generate income…it was a lightbulb moment. I realized that if I truly wanted to, I could travel the world indefinitely.
Want to learn more about how I lived for free in Bali? Check out this post about money-saving travel hacks.
After Canggu, I headed to the Bukit Peninsula to soak up the surf vibes at Uluwatu and Padang Padang and chill out in sunny Bingin. I met up with two of my best friends from California and we made plans to explore Sumbawa and Flores, two lesser-known Indonesian islands. When they invited me to join them on an epic trek in Nepal, I couldn’t say no!
At this point, everything kind of just fell into place. I found a friend to sublet my apartment in San Francisco and I extended my World Nomads travel insurance. I cancelled my return flight and told my parents not to pick me up at the airport (sorry, mom and dad). I started researching India and Sri Lanka, two countries I had dreamed of traveling to someday but hadn’t expected to fit in this time around.
Most importantly, I committed to traveling indefinitely. In addition to a growing list of countries I wanted to visit, I also set personal, creative and career goals for my time abroad. I did a lot of thinking about why I was traveling. I knew that if I couldn’t answer this question clearly in the present, I wouldn’t have a meaningful answer when it was all over.
After three weeks of chillaxing, surfing and eating super healthy in Bali, I was recharged and ready to get back out there and explore. I didn’t know exactly what the future held anymore, but I was sure it was going to be a really wild adventure.
‘We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.’ -Anonymous
Have you ever decided to extend a trip? How do you know when it’s time to stop traveling and go home? If you are traveling indefinitely, do you set goals or simply experience the world moment by moment? I would love to hear from you!