And Then Everything Changed

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I got mixed reactions when I told my friends and family that I was going to Europe on my own for 2 months.

Reactions ranged from “You're going to have such an amazing time” to “You're going to die.” I was inclined to agree more with the first group, of course — I had no doubt the trip would be amazing (and it was). But I didn't necessarily have any predictions then about what would happen after the trip.

No one ever thinks about that niggly little “after” part.

Oban, Scotland

I've never traveled for more than a couple of weeks at a time before, so 2 months initially seemed like an eternity to me. Before this trip, I was convinced that I was built for shorter stints abroad; I never looked at long-term, round-the-world travelers with envy or longing because I was convinced that the nomadic lifestyle was not for me. I didn't even know if I was cut out for solo travel, to be honest.

So I assumed that, at the end of 8 weeks alone on the road, I'd be more than ready to return home to my comfy mattress, cable TV, closet full of clothes, and friends and family in northeast Ohio.

But over the course of those 8 weeks, something changed.

Budapest, Hungary
Me on Day 1 of my trip in Budapest.

I'm not sure when or where or how exactly it happened. But, somewhere along the way, my attitudes about long-term solo travel changed. Somehow, I fell in love with it. I fell more in love with travel, if that's possible.

This summer, I did a lot of things I thought I didn't like. I spent many nights in shared hostel and hotel rooms with people I didn't know. I put up with snoring roommates. I got used to going to bed sweaty every night because there was no air conditioning and it was 90 degrees outside. I wore a sunhat. I gave up on wearing make-up. I bought train tickets on my own in a country where I didn't speak the language. I carried an actual backpack. I wore the same (sometimes dirty) clothes for 2 months. I stopped making plans. I got lost, found my way, and got lost again. I quit worrying about what would happen “later.”

I was living in the moment, and loving life. 

Isle of Skye, Scotland
Loving life in Scotland

It was in Scotland, I think, that it finally hit me that something was different. It was past 1 a.m., and I was half-wearing a kilt over my clothes and dancing on a table in a hostel bar near Loch Ness. I hadn't had a drop of alcohol, but instead was drunk on something else — the energy, the people, maybe just the feeling of being alive.

An Australian girl in my tour group looked up at me in between songs and just said, “You're a legend. You're not even drunk but you're having so much fun.” And I was. I was having more fun than I'd had in a long time.

It scared me a bit at first. This wasn't me, I thought. At least, it wasn't the me I recognized or thought I knew. And yet it was a me that I liked. A me that, somewhere between Istanbul and Glasgow, had come alive, become more adventurous, and fallen head over heels for long-term travel.

Parga, Greece
Parga, Greece

When it came time for me to board my flight home a week later, I did so nearly in tears. Yes, there had been some ups and downs throughout the 8 weeks, but I genuinely didn't want the summer to end. I wasn't ready to go home.

As I sat aboard that flight, editing photos and drafting up the beginnings to some new blog posts, I was also subconsciously doing something else — I was already plotting in my head how and when I could get back out on the road. I was scrabbling desperately to hold onto my travel high, not ready to let it slip away.

People say that it's not a place that changes you. And it's true. I could have gone anywhere for 2 months, and probably felt the same way. Instead of the place alone, I think it's a mixture of the place, the people, and the chance to be completely at your own mercy that allows you to change yourself.

Travel Quote

I didn't think I had a lot of changing left to do before this trip; I assumed that I'd gotten all of that out of my system years ago.

And yet, here I am, back in Ohio, feeling different and questioning everything.

There's a Tolkien quote that I think is appropriate here:

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back?”

The context of the quote is not quite right (and it's a bit melodramatic), but the sentiment, I think, is spot-on. I may have only been away for 8 weeks, but in some ways it does feel like I'm now trying to return to an “old life.” A life I'm not sure I fit into anymore.

It's both sad and exciting at the same time. It's sad because it means I've had to make some tough decisions and say at least one difficult goodbye. But it's exciting because I know now — for certain — that there are better things to come.

Travel Quote

Before this trip, I knew I wanted to travel. But I don't think I knew just how much I wanted it. Now that I know, though, it's going to be full-steam ahead.

I'm taking the events of this summer as a sign from The Universe. A sign that THIS is what I'm meant to be doing.

And you'd better believe that I'm listening.

Have YOU ever had a life-changing, eye-opening travel experience?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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104 Comments on “And Then Everything Changed

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  1. I had a similar experience last week when I came home from a 2 week holiday in Spain. I taught English for a week, met some amazing people and ended up going on a mini road trip around Spain. I found myself. I could finally be myself in a foreign country that didn’t supress me. I could be happy, spontaneous and free. I am not planning long term travel, I long to be that happy again.

      That’s awesome that you had such a great, eye-opening experience in such a short time, Stephanie! Hopefully you can hold on to that feeling of freedom.

        I am trying my best to hold on to the feeling of freedom, I think i’m addicted now! I’m looking at Germany or Italy for my next trip and travelling for the forseeable future next year in Asia and Australia!

    I love this: “I wore a sunhat.”

    Glad to read about how this trip affected you. I’m sure the more you travel, the more you just might learn about yourself!

      Haha, I am NOT a hat person, so that one was a big deal!

      And yes, I have always been of the opinion that travel is the greatest learning experience a person can have!

    This post makes me so happy. Finding out the thing you are most passionate is the thing you should be doing. *happy dance*

      Aww, thanks, Jade! It makes me pretty happy, too. 🙂

    8 weeks versus 13 months – but you’d been prepping for and planning your travel for a long time, so I think you can honestly borrow Frodo’s lines.

    Good luck with the changes you’re making in your life – and congratulations on your epiphanies. Life is not a dress rehearsal! Take big bites!

      Yes, I think Frodo’s lines are apt. At least, they FEEL apt, so I suppose that’s all that really matters.

      And you are so right about life not being a dress rehearsal! I definitely plan to take huge bites, gulps, leaps – whatever!

        I realized after commenting that you’ve not been at all specific about *what* is next. A year of work/study in Australia and/or NZ? Diving in Bali?

        Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂

          I’ll let you know once I figure it out! 😉 Haha.

          I have a couple of things in the works, and I’d love to pick up some new long-term freelancing gigs that would allow me the freedom to avoid getting a “real” job for a while. But we’ll see.

          Doing a working holiday in NZ is most definitely in the plans for within the next couple of years, though. 🙂

            I have friends work/touristing in NZ right now, and another friend who quit her job and is on her way to Bali to learn to scuba dive before embarking on her adventures.

            What an awesome place this world is!

    I had the same feeling after I lived in China for a year. I realized pretty quickly into it that being abroad turned me into a totally different person, one that loved travel and loved life, and I knew I wouldn’t be happy living in the States for a long time after, if ever. So two weeks after graduating uni I left the US for good and haven’t looked back. If you know what you want, then go for it! Yes there are sacrifices involved, but the people at home who truly care about you will understand. And you’ll never be happier.

      It’s so strange how being abroad really frees you up to be whoever you want to be. I definitely want to hold on to that freedom – and the new sense of self that I have!

    I can definitely relate to my experience, when i read your post everything resonated to me. I have basically been spending the whole year living abroad, and have to come back, at least temporarily, to my home country in December. This perspective makes me deeply sad, and I almost think of this as a “decline” in my life, which I find unbearable. Before this adventure, I had doubts about my ability to live far from home for such a long time, but I just thought “lets do it”, and I would never have thought it would be so hard to come back. Now, I just wish I could freely stay abroad forever and Im considering the idea of leaving my home country for good 🙂

      You never expect it to be difficult to come home – but sometimes that’s the hardest part! Good luck making your wish a reality!

    Wow, I can relate so much to this!

    Work hard and I’m sure those dreams of yours will come true sooner rather than later! 🙂

      I have a feeling a lot of travel bloggers will be able to relate to this. 😉

      A part of me is really glad that I finally “get it.” And the other part is desperately trying to figure out how to make it all happen!

    Aww, that’s so exciting! I love reading that discovered an even greater passion for travel. 😀

      I was already really passionate about fitting traveling into my life. Now I may just want to MAKE travel my life. 🙂

    I took my first “real” trip in 2010 (solo to France for a week). As we took off down the runway to come home, I shed a few tears because I didn’t want to come back. At least not yet. I’m still not sure if it’s because I didn’t want to return to the “real” world or if I really enjoyed, as you said it, “the chance to be completely at your own mercy”. Perhaps it was both. But I, like you, started planning my future trips. I’m now trying to get a location-independent business going so that maybe, just maybe, I can be nomadic part time. Cause that’s the only way – short of winning the lottery – that I foresee the funds and flexibility to travel as much as I’d like. Can’t wait to hear about what’s next for you!

      Finding a career that would allow me to be location-independent would be so ideal for me, too. Hopefully we both can make it happen!

    I can’t wait to see where you get to next! I made that decision a few years ago and now travel is part of my life. I work abroad, I live abroad, I do anything I can to sustain myself abroad. (Besides prostitution of course haha). So Life is great when you follow your passions and the world will lead you the way!

      I’m convinced that if I want it bad enough, things will work out in the end. 🙂 You and others like you are proof that it IS possible!

    so glad you found what you wanna do in life! some people deal with this issue for years and are miserable for their whole life, not knowing what makes them truly happy. now, once you figured it all out, you can focus on pursuing your dreams – and travels are surely a great way to live your life to its max! 🙂 I figured it all out back in 2005 when I was solo backpacking for a month through Europe so I guess this kind of trips are the best for understanding the meaning of life 🙂

      I always feel bad for people who never have the chance to figure out what they’re passionate about. I’ve known for the past few years that I was passionate about travel, but this summer absolutely confirmed it for me. It’s definitely a great feeling!

        once you cross an unviseable line with travelling you just wanna travel more and more and more 🙂
        guess we can consider ourselves lucky that we figure out our passion so early when others have to deal with this issue for years, sometimes never knowing the answer…

    A spectacularly great read. Now that you’ve had a sign from the Universe, you can maybe come help me find more of it 😉

      Hahaha, I see what you did there… 😉

      Glad you liked the post! Hopefully our travels someday have us crossing paths!

    Good post and I understand completely what you mean. I left to teach for a year in Japan. That was nine years ago and I still haven’t been back to the US. I’m starting to think that I might never stop moving. And judging by a lot of the other comments, we’re not alone.

      We are definitely not alone. Which is reassuring – means we’re not crazy. 😉

    Love that C.S. Lewis quote, Amanda. I’m excited to see how the future unfolds for you. Exciting times!

      Thanks, Bethany! I’m really excited to see what’s in store next, too!

    You know, the NVR Guys are all about personal transformation, so this is pretty much the coolest post ever. Now you really need to get out here – or we out there – so we can chat.

    Where’s the pic of you dancing on the table?

      Hahaha, whoohoo, I got a “coolest post ever” designation! 🙂 And yes, visits soon are in order, methinks. I miss youuuuu.

      And as for that table dancing pic… there is no photographic evidence of that night (well, that I know of…).

    This sounds so awesome! I’m so glad to hear you had a great time and that this trip changed you. Sounds like some tough decisions are ahead, but I’m confident you’ll figure out a way to do what you want. Looking forward to hearing more about what you decide to do!

    Yay yay yay! Love this! I felt the same way when I took my first solo backpacking trip in Europe right after I graduated from college–it felt like it was such a big deal and such a long time. Now, I’m like, five weeks? Pshhhh! Nothing! I’ve realized that reallllly long-term solo travel isn’t for me–but I love moving somewhere for six months to a year and doing one- to three-month trips. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward!

      Yeah, I’m not sure I could be all go-go-go for years on end. But I do love the idea of moving somewhere for 6 months or a year, and traveling a lot from that spot. The possibilities are endless, but I know you definitely understand the feeling!

    Love it, Amanda. You’re one of those travel bloggers that came rip roarin’ into the scene and climbed your way up quickly. I have no worries that you’ll succeed!

      Thanks, Candice! I appreciate the vote of confidence. 🙂

    A very powerful monologue.

    I have an answer for you, Amanda,- YOU JUST GOT ADDICTED. Travel is a drug. Your previous trips were not long enough or not as exciting to get addicted to this drug. Now you got the dose, Girl 🙂 Isn’t it a great feeling?! Now you can dance on a table and wear a sunhat… You do not care about make-up and dirty clothes… It will be hard to give up. Please don’t. Life is too short to give up this drug. Enjoy it in full! LIVE AND LOVE IT!

      I guess now I can tell people I’m on drugs. 😉 Haha, but you are right – travel is a very powerful drug, and oh so addictive!

    I relate to not being ready to go home. I couldn’t believe myself for being almost willing to not show up for my flight back. I had my last year of a degree I LOVE back home, that’s what helped me return, yet I left a part of my heart in faraway places. I think it’s fantastic you’re listening to signs you’re getting, and I’m sure you’ll do great and realize your dreams. You’re not alone in those dreams, that’s for sure too.

      It’s tough when you realize that you’ve left little bits of you all over the world – more and more break off with every new destination. I think that’s the real reason why we have so much trouble coming home – because “home” isn’t just one place anymore!

    I knew for a few years I wanted to do long-term travel (once I realized people actually do it). After doing it, it is so hard to imagine a short trip. I’ve already taken a few since coming back to the US, and it was tough! I know I’ll have to do long-term travel again one day.

      I suppose that’s definitely a danger of this long-term travel monster! To get so hooked that you can never go back to your “old” way of traveling.

    I bloody love this. Especially the line, “I wore an actual backpack.”

    It’s great that you’ve had your ‘eureka’ moment – keep living the dream!

      Thanks, Rich! 🙂 I will definitely do my best to keep the travel high going!

    Hey Amanda, it’s been a while since I’ve had time to read some of your marvelous posts! This one is so powerful, and the change that happened to you I’m sure is a little wild and unknown, but it is awesome how much longer term trips can change you! After 8 months in New Zealand there is DEFINITELY no going back to my old lifestyle. Sure, right now I am working 80hrs a week and two jobs, but I’m enjoying even that because I know it’s for my upcoming trips. Traveling long term forced me to open up and meet new people, do things I “never thought I would”. But it’s funny now, this energy and joy of life is what was meant for us Amanda, and I’m happy you discovered it too!

      It certainly DOES feel like I’m meant for this, and that this is meant for me. And that’s both awesome and scary at the same time!

    Great post! My life-changing travel experience was definitely when I spent 6 weeks in East Africa the summer after my freshman year of college. Just like that, I was done. Happy traveling!

      Awesome, Susan! I always love hearing about where/when other peoples’ life-changing travel experiences took place.

    Amanda, I still remember when I first read that post about you feeling like a “weeny” when it comes to solo traveling. I once felt that way except I had no problems going at anything in life solo. I thought I was going to be okay with my full time job and traveling off to enticing destinations every three months. However, when I traveled through Australia and New Zealand back in January – February, I realized how exhausted I was from traveling back and forth – I’ve finally decided to just take a career break and just go.

    Your Tolkien quote did get me thinking – “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back?” – about how my life would be once I come back from my South American sabbatical. How will I adjust? You’re totally meant for something big in terms of travel :o) You’ve picked up the sign!

      Haha, how far I’ve come since my days as a travel weenie! 😉

      Thanks for reading, and for the vote of confidence!

    Great post and great blog, I really enjoy your passion for travel, it’s inspiring. Have you seen the film “a map for saturday”? Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, but you probably have! I just found out about it recently, totally inspiring as well. I am going on my first semi solo trip soon, it’s an organised thing so not totally independent but a way to test the waters I guess. Looking forward to reading about your next trip!

      Going solo on an organized trip is the BEST way to test that travel waters. Have fun!!

    It`s amazing how travel can change us in unexpected ways. Go with your gut and you`ll always end up in the right place.

    I’m going through a similar experience. My boyfriend and I came back to the states last year after living in South Korea for two years, and found it so difficult to adjust. In Korea, we could take getaways on a whim, experience new tastes, new places, new anything. We were hooked.

    But when we returned home, we really did think, “How can we readjust?” I mean, how do you return to your old life knowing so much more is out there? How do you settle for suburbia when you’d rather be trekking with elephants through a Thai jungle, learning to cook traditional royal fare in a Korean hanok or planning a last-minute weekend jaunt to Kyoto, simply because you can?

    And the hardest part? How do you relate to the people who make up your old life? The people who rarely venture out farther than the grocery store, who largely have no desire to seek out other cultures or experience new worlds?

    Thanks for writing this. Suddenly, my feet are quite itchy. 🙂

      It certainly is tough to re-adjust – I can only imagine how hard it would be after being away for 2 years! The part about “relating to the people who make up your old life” rings true for me a bit, too. You come home after having all these amazing experiences, but you realize that nobody at home can really relate.

      Good luck curing those itchy feet of yours!

    Love this post! You crafted your thoughts into words so vividly, well done!

    I couldn’t agree more about getting on the road and never wanting to return. I’m about to embark on my first ever solo travel and I’m unbelievably excited by it! I hope you’ve been planning for your next adventure everyday! Any goals for when or where it’ll be? Good for you, glad you enjoyed it so much!

      You are going to have an awesome time, Kyle!!

      And yes, I am definitely already plotting my next adventure. I have tons of huge, epic ideas – now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make them happen!

    That Lewis quote is one of my favorites!!!! And I’ve experienced this exact same thing. Can’t wait to see where *your* realization takes *you* 🙂

      It’s such a fantastic quote, and definitely one I can relate to a lot more recently!

    I love all the enthusiasm in your writing, and if you want to make travel a larger part of your life, go for it! (I was bit by the travel bug when my family lived in Europe, and now, I try to alternate longer stays with shorter trips b/c that’s what works for me.) See where that sign from the universe leads you!

      Thank you, Margaret! I have no doubt that the Universe has big plans for me.

    Amazing post. I felt that way after this summer when I traveled Europe alone for a while. I was working in France as a nanny and desperately wanted to go to Greece but had no travel buddy. I wanted to go so badly I decided I would just go alone, even if it wasn’t ideal.

    It turns out I honestly prefer solo travel, even though I never guessed I would like it at all. What was most different about it to me was how many more people I met- strangers tend to take you under their wing once they realize you’re alone. I actually just wrote a post about it if you’d like to read it!

      Good for you for just going! More people need to realize that that’s an option.

      I’m glad to hear you had a good trip, and even more glad to hear that you can relate to my post. With so many people sharing their own similar stories, I’m really glad I published it now. It’s always nice to know you’re not alone. 🙂

    Great post lovely good to see you have truly been bitten by the travel bug. It’s exhilarating.

      It certainly IS exhilarating. Thanks so much for reading!

    I felt many of the same things you did after my trip to Ireland. I had a LOT of ups and downs on that trip. I had a lot of fun and I also handled some tough things better than I normally do. However, I don’t think I want to do long term travel.

    Honestly, I was nuts at times. I wasn’t me. I was having fun and on cloud 9. It’s an awesome feeling but I still enjoy a place to call home. I may not always be ready to go home but I am always glad to have a place to call home.

      Yeah, I can understand wanting to still have a place to call home. But I also definitely understand the appeal of long-term travel better now.

    Ah great! I feel that working holiday coming on sometime soon that we talked about while you were over here. Glad you had such a good time and learned more about yourself. Curious to read more about your plans as you decide where you’re heading next 😉

      Yeah, that working holiday is definitely in the 5-year plan! It’s really the only thing I’m sure about. Haha.

    It is great to see how much traveling has touched you and inspired you! Welcome to the ‘addicted to travel’ club!

      Thanks, Candice! It’s something that I’m not ashamed to be addicted to.

    Right on, Amanda!

    I remember when I first got to your blog and read your introduction with the “I’ve a regular job and only want to travel occasionally” bit and I wondered how you can do it.

    In the sense that ever since I started travelling solo for longer periods of time, being “home” has somehow been just an in between, gearing up before a new adventure shimmers on the horizon, and I didn’t know how you managed to stay in one place and kill that wanderlust, which I assumed was getting you or about to do so. But now I’ve got my answer! haha

    What can I say – best of luck in discovering what it is you want to do next!
    And enjoy every step of this new road that you’ve already had the chance to catch a glimpse of… 🙂

      Haha. Well, I’m still all about fitting travel into a more “normal” lifestyle. But I may indeed want to take a break from that “normal” lifestyle sometime soon and travel a bit more long-term!

    It was good meeting you in London on your trip 🙂 And that’s the thing about travel, it does hook you quite badly. The more you do it, the more you want to do it. That’s what I’ve noticed. I did my year long RTW last year, but now I want to do another one, hopefully a longer one 🙂 And you are right, you get such a great experiences when you are travelling, how can you live without that 🙂

      It was good meeting you, too, Jarmo, even if just briefly! And yes, once you realize how great traveling it, it’s definitely tough to imagine life without it…

    You go girl, I wish I was able to let go of things and not be worried about what is happening next!

    I completely agree with this whole post. I’m 2 months into my 7 month trip in South America and I can’t imagine going back to a 9-5 job. Travelling inspires you to do everything in your power to change your life around and really make the most of every day. I’m glad you had such a great time in Europe. I can feel myself changing but I haven’t been dancing on any tables wearing a kilt yet!

      Haha, oh you just wait… the kilt-wearing table dancing will come! 😉

      But yes, travel certainly can inspire you to live every day to the fullest – I think that’s part of the reason why it’s so easy to get addicted to!

    LOVED this. stumbleupon brought me here. I’m preparing to go to europe solo in the spring, and i was so inspired by this :]

      That is so awesome to hear, Caitlin! I hope you have as incredible an experience as I did!

    Great post and I love your blog! I can so relate to this, cause I know what you mean when you say you used to think it wasn’t for you. I felt the same way until I went backpacking through the south of Spain last summer. One afternoon I was sitting alone at a cafe in some remote village and I just knew; I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life. It changed everything 🙂 Good luck on your future travels!

      Thanks, Michelle! I’m glad you can relate to this. Good luck to you on your future travels, too!

    After over 2 years of traveling the world, I know that my favorite the thing to do is to travel solo. On a budget. Specially if hitchhiking couchsurfing!

    Sounds crazy, but it’s true…

    Something so rewording about being by yourself… I grew so much, learned so much about the things I liked and didn’t like. Saw everything in a new light. Just so rewarding… I could go on and on about this. Happy to see you liked it as well!

    – Maria Alexandra

    ps – you are having issues with your commentluv plug-in by the way (parsing JSON request error). Thought I’d let you know 😉

      Yup, I definitely came to love solo travel much more after this summer!

    I envy you for having so much youth and time and freedom to travel anytime you want. Cheers to the joys of traveling woot! woot! 🙂

    This is the beauty of traveling, you transform into a better person who is not afraid to be free.

    […] + But even if home is where the heart is, I struggle with establishing roots. I guess… I guess there are times when it makes so much sense to stay (the way it’s described in Shannon‘s “Don’t Buy the Ticket“) and so much sense to go (as in Bonnie Rose‘s “Finding Love Across the Pond” and Amanda‘s “And Then Everything Changed“). […]

    […] Lastly, I’ve learned that travel — no matter how, where, or how often you do it — truly can change your life. Maybe travel will inspire a huge change, like convincing you to quit your job or move abroad. Maybe it will just inspire a little change, like opening your mind up to new foods and cultures. But I have no doubt that travel IS life-changing. […]

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