Last time I checked, I was 22 and finishing my Arts degree.
I remember that life so vividly, it truly feels like no time has passed at all.
Except, I am now 31. It’s been almost 10 years since this period of my life but I don’t recognize the person I was then; nor the dreams I had on where my life would be after all this time. It’s amazing how quickly life can change without you even noticing.
In 2007, I was so sure of where my life was headed, I practically had it all mapped out: Career goals. Check. Plans for a stable adult life. Check. A long term relationship that I’d invested 5 years in. Check. The plans were in place, I knew where I was heading and could see my future all mapped out right in front of me.
When A Life In Melbourne Is All I Expected
After university, the plan was to continue post-graduate study for 1 year, so I could use my Bachelor of Arts Degree to become a Film and History teacher. I had a part time job at a DVD store, which was fun because I was so good at it. I have an uncanny memory when it comes to movies, tv and celebrities. I had never been overseas, but after university graduation, the plan was to visit the USA and see all my favourite filming locations. My long-time boyfriend at the time was on board with this because he loved film and tv as much as I did. We were a good fit when you looked at our interests, even though our personalities were honestly too different to really work long term.
So fate stepped in and changed my course because this was not my destiny. I could have easily led a life in Melbourne as a teacher and built my career as planned. I could have had the house, the babies and the families that everyone else seemed to be creating around me by 25. That was always the plan back then.
But I had continued on this path longer than I should have because the expectation of going to university so I could get a ‘real job’ afterwards, deciding to settle down in one place ‘forever’ and being in a long term relationship after so long, that didn’t entirely meet all my needs was what I had chosen. Back then, I believed that you didn’t walk away from your choices. You stuck them out until they made you happy and so that’s what I was doing: choosing my choices. But conforming to the expectations of others is not how I wish to live my life, so I am thankful that a few detours happened when they did, even if I didn’t always choose them. I don’t regret wasting time in the wrong mindset though, because it taught me what not to be ok with; especially regarding being in the wrong relationship and settling for less, and making time for friendships when you ultimately deserve better.
When Destiny Steps In
Having to make some massive decisions, I decided to stick with the university plan and apply for my post-graduate study so I could become a teacher and always use it to fall back on. If everything else was unknown in my life, at least I had this to anchor me. Except…I didn’t get into the course when I applied. What on Earth would I do now? It was like everything I thought I would have by 22, was now gone. I had zero options and nowhere to go.
After such a personal overhaul, my heart was actually telling me to leave Australia. Even just for a while. So with no real plans, I signed up for a Summer Camp Counsellor program in the USA and decided I was going to go if I was accepted. I was finally heading off on my first international adventure! How exciting right?
Except…a few weeks after finalizing everything, I was offered a second round offer for my university course! This just NEVER happens so I was truly caught by surprise.
Faced with the decision, now that I actually had one to make; I decided to defer the university course to the next year because I knew leaving was what was best for me right now. There was a reason I received the second round offer rather than the first. It was all about the timing. I was always going to get into that course, but had I been accepted a month prior, I would have taken it and never thought about other options. My fate therefore, was ultimately intertwined within this very order of events. The universe had other plans for me and it was clear what they were. The clarity of this realization made me know I was on the right path.
An American Summer Camp Adventure Begins
In June 2008, I traveled to the USA and worked at a Summer Camp outside Philadelphia. It wasn’t traditional, in that we lived in university dorm rooms and not log cabins. But I was able to pretend I was away at college, just like in the movies, so two dreams were realized in this opportunity: traveling to America and participating in something so American I couldn’t possibly be anywhere else.
Following my contract, I was able to travel to all the places on my list: I explored all the filming locations I wanted to see in the Big Apple, hello Sex and the City and Serendipity; I trekked to Dawson’s House and explored the set of One Tree Hill in Wilmington, North Carolina and it was amazing. I have never felt so much déjà vu in one place in my life- thanks to my many hours of watching Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, this place actually felt as good as home. I toured Elvis Presley’s Graceland, spent a weekend at the very hotel used in the film Dirty Dancing (I didn’t carry a watermelon, but I danced in the Gazebo!) I caught a train to the Northern suburbs of Chicago and saw a variety of John Hughes filming locations including the epitome of them all: the Home Alone house. Finally, I made it to Las Vegas and met up with my mother and Nan and enjoyed all of the locations on offer in San Francisco (Mrs Doubtfire, Full House…the usual really); and of course Los Angeles, where everything from Pretty Woman to Grease to Gilmore Girls was right at my fingertips. My favourite things were coming to life.
This trip truly changed my life and there was no turning back. The fact that fate played such a role in getting me here allowed me to feel good about continuing it in the years to follow.
To (Almost) A Decade Of Solo Travel
In 2009, I completed my teaching diploma, but I was bursting to return to travel. 2010 saw me substitute teaching so I had flexibility, and I began exploring Europe and the UK for 5 weeks. 2011 had me in the USA again, for 3 months this time…and in Canada as well. I was able to return to some of my favourite places and explore even more, especially all those filming locations!
2012 was a year I actually worked as a full time teacher. But as soon as the year was out, I was off to New York City to stand in Times Square for 13 hours – knowing absolutely no one, just to see a ball drop! Insane is an understatement. It was also here in Times Square, that I was able to see my very first snow falling…and Central Park all covered in white gold as well. I toured the South on a mini road trip and saw so much Civil Rights history; reunited with friends, then found snow again in the New England region of the country in Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
Understandably, most of my friends and family expected me to stop traveling now that I had put some big trips under my belt, and I was pushing 27. But this was the furthest thing from my mind, because I was still not interested in settling into Melbourne life – even though I loved this city and so wanted to find a worthy relationship.
2013 was my biggest year for travel, with trips to Hawaii for the second time with my family for Easter, and a return stint at the same Summer Camp from my very first overseas adventure in 2008; except this time I was living at a different campus, Villanova University. To top the year off I paid over $3000 to have wisdom teeth removed (I was asleep thank god!) but still found myself with just enough funds to move abroad to London to undertake a working holiday…because why not? I was 28, the visa options ended at 31 and I craved independence, having lived in the family home anytime I was back in Australia. I also had completely zoned out of teaching by this stage, and knew I needed to make a change…but I had no idea to what or why I was feeling this way, but hindsight tells me it was because I always teach things I am not educationally qualified in…thus I never felt like an expert in my subjects.
London was an eye opening experience, and literally changed my life. Well, if I am being particular, One Tree Hill, that show I loved that filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina? THAT changed my life. I just didn’t know it yet.
If You Want Something Bad Enough Find A Way To Make It Happen
How can a tv show change your life?
Well, when you sit in a room full of celebrities you know so well from your tv screen, it’s not hard. In October 2013, after having just arrived in London, I attended a convention in Paris for the show, and 8 of the actors were in attendance for the weekend. There were photo ops, autographs and Question and Answer sessions and throughout all of this, my eyes were opened to something. Late in the afternoon on the first day, I actually had an epiphany. When one of the actresses, Hilarie Burton was asked about how to get into acting by a guest, she responded with advice and said, “if you want something bad enough, you find a way to make it happen.” That very sentence right there, changed my life. I sat there listening to the rest of the day, but I felt sick. I knew I couldn’t go back into the classroom again when I returned to London. And knowing this freaked me the hell out because that’s what I had gone to London to do for work.
Hilarie was beyond lovely and that weekend she remembered me every time we saw each other, which isn’t hard being the only Aussie in a sea of Frenchies; but we became friends which was nice. However, it was her mentality which stuck with me and the minute I returned back to London, I started looking for jobs in Media, an area I had my degree in but never really did anything with. I took a shot, not knowing what would happen. But had no choice but to find a way to make a better life happen so I did.
November saw many job applications happen, and then interviews with top companies like MTV. It was crazy! Just before Christmas, I hit the jackpot in being offered a well-paying role at Disney Channel in their digital marketing team, and undertook the role of Viewer Relations Supervisor for the UK & Ireland. It was hard work, but I was able to expand in my writing skills (responding to guests on behalf of the company), worked in social media and had many other little responsibilities that made me feel valuable in my work. I also started my travel blog, which is still going strong more than 2 years later.
Being able to explore Europe was amazing! I was able to see a part of the world I hadn’t had much chance to see, and had friends in Germany to keep me from feeling homesick. I fell in love with Salzburg and found all the Sound of Music locations, I ate too much Currywurst in Germany and spent Christmas Day at Disneyland Paris with my sister. Incredible was an understatement.
12 months later, I went back to the next One Tree Hill convention in Paris and was able to see Hilarie again (who remembered me) and I told her all about what had happened since the last convention and how her words had impacted so much. That memory is something I will always cherish as it’s not often that you are able to thank someone for being part of your life changing course so much. She was completely blown away by it all and said how proud of me she was for stepping out of my comfort zone and taking a shot into a dream job. I will never forget that moment with her and what it meant not as a fan of her, but in seeing the amazing person I saw she was.
Saying Goodbye to Expat Life In London
In January 2015, I decided to leave London after 15 months. I had made so many amazing friends. I had lived with different groups of people. I had re-built my career. But I was ready to return home for a while. I didn’t love the city enough to stay. I traveled for 3 months in Europe, the US and Canada; and even turned 30 in Dublin! I met my parents and Nanna in Hawaii for a little trip before returning home and back to life in Melbourne, a city I truly am in love with.
When you return home it is very hard to adjust. You question whether you actually left…or was the whole experience just a dream? Everything is the same, but life has moved forward in so many ways that you have not. It’s really hard to adjust to. Whilst I was making leaps and bounds career and travel wise; personally, I felt disconnected to many friends I once had strong friendships with and was still single which was frustrating. I wasn’t sure what to do career wise either, as Melbourne certainly doesn’t have the opportunities that London does. Life back home was not that great to be honest. But I ended up finding substitute work at my old school, and in 2016 changed schools for the first time in my career which was massive for me; and I ended up taking on a term teaching contract which actually made me appreciate teaching again and knowing this was actually a career I could do well, if I wanted to.
On top of this, I started my own social media business and this allowed me to build my skills in areas that were relevant to my past job role at Disney; in case I wanted a career outside of the 9-5 environment. I was also part of a handful of girls who started up a very successful travel blogging group for women that now has over 2000 members, called Female Travel Bloggers.
Where Am I Now?
After everything I have been through this past decade; 2016 was a crazy year too. I traveled in my own country, (something I hadn’t done a whole lot of!) and made it to New Zealand finally at the end of 2015…something I should have done long ago! I applied for and activated a Canadian work holiday visa in July due to the age limit of 31 looming; but due to my work contract, I could only stay in the States and Canada on holiday for 2 weeks. However, I was still able to see a whole lot of filming locations which was unreal!
Come October 2016, I made the leap and booked my ticket and landed at LAX ready for this current adventure. I have been in Vancouver for 3 months, and figured I would wing it when I arrived. I had zero plans but I had enough money to last me to March without working (if I was money wise).
But if I was going to work, I needed it to be a 2 month contract at most, as I did want to travel as much as I could however long I am over here for…and within 2 weeks of arriving I was offered a seasonal contract with the Vancouver Christmas Market for 8 weeks work in Marketing/Guest Services (just like my role at Disney!)…seriously right?
I am now finished that contract and working with some other social media clients, which has helped me earn more money, and extend my marketing skills even further which has been good in setting up my business even more. Money is always good! I also scored a whole month of snow! (And they say Van city never gets snow…they do now (and SO much of it!!) Plus I’ve done some travel to Victoria and Whistler which has been nice.
But now the question I face is…what comes next? So many people ask me when I am coming home and for the first time I have a concrete answer: July 2017. It could change. Or I may return home and leave again. I still have much to decide. I am letting the universe guide my moves which have been spot on so far. But I want to be home because I miss it and finally appreciate it than before I left.
I do love the US and Canada, but I am realizing that I love it more as a traveler, with the freedom to explore. I know these countries as well as Australia, so I do see myself as being home here after over 8 trips here; but I really do enjoy slow travelling through this region more than anything. Not being tied down. Not earning peanuts compared to back home. Just being on the road enjoying my favourite cities and town for as little or as long as I like.
I have no idea what I will do when I get home or where in Australia I will end up. I can always teach, I can expand my business in social media, I can open another business if I like or maybe study tourism…or do it all. I really am open to seeing what happens and letting the universe guide me to where I am supposed to be. Because I just have no idea, and it is a little scary to have questions in my 30s about what country, what career and what relationship I want in my future. I do wish I had a lot more clarity on what exactly I wanted to do, and which country is best for me to settle in though. But I know the signs will present themselves when they are supposed to.
Most people would be scared to trust in the unknown, but I figure everything got me here so far. Even when I have had no plans or an uncertain future…everything has always worked out and given me an even better opportunity than the last. So my gut right now is telling me to enjoy the ride and see where it takes me, which is a lot of travel in the USA, mainly amongst nature and all the National Parks for some reason. It’s like I need a cleansing of all my questions to enter into a clarity; and this is where I can find it.
In a year from now though, amidst all this uncertainty; I hope that I have some of this in my life:
- A career or multiple income sources that make me happy in what I am doing with my life.
- Flexibility to be able to do the many things I want to, so I feel some form of freedom and the ability to enjoy my variety of hobbies along with my work.
- Write a book – not sure in what, but I could really enjoy being the female Nicholas Sparks!
- Find a relationship that gives me hope in my future that the house, the babies and the family will happen eventually if I want them to. It’s been a great run on my own; I’ve focused on me rather than dating people just for the sake of it; but after a decade alone I truly crave a partner to share my life with. A real deal romance I am yet to find, but know is out there.
- More travel, every year. Back to the USA, but more of Australia too, and particularly my home city of Melbourne. It’s the best city in the world and I want to share it with others and make people see why it’s a better choice than Sydney. (It just is!) Who knows? I may even be able to make a career out of that one.
But either way, as long as I am happy, that’s all I need everyday.
I just need to remind myself that all plans are never concrete. They are allowed to change. I am allowed to change and settle down, or keep heading off on adventures if I want to. I don’t have to ‘grow up’ and be like everyone else, just because people expect me to now that I am in my 30s. Even committing to a 9-5 career doesn’t have to be my future, when there are so many options and more freelancing careers happening every single day.
My life has changed dramatically in 10 years. Who knows what the next 10 have in store? It’s sure been an adventure, and I wouldn’t change doing it all on my own for anything. Even if it meant missing out on what other people have attained that I have not and being completely alone on this journey. We all have our desires. Mine was travel. It was my boyfriend. It still is.
I have seen some incredible places. I know what it’s like to call another country home. I know what it feels like to watch the Eiffel Tower light up at night, to sit on a beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and take in the views, to ride a ferryboat in Seattle, to climb up the Statue of Liberty’s head, to standing in front of the bluest lake I’ve seen in the Canadian Rockies and to road trip around New Zealand. I may have given up many things personally, but look what I received instead? This is living to me. I don’t need material things. I just need adventure, even if it means being away from friends and family more than I would like to. And my dog, Duke too. For a family oriented person, I sure am away a lot!
That’s how I know I am meant to be here. That this is my destiny. I will work it out, even with all this uncertainty. But it will all present itself when the timing is right. So I just have to trust in that and keep living the life I created for myself.
So, all I will leave you with is this quote from One Tree Hill which sums up where I have been, where I am and where I am going pretty perfectly. Maybe it will resonate with you too?
“Looking back on what I said all those years ago, all the hopes and dreams I had, I’ve come to the conclusion that if having things turn out the way you wanted them to is a measure of a successful life, then some would say I’m a failure. The important thing is not to be bitter over life’s disappointments. Learn to let go of the past. And recognize that every day won’t be sunny. And when you find yourself lost in the darkness and despair, remember it’s only in the black of night you see the stars. And those stars will lead you back home. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes, to stumble and fall; because most of the time, the greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare you the most. Maybe you’ll get everything you wish for. Maybe you’ll get more than you ever could have imagined. Who knows where life will take you. The road is long and in the end, the journey is the destination.”