I call things like this story – a bad breakup, getting fired from a job you love, losing a friendship – our phoenix moments. It’s an event or circumstance that burns us up inside with grief and anger and sadness.
We’re initially devastated by this thing, but then we’re able to rise from the ashes of that moment better, stronger, and more beautiful than before.
One of my phoenix moments is the reason I have my full-time travel lifestyle, so I thought I’d share it in the hopes that it’ll help someone in the same position I was in at that time.
It all began with a bad breakup.
I know the cliche: Girl gets her heart broken, girl goes on a journey to find herself, girl comes out the other side stronger/better/with shinier hair a la your favorite Pantene commercial. This was almost like that.
I had been dating Leo* for a year and a half and living with him when I found out that all my sneaking suspicions, shouted accusations, and midnight crises-of-the-soul had been correct – he had been cheating on me the entire time we were together with various women. I found this out because his phone wouldn’t stop making a noise made even more annoying by the fact that it was Sunday morning and I was trying to get some much-needed sleep.
As I reached across to his side of the bed to turn off the ringer, his screen lit up to reveal a series of Tinder matches and messages he had made the night before when he was out until 4AM without me (again). He was also inexplicably sleeping on the couch in the living room instead of in bed with me, where he usually could be found snoring away every night.
Long story short, I confronted him about everything. There were tears (on my part). It was terrible (again on my part; I think he was just relieved he didn’t have to keep up the charade of continuing to lie to my face). I hired a U-Haul truck, put all my stuff into the back of it, attached my car to its trailer, and drove an hour and a half that afternoon to my parents’ house to cry and try to make sense of why I hadn’t followed my instincts sooner.
It took me about two months of wallowing (and let’s be real, several seasons’ worth of Grey’s Anatomy binging) before I could bring myself to think about the future in any concrete way. I felt listless and lost. Leo had gotten to keep everything: the city where we lived together, his friends, the apartment, and all our favorite restaurants and bars.
I was back in my parents’ house in the same room where I had spent all of my high school years. It felt like everything had changed for me and nothing had changed for him, despite the fact that all of this awfulness was his fault. I was angry and sad and depressed. I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do next.
Eventually – after lots of journaling, yoga, and several sessions with a professional counselor – I realized this devastating breakup was actually an opportunity in disguise. I had always had the travel bug, but Leo didn’t. He never wanted to live in a foreign country; that was one of my life goals. His parents lived three hours’ drive south of him and he wanted to keep it that way, forever.
We had traveled together before but rarely abroad. When we did take a trip, he was unfailingly obnoxious and awful to the local people. Now I was free to go wherever I pleased, whenever I liked without thinking about whether he would be happy about it and/or exactly how many times I would have to apologize for his behavior.
With this little glimmer of hope shining on the horizon, I started to think ahead for the first time in weeks. I planned out what the next six months of my life would look like. I would go to Los Angeles for a week to meet Leo’s ex-girlfriend (a story for another time) and drink way too much tequila.
I would go to Denver to visit my lifelong best friend and her wonderful mother for a month. I would go to Paris for a month to ensure that my seven years of formal French language education didn’t go to waste. I would stop in Austin, Texas, for at least a week to enjoy the balmy weather and beautiful scenery. I would hop wherever seemed fun in between.
The idea of solo travel terrified and wildly excited me in equal measures. Traveling abroad was the only time I felt like the best version of myself; the constant need to learn, discover, adapt, communicate, and make decisions in a new place (and sometimes in a new language) was one of the only things that made me feel 100% present and alive.
At the same time, my mother is the kind of woman who is convinced that nefarious people are hiding around every corner, waiting to sell you into sex slavery and/or steal your organs. She spent my entire childhood filling my head with the idea that the world is scary and dangerous.
I wrestled to reconcile these two perspectives as I scoured the internet for the best AirBnBs I could find in my price range, the lowest plane ticket fares, and the most comfortable (yet fashionable) walking sandals the world had to offer without destroying my credit score in the process.
It was the moment I hit “Submit” on my final plane ticket that I decided I was going to actually follow the intuition that had gotten me out of a terrible relationship and into this phoenix moment in the first place. I knew instinctively that the only way to get over this breakup and learn to trust again – both myself and anyone else – was to pitch myself headlong into the unknown and see what I was capable of.
This blog is the story of the people I met, the places I saw, and the things I learned after I stepped out of the ashes and onto that first airplane.
What about you? Have you ever had a phoenix moment? Tell me about it in the comments!
*Name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
Travel | Re-Pack | Repeat