Similarities in solo travel & self-employment
Two of the scariest and rewarding things I’ve done in my life have been traveling solo in another country and starting my own business.
In 2016 I quit my full time job and spent most of my savings backpacking in South America for three months. I didn’t know if anyone would be able to join me when I bought a one way ticket to Peru, but fortunately my fiancé Geoff was able to come for the first two weeks and later on I met up with a couple of friends. Somewhere in the middle, I had three weeks on my own in Peru and Bolivia. I probably could have met up with my friend Theresa sooner, but it was important for me to have time on my own. It’s almost like I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Many of my girl friends have traveled solo and it was no sweat off their backs, but I knew it would be a challenge for me and I was excited.
After my trip I got another job as an art director and it wasn’t long before I knew I wanted to work for myself. I loved the idea of working from home or at a coffee shop and handling my own clients. I daydreamed about the projects I would take on and the types of businesses I’d work with. At the same time I also experienced a lot of anxiety and questioned whether I would be able to do it.
As I look back on these events, I realized that solo travel and starting a business have actually been very similar life experiences for me. Here are the reasons why:
Many will openly doubt you
Majority of the time when I would tell someone about my planned trip, they would look at me like I was crazy. “You’re traveling alone? As a young female? Do you know Spanish? What about your job?”. While I appreciated their concern, it definitely got old hearing this over and over. I constantly had to remind myself why I was doing this – I don’t want to wait until retirement to live my life. I want to live it while I am young, healthy, and able.
When I told people I quit my job to pursue self-employment, the responses were very similar. “How are you going to find clients? Is anyone else hiring? Can’t you find a remote job? What about health insurance?” These are valid questions and all of these people genuinely cared about me and wanted me to succeed. Don’t get my wrong, I had a ton of support and so many excited friends, but hearing doubt from so many people can weigh on you and make you feel like maybe you’re not capable.
You have to ask for help and ask lots of questions
Traveling solo is quite a humbling experience. It made me realize how little I knew. Am I supposed to tip? Did I come off as rude? How can I explain this better? The thing that I found was that it’s okay to ask questions. If you ask for help, you’re going to learn more and have a more rewarding experience. You may even get some insight into a local’s favorite spot or a shortcut that isn’t on the map.
The same is true with starting a business. It can be frustrating learning something new, but when I put my guard down and became curious, it was much more enjoyable. When you ask questions you can find great people to collaborate with, learn tips, or connect with a new client. You can learn about a new app, find a better work space or come up with an awesome business idea. It’s so important to ask all the questions and put the ego aside if you need help.
You have to fight through the anxiety
The first two weeks of my trip were with Geoff and I can’t express how much those moments mean to me. I felt safe and protected, I had someone to share amazing experiences with and I feel like it made us closer as a couple. I did, however, have pretty intense anxiety when he got on the plane to go back home (he still had to work and run a business). I actually cried that whole day leading up to his departure and had a hard time enjoying our planned activities. This was going to be my first time alone in another country. All the questions hit me: What if people were right? What if I go missing? What if I die? Am I making a mistake? It got pretty extreme and I’m grateful my sisters let me sob to them on the phone. The first few days alone I felt like a deer in headlights, but once I got used to it, it became empowering.
Similarly, when I started my business, I had all the questions pouring through my brain. What if I fail? What if I don’t make enough money? What if I have to find another job? It felt like my pride and financial stability was on the line and I had to convince a lot of people that I could do it (including myself). I ended up diving into classes and seminars to learn because learning gives me confidence. Once I gained the knowledge I felt that I needed, I was ready to tackle the next step.
You’re in survival mode
When I was travelings solo, I had to come to terms with the fact that I could only rely on myself. As a young female I had to be extremely smart about where I went and when. I made sure to be back at the hostel before dark, I did extensive research about new cities and what areas to avoid, and I had to be smart with my money and belongings. It can be scary at times, but it felt like all my senses were alive and alert.
When I first started my own business there were times when I wouldn’t have work or any projects on the schedule. I could take off for the afternoon or find something fun to do, but at the end of the day, it’s up to me to find jobs. It’s up to me how much money I make. I had to go to networking events and mingle with strangers, meet with mentors and sign up for webinars on my lunch break. I had no one telling me what to do or where to go and at times it made me feel crazy, but I was wide-eyed and willing to put in the time because I had no other option if I wanted this to work.
Taking risks can result in some of the most rewarding experiences
When I think back to some of my favorite life experiences, it’s typically because I took a risk and got out of my comfort zone. As I crossed the border from Peru to Bolivia, I wasn’t sure where I was staying that night. I ended up meeting a lovely German girl who was also traveling solo. We quickly became friends when we realized we had the same final destination and spent the whole weekend together. After one long day of hiking around the island we found a group of French and Argentinian friends hanging out on the beach and drank Cubra Libres, laughed and shared stories until the wee hours of the night. I remember looking around me and thinking, “I could have never planned this. What a special night.”
The same thing is true with self-employment. Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people and businesses. I’m so proud of the work I’ve created for them and sometimes think back to the time when I was nervous to quit my job. I would have never been able to experience these moments with happy customers if I stayed in a comfortable salaried job. I’ve become friends with many of my clients and that has to be one of the most rewarding parts.
I can’t pretend I haven’t had panic attacks about either of these experiences. It’s hard, it’s scary, it’s stressful and at the end of the day, the future is unknown. But truthfully, not knowing what’s ahead can be invigorating. These experiences have challenged me and made me feel strong and capable. Taking risks is difficult and you’ll face so many obstacles along the way, but once you fight through the doubt and anxiety, some pretty magical things can happen.
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