I’ve had a great time telling people about my trip. It’s something I think about all the time so of course it is something I enjoy talking about. At first, I was hesitant to let anyone know that I wanted to leave. I didn’t want people to think I was judging their lifestyle in any way, as most people I know have not taken six months off to travel through multiple foreign countries on their own. This action is an abrupt departure from the normal college, career, house, family, retirement path that a majority of Americans, many of my friends and family included, have followed. I know this type of travel is far more common and expected in other cultures, but not in U.S. culture. This type of action is probably even less common in the Architecture/Construction/Engineering world. I have spoken to multiple senior level managers about their career history and there is a common thread – most of them have worked from the day they graduated college until now, taking, at maximum, two-week vacations once every couple of years. And I can guess what these “vacations” are probably like – an expensive whirlwind of activity, lugging overweight baggage from airport to shuttle to resort, sipping Pina Coladas with a bunch of other Americans, being bused from tourist trap to tourist trap as local life is segregated by language, skin color and air conditioned spaces. I have heard of guys that have worked in the construction industry their entire lives, never taking more than a couple of days off at a time. They wear this career history as a badge of honor but I see it as a lost opportunity to explore other, potentially interesting paths to personal growth.
So I’m always excited to tell people about my trip, even if I am apprehensive about how I may make them feel. The first couple of people I told were close friends who I knew would be excited about my decision. I then told my Mom. She has always been supportive of my decisions, whatever they may be, but she also has her own underlying agenda and idea of what my life should be, as most parents do. Also, she is a tax adviser for H&R Block. She sees a lot of clients struggling, on and off unemployment, and she wants grandchildren, like yesterday. She told me she was concerned about my finances, my career opportunities when I return, and that this would delay her dream of having grandchildren. I told her I am comfortable with my finances, my career opportunities and that I am not ready for kids. There was a brief stalemate, then she said “I love you, I know you’re going to do whatever you want anyways, so have fun!” She is a great Mom.
Next I told my Dad. His initial response: “You must be stoned. Are you high right now?”. I assured him I was not, that I have had this dream for some time. He then rattled off a few more questions: “What are you, some kind of free spirit? How much money do you have? What are your plans when you return? Are you trying to be the most interesting man in the world?” Not the most supportive response, but funny enough for me to have to pull the phone away from my ear while I stifled a chuckle. I answered most of his questions and we came to some kind of understanding, as we usually do.
My trip came up for the first time during breakfast with some of my extended family and my Uncle, pounding his fist on the dinner table in mock anger, exclaimed “why don’t you have a mortgage? That’s so irresponsible of you!” That tongue in cheek comment was later followed by the sincere statement that from the day he saw a picture of Machu Picchu as a child, he had wanted to visit. He has yet to make it there.
Having informed my family and friends that this thing was for real, I now had to break the news to my company. The contract I was under at the time had a one year limit, which gave me a nice, clean end date to plan towards. In the construction industry on each project you make commitments to clients, subcontractors, designers and coworkers that make it very difficult to take time off during a project. But between projects there exists great opportunity for personal change, as your time becomes freed up and the transition to something new is only natural. As I told various Project Executives and Managers about my plan, the response was overwhelmingly positive. A few told me they wish they had done something similar. They offered to let me keep my health care benefits if I left for three months instead of six (I declined). They helped me navigate HR, and they asked me to work on another project over the summer until I left in September. The company has always treated me well, and I am grateful for all the opportunities that I have had to work on cool projects with sweet staff.
It’s been great talking about this trip, but I am seriously ready to go! Thanks for reading. I would like some feedback – is there something that you want to do but you are afraid to tell anyone about it? Email me!