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Anyone in their early-to-mid twenties has at some point reached a crossroads where they have had to decide which direction their life is heading in. For some this is easy; they have a clear set of goals and objectives and they know exactly how they are going to achieve them. Go to university, become a lawyer, a banker, an architect…whatever you know you want to be.
But what if you don’t know? What if you can’t see yourself fitting into any of the career options that everyone who matters says you have to choose from?
I’m from the Philippines, where it’s a cultural expectation that you finish university, get your degree, choose a career, buy a house and car, get married, then have some kids. And by the way, if you won’t have time off from work to look after your children, their grandmother will do that for you!
Any passions you may have had before become side-line interests that fit in around the “important stuff.” Dreams of traveling the world become week-long annual holidays and package cruises.
Self-fulfillment becomes a constant self-comparison with brothers and sisters, cousins and former classmates. Doesn’t that all sound just marvelous?
But what if there is another way? What if there are a whole host of options that you’re not told about by your parents, university, or friends?
Imagine if you could be completely free, go where you want when you want and not just earn, but actually save money at the same time.
You don’t have to be a flight attendant, cruise ship worker, travel writer or a company executive to get paid to travel. You can earn money in a variety of different ways, anywhere in the world.
After graduating university in 2009, I worked in Kuwait, the Middle East, for 4 years where I worked up to the position of Quality Assurance Supervisor.
I had a good job, my own car, a rented apartment and an expensive gym membership. I went on holidays to 15 different countries and even bought property in the Philippines.
People who knew me saw me as successful and my parents were happy. I was winning…or at least I thought I was.
It wasn’t until I moved to Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, for a new job that I began to question things. I had a higher salary, more benefits and most importantly great friends. But there was something missing inside that couldn’t be filled by any of those things.
I began to realize that what I really wanted was to travel, to be completely free of work and schedules. To know that I could go anywhere in the world and not just survive, but thrive.
My peers and colleagues told me I was crazy to waste the opportunities I had. After all, how many 24 year-old women, let alone Filipinas, had the chances and the life I had?
Despite this, against all the advice of my peers and protests of family members (my father completely disowning me!), I quit my job, gave away my possessions and packed my bags.
My initial plan was to head to Thailand and travel Southeast Asia for 3 months, before flying to South America. Having not seen my brother and sister in two years, I decided to take them with me.
“All we have now are our 15-kilo backpacks and ourselves, brimming with optimism and vision that didn’t seem possible in our old lives.”
Life during my travels
Traveling was everything I had wanted it to be and more. I went places and saw things I had never seen before – good, bad and completely weird! I ate new food (a lot of it!), had amazing new experiences and met loads of awesome people.
One of these people came in the form of a British guy in his late twenties, who had also quit his job, given away his possessions and started a new life on the road.
We met in Luang Prabang, Laos, and although we seemed to have very similar thoughts and ideas, we were on two separate paths and inevitably went our separate ways.
My brother and sister traveled with me until Vietnam, when my budget could no longer support all of us. I continued traveling on my own for another 2 months through Cambodia and Thailand, when I decided it was time to have a rest in one place and figure out my next moves.
I chose a month-long yoga retreat on Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand where I tried to understand what it was I really wanted to do in life and contemplate if my father was indeed right and I was just having a quarter-life crisis.
As the yoga retreat came to an end, I was approaching my 25th birthday. I had actually kept in touch with the British guy from Luang Prabang, who was now living and working in Hanoi. He asked me to come back to Hanoi for a motorbike trip around North Vietnam.
I still had no plans and a big motorbike trip had been on my bucket list for a long time, so I booked my flight and a two week visit soon turned into a month and I ended up living and working in Hanoi for the next 7 months.
Having been living in Vietnam for a few months, we started planning our next big trip – a 3-year, around-the-world work and holiday adventure. (READ: 10 Commandments for your next travels)
To achieve this we needed to save as much as possible in order to travel for at least a few months without working.
Jonathan was already teaching English in a private school and took on extra work. I decided to get my TEFL certificate so that I could teach as well.
I started teaching one-on-one English classes for adults as well as children in local schools, took on a part time marketing job in a Western company, and even joined a Vietnamese reality TV show!
Jonathan sold his motorbikes; we packed our things and flew to India in February 2014 for the start of our at least 3-year adventure.
The big trip: work and holiday
We spent three months traveling all over India and while we were there decided to invest some time and money to become certified yoga teachers and Ayurveda massage therapists. These are things we have both had interests in and practiced for some time, so we thought, ‘Why not make a living out of it?’ Yoga is constantly growing in popularity across the globe and almost everyone loves a really good massage!
As we’ve traveled we’ve helped out in bars and restaurants in exchange for free food and even done some reviews and marketing for cheaper hotel rooms. It all helps your money stretch that bit further.
It was this kind of thinking and experience that led us to discover Help Exchange, a website where you can find volunteer work in exchange for free food and accommodation. In our free time we can explore, arrange yoga classes and do massages for extra income. (READ: 5 tips for your budget trips)
As a reward for all our hard work and ingenuity, we even had a week-long holiday at the Maldives, and 3 weeks in the UK to explore and meet Jonathan’s family before flying to South America.
We were in the Peruvian Andes for a month, working in a hostel surrounded by mountains and Incan Ruins, with free bed and food.
Now, we temporarily settle here in Arequipa, Southern Peru with a freelance teaching job and our own Yoga and Massage business. We eat well, run yoga classes for the soul-seekers and heal the people’s aching bodies with Ayurveda massage therapy.
We plan to continue this way of life as we travel through South America with a side trip to Antartica, before moving on to Oceania and finally coming to rest in the Philippines in 2017 or 2018 – to build a Sustainable Earthship Yoga Retreat Resort, but that’s another story.
So now, after 16 months of being on the road, we don’t have a car, a house, a ‘respectable career’ and we’re probably not keeping up with the ex-classmates and cousins either. The investment property burden, by forces out of our control, fell through and a refund is on its way.
All we have now are our 15-kilo backpacks and ourselves, brimming with optimism and vision that didn’t seem possible in our old lives.
Do I have any regrets about leaving my stable corporate job for an unpredictable traveling lifestyle? Never! I may not have the same luxury and security I had before, but now I have something far more fulfilling: the freedom and inner happiness I was searching for all those years ago.
So to my fellow women, Filipinos, or backpackers…yes, you can have the traveling life you want, earn money and be successful at the same time.
You just need your own definition of success, outside of the norms of society and culture. No visa restrictions, cultural or language differences can block your dream. Trust yourself and just do it. – Rappler.com
Note: The essay above first appeared on Kach’s website. Rappler is republishing it with her permission.
Kach is a proud Filipina who quit her corporate job to become a long-term backpacker. She’s also a certified Tantra Yoga teacher, TEFL qualified, Ayurveda Massage Therapist and the Little Brown Monkey behind Two Monkeys Travel Group. Follow her at facebook.com/twomonkeystravel