Why It Took Me 26 Years Before I Started Traveling 


Travel plays a major role in my life, but it hasn’t always been this way. I suppressed my desire to travel and experience new places for 26 years. So, what changed?

Today, I optimize my life and make a fair amount of sacrifices (think – living fairly minimally and not partying every weekend) so that I can experience new places on a regular basis. It has been the single biggest driver in both personal and professional development for me. I have learned more from the experiences I have had and all the people I’ve met than anything else I’ve ever done. But up until now, I haven’t really talked about it on this blog.

  • For starters, I didn’t want this blog to turn into yet another “follow your passion and travel the world blog.” There’s plenty of those on the Internet already. Quite frankly, I don’t think my insights about the places I’ve been are unique or interesting enough to write about (most of the time) – yet alone for people to want to read. I’m very committed to keeping the main themes about this blog about community management and social media.
  • I also know that being able to travel as much as I do is a huge privilege. One that I’m incredibly grateful for and don’t take lightly. I don’t want to come across as “bragging” or somehow implying that my life is better in some way than someone else because I like to travel. As I get older, I have so much respect for anyone who knows what they want in life and just goes after it. Whether that’s having kids at 25, climbing the corporate ladder early and often at a young age, buying a house, traveling often or something else entirely.

It is taken me over two years (and a phone call 2.5 years ago that I never wish for anyone to receive ever) to get comfortable to realize that by not talking much about my travel experiences, I’m holding back a unique perspective that separates me from many others.

This quote from Derek Sivers perfectly sums up my internal struggles. I have been making all of these changes to my life but am holding back sharing it, and in term was putting me in conflict with myself often.

[quote]”whatever you decide, you need to optimize for that, and be willing to let go of the others. You can’t diffuse your energy, trying to do a little bit of everything, or you’ll always be in conflict with yourself.”[/quote]

The reality is travel is my chosen way to get out of my comfort zone on a routine basis. Any new experience I have forces me to be more adaptable, hear and understand new perspectives, be more creative and think more critically. All of these things have helped me become a better community manager. For example, I’ve have had multiple revelations and epiphanies about building and managing communities from travel experiences, but I’ve only shared one on this blog. It was how a recent trip to Helsinki changed my perspective on community design.

Just like I’ve suppressed talking about my travel experiences (and how it has shaped me both personally and professionally), I also suppressed my desire to travel and experience new places for 26 years.

Since I was like 9 years old, I have always loved to travel and go on adventures. Whether it is an hour long car ride or a 24 hour flight, I love every aspect of the journey (including the pre-planning). (For the record, I’m the weirdo that spends hours on Skyscanner, Google Flights or airline websites just looking at trip itineraries, price shopping and day dreaming.)  

My desire to travel only grew more after initially studying abroad in London for four months in college. Living with a friend and four additional roommates in a tiny 2 bedroom flat in Earl’s Court. As an introvert, living with 5 other girls in a two bedroom apartment with only one bathroom was an interesting experience to say the least.

So, when I entered the “real world,” why did it suddenly feel like such a big deal to go on vacation or travel? I don’t like to admit this, but I didn’t go on any vacation that was longer than 4 days. During those four days, I was hanging with friends pretty much the entire time.

I knew deep down I wanted more for myself and my life.

I wanted to explore the world. The world is so much bigger and cooler than just the 50 states.  There’s entire continents and oceans to explore.  

I like to think that I’m an independent, ambitious go-getter. After college, I always thought I would travel often with a boyfriend or friends from college.  

After college, I took a bunch of initiative to plan international trips with friends. Everyone would be super gung-ho when I pitched the initial idea. But, trips would always fall through either because one of us couldn’t take off work, budget restraints, family commitments, etc.  

I knew deep down that I didn’t need to rely on a man or friends to chase my travel dreams and ambitions. But, that’s exactly what I was waiting for to start traveling. I always told myself that once I find “the one,” and get married that I would spend my first year traveling around with my new husband seeing all the places I have always wanted to visit all over the world.

So, what was holding me back?

I recently read Srinivas Rao’s new book, “Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best.” In this book, he talks a lot about moments he had in the “impact zone,” and how these challenges ended up shaping him.

[quote] “The impact zone frequently turns out to be the catalyst for significant change in people’s lives.”  [/quote]

In hindsight, my moment in the impact zone occurred on a Wednesday in mid-April of 2014. This is when I got the phone call from a loved one that I never ever, ever, ever wanted to receive. I remember having a pit in my stomach and knowing something was really wrong even before they started to speak. Nothing can compare to the minute when the person that you have looked up to for your entire life tells you that that they have cancer (even if it’s something that is treatable like in her case). It still hit me with a ton of bricks. I’ve grown a ton and overcome a ton of obstacles since college. But, I’ve never felt more vulnerable and scared than in the week after learning this news. It is fucking terrifying watching someone that you love go through cancer treatments and chemo.

Anytime the roles in a relationship abruptly reverse, it is jarring. When the person who comforted you as a kid when you had a fever is suddenly the one who is sick, suddenly now you are the one providing emotional support. Well, that is fucking scary.

On top of that, I wasn’t prepared to realize how much it would make me second guess many of the milestone decisions I made (or in some cases didn’t make) in my 20s thus far. While it fucking terrible to admit (and also a bit selfish), it took watching the person closest to me go through chemo to make me realize I was taking my own health and life for granted – thinking I could put off my dream to travel the world for when I retired in oh like 50 years. I started to seriously doubt my strategy of deferring gratification for that long.

Essentially, I was having an existential crisis. Like many introverts do, how do I process it? I stayed up late far too many nights just writing? Writing all the time.

I’ve always joked that writing is the best and cheapest form of therapy ever. In this case, it actually was therapeutic. Painful at the time, but it’s the only way I could start to process everything that I was going through.

I’ve always had a hard time sharing my deepest thoughts with people (even with my closest friends), although I like to think I’ve gotten better. But, pen to paper or fingers to keyboard still feels easier for me to express myself and my true feelings.  I realize the irony of all this as I’m about to post the most personal blog post I’ve ever written to the entire Internet. I’m sharing my deepest, rawest version of myself with people to critique and shred apart. Maybe even call me a reject or loser.

Heck, being made fun of or insulted hurts. But, at least it means people care enough to take the time out of their day to notice you and say something.

So going back to those lonely, vulnerable weeks in April of 2014, it made me come to terms with the thing that I was absolutely most afraid of: REGRET. Specifically, the regret of staying in my comfort zone too often and not pursuing my goals – like travel.  

This was highlighted again after hearing Lewis Howes speak at WDS last year. Fear and regret aren’t the same thing.

[quote]Fear is momentary.

Regret is forever.  [/quote]

And, it is similar sentiment that Gary Vaynerchuk shared in this video.

If I’m really honest with myself, it’s often fear that stands in the way of my biggest goals and ambitions and when I don’t take that step outside of my comfort zone and succumb to fear. I usually regret it. When I embrace the fear, uncertainty and unknown, it often leads to better outcomes than I ever could have imagined. Think moving to NYC which was hands on the best thing that ever happened to me career wise. Or, taking the plunge and traveling solo to a foreign country (Indonesia) by myself at 26. These are things that are really scary (especially the second one).

It’s really easy to talk yourself out of that crazy idea that’s been in your head for awhile. It’s the nagging things that keep coming up week after week, year after year are often the things you should wholeheartedly embrace and do, as not doing them is going to lead to a series of what ifs and possibly full on regret.

Regret is absolute poison. Not to mention, that’s how we become complacent and stagnant in life.

The thing that scares me the most about adulthood is getting too comfortable. Going to a cubicle “cushy job” day in and day out for years at a time, pushing papers, and doing just enough to get your measly 3% cost of living raise each year. Then, commuting home 45 minutes each day to a house with a white picket fence, a husband, two and half kids and a dog. All while living for weekends, holidays and a measly two weeks of vacation time, As I see more and more of my friends from high school and college settle into this “new normal,” I realize this fucking terrifies me.  

40 years from now, I don’t want to look back on my life and talk about all the things “I wish” I would have done. Wishing instead of finding a way to do something is pure poison. It just leads to bitterness, discontent, negativity and regret. While I know I can’t minimize all regrets and negativity that I have or may have in the future, if I know there is something that I might be able to do now that minimizes it (like travel), than fuck I’m going to do it.

For me, this desire to “do” and “experiment” instead of “wish” is the only way that I know how to push past my own fears and insecurities.

About the author

Jessica Malnik

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