As our guide passed out our picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit, and coffee we began to talk about our lives back home. When it was my turn to share, I grimaced while admitting I was an accountant. Even back home in the U.S., this was often part of my response, apologizing for a job seen as universally boring. I was sitting on a secluded New Zealand beach with six other 20-somethings from a number of different countries and backgrounds taking a break on our day of kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. As my fellow paddlers spoke, most talked about working seasonally and traveling, and while it turned out no one had a “traditional” job, they also weren’t hesitant to reveal these choices like I had been.
Even in the business field, I had made an effort to be a part of my community by taking a position within my local government. Even making that conscious choice and moving ahead in my career, I was still left feeling unsettled and restless. It was this feeling that inspired me to travel to New Zealand. Going outside of North America for the first time, and to the other side of the world alone was not something I had expected to ever be doing. I had ended a relationship a year earlier, and had spent the months since trying to set goals for myself that would challenge me and give me something to look forward to. My friends were in a more settled place, laying roots and expanding their families, and with their time and money earmarked for those things, traveling was not a priority. I knew that if I waited for it to be a good time for my friends to travel, there would always be a new reason not to go.
It wasn’t entirely clear to me sitting on the beach that what left me feeling different wasn’t my job, but rather that there wasn’t anything that filled me with the same optimism or passion I heard from as the others told their stories. Upon returning home, I noticed that in recounting my trip to friends, there was a new excitement in my words, as I described what it felt like to stand feet from a Yellow-Eyed Penguin in the wild, how impossibly turquoise the water of Lake Tekapo is, and the different set of stars you can see from a mountaintop in the southern sky. The decision to travel to New Zealand opened my eyes to the chance for discovery and new opportunities still ahead of me if I wanted to reach for them. I was reminded that I’m still young, and while this doesn’t mean I need to drop everything to travel the world, I can continue to seek out experiences that challenge me, and expose me the world outside of how I’ve been living.
Choosing to travel alone challenged me both physically and emotionally. But being able to to reflect while surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I knew this trip I’d been so unsure of taking would stand out as a significant experience in my life. These days, the thought of what comes next excites me every time I pull out my photos, read the journal I kept on that first major trip, and think of the sun on my shoulders as we kayaked back to shore on my last day on the South Island.
About the Author: Hannah Mitchell-Shapiro is dreaming of travel and planning new adventures while living in Seattle, Washington.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.