Finding Your Spark: Embracing Fear, Being Present And Making The Road Home

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I decided to start the "Finding Your Spark" series to shine a light on different types of people who are following various paths – their OWN paths, whatever those may be. The whole idea is that there's no single way to live life and a person doesn't have to be "famous" to inspire others. These individuals have found what inspires them, motivates them, makes them happy. And they've run with it.

Read all posts in this series here.

Today's interview is with my friend Eileen, one of the most courageous, big-hearted, and inspiring people I know.

I met Eileen at work nearly three years ago. She's one of those people who you know you want to be friends with as soon as you meet them. I remember one day at lunch, a bunch of us were chatting and got into the What Would You Do If You Won The Lottery? conversation. Eileen said without hesitation that she likes the idea of not having a mailing address so she'd spend the money on traveling.

We worked together for two years until she quit to embark on a 90-day road trip, most of which was by herself. I've been looking forward to sharing this conversation for a long time and am thrilled that I finally get to do it. We talk about how she planned her trip, how it felt to experience new things alone, some of her most memorable destinations, and what the trip taught her in the end.

You can follow along with all of her adventures on her Instagram here.

What was your family and friends' reaction to you deciding to quit your job and take a few months to travel?

I don’t think anyone was surprised in the least and were pretty supportive. I did something similar to this a few years ago, where me and a few friends quit our jobs and backpacked around Europe for a couple months, so the trip I took this year was no shocker to anyone, really.

My family was pretty cool with it. I don’t own my own car, and if my dad didn’t let me borrow his, I wouldn’t have been able to travel for as long as I did. So I think that shows he was OK with it. Renting a car for three months would have been steep! My sister was excited pretty much just because she knew that I would bring back some souvenirs for her. And my mom isn’t a huge fan of road trips but understood that this is something I love and was super cool with my decision.

I am always taking little weekend trips and trying to make adventures a priority, so at this point, no one I know is surprised when I tell them I am going somewhere, and they usually ask if they can come along! During this trip, I was able to spend a lot of time with close friends, which was fantastic. Having people in your life that “get it” and appreciate the same weird stuff you do is a blessing.

What was your planning process like before you left?

My planning process was all over the place, and in some ways, I didn’t have a plan. I am constantly reading about new places, near and far, and always bookmarking things I want to see or events I would like to attend. I always have an idea in mind of what I would like to do and then go from there. 

I was able to plan freely and not stick to a constricting itinerary because I made a conscious decision to not book any accommodations in advance nor commit to any type of event or purchase a ticket to something until I was actually, or almost, there (not including Burning Man).

The type of plan I prefer is a flexible one, but I guess the biggest part of the “plan” was finances. I had been saving up for this type of trip for about two years and did so by working a ton. I had at most three jobs at once, and I tried to be extremely conscious of what I was spending my earnings on. Once I analyzed my spending habits, stopped making impulse purchases, and reminded myself of my goals, it became a lot easier to save.

Your trip started at Burning Man. Can you describe what that is like? What are the misconceptions about it?

Ah yes, good ol' Burning Man. It was the first destination of the trip. First of all, it is nearly impossible to get tickets. When I found out that I got two and another friend got two, it was on like Donkey Kong. Knowing that I would be in the desert at the end of August with three awesome friends helped shaped the beginning of the entire three-month trip. This was my second time going home.

(*Cue cheesy music*) Burning Man is a community of amazing people that come together in Black Rock Desert to form a temporary city for a week at the end of summer called Black Rock City. Burning Man is what you make it. Some people will tell you it is a music festival, some will tell you it is an arts festival, and others will tell you it is a fashion show. If someone tells you one of these, they have been reading too many Buzzfeed lists or looking at too many pictures on Pinterest. If you want to see what Burning Man is all about, I would recommend attending a regional event. They are also organized by volunteers and run on the same ten principles as the main week in BRC.

How much of the trip overall was pre-planned and how much was on a whim?

The first three weeks were planned and the last two months were mostly winging it. During those first three weeks, I was traveling with friends and we needed to stick to a more strict itinerary because they both had flights booked to go home. So, during that first month, camping sites and Airbnbs were booked in advance. We worked around their flight schedules and tried to plan our days out to make the most of the time we had. My last friend flew back home from Vancouver in mid-September, and that was the first time I was completely alone.

It’s a really weird feeling having people with you all day every day, sleeping in the same room, eating together and sitting next to each other in the car for hours on end, and then being completely alone. It took about a week for me to adjust. For the next two months, I planned almost nothing and pretty much winged it. It was extremely terrifying but also extremely freeing. When do people get a chance to do that?!

In a podcast episode I once listened to with Jedidiah Jenkins, who biked across the country, he said that when he was feeling especially homesick, his dad told him that his brain was used to community and constancy but that it'd adjust and would eventually consider the road to be home. Did you experience that?

I believe people experience homesickness because they are extremely uncomfortable in whatever new place they are in. Essentially, the more you go out of your comfort zone, the less homesick you will be in any situation.

For me, homesickness occurs when my comfort-zone-bubble is at max capacity and I need to do or see something familiar to calm down so I don't freak out. I recommend going to a movie theater. Watching a two-hour movie in a dark room is a great distraction to any worries.

I have not experienced this feeling for a while because I try to put myself out of my comfort zone every day in my regular life. Comfort zones are like death traps. If you don’t step out of it, there will be no new experiences and no growth. So just like a muscle grows when lifting more and more weights, your comfort zone bubble gets stronger and more resilient as you expose yourself to more and more experiences.

What did it feel like to be in a new place and experience things, by yourself?

I love being by myself, but I also love being around people. Sometimes it is really hard to be in such a cool and beautiful place and not have anyone to share it with. That is a feeling that cannot be replicated by social media, talking about it or even through videos. So at times, it was a bummer to be alone, but then again, I could have that feeling all to myself and it makes it even more special.

Was the plan to be gone August through November like you were? Were there any instances where you thought about cutting it short and coming home early? If so, what kept you on the road?

I was able to rent out my Chicago apartment for three months, so that is the timeline I gave myself. My plan was to be gone from the end of August through the beginning of December. I was gone a total of 89 days and came back in mid-November. It all comes down to finances. The less you spend every day, the more you can stretch out.

When, if ever, did you feel the most homesick?

I feel a little silly saying this, but truly everywhere is my home. I feel “at home” when I am content and have a clear head to enjoy the day. I didn't miss my apartment or my parents' house, but I did sometimes miss the people in my life. It had been less so though, because of Instagram and Bitmojis. If you miss someone, they are just a text away.

Read part two here.

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