The Event that Changed my Life

“Well this is as good of a time to stop as any.” All I needed was five minutes of free WiFi, and McDonald’s was always my go-to place for WiFi in a hurry like this. I had my resignation letter drafted, but since my mom didn’t have Internet, I knew I would have to stop sometime during my four hour drive back to South Carolina to send it to my boss. I gave a few lines of the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and clicked send. I closed my eyes briefly and a complete sense of calm came over me. When I opened my eyes I could see the sun rising above the horizon through the rear view mirror. It was quite poetic really, like something that would be written for a movie, except it would go straight to DVD, since nobody wants to watch a movie about a guy with a thick southern accent who went to an unknown public university, got a degree in philosophy, worked a string of dead-end jobs, piled up debt, and got divorced. Yet, as I sat there in the McDonald’s parking lot with the sun rising behind me, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that this could be one of those decisions, where years down the road I say to myself: “That was the best thing I ever did.”

That was one year ago today. In an attempt to be just as climactic, I’m writing this from the top of a hill in San Francisco, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and waiting for the sun to set over the Pacific Ocean. Evidently, you can’t plan climatic moments like this, as it’s the third day in a row (And ninth time to the Outer Richmond neighborhood and I haven’t seen the sun once) I’ve come here to see the sunset and I can’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge because the fog is so thick. However, that by no means takes away from that event one year ago, which was the single most important event of my life.

When I set out for a stint of long-term travel last September, it wasn’t so that I could be “healed” or “fixed”. Travel can do a lot of things, but I’m not convinced that that’s one of them. I set out to travel simply because I wanted to. Throughout my life I had done what was expected of me and what I thought I “should” be doing. I could have probably kept doing that and had an okay life, but it really hadn’t worked out very well and I was tired of having just an “okay life”.

While turning in my notice was what set things in motion, there was one day of travel that especially stands out for me. It was my last week in Costa Rica in month seven of travel. I was sitting on the beach in Coco, watching what was going to be one of my last Central America sunsets. I sat sandwiched on the beach between two dogs, both of whom were turned to the horizon where the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean directly in front of us. Two kayakers did crisscross patterns as they went further out to sea. Beyond the kayakers was one solitary sailboat. The pink, purple, and orange colors made for a beautiful backdrop against the thin clouds scattered across the sky. In that moment, a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment came over me like never before. What is it exactly that I had accomplished? I don’t know, but I just know that I’ve never felt so proud and accomplished. There was no money, promotions, or awards to show for it, but that didn’t matter, because to me, I was living.

My trip ended in May, but by  no means has travel and adventure ceased to filter into my life. I came back to the Carolinas, only to pack up a couple bags and move 2,500 miles to San Francisco. Whether it’s been eating a larvae taco, playing tourist around the city, or taking road trips, there has been an adventure every day. While there aren’t any long-term trips on the radar, I’m still figuring out what my future travel experiences will be like. So far, that consists of a trip to Hawaii in November, a few weeks in Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras) after the holidays, and a few weeks in Europe next summer around the 2012 Olympics in London. That guy who was eating pizza and ice cream out of the tub while watching movies every night last summer — I don’t know that guy. Travel changed me. And I’m not saying it will have the same effect on your life, but I want more experiences like that, where the guy who comes back, isn’t the guy who left.

While I’m not currently traveling, I’m thrilled that I can inspire travel lovers right here in San Francisco. I’m doing so by speaking at the Meet, Plan, Go national event, which is taking place in 17 cities around the U.S. and Canada on October 18. I attended last year’s New York City Meet, Plan, Go event the week I began traveling. I found many people, like myself, who were at a crossroad. I wasn’t alone. I was inspired by other people who had taken similar types of trips. A few days later and I was off on the adventure of a lifetime, which included road trips across America, peering into volcanoes in Nicaragua, feeding monkeys on a river safari in Costa Rica, flying in an airship, waking up to the sound of howler monkeys every morning, and riding on the highest thrill ride in the world.

Have you ever wanted to travel more than just a week or two at a time? Have you wanted to do more with your life? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I hope you’ll come out to our San Francisco Meet, Plan, Go event on October 18. I’m honored and thrilled to be speaking at this year’s event, sharing my stories and inspiring other travel lovers. If you’re not in Northern California, there are 16 other cities hosting events. Panelists will be sharing their travel stories and answering questions that include:

  • What kind of budget do I need to travel long-term?
  • How can I support myself while traveling?
  • Should I buy a RTW (Round The World) flight?
  • How do I transition back into a career once I return?

I’ll be joined by several other travelers who will also be sharing their expertise:

Have you ever considered a career break to travel long-term? If you’ve done it before, what were your experiences like?

Addendum: Life has a funny way about it. I originally wrote this post two nights ago during my third attempt of viewing the sunset in San Francisco. So last night, after finishing all of my work much earlier than usual, I decided to give it one last shot for the fourth day in a row. What I saw, I can’t even put into words. When I climbed to the top of the hill and could see the Golden Gate Bridge just around the corner to the right and the sun setting directly in front of me, with no clouds in the sky, and a light haze above the water that gave the sun a slight ripple effect, I just lost it. The lone barge just in front of the setting sun, the seagulls running below me on the shore to escape the waves crashing toward them, the planes intermittently flying above me, and the sound of the foghorn in the distance — it was perfect and the single most beautiful sunset I’ve ever experienced.  I barely cried for several years. I didn’t cry at my father’s funeral four years ago and actually tried to after my marriage collapsed, but couldn’t. However, now when I think about the last year and what I’ve personally accomplished, it just leaves me with such a heavy sense of joy and gratitude. I needed to see for myself that life was indeed beautiful. I ventured out and lived life, and what I found was that it is full of beauty.

For further inspiration, these are people who have inspired me this week:

Krista Gray“There is only NOW. Now IS the rest of my life.”

Britt ReintsInspired by a New York City Street Musician to Live from the Heart

Srinivas RaoRemember Your True North


26 Comments on “The Event that Changed my Life

  1. There’s a Hunter S. Thompson quote which I love: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” Kudos to you, Spencer, for insisting on being the driver of your own life.

    • That means a lot Denise. Thanks! I was trying to think of that quote recently and couldn’t remember for the life of me who had penned it!

  2. Your addendum totally made this post. THAT part is the movie moment, finally getting to see the clear San Fran sky. I love it. Great post and I hope we can catch up somewhere in the South around the holidays.

    Also, I think there’s some food truck finder app or something, so you should be fine. I recommend Giovanni’s. And go for the spicy, even though they ask, “Are you sure?” “YES I’M SURE!”

    • You know Caroline, I don’t think that could have worked out any better than it did. It was a really special and defining moment. Thanks for those words! I’ll have to check our your food truck recs. Thanks!

  3. One of my favorite quotes that I carry around in my wallet is by Howard Thurman, and it reminded me of what you are saying …
    “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    I am glad you have found that Spencer!!

    • Thank you Katie! I love that quote. I couldn’t agree more and I want to inspire people to do those things that make them come alive, whether it be volunteering, starting their own business, traveling, and so on. I desperately want people to do what they want to do. There’s a lot of power in that.

  4. Spencer,

    This is an awesome post. I can especially relate to, “Throughout my life I had done what was expected of me and what I thought I “should” be doing. I could have probably kept doing that and had an okay life, but it really hadn’t worked out very well and I was tired of having just an “okay life”.”

    Kudos for taking a chance and living on the edge. It’s been said that if you’re not, you’re taking up too much space. I’m so glad we connected and I love reading about your SF journeys and adventures. There’s definitely something to be said for following your heart and passions instead of settling into a life of comfort and mediocrity. I’m continually impressed and inspired by the way that you live your life. It’s awesome. :)

    Here’s to all of the good things to come! Congrats on your first year in California.

    Best,
    Krista

    • Krista,
      THANK YOU! I’ve really enjoyed connecting and honestly have a crush on your blog. I hope that’s alright to say. I’m fascinated by your resolve and ambition and am eager to hear more of your story because I see a lot of parallels to my own. You’re an inspiration yourself and hope you realize that!

      The part about living an “okay life” was something I went back and added last night. One of my favorite authors talks about the point in his life when he started “writing his own story”…He relates it to the movies and how you probably wouldn’t be touched by the story of a man who had worked up to buy a car, test drove it, and drove off the lot with a brand new car. That’s not a memorable story. Now I’m not saying that everyone should travel like I did and move 2,500 miles. However, I do want people to be inspired to do unordinary things with their life.

      Look forward to connecting more Krista!

  5. Love the addendum–San Francisco is a city full of surprises! A couple of weeks ago (before he announced his resignation, actually) I read the text of Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford commencement. One of my favorite bits was: “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Thought that was a very wise way to live life and stay in the moment. Cheers to living your own life!

  6. I just left my job (ok, LOST my job, but who’s keeping tabs?) and started traveling. I’m going slow so far, still in the US, but have bigger plans. Like you, I didn’t start traveling thinking it would heal me – I just wanted to, because until last month, I had hardly traveled at all.

    Imagine my surprise when I felt like it DID heal me! Maybe “heal” is too dramatic a word, but it definitely has made me happier than living my life in one city previously had. I’m kind of searching for the right place to settle down – funny enough, at one point I thought it would be San Francisco!

    Anyway, I’m so glad I found your blog. I love your writing style and your honesty. The paragraph about trying to watch the sun set for the third day in a row really got to me – if that’s not a metaphor…

    • Hey Allison,

      I love this! I’m in the same way where as I don’t feel like it “healed” me per se, but a change has definitely taken place and I’m happier than ever. I think there’s a certain mysticism to travel for me that I can’t quite put into words. I’m excited to follow your own journey. Shoot me an email if you want some recommendations, and ESPECIALLY if you find yourself in the bay area. It’s a great city. I find myself “traveling” every day and I don’t even have to step foot on a plane.

  7. What an inspiring post. I got chills reading your addendum. As I look around a room full of cubes, I am so glad I have started to think about my break. Great quotes everyone is sharing, here’s another…If wanderlust is a disease, I don’t want to be cured.

    • Thank you! It means a lot. I honestly couldn’t have planned for something any more grand. I like your quote you shared.

  8. I wanted to comment on this when I first read it but didn’t have time so it’s been sitting on a tab in my browser for 3 days. But I must say I appreciate the sentiment. I understand too because I’ve felt all those things myself. I still feel them. Because I think once you give yourself up to the beauty of newness (perhaps also known as travel), you’re forever smitten. It’s like the sudden ability to feel emotions you’ve never experienced, and that’s pretty addicting. If nothing else you’ve made that clear with this piece of honest writing. Now the trick is to convince other people they can feel the same way down at MPG. You’ve certainly proved you’ve got it in you. Should be a great event!

    • Thanks Nico. I liked what you said about those feelings/emotions. That’s been so much of it –feeling and experiencing things that are so new and I didn’t realize I could experience to that extent. I’m excited to see how those experiences continue to evolve as travel evolves for me.

  9. Spencer, this is one of the best things I have read in a long time, and I read a lot!

    I have tears in my eyes right now, that’s good. It’s wonderful that you let life lead you to where you needed to be. I’m sure that your future is going to be exciting, and if I lived closer I’d definitely come see you speak.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Oh thank you Valerie! It always means a lot when something I write touches someone in such a way.

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  11. The Hunter S. Thompson quote that Denise shared is one of my favorites, ever. Thoroughly and completely describes the kind of life I want to live.

  12. Wow this was a moving article. It made me want to travel and I’m already doing so.

    It was very honest and further reaffirmed the best decision I ever made. I’m glad to know that your experience has also been life changing.

    I would love to re-post this on my blog so I can give my readers some inspiration too!

    • Thanks. I look forward to following your trip. You’re in England now right? I’ve been to Ireland, but doing my first U.K. trip next summer. And you’re welcome to quote or re-post parts of it or in its entirety.

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