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Taking the Leap to Travel

Lex Cowan


I kept asking myself what I "wanted" to do. It turns out I was asking the wrong question. 

There are decisions you make in your life that you can look back on and know for certain sent you down a different road. Perhaps in an infinite universe there is version of myself that chose to stay in my hometown, take the career job and settle down to follow "the path." But that’s not what happened, and I couldn’t be any more grateful for the circumstances that allowed me to leave the safe and the comfortable behind, and head out into the world of travel.

Stuck in a rut

After I had finished studying to be a teacher, I was 27 and at a major crossroads in my life. I could choose to take a teaching job in my home country of South Africa, or I could take my skills and see what I could make of myself somewhere else in the world.

I had friends who were looking at jobs in South Korea, Japan and other Southeast Asian countries, which at the time felt so exotic and far away but still captured my imagination. I was unable to imagine setting up a life in any of these places; I couldn’t muster the courage to leave friends and family behind for something so foreign. However, the more I thought about it, the more the idea of something new and different took hold in my imagination.

I couldn’t muster the courage to leave friends and family behind for something so foreign.

I took my concerns to my parents and friends and they each had their own advice to give. My dad, in his straightforward way, told me to do what’s best for me, my mom advised me to follow my heart, and my friends. . .well, they simply wanted to know when they could start planning my goodbye party. Ultimately, none of the advice helped because I was looking for someone to make the decision for me and no one was going to be able to do that.

The spark

At this point, a cool autumn had come to Cape Town and the early mornings were my favourite time to hang out on the porch, drink hot tea and smoke a sneaky cigarette before the rest of the house was up. Normally, I’d be alone with my thoughts, watching our street come to life as people got ready for whatever filled their days, but on this morning my routine was broken when a housemate also happened to start the day a little earlier than usual.

We sat together for a while not saying much, both enjoying the quiet, but she could see that there were things on my mind.

“Spill it,” she said reading the furrows of my face expertly.

“I just have no idea what to do this year,” I expelled, happy to share the conundrum that ceaselessly beat around my head every day.

She looked at me and took a long drag of her smoke, exhaled deeply and asked, “What do you want to achieve next year?”

It was a question I hadn’t been asked before and it took me a while to process. Instead, I'd been asking myself what I wanted to do. What is it that I want to achieve?

I cupped the hot tea cup between my hands and brought it up to my face, blowing into the steam that had curled its way up into the cold air.

“I guess. . .I want to grow. I want to get to a place where I better know what it is I want from life.”

She listened, nodding slowly. “And do you think you’re more likely to find the answer to that here?” she asked. “And if so, why haven’t you found it yet?”

Taking the leap

I remember the conversation so well because really it’s a simple one. More of the same would only lead to more of the same, and I needed something to break me out of this loop of familiarity. Even if it’s just for a year, or six months, I needed to be outside of what I knew in order to see the different paths I could travel. 

My housemate ended that conversation with a light-hearted jab: “Just go you idiot!”

That’s what I did. Within three weeks of that morning conversation on the porch I had found a job in Thailand and had my plane tickets booked. Of course, it hasn’t always been easy and not every experience has been positive, but overwhelmingly the course of my travels has brought growth, adventure and experience.

If you’re caught in the same position as I was, unable to find the courage, or reason to make such a dramatic shift in your life, then do as I did and heed the advice of my wise friend. “Just go you idiot!”

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Lex Cowan

Lex Cowan is a 31-year-old South African living and working as a teacher in the south of Thailand. He loves travelling and spends his free time exploring Southeast Asia.

Website: www.twoshoestravels.com

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