Travel and meeting people: An experimentation of lifestyle / by Jessica Lee


One of the most significant lessons I've learned from travel and meeting new folks around the world is that you can live your life in a variety of ways outside of the typical 9-5 and still be alright.

In my travels, I have met army men, cowboys, desert dwellers, middle-aged professional nomads who just never settled down, people who quit their "adult jobs", successful entrepreneurs, adventure-seekers and of course, lots of free spirits.

Back in Toronto, when I had a 9-5, it was always in and out of the office seeing the same faces over and over. Add to the fact that companies are a self-selected environment, in that everyone has to fit a certain mould to get the job in the first place and you're left with fairly similar white-collar professionals.

One of the biggest mistakes North American culture ingrains their children is that right after high school, you need to pick a professional vocation, go to university to study for it, then get a job, find a husband/wife, settle down, buy a house, have 1.6 kids, work until you are 65, then retire in Florida. In preparation for this life plan, I realize I spent many of my high school years building my resume to appeal to other people rather than spend more time on activities that appeal to me. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun during my teen years and I learned a lot from the various extracurriculars and jobs I took up, but sometimes I wish I was less busy.

My parents were immigrants from China/Hong Kong who came to Canada with little money, so I suppose all they wanted for me is a secure future; which is why I was encouraged to go down the typical university after high school route.

I don't want to get all philosophical on you, but for the sake of this post, let's assume that the purpose of life is to be happy (very generic) or if you want to lean towards the philanthropic side, its to make a difference in this world a la Mother Teresa. Happiness could mean different things to different people, some people want stuff. Others just want to enjoy their families and friends. The list could go on and on. Similarly, "making a difference" is also very broad. You could dedicate your life to saving the environment, or fighting for social issues. Or even just leaving each person you meet a little better off.

In North America, in terms of lifestyle, we tend to place high value on career and career development. Conventionally when you get older and as your career progresses, you want to accept larger responsibilities at work and also a salary raise. If you start out as a mailroom clerk, you want to work your way up to CEO.

In the last couple of years however, I've met people who have a completely different perspective on life, people who have ditched the career focus and concentrated on just their passions, viewing work as a side hobby. It is fantastic to get a perspective from people who have made vastly different life choices from typical North Americans. The conversations I have with them give me ideas and blueprints for how I can maximize my youth and time while living a meaningful life.

I met a 39 year old Brit who works as a landscaper for about half the year and spends the rest of the year travelling on a backpacker's budget. I met an older gentleman who said he quit his "adult office job" and was now working as a porter at a hotel in Hawaii so he could dedicate his life to surfing. I met a single older woman in her 40s who had spent her life teaching English around the world and was living in Turkey at the moment.

The above people make a modest living and they just have themselves to support, but their unconventional lifestyles seems suited for them. I'm not sure I could do what they do as I know I need a bit of structure in my life and eventually, I would want to settle down. I think the challenge for me is to fit in all the adventure and travel into my life before eventually having to pick a city/town, then to figure out where I want to settle down and what my future life looks like.

I always pictured myself waking up at a beach house and surfing at 6 am before getting started with my work day (editing photos) - which would happen at a coffee shop or on the beach. At around noon, I would drive to a crag and work on a project climb. Evenings would be spent having friends over for dinner, watching a movie or planning my next trip. On weekends, I would take my sailboat out. Right now, my ideal life sounds like it would be based in Spain. Or Thailand. Maybe even Hawaii or Australia.

I'm not quite certain where I will be living in the next few years or what I will be doing, but here are a few things I know about myself at the moment:

1. I don't want to spend my life in a corporate office (or if I do, it has to be meaningful and creative work)
2. I want to continue meeting interesting people
3. I need to have an interesting job with flexible hours that can support my steadily increasing standards of living
4. I need to have adventure in my life, whether that means living in a new place every few years, weekend outdoor excursions or starting an exciting new project.