I’m 30 and life has just begun. More than a year ago though, I was in a rut. The “me” today is a different person, but that didn’t happen until after I quit my dream job as a music editor, packed my bags, and travelled around the world for a year on a mission to reinvent myself and reclaim my happiness.
At that time, my career had reached a culmination point. There was no room left to grow in the company, and I was craving new challenges. Sure, I could’ve just moved on to another job with better prospects, but it wasn’t enough to make me “whole” as a person. Deep down, I knew that embarking on this journey would be life-changing, one that would open my mind, heart and soul.
You could say that my whirlwind trip was a self-investment of sorts. Still, I was scared as hell. With no stable income, I had to survive on my hard-earned savings, which lasted through the year-long trip.
And being on the road meant that I had to face many uncertainties, including the dangers of travelling solo while moving from one unfamiliar place to another, picking up new languages to get by, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable all over again.
In short, it was like learning to ride the bicycle again. I took a deep breath – and a leap of faith, stepping boldly into the unknown with my trusty luggage to let life unfold itself.
Looking back a year on, it was the best decision I’ve made in my 20s: rewriting my future and reclaiming my happiness.
Sa Pa town in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains of north-western Vietnam – a popular trekking base, it overlooks the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley.
Undoing Old Habits
I focused on rebuilding myself in the first three months in America and France, where I visited Hawaii, Los Angeles (LA) and Nice. That meant doing something different every day to break the cycle of monotony of my “old” life.
With no more work e-mails, texts, meetings and punishing deadlines, I was occupied with other activities like hiking, reading and writing my journal. I even signed up for pole dancing classes for fun in LA! All that gave me so much contentment – and joy.
I seized the opportunity to expand my professional network, reaching out to people in the entertainment industry in LA for new opportunities, as I hope to work there some day. Then, I stayed for a month with my best friend, who lives in LA, before travelling to Europe.
In France, the small town of Nice was where I stayed for two months to learn French – a lifelong dream of mine.
In between courses, I picked up new and familiar things such as photography, producing my podcast, Flirty and Fabulous, and penning my travel book.
I discarded the routine of having a fixed itinerary of must-dos. Whenever I was tired, I took a break to chill out – and empty my mind. Instead of shopping, my luxuries came in the form of a cup of coffee at a cafe, enjoying long morning walks, and indulging in “conversations” with myself.
I lived very simply, choosing to invest only in positive experiences that would uplift the spirit. My initial plan of a three-month sabbatical (spending $7,000, including airfares) extended to another nine months because my journey had just started. In some places, I stayed with friends and relatives.
Don’t Give Up Easily
A breathtaking picture of the sprawling Inca citadel of Machu Picchu I saw on the Internet a few years ago eventually brought me to Peru. I was pretty nervous going there as I couldn’t speak Spanish, and the country doesn’t have the best reputation for safety among travellers.
Peru turned out to be that one place that challenged and pushed me out of my comfort zone. And it all began with my week-long adventure in the capital city of Lima, when I signed up for a guided two-day, one-night trekking trip to Colca Canyon – one of the deepest canyons in the world.
Naively, I thought it was going to be a fun, easy hike. Boy, was I wrong. I wasn’t physically and mentally prepared for what was to come, having done no research on it.
I started the endurance trek with a group of people at 8am, and after three hours under the sweltering heat and challenging altitude, I wanted to give up the ghost.
I was so exhausted and all the conflicting thoughts came to mind, telling me, “I can’t do this”, “I just can’t anymore…”, “Just five more steps, c’mon Gyscha, take five more steps!”.
My flesh was weak, and so was my spirit. I was crumbling. But it slowly became apparent that my only option was to keep soldiering on, no matter how far I was lagging behind.
To get to the final point, I took a break every five minutes to catch my breath – and take in the beautiful scenery – before moving ahead. Why waste the once-in-a-lifetime moment to admire the magnificent surroundings?
Trekking at Colca Canyon was by far the toughest and craziest thing I’ve done in my life, and the experience taught me to be a stronger person when unexpected challenges come my way.
Strangers Who Opened My Heart
In the course of my year-long travel, I met incredible people. Who would’ve known that I would make that many new friends, and in different continents too?
Friendships aside, the strangers whom I met on my journey remind me every day that it’s important to be kind because it goes a long way – the same way people have shown kindness and support during my difficult moments in Colca Canyon.
The ordinary folks whom I got to know in South Africa, Myanmar and Peru taught me something invaluable: Be grateful that my blessings are more than my problems.
Sometimes, we owe it to ourselves to pause every now and then to acknowledge that good feeling after a job well done or the gratification after a good meal, or reflect on a meaningful conversation. You don’t need fancy or expensive stuff to bring you joy.
I learnt about the “art of enough” through the people I met on my trip. How they live and what made them happy got me thinking deeply about the concept of sufficiency in today’s modern society, of how we can balance the way we live and do things in order to maintain our well-being and happiness.
I was fortunate to have crossed path with genuine folks who filled my heart, soul and tummy with good (home-cooked) food, coffee and wine, kindness and many wonderful stories that I could take home. That was enough for me.
I never thought I would make it to 23 countries in 12 months. It was definitely no Amazing Race as I set out on my happiness journey from Day 1 in a leisurely pace.
I arrived with an open mind to embrace the present and what was ahead, and it was nothing short of empowering and, at times, endearing.
It became a transformative process, watching myself grow from someone who was finding her path to finding herself. And along the self-explorative quest, I reclaimed my happiness.
I returned to Singapore a year later with renewed energy, having “graduated” from a worldly experience that made me see things in a whole new perspective.
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This story was first published on Her World’s Jan 2020 issue.