Katie Aune is a former attorney who left a job in fundraising and event planning to travel and volunteer in all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union. She returned home in September after a 13-month career break that included running a marathon in Estonia, teaching English in Russia and Tajikistan, volunteering with the national tourism board of Armenia, living with local families in Azerbaijan, and trying her best to speak Russian on a daily basis. She writes about her adventures at Katie Going Global and will be hosting the Meet, Plan, Go! event in Minneapolis on October 16.

Adventure is a word that can conjure up many images.  Merriam-Webster defines adventure as “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks” or “an exciting or remarkable experience.” To me, adventure is about getting out of your comfort zone – making a true escape from your everyday life and pushing yourself to your limits.

For some, that may be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or bungee jumping in New Zealand. For others, it may simply be visiting a new country where they don’t speak the language. Everyone’s limits are inherently different; hence, everyone’s sense of adventure will vary.

Either way, adventure travel is about more than just an escape. While an escape allows you to relax and recharge your batteries, an adventure gives you something more. An adventure gives you the chance to challenge yourself, to grow as a person and to discover new passions – and maybe even a new path in life.

My early travels

They seemed like adventures at the time – jetting off to Europe for the first time when I was 25, followed by several trips back to Europe. There were challenges, sure, but while I marveled at the sights and appreciated learning the history, those experiences didn’t really have a personal effect on me.

I didn’t come home feeling like I had evolved as a person or discovered anything new about myself. I just jumped right back into the everyday grind.

Then I went to Egypt…

I discovered what it really felt like to be pushed outside of my comfort zone. I visited not just the pyramids and temples in Cairo and Luxor, but ventured far off the beaten path to Middle Egypt, where tourists rarely tread. That adventure sparked something in me that no previous trip did.

The next year, I headed south to Peru and hiked the Inca Trail, my most physical adventure ever. The feeling of reaching the highest pass was exhilarating and my sense of satisfaction when I finally reached Machu Picchu was immeasurable.

By the time I came home, I was determined to make travel and adventure a much larger part of my life.

The last year…

This has been my greatest adventure yet, traveling solo through all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union. While this was a career break, an escape of sorts, it was the most challenging thing I have ever pursued – it was an adventure in every sense of the word. And in the biggest adventures is where you truly learn about yourself.

You learn how strong you can be. You develop patience you never knew you had.

You learn to trust in people because you have to and you realize that things have a way of working themselves out no matter how much you fear they won’t.

Start with the obvious question…

Everyone’s idea of adventure may be different, but the steps in pursuing such an adventure can be quite similar. Start with the obvious question – what do you want to do?

Pick up guidebooks, read travel blogs, find articles on the internet.

Find something that speaks to you and go for it. Then, decide whether you want to go solo or with a guide or even a small group. Some of the most ambitious physical adventures often require the latter.

Then get into the nitty-gritty.

Research the costs involved: airfare, accommodation, fees for guides or other extras.  Do you have that money in the bank already or do you need to find some way to cut costs and save?

I spent two years saving for my career break, tracking every dime I spent, directly depositing a portion of my paycheck into savings, selling what I could of my belongings and picking up freelance work for extra cash.

Look into different options for travel insurance and, if you will be gone for an extended period of time, worldwide medical insurance. Renew (or apply for!) your passport if necessary and find out if any visas are required for your destination(s).

If you are planning a short adventure, talk to your boss to get the time off approved. If a longer adventure is your dream, try to negotiate a sabbatical or make a graceful split from your employer altogether.

Just don’t forget to update your resume and keep up professional contacts to make your re-entry as smooth as possible when you return.

And if it all seems a little overwhelming…

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Go online and reach out to travelers who have been where you want to go. See if there are local travel meet-ups in your city or a larger travel event like Meet, Plan, Go!, designed to inspire and educate people about extended travel.

If your friends and family don’t understand your quest for adventure, it’s important to find support in a community of like-minded individuals who get it. I may never have hit the road for my big adventure if I hadn’t attended the Meet, Plan, Go! national event in Chicago – that gave me the push I needed to make it all happen.

Whatever your idea of adventure is – whether it’s climbing a mountain, swimming with sharks or just stepping out of the country for the first time – go for it. The risks may seem daunting, but the rewards will be so much greater.

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