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6 Things I Learned Since Escaping Big Law

by Guest on January 3, 2013

Amber, a recovering tax attorney, escaped her career to travel the world, with her husband in tow. After 5 months in, she talks about what she has learned so far. She blogs at www.WithHusbandInTow.com and  www.EscapeThePredictableLife.com.

About 5 months ago, I quit my job, my career, my old life. I left my job as a practicing tax attorney. I stepped off my career path, where I was just shy of making partner at the largest law firm in the world. I escaped my old life, where I lived in a faux-urban suburb of Washington, D.C. I wanted to experience the world. Since then, I have learned several things about myself and my new life.

In 5 months I have traveled to 23 countries on two continents, backpacking with my husband in tow. We have had good times and bad and experienced highs and lows, but not a day goes by that I regret the decision I made.

This is what I have learned along the way:

1. I’m Not Going to Quit This Life.

I recently had a bad week, in fact, an awful week. My legs and feet were covered in Guatemalan and Salvadoran mosquito bites, from fresh to scabbed. At night I was plagued by fits of scratching. I had to sleep with socks on so I would not scratch my feet. They were so itchy it felt like they were burning. Add to this that we were unable to get money out of the ATMs in El Salvador, and were burning through our emergency cash. Things were not going well.

We traveled from Guatemala, to El Salvador, with a stop over at a roach motel in Honduras, before landing in Nicaragua. About 15 chicken buses and microbuses were required to make our way from Guatemala to Nicaragua in five days. We crossed dusty border crossings, traversed bumpy roads on old American school buses with no shocks, battled touts, black market money-changers, and even more pesky bugs. During one ride tears welled up in my eyes.

I wondered what the heck am I doing here? Why did I escape my predictable life in DC, with fewer bugs, reliable plumbing, clean sheets, temperature-controlled rooms, and my beloved Mini Cooper?

Somewhere in Honduras I thought that maybe Central America was not working for us. What next? Should we fly to India, or Bali? See friends in Argentina or Brazil, Doha or Malaysia? We could certainly fly from Managua or San Jose to some place that connected us to anywhere other than Central America.
The one thing that never crossed my mind was going home. I would not even consider heading back to family in the US for a few weeks to get our heads straight. It simply was not an option.

Things improved in Nicaragua. I am happy we did not jump online to book the next flight out. We are continuing south. This was a bad spell, a real low, but I never regretted my decision to escape the predictable life I left behind.

2. I’m Not Alone in What I Want From Life.

Staying in hostels we have met some interesting travelers from around the world. We met a Swiss construction worker and his German architect girlfriend, who were traveling through Central and South America for 5 months on career breaks; a guy motorcycling from Santa Barbara to Argentina; an American who landed a job at an international school in Antigua, Guatemala.

Robert was a French Canadian living for a while in Guatemala, who led mediation sessions twice a day on the beach. Marcia was an 80-year-old New Yorker traveling the world by herself, which she has been doing for decades. Greta was a young woman from a small town in Germany who was taking time off from work and school just to travel. Becky, a fellow expat from Virginia, fell in love with a Guatemalan, opened a hostel and restaurant on the beach, and started a family.

Each of these fellow travelers or expats or transplants had their own story to tell. Many were similar to ours, regardless of whether they were just out of school, just into retirement, or somewhere in the middle. We felt a connection because they want something different from their life, even if just for a short period of time. Meeting all of these people almost validated my decision to escape, even if that validation was not truly needed.

3. Relationships Change.

I expected that the geographical distance that separated us from our friends and family would be a hurdle. But, it is more than just geography. We are living a life that is hard for them to understand. While many of them continue in their current lives, either happy and content, or miserable and misguided, we are challenged with new experiences every day.

Although we don’t talk as much as we used to, I hope that with many of my closest friends, when we see them again, we will pick up where we left off. As if no time has passed. With others, this may not be so easy.

Often we find we have more in common with the travelers we meet on the road than with some of our friends back home, who just don’t understand or appreciate what we are doing. Sometimes, we don’t understand how they can be happy in their lives either.

All this leads to the stark reality that relationships change, particularly when you are willing to go your own path, do your own thing, or follow your dreams.

4. I Actually Enjoy Spending Time With My Husband.

Eric and I have been joined at the hip for over 15 years, and married for over 11. This is our second RTW escape. Although I knew we enjoy spending time together, I am often struck at how we still do not run out of conversation.

Sitting on a balcony on an island off the coast of Croatia, with a little wine and no Wi-Fi, we found ourselves listening to music and talking about our lives. We wondered what we were doing, where we were going, and where we will ultimately end up. When things were rough in Central America, we took time to talk about what we want to do. We agreed to continue to move south until it was no longer fun, whenever that was. If that happened, we would figure out a next step. We can go anywhere and do anything.

Most importantly, we want the same things out of life. We are in it together.

5. I Prefer the Unexpected Life Versus Monotony.

In my old tax attorney life, things were fairly predictable. I might not have set my own schedule, as clients and partners controlled it, but overall I knew how a day, a week, a month would pass. There would be billable hours, deadlines, conference calls, Tuesday Tax Chat, drafting and editing, commuting on the Metro. Often I would fly someplace exotic, usually to Palo Alto, California, for a stay at the Westin, where the night manager knew me by name.

My evenings and weekends were filled with yoga and visits to our regular restaurants in Arlington, Virginia. I would get together with friends on occasion, when I had the energy. We watched our regularly scheduled television shows on our always-filled DVR. We frequented CVS, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s. It was my life. It was predictable. It was monotonous.

It was not for me. As fretful and stressful our week traveling through El Salvador was, it certainly was not boring. It certainly was not predictable. Perhaps it was the uncertainty that made me stress out, but I welcomed it nonetheless.

I love that each day is unique. Even when we stay someplace long enough to get into a routine, something different always happens. We meet new people, or see something new on the street we had never seen before. I prefer my life this way. I prefer the unpredictable.

6. There is More to Life than 9 to 5.

A lot of experiences have come our way in the last 5 months, on our second RTW trip.

I traveled through Eastern Europe, from the Baltics to the Balkans. I saw the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. I gazed at towering Soviet-era statues, including images of Lenin and Stalin. I witnessed the remnants of war in the former Yugoslavia and found shell casings while exploring a sniper tower in Mostar, Bosnia.

I ate periwinkles, walrus, pig knuckle, roasted bone marrow, and fois gras. A Czech mother made us homemade apple strudel from the apple tree in her backyard. I ate whole, fried fresh fish on the beach almost every day for 10 days.

I sipped a pint or two of Guinness with family in Ireland. I partied in a traditional Bosnian beer hall in Sarajevo and hung out a bar dedicated to the band Depeche Mode in Estonia. I drank caipirinhas at a Brazilian party in Hungary and visited a Croatian winery during harvest. I tried bison grass vodka, Romanian palinka, and Balkan raki.

I climbed through a cave in Bulgaria to relieve myself of my sins and toured Transylvania just before Halloween. I fought off a con man on a train in Poland and plunged into below freezing water at the Budapest baths.

I smoked sheesha in Sarajevo. I took Spanish lessons in Antigua, Guatemala, practiced yoga near the pool in Monterrico, and spent a day never leaving a hammock on the beach.

And, I survived those Central American chicken buses and dusty border crossings.

I would never have experienced any of this, or met the wonderful people we have on this trip thus far, if I stayed behind my desk, under the fluorescent lights, in my old 9 to 5 world.

  • http://theyoungurbanunprofessional.com Michael

    I’m planning a similar escape from my 9-5 within the next year or so. I’m about to finish paying off my student loans and then I plan to bank cash for another 6-12 months to finance the trip. I’ve been doing some guess work on how much it will cost to go off the grid for 6-12 months. Do you have a ballpark figure on what this trip has cost you to finance?

    • http://www.withhusbandintow.com Amber Hoffman

      Michael – its really hard to say, and depends on where you go and what your travel style is like. I took 14 months to do an RTW with my husband a few years ago and we spent about $45K in that time. I have some budget ideas for particular locations in Central America, Asia, Australia, NZ, and Eastern Europe. If you have a particular place in mind, I can tell you what we budget for a day or week in each. Just email me! And, congrats on planning your break. You won’t regret it!

  • Paula

    Hi amber,
    just wondering if u are working on the side to make an income anfd if so what do u do? I’ve taken a2 year sabbatical but planning to make a permanent life switch to traveling but yet to figure out how to fund it. I work in travel/hospitality and looking to fo my yoga teacher training so hoping that could be a source. Do u meet many travelers working at hostels to sustain themselves in south america?
    Thx,
    Paula

    • http://www.withhusbandintow.com Amber Hoffman

      Paula

      Thanks for the comment, email me directly with any additional questions. Right now, we are not really making much money, but we budgeted to not work for quite some time. When we land somewhere we want to spend time in, we will find some work. I have not seen many expats working in South America (other than in Mendoza, Argentina), but have seen some in Central America, mostly offering free housing and a small amount of money in exchange for work. Its definitely doable if you can show you want to be some place for awhile. I think yoga is another great option, and there is a lot of demand. I was offered money to teach a class at a hostel in Guatemala, but I have only had about 40 hours of teacher training! I also plan to get my 200 hour teacher training done this year. So, there are ways to earn money as you go, depending on where you land for a period of time. Good luck! Keep in touch.

  • barry

    hi Amber,
    i’m a friend of Cory Kantin. i was linked to your blog through her FB share. as i commented to her, my favorite is your #4.
    it has been a while since i’ve hit the road but the ember is still glowing. i thought i’d share this with you. in the yrs i’ve spent on the road, 23 countries on 4 continents, my fondest memory was winging it in South America. i was standing at the curb in Cuzco, Peru, paying 1 dollar for a 5 cent shoe shine from a very young boy trying to make his own way. as i looked across the courtyard i spotted my girlfriend who had rounded up a large group of children pied-piper style. she lead them into a local store. within minutes there were two dozen kids standing on the sidewalk with ice cream cones. one of the many reasons i loved her.

    • http://www.withhusbandintow.com Amber Hoffman

      Thanks for reaching out Barry, and thanks to Cory! I’m a big fan of hers. And, I love hearing stories like yours from Peru. We have some places we have been to that just don’t resonate with us, and others where we have wonderful stories of meeting locals, spending time with children, similar to yours! Please continue to follow me, and find some inspiration for more travel from Escape the City!

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