Please welcome Camille Willemain of This American Girl, the latest contributing author to the Go See Write family.
I never put travel high on my list of priorities. I was far more interested in decorating the most fabulous apartment, mastering the perfect roast chicken, and finding a boyfriend who could give me, a former theater actress, sufficient attention. I never studied languages in school and I was (still am) terrified of flying on airplanes.
Yet here I am living out of a dirty backpack in Cambodia after traveling to fifteen countries in two years on my own.
How on Earth did I get here?
In the past, I led a fairly conventional American city life. At the age of 24 I worked in an office as a project manager for an Internet Marketing company, went to trendy cocktail bars with friends after work, met my family on the weekend for brunch, watched more than my fair share of television series on Netflix, spent hundreds of dollars per month on clothes, and always had a boyfriend.
I was not happy at all.
In fact, I had no clue how to relax or center myself. I based my self worth on how my boyfriend treated me and the success I achieved in my career. My life consisted of constant distraction in an attempt to alleviate discontentment and anxiety.
All of that changed the day I was laid off from my job.
Marketing never fulfilled or excited me, but the salary and security kept me at my desk year after year. I worked over ten hours a day, attended happy hours and dinners with investors in my free time, and fueled all of my energy into another man’s dream. So when they let me go without warning, I vowed that I would never work for someone else again.
At the same time I was battling with moving on from a three year on-again-off-again relationship. Being “single” was not something I knew how to do and my fear of never finding someone else consumed me.
I felt rejected and extremely lost.
So when my best friend announced her plans to spend three months in a beach hut in Costa Rica, I practically begged to tag along.
I had barely traveled previously. Doing it alone was something I never considered and my friends and family lacked the time or the means to accompany me. But deep down I think my fear of uncertainty and discomfort is what truly restricted me.
Beside my best friend, I felt confident to go. My life had become uncertain and the comforts I knew had already crumbled. I was no longer tethered to a career or to a man. I was completely free. That felt scary, but I decided to take hold of it and head into the unknown.
I ended the lease on my apartment, put my belongings into storage, suspended my cell phone plan, and on February 3, 2012, I flew to Costa Rica with the last of my savings and a small carry-on bag.
Yet when I arrived, it wasn’t all hibiscus flowers and sunshine.
For the first time in my life I truly discovered what it meant to be alone. Our cabin sat in the remote jungle with no bars, no shops, no restaurants, no wifi, and no other people. The distractions I had used my entire life to avoid being alone no longer existed. The first week I considered flying home, yet somewhere between swimming in the Caribbean Sea like a mermaid and walking for miles down deserted jungle beaches, I began to surrender to my surroundings. As the weeks passed, I realized I had everything I needed from the sun, the sand, the sea, and most importantly from within myself. I felt content.
But as I once believed, all good things must come to an end.
I flew back to the States that spring with plans to begin graduate school in the fall. My time in Costa Rica had been incredible, but it was time to reintegrate myself into the “real world.” I had been accepted to Pratt University, one of the top art schools in the country, a place I had dreamed of attending for years. Yet rather than research housing in Brooklyn or register for courses that fall, I stayed up late reading my Lonely Planet and travel blogs. School had not even begun and I was already planning which tropical countries I would backpack through on my breaks.
With plans to settle down in New York, I sold all of my belongings, including my car, and made the most of my final months of freedom. I traveled, this time alone, through Latin America, Europe, and Morocco and in the process I began to recognize that perhaps this alternative journey, not a cultivated city one, better suited me.
When the fall came, I never returned for grad school. Instead, I made travel my life. I opted to learn my lessons on the road.
Communicating non-verbally in markets in Vietnam, enduring motion sickness for days at sea in Colombia, and getting lost in labyrinths in Mexico taught me patience. Sleeping in rooms with strangers, eating from street stalls, and adhering to foreign cultural norms has forced me to be flexible. Differentiating between kind strangers and scam artists in Morocco, driving a motorbike through the countryside in Indonesia, and climbing over cliffs in the Costa Rican jungle has shown me that I am capable and I am strong.
Most importantly of all, living with few possessions, befriending people with far less, and having the freedom to do exactly what I want every single day has given me enough gratitude to finally find peace.
This road may be long and winding, but I’m so glad I got here.
Your blog is very nice, I’m constantly watching. Also I think your site is very up to date. This article was descriptive and a great article.
Yeah, so nice that you finally got where you wanted to be. Travel is fulfilling in many ways. It is an investment that yields incomparable rewards.
Absolutely. Thanks for the comment 🙂
Incredible story Camille! Good on you for getting out of the life that was making you unhappy and finding one that you are head of heels for. I know its not easy.
Thank you Jen! Not east but oh so worth it 🙂
This is awesome. Never rainbows without the rain.
That’s a very inspirational story. Happy for you 🙂 Love all your pictures, especially the one of the man in the motorbike on a long winding road. Beautifully captured and goes so well with the theme of your story.
Thank you Savi 🙂
I can relate to a lot from this post! Once the chains of what we’ve known for so long are off…that’s when we find ourselves 🙂
Looking forward to more posts!
Totally. Thank you so much Briana 🙂
I did something similar 11 years ago – sold everything I owned in the US, left a few boxes with my parents and moved to Thailand to “teach English for a year”.
11 years later, I still live in Bangkok, I write for a living and I travel constantly. Can’t imagine ever living in the US again or going back to ‘the real world’ 🙂
Lovely photos, btw.
Amazing! I can’t either… I often say “once you’ve tasted this life how could you ever go back?!?!?!” 🙂
I never knew what hell my life was until I left my job to see the world. I worked hard but at the end of the day all i had to look forward to was more work, more stress, nightmares and keeping up with the Joneses. It wasn’t until I discarded it all in favour of a backpack that I was truly free from the tyranny of society. If only I had done and learned this sooner, I would have enjoyed more of my youth and not have been knocking on 40 before figuring it out what it means to be truly happy.
Thanks for your comment, I completely understand as I had the same experience. But you know, the fact that you found this out in your life AT ALL is truly amazing and something unfortunately a lot of people never achieve. Enjoy your life, glad you’ve found one that makes you happy 🙂 x
You inspire me to travel more! 🙂
Thank you so much 🙂 !!
I enjoyed your piece. While my life experience is a bit different as I am post career and retired at 48, much of it resonated with me.
Traveling has taught me patience and has also taught me to go with the flow as I am not in charge, power down, you are a foreigner in an alien land.
Traveling with few possessions is extremely liberating. If only I could get my wife to change her train of thought on the house, cars and other the other possessions that hold us down.
Thanks for your comment. While it’s nice to have the options for luxuries, I agree it is the most liberating feeling ever to be able to live with basically nothing! 🙂
I can understand exactly why Costa Rica would inspire you to want to travel. One of the most beautiful places we have ever been.
Thank you 🙂 Where did you stay in Costa Rica?
well done. Your story is a little like the movies. Glad that you realised this in your 20’s. Now whether you travel the world or sit st a desk doing a job doesn’t matter. You have been imparted the most important lesson in life. Its your life and you need to be the happiest person in it
Thank you so much for your kind comment 🙂 Yep totally true we are each in the drivers seat of our own lives. If we don’t like it, change it!
“My life consisted of constant distraction in an attempt to alleviate discontentment and anxiety.”
Been there. Trying to get out.
You may want to read this post for some inspiration: https://www.thisamericangirl.com/2014/01/07/so-you-want-to-change-your-life-this-year/
Good luck to you!! <3
Great post! I love that travel really allows us to become grounded, live in the moment and find true happiness. I guess that’s what keeps us traveling, isn’t it?
🙂 You got it girl!
This is a wonderful post, I spent one month in the Costa Rican rainforest in a tent. It wasn’t easy but a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget and I’m so glad I did it. Traveling through Central America has inspired me to travel more, now I’m going to spend 6 weeks in Europe. Reading stories like this make me feel a little bit less of an outcast. Maybe having a regular 9-5 job isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.
Thanks for your comment Taylor. Wow where in Costa Rica were you?? In a tent that must have really been an amazing experience, back to basics. I’d love to do something similar, perhaps camping on beaches down the coast. Enjoy your time in Europe and go chase your nomad dreams if you have them!! 🙂