My quarter life epiphany 6

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Please welcome Stephanie from Quarter Life Epiphany, the newest contributing writer here at Go See Write!

At 24 years old, I had a great life. I did all the “right” things; I was on track for achieving the American Dream. I had a college degree, a nice office job, a new Jeep, and my own apartment. I had many reasons to be happy. But I wasn’t.

I felt empty. I felt out of place. I felt like something was missing.

I tried to fill the space with shopping sprees, and packed my apartment with trinkets and furniture, and my closets with unworn clothes. The emptiness remained.

I tried to fill my time with extra responsibilities, scheduling lengthy daily workouts, and even took on a hobby job to fill my nights and weekends. The emptiness persisted, but at least I fell into bed each evening exhausted, without the energy to think about the absence of something I couldn’t put my finger on.

I had always dreamed of Thailand, the seed of an idea to visit planted during university classes for my study of religion. I always yearned to travel but felt too weak to do anything so bold and too broken to do anything so kind to myself as to follow my dreams.

It started as a joke when I’d had a few drinks. Only half believing myself, I started telling people I was going to Thailand. The more I said it, the stronger I felt. But when I bought the plane ticket for a whirlwind ten day trip of Koh Phangan and Bangkok – my first solo venture and first time overseas – I was so anxious, scared, and excited, I threw up.

I was going to Thailand.

A month of excitement, three flights and a canceled yet reworked connection later, I landed with my bright blue 40L Kelty backpack and a mind full of naivety.

Steph Taking off For Thailand

I thought I’d be gone for less than 2 weeks, not years

I fell in love with Thailand instantly – the kindness and the wais, the soft voices and small elegant gestures. For the first time since losing my mom at 15, I felt like I was home. The food, the streets, and even the chaos of Bangkok all felt so right to me. It was like I always imagined it, yet somehow even more amazing and magical than I could have dreamed.

The night before I was supposed to leave, I quit my job in the US and canceled my flight back to Michigan. I was already home.

I had a small amount of money saved, and would figure out the details later. I had to do this.

That night, I took a train to the south, and then a ferry to Koh Tao with some friends I had just met. I didn’t know the hostel we would be arriving to – but someone else did.

Koh Tao Thailand

Koh Tao with new friends

When I checked in, the receptionist promptly handed me the phone. Confused, I tried to explain that I didn’t want to make a call. Then I heard the voice on the other end, speaking English. A brisk, no-nonsense official who identified himself as with the US Embassy asked me to confirm my identity, and then asked whether I was there under my own free will. After a few embarrassing minutes back and forth, I found out that my family was worried that I had been kidnapped or forced, as my cancelled flight and decision to stay were so out of character. Yes, the choice was unexpected, perhaps irrational, and more than a little irresponsible – but it remains the best and most important of my life.

Koh Tao Thailand

Koh Tao, Thailand

I spent three glorious months backpacking through the islands of Thailand, before coming back to Bangkok to find a job. After several interviews and subsequent job offers (finding a job was so much easier than I’d thought!), I landed my dream position working with an international fertility company in the heart of Silom. While waiting for my job to start, I backpacked for a few more months through Cambodia and Malaysia, before coming back to Thailand to start my new life.

...and to enjoy Songkran.

…and to enjoy Songkran.

I had learned that having a full heart is more important than a full closet, and I had more with a 40L backpack than with an entire apartment. I had freedom, and joy, and dreams. I had my quarter life epiphany.

Railay Thailand

Railay, Thailand

I lived in Bangkok for almost two years, taking full advantage of that time by soaking up the strange and wonderful expat life in BKK while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and visiting more temples than my former self possibly imagined.

Vientiane Laos Temple Monk

A monk in Vientiane

I was part of a commercial promoting the friendliness of Thai Tourism Police, though at first I thought I was getting arrested.

Bangkok Tourist Police

My costars and I

I saw freshwater dolphins and stunning sunsets while homestaying with a family on a tiny island in the Mekong River of Cambodia.

Mekong River Cambodia

Sunset over the Mekong

I prayed at the Schwedagan Pagoda in Myanmar, and had my unbelievable wish come true a year later.

Yangon Myanmar

Nightfall at Schwedagan Pagoda

I breathed in sights that reached inside my soul and listened to stories that tore my heart apart. I lost my naivety as I learned of the injustices of the world felt more deeply than ever before. Contrary to Instagram, life in Thailand is not all sunshine, beaches, and pad thai (though there is a lot of it).

Pad Thai

Pad Thai and Spring Roll Vendor

I gained appreciation for the US, yearned for fair legislative, judicial, and educational systems, and had my eyes opened to the dangers of living in a country where rules can change overnight and lives are subsequently destroyed.

In the wake of the military coup, I left Thailand for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I am now.

Thoroughly enjoying my first Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Thoroughly enjoying my first Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

I became a volunteer English teacher, and a freelance writer and travel blogger.

I want to write in a way that makes readers think about the status quo of their lives, their privilege, and what they can do to contribute their own gift to the world while living their best life possible.

In writing, I seek to communicate the experiences I’ve had and the truths that need telling. I want to empower people to travel in search of their own answers, whether that means within the world or within themselves.


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About Stephanie Kempker

Steph is a freelance writer, travel blogger, volunteer, and serial expat living in Mexico City (prior: Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro). She is addicted to slow travel, cultural insights, and fresh veggie eats.

6 thoughts on “My quarter life epiphany

  • Madisym

    what an amazingly beautiful story about self discovery.. Good for you for having the courage to do what so many couldn’t.

  • travel blog dude

    I love these pictures! The watergun shot is so much fun. It’s also funny that you intended only to leave for a few weeks and ended up staying on the road for years — the travel bug sure does bite hard, eh?

  • Katarina

    When you decided to stay longer did you have to change your visa, and was it hard? Also, do you have any advice for someone looking to travel Thailand right now (is the situation bad enough to not go? How much would I need to save up for a month or two? Do you know where it’d be best to stay? Etc)

    • Stephanie Kempker Post author

      HI Katarina! To change visas in Thailand, you need to leave the country.
      At the time I decided to stay, “border runs” were common and workable (you could fly out of the country and fly right back in the same day for a 30 day extension, or take a bus to the border and back for a 15 day extension). That is no longer the case. If you’re from a visa-exempt country, you’ll get 30 days on arrival, or you can apply at home for a 60 day visa (sometimes two or three entries will be granted, giving you 60 days x 2 or 60 days x 3, plus extensions)… long story short, the Thai visa system is complicated!
      You can also have a education visa (you must have signed up with a school), either a university or language school, which allows for extended stay… or a work-allowed visa/work permit if sponsored by a company.
      Despite the really sad terrorist attack recently, Bangkok is still extremely safe and that was a very isolated incident which seems to have been targeted towards a specific group. If you are leery of Bangkok, you could also fly into Phuket or a different airport and avoid the city altogether (though I wouldn’t recommend it – Bangkok is my favorite city!)
      For staying in Bangkok, I recommend staying near the BTS (train) as it is easy to get around.
      How much to save will depend on how you live and what you want to do. A lot of backpackers get by on 1000USD-1500USD per month.
      Enjoy! 🙂

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