My first experiences with long term transformational travel

About ten years ago, I was 30 and struggling with the full realities of adulthood as an "old millennial". This included crushing student loan debt, relationship & job loss, and the “great recession” that gave me little hope. I made a couple of promises to my future self. These were more than just life goals, but became my purpose for living through some dark times in my life. My first promise, is that I would see the other side of the world, which I did at 33. My second promise is that I would save to afford a year of “freedom” from my career. I wanted a chance to focus on my self and my life, my wellness and my dreams. I wanted to see what 2,000-3,000 hours of exploration, growth and learning would give me.

For a long time, I thought I wanted to “go back to college”. But the institutional knowledge of a degree doesn’t feel worth five- or six- figures of debt. It might work out financially one day, but I also might still be paying off debt while I’m on social security. I can teach myself, and I can learn through direct experience.

Soon I will be on my second “sabbatical” or “mini-retirement”. My first was at 33. I lost my job, but decided I had enough savings and enough room on my credit card to make a run for it. I made it 5 months before my bank accounts caused concern, and an injury made it difficult for me to walk. It took me another 2 months to find a job, one that paid a little less than I’d have liked but was much more in line with what I wanted to do in my career. There’s ups and there’s downs while traveling, and the experiences come at you fast and with intensity, but it does have a way of working out.

With my five-month sabbatical in 2013, I had the freedom to follow my inspiration. I booked a ticket to Bangkok, and followed the well-trodden footsteps of Lonely Planet backpackers of the 1980’s & 1990’s on the “banana pancake trail” of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam). Soon, I needed a change in scenery and travel culture. I needed a sense of ‘wellness’, ‘home’ & ‘community’. I left for Sri Lanka, and had my first deep experience with yoga while on a two week ashtanga retreat. My yoga teacher pointed me to Burma and introduced me to vipassana meditation. In Burma, I finally felt like I ‘became’ a photographer. In Bali, I did my first 10-day / 100-hour meditation training.

Those five months of time away from work showed me who I am and who I could be.

Zachariah Garner
instagram: @zolotravels and @z_acro