Nicole Cohen, 40, left a well paid marketing position with a big brand to travel solo for a year, heres her story.
I had planned to travel for a year but now that Im coming up to the end of my year, Ive extended my trip possibly for a few months and then Ill see what happens. I definitely want to come back to England at some point to visit family and friends but, other than that, Im in no rush to return home after travelling. Really, Im looking for a career change and even a complete change of lifestyle, rather than just taking a career break.
Catalyst for Travel
So many factors came together all at once. Id broken up with a long term boyfriend about six months before and moved out of our home. I was already thinking about a complete career change but unsure exactly what I wanted to do next. I wasnt that happy living in London and I was fed up of working crazy hours. I wanted to make a major lifestyle change but I didnt really know where to start.
And I was turning forty that year and that kind of makes you examine your life. I felt like I hadnt really chosen the life I was living, I just sort of fell into it. I had this sneaking suspicion that I didnt really fit into the standard mould that the corporate treadmill, 9-5 job, city living, getting married, having kids thing just wasnt right for me. But I didnt really see any appealing alternatives. I felt like I was force-fitting myself into a life that didnt suit me. And, in the process, I had lost my joy for living, my enthusiasm and inspiration.
I wasnt really very happy with the person Id become or the life I was living, and I wanted to make some drastic changes but I didnt know where to start. I knew what I didnt want but I didnt really know what I did want. So, it seemed like a good time to take a break and simply work out what I really wanted my life to be.
My intention was to find My Way of living and loving more connected to myself, to others, to the world and to spirit. I wanted to explore whether its possible to live a more spiritually and creatively enriching life, to contribute something meaningful to the world, and to make a living. And also whether its possible to have a loving long term relationship without losing myself, without sacrificing my freedom and independence. I wanted to know if its really possible to have it all and, if so, how?
So I took a leap of faith and booked my trip with the intention of throwing out the Rule Book, ignoring what I think I should be doing, and simply working out what My Way of living is.
I set off on my own and Ive travelled alone, with people I met along the way, and lived in communities I discovered on my journey.
It was a scary proposition setting off alone so I started off doing an organized course for a month, so that I had somewhere to go and something to do to start off with, until I found my confidence to travel alone without a plan.
"Travelling solo ...has opened my eyes to the true meaning of community"
Travelling solo has been about finding my own path through life, my own way of doing things. Its been about learning to Walk Alone. And yet paradoxically, its also opened my eyes to the true meaning of community. Ive met beautiful people along the way who have opened their hearts and homes to me. I call them my Love Tribe the people all over the world who have shared my journey with me, and become my extended family.
Preparing For My My Break
Once I decided I wanted to travel, I just put my head down and worked and saved for six months.
Most people were excited and enthusiastic for me. There were some concerns for my safety travelling alone in Central America, and also about my long term security - leaving a good job in a global financial recession, savings, pension, missing out on the opportunity to settle down, get married and have kids, etc. But once I actually put my plans into action, everyone rallied around and supported me. I really appreciated all the love and encouragement I received from family, friends and colleagues.
Ive spent just over £10,000 over 12 months, including flights, insurance, and everything I bought before I left home. And that has been a relatively generous budget. Ive done exactly what I wanted when I wanted. I have stayed in some cheap and cheerful places but Ive also stayed in some nicer places too. I realised early on that Im not twenty anymore and its ok to spend my money on the comforts and experiences that I want. Its been interesting to see how much guilt I carry around money. And to learn about whats really important to me and what I can do without, without feeling that Im making a sacrifice.
I have done some bits and pieces in return for accommodation but I didnt really work.
The Route To Freedom
What Ive loved most about this trip is the freedom to choose, to decide whats best for me at any given moment, to really live in the present without judgment or expectation or demands, pressures, responsibilities. It is all about me. What do I really want right now? What do I need? It amazes me how difficult those questions can be to answer, how little I actually consider what I want in my day to day life. I had to relearn how to check in with myself, how to listen to my heart. I had to remember who I am, my essence, and how to get back to that. At the beginning, it was difficult to really know what I wanted.
I started off in Costa Rica with my only concrete plan to fly out of Brazil a year later. I thought Id travel all the way around Central and South America in that time. I only made it as far as Nicaragua. I fell in love with the country and have never left.
Each place Ive been to has been better than the last. And each experience has been exactly what I wanted (or needed) at that stage of my journey.
The first part of my trip in the Spanish and Yoga school in Costa Rica trying to recapture my youth or at least reconnecting with that spontaneous, carefree, fun loving, adventurous, fearless youthful part of myself that I felt Id lost. And in the process, I learnt a lot about who I am now the grown up, mature woman who still has many of those elements within me.
I then spent a month at a nature retreat, working out who I am and what I do want. I knew I needed time and space for me first and foremost. I wanted to connect with myself, to explore my inner nature to find out who I am now and what I want and to rediscover my passion for life, my inspiration and my creative spark.
"The first part of my trip I spent reconnecting with that spontaneous, carefree, fun loving, youthful part of myself that I felt I'd lost"
I then went to an Earth-based Spiritual Community on Ometepe Island called InanItah. That was probably the most transformational time for me a real highlight of my journey so far. It was a time packed with insights and inspiration and revelations about myself and the way I want to live. To me, the real beauty of this time was the holistic nature of the experience living in community, exploring new ways of interacting with people, of communicating and having relationships. It helped me to bring together all the parts of myself and balance all the things that I want in my life.
After that, I went beach hopping for a while a much needed, light hearted break from all my soul searching. It was great fun, and full of all sorts of different people and experiences. I went from dinner with a couple of 70-year old Old School Gentlemen, to attending camp fire beach parties with a group of 20-year olds and I loved it all.
Three months ago, I arrived at this beautiful beach community in Magagual on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua where Im living now. Surprisingly, this small beach community is my favourite place so far and has been one of the True Highlights of my journey possibly one I would not have been able to truly appreciate at the start of my trip. Its a far cry from the hectic busy London life I was living before. I have slowed down and simply started to appreciate the beauty all around me, to enjoy the precious moments of my life.
Ive missed my friends and family deeply and there have been times where Ive felt disconnected - phone and internet connections abroad are not nearly as accessible or reliable as we take for granted in England. There have definitely been several times when Ive thought Id love to just pop home for a few weeks to see everyone. But truly, Ive never felt tempted enough to actually return. I havent missed England or my life there at all and Ive truly loved every part of my journey. I never want it to end.
Ive met beautiful people wherever Ive gone, Ive been welcomed into all sorts of different communities and created my own Travellers Network and Ive always been able to rely on my family and friends at home for support too. There have been several places on my journey that I now consider as home.
"I realized that I really didnt feel ready to go home yet. I chose to stay here until Im ready to leave. And I feel much better about going home now."
At the start of my trip, I was almost paralysed by fear. It took me a while to relax into it and start really enjoying my journey. I always used to think of myself as a bold, brave, adventurous person and I had to learn to accept what a scaredy cat Ive become in my Old Age how controlled I am by fear. Im scared of everything these days, scared of my own shadow. And Im more cautious and careful than I was when I was younger, less trusting, less abandoned. But Ive learnt to accept that fear is a real, tangible, sometimes overwhelming presence for me now but it is not who I am and I choose not to let it control me.
I did have a low point when I started thinking about going home again back to Real Life and it make me feel sick to my stomach. Although I missed my friends and family, I realized that I really didnt feel ready to go home yet. And I realized that I didnt have to. Its my choice. So I chose not to go back yet. I chose to stay here until Im ready to leave, or until the money runs out. And I feel much better about going home now. Ive loved my extra time here my Bonus Time. And since Ive let go of the pressure and expectation I was putting on myself, ideas have started to flow as to what I might like to do next. I havent decided on my next step yet but Im starting to feel excited and inspired ready for my next Big Adventure, wherever it takes me.
My Advice to Anyone Contemplating Travelling
"Take a leap of faith and trust that it will turn out for the best even if you dont know what that looks like yet."
Listen to your heart. Only you know whats best for you. If youre not happy with your life, think about what you do want and if you dont know, just take a leap of faith and trust that it will turn out for the best even if you dont know what that looks like yet. I think one of the hardest things to accept is that we simply dont know whats around the corner. Not knowing is not acceptable in our society but the truth is, we never know. Life is about stepping into the unknown again and again and again. Its not what you do that matters, its how you do it with love and joy and all the passion of your soul.
How its Changed Me
I try to simply live true to myself, and to appreciate the precious moments of my life. At this moment, I am writing a novel and some short stories, writing poetry, painting, hanging out with new friends and enjoying the beauty of where I am right now. I am trying not to worry about what the future will bring me but simply to trust that opportunities will arise and I will know what I need to do next when the time is right.
This journey has been life changing. I am calm and content, creatively fulfilled, I am part of a beautiful community here in Magagual, Nicaragua, I have a beautiful relationship with a wonderful man who is leaving in a couple of weeks but I am simply living and loving and appreciating our time together, rather than worrying about the future. In fact, he taught me: Dont be sad its over, be happy it happened. And Im trying to embrace that in my life.
I used to worry all the time about everything. I spent too much time trying to plan and control my future, and not enough time enjoying and appreciating what I have right here and now. I wasted so much energy trying to create a Perfect Life, that I forgot to live My Life.
Career Breaker: Nicole Cohen
Nicole Cohen has worked in marketing for many years, both with big brand names such as Hasbro and Coke Cola, as well as running her own marketing training company. She lives in North London and has just returned from her career break. Her next big adventure is writing a novel about female empowerment and falling in love.