Welcome to the third in a series of traveler spotlights on Katie Going Global, profiling some of my fellow thirty-something travelers who are getting ready to take a break from their everyday lives to travel – not just for a week or two, but for 4 months, 8 months, or even longer. If you missed them, check out previous interviews with Megan Shaw and Scott Hartbeck.
This week’s interview is with Amanda Baker of My Soulful Travel, who is about 2 weeks into her round-the-world trip. As you’ll see, Amanda is making the most of a bad situation, re-evaluating her life and taking a sabbatical after she lost everything in a house fire. Truly inspiring! You can follow Amanda’s journey on Twitter at @mysoulfultravel and on her website, My Soulful Travel.
Let’s start with the basics – who are you and where are you from?
I am a 33 year old single Healthcare Administrator living in Norfolk, Virginia.
Tell us about your past travel experiences.
I have been very lucky to have traveled most of my life. I have been all over the United States and also traveled to the Caribbean, Canada and Europe. All of my traveling before has been crammed into my three weeks of vacation time or professional meetings.
How long have you been planning your RTW trip and what was your motivation?
I didn’t begin the actual planning until this past February. In July 2010 my house burned down and I lost everything, including my dog, Murray and cat, Henry. Afterwards I knew that my life needed to change somehow, I just wasn’t sure what I needed to do. After losing everything, I began to understand how people could just travel with a backpack. There was something freeing in losing all of my material things and not being tied to “stuff.” In February I reconnected with a friend who encouraged me to just follow my heart and go for it.
When do you leave, where are you going and for how long?
I leave June 26th! So far I am going to Iceland (10 days) The Netherlands (7 days), Uganda (8 weeks), South Africa (3 weeks), Abu Dhabi (5 days) and Morocco (2 weeks).
What are you looking forward to the most on your trip?
I will be volunteering at Sanyu Babies’ Home while in Uganda. This was the first part of my trip I planned and I have built everything around it. There was such an amazing outpouring of support for me after the fire and I wanted to make sure I spent some time “paying it forward.”
Looking ahead to the end of your trip, how do you hope you will have grown or changed?
I am positive that this trip will change me more than any other life experience. I would imagine my time in Uganda will make me so grateful for all of the blessings I have in my life. It will probably also make me even more embarrassed by the excess material things that are valuable to me. On a more personal level I hope that I will become more content on my own.
What kind of a budget have you set for your travels?
When I decided to do this, I decided that it would be a worthwhile use of my savings. I don’t imagine this is how many people would (or should) approach budgeting for a RTW trip. But, after the fire and really detaching with material things before even deciding to travel, it was an easy decision. It is a little unsettling at times knowing that more than likely my plane ticket home will be how I spend the last dime I have, but I am all too aware that there are no guarantees and everything can be gone in an instant.
You’re taking a sabbatical from work, right? How did you go about negotiating that?
I work for an amazing practice and if I wasn’t going to travel, I wouldn’t leave. But I didn’t think that my job was something I could take a leave of absence from for at least six months. So, I planned on resigning. However, as soon as I explained to the managing partner that I was going to embark on this journey he said I shouldn’t quit. He went on to say that if I was in the Reserves they would have to let me go. And I probably wouldn’t even have email access. Then he asked me if I would work 5-10 hours/week remotely while I was gone! It was so much more than I expected and was very much appreciated. However, it did change the “vibe” of the trip for me in some ways. It’s not a big commitment to work 5-10 hours/week and it will give me a job to come back to but I definitely feel less “free” and now when I think about how long I will travel, I start thinking about when I will need to get back to work and year-end financials.
I recommend that anyone considering RTW travel at least approach their employer about a sabbatical and/or working remotely. I didn’t think my position lent itself to this possibility, but they did!
If you could ask any previous RTW traveler any question, what would it be?
What was the most difficult part of traveling solo? No one seems to talk about how they handled loneliness, or those moments they wish they had someone to share their amazing experiences with. Does it really never happen??
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about planning a RTW trip?
Just do it! You can get so caught up in the logistics and what-ifs. Sure, it’s a few months of not contributing to your 401K. Sure, it’s risky to walk away from a job. But will you really travel when you retire? In this economy isn’t getting laid off a possibility anyway? Don’t ask yourself how you can afford to walk away from your everyday life for six months. Ask yourself if you can afford not to.