A highway in Central Oregon.

Travel is a Drug

Someone once told me that ESL teachers abroad are either running away from something or running toward something. It made perfect sense and, of course, I put myself in the latter category. It was easy to do with my young age and ample ambitions, to mask the truth.

There were others who didn’t wear the mask as well. They were either divorced or troubled, single and looking, or debt ridden, out of work, or escaping criminal charges back home. I, of course, was none of the above. Just there for the experience, I told myself. Just learning and growing and living for life in the moment. 

The truth? I was doing all those things, but I was also running. I was running from the fear of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, of having quit my job as a publicist only to find myself back at my college part-time, serving up lattes at Starbucks, feeling lost and confused. When I asked myself what I wanted to do with my life, the answer was always the same: to travel and to write, but I’m not – and even then I wasn’t – naive enough to believe I could actually support myself on those goals alone. So I found teaching English could be a great way to feed myself while writing, and it was. And I discovered I actually enjoyed sharing my knowledge with eager students, and learning even more from them.

Travel Colombia

Now I’m pursuing those same goals, of writing and teaching writing, but like teens who cut themselves for a release of emotion, or those who shoot up to feel the unrivaled high of nothingness, when schoolwork begins to run my world, and my personal issues consume my every thought, I too dream of a release; an escape.

When life gets too monotonous, too difficult, too overwhelming, I run to find the extreme. I want to feel nothing in the way of responsibility, yet everything from the crazy to the religious to make me feel alive.

I’m an Aries, and though I’m not particularly swayed by any one religion, any one astrology, I can’t deny they exist for a reason, or the truth in the characteristics I’ve been charged with:

“Making things happen is what it’s all about to these folks. Aries are also unafraid of stepping onto new terrain. The challenge inherent in taking on the unknown is heaven on Earth for Rams. Sure, they may appear arrogant when they take on the world, but they’ll be quick to tell you it’s the only way to go.”

“Let’s just book a ticket to anywhere,” I text my friends. My Facebook page for this blog gets painted with photos of far off places and desperate pleas to “Just go!” and for a few seconds I’m lost in the possibility of uprooting once again, making life mean more than papers and due dates and broken hearts.

But I’m too stubborn, too inherently responsible, too stuck on achieving my goals that I won’t give in. I won’t make it the reality I know I can, not yet, because like drug addiction and cutting, I know it only cures the now. That’s the funny thing about escape. When the high wears off, the reality settles in three-fold.

Though travel might be better related to marijuana, a release with healing capabilities, it’s even more like the prescription drug that one needs (a lot of) money for. It’s totally 100% worth it once the bill is paid, the sand under my toes, the sun in my hair, the mountain beneath my feet. It’s true, sometimes we come back completely rejuvenated and clear headed, but other times we land straight back in the middle of reality.

travel colombia

A canyon in Colombia, South America

For me, this reality is school. And in the moments when I’m lowest, when I’m actually pricing plane tickets and mentally checking out, dreaming of the needle, the knife, the pipe…I come back with the realization that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, because I’m exactly where I chose to be.

I am learning and growing and living for life in the moment.

I’m reaching this goal so I can accomplish the next. Life is built on goals and dreams, and sometimes the most rewarding ones take years and discipline to get there. I’m no longer the girl in my early 20s who doesn’t know what to do with her life; I’m the one in my late 20s, and I’m taking a stab at what might be the most trying, politically-charged, difficult ladder to climb – a tenured professor. My opportunities are few, the hurdles plenty, but I’m no stranger to hard work and I know how good it feels to cross an item off the bucket list.

But I’d be lying if I wasn’t also buoyed by the notion that if all else fails, if it all becomes too burdensome or too political or I can no longer understand why I’m here – when the Aries in me fires up and screams, “There’s so much more to life!” – I can always run away to teach English abroad.

fort collins

A hike in Poudre Canyon, just outside Fort Collins, Colorado.

Is travel YOUR drug? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Travel as Escape 

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18 Comments

  1. Derek Freal says:

    Travel is definitely my drug! It’s far more addictive than anything else out there and here’s the worst part — there is no cure, no rehab, no other option but to keep on traveling. In fact I’m on a strict one new country every month prescription from my doctor :P

  2. Definitely my drug of choice, next to coffee & cigs. I have a problem where if I like a place I want to stay there for extended periods of time. Now that I’ve made myself an expat I can finally do just that and travel somewhat locally during my extended stay wherever I may be.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Yeah that’s a great freedom to have! I love the expat life because it provides a daily sense of adventure, but you don’t really have to be on the go all the time. Slow travel, I think is what the kids are calling it these days ;-)

  3. Definitely one of my drugs – next to coffee and sunshine!

  4. I am an Aries and have been accused of many of the traits you mentioned. Travel is definitely akin to a drug for me and ever since that first trip I have been chasing that high. I can relate. Thanks, Tim
    http://flattiresandslowboats.com/aboutme/

  5. Tim says:

    I am an Aries and have been accused of many of the traits you mentioned. Travel is definitely akin to a drug for me and ever since that first trip I have been chasing that high. I can relate. Thanks, Tim
    http://flattiresandslowboats.com/aboutme/

  6. Jennifer says:

    Travel is definitely my “drug”. I almost never talk about it, but I am a military spouse. I live in Italy because I have to because that is where my husband is assigned. Most people’s reaction when I say I live in Italy is “how cool!” I did want to move to Italy my entire life, but not this part of Italy and not under these circumstances. I am too far removed from bigger cities where there are expat communities and even after having lived here for five years, I have failed to make any meaningful relationships. Honestly, when I am not traveling I find myself sad, lonely, and without a purpose. It’s incredibly challenging to continue to maintain your own sense of self and purpose when you have to follow your husband around to where ever the military dictates you are going to live. So traveling keeps me sane.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Jennifer. I had no idea how you ended up living in Italy, enjoying all that wonderful wine without the import price. Thanks for sharing your story with me. I can only imagine how you must feel when your husband is away and you’re in a place feeling completely alone. I often feel lonely when I travel as well. It’s certainly not all wine and chocolate – travel can be tough both mentally and physically. But I think it’s learning to overcome those challenges that make it so rewarding. So you must travel solo from your home base in Italy quite often, in order to have all the amazing experiences you write about? Do you know how long you’ll be in Italy, and where the next destination is? I certainly can’t imagine being a military wife. I think you women are exceptionally brave and strong!

  7. Becca says:

    It is such a comfort for me to have read this and found your blog. I have the same goal – to become an English professor – but not yet. First, I want to see the world, live abroad, teach abroad, go on adventures, and really Live with a capital “L.” I’m desperate to run away because I see the lives of the people around me: miserable with work, miserable with family, miserable with routine, miserable with bills…and I need to avoid this.

    The problem is that even though thoughts of escaping the monotonous routine of daily life consume my mind every minute of the day, I am unbelievably scared to do it. I’m scared to live alone in a country where I don’t know the language, I’m scared to leave my boyfriend of seven years, I’m scared to run out of money, I’m scared to not find work when I come home…and the list goes on.

    How did you first decide to just do it and teach abroad for the first time? Did you have any of the same fears? Was it hard doing this alone as a female? You seem so strong and sure of yourself and not afraid of anything. How can I be like that? Where do I begin, because I know that until I travel, I won’t be happy. How did you know that teaching abroad was the right thing to do?

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hello, Becca! I’m so happy you stopped by and shared your fears with me. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to calm them. It IS scary to pack up your life and head off into the unknown. It’s terrifying to do it alone, as a female, and to believe that so many uncertain things will work out. Yes, I was scared as well. I didn’t know if teaching was the right thing, and in fact I was pretty sure early on that teaching wasn’t what I wanted to do; it was simply a way to fund my desires to travel and write. In the initial stages, I didn’t even know that I wanted to be a college professor, but somewhere in the process of studying for my TEFL certificate, I had the realization that I might actually enjoy teaching, and that teaching writing at the university level might just be the perfect career. So I found Thailand. Thailand offered a short-term contract (5 months) that wasn’t too scary of a commitment, and it offered a great way to test the waters of standing in a room full of eager students staring back. I decided it would be a trial run, to see if I even liked any part of teaching. And though the differences between teaching high schoolers in Thailand and university students in the States are massive, I discovered I liked the act of lesson planning, of imparting knowledge, and perhaps even more importantly, learning from my students.

      But back to the fear stuff. Whenever I have a big, scary decision to make, I ask myself this: Will I regret this later? I choose to live my life with no regrets, and I’m doing pretty good so far. I think we know ourselves well enough to look at both sides of the spectrum and see which one we might regret later. If teaching abroad and seeing the world is a burning desire and it consumes all of your daily thoughts, like you say, I’m willing to bet NOT doing it will be a lifelong regret.

      Another thing that helps me make decisions is to tell myself that nothing is permanent. It seems to be the commitment factor that scares me so, and by telling myself that I can always come back home if I hate it, or I can always change plans if I decide to, whatever if may be, I feel so much better about ripping off the Bandaid and just going for it. Don’t let the contractual commitment scare you. Tell yourself it’s only 5 months (and if it’s less, who cares?), and that if your boyfriend loves you, he’ll want you to follow your dreams. Believe that when you’re ready to come home, you’ll know what you want to do and how to do it and it will all work out. Everything works out how it should in the end. All those other things – like not knowing the language and doing it alone – they will work themselves out. The best part of traveling alone is the triumph when you succeed at having a conversation with hand signals, of getting on a bus and pointing to a map and actually arriving where you want to go, of making new friends in faraway places…

      You’ll never know unless you go.

      Here was my very first blog post at MissAdventure, and I think you might find it inspiring: http://www.missadventuretravel.com/carving-my-path/
      P.S. Thanks for inspiring my next blog post ;-)

      • Becca says:

        Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. Looking through your site has been really eye-opening for me. You are already a great mentor to me in my next steps in life after an English undergrad :) I know going abroad is the right thing for me; I’ve known it all along. Thank you for your advice and comfort, it has really helped me come to terms with just going for it. And you’re right – the only regrets I have are when I don’t do something.

        The post you directed me to is as if I wrote it. Knowing you were in the same position as I am now, and that you are so happy that you went abroad, makes it obvious that I should do it. I hope you won’t mind if I stick around and soak up a little more wisdom from you as I make this happen. You are really inspiring and I’m so grateful you have recorded all of your thoughts and advice here for those of us who need a little guidance. :)

        • jessicajhill says:

          Oh, Becca, you’re so flattering! I’m so happy you have come to that conclusion! I’ll be honored if you stick around, and I hope you’ll get in touch when you are ready to make the leap. I don’t know if you noticed, but I also have a recruiting business now, over at http://www.TeachEnglishESL.com. I’d love to help you out.

          Also, I hope you won’t mind if I use your previous comment in my post tomorrow, no name attached, of course? It’s very relevant to the questions of many of my other readers, and I think publicly putting an answer out there will be helpful, I hope.

          Best of luck finishing up undergrad, and please to stay in touch!

          • Becca says:

            I will definitely contact you when I decide to go – hopefully next summer! I saw the post inspired by my questions and it’s great. I definitely benefited from the pep talk so I’m sure others will too.

            Two last questions (if you’ve already answered them in a post I’ll read those!)

            How far in advance should I plan on looking for jobs abroad?
            I am getting my TESOL certificate through the university I’m at…is this a good idea? Or do you recommend getting the TEFL online?

          • jessicajhill says:

            Hi, Becca! I’d say it’s never too early so start doing your research and preparing with a TEFL course, like you have, but when it comes to applying for jobs, about six months before you want to go is a good time to start looking. Also, you’ll want to research the academic calendars of the countries you’re hoping to teach in, so you’ll know when school starts and when their hiring times are.

            I’d say if you’re university offers a TEFL course, it’s likely highly accredited and therefore a great opportunity to take advantage of. I would only recommend the online option for those who have time constraints or other things preventing them from a hands-on lesson. Either way you go though, it’s best to research the accreditation before committing. Many online courses are not legitimate, so you need to be careful. If you do choose online, check out the one I offer here: http://teachenglishesl.com/tefl-teaching-certificate/online-tefl-course/

            It’s great you’re getting such a head start!

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