One year on…

It has now been a year since I landed back at Heathrow and returned home to a London that was in love with the Olympics.  Wow.

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Home at last

A whole year? 365 days? Really? See, this is the difference between being at home and being away. When you’re on a long trip, the days go by slowly. There’s little to worry about, no job to go to, no bills to pay, no one looking over your shoulder to see how much you achieve in a day. Time goes sl-oow-ly. Nine months could have been years. I came home after my incredible 30b430 trip feeling chilled out and excited about where life was going to take me next.

But, and there’s always a but, no matter how much you plan to keep that cool, calm, laid-back persona you developed while you were away, back in the ‘real world’ it’s almost impossible. Time speeds up. You get taken over by work, chores, racing to fit in visits to family and friends and trying to make the most of Every. Single. Moment.

So I’d be lying if I said the last year has been easy. In fact other words I’d use to describe it would probably range on the scale from stressful to soul-destroying. A big part of this was due to the fact that I spent a good deal of it job-hunting.

Now, of course, I knew when I quit my job way back in 2011 that times were tough. Companies weren’t hiring as regularly as before, journalism was a dying trade, yadda-yadda-yadda. But you never actually think it’s going to happen to you do you? When you run off into the sunset with just your backpack on your shoulders, you never expect that you’re going to return home and become one of those poor souls you read about who has to walk up and down the streets of London with a ‘Please hire me’ sign around their neck.

But that’s what happened to me (okay, not the sign bit but you see where I’m going with this). I returned home after nine glorious months away, spent a brilliant two weeks at the London Olympics and then set about the business or trying to find a job which I optimistically told myself should take no more than a month or two…

…or three…or four…

At first I embraced all of the free time I had, telling myself that one day I’d regret it if I hadn’t used it wisely. So I got working on my new blog, I wrote the first draft of the book I’d always been promising myself I’d write one day, I spent time with my family and friends and alongside all of that I applied for job, after job, after job, after job…

Now I don’t know if you’ve filled in a job application recently, but gone are the days of sending just your CV and a covering letter. Now it’s all about answering eight pages of questions, writing detailed explanations about how your skill set fits your future employer’s needs, reading page after page of detailed requirements and wondering if anyone, anywhere in the world, actually possesses all of the qualifications they’re asking for.

And then, after you’ve spent two days filling in the form, comes the dreaded rejections: ‘Sorry you’re over-qualified’, ‘Sorry you’re under-qualified’ or worse still, nothing at all. To say there were one or two tears would be a bit of an understatement. There were many moments of doubt; many times I questioned the wisdom of what I’d done. Had I been stupid to give everything up to follow a crazy dream? Had I taken myself out of the job race for too long? Was I now being irresponsible by encouraging other people to do the same through my blog?

It felt embarrassing not being able to get a job. I worried that I wasn’t smart enough, I worried that other people might be judging me and I worried that maybe this was just my karma for having had such a brilliant time the year before. But through all of this I have been extremely lucky to have a very strong support network around me. I have a family and friends who believe in me no matter what, who encourage me on the days that I’m down, read countless applications and send me job opportunities and, if all else fails, just listen to me having a good old moan about it!

And then, finally, came the light at the end of the tunnel. A former colleague told me about a one month job opportunity in Qatar and I ended up heading out there for a month before Christmas to work. Although it was a very strange experience at times I made so many great friends and realised that now I should be taking the opportunity to try different things.

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Hard at work

When I returned home it was straight back to the job hunting but I continued to work on other projects as well. I set up the #travelbookclub on Twitter, continued with the work I’d begun for Kaifeng Ya Ge School in China and slowly began to form relationships with travel brands.

The money I earned in Qatar helped me to pay for a ticket to South Africa in April for our friends’ wedding, followed by a two-week road trip to Cape Town. Although this coincided with a failed interview (via Skype) I was beginning to realise that life is full of ups and downs and you just have to appreciate the good times, of which there are many.

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Playing hide and seek with the locals

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last year and it’s something that I always think about travelling too, is that just when you’re at your very wits end something always turns up. It was the same when I got back from South Africa and a friend recommended doing some shifts at a paper down in London while I continued to apply for jobs. I started there in May and continue to do it now. Working night shifts isn’t always ideal but it allows me to pursue the other things I enjoy during the day, while not constantly worrying about how to make ends meet. It also means that I can take time off to pursue other things, which is what I did when I got the opportunity to report in Zambia as part of an IRP fellowship.

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Making new friends

So looking back on the last year how would I describe it? Hmm… Has it been what I expected? No. Has it been easy? Definitely not. But it has given me the freedom to try new things. If I had got a steady job as soon as I got home I’d never have had the opportunity to work in Qatar, to go on safari in South Africa and to spend 10 days interviewing people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. In fact, in a year when I’d intended not to travel at all, I actually ended up having the opportunity to explore three new countries.

And would I change anything? No. Taking a career break to travel solo was not only an incredible experience for what it gave me during those nine months I was away from home. It also gave me the freedom when I returned. It made me braver. It made me pursue new things. It allowed me to continue to travel and have experiences I never thought were possible. It gave me a new way of looking at the world: that things aren’t always going to go the way you planned and sometimes that’s just better.

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10 responses to “One year on…

  1. It’s great to hear an experience like this. A lot of people are in the mentality that they can just get a job at the drop of a hat (myself included!). It’s getting a lot harder these days though! This post is incredibly inspiring and I wish you the best of luck. Also, I’m insanely jealous of your Olympics-obsessed London. I love the games. 🙂

    • Thanks Amanda, I would never want to put someone else off from taking a trip, as it’s such an incredible experience but I also think it’s important to be honest about what it’s like when you get home. Glad you enjoyed the Olympics too!

  2. I’m yet to experience “post-gap year life” so I can’t relate, but I have started over several times and coming back to what is considered “real life” is never easy after travelling. What an amazing year though – ups and downs is what life’s all about and you’ve had some great opportunities. A really inspiring post Em. Good luck with everything!

    • Thanks Megan! Yes, it’s been an up and down year for sure, but I’m definitely so thankful for all of the great opportunities I’ve had. Looking forward to following the next bit of your adventure:)

  3. It was like reading about my post-RTW life! I even got hired for a job early on but couldn’t hack the normality of it, it was crushing. We (mostly Chris!} made do by cash in hand jobs like gardening, odd jobs and the like. Then we went to an open day at the college and ended up enrolling! They even paid us to go! I’d have never have quit my previous life to do this but having the freedom to go back to school was amazing. Since then, our freedom has allowed us to house sit and that has taken us to France and Switzerland.
    In my experience, something always comes up, yes we’ve been so skint but I’m less stressed about returning from the next big adventure!
    Plus, I’m like you, I have no regrets whatsoever in quitting my old life back in 07. Life is so much more interesting now and what memories we have!

  4. I think it is so wonderful you are taking chances in life. You never want to live with any regrets and life is short. Seeing the world is something you will never forget! It is too bad more people don’t do it. I had so many miserable jobs in my life too. I always like the Nike quote Life’s short. Play hard . Enjoy it! There is way too much stress in the modern world. For me travel is always my escape!

      • Great thinking! I think it is wonderful to take as many chances as you can while you are young, especially before children/family if that is in the cards. I’m glad my husband and I dated forever, traveled like mad and then had children. It is harder now with kids but somehow I still manage to follow my dreams and pursue my love of travel. Helps having a fabulous life partner! 🙂

  5. It was very interesting indeed to read your experience .We always fear something like that before taking that kind of decision. But at the end, even if it’s sometimes difficult, all in all, you made the good choice 🙂 I’m going to leave my job at the end of june to go and live with my boyfriend in the UK. I know I will be struggling to find a job but I still want to take the chance 🙂 Have a nice day !

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