After the end of a relationship, picking up extra bartending shifts, and moving four times in a year, I left New York for Tahiti.
In March 2017, I scored a $300 roundtrip to Amsterdam. Yep. Three-hundred-dollars. I would be going for five days alone, requiring me to take a day or two off of work.
The day before the flight was scheduled to depart, my family got hit with a minor emergency. With the days I had already requested off from work, I thought it would be a more conscious decision to opt out of my Eurotrip and head to upstate New York to spend time with my folks instead.
Nothing was glamorous about being up there; the mood was dark due to the recent news, and on top of that, Utica, NY got hit with the largest snow storm it had seen in years (google Stella blizzard if you’re curious). My dream Netherlands-getaway to smoke weed and eat stroopwafels had turned into being trapped inside a house with two dogs, pints of Ben and Jerry’s, a MasterChef marathon, and straight-up boredom (when I put it that way, it doesn’t sound too bad).
Between episodes of reality cooking shows, I would frantically googled Amsterdam which led me to a series of travel blogs. I came across one about a woman who had quit her job to travel long-term. I began to read her story of how she went through a bad breakup so she took a trip to the Maldives to heal, which she admitted was probably not a wise choice due to The Maldives being an expensive honeymoon destination. She returned back home and wanted to do something bigger, so she saved up, booked a one-way, and traveled for one year.
Something struck home.
“If she can do it, why can’t I?” was my first thought, followed immediately with a list of reasons why I couldn’t. I have a dog, most importantly; who would watch him? My sister, while she was not engaged yet, would 100% be getting married soon and it was something I needed to be around for. While the idea of spending Christmas in somewhere like Madagascar sounded amazing, I didn’t want to not be there for my parents on a major holiday.
I took the little bit of money I had saved for Amsterdam and immediately transferred it to savings. It was the first time my savings account had more than $5.00 in it, and I decided I’d add to it every week, whether the amount be big or small.
I returned to work the following week (for me, work was bartending) and had a new motivator to pick up extra shifts, but I was hesitant to tell people my plan. I remember telling a few bar regulars, and I started mapping out where I wanted to go. The original plan was to be gone for an entire year, and to save $30,000.
I still enjoyed my daily life, but from that moment moving forward, traveling long-term had become a strict hard focus. I deleted any unnecessary apps on my phone (including Spotify, but I admit I kind of regret that one). I deleted a food delivery service called Seamless which I believe should be considered sin as a New Yorker (that one got re-downloaded the most; try surviving a hangover with no pad thai), and I deleted Uber and vowed to only take the subway.
That summer, I found myself in a new relationship that, like most relationships, was jumped in too quickly and moving at a pace I could hardly keep up with. I remember telling him from the get-go it couldn’t work because I would be moving to Japan someday, or teaching in Italy, or maybe bartending in Thailand. I had dreams bigger than New York and a loose plan to tackle them. He said we could cross that bridge when we got there.
The following January, my sister did have an official wedding date, my savings had grown to be 5 digits (the most money I ever had my hands on in my life, but still nowhere near my goal), and I signed up for a TEFL course so I could possibly land a job while traveling. There was still no date set in mind, but progress was being made.
Then, a string of things threw me off track. My roommate had moved out and I was suddenly stuck with paying $2800 on my own every month in rent. My boyfriend lived in New Jersey, and we had agreed I could move in with him as long as I could get out of my lease. I had lived in this dream apartment of mine for six years, so it was painful, but I was in no position to be paying $2800 a month, especially with a secret round-the-world backpacking trip in the works. I sold everything; my brand new couch, my bed, my TV, my piano, lamps, a nightstand, a desk; you name it, and if I could put a price on it, it was sold.
A week before the move, my life decided to go completely off course, and I realized moving in with my boyfriend was actually a horrible idea as I was pretty miserable in the relationship. I called everything off, leaving me to be … well, homeless. I am fortunate to have such wonderful friends, and one immediately offered me her couch until I got back on my feet. I couldn’t have a dog in her apartment, so my parents stepped up to plate and offered to watch him while I was in this transition.
It was a tough time; I now owned next to nothing, other than a few random boxes of pots and pans in a storage unit, and two bags of clothes, and was sleeping on a couch feeling like an invasion of someone else’s space (they made me feel right at home so quickly that I ended up staying for four months). After about a week of crying, drowning myself in champagne and takeout Indian food, I decided to change my life.
You see, long before this crash and burn, I had grown to become incredibly depressed. Life felt like a hamster wheel. I woke up every day to give my dog a proper walk, chug the world’s strongest pot of coffee, and go work at a bar. I would come home to hang out with my dog and sometimes drink wine and stare at a wall. I felt that motivated woman I once was had completely vanished, and now I was just this block of atoms taking up space, simply existing.
I needed a change long before I admitted it, and now I needed it desperately. The month was April, my sister would be getting married in July, and like I said, I had to be home for Christmas. I decided January would be a good time to finally tackle my dreams, while giving me enough time to save up some extra cash. I woke up one morning, chugged my double espresso, and began searching flights to Tahiti. Why did I want to start in Tahiti? I’m not really sure. The idea of being alone on a beautiful island seemed romantic. I found the cheapest one way for the entire month of January, and I clicked book. I went to work that day, and as a New York bartender I made tips, and to the exact dollar, I made exactly back what the flight had cost.
That’s when it became real for me. It was really happening! I hadn’t told my parents yet and I certainly hadn’t told my bosses, but now my sacrifices had to double. I stopped buying coffee (a double espresso everyday is $3, verses a can of Café Bustello is $5). I stopped having late nights at random bars with friends. I stopped saying yes to every social event, and began to pick up even more bar shifts. I moved four times throughout the year to maintain short-term sublets, and with each move, my belongings dwindled. When I finally told my parents, they agreed to watch my dog, which was the biggest gift anyone gave me on this journey.
I quit my bar job on December 20th, 2018, and on January 15th, I headed to Tahiti. I sometimes still can’t believe I made it happen, but here I am. I never did hit the $30,000 mark in savings, and I don’t plan to be gone for an entire year anymore, but those details are miniscule. If you put a number and a timeline on everything, it will just throw you off track. The timing will never feel right, your bank account will never feel fat enough, but I promise you, once you stop making excuses and leave it all behind, you will never look back.
Kaitlyn spent two years planning her round-the-world trip.