I started following up with one of my dreams which is writing my first book. Simultaneously I decided to record an audio version to get my mind and memory going. In this episode I talk about how a 6 week backpacking trip in Thailand in 2011 changed my life, how I made my final decision to leave everything behind and the adventure of the first 5 month traveling/ living in Africa.
And here is the beginning of my book (First Draft):
It was late summer 2011 when I decided to go backpacking in Thailand. For the first time in my life I decided to go by myself abroad without having any plans or bookings. A few weeks earlier I came across the word backpacking the first time and started to research it. Quickly Thailand landed on my radar as the number one spot as easy entry for backpacking. I read countless blogs and travel sites and fell in love with the idea of an adventure. I always felt drawn to real adventures but would’ve never imagined I could actually do it. And here it was. The opportunity to live an adventure. I checked my working schedule and decided to take 4 week off in October/ November 2011. My shift system had one week off every 5 weeks. Together with one week before and one week after those 4 weeks I got 6 weeks in total. Awesome.
Once that was set I booked a flight and that was it. I bought all the fancy backpacking equipment starting with a 65L backpack, daypack, mosquito net and so on. The day came quick and off I was. I didn’t speak much English at that time but I felt confident enough to go without any plans or bookings. Once arrived in Bangkok I made my way to the famous Khao San road and here my new life started to unfold. Today I don’t like this area anymore. Too much hustle and all those backpackers (ha!) but back then it felt like home away from home. So many people to meet and socialize.
I quickly booked my ticket to get south to the islands starting with Koh Tao. Once down there I took a diving course and got my advanced license within a week. Absolute amazing and well worth the money. From now on I was able to dive anywhere in the world and I did.
Again I met so many people and made many new friends. Some of whom I’m still in touch today. I remember meeting 2 guys who told me they’ve been traveling since 3 years. 3 years!! I couldn’t warp my head around that. The longer I traveled the more of such people I met. One to two years seemed to be normal and money was never a big issue. Life out here was cheap. After about 3 weeks I was on Koh Phangan and I must have read a book at that time that printed one quote into my mind. Till today I live by this quote. “Everything happens for a reason”. At that time I was just starting out to think about the bigger questions of life but that quote became the foundation of my future. Thinking back I’m actually impressed with myself knowing what journey it took to become who I am today and remembering that even back than as a newbie in life I already realized the value of those words without knowing their deeper meaning.
The night I wanted to leave Koh Phangan with a night boat has become one of the strong memories of that trip. It was like 10 PM when the ferry was supposed to leave and I went to the port on time. But the crew was asleep and the watchman told me that the boat isn’t gonna go tonight. It was late and most shops were closed. The little port town was almost like a ghost town. I remember thinking, okay, there is reason I’m in this situation. Instead of being worried I just took it with a pinch of salt and walked across the dark streets until a guy in a pub called for me. He was actually German and funny enough, he had a guest room for me upstairs. The next day I took the day ferry and made friends with a group of 4 guys. We became good friends and stayed together for the next 2 weeks. There was the reason I was looking for. If the night ferry wouldn’t have been out of service I wouldn’t have met those guys.
Many more incident like this popped up throughout the trip and I started to see the pattern. Since then I know that there is always a reason no matter how bad the situation is. Life teaches us lessons continuously and we just have to be open to them. Like one says. There are no failures in life, only lessons. This applies to every aspect of life. To every situation.
The 6 weeks passed by very quickly and I couldn’t believe how bad I felt when I had to return home. I didn’t want to leave this new life behind only to return into my boring old life but I had no choice. At least that’s what I thought.
Back in Germany my friends awaited me and we had a nice evening together. I was full of excitement and wanted to tell them about my adventure and experiences but quickly I realized that they weren’t really interested in it. I wanted to talk about the incredible people I met. About all the places people told me about that are out there in the world. About the endless freedom and adventure thats out there. But they just weren’t interested. And in retrospect everything they talked about was uninteresting for me. It felt like I was speaking a different language. That night I didn’t sleep well. I felt bad to be back. I felt stuck. I felt that I belonged out there. That there was so much more to be explored and discovered. I moved my king size mattress into the sitting room across my couch corner, supported it with a chair and started to watch travel videos on my big flat screen tv.
After going back to work for 2 days I couldn’t stand it anymore. My colleagues generally were more interested in my travels but still far beyond what I was imagining. The topics I wanted to talk about seemed to be super uninteresting for them. Again, I felt like speaking a different language.
On day 3 after my return to Germany I made the best decision of my life. I decided to leave.
From this point onwards I started to plan my exit. I read travel blogs that listed all the things you need to watch out for when leaving for a long term backpacking adventure and so I made my own checklist. First I looked into all my insurances and contracts to find out they cancelation deadlines. Most were between one and three month. I created an excel sheet and systematically went through all my monthly expenses. Once I had that in place I started to quit the once that had more than 3 month cancelation as I rather quit too early than too late.
I started to tell it my mother, friends and colleagues. I told them I’m planning to leave everything behind and go for 6 month abroad. My first plan was to go to Australia since it was the obvious choice for work and travel. Then I added more and more countries to my plan. Within weeks my plan grew from 6 month to 2 years. There was just so much I wanted to see and I wanted to do it all. I fed the idea to my mom bit by bit. Basically every time we saw each other I increased the length by 6 month. Like this she got used to the idea slowly. I didn’t want her to be worried though of course she was. Me quitting my well paid job and selling everything I ever had was not the exact idea she had for my future but she never tried to hold me back. In fact she’s been my greatest supporter throughout the years!
So the decision was almost done. I told everyone so I couldn’t pull out anymore. This gave me extra momentum to follow up on my decision. 3 month had passed since I returned and I had created a plan to travel around the world. It was timed with the weather cycles to make sure I wouldn’t visit any country in bad weather. But somehow it didn’t really want to work out. In my mind I wanted to leave after all the big German holidays were over because I was going to work on those days and there was big tax-free cash to be made. But suddenly it seemed like the next holiday was always just a month away and so I had to draw a line on one point because I really wanted to leave and chasing the money would never make me leave. So I did. I set my deadline to July 2012.
Once I had the deadline in mind I looked back into my around the world plan and noticed that India, the place I wanted to start, had rainy season from July till September. Ideally I wanted to go to India earliest in September and so I started to look for another option before India. Looking at the world map my attention was caught by the one continent I didn’t even consider for my travels yet. Africa.
There wasn’t much information about traveling in Africa but the bits I found made me assume that it was possible. I found a tour that would go from Nairobi to Cape Town in 2.5 month but I never liked the idea of going with a group tour. So I looked up the tour itinerary and figured that I could just travel the same way by myself. Though I wasn’t really sure if that was safe so I decided to book my flights according to the tour date. Like this I could still book the tour last minute if I would change my mind.
The moment of truth was in February 2012. I was sitting late at night in front of my computer and my mouse was hovering over the payment button from a flight booking website. This one click would now permanently change my future. It took me a few minutes before I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and clicked the button. Booked.
I just booked a flight to Nairobi in Kenya! Of all the places in the world where people would start their world travels I choose to start in Kenya. Now my mom was definitely worried and I had to do my best to present facts that it was safe to go. Actually I wasn’t even convinced myself yet. Only like 2 weeks before my flight I actually found train maps of East Africa and that made me finally decided not to take the tour and go by myself. I thought if there are trains I will be able to travel. And I was right.
After booking my flights things happened fast. I started to go through my excel sheet and quit all the insurances and contracts that needed 3 month notice in advance. My work only needed one month and I still wanted to get all the bonus holidays and nightshifts so I kept it for myself for another month before making it official. To my surprise everyone was really supportive and encouraged me. My shift leader, to the HR office and even the production manager, all really supported my decision.
At the same time I started selling all my stuff in my apartment. Most things were bought by my friends and even today they still have my couch, shelfs, lamps and other things. I always smile when I visit them and spot one of my old belongings.
During the last two weeks I managed to sell my 3 year old car. I had bought it new and made quite a big loss on it. But I didn’t care. I was happy it all worked out. I also remember the day I sold my bed. I had a couch-sufer staying with me and suddenly we both had to sleep on the couch! Pretty funny situation. My apartment became emptier by the day and a friend actually wanted to take it over from me. So during my last two weeks I started living in the guest room of a friend while helping my other friend to move into my old apartment. It all worked out perfectly. The timing for all of this couldn’t have been better.
The weekend before my flight I had nothing left but my backpack. All the stress and pressure was gone. Just one last thing was left to organize. A big good by party. And I mean big. We set up two big tents from the fire fighters in the garden of a friend, got the loudest music system available and bought a car load of drinks. My friends house was inside a forest and it was a perfect spot for a big party. Everyone I ever knew was invited and we had a massive party with 150+ people. My work colleagues, fire fighter colleagues and all my friends came and turned this evening into great memories.
The last two days I spent with my family and then the day had come. 10th June 2012.