What It’s Like To Spend Your 27th Birthday Lost And Alone On The Other Side Of The World

Amy Zhang

I quit my teaching job at age 26. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, career-wise, which honestly terrified me. I just knew that teaching wasn’t for me.

Yet, I definitely didn’t want to be without an identity. After all, I had spent YEARS strongly identifying myself as a teacher. To suddenly strip myself of that without a backup plan, to suddenly be without an identity? The thought was terrifying. And what would people think??

I decided to try a new identity: International Backpacker. I would travel the world, have exciting adventures, and hope that this was the answer to all of my problems. Maybe I’d even make a career out of it, blogging and writing books about my travels and discoveries.

So, I packed up my apartment, stored my belongings at my childhood home, and bought a one-way ticket to China, the first stop on my solo backpacking trip.

The places I visited were incredibly beautiful and exotic: The Great Wall, the temples of Angkor Wat, the mountains of Vietnam. Yet 3 months into my trip, after countless hostel beds, solo meals, and temple tours, I grew weary of traveling. I wanted to rest, stay in one place, and avoid tourist destinations at all costs.

I vividly remember a moment in Laos when I tried to walk into a tour agency to book an elephant ride – something I felt I “should” do – and my body literally froze in place. As I stood there on the street, I physically couldn’t make myself walk in.

My body was trying to communicate an important message to me.

But wait, wasn’t this my adventure? Wasn’t I supposed to love this? If traveling wasn’t my answer, what in the world was?

I wasn’t quite ready to face the truth, so I kept traveling.

A few weeks later, just after my 27th birthday, I found myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, rummaging through the used bookstores that lined the backpacker-filled streets.

I was exhausted. Although I was telling myself I should be enjoying the sights, what I really wanted to do more than anything was to curl up in my hostel bed with a good book. But not just any book. I wanted to find a book that really spoke to my experience, a book that showed me I wasn’t alone, a book about a young woman who had broken off her engagement with her fiancé, summoned the courage to quit her job, and left everything to travel the world…only to feel as lost and alone as ever.

I wanted the book that would whisper to me, It’s ok. I’ve been there. I understand.

I remember staring at a dusty stack of novels when it hit me: I wasn’t going to find that book. Not here, not ever. Because the story I was searching for was my own.

I was supposed to bring this story into the world.

I was supposed to help women through this crazy experience we call our 20s.

And I didn’t want to do it from the road.

Gulp. The insight hit me like a ton of bricks.

I loved traveling, but I was never meant to be a backpacker. It just didn’t work for me. I wanted a cozy home with a desk where I could do my writing. I wanted my own kitchen where I could prepare my own meals, a stove where I could heat my own little pot of tea. I wanted to stay in one place, and build a new life for myself.

Which is exactly what I did.

I left my trip much earlier than planned and went home with a new determination. I had caught a glimpse of the career and life I truly wanted, and I was intent on creating that. Because I knew how painful it was to force-fit myself into roles that simply weren’t “me.” I was done trying to pretend I was someone I wanted. And most importantly, I was finally ready to face my fears and create the life I truly wanted, one step at a time. TC mark

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