My Life of Travel: What I learned & Why Traveling Isn’t Everything
How I managed to travel this much? That’s a question I’ve been asked more than once…
Today I’m going to tell you a really wild story. Chronologically from where everything began — I promise.
Traveling has always played a central role in my life. It was always something that deeply motivated and fulfilled me. But, traveling is only a puzzle piece in the game of life and traveling alone won’t make for a happy person, there’s actually a lot more to it — which is something I found out the old school way, called “learning by doing”.
Part of the story is my “classical career path” which I completely threw over board in the end. But let’s start from the beginning.
Today I’m going to let you in on how everything started and what I’ve learned along the way! I hope you’ve brought some time! Sit back and enjoy!
So, where exactly did everything start?
I grew up in a small town in the Rhineland near Cologne-Bonn with my brother Daniel who is 7 years older than me and my two travel-crazed parents. I enjoyed an idyllic, happy childhood in the countryside. During my high school years I noticed that I was very hands-on oriented. I didn’t see the point in learning stuff that no one directly uses in everyday life. And that, in my opinion, applied to quite a few of my classes.
Luckily my parents aren’t the kind of people who tell their kids: “You have to go to college if you ever want to get into a decent career”. So, after 10th grade I switched to a three year secondary school of economics where, after completion, I received something called a “Fachabitur”, a college-qualifying secondary-school diploma, while at the same time receiving training to be a Foreign Language Assistant in English and French. Not only was I much more successful here than at my previous school, I also gained a ton of confidence when it came to taking things into my own hands. My training was designed so that way I could enter the work force right after getting my diploma.
At this point I took my first big individual trip with my then-boyfriend — to California! We took a car from Las Vegas through L.A. and San Francisco (along highway no.1) all the way to Sacramento in order to visit a friend of his who was doing a semester abroad at the German electronics and engineering giant “Siemens”.
Hands-on is way cooler than boring old theories. Even organizing your own trip is fun and exciting — and it works!
Nonetheless — I didn’t feel quite ready to get into the job. But I also didn’t want to do any more studying. I didn’t even know what to study at that point and was afraid to be forced to learn stuff again that I wasn’t going to use in real life. Organizing a trip, that’s something that I liked doing.
My dad, who was an avid reader of the Cologne newspaper, one day showed me an employment ad — an international tradeshow corporation was looking for people to join their team at the “Koelnmesse”, a big German event company. Tradeshows & Events. Pretty cool, I thought, and thanks to my diploma in economics I sailed right through the hiring procedure.
The “Koelnmesse” had roughly about 400 employees back then, not a small company, so my training was pretty diverse. I was constantly changing departments, had to go to school for training every now and then and found myself in my first year of training to be a “Management Assistant in Event Organization”. Training was great and I was finally starting to make my own money. So far, so good.
A year before I was supposed to finish my training they were already trying to get me to commit to a marketing team that I was supposed to join after my training was finished. I wasn’t exactly happy about that. There were still other departments I’d planned on getting to know. Worried that they wouldn’t offer me a job after I finished training with them, I surrendered.
So, after my time as a trainee came to an end, I found myself holding down a permanent project assistant job at tradeshows and events concerning all things: “Home, Garden & Hobbies”.
I was in my early 20’s, had my first permanent job and my first apartment. It didn’t take long for me to grow bored with what I had. Even though it’s nonsense, I thought that if I didn’t immediately go out and do something, I’d still be sitting here 40 years from now.
Apparently I belong to the type of people who quickly grow bored, who like to learn and who love new challenges.
Traveling. That’s what inspired me and made my eyes glow. One of my girlfriends, who I had known from my training, and I went to Egypt for a week. With a ship over the Nile river! What a landscape, I tell you…
I found myself being inspired by our 26 year old travel guide on the ship. She had been cruising around the world on various ships. My friend and I started to have these crazy fantasies of traveling around the world.
No sooner said than done. Hardly back, we in fact started planning for our trip and I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed doing so. Of course everybody in my down-to-earth environment thought I was crazy. After all, I had such a great job and surely a great future ahead of me.
When something really inspires me and I have a goal in mind, I immediately jump into action and do everything in order to reach it.
I was saving every cent I could and after only being a permanent employee there for a year, handed in my notice at work, giving up my permanent job (actually, I let my contract expire which would have otherwise been indefinitely extended) in order to travel around the world for 6 months.
Goodbye party that my friends put together for me
So, I just easily dropped everything? Not quite! A small, cautious part deep inside of me said: Stop! What are you going to do when you get back? What if you can’t find another job?
In order to calm myself and those around me I signed up for classes at a college in Düsseldorf upon my return — I was going to get an MBA, majoring in tourism. What a fabulous plan! If I was going to get an MBA, I thought to myself, then at least with an emphasis I could get excited about!
But first we were off on our trip around the world. We had purchased an around the world ticket to Thailand, Australia, Chile and Argentinia. For Australia we applied for a working holiday visa and I found myself helping out with the tomato harvest at a vineyard and working at the bar at a backpacking hostel at Cape Tribulation. I have tons of real pictures from this whole trip but no digital ones.
Nonetheless, here are a few of my favorites:
Thailand — Hiking through the jungle in the northern part of Thailand
Australia — Amazing! The “easy going lifestyle” made quite a lasting impression on me!
Argentina — since that was the „end“ of the trip, I unfortunately only have very few pictures. But who feels like taking non-stop pictures for 6 months anyway?
Backpacking rocks. Few belongings and tons of adventure make me happier than lots of money and security. Yes, they are out there, — other, non-conventional life philosophies.
After this trip I was of course even more so infected by the backpacking virus, and for the first time asked myself how to connect my passion for traveling with my job. Because traveling alone just wasn’t going to work… after all, it did require money.
Maybe I could work on a cruise ship? I felt like I was slowly starting to go crazy, but eventually made a decision to go to college after all. It couldn’t hurt to get even smarter, right?!
So that way travel doesn’t become a sort of „escape“, you also have to do something in real life that you’re passionate about. You do need to make some kind of money to survive.
After college I found myself at the same crossroad as before: Go back to working? How can I find a fulfilling career that ties in with my passion for travel?
In order to mull things over, I once again decided to set off, this time all by myself to Panama and Costa Rica. Where did I get the money from?
While going to college, I shared an apartment with 3 other people, worked at a coffee shop by the name of “Knülle” and worked as a ticketing agent for a musical, allowing me to diligently save.
Costa Rica — Did I really used to smoke? I can’t even remember …
Escaping the Turtle-Camp in Costa Rica and driving to Panama — Bocas del Toro
After my return one thing was for sure: I needed a job! This time I actually went through with it and sent my application as Shore Excursion Manager to several cruise ships. I thought that was way cooler than working in entertainment/events on the ship, after all I wanted to be able to go on land too.
Fully committed I submitted my application and was able to land an interview.
Of course I also I applied to other jobs at the same time. During this period of my life I spent a lot of time focusing on myself, trying to figure out what I liked, what I wanted to do and in what type of field I wanted to work in.
Then, I specifically went looking for these types of companies and jobs trying to gather as much information as I could from people who were working in that field.
Literally three days before my interview on the ship I was offered a job as an event manager at the StepStone online job market — including travel opportunities!
Here I organized our appearances at tradeshows and events like the graduate convention, connecticum, academia, “Zukunft Personal” (a German tradeshow specializing in Human Resources) and other events as well as built up an online academy and hosted a series of seminars. The good part: I always got to be on-site.
The job was extremely versatile, handling the events section also meant advertising the events online on the homepage and though banner advertisements, designing flyers, posters and brochures or sales material, copywriting emails, approving press releases, ordering advertising materials etc.
The company also had a flat hierarchy and was pretty unconventional, so it was easy to bring in and implement your own ideas. It also helped that all of my colleagues were a little on the crazy side — and therefore a great fit for me.
It pays to really focus on yourself. What do I actually want, what’s a good fit for me? The chances of getting there are extremely high! It’s your life — your path.
For a long time the job was perfect for me and also challenging. I was regularly on-the-go and most of all learned a lot about how an “online company” works. But of course I didn’t think 4 weeks of vacation was enough for my passion for adventurous LONG DISTANCE TRAVELS…
At that time I was still living in my beloved 4 person shared apartment in Düsseldorf, the same one I had already lived in during my college years. We always had lots going on and participated in tons of activities in our spare time. It was an awesome time.
I had some really great friends in Düsseldorf that I first had to find again in Berlin, an arduous task.
Having a steady paycheck meant that I could of course keep saving money for my trips. During my yearly vacation, which I mostly took during the winter months, I’d spend 3–4 weeks traveling to South Africa, Vietnam, China, Florida, etc.
Vietnam — A small hut like this was plenty for me. It’s only for sleeping anyway.
South Africa — A really great country. Cape Town is one of my favorite cities worldwide.
China — Oh man, what a rad trip …
Florida! I’d brought along my inline skates from home just so I could skate through Key West.
Traveling long distance during your annual vacation is doable but exhausting. The problem’s not money but rather the lack of time.
I lasted a whole 3.5 years at StepStone. The company was always moving forward — exactly my style! I also liked the field I was in. Uniting companies with job seekers. So far so good?
Me winning 2nd place at a StepStone go-carting team event — as the only girl.
My favorite colleague Simone and I at StepStone. We’re testing out the shirts for the tradeshow hostesses.
After 3 years I slowly but surely started feeling the itch to once again spend some time traveling, longer and without feeling rushed. I also wanted to keep advancing myself professionally. But where would I go?
The only thing creeping into my head again was the fucking cruise ship. Crazy me, eh?!
Nothing stays like it is. Even if you get to a point where everything seems “perfect”. You keep growing and after a while something that was once perfect, suddenly doesn’t quite suit you anymore.
After all, there are more aspects to life than just working or traveling. So where did I stand relationship-wise? Well, after having a relationship here and there I got to the point where I declared myself incapable of maintaining a relationship. How would I, — someone as restless as myself — ever be able to lead a traditional “Child-House-Job-Life”? I just didn’t think I could. Was there anybody out there willing to accept that?
During my last year at StepStone I met Marcus. He had just joined the international online marketing team and I was still working in event management.
We got along suspiciously well, but both agreed to not wanting to have a relationship. So, we just kind of did our thing… for six months. Only when our friends & colleagues started to doubt the whole no relationship thing, did we finally say — alright, if it makes you feel better, then I guess we’re together.
Then, smash… Marcus gets a cool job offer in Berlin that he can’t turn down. Game over for us?
I was doubtful, we hadn’t been together for very long. Would it really work out? I was struggling on the inside: Just the thought of leaving Düsseldorf, my apartment and friends as well as StepStone really hurt. These thoughts were joined by thoughts like “Well, after 3.5 years, it might be time to try something new anyway”.
Then, a sign: I got a job offer in Berlin as well.
Matthias, who had also been working at StepStone, left to go Berlin to work at an online company called Searchmetrics, who, coincidentally were looking for a new marketing communication & event manager at the time. Their previous communication & event manager wanted to go to DÜSSELDORF to be with her boyfriend.
I’m not lying here, only 3 weeks after Marcus left; I was also on my way to Berlin. A step that was pretty overwhelming at the time, but — in hindsight — it was the perfect move.
Be brave. Be spontaneous. Don’t be afraid to engage in something you didn’t plan, even if it means you have no idea where it’ll lead.
Not a ship after all — but a new step in my career. Not a bad choice, I was still traveling a lot professionally and this time even internationally! Bingo. SEO- and Online Marketing, Conferences, Trade Shows & Events. The dmexco in Cologne, a rooftop event in New York or an online marketing conference in Seattle — I was there!
Seachmetrics team building event in Berlin. I was always lucky when it came to my colleagues. I am a nice person, after all. Crap, am I the only one who’s not cooking but drinking champagne?
My travel-crazed favorite colleague & friend, Natalie, who meanwhile works as an online marketing manager at the airline AirBerlin. No idea who gave us those silly glasses and hat.
Thank God this company was anything but narrow-minded. Coming to work wearing flip flops or a hoodie? No problem!
The thing here was that we were initially a very small marketing team, meaning that besides handling tons of events, I also took care of other marketing tasks.
Oh yeah, in the meantime I logically spent my yearly vacation in Mongolia and Tanzania. Money? Not a problem! I mean, I was working.
Mongolia — Steppe and Gobi desert. Something different for a change. Horseriding in Mongolia?
Tanzania — my first big trip together with Marcus. We decided to take a Safari, successfully climbed the Kilimanjaro and hopped on a flight to Zanzibar afterwards. An intense trip.
So, back to my job at Searchmetrics. Due to the multitude of tasks and the growth of the company we hired someone new and I was able to choose a field. In order to keep growing I gave up the event field and took over PR and the marketing campaigns via on- and offline channels and mailings.
At the same time it meant I wasn’t able to be at as many events and spent more time in the office, obviously. Something was bothering me. But what? Only then did I finally get to the bottom of the real problem.
It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like working and only wanted to lie at the beach, lazily basking in the sun all day. It wasn’t my job itself that bothered me but the general conditions. Every day the same office. The same people. The same hours. What I wanted was simply more autonomy. I was bored and felt myself being slowed down by the never changing working conditions. One day when we had a marketing meeting outside at a café, the ideas just poured right out of me. Coincidence? I think not.
Any time the wish to travel popped up in me, my inner voice called out to me: You need some more freedom & autonomy in your life. This voice had been quiet for a long time but now started to grow louder and louder.
The wish to travel can also have other causes and deeper reasons…
Listening to my heart wasn’t easy. I had gotten so far in my career. I couldn’t just drop everything and start from zero, could I? No way. Could I really? It’s just not normal. I’m 30 years old now and have been at Searchmetrics for 2 years. More freedom? What the heck was I supposed to do?
Listening to your heart is hard. Who dictates what’s normal anyway? It didn’t make sense to chase after something that didn’t make me happy.
Luckily I’m very solution oriented and took a very practical approach to the problem — I just wrote down my ideas. Time to take some time off? I knew that traveling for a while might get me on the right track. So I asked for some unpaid leave — and got approved for 2 months.
At the same time I tried following my heart. And since the only thing I could think of — you guessed it — was the cruise ship, I just sent out another application, just like that. This got the ball rolling.
What I blended out, however, was another part of my „wheel of life“. My relationship with Marcus. Everything was going great between us, surely I couldn’t risk that, could I?
I wanted everything. More freedom in my professional life, more traveling and of course, a relationship. One of my girlfriends from Berlin brought me back down to earth. Everything? Not possible. No matter what you decide on: There’ll be a price to pay. You have to get your priorities straight.
The question is: What will you regret more at the end of your life?
No matter the problem: Face it head-on. Not only will you feel better, it also gets the ball rolling and gets you out of the whole victim mentality.
I didn’t let up, mustered up all my courage and actually did end up signing a contract on the ship this time. At the same time I had no intention of making a decision and was trying to convince Marcus that he’d just have to wait for me for 6 months. After all, I did come to Berlin just for him.
Was a ship the solution to more autonomy? Not really. My girlfriends thought just the opposite — that I was going to be more constricted than ever. But, at the moment it was the only thing making my heart go “Yeeeees”.
Summed up — I quit my job, signed a contract on the ship with just enough time to squeeze in a little “R&R vacation” beforehand.
But, even here the ship wasn’t the solution, but just a band-aid for what really drove me in life — being “on the go”. For me the feeling is equal to being “alive” and “living”. Meaning I didn’t want to wait until I was 60 and retired but wanted to rather enjoy my life now, while I could.
Unfortunately you can’t always immediately and clearly hear the voice in your heart and yet it pays to follow it. Quite often it leads you down a different path than you would have imagined.
Shortly after, it turned out that my courage had paid off. The whole thing also got something rolling within Marcus. The fact that he allowed himself to get into what came next, showed that I had the right guy with the right “mindset” by my side — always good for a surprise.
For one, he got a little hooked on traveling himself after our trip to Tanzania. And secondly, he’d been itching for more autonomy himself for a while now. During our time in Berlin he had worked for several online companies like Daily Deal or Zanox and inspired by the startup scene in Berlin had always played around with the idea of self-employment and founding his own company.
Marcus and I at an Online Marketing Event in Cologne
He had his own business license and had worked on a few online marketing projects here and there on the side. I, for one, had never considered the option of self-employment.
His idea was suddenly to quit his job, go into business for himself and just start out as a freelancer in online marketing.
He’s way faster than me when it comes to making decisions. So, suddenly we quit our jobs at the same time and I found myself planning my small R&R, before my contract on the ship, with him!
Are you still with me? Our story is almost over. Not much longer to go!!
That’s how quickly the cards can be reshuffled.
The story after that would honestly make for another super long blog article like this one. But let’s try to wrap it up for today.
We took off to Southeast Asia and it didn’t take long for us to become completely engulfed by the idea of starting an online business together, meaning we would be able to live and work location-independently. We didn’t rest long but got started right away. And that was the beginning of our new life as Digital Nomads.
Since then, we’ve been to Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Italy, Spain, Brasil, Colombia, Curacao.
Berlin does remain our home base. By now we’ve met tons of inspiring digital nomads from all around the world and have a 1000 ideas for new projects.
I’m sure we won’t get bored anytime soon.
Here you can see some pictures from a few of the countries we visited.
Thailand — always a great place to visit. The best food in the world. Marcus working. The most beautiful islands?
Philippines — My absolutely favorite country in Asia. Here you can see a cute Tazir monkey on Bohol island
Indonesia — Gili Islands & Bali are two popular hotspots for backpackers.
Belize — Go Slow. Those who don’t know how to kick it back are definitely going to have a problem here. Caye Caulker Island.
Mexico. Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres. Iguanas or whale sharks, anyone?
Guatemala. My favorite country in Middle America. A top spot for learning Spanish or admiring active volcanoes. Here you can see Marcus getting ready to jump in the saddle at a horse ranch.
Honduras. Ever hear of Utila Island? It’s about time you did! Picture: A small turning maneuver on a quad.
Italy. It took me more than 31 years to finally make it to Italy for the first time: Gargano, Liguria and Bologna. Fun helium filled balloons at a market.
Feli and Marcus on the Carribean Island Curacao
Finally, following a goal and passion is well worth the trouble. It’s normal to make some detours. Don’t let anybody tell you that something’s impossible. Sometimes it just takes a while for the pieces to fall into place.
Alright, I hope you have somewhat of an idea of my story now. Whoever thinks I’ve never worked and just spend all of my time lazily lying on the beach is wrong. All I’ve learned is the result of hard work. I’ve financed all of my trips myself and was always ready to more or less start fresh and redefine who I am.
Something that I’ve never lost — thank god — is: My optimism and my zest for life. I never stopped believing in myself and in the good in people.
Traveling alone is not the answer. Life is made up of several areas that have to be in harmony with each other.
My goal in life:
Being in control and free in what I do. To live an unconventional life. To provide value to others through my work, to never stop learning and to, at the same time, see the world.
Thank you for reading!
You find more about me on www.feliciahargarten.com.