Well, kind of.
After a few months at home in Illinois, my plan has drastically changed several times. Like I said from the beginning, it was all subject to change. And change it did.
I originally planned to cycle out to Seattle, but a visit to the doctor showed that I have tendinitis and patellofemural pain syndrome. Two things that will not go away without rest and would only get worse if cycling 60 miles a day.
So I changed the plan to canoe down the Mississippi River. A few weeks before the potential leave date, I started doing more research. I read safety advisories on the Minnesota DNR website, I looked at message boards, and finally, I posted on a message board for advice. From people who seem to be avid paddlers, I was strongly recommended not to take on this kind of trip with my lack of experience. Most people said to wait a year, get more experience, and then possibly try it. All of this advice changed my mind quickly. When I became very nervous about the trip, I decided it was a good time to put this trip off.
My first two options were now out of the picture. I knew I wanted to be home for Christmas and was thinking about cheap options. “Well,” I thought, “Central America is pretty close and cheap.” Within a few days, I had purchased my plane ticket down to Panama. My only plan at this point is to travel north. I do know that I will be sleeping in the airport in Panama after a 1:30am arrival, but no plans for the next day yet.
My lack of planning actually causes me to be a bit nervous. I’ve been in a comfort zone for about 10 months now. A solid, secure life living in small town Kansas and now back in Illinois. Most days are pretty similar. I’d work during the week, come home and make dinner, go out with friends sometimes, and maybe make a side trip on the weekend. 10 months is a long time to get back into this life, so thinking of landing in a developing country again is actually a bit scary. I’m leaving behind my constant life in the US for an adventure with continual change. It’s exhilarating.
I’ve spent many hours trying to figure out what I want out of this trip to Central America. I spent 5 months traveling in South America and I loved it; it was one of the funnest times of my life. But this time, it feels different. I had a job to go back to before. I knew that I had a certain amount of time to spend traveling and was assured of an income. However, this time it’s not the case. I have a certain amount of money at the moment with no guarantees in the future. My time is in my hands, just like I had saved towards for years.
With this comes responsibility. I obviously love to travel. But in many ways, travel is self-centered. If I had an unlimited amount of money, I could easily travel for years upon years and be happy. But what good does that do? What would be my legacy? I’d have amazing experiences but nothing to show for it afterwards besides great memories. I want to leave behind something bigger. I want to be known for more than just traveling to a lot of places.
Now is the time to make a decision. I can travel and have a great time. Or I can start taking steps towards a new career, towards a more fulfilling future. At this point, I really don’t know what I am meant to do for a career. I have an interest in many but will never know until I try them out for myself. Microfinance is one career that has been in the back of my mind since 2011.
I was living in Prague and happened to pick up a book called “The Blue Sweater”. I dove right in, reading about the author’s experiences in Rwanda and other countries in Africa. She was providing microloans to local entrepreneurs to empower them to improve their own lives. It wasn’t a donation or a charity. She was providing resources and support for the entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. People can truly do amazing things if they’re provided the right opportunities.
After many hours of searching around for opportunities, I’ve found a few prospective non-profits where I can gain experience in the field in Central America. I’m hoping to learn hands-on and to really understand the organization and how the field works. There is no doubt that the sector has its own unique challenges, but I am excited to dive into a (hopefully) small organization to learn the industry from the ground-up.
Plane ticket is booked for Saturday and I’m in talks with a few microfinance organizations at the moment. I’ll consider that a solid plan for now!