How a Solo Sojourn Around the World Saved My Soul
(Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of Women Lead Magazine. Pages 6-7.)
The Pre-Journey, Journey:
“You’re committing career suicide, you know” I hear over the speaker phone as I carefully packed a box of dishes. The concept was already familiar to me as a few other well-meaning friends and colleagues gave the same advice. I thought about those words while walking over to the kitchen to grab more plates when I responded, “But I’ll be committing soul suicide if I don’t do it…and right now I need to save myself.”
The confidence needed to walk away from everything I’d spent the past ten years building in order to globetrot around the world didn’t come easily at all. In fact, the four years leading up to this point were undoubtedly the most difficult part of the entire process. Fortunately the objective was always clear: I’ll visit many countries, immerse myself in other cultures, and (re)learn how to define happiness. I was mentally prepared to give up my house, car, and career, to make it happen, but I was blocked on how to get started.
So where did I go for support? Hollywood. I devoured everything I could find with the following plot: desperate American woman sets off on a solo journey after painful life event (ie., divorce, career failure, spiritual restlessness, etc). She travels from place to place, interacts with local people, has the epiphany which provides the needed clarity, then hops on a plane for home (sometimes with new beau in tow) ready to start the next chapter in her life. That was always exciting and motivating but I still didn’t have answers to the logistical questions like: how did she prepare financially, did she take a leave of absence or quit her job, who took care of her affairs back at home, what did she do with her stuff, how long did it take to get visas, and so on. It all became so overwhelming that I resorted to strategically distracting myself with other things in hopes that this crazy idea would eventually fade away.
That approach worked for a while until one day, on a beach in Costa Rica, a local friend looked me in the eyes and asked, “Sheree, are you happy with your life?” I didn’t even have time to formulate a response before the tears came rushing down. But apparently, at that very moment, something inside of me shifted. I suddenly realized that I had to push past the fear, even if it meant losing everything, in order to make this dream happen. Two weeks later I was planning my exit strategy from work and setting a budget for the trip. Six months later, I was sitting on my living room floor packing up my apartment and listening to my friend caution me against career suicide.
I spent the first three months going back and forth between Central America and Miami as I slowly transitioned out of the company that I managed and adjusted to my new reality. This was the first time in my adult life that I allowed myself to just be. (I didn’t even know that it was an option before.) And contrary to what many of my career-centered friends had hoped, there was no ambitious plan to write a book, or start a travel blog, or volunteer at an animal shelter, or teach English in Asia. I just wanted to (re)connect with who I was, or at least who I was supposed to be.
After Central America, I spent three months floating between Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and Japan. The colors, sounds, tastes, smells, and friendliness of the people woke up my overly-stressed Western senses within days. My face looked alive, my spirits were lifted, and I was finally feeling like myself again. My daily itinerary included waking up (without an alarm clock), researching a fun local experience, then going out into the world to find it. Some days my mission was as simple as exploring a new place then searching for the best foot massage and red wine in town.
After Asia I spent six months traveling between the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Some of the highlights included Shabbat dinner with a family in Jerusalem, dancing with locals in a township in Cape Town, participating in a mushroom festival near Milan, attending a local wedding in Angola, dancing and singing with gitanos near the Alhambra in Spain, exploring the (then) budding food and wine scene in Portugal with local journalists and aristocrats, sitting down with a Palestinian family in Hebron while listening to their stories, and much more.
To say that it was the best year of my life to date is a gross understatement. This soul-searching/soul-saving sojourn gave me more tools (and gifts) than I ever expected. I learned to trust my intuition more, I felt empowered beyond belief, my confidence got a serious boost, I made friends with people from all around, and most importantly, I finally felt completely comfortable in my own skin. And luckily for me, it did not stop there. For the past three years now, I’ve had the honor of reliving these experiences by helping others design their own life-changing journeys as well.
Sheree M. Mitchell has traveled to 40 countries, lived on three continents and speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and some Italian. In 2014, Sheree gave up a comfortable life and career in Miami to embark on an ambitious 14-month, five continent transformational solo sojourn around the world. Today she oversees Immersa Global and IG Scholar, two boutique firms that specialize in designing unique immersion experiences abroad for discerning travelers and students. Sheree regularly speaks at the New York Times Travel Show and serves as a tourism product development and marketing consultant for regional and national organizations. Connect with Sheree and Immersa Global on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @immersaglobal