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The Urge to Work After Months of Unemployed Travel

Epiphany: It only took 4.5 months of travel to get to this point, but suddenly… I’m looking forward to working again! GASP!

“I was wondering if it was all starting to get old,” my friend wrote to me, “all that wandering.”

The flame of desire to work.
The flame of desire to work.

Across the oceans right now, former students are pulling all-nighters to finish term papers and raise those GPAs up before Boston Winter Break.

Across the Earth, former co-workers are bubbling in Term, Behavior, and Effort Grades for each of their one hundred and twenty four students.

And me? Well, I am on the Southern Thai island of Ko Lanta, looking out at the cloudy ocean, thinking of you all, and writing this. Hello!

“Have you been working while you’ve been traveling these months in Asia?” an old friend who recently got in touch emailed.

Me, thinking about my future.
Me, thinking about my future.

The answer is complicated. On the surface, I suppose I’m just another indolent backpacker. But in reality, I have been chugging away at a multi-part mini-career.

Every single day for 4.5 months that I have been physically able after doing my exploring, I have sat down with my computer to write stories that I hope will be enjoyable and perhaps even helpful to those who read them. This gives me great joy!

I have also been online networking like a crazy woman to get my site out there and begin to set up educational exchanges like the thrilling Ghana-Boston student penpal trade.

Finally, I’ve also spent at least an hour each day talking with former students online, checking in, chatting, and counseling them through hard times in school.

But that’s really not enough now, is it?

A new vision for Utopia is emerging in my little noggin: a combination of English teaching, writing, and traveling. Might this actually be possible and sustainable for my future? The upcoming three months teaching in a youth center in Ghana while trying to write articles for them and myself will be the moment of truth! And I can’t wait.

Last night in my hotel there was a jarring overabundance of British and South African twenty year old tourists jumping off the roof into the pool, so I spent some time instead playing with the crazy cute kids of the Thai hotel staff.

Then my biological clock and teacher nostalgia kicked in simultaneously and caused me to nearly pass out, so I headed to the dark beach for a long night walk.

Ko Lanta at night.
Ko Lanta at night.

Yes, it’s safe, don’t worry.

Every ten feet in Ko Lanta, there’s another softly glowing pack of lights for another beach restaurant. As you gaze down the curve of the shore, you see luminous green, orange, red, yellow, blue! The waves sigh in the background, and tiny translucent crabs scuttle to avoid your big bare feet.

I took a table in a lonely restaurant with a swirl on the table to match my cool shirt from Laos, and ordered noodles. The ocean was completely black except for ten diamonds of fishing boat lights at the very edge of the horizon.

“THEY have jobs,” I murmured, visualizing the men hauling the nets of light-lured fish into the boat so many miles from shore.

At exactly the same time, I felt deeply happy, and desperately lonely.

At exactly the same time, I felt like a massive waste of space, and like a young woman triumphantly finding her place in the world.

But above all, I felt profoundly grateful for the chance to be on this journey and to feel and experience all these things.

Right now behind me, a British boy is loudly Skyping to his mother: “This traveling thing is fantastic, but I’m quite keen to get on with my life now, you know?”

In just a few weeks I will be back in a classroom. Hooray!

In the meantime, I’ll gaze at this pearl-colored sea and breathe in deep.

But first, let me just nag one more former student to do his homework…


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Britany Robinson

Tuesday 10th of April 2012

I experienced these same kind of emotions while traveling and am having some sort of backwards combination of them now as I contemplate hitting the road again. It can be difficult to feel like you're putting "real life" on the backburner in order to see the world - but at the same time, it's so worth it. Good luck with your teaching job in Ghana, can't wait to read about it!


Tuesday 10th of April 2012

Glad you can relate, and interesting reverse version of it! I've now written over 100 articles on the three months I spent volunteering in Ghana, so feel free to browse how it went here: !

Imported Blogger Comments

Thursday 27th of May 2010

Franny said... This is my favorite post of yours so far. The extreme highs and lows of traveling alone are what make your experience so real and remind (or inform) us readers what it's really like out there. I love reading about what's going through your head on the trip, it's the most intriguing thing to read about. Xoxo

December 19, 2009 3:22 PM

mikehedge said... so neat =) .... maybe some kind of traveling school exists. you could work with a group of students on various trips to neat places.

December 19, 2009 10:33 PM

dave said... Being a regular of your blog, it will be sad to see that you will be ending your travels soon. On the other hand, I am also glad that you will be doing something you want to do.

All things great will come to an end I suppose.

December 20, 2009 12:34 AM

Kmo said... Whoo! Haven't been able to read all my daily travel blog posts in Google Reader for the past couple's keeping me busy! And I also thought I wouldn't be able to read yours at all (my comp kept redirecting me earlier this week!), so I was throughly surprised and delighted when my Internet allowed me to get to your blog again!

Now to say something that actually relates to your post: I can't wait to read your posts about teaching in the Ghana youth center!

So glad to be able to leave comments again!

December 20, 2009 1:49 AM

Lillie M. said... Thanks for all your comments! Rest assured: this blog WILL go on. Dave, chin up! Your reading will continue! Keep the responses coming :)

December 20, 2009 4:19 AM

Louisa said... I'm sure the stories you'll have about teaching in Ghana will be even better than the ones about backpacking. It'll be hard to top the frog golfing and ant toothpaste, but I have confidence. And I'm on the edge of my seat!

December 21, 2009 5:22 AM

Kane said... Hi Lillie,

The topic of 'work' in the context of an itinerant lifestyle is certainly an interesting one. Many people seem to have very fixed ideas about 'work' and 'holidays' - these categories exist in their minds as very distinct and mutually exclusive entities. For example, I had a girlfriend who seemed to take objection to my interest in the the book 'The 4-hour Work Week' - she apparently drew the conclusion that this meant I was not interested in working, which offended her sensibilities for a strong work ethic. This was however, quite an erroneous judgment to make, because I do in fact have quite a strong work ethic myself. The difference between us had more to do with the way we define work and the values that determine whether we achieve a sense of satisfaction from work or not.

December 30, 2009 6:17 AM

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