Expat Chat | Daydreams In Paradise


Welcome back to Wanderlusting, our guest author series in which we invite other intrepid travellers to share their most memorable travel moments.

This week I’m thrilled to introduce you to Abby.

A period of travel, and a good pinch of entrepreneurship catapulted her from the depths of debt and unemployment, to the crest of a rewarding career. To anyone contemplating a period of travel, I urge you to take note.

Accept each challenge as an opportunity to transform yourself. Never allow yourself to be discouraged  – Paulo Coelho


Sitting down trying to write this was more difficult than I thought.

I’m not talking about “writer’s block” or anything like that. (In fact, I think that’s just a myth. Just write already – edit later if you think it’s crap.) I mean, writing was physically difficult because of the two rambunctious dogs jumping all over me, 120 lbs in all.

Also, my eyes are trying to close on me. I am exhausted from a long day of work, and the heavy fake eyelashes don’t help.

I was once terrified of dogs, thought I never wanted to work full-time again, and in a million years would have never believed that getting my hair and makeup done for a photo shoot was something I’d get used to.

And I owe it all to the time I took off.

I Owe So Much To Travel Watermelon

If I hadn’t ended up on a 20-month sabbatical, in my mid 30s, that took me whale-watching in Mexico, all over Europe, to Borneo for a month, and then exactly one year in a tiny fishing village in Costa Rica… Well, I fear I may have just stayed lost forever.

Flashback to October 2008: I had moved to LA from Las Vegas for a job at a national celebrity weekly before getting laid off just four months later. In a nutshell, I lost everything. I didn’t stand a chance, with the expensive rent I was tied to for a year, my single-woman self-esteem attached to my career, and the fact that I had barely started to settle in to my new city… let’s just say, it was a rough few months.

At first, I stayed home all day, eating Brie and watching Law & Order.

Then, on instinct, I booked a Cathay Pacific flight to Kota Kinabula, to visit an old friend living in Borneo. I didn’t really have the money, but I hadn’t had time to travel in so long. Once there, I started to feel alive again.

Driving around in a little tin box of a car, visiting one deserted beach after another, life stopped looking so bleak. In fact, I started to see slivers of magic.


I Owe So Much To Travel Borneo Sand

Soon after I got home, my TV broke, ending my Law & Order marathons. It was time to get out of the house. I landed in Europe for a month, and I went whale-watching in Mexico.

As broke as I was, I would have done absolutely anything to make the travel happen. I sublet my apartment to strangers, found ways to eat cheaply, read a lot of books. (Ok, ok, I admit to cracking after a few months and finding a clearance sale with a good deal on a TV.)

Eventually, my eternity-long lease finally ended, and I threw everything in storage and happily booked a ticket to Costa Rica “for a month.” My big plan was to then move in with my parents.

I love you, Mom and Dad, but thank a million stars in the sky that didn’t happen.

Have you ever felt with every bone in your body that you are doing the right thing? After a shaky awful year, I finally thought that something was right.

I Owe So Much To Travel Sunset Coco

Not that the universe was done testing me. I had a rough first month living too far out of town, with roommates that turned out to be horribly wrong for me.

Then I moved into my own little one-room house about the size of an SUV. It was perfect! Rent was $150 a month, and it had a huge deck about three times the size of the house, covered in thick trees. And it had a pool! An incredible little pool in the jungle. It was the most peaceful place I had ever lived.

On day four, I got robbed. Of everything. Oh, I curse Mario to this day!

Now that’s when people started to think I was done with this travel phase. “Enough, Abby,” they’d say. “Come home.”

But I was just getting started. I was still sad and a bit lost, but I had my self-confidence back, and I wasn’t going anywhere. My neighbors in my little barrio of un-lit dirt roads were as furious as I was devastated. They rallied around me until we were the best of friends – I slept at one’s house until I felt comfortable going home, another lent me a computer so I could work.

I was never alone again.


I Owe So Much To Travel Panama private island

Oh, yes. Work.

I’d now been unemployed for eight tortuous months. I had been freelancing as much as I could, but the recession being what it was and my LA bills being what they were, my debt was pretty intense.

But once I was relaxed and thinking clearly again, thanks to the “pura vida” life-style of Costa Rica, I began to see a little niche I can elbow myself into. The recession hadn’t hit Europe yet, and they were still spending money like crazy in media, including stories about the Hollywood celebrities I covered until I was so unceremoniously told not to.

But I wasn’t the only one. All of the LA reporters now barely getting paid? Might they want more money, too?

So I started a celebrity news agency, collecting gossip and feature stories from reporters in LA and ,with a partner in Prague, starting selling to weekly magazines and newspapers all over the world.

Yes, it took me to moving to Costa Rica from LA to get a business going with a  bunch of people living in LA.

I Owe So Much To Travel San Juan del Sur blue

We did quite well. And with my low rent and willingness to live in a house so small the shower was outside, I was debt-free in a matter of months.

By now, my whole life had changed. I had always been a night owl, but with no lights in the neighbourhood, we tended to go to bed early. And between the before-dawn howler monkeys waking up to eat and the fishermen throwing gear into their boats, I was usually up between 4 and 5 am.

And don’t forget the British editors calling about stories during their 9 am meetings. I remember sitting with my laptop in the dark, being grilled in the middle of the night by the now-defunct News of the World news team on Skype when it got super-quiet.

            “Abby, is that your mobile?”

            “No. That’s a rooster.”

I ended up staying there for a year to the day (minus one). After my robbery, I started feeding the largest stray dog (saguate) in the barrio so he’d sort of hang out and be my guard dog. He turned out to be such a wimp – and he had baggage.


I Owe so Much To Travel Clouds Coco

By the time I received an out-of-the-blue email that ended up bringing me back to the US to be editor-in-chief of Vegas magazine, I had a dog who had wormed his way into my house (by now I was house-sitting a proper-sized home), and I had taken in his little friend, too.

I wouldn’t have been in the headspace to jump back into my career, in such a high-pressure, fast-paced job, if I hadn’t been so well-rested and focused after taking time off to see a little bit of the world. I might not have been open to it either, if I hadn’t learned to go with the flow during my 20-month break.

Those kinds of changes take time. And for me, they took removing myself from the yuckiness that was weighing me down.  Now I know – whether it’s reading about other people’s adventures online, a weekend getaway, or a miraculous few weeks off, travel is what re-energizes me.

Travel is what gets me my spark back.

✈ ✈ ✈

How has travel inspired your professional life? Share your comments with me below.