If We Can Do It, So Can You with Mariah Friend from The Barefoot Beat

A New Year always brings with it new resolutions and if you’re planning to travel more in 2014, especially if you’re thinking about travelling solo, then check out my interview with Mariah from The Barefoot Beat. I don’t know about you, but her story makes me want to immediately jump on a plane!

1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year/trip? Was it a difficult decision to make?

I decided to take a gap year to travel around the world after feeling burned out and unhappy with my career. I had been working the overnight shift as a nurse in the intensive care unit for almost three years. I considered pursuing a Master’s degree, or joining the Peace Corps to get out of my “rut,” but neither option gave me the freedom I craved.

I have always loved travelling and in 2011 after taking a month long vacation in Europe, I realized I wanted to do it long-term. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a difficult decision for me at all. Travelling is a catalyst for me, a way to grow and stretch, to push beyond personal limits. I knew it was something I was passionate about and that it was the exact change I needed to re-focus my career and life goals.

2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?

Most of my friends and co-workers were reluctantly supportive. Unfortunately, the United States has a very strong work mentality. Many people couldn’t comprehend my choice to leave a successful, well-paying career for something as vague and unknown as travelling the world. I received a lot of comments asking how I could afford it, why I was travelling alone, etc. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about solo female travel and my safety was a frequent topic of concern.

3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?

I’m still on my around the world journey! I have been travelling for almost nine months now and I hope to continue for another six. I began travelling in the U.S, visiting old friends and saying goodbye to family. In June I spent a month in Mexico travelling by bus with my sisters. I spent the next three months in France and Spain doing Workaways with a short two week trip to Morocco. I’m currently in Ghana, where I’ve been volunteering with a non-profit organization teaching English.

4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?

I saved about $20,000 before I quit my job to travel. About six months prior, I moved out of my apartment to live with my mom and save money on rent and other bills. I’ve never accumulated credit card debt and I’ve been driving the same car for 10 years, avoiding a car payment. The only bills I had after leaving my apartment were student loans and daily living expenses.

I recently started receiving some small payments for advertising on my travel blog; however I have not been working or earning a fixed income during my travels. I have pursued Workaway opportunities and stayed with couch surfers, which has helped to keep my travel costs to a minimum. I also discovered “car-sharing” in Europe which is much cheaper than travelling by train or air.

5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?

I’ve been travelling alone, making friends along the way. Sometimes I meet other travellers and we’ll spend a few days or a week travelling together, but that’s rare.

6. What is your travel style? (Ie. Budget hostels/Mid-range hotels/Luxury travel – less is more, travelling slowly/pack in as much as possible)

I’m definitely a budget traveller. I prefer to travel slowly and to spend as much time with locals as possible, so couch surfing and volunteering through Workaway has been the best option for me. I’m interested in getting to know not just a place, but the culture and history of the people, local traditions and food. For me, people make or break a destination so I’m always looking for ways to interact and discover something new from a local perspective.

7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?

I’ve done a few tours in the past, but I haven’t really enjoyed the experience. They are usually overpriced and I prefer to use a guide book and to go at my own pace. Free walking tours are always a great way to hit the highlights and then return again on my own for a more in-depth discovery.

8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?

Travelling has given me the courage I needed to pursue my own path. It’s given me time to re-prioritize, and to become more creative. When I’m back in the States, it’s easy to accept the consumer mentality and to get caught in a vicious cycle of working only to buy more things. This life style was becoming suffocating for me. Making a career break and focusing on myself instead of just my work has given me a chance to fully inhale and appreciate all of the little things in life.

9. And were there any downsides?

One of the downsides is a lack of stability. While this is one of the benefits to constantly being on the move, it can become tiresome. Nothing is permanent when you are only carrying your backpack, travelling from place to place. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and it’s been hard to say goodbye to them, not knowing if we’ll see each other again. Everything is transient on the road and sometimes I crave consistency and routine.

10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?

I received an email from someone who was considering taking a year off to travel. I was surprised when she told me she had been crying every day after deciding to quit her job and leave her life in California. I think doubts and nervousness are a normal part of making any big change, however these shouldn’t outweigh the excitement and anticipation you feel.

There are a lot of bad days on the road, a reality many people don’t discuss. Small problems and inconveniences can be magnified when you are alone, homesick and tired. Add language and cultural barriers to the mix and travelling can be stressful and challenging. Make sure you are prepared for the lows as well as the highs.

However, even on my worst days when I am exhausted, haven’t showered in three days and can’t find anywhere to sleep, I can say with full confidence I’m content and happy with my choice to travel long-term.


If you would like to follow Mariah’s adventures, check out her website, say hi on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.