The Struggles of an Un-American Dreamer
It’s amazing what one year outside of the US will teach you. You will learn things about yourself you never knew. Your priorities will change. Your standards will lower. You will grow into someone you hardly even recognize. It wasn’t that long ago, I was a typical American girl that vied for the “American dream”. A nice car, the trendiest clothes, highlights every 4-6 weeks, pedicures on a monthly basis, working towards buying that perfect house that I could fill with a bunch of overpriced decor from Pottery Barn (is that still cool?). I truly believed I’d be married by 25 with kids on the way by 27. I had a plan. But then those plans changed. I realized that what I really wanted was to travel, but in order to travel, sacrifices would have to be made. For now anyways. And off to Thailand we went.
In one year’s time, I gave up a lot of my independence since I was too scared to drive a motorbike. I never shopped for new clothes. Hell, I barely ever wore mascara and my hair was always pulled back, partly due to my 3 inch roots and partly due to never-ending helmet hair. I wore shorts and a cheap Thailand shirt with the words “same same but different” nearly every day and I have permanent flip flop tan lines on my feet. My legs were covered in mosquito bites and my best friend would have killed me had she seen my un-pedicured toes. But guess what? None of this bothered me. I was having the time of my life, and after the things I had seen while traveling through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, these seemed like the most ridiculous problems to have. First world problems, you might say. I reflected a lot on my past self while in Thailand and I was almost disgusted with the things I blew money on, the things I complained about. The things I missed most about home were the ones many Americans take for granted: beautifully paved roads, animal control, a shower with water pressure, a soft bed and central air conditioning. Okay, maybe I did miss shopping a little bit, but when I really thought about what I could do with the equivalent of a hundred dollars on clothes, I would easily pass (i.e. a weekend at the resort pictured below or a new pair of jeans?).
When we booked our flights for our first visit home in nearly a year, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to spend time with friends and family, drive a car, eat some delicious home cooked meals and enjoy the comforts of a true Western home. When we arrived, we were showered with love and lots of food from our family and friends. My mom is cooking us 3 meals a day. I’m sleeping better than I have in a year. The water pressure is amazing and when I shower, I actually feel refreshed and clean. The internet is blazing fast. I’m even starting to learn to not talk like a robot. Being home feels great, but at the same time, I feel a little bit out of place. It doesn’t really feel like home anymore. As much as I am enjoying being home and getting spoiled, I can’t help but be annoyed at so many things as well. We were horrified at paying $16 for two meals at Wendy’s (our only option on our long drive in the middle of the night). And the portion sizes? Gross. I’ve already gained more weight than I care to mention just being home and eating the same things I always did before. By the way, how can cell phone companies seriously charge nearly $100/month for data plans?? Even in Europe we paid no more than $20 for the month with NO contract. It’s infuriating. And while all of our friends are having more babies, buying bigger houses, nicer cars or getting job promotions, Charlie and I are making plans for where to travel next. Don’t get me wrong, we are truly very happy for them. But while they are taking one step closer to the American dream, Charlie and I are running in the opposite direction.
In Thailand I didn’t feel that pressure of marriage, babies and mortgages and I thought I was at peace with trading in on the American dream. However, after being home for a few weeks, that feeling is starting to seep in like I am getting left behind. The realization has totally kicked in that I am going to be 29 this year which is just one year away from 30 and 5 years past my planned marriage age of 25. And what do I have to show for it? We thought we’d be more successful with our online ventures by now. We hoped we’d have the freedom to come and go as we please and travel like rock stars. We have been telling ourselves we are doing the right thing by living now and not putting things off until “someday”. But maybe we were a little too confident? This uneasy feeling has been creeping up on me and I’ve been waking up with knots in the pit of my stomach. I’ve begun to question our plan and what we are doing. Do we want to wait another year to find out that our ultimate plans have failed and we have to start over, only setting us back even more? Are we eventually going to have to give up and resort to traditional nine to five office jobs, rack up the bills and have to keep working in order to pay them? Everyone keeps asking what our plans are and what our ultimate goal is and the truth is, I have no idea what to tell them…
I started to imagine what our life would be like if we were to bag our plans of Thailand and travel. What kind of job would I pursue? Should I go back to school? Where would we live? I’ve done a lot of pondering over all of this which has left me feeling completely and utterly torn. But after weeks of struggling with these thoughts, it all became so crystal clear. The reason why we took this risk in the first place. The reason I gave up a great job, sold my car, and got rid of everything. It all comes down to one thing. I don’t want to settle. It kills me that my parents have never left the country. They are 60 and still working and haven’t had the chance to really enjoy life. All they want to do is downsize and but they are in an economy where nothing is selling. I’ve begged them to come to Thailand or to meet us on the road somewhere, yet my dad can’t leave his business. I can’t even begin to go into how much I appreciate them for all they provided for me and my brothers growing up but it has taught me a valuable lesson: I don’t want to get myself into the same situation. I don’t want to sign up for a mortgage payment, multiple car payments, paying more in insurance than rent in Thailand costs, collecting toys and filling the garage with stuff we don’t need. Once we strap ourselves in, it will be too difficult to up and go. I want to be free from that. We want to be financially free and living a location independent lifestyle and accomplishing that would be the greatest accomplishment of all. That would be my version of the “American dream”.
So, back to that question, what do our plans look like? We want to keep working towards this location independent lifestyle and, thankfully, Charlie still has currency trading that keeps us going. Right now we have the time and the money to keep taking a risk and working towards our dream. We might have had too high of expectations for ourselves in the beginning but that doesn’t mean we are ready to throw in the towel. Living in Thailand allows us to take a chance. We are surrounding ourselves with like-minded people working toward the same goals and life in Chiang Mai is just simple. There is always an adventure to be had. We originally planned on staying in the US through the holidays but now, more than ever, we are anxious to get back to Chiang Mai and focus on building our life together. And, if in another year we’ve made no progress, we may have to step back and reassess our goals. All I can say is that I wouldn’t trade this past year for anything in the world. If it all ended tomorrow and I had to suck it up and head back to the office, at least I’ve crossed more off my bucket list than most people do in their lifetime. I can be certain I will have no regrets. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for us…