Meet the woman who has spent the last three years on the road
Today, it’s only too easy to get caught up in society’s treadmill, one that often ends up blinding us to the wider world. I admire the theme of this article because although she has fewer of the material luxuries that we mistakenly associate with ‘progress’, she lives for the moment, and tomorrow truly does offer something different every day. A priceless luxury in itself. It can take courage to go against the grain and to carve out a life that is true to who you really are. The feature has been reposted below, before it gets hidden behind a paywall:
If someone gave you the choice – theoretically – between working all the time (commuting, office politics, exhausting Monday afternoons when there is still sooo much time between you and Friday) or travelling the globe, seeing all the delights the world has to offer while making friends in every continent, you’d obviously pick the last one, right? But the reason why you haven’t is because it’s not possible, whether money-wise, career-wise or logistics-wise.
Well, one woman, Maartje Smit, from Holland, is proving that it can be done – and it’s not as impossible as it looks. Maartje, 31, met Erik Weijers, a writer for Vice, on her travels back in 2013 – but Erik couldn’t help wondering how on earth his new friend could keep the photos of beaches and oceans going for so long after he had returned to the drizzle of his hometown, so he decided to interview her, three years after she bought a one-way ticket to the van life.
“Most people wonder whether I refuse to go back home because of something bad that happened to me,” she says. “But that’s not true: I worked as a project manager at a software company and my life was just fine. People often wonder what I’m doing with my life and how I can afford all this.”
So how can she “afford all this”? To be living such a dream life, do you need a trust fund, or at least a kindly great-aunt to leave you tens of thousands of pounds – or could an average Joe really save up enough to be able to take the trip of a lifetime?
“I saved a lot. Like, more than a few thousand,” Maartje explains. “I’m also an extremely low-budget traveller, and sometimes I’ll take a job if I need to. I worked for five months as a diving instructor on the Honduran island of Útila. I worked on commission for a tour company in the Galápagos Islands. Usually, the work just covers my expenses, but sometimes I’m able to save up a little. It also helps that I keep making friends who have a couch I can crash on.”
Maartje also believes that the friends you make travelling are, in a way, more real than the friends you have grown up with.
“The friendships I make are profound and sincere, and we sometimes travel together for months,” she tells Erik. “We’re in the same bus for hours and hours, we share rooms – basically, we share our entire life. If you know you’ll only hang out with someone for a short amount time and then likely never see them again, you’re more likely to open up to them. It’s that confession phenomenon – taxi drivers and bartenders have it happen to them all the time.”
So if friendships are more intense, does that mean love affairs are too?
“Love abroad is different than at home, in that it’s less about investing and more about just having a good time,” she says. “You say to each other: If I miss you, I’ll meet you somewhere soon enough. I have no problem making arrangements to meet, but I’ll never let it mess up my schedule… At some point I considered going to Australia with this guy that I met, but the timing wasn’t right. I was in Honduras and I had just gotten my diving diploma. I missed him a lot for a few weeks, but I got over it quickly enough.”
On Maartje’s Facebook page, she writes of the comfortable life she enjoyed before making her trip, explaining why she gave it all up for uncomfortable hostel beds and fewer luxuries.
“I had 10 hour work days in the name of a promotion or more stuff. I had dinner on the couch watching my favourite everyday show with still one eye on my laptop or phone. And went to bed. Day in, day out. Living for the weekend, where I was still working, but less… Is this it? I was asking myself this question all too frequently. Maybe I was just being selfish. I must just be going through an ungrateful phase and the appreciation will return, but it didn’t.
“I had the best time during my studies, after that I went travelling for 9 months and after that I was excited to join, what they call “the real world”. You give away a bit of your freedom by having a full time job and in return you get money. With that money you can afford designer clothes, Apple gadgets, eating out half the week, actually I could do whatever I wanted and live the dream. But there was something else, there was a niggling doubt… that maybe this ‘real world’ wasn’t the right direction for me, maybe this wasn’t MY real world or dream…
“Making a big life change is not easy, it’s scary! Especially because I loved my job, I loved my life and everyone and everything in it. But I couldn’t live with asking myself the “Is this it?” question all the time… The thought of later regretting not having taken other chances was even scarier. I decided to take the risk, I quit my job, sold everything I owned, got rid of all the unnecessary insurance and stepped out of my comfort zone in the hope miracles would happen. And they did.”
Inspirational words for a Monday, don’t you think?