A year ago, South African Lisi, 35, checked out from her high-flying corporate career, a claustrophobic relationship and some unhealthy habits to travel full time. It was a huge step, but a vital one. Here she tells us how she went from feeling out of control of her own life to being the heroine of her story.
“I've only recently realised that I'm a nomad by nature. Perhaps it was the moving around when I was young. I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and by the age of three we moved cross country to Namaqualand, to a very remote, very rural, small town. By 16 we moved again, and at 18 I moved to Cape Town to study. At 19 I left South Africa for the United Kingdom, where what was intended to be two-year work experience in IT turned into five years across a wide spectrum of jobs, towns and landscapes. In 2006, my options to remain in the country ran out and, head hung low, I returned to South Africa to get serious about my career.
“For 10 years I built a life resembling the one I thought I had to live, the life one is forced to live when one has to pay the bills.”
Back in South Africa, my career took off and the pressure and success distracted me enough to fill the void. For 10 years I built a life resembling the one I thought I had to live, the life one is forced to live when one has to pay the bills. But in January 2015, en-route back from an annual holiday with the in-laws, a switch flipped.
Over the course of the next 12 months my entire perception and approach to life changed and by March 2016, when I was propositioned with a new role at work, I realised that I was the architect of my life.
“It might sound obvious to someone else, but I had never fully realised that the life I had was a manifestation of my choices.”
Instead, I had thought that it was a life that was happening to me, rather than a life that was being propagated by me.
This realisation coincided with a time when I was stepping away from a comfortable but claustrophobic relationship and some unhealthy habits that had for years made me lose the sense that I was in control of my own story, in a sense forgetting that I alone was the heroine in my story. I was in such incredible despair.
“That realisation was like turning the knob on the door to Narnia. I stepped in, and haven't looked back once.”
With what little savings I had, and some cash from selling my clothing, my furniture and my car, I quit my job and left. I didn't have a two-year travel plan. I didn't know when I would run out of money. All I knew is that I wanted to travel solo to the Amazon to experience ayahuasca, a substance the natives there have been using for thousands of years for spiritual guidance. It was something that had intrigued me for twelve years and I finally had no excuses not to go there to work with the medicine.
Iquitos, Amazon, Peru
I worked out my two-month notice, booked my ticket and the rest is history. It has not been easy, and far from perfect, but I have never been this happy. I don't have any of the material things that used to decorate my life. I own a suitcase and some clothing, a mobile phone and a laptop. I have my health. I also have immense gratitude that I have been able to change my life the way I have – that I have been able to reconnect with myself.
“The future is unpredictable and that is wonderful.”
I share my adventures through my blog, Sheer Heroine
. I chose the name to reflect two seemingly contradicting characteristics: strength and sensitivity. My attitude is that if I humble myself, then any experience will be special – a gift – whether it is seeing the coastline of a beautiful island from the balcony of a cruise ship or watching the stray dogs in an informal settlement wag their tails despite their surroundings. These are all lessons around us which, if we pay attention, can teach us a hell of a lot. When I look back at my life before, I can see that entitlement prevented me from truly absorbing and learning from experiences in the moment. Now, I am of the mindset that there is something to learn from every single person that I meet in life, or perhaps there exists a way that their meeting me could benefit them in some way.
In the last 12 months, Los Angeles
has become my favourite place (so far)! Those streets in downtown LA made me feel like I was stepping into a past life, it was so palpable. Seeing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti from a hot-air balloon in the early morning hours was my most memorable experience. It was a sponsored trip; we were flown by private charter from South Africa to Tanzania
where we stayed at the Four Seasons in the middle of the desert, got close to mating lions, elephants and hippos, had a champagne breakfast out in the bush, swam in a rim flow pool, and had a surprise serenade by a popular artist from South Africa in the dark of night as the water buffalo roamed around us. I could go on... :) I am very lucky to have had that experience without spending a cent.
Street art, Los Angeles
Street art, Los Angeles
Hollywood, Los Angeles
On the other hand, I have been randomly being shouted at for hours by an inebriated girl at 3am, whilst trying to sleep in a hostel in Miami. She thought I had taken her bed… She was shouting at the wrong bed. Another downside is long layovers. I once had an eight-hour layover in Doha after a 16-hour flight from LA and the bright light in the airport made it impossible to sleep :)
I travel solo because I have to. If I had a permanent travel buddy that would be great! But because it’s not that simple, especially if you do everything last minute like me, I settle for solo. I like not feeling guilty if I want to linger longer, or go to bed earlier, or anything where I don't have to consider someone else's schedule first. Less ideal is that I don't ever go out at night whilst I travel solo. I have a hard rule about this. I would like to be able to go to nice restaurants at night and get silly with some good wine and some good company.
My next trip is to Turkey in June
. For this one, I want a travel buddy. In a way, the Turkish coast is my first ever beach holiday. I've always veered toward the cultural experiences in favour of relaxing at the beach. Now that I am going to do it, I am getting lethally excited to do this thing that so many girls did in their 20s while I was building IT networks :) I want to share that with someone.
To other women who want to travel but are afraid, I say this.
“There will come a day, when you are ready, you will recognise this moment without a shadow of a doubt. Don't beat yourself up if you are not there yet.”
Be aware of the reasons you cannot yet take the plunge, take responsibility for them and ownership of them, and be kind to yourself. Don't try to copy what someone else has done, whilst theirs may seem like an easy journey, it probably in truth was not. Instead, write your own unique story. Ask for help with this process from within yourself, talk to the future life you want to create and ask it to show you the way. Be patient, attentive to what unfolds, and if you can, when obstacles come your way, look to the right or to the left of it. There is usually an alternative solution nearby, albeit a bit different to what you expected. And if all else fails, stop analysing everything. Just do it.”