My husband Mark and I stood high above the clouds. A towering mountain fell away beneath us for thousands of feet. The trail below wound its way through the cliffs, a free-floating pathway that provided only occasional glimpses of solid ground. It was a terrifying, impressive experience to find ourselves here, at Tianmen Mountain in Hunan Province, China.
The trail we followed led to a village where long ago, worshipers built extravagant temples honoring Buddha, and where today, hardy villagers still make their home. Our visit to nearby Tianmen Cave required a cliffhanger ride replete with 99 hairpin turns and numerous close shaves with opposing traffic. I knew this was one of the most dangerous roads in the world, but I kept that fact to myself. By the time we arrived at the cave, Mark had figured it out.
Prolonged adventure travel like this isn’t the typical choice for a newly married couple. In fact, before our yearlong adventure around the world, both our careers had been on the fast track as we gained promotions and valuable work experience, but month after month our wanderlust grew. Usually, weekend trips were the best we could muster, and we both felt that our 10 days’ vacation each year couldn’t provide the escape we needed. Night after night, we’d chat about the future. Day after long work day, the idea of an extended trek grew in appeal. Finally, we decided to fuse our list of dream destinations into one trip, rather than taking years to check them off slowly.
As we grappled with our decision, our family and friends were settling into new homes, continuing careers and growing their families. We hoped to do the same someday. We questioned ourselves, and so did others: Were we sure we wanted to quit our steady jobs? How would we find jobs when we got back? Was this how we wanted to spend our hard-earned money? Did we really want to be homeless for an entire year?
Finally, we decided to take the plunge. The window of opportunity was open now. With no mortgage, no car payment, and no student loans, pets, or kids, freedom like this probably wouldn’t come again until retirement. If we waited 30 years to follow our dreams, we knew we wouldn’t be as young or as physically fit; moving with all our belongings in a backpack to a different city every few days certainly wouldn’t hold the same mystique.
There were doubts then—doubts as we packed our belongings into a storage unit, doubts as we said our final farewells at the airport—there are still occasional doubts today. But with each new experience and each breathtaking sight like Tianmen, we are more certain that this leap of faith was the best decision of our lives. If we hadn’t convinced ourselves to quit our jobs and “get out there”, we might still be in our cubicles, dreaming about adventures instead of having them.