“Travelling alone opened the door to a life I didn’t know I was missing”

By Teha Kennard

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Two years ago, Washington DC-based  consultant Teha Kennard was grappling with a growing sense of unease in her life. On the surface, the 38-year-old had everything she needed to be content. And yet she couldn’t shake that feeling of being stifled; something was missing.

So – in a major leap of faith – Teha quit her job to travel the world solo. Here, she explains how the decision transformed everything; sparking a newfound appreciation for time, people – and a relationship with the man she’s now set to marry

Two years ago I made a decision that would change my life profoundly.  I’m often asked about the thought process that led to that decision and I struggle to explain. Yes, I did some serious soul-searching. Yes, I sought the advice of family, friends and mentors. Yes, I budgeted and cut back on monthly expenses. But it wasn’t the support of my loved ones or having some hard-earned savings that impacted my decision the most. It was a feeling, deep inside of me, a nagging feeling that grew over time.

Read more: Why you should quit your job and travel

I was going through the motions of my daily routine, but I knew something was “off”. So I sought the support of a therapist (a very American thing to do, I’m told). As I described my vague discontent he implied I was experiencing loneliness, something that is apparently common for single people my age. He encouraged me to date more, to seek love and a life partner. I remember rolling my eyes at him – how dare he assume I needed a partner to be happy?

Sure, I’d had my share of boyfriends but the relationships hadn’t worked out and had ended up feeling more like work than fun. Who has time for more work? Besides I had everything I could possibly need in my busy and full life: I didn’t need a partner to be happy! Except: was I really happy? the therapist inquired. If so, why was I seeing a therapist? Hmm.

Breaking free from work

That nagging feeling grew and I felt increasingly smothered in my daily life. I had a schedule, a routine, things to do. Every day, there were things to do. But vacation was not one of those things.  Planning trips never happened. Work was too important to take time off. And travel disrupted daily life…disrupted doing things. But, I couldn’t help asking myself at age 38, did the things even matter? What actually mattered? And why had I never asked myself these questions before?

While my brain wasn’t quite on-board yet, I knew with every bone in my body that I needed to make a change in my life. Thoughts of travel consumed me, daydreams of breaking free from the construct that felt smothering.

Read more: 6 ways to create a major life change

The construct was the life I had created – and also had the power to change. Upon this realisation, I no longer thought about the things I had to do but instead focused on the places I had to see. So many places to see! It was time! I took the leap and quit my job.

I soon realised that the only problem with my plan to shake up my life and travel the world was that I didn’t really know how to travel the world. I’d only travelled internationally a handful of times and certainly never alone. I was relieved when I discovered Flash Pack, a UK-based tour company that specializes in adventure trips for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s. These were my people! For a year I went on various Flash Pack trips, spanning the globe, while increasingly adding on additional trips by myself as I got my sea legs on the whole solo travel boat.

The road to renewal

To be honest, the idea of travelling with a group of strangers did not feel like the most natural thing in the world to me at first. It felt like something that single people have to do because we don’t have a significant other to travel with and/or because most of our friends are married with kids. Even though I liked being single, that is how I saw it; almost as a consolation prize. Now when I hear that flawed logic I have to laugh; I have found the exact opposite to be true. It was apparent to me on my very first escape that the opportunity to be on a Flash Pack trip is a privilege. Such a privilege that I kept signing up for more!

Read more: How to make friends in your 30s and 40s

After a year of mostly travelling, I was finally home for a solid month and took some time to reflect on my experience thus far, as I contemplated what was next. The year had been the best of my life, hands down, and I was definitely a changed person. I had a global perspective that I never knew was possible. I felt ALIVE.

But, I also realized something else. I felt like a completely different person when travelling than when I was home, in my one-bedroom apartment. Why was that? When I was travelling, I was living my life outwardly, surrounded by new friends and new experiences and was fully engaged in every moment. I bounced out of bed every morning, excited for whatever the day might bring and looking outwardly for those things.

In search of connection

When I was at home, I worked hard to make plans and stay busy but I still felt an emptiness. I spent a lot more time engaging with my phone and a lot less time engaging with people. After all that I had seen in the world, my own life felt myopic and not something I could (or necessarily wanted) to step back into. But hadn’t I traveled enough? Shouldn’t I go back to the “real world” now?

I decided to see the therapist again, and after what felt like a brain dump of tangled emotions I paused and spoke slowly, “I think maybe I’m lonely.”  He tried to suppress a knowing smile as I explained what was suddenly clear to me.

Read more: Solo travel fuels this major happiness habit

What I was missing was the human connectedness that I had seen in so many different cultures and experienced myself around the world. The connectedness was the thing that made us all human. The connectedness was the thing that mattered. And, just like that I opened myself up to a whole new world of possibilities.

A few weeks later I was sharing an Uber with a young woman who happened to be the weddings reporter for The Washington Post. “How do couples meet these days?” I asked. “What’s the latest app?” I was a little scared to hear the answer, as that type of dating had never really appealed to me. “You’ll never believe it!” she responded excitedly, “People are meeting in REAL LIFE now… like, just living their lives!” Now it was my turn to smile. What a relief!

Love comes marching in

For the first time in my life I did not know what my future held exactly. What I knew was that it wasn’t yet time to stop travelling. What I knew is that I wasn’t running from something but I was running towards something.  What I did not know is what that was exactly. And I was good with that. I vowed to be open to whatever presented itself and, maybe for the first time, I truly was. Like I said, two years ago I made a decision that would change my life profoundly. I knew myself better. I knew the world better. And, now, I knew happiness in an authentic form. I thanked travel for giving me the gift of that knowledge.

Three months later I met my Flash Pack group at our hotel in Bangkok and we sat around a conference room table while our guide, Amy, facilitated introductions. As she was speaking, I let out a little shriek as my chair suddenly dropped down, putting me at eye level with the table.

Read more: Why solo travel in relationships is healthy

I looked up, confused, and saw the person next to me removing his hand from the lever on my chair, while trying to stifle his laughter. I couldn’t help laughing as I admonished him, remembering that his name was Stephen and noting that he was good looking. At this point the whole group was looking at us rather than Amy and my cheeks turned pink as I apologized for the interruption.

As I write this, it has been almost a year since Steve and I met and our new puppy, Archie, is curled up on my lap. We’re sharing a home (and two dogs) in England and we’re engaged to be married next year. Yes, this really happened!

I honestly can’t imagine my life without Steve but at the same time I am grateful that I had my life before Steve. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And I love that while we’re building a  life together we still have our independent lives (yes, I’ve done more solo travelling since we met, including a Flash Pack trip).

A new way of being

Steve had been divorced for five years when he embarked on his first Flash Pack adventure, which was the trip where we met in Thailand and Laos. In fact, of the five men in our group, Steve was one of three who were divorced. It was something they talked about during the trip as we all got to know each other and shared our lives. And, as those who had been married got reacquainted with solo travel and a new chapter of their lives, they all agreed it was the best holiday they’d ever been on. The trip couldn’t have been further from a consolation prize.

For me and Steve, our adventure together was magical and seemingly fated, both for us and the very special group we travelled with (who are all vying for a Thailand wedding with Amy as the officiant). After his initial schoolboy flirtation, we connected authentically and soulfully, over two weeks of adventure-based activities while immersing ourselves in the local cultures of both countries. It was the perfect no-pressure environment to really get to know someone and while sharing new experiences. At the end of our two-week trip we felt like we’d known each other for many months. And we also knew that we wanted to know each other for many more.

After the trip Steve returned to England and I returned to the Washington, DC. But, suddenly, the world didn’t seem so big anymore and relationships didn’t seem so difficult. I remained open to what was next and open to the connectedness I had previously run from.

Now my days are slower paced than they were two years ago, yet my life feels more full than ever before. I am madly in love with a person who is everything I could have ever dreamt for in a life partner. The life partner I may or may not have needed to be happy but who I was finally open to meeting. He’s a part of me that I didn’t know was missing. And, now, while neither of us know exactly what is next, we can’t wait to find out together. Like I said, two years ago I made a decision that would change my life profoundly.

Images: Teha Kennard

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