Lisa Lubin was a three-time Emmy-award winning writer/producer/director in Chicago when she decided to take a sabbatical and travel the world, which she documents on her site, Lisa Lubin's World Tour. For nearly three years, she toured the world by road/train tracks/rickshaw/camel.
During her solo world tour she took Spanish and surfing lessons in Costa Rica, rode through the narrow fjords and icy glaciers of the Chilean Patagonia, hiked up a snowy volcano in Ecuador, swam with dolphins off the coast of New Zealand, served up coffee and sandwiches at a café in Melbourne, climbed high atop the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, sand-boarded the dunes of Dubai, taught English to Turkish business executives in Istanbul, successfully accomplished a two-week bicycle tour through the rice fields Vietnam, volunteered to help the homeless in London at Christmastime, and kayaked and camped on deserted islands in Belize.
Women on the Road caught up with Lisa on her travels.
You had what many women would consider a 'dream job' in media - how hard was it to leave that to travel?
As a TV Producer of an entertainment show on ABC Chicago, I definitely had a great job, no question. I was able to meet and interview all different kinds of people - from entrepreneurs and celebrities, to politicians and rock stars. I had access to people and got some pretty cool peeks behind the scenes. But at the end of the day it was still just a job. And after nearly ten years of doing this same thing I just knew I was ready for a change. Some of the people I interviewed over the years and travel books I read inspired me to quit and do something different. If they were out there living their dream, why wasn't I?
How did you first start to travel?
I have always loved traveling. Since I was little I loved 'exploring' new towns and places. I would ride my bike down new streets mesmerized by something I'd never seen before. A few years after college I went backpacking for a month across Europe. That was it. I got the bug. I fell in love with the world...and a world traveler was born. Since then I made a deal with myself to travel somewhere far every single year...and I have, but the longest I'd ever been away was three weeks.
I had never really planned on taking a year off before. The trip just kind of revealed itself to me and evolved over time. I've always come back from previous trips a bit sad and always wanting more. And I've also always dreamed of moving abroad. This year certain things in my life just fell into place and I realized I was 'free' in a way. I broke up with my boyfriend of five years, I was bored at work, and my sweet cat had died. Then I read a book called "One Year Off," by David Cohen. He and his wife took their three (!) kids around the world for a year. Then I realized if they could do it, I could do it. The opportunity was there and I needed to grab it.
How did your trip change you as a person?
I've always been a pretty independent person, but after traveling alone for two years now I think I can do just about anything. But I also think that I've become better at being around and living with people at the same time. Even though I'm traveling solo, I am never really alone because I make a point to meet others everywhere I go. I stay with friends of friends, I stay in hostels and meet other travelers, or I do 'couch surfing' - an amazing project with close to one million members worldwide offering a bed or couch in their homes and at the same time it allows you to make new friends no matter where you are.
So I am actually living closer to people now than I did in my 'real life' back in Chicago and being able to adapt and be flexible is something I am glad I am learning. I have become more laid back about everything in general - especially planning. I am and always be a good 'planner' but now I am more relaxed about just going with the flow and seeing what happens. But, that being said, I am still traveling so I can't say for sure I won't slip back into my old ways if I go back to my old life. But maybe I will never live like that again. I guess that's the goal.
I think there is no better 'real life' education thanseeing the world and meeting its people firsthand. I remember learning in school about WWII, Vietnam or the old Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand) and having no clue where these places were and nothing to really allow me to 'connect' to them. But now, being able to visit these places myself just makes the world smaller and allows me to embrace our differences, but at the same time learn how very much we are all alike.
I think this trip has given me a more global vision and also has taught me a lot of what other people around the world think about America and Americans. There are a lot of stereotypes out there - good and bad, some true and some not. But I also can see what an influence the United States can have on other nations and how much we affect the world.
What was the hardest thing for you when you came back home?
When I first returned, I did experience a bit of that reverse culture shock that I'd be so warned about from other long-term travelers. Yes, I came from London to New York to Chicago so it was easier. But there is still no other place in the world like the U.S.A. with so much...stuff. So much to buy. So much to see. So much to consume.Too much. Supermarkets overflow with thousands of items...most full of chemicals and preservatives and lab ingredients so far removed from the plants and animals that originally gave their lives for our consumption.
I was always somehow on the outside of this consumption and marketing bubble anyway - I never liked all the choices we are forced to make everyday with so many damn products vying for our attention and dollars, but never before have I 'seen' it like I do now. There is such a consumer culture here. Any home I'm in, I can't believe how much crap everyone has. And anytime you go out you can and probably buy more crap. We just consume and consume and build up these crazy materialistic lives...but it's really all most of us know from cradle to grave.
I think my biggest problem is I haven't really reintegrated yet. Or I never really will. After I returned from the first 15 months abroad, I was lucky enough to not have to go right back to a full time job. I managed to keep myself uprooted and travel a bit in the United States. I think I was doing whatever I could to keep my travels going and not feel the pressure of having to get a 'real' job and apartment right away. I stayed with friends and family in the US in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles for 8 months and then decided I might as well keep traveling nowwhile I still had the chance. Even when I'm not sure what to do next or feel flashes of confusion, I find it hard to stay that way because I keep coming back to the fact that I've been so extremely lucky and fortunate to see what I've seen, not just in the last 15 months, but during my entire life.
After I returned from my first trip I had no idea what exactly I was going to do. But I knew I was afraid to sign a lease and tie myself down to anything too permanent - at least not yet. So after traveling around the US, I reformulated my travels into a new "5-year" plan - allowing myself to not feel pressure and enjoy this ride I was on for a few more years. Why not? The travels were cheaper than I thought and actually costing me less than I would be spending living my 'normal' life in Chicago with all my high rents, bills, expenses and entertainment costs.
What is the single greatest piece of advice you'd give a Woman on the Road?
Just do it! If you are already planning a trip then good for you! Because the hardest part is over - deciding to do it and figuring out how to make it work. I would definitely say it is not that hard. If you have the opportunity and the freedom to just go - grab the chance now when you can. Don't put if off for tomorrow, because something will always come up to get in your way.
If you are organized everything kind of falls into place. I love the logistics, but it's just a matter of making a 'to do' list and prioritizing. What are you going to do with your home? Car? Stuff? Find storage. Get a mover. Notify your friends, family. One of the best things I did was put a 'call' out to everyone I knew and ask for their friends or contacts anywhere around the world. I met some really cool people this way and had more local experiences by hooking up with friends of friends.
Quit your job - a very fun thing to do! Or be lucky and get a sabbatical! Pack. Shop for travel gear. Buy some tickets and plan out some major things and at least a place to stay in your first country. Figuring out the dates is often hardest as you just don't know how long you might want to stay in one place. But just get out your calendar and try to estimate and then just go with it! And just soak in the fact that you are doing something so many others "dream" of but never really have the balls to do!
What about the future? Can you combine your TV training with travel?
I have absolutely no regrets. As the months tick by and the dollars flow out of my bank account, I do think about "L.A.W.T." (life after world tour) and what the heck I will do. Right now I'm coming up with ways to keep doing this for a living. I've been writing and doing a lot of photography. I've sold some travel articles and photographs to various magazines, newspapers, and websites. I do part-time freelance PR work for an English Immersion program in Spain called Pueblo Ingles that I participated in. And I have done random jobs all around the world - served coffee in Australia, taught English in Istanbul, worked a few days as a research assistant at the University of Cologne in Germany, and did some 'voice-over' work for a English-learners textbook publisher in Berlin (somewhere I love and may live for awhile). It's all a work in progress and I'm just seeing what's out there and taking advantage of any opportunities that come my way.
Ed. Note: This interview took place in 2008. Lisa now divides her time between Chicago and New Jersey and has since written two books, Video Production 101 and The Essential Guide to Travel. She now runs the media consultancy, LL Media. All photos in this article by Lisa Lubin.