I first met Connie at a Social Media Club meetup in Evansville, Indiana. During our meetup intros, I found out that she was a writer. During the 2nd meetup the following month, I found out that she had traveled all over the world. She really had my interest when she shared that she had traveled India solo on a motorcycle for 5 months.
After that meeting, I knew I wanted to know more and that she would inspire us with her bravery to step out of her comfort zone and live her dreams.
So here we go!
What was the turning point that made you sell your belongings and travel?
While I loved travel, especially by car, I never wanted to travel outside of the States. I thought I was perfectly happy working my way up the corporate ladder until one day the company announced it was downsizing and relocating across country. At first, I thought “I’m going with you” but then something inside me shifted and I up and quit my job.
I think that moment came about as an accumulation of things. I was not satisfied in my position, but after going to New Jersey on a company-sponsored look-see trip, I realized my standard of living would be less than what I’d been enjoying. I was looking at not moving up but rather down in lifestyle.
That was churning around in me when a co-worker brought in photos from a recent trip to Germany, showing them to me on the same day as my supervisor passed out our relocation packets. I remember sitting at my desk looking first at vibrant pictures of Europe––ancient farm houses with thatched roofs and flower boxes spilling over with blooms––and then at the slim sheet that spelled out my financial future if I stayed with the company. Seeing the two side by side caused something in me to snap and I quit, sold off most of my belongings, and bought a one-way ticket to Europe. I planned to stay gone at least six months but no more than a year. I was gone six years before I moved back to the States.
What was your most challenging experience while traveling?
I want to say the most challenging experience was leaving the airport in Frankfort after quitting my job and flying to Europe. I’d prepared, or so I’d thought, for life abroad but when I landed it hit me how unprepared I was. I knew no one, didn’t know how to read the 24-hour clock the trains ran by, and had never changed money in my life. On top of that I was way overpacked. I sat in the airport luggage terminal for hours giving myself a “you-can-do-it” pep talk before I managed to leave and start traveling.
What fears have you had to overcome?
The biggest fear I had to overcome was the fear of trying. To simply learn to jump off the edge of safety (or my idea of it) into the unknown. I was a shy and somewhat introverted kid, so leaving the world as I knew it and venturing off on my own was really scary. But there was something that scared me even more: not trying.
What was your favorite experience and why?
I don’t know that I have a favorite experience of the journey. Truth be told, the journey like life was a series of ups and downs. And I think that is the way it is supposed to be. My overall favorite part of the journey was meeting and getting to know people so different from myself along the way. It’s the experiences in life that stay with us, and for me that always centers around the people I encounter.
What experience demonstrated love to you on your trip?
My experience as a woman traveling the world alone has been very good. I’ve found that people everywhere are kind and caring. I suppose the most dramatic example of this would be when I crashed my motorcycle in an isolated part of India. People came out of nowhere to help me off the road, gathered my belongings, and see that I got the medical attention I needed. The village women at the scene were particularly giving and loving. They were like mothers to me. And, even though it was a terrifying event I can look back now and feel the love those people had for the stranger who landed in their lap.
(This truck crash was one of many I SAW during my 5 months out there.)
What motivates you to travel or push yourself beyond your comfort zone?
There are two things that motivated me to upend my life and venture down a completely foreign path.
First, when I graduated high school I went to work in the factory side of the company I eventually left, as a line attendant. There I was surrounded by people with badges announcing their years of service. I’d look at those badges and the faces of the women who wore them and wonder what they had really wanted out of life. I couldn’t imagine that they’d dreamed of working in a factory their entire life. That scared me. I worried that one day I’d wake up and find my life had passed me by, and I’d never even tried to do anything else.
Second, my father dropped dead of a heart attack on my 23rd birthday, one week to the day after he turned 53. I never got over how short life was, and how we never know when our time would end. There is nothing like death to make a person take a long hard look at their life.
Later, after I’d earned a degree in journalism and worked my way from the factory floor to an office overlooking the Ohio River and was looking at my co-workers pictures and my relocation package, these two things were surely a part of my decision to quit and follow my dream, even if that dream was rather undefined at the time.
How did living your dream affect your relationships? Did friends and family understand your decision?
I’m blessed to have an extremely supportive family. My mother always told me that it was my life and I had to make of it what I wanted. She was not thrilled with my decision, but she kept that to herself. It was my life and she wanted me to be a free and independent person. But I was free in other ways too. I was not married nor did I own a house. I knew, however, that by going abroad things might never be the same in my life again. I didn’t know just how much my life and myself would change though. Travel, especially long-term travel changes a person. It has to, you see and live too much to not be affected.
What misconceptions do people have about the people living in India?
I would say there are probably a lot of misconceptions people who have never been to India might have. It is a complicated country and culture. There are 28 states and 7 union territories, and each state has its own language, foods, and dress style. Additionally, there are thousands of dialects spoken. So it’s complicated.
Recently someone asked me if I had to always cover my head and face while in India. Purdah is not part of the Hindu culture. Women do not cover themselves from the world. Some young brides might still be expected to exhibit modesty by pulling their dupata across their face when in the presence of males outside of family members. This would be found more in villages, though. There is, however, still segregation between men and women. That of course is changing (albeit ever so slowly) as India transitions into a more modern world.
Did you feel unsafe traveling by yourself? Did you have any close calls while traveling?
Whether a woman travels the world alone or her hometown she has to be aware of her surroundings and capabilities. For me, it is always important to play the What If game, so I’m prepared for the worst if it happens.
I don’t expect bad things to happen to me, because in my personal experience people abroad are really helpful, and see a single woman alone as someone to take care of more so than a man. But as a woman who might not have the physical power to thwart an ugly situation I’m even more focused on having the mental power to do so. I know I need to always be aware and have a plan.
To answer your question, no I don’t feel unsafe because I’ve already considered what I might do if A, B, or C occurs.
Because of this I’ve not had many close calls, but there have been one or two situations that I wasn’t prepared for. They came out of me lowering my guard and not anticipating or realizing the scope of the situation.
How would you encourage someone to live their dreams?
When I think back on the moment when I decided to leave it all and travel, I view it as the hand of God pushing me through an open door. I would encourage people to look for the open doors in their lives and not be afraid to walk through them if it means following your dream or passion. I think you have to be brave enough to step somewhat blindly off the edge of life, to have faith in yourself and humanity. But most of all you have to not be afraid of failing. That is part of the process we call life, and we are made better by our failures.
Thanks for sharing your adventures with us Connie! Make sure you check out Connie’s blog listed below for her newest adventures.
Connie L. Stambush is a professional writer, national motorcycle instructor, and international traveler. After quitting her job of 14 years, she took off for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia where she lived, worked, and explored 19 countries in six years. She lived and worked in India for four years as a journalist and editor before buying a motorcycle and touring the Subcontinent alone for five months. She is working on publishing a memoir based on that journey titled Naked on the Edge: a Motorcycle, a Goddess, and a Journey Around India. She blogs about the adventures of writing an adventure story (plus, shares some insights to life in India) at www.clstambush.com.