“Hello. Michael. Hello. Can you hear me? Hello?”

That was me – on a satellite phone in my tent in the Bhutanese Himalayas – calling an investment banking colleague back in New York City. It was the fall of 2008, and the financial world was crumbling down around all of us. A few months prior I had moved to a new job within my company, and was now in charge of all mergers and acquisitions. We were in the middle of trying to sell a business we owned in the UK and here I was, hiking for 8 days in Bhutan on a trip that was planned a year before… and I was feeling guilty. So I rented a satellite phone and called back to the US every night from inside my tent. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to gain by making those calls, other than a case of angina and the wrath of our porters and yaks who awoke with my constant yelling of “Hello? Hello?” at a higher and higher decibel.

That moment was a typification of my life until a few short years ago. I was like a real-life Jekyll and Hyde: carrying a Gucci tote bag one moment and a 48L backpack the next! I was an anomaly to my co-workers, who just could not picture me (a hard working, pulled together, driven executive) hiking for 5 days to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro or trekking deep in the Uganda jungle to photograph mountain gorillas.  And yet, that was me.

Why I decided to ditch my life as an executive and travel more deeply

For two weeks each year (okay, sometimes twice per year!!!), I would attempt to leave my worries behind by grabbing my passport and heading for the most remote place I could find. I was looking to get lost, but what I could never seem to lose was my desire to always be “working”: I would check my emails every time I had wifi access; I thought about work 24/7; I worried that something back home was going wrong. And, in the case of 2008, things did go wrong… terribly, terribly wrong. I knew on an intellectual level that my being back in Philadelphia wouldn’t have changed the course of anything, but I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling that I was missing things as they unfolded and that my bosses would be disappointed with me. Hence the satellite phone rental and incessant phone calls.

Two weeks later, upon my return from Bhutan, I picked up everything exactly where I had left it – but something deep down had changed. I starting feeling torn between the life I was living (awesome job; great condo; wine and dinner with friends; making money) to the one I day-dreamt about when meetings ran long (passports bursting with stamps; mountain vistas that last for miles; photographs of people and cultures so incredibly different from my own). But, as it always does, time marched on and my wanderlust was overshadowed by emails, powerpoint presentations, meetings, and life in general. Weeks turned into months turned into years, and I was busy – so busy –  that the only time I seemed to be able to conjure up these images was when I was physically seated on a plane heading to my next adventure.

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Then, in January 2013, I took a two week hiking and photography trip to Ethiopia that changed everything. While a friend and I were trekking in the beautiful Simien Mountains, we passed through a village that was nothing more than a small collection of mud huts. We were invited into one hut for coffee, an Ethiopian gesture of goodwill, and we knew it would be discourteous to decline. The small, round, one room hut had a hole in the ceiling for ventilation, a fire in the middle over which the coffee beans were roasted and the water was boiled, and a scant supply of pots and pans. The entire family lived in this one room, alongside their farm animal who provided much needed warmth at night. The woman making us coffee had a sleeping baby strapped to her back, and I worried each time she bent or moved, but the baby just slept on. I had been in places like this before, but something about that scene struck me that day, and for the rest of our hike I could not shake the feeling that something was brewing, aside from the coffee!

My time photographing Orthodox Christmas in Lalibela was equally as moving. Over the course of a week, I watched a small dusty town of 20,000 residents in the north of Ethiopia become clogged with tens of thousands of pilgrims, most of whom walked for days (with just the clothes on their back) to attend the Christmas ceremonies in this sacred place. The monolithic churches, carved down in red volcanic stone in the 12th century, came to life before my eyes, as devotees and priests jostled their way through the various tunnels and passageways connecting one church to the next, humming, singing and chanting. This was their Mecca, and I was a westerner walking around with an expensive camera and a big lens: I had never felt so conspicuous in my life and at the same time was in complete awe of what I was witnessing.

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At the end of those two weeks, as I sat in my business class airplane seat headed home, I opened up my email for the first time in several days. I discovered that two days after arriving home I was expected to present at our national sales conference in Orlando, Florida. So, 24 hours after landing, I boarded another plane but this time to a land of excess: food buffets as far as the eye could see; 800 of our company’s best and brightest dressed up for this huge annual meeting; lights, camera, action.  I had the worst case of reverse culture shock that I had ever experienced. It was then and there that I knew that I had to fulfill my desire for a different kind of life. I wanted deeper, more meaningful travel adventures. I wanted to slow down and really get to know the places I visited. I wanted extra time to linger, engage, and experience. In a nutshell, I wanted MORE.

It took another year or so to sort through all the clutter and emotions in my head and heart (and a few tough meetings with my financial advisor), but in mid 2014 I made the announcement that, at the tender young age of 47, I was “retiring” from my job to pursue my passion for travel and photography. Many people were shocked; some were jealous, but most were thrilled for me. Since then I’ve been spending about half of the year on the road, visiting new places and re-visiting areas of the world that I love…and always with a slower pace, clearer mind, and much gratitude.

 


This is a guest post by Lisa DeSimone.

Profile pic After a career spanning close to 25 years, Lisa decided to leave the corporate world in 2014 for deeper, more meaningful, travel experiences. Her love of adventure travel started in 2001 with her first trip to South America, where she hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru and spent time inEcuador. After that, she never looked back!