A new segment for this new year, I’m excited introduce my readers to Abbie Synan. I first met Abbie at TBEX in Toronto last spring and was happy to reunite with her at TBEX in Dublin in October. Abbie is an energetic, fun and always has a hilarious story up her sleeve. This globe trotting giggler recently returned from exploring Europe and is setting out for Asia this month but eighteen months ago Abbie’s life looked a lot different. Despite always dreaming of being a writer, she landed an office job in Philadelphia after college and settled into post-graduate life. “I enjoyed and excelled in work so writing aspirations were set on the back burner and I looked toward ones I thought I’d never pursue; a more main stream career, ideas of marriage and children, the whole ‘package,’ even though it never felt quite right.” Abbie explains.
But life is never as it seems, as Abbie and her family soon learned. In 2012 Abbie’s dad was diagnosed with Leukemia. “I spent most of that year on a bus, on the turnpike, commuting back and forth from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to be closer to my family,” Abbie recalls. Eventually she made the big decision to leave her job and move home in order to be with her family. “When moving day came and I sat on my boxes in my parent’s basement and started crying. It was the first time everything sank in and reality sucker punched me in the gut. I covered my hands over my face to muffle my cry. Holy shit, I thought, I’m going to be 30, living with my parents. What have I done.” Before leaving Philadelphia Abbie worked out an arrangement with her boss and was able to work remotely. But since she was able to make her own hours and had greater flexibility she finally made time to write.
Around Thanksgiving 2012 the Synan family had a lot to be thankful for: after months of treatment, Abbie’s father was in remission! “I celebrated the news buying a ticket to Thailand, a place I had always wanted to explore and there was no better time to go than the present.” During her father’s illness Abbie had adopted a “live every day as if it’s your last” mentality and this trip to Thailand served not only as a celebration but a manifestation of her new mantra. “Something horrible motivated me to not let one day pass by without striving to live life fully, and although I hate to admit it, I guess I have cancer to thank for that.” If it weren’t for her father’s battle for his life Abbie’s life would have never changed paths so dramatically
Abbie’s blog, A Speck on the Globe (a subtle shout out to her freckled face as well as places on the map,) was launched during her trip to Thailand about a year ago. “While my father had been sick, I had turned back to writing as an escape and I quickly fell in love with it all over again.” Abbie redirected her renewed passion and now is happily writing from all over the world! “It’s been a little over a year since I quit my job and I still think I’m a little crazy for leaving, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
Abbie was kind enough to answer some questions about “delaying life” and things she’s learned from her year as a nomad.
“Are you burning through your savings?”
One of the perks of my job is if I have my phone and internet connection I can be anywhere. A lot of people work from home, and the “location independent” model works for some people if you are disciplined and organized. Once I realized that I could work from anywhere, I wanted to work from everywhere. I’m grateful to have a job that allows that freedom and since I have steady part time income, it affords me the ability to tackle some freelance writing jobs, work on my novel and other writing projects as well as travel. When I’m on the road I’m always cutting costs by staying in hostels, avoiding eating at expensive restaurants (sometimes I’ll splurge) and I try to spend wisely. I’m nomadic at the moment, so I have very few expenses, which helps immensely. That means I have all of my things in storage without rent, mortgage, utilities, and so on, you get the idea. It’s a huge cost savings if you plan on being gone for over 200 days out of the year like I am but isn’t the lifestyle for everyone.
“You are going to travel, ALONE?”
Don’t let yourself be afraid of solo travel, it’s fun and I promise you’ll learn more about yourself and where you are going. I have to ask more questions, engage with others and rely on myself more. I’ve spent the last year on the road and I’m frequently visiting friends so a lot of my trips aren’t completely alone. I’ve come to enjoy spending time as a lone lady traveller and I could find myself in a dangerous situation anywhere so I as a single woman, in general, I try to be smart, and that should be a rule for ladies at all times. I don’t want to let fear paralyze my ambitions so sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone to do something amazing.
“You are always on vacation.”
Although most days feel like a vacation, I am constantly working. I love what I do so it doesn’t really feel like work (sorry, but it’s true). When I’m not billing insurance companies I’m writing and when I’m not writing I’m journaling, and when I’m not journaling I’m researching and so on. Being efficient and diligent is a plus so making my own schedule creates time for me to see and do some pretty terrific things in between all of my projects. On top of my own work, I am currently on 2 different national non-profit boards so I still manage to have time to volunteer for causes that are important to me. I’m frequently staying up late or waking up early to make time to fit everything in but it has been more than worth it pursuing a dream.
Has it been hard maintaining friendships with people at home while on the road?
Great question so I’m going to be a brat and say the answer is actually yes AND no! I am lucky to have friends that have moved all over the world so some of my relationships have surprisingly gotten stronger. I’ve visited several friends over the past year and the trips have bonded us in a new way. Also, I have to make more of an effort to keep up with everyone so sometimes I find myself checking in with people more than I would have when we lived in the same city. Skype and FaceTime are my saviors and with technology increasingly keeping us connected I feel like I can keep in touch easily over multiple mediums. Being around your friends however is something I always treasure and actually, as I write this I’m spending time in Philadelphia jamming in as much social time as I can. I’m not going to lie, some of my friendships have changed due to my absence and I always feel a little sad when I miss a special event. This year my sister got engaged and I got the news on FaceTime in a little town in Northern Scotland so I missed being there but it doesn’t change how much I care for the people I love most. I think regardless of where your friends live, whether it’s down the street, in another time zone or another continent, it takes time and energy from both sides to maintain strong friendships so my physical location shouldn’t always play a role.
My grandmother used to say “If you have one best friend in your life you are lucky.” When I was in my 20’s I thought that was nonsense because I had so many people that I considered best friends. But lets face it, what else are you really doing in your twenties besides finishing college and hanging with your friends. As you get older (eek I hate that phrase but it’s true!) people’s lives get more complicated. Spouses, children and job obligations become important priorities and it just gets harder to keep everyone close. Time is precious so I think people get pickier about who they choose to spend it with. I’m lucky that I have so many amazing people in my life that support me in my journey regardless of where I am and I can do the same for them from afar.
What’s your favorite way to share your journey?
I have so much fun taking photographs and I love getting lost looking on Instagram, but my heart will always be pen and paper and the stories I share on my blog are my most favorite. I’m constantly scribbling things down, I still hand write everything so I have tons of journals all full of travel facts and memories and it makes me happiest pulling from those experiences. The task of creating an escape for the reader is something I never get tired of doing.
What was the biggest adjustment to life on the road?
Not enough shoes! Anyone who knows me knows my love of shoes and I have a problem bringing too many with me on my trips, which I’m learning the hard way. Jenn can attest to this after seeing the size of my suitcase when we were in Dublin! Oh, and not enough pillows. I need about 50 pillows on my bed so staying in hostels with pancakes for pillows can at times be just downright unacceptable.
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place?
I immediately become a cartographer. I always want to spend time in a place and leave feeling like I knew and experienced it. I think one of the quickest ways to familiarize yourself with a location is on foot so I get a map, get my bearings and head out to spend the first day with no itinerary, just get lost and explore. Then I can go back to check out parts of a city I found intriguing. I’ve stumbled on some of my favorite things this way.