Growing up, I lived in a bunch of different places. My father got promoted and transferred a lot, so we moved around quite a bit. A couple different towns in Pennsylvania to New Jersey or Ohio…by the time my parents moved along to Ohio, my sister and I were in college, my brother was finishing high school. This meant Ohio would be my “home” after college. I couldn’t imagine living and working in the small Ohio town my parents had moved to. I knew I needed to decide what I wanted to do after college.
Rather than move back in with my parents, I decided to take a job with my college sorority as a “Chapter Consultant” (they have different titles for it these days). It was the BEST job ever! Chapter Consultants are recent college graduates that visit different campuses to consult with and check on sorority chapters. I got to travel to a different college or university every few days where I met with the women of the sorority chapter, help them with any leadership training or chapter issues, and then (if there was time and if the college was in a great town) sight-see and check out the town I was in. I lived out of two suitcases from August through May. Here’s what I learned my year on the road:
I didn’t need much to get by.
I was allowed two suitcases for my year of traveling. My suitcases had to hold any work information and binders I needed, my clothes (and jacket) for where I was headed, and my toiletries. I visited over 15 states, so I had to travel with clothing that would fit different temperatures. In the fall, I spent two weeks in upstate New York and New Hampshire, and the next week I was headed to sunny Miami. I realized that I really just needed the basics, everything could be washed and worn again, and I didn’t need a lot of other “stuff” to be happy. Life was so much simpler with just two suitcases of belongings!
I was better at problem-solving than I thought.
On my visit to Washington, D.C., the sorority chapter I was supposed to stay with checked me into a guest room on campus, and then they left hoping they could avoid me all week long. I learned to become resourceful and good at figuring out problems. Making a few phone calls to campus administration, and getting some assistance from the Director of Greek Life in locating the sorority President was all it took. I got to visit Galludet University (a college for the deaf and heard of hearing) and I had to find ways to communicate with them during my days there. Another time, I had to rent a car and drive from Massachusetts to Connecticut. This was before cell phones, so I had an atlas in the car. Some routes weren’t listed in my atlas, so I had to decide if I should continue to head north, east, etc. until I reached a highway or roadway that matched something on my map. I learned that all I needed to do was stay calm, decide on my options, and choose what to do. It sure helped me once I started working in the corporate world.
I was way more independent than I thought.
Traveling that whole year meant flying every few days, grabbing a bus and making bus exchanges all day long to get to my next college, or renting a car and driving. I learned how to navigate subways, the T, and the Metro. I ate a lot of dinners and lunches alone. Some days, I checked out campuses and city landmarks on my own (other days I had amazing college women show me around town—some were amazing tour guides!). That year, I learned to hang out with myself, trust myself, and do everything on my own. I learned to speak up and ask for help if I needed it, and I knew I could handle most things that came my way. I remember my boss telling me at the end of the year, “We knew if we didn’t hear from you at the office that all was fine, and that you had it covered.” Those lessons are still true today. My husband travels often, and I am fine handling things at home on my own (don’t get me wrong, of course we miss him when he’s away). I don’t mind working independently. I enjoy shopping, working out or eating lunch out by myself often. I’m OK with it. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy time with friends–I do, but I do fine on my own as well.
I’m grateful I had the experiences I did during my traveling year. I grew so much, I got to see so much of the United States and Canada, and I learned more about what I was capable of that year than I would have if I had started working for a corporation right after college. I wouldn’t change my year living out of two suitcases for anything :).