As part of an ongoing series, Sail Me Om presents the stories and practical advice of people who have made daring life choices about how they live and work. If you know of an adventurer whose story should be told, tell us about them.
Megan Youngmee is a talented graphic designer who worked full-time and freelance for more than 150 startups and Fortune 500s in Los Angeles. Three years ago, she ended a 2.5 year relationship, sold her furniture, cashed in her retirement fund and left on a trip of a lifetime. Eventually, Megan landed -- married, a mom to one and a guesthouse proprietor -- in the Sacred Valley in Peru.
This is Megan's story, in her own words.
The spirit quest
For quite a few years I had felt unsettled. The further I moved into my career, the more I realized the job, titles and money weren't actually going to make me happy. Finally, at 29, I decided to do a bit of travel and soul searching because after having everything I thought I wanted and worked for, I had never felt more disconnected, stressed and empty.
The spirit quest started with a cross-country road trip with just my dog, some clothes and my computer. I connected with friends across the country and spent a month in my home state of Pennsylvania. On the very first night back in my hometown, I reconnected with my middle school crush, after 18 years apart. It was the beginning of my trip, but by its end, Eric would be my husband and the father of our 4-month-old.
I spent that time at home reconnecting with him, friends and family, and planning a six-month international sabbatical. I looked at this trip as a time to ask myself who I was and what I wanted, discover the meaning of home and connect with my roots. The trip led me to Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and the UK. It took me finally to South Korea, where I was born and hadn't been back in the 28 years since my adoption.
Overall, I spent one year traveling internationally and all over the country.
I spent a month in Beopjusa Temple in the Songnisan mountains, chanting with monks under the stars, and connecting with my roots. There were so many strong Korean women who felt like adoptive mothers. They taught me about Buddhism, motherhood, gentleness, self-love and the history and culture of my land.
I was alone for all but three weeks, which was a great time to reflect, spend time in meditation, and really ask myself what I wanted every day.
During the trip I had never felt so alive and healthy. I also was doing freelance work on the road and realized that I could make money anywhere and be home anywhere. I was writing business plans, doing design, writing, learning the ukelele and spending lots of time in nature. Plant medicine ceremonies also were part of giving me a clearer sense of who I was and where I wanted to be.
The decision to move to Peru
The final decision to really make this lifestyle a reality happened when I returned to The States. I had left my life for a year and came back to a few amazing job offers.
Eric proposed, and he, like me, felt that his life was in transition.
Then, he asked me, point blank, "What do you really want?"
I had spent the majority of my travels in Peru where I had fallen in love with people, language, delicious organic food, fresh air and glacier drinking water.
"Honestly, I keep thinking about Peru,” I told him.
He said simply, “let's get our tickets.”
I had secretly hoped he'd say that. But I was also terrified he hadn’t urged me to take the jobs and money in NYC or LA.
We decided that we would take a chance and try traveling for two years. If we didn’t find something stable in that time, we could always move back and jump back into the grind.
We found an insanely cheap one-way ticket and in one week we had a job offer to work at a hostel in Peru. The tourist season was coming and we built our wedding around our life plans. We planned our wedding and got married in three weeks, and then, just one week later, we found ourselves in Peru.
In hindsight, I think that if we overthought the decision, we might never have never made the move. Something about stepping out into the abyss with a partner and doing it without too much rumination over the "what ifs" made the decision easier.
Into the inn business
First, we started in Cusco, working at a hostel. When I was traveling, I noticed there weren't many places that didn't cater to just gap-year kids or folks in their golden retirement years. There was a huge price and age divide.
We had friends in the Sacred Valley who were renting a house in the hopes of making it an inn and it just wasn’t working. Eric and I somehow both had a sense that we were home when we were there. We visited every couple months, and then found out they were about to leave the house and the business. We saw an opportunity.
We moved in to see how it felt to live with lots of people. And we needed to get an idea of how much work we'd have to put into the property to be able to start filling rooms.
After a couple months, we signed a lease and started doing major construction on the house. We tore up old carpet, refinished the hardwood floors, upgraded the plumbing, changed out lighting fixtures, we spackled, rebuilt broken walls and painted.
When creating this place, we wanted to make something that was homey — a place that had the benefits of community but was quiet and off the main tourist path. It has an open vibe that a traveler can make of what they want — some hike, while others explore the local culture. Some take time to learn the language, many people find what makes them happy and healthy.
Even though it was irrational to think people would come to a tiny town in the middle of the Andes, we also had the sense of ”If you build it they will come.” And people have found us. In a less than year and a half we've had over 300 people from 30 countries, of all different ages.
The majority of our travelers are people in transition, looking to spend some down time doing some soul-searching, working on a passion project like writing a book, creating art, or getting in shape and reflecting on what they want to make of their life. Most friends stay for over a month and end up feeling like family.
4 ways Megan’s days have changed:
I tend to flow with where the day goes.
I've never known a life where we weren't forced to live by the clock. Time doesn't exist the same way down here. We still work hard, cook, clean, take reservations, communicate with future guests, are present for current guests, design logos and websites, and build furniture. But nothing is forced.
I find myself much more focused when it is time to write or design.
People connect on a much deeper level when they aren't behind the glow of a screen. We don't have internet in the house right now. Then I go to use internet with a list of things I need to accomplish.
I get to be a momma.
I'm momma to travelers and my amazing son. In the hectic life of LA living, I don't know how i would have found the presence of mind to be here for others the way I can be now. I found the joy of caretaking, nurturing, listening and seeing people through great triumphs or challenges. I am so stinking grateful for not having to worry about maternity leave or the crushing costs of healthcare with having my little baby.
I get to be partners with my partner.
We get a lot of time to work together, work things out, learn and grow without constant distractions, stresses and "real" jobs.
Second-guessing is part of the job
I have never been particularly spiritual, but stepping out into the abyss builds your faith in yourself and the universe in a way I have never known. There were moments where we were down to our last penny but felt somewhere deep down, we should keep going. Many times we had no idea how we would make things work and then someone would come in and donate money, give gifts or bring in friends to cover the rent.
I’m reminded of a part in the I Ching about how to make progress. It says that a wind that constantly shifts directions just stirs things up. A wind that moves in a slow constant direction shapes the world. Sometimes we'd think of changing directions, about giving up or starting something new. But by slowly building, we have created a beautiful house full of the most amazing people I've ever met.
I also think of an expression that is used a lot by the indigenous people here: "poco a poco" or little by little. The best businesses I've seen are built brick by brick with a solid foundation. They create a great service at a reasonable price that people are willing to pay because of what they receive in return.
We've learned not to become too attached to anything but simply go with the flow and take the path of least resistance. What used to sound like bohemian cliches have become very real to us in our simple life. We learn lessons, we make decisions, we shift slowly and purposely.
I've learned to truly listen to my inner voice of what I want and need and to honor it, rather than "shoulding" myself. Based on paper, taking a high-paying, high-powered job made much more sense, but I’ve discovered that creating my life with intention and thoughtfulness brings the rewards of being part of something i believe in. It's really the best gift I've ever given to myself.