The turn of a key, sometimes that’s all it takes to make a life-changing decision. Whether it’s to go to the supermarket or not, to visit that girl or not, to go to the pub or not, or even, like it was in my case, to leave your life behind and try something new… or not.
There is a day in the Australian winter of 2015 that I remember like it was yesterday—I was a plasterer back then, and I even owned my own business. It’s the day I turned a key that changed my life. It was a cold day on a dark construction site and just like every other workday, I was plastering the walls and ceilings of a townhouse in the suburbs of Melbourne. It’s worth noting that anyone who knows me would also know that I despise cold weather.
I arrived at the site in the early morning darkness with multiple layers of clothing on, turned on portable lights to work. That same day, like many before, I left that job site in the evening dark too, and I hated the fact that I rarely saw daylight in my free time. It was after packing my tools into my 1995 Toyota Hilux that I sat down in the car, put the key in the ignition, turned it and felt the overwhelming dread of knowing I had to return and the same thing tomorrow.
It had been a tough few months prior to this with a bad break up and the realisation that I was working a job I never wanted. Yes, I was making money and my reputation had started to build after owning my own business three years. I was successful, but I was miserable. It began when I would finish work—I’d go home, eat dinner and go to bed dreading getting up for work the next morning. I know this isn’t uncommon for some people, unfortunately, but that dread slowly started to creep into my free time earlier and earlier each week. I would begin to feel that dread before bed, then before dinner, and before long the dread for the next working day would hit before I even got home from the current day.
But it was the day that I turned the key of my Hilux and was soaked by that dread that I realised something needed to change. I drove home and thought back to a time that I felt genuine happiness and elation. It didn’t take long before I was picturing myself on a beach in Greece with my friends, drinking sangria in Spain, living on a boat in Croatia. These were all a part of the 2014 backpacking trip spanning three months in Europe when I discovered the thrill of exploring and creating new friendships while learning about different cultures. That memory was the driving force behind me deciding to travel again, this time to South East Asia. However, it was meant to be a rejuvenation trip from burnout; I never meant for it to become permanent.
I set off to Perth in late January 2016 to visit a friend I had met in Greece on that trip back in 2014. It was the perfect way to rekindle the travel bug by rekindling a friendship from a previous holiday. Her family took me in for a week, easing me into my first attempt at solo travel. From there, my adventure began in Thailand where I visited a friend who owned a bar on Koh Phi Phi in the Thai West Islands. This island gave me exactly what I was searching for. There was one afternoon, shortly before sunset, when all of my friend’s staff were sitting around a park bench on the beach at the bar. Here was a group of travellers who didn’t know each other before they arrived in Asia, talking and joking as if they were family. They welcomed me into that family immediately and as I looked out to the sun setting over Loh Dalum Bay I felt that wash of relaxation and happiness replace the anxiety and the odd bout of depression that had been crippling me at home.
They weren’t missed because I was disorganised, they were missed because I didn’t want to leave. Missing those planes and ferries made me smile, and it even became a joke between the staff. “What are the odds Aaron will still be at the hostel when we get there?” they’d say. Eventually, they lost they bet as I finally hopped on the ferry to head home, but I knew deep down that it was a ‘see you soon’ and not a goodbye.
Next, I made my way through Northern Thailand and into Cambodia where I had organised to meet a girl that I had met in Rome on that very same trip in 2014. This connection with her ended up taking me to a country I never thought of travelling but still to this day sits as one of my favourite places I have been. Together we went to India and that 2014 connection became much more. This girl taught me how to drop my walls and trust in someone again. This is a love story for another day however, because we went our separate ways and I returned to Thailand to learn how to dive. The dive community on Koh Pha Ngan confirmed my love for people who travel and the families they create. I spent two weeks there and experienced Thailand’s national New Year’s holiday, Songkran, for the first time.
I returned to my job in May 2016, plastering in the cold Melbourne winter again. I’d come full circle. I expected to come back with a new lease on life and an excitement to work hard to travel again. But I quickly fell back into the rut I was in before I left. My mind wandered to that park bench on Koh Phi Phi every time I picked up a hammer, every time I opened a ladder, every time I looked at a sheet of plaster. The change in me that began with the turn of a key was cemented with a phone call to a little island in Thailand a year later.
“Hey mate, you were right, the holiday didn’t fix anything, it was all the same as soon as I got back”
“I said that it would be”
“You couldn’t have been more right. I just want to be back on that beach”
“Come back man, what’s stopping you?”
“I dunno, I’ll need a way to make money. Do you have any jobs going?”
“Sure, can you run boats?”
“I’m sure I can learn! When can I start?”
“Tomorrow if you like”
“I’ll be there in a month!”
I told my parents my plan, they were supportive but, of course, they were also concerned. I was going to throw away the business I had built and the reputation I had gained for what? A $1,000 per week pay cut to drink on a beach and party. But, at this point, there was no convincing me otherwise—I was determined to feel happy and knew Thailand was where it was going to happen.
A month later I was on a plane, then a taxi, then a boat, before eventually landing back on Koh Phi Phi with a backpack and a smile. That smile was worth more to me than any coloured currency. I enjoyed learning new skills and meeting new people, but most of all I enjoyed life. So, I began creating my new life in Thailand, which led to a management role. This management role had me in charge of rostering. Now if ever I needed an indicator that I had done the right thing by leaving my job and flying to Asia, this was it: I rostered myself one day off in three months and when that day off came around, I went down to the hostel and asked if any workers wanted a day off because I would have preferred to work. Only the year before, I would have given anything to not have to go to work yet here I was, at this point never taking a day off because I loved what I was doing so much.
People say when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t totally agree. I went on to improve my skills and give myself the experience needed to proceed on to a bigger company with more responsibility and a chance to really change not only my own, but other people’s lives too.
With this company, I work hard every day. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had at times, but I appreciate the challenge because the rewards of meeting so many new people and showing them so many new cultures and unique sites every single day is what makes me wake up with a smile on my face every day. For someone who isn’t a morning person, that’s saying something!