I crouched in the corner of a full room at the Sports Basement, taking a sip of water as I looked out onto the sold out crowd starting to take their seat. “Dammit Spencer, you’ve been cool and collected all day, smiling on the bus ride over like you had been drinking the kool aid, but now get a hold of yourself and don’t you start shedding tears – this isn’t  the movie theater where nobody can see your watery eyes.” After the brief pep talk under my breath, I did compose myself and then took my seat along with the other panelists as Meet, Plan, Go San Francisco was kicking off. Greg Sullivan, co-founder of AFAR (Proceeds from ticket sales at the San Francisco event went to the AFAR Foundation, which is the philanthropic affiliate of AFAR), spoke first, telling the audience about how the creation of AFAR was a result of his own career break. We were off and running.

As the first Meet Plan Go has now concluded, if anything, it confirmed that this was what I was meant to do. There was a reason that as early as age 8 I could fearlessly board a plane by myself. Travel has always been a part of my life and I cannot imagine ever being without it. As I’ve thought about what took place on September 14th 2010, I thought about what a statement it would be if months down the road as preparations are made for the next Meet Plan Go event, if hundreds of people who attended this year’s event could at that time say: “We met, we planned, we went”. Talk about a story that is worth telling and even more worth living. I went, now almost two weeks ago and already my life is better for it.

Those were the words I penned 13 months ago after the first Meet, Plan, Go. As I scanned the crowd last night, I thought about that night 13 months ago and then considered my life now. Life had truly come full circle. In the very back I could see Matt, who had driven an hour and a half during rush hour to San Francisco to drop his kid off at his parents to come hear me speak. Across from Matt was Lauren, who was the first person I met when I moved to San Francisco. And sitting beside me was Sherry, one of the first career breakers I remember connecting with online and who I now consider a dear friend, followed by the other speakers Kristin, Sarah, and Morgan. I honestly don’t remember much about what I said last night. I remember saying something about “pura vida”, but what I do remember is that I saw a room full of people from all walks of life who were ready to their talking into doing and blaze a trail.

I stayed up late into the night Tuesday reading some of the quotes on Twitter from the Meet, Plan, Go events across 17 cities. However, I wanted to hear from participants themselves, so I put out a tweet asking for questions and received several responses from attendees. This is some of what attendees at the San Francisco Meet, Plan, Go had to say:

I was struck by everyone’s enthusiasm and passion for travel and being in a room full of people that just ‘get’ it. That was one of the things that impressed me most – the fact that the experiences and perspective you gain through long-term travel stay with you. You don’t just come back to your old life and plop right back in. For a lot of people the prospect of that can be quite scary, but as we the attendees were able to learn from the personal examples the panel provided, change is often a good thing.-Anis Salvesen

What resonated most was taking a career break with kids.  I’m at a point in my life where family is a big consideration when I think about extended travel. Though I don’t have children now, I’d love for my kids to see another part of the world. Sarah and Morgan’s story inspired me, showing that it’s entirely possible.-Janna Wemmer

Kelly Wetherington of By the Seat of My Skirt is a serial career breaker. She recently returned from her second career break and is already planning a third. I asked Kelly for her thoughts on taking a career break to travel and loved her response:

Having taken two career breaks to experience the world, my perspective on career has forever changed. I no longer think of long-term travel as a career break but instead I see my career as a break from travel and the means by which I will fund my next big adventure.

Convo and questions continued afterward

There have been a couple moments in my life that have been satisfying like none other. One was while sitting on a beach in Costa Rica during my last week in Central America last spring. Tuesday night was another one of those moments. There’s really nothing extraordinary about my life. I’m really a common guy, maybe a little too common. I like the feeling of sand between my toes, there’s usually a box of Cocoa Pebbles in my kitchen, I consider Guitar Hero as one of the finest gifts to humans, and from time to time I like to eat a hot pocket. Yet Tuesday night I looked into people’s eyes and heard in their voices the extraordinary things they wanted to do by going against the grain to travel long-term. What I heard and saw was myself just one year ago.

As the Q&A with the crowd started to come to a close, I remember one guy standing in the very back who had his hand raised for a few minutes. When he was finally called on, he didn’t ask about how to budget a long-term trip, where to travel, or how to pack his pack. The question was a testimony to the fact that this isn’t just a fad, but a way of life and lifestyle change that is sweeping across America. His question wasn’t in fact about going at all, but it was a question I then got from several attendees afterward: “I just got back from traveling. Now what?”

Were you at Meet, Plan, Go? What were your takeaways?

With the exception of the top image, photos from Sarah and Meet, Plan, Go San Francisco.