If 2016 Is Your Year To Quit The Grind And Travel, Look To Mary Cecchini For Inspiration

How many times in the last twelve months have you looked down at your Sad Desk Lunch, looking pale yellowish-green under the dismal fluorescent lights of your office, and thought, “I have got to get out of here?”

It’s nice to vanish into a fantasy of far-flung adventures and derring-do, but by the time you’re wiping up the sandwich crumbs, the harsh realities of your life have fully set in. You have commitments. You have a house to take care of, and bills, and maybe even family. And those pet hermit crabs won’t feed themselves!

And so you go home at the end of the day, take off your office shoes, and fall asleep in front of the travel channel, dreaming of a life infused with more Vitamin D and spicy food (and turning the wheel you’ve always been warned against turning, a la Joe Versus the Volcano, arguably one of the greatest travel movies ever).

But what if that life doesn’t have to be some far-fetched dream? What if you could really pull off a major change? Look at Mary Cecchini, founder of the female-geared tour company Living Big, which “brings to life her personal mantra and favorite family expression, a call to action to live intentionally and get the most out of life.”

Cecchini wasn’t always the leader of her own travel group. For years, she worked in the corporate marketing world, happy with her steady climb up the corporate ladder. At one point, she was even engaged to be married and shopping for homes. Then, in 2012, everything changed: Her mother had a massive brain aneurysm. “It shook our whole family and universe to the core,” she told Uproxx. “For weeks, we thought we might lose her, thought she’d never be the same.”

“At that point, I was crafting this life that I thought represented ‘living big,'” Cecchini explained. But her mother’s aneurysm made her reevaluate. Was she really embodying her family’s mantra? What would people say about her if they had to write her eulogy? What impact was she having on the world?

The questions eventually led her to quit her corporate job. “I needed space. I needed space in my life to really think this through, and for me it was too hard to do while I was also trying to honor my commitments in my marketing job.”

So, she created that space and went on an adventure — which eventually landed her on a bench outside a castle in Scotland during a five-month solo trek through Europe. That’s where Cecchini says she had her big “aha!” moment about her life.

“I didn’t know how to have my cake and eat it, too,” Cecchini told Uproxx. “I knew that I wanted travel to be a part of my world in a greater way.”

She also knew she had an opportunity to start over from scratch, and wanted to do it in a way that would have an impact on her community. But she wasn’t ready to walk away from the creative marketing world forever—she truly had enjoyed her time working at her previous job.

“I was trying to figure out a way to reconcile all these wants and needs and passions, and as I was sitting on that bench, it was the first time the thought hit me that I didn’t have to just choose one path—that I could take a nontraditional approach to my professional life that would help satisfy those needs.”

For Cecchini, it was an epiphany. She came back from Europe renewed and ready to get back into the marketing world on a freelance basis while getting Living Big up and running. Now, two years later and with multiple tours under her belt, she’s still maintaining that balance. “It represents my true passions,” she explained, “the work in the marketing space and the travel space. I’m connecting with people in different ways, I’m solving different problems. For me, it works out perfectly — having my foot in each of the different worlds. Not everyone gets it, but that’s okay.”

Cecchini’s story is an inspiration for anyone wanting to incorporate more travel into their lives. She hasn’t switched to full-on Travel Mode, abandoning her life in the U.S. in favor of roughing it around the world. She’s still making money and supporting herself, but has consciously—and successfully—made travel an integral part of her lifestyle.

Where can you start to apply Cecchini’s lessons on ‘living big’ in your own life? She stresses baby steps. “You have to be committed to yourself and creating space to do those things you want…otherwise life will flash by and you’ll look back and wonder how you spent that time. If it’s not spent in pursuit of things you love, what you’re passionate about, things that help define what living big means for you, it’s time you can’t get back.”

Yes, quitting your day job or taking a summer off to hop around Europe might be at the extreme end of the spectrum, but putting aside a little bit of money each month for a dream trip next year is definitely a small, doable thing that gets you one step closer to that goal.

Cecchini, meanwhile, is having the time of her life leading women around the world on tours. She recently went to Iceland to scout for a trip she’s leading next August, and fell in love with the country. “It’s such a beautiful, genuine place.” And untouched, in a time when a lot of countries seem to have Starbucks and McDonald’s popping up on every corner. “[Icelanders] are some of the warmest, loveliest people, and they’re living among a beautiful environment that’s so diverse.”

She’s also looking forward to leading her first mixed-gender group to Japan in 2016. It’s the first time she’s let men in on her Living Big tours, which were initially started to remove barriers that keep women from traveling on their own and encourage women to come together and form community within the group. It’s an evolution of her brand that she feels still fulfills the original purpose of Living Big—some women, she explained, were hesitant to get out and travel on their own without their significant others.

Cecchini still enjoys traveling on her own, of course—something she is able to do on her scouting trips. “There’s something really cool about being on your own. To this day, I love it, and still create time and space to do it.”

People should travel, she says, to create space away from their everyday lives and to gain lenses through which to see the world. “The more you travel, the more you realize that the people you meet aren’t all that different from you and I. They’re all trying to prosper in life and to do good by their families…[Travel] teaches you that we’re not the most important thing on the planet.”

As for practical tips for travelers: pack light, of course. But also: baby diapers. “One of the things I’ll do towards the end of a trip is find a pharmacy and use diapers as packing material. I love nothing more than buying local wine, or local sauces, or hot sauces, pottery, things like that.” But getting them home intact can be difficult. Which is where the diapers come in: they’re adhesive, they’re absorbent, and they’re a whole lot easier to find than a store selling packing material when you’re in the middle of a foreign country.

And never trust a middle-aged Swiss guide to take your group through the scenic route to a mountain hut, something Cecchini laughs about today. Ten hours later, she and her group finally arrived at their destination. “I’ve never had more beer and beef stew in my life, because I was so starving and exhausted. But it was well worth it.” And her tour group agreed with her.

Perhaps this is the ultimate lesson: Travel is about taking control of your life, but also knowing how to go with the flow. It’s a tricky dance — but a fun one!