Why YouTube Star Michelle Phan Quit Everything to Travel the World
It wasn't to make money.
In a world where every single milestone is celebrated by both loved ones and complete strangers on social media, it's no surprise that some people drop everything in search of a little digital-free peace and quiet. In fact, we've all been there. Michelle Phan actually did it.
What began as a YouTube hit — she has nearly 9 million followers on her channel — has quickly become a personality-driven empire for Phan: She's currently the founder of makeup subscription service ipsy and the new owner of EM Cosmetics.
In an interview with Refinery29, Phan dished on her life as an internet sensation ("You can see through my timeline, 10 years of filming and producing and replying to comments, it's just a nonstop Internet shop...") and what it took for her to realize she needed to take time to rediscover her own thoughts and ideas. In our opinion, she picked the best way to do so.
"I started getting so much anxiety whenever I heard the little 'ding' message on my phone," Phan told Refinery29. "That was when I realized, I don't think this is healthy."
After attempting to make herself feel better with unplugged weekends and trying to re-prioritize, she turned to travel to truly make a life-changing escape. "I decided to pack my life into a small suitcase, and I literally just left," she said. "I bought a one-way ticket to Switzerland. I even had contracts where my team still needed me. But I had to go."
So, where did she go from Switzerland? She made it up along the way. Her seven-month journey also took her to Egypt, Amsterdam, and China. "We live in this world where we're so connected, we don't even give ourselves time to connect with ourselves," she said. "I just had my thoughts, nature, and the stars — no WiFi or anything— and that transformed me."
Being such a public figure, she did find one downside: people thought she had literally died. "They thought something was wrong with me," she told Refinery29. "But I just needed a break. It was a way to show my followers that even someone like me needs a break; the pressure of being 'on' all the time is not realistic."
Now that she's back, she's got plenty on her to-do list. For one, the re-launch of EM Cosmetics is coming up on April 17, and she's found herself refreshed.
Now, not everyone can drop everything for the better part of a year and justify a one-way ticket with no explanation — that's a rare situation. But Phan's experience does talk to the power of travel: Sometimes truly getting out of your comfort zone is just what you need to push that reset button.
And in a world where so many travelers are creating picture-perfect lives on the road and simultaneously collecting a paycheck while handing out major doses of wanderlust, it's refreshing to see someone plan a spontaneous trip with nothing more on the agenda than getting back to herself.