Since I broke the news about my rather ambitious plans to travel the world next year, I have been met with a myriad of responses. Most of them are some variation of “Wow, how exciting!” but many of them also include a skeptical undertone of “Hmm, good luck with that.”

I am fully aware that this is a huge undertaking, and I am by no means under the illusion that it will be easy, or that I don’t have a thousand and one things to do before I step on the plane taking me to my first destination. But I feel obligated to admit, to both myself and my friends, family, and other readers why I decided to take a RTW trip in the first place – and more importantly, why I see it as non-optional.

The answer? Because I am half bursting with excitement and half terrified out of my mind.

I have always loved traveling. I grew up being infatuated with London for various reasons, and when I finally got to visit it, I fell in love. But ultimately, that trip marked just the beginning of a lifelong passion for travel. I wanted to go somewhere else after that. So I did.

Then I wanted to go everywhere.

My longings grew from the desire to trek the entire continent of Europe into a full-on, passion-driven, insatiable hunger to see the entire world. I want to see the places I have always read about or watched on television: from the Australian Outback to the Himalayas to Easter Island.

Americans, for all our laziness and maddening sense of entitlement, have an ironic idea of what “living” is supposed to be. We accumulate good grades in school, fight over the biggest and “best” university title and pull out loans to pay for the privilege of calling ourselves alma maters, earn our degrees, find 9-5 jobs that make enough money to pay off those loans for the next 20 years, take out a mortgage, lease a car, settle down and raise a family, invest in 401ks, grow old, retire, and then if we are lucky, we can visit Hawaii or Florida and call our retirement years the best of our lives.

Some people are perfectly happy with that lifestyle – but it’s not for me. I believe in responsibility, a strong work ethic, and maintaining a healthy drive and ambition, but my dreams are different. Learning about new cultures, immersing myself in international societies, hearing and speaking new languages, and exploring foreign lands is my idea of learning, of growth, and of course, of fun. Many people fear what they do not understand, and avoid what they do not know. I try to embrace them.

The funny thing is, there are so many hard-nosed cynics who look down on people like me for deviating from the “norm.” I don’t want a 9-5 broker job? I must be lazy. I didn’t go to Princeton or Harvard? I took the easy way out.

Let me take a selfish moment here to defend myself, mainly because there are a few nay-sayers in particular who have been wearing me thin lately. Currently, I work 8-5 Monday-Friday as a receptionist/secretary in a medical office, telecommute as an English content editor for a German-based tour company, run my own homemade skincare business, write and maintain three blogs, and am building two professional Web sites for others. I worked hard in college, made the Dean’s list every semester, graduated with honors, and was inducted into the National Journalism Honor Society. And thanks to my parents, I graduated debt-free. (That, I know, is an uncommon blessing these days, and I am eternally grateful for it.)

My point is that the idea for a RTW trip did not manifest out of a desire to escape responsibility and adulthood. In fact, I feel it is more like crashing into adulthood head-on: the fear of the unknown, of “the real world,” and of all the “grown-up” obstacles I dreaded handling when I was growing up are all wrapped up in a worldwide adventure. And forcing myself to march into unknown territory alone, without my safety nets or my zone of comfort to protect me, is breath-catching.

I have to face challenging situations and difficult people head-on. I have to abandon my preference for smooth sailing and accept rough and choppy waters. I have to let go of my resistance to “kinks in the chain,” and accept knots, kinks, and flat-out twisted chains. I have learn more about who I am deep down, and then learn to love her. I am battling my own demons and beating them down, at the same time that I am treating myself to a life-long dream. I’m scared $#@tless.

But I am also more excited for this than anything else I’ve ever anticipated. I want to do this with every part of my soul. I have to. I need to.

And that’s why I’m doing it.