November 6th, 2017

6 Things I’ve Learned in 6 Months of Travel

I left New York on April 29; this month in Chiang Mai is my seventh on the road. I’m not quite halfway through—currently planning to head back sometime in June probably—but it seems like a good moment to pause and take stock.

I was feeling a bit melancholy in September, thinking about how I don’t feel like I’ve changed much on this trip. Prior to this adventure, the most extended time I’ve spent away was a seven-week study abroad program in college. That was my first time leaving the country (apart from the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, which hardly counts), and I grew so much. During my last week, navigating the streets of London alone—and pre-Google maps, for the record—I had an epiphany: that I didn’t want to keep heading down the road to early marriage with my small-town boyfriend, that I wanted to see more of the world, and I wanted to see much of it alone. 

Well…mission accomplished, 20-year-old Jennifer. She might have revised her wish slightly had she known just how far the scales would tip away from love and marriage, but that’s a topic for a different day. To today’s point, I think that with such a grand experience, I was expecting this journey to be similarly revelatory. But six months in, I’m still epiphany-less. To be fair, I’m in my thirties now. I’ve lived in five different cities, moving from coast to coast, worked numerous jobs in three different industries, and dated…quite a few men. I may be past the epiphany stage. Still, I am growing a bit, pushing my boundaries and learning new things—here are six of them.

1. I can go anywhere.

Before this trip, I’d traveled solo more than most people I know, but there were places I felt hesitant to go and things I wasn’t sure I could do. My solo travels were limited to Europe, the Caribbean, and one trip to Buenos Aires. I wasn’t sure I could navigate Asia alone. I’d never rented a car in a foreign country. I had a strange aversion to buses. 

Now I’m spending my birthday alone in Bangkok this week, I’ve rented cars in Germany and Croatia and just mapped out a road trip through both New Zealand islands, and I’m about to book a bus to Chiang Rai. There are still a few places in the world I’d choose not to go (I have a lot of Feelings about the harassment of women in many parts of the Middle East, for instance), but I feel completely confident that wherever I want to go, whatever I want to do, I can figure it out. 

2. I still have so much to learn about the world. 

A couple months ago, someone messaged me on OkCupid and asked whether I was traveling to learn more about the world or myself. Though that’s somewhat oversimplified—you’ll always be doing a bit of both—it made me realize that perhaps the reason I don’t feel like I’ve changed a great deal on this trip is because I’ve already invested a lot of time into self-growth over the years. I’m looking to discover the world, rather than find myself. 

The first couple months I was just spinning with all the changes, but starting in Berlin, I’ve made a conscious effort to learn more about the places I’m visiting—not just where the best restaurants are, but a bit about the history, culture, and current political climate. I’m trying to read at least one work of fiction and one of nonfiction each month and to read the local news. It’s highlighted how little I learned in school, where history classes generally stopped with World War II. Even in a relatively familiar country like Germany, I realized I knew almost nothing about the Cold War and how it still affects Berlin. With a place like Thailand, I’m a blank slate. It’s all connected, though, especially in our rapidly shrinking society, and I feel like I understand the world a bit better than I did a few months ago.

3. Where I am has a huge effect on how I feel.

When I decided to move to NYC from Houston about five years ago, my dad was not pleased, to put it mildly. We were talking about it over dinner, and he said, “I don’t understand why you can’t stay here. Some people are just happy wherever they are.” 

I could only reply, “Okay…but I’m not one of them.”

I’ve really always known that about myself (oh, how I itched to leave Oklahoma growing up), but this trip has made it even more clear. I’ve felt at home in about half the cities I’ve visited. In Barcelona, Berlin, Belgrade, and now Chiang Mai, I’ve been markedly more cheerful and productive. In Prague, Split, and Seoul, I watched more TV, ate nutritionally worse food, and left the apartment less often. For my own wellbeing, I need to be somewhere that energizes me.

What’s interesting is that this trip is changing my idea of where that might be. Before I would have told you that I need to be somewhere with a million things to do, a big city with lots of culture. But there’s loads to do in Seoul and very little in Belgrade and Chiang Mai. This is going to sound so simple and silly, but I think what makes me feel most content is having several good restaurants and coffee shops, places at which I enjoy hanging out, within walking distance. If it takes too much effort to get somewhere, I wind up staying home.

4. I actually like being alone.

I’m clearly comfortable being alone, or I wouldn’t have named my blog Girl Flies Solo. But for some time now, I’ve had this question in the back of my mind: do I really enjoy being alone, or have I just become comfortable with it out of necessity? The past six months have confirmed that yes, I actually do appreciate spending time by myself. I’m not a hermit; I need regular socialization as well. But I get cranky if I don’t have enough quiet time alone.

And on the flip side of this, I am finally ready to give up trying to be a group person. For much of my life, I’ve felt bad about not being adept in a group setting. I’ve been awkward and uncomfortable on the cheer squad, in a sorority, as a member of Junior League. And while there have been numerous benefits to traveling with We Roam, there have also been many times in which being part of a group has made my experience worse. I’d rather focus more on the places I’m in than the people I’m with…and that’s okay. 

5. The more I see, the more I want to see.

I’ve added more places to my list than I’ve checked off this year: Northern Croatia has a truffle festival in the fall. How have I not yet been to Seville and Granada? And those are just the places I haven’t visited at all; there are many more where I’m desperate to spend more time: That day trip to Timisoara, Romania was not enough. I need at least three months (a year? a lifetime?) in Berlin…but maybe a winter home in Chiang Mai. 

Many travelers keep track of the number of countries they’ve been to, which is fine; I do it, too (loosely…I think I’m somewhere in the low 30s at the moment). But I feel certain I could visit every country in the world and still not be finished traveling. Each place I’ve been has inspired me to explore further and more deeply.

6. I can travel as much as I want…but I don’t want to travel full time. 

I think the greatest gift We Roam has given me is the knowledge that I can travel long-term and work on the road. For reasons I still can’t quite fathom, it just never occurred to me. I had a remote job and a desire to travel more, and I was still sitting in my apartment in New York, planning a one-week vacation here and a two-week trip there. Ridiculous! I love spending a month in a destination—it’s enough time to feel like you understand a place, to see a bit of the surrounding area, to know if you want to spend more time there, and to get your work done in the process. I’m definitely going to continue traveling this way in the future.

But this trip has also made me realize that I don’t enjoy being on the road semi-permanently. I like having a home; I miss my bed and bookshelves and closet. I haven’t become one of those nomads posting a photo of myself on a mountaintop with a long explanation about how I’ve left everything behind and now I feel so freeeeee! This lifestyle has some amazing benefits, but like everything else, it has its drawbacks, too. I think my ideal going forward will be having a base in the States and taking around two extended trips a year. But we’ll see what unfolds.

 

For now, as ever, onwards. I can’t wait to see what I discover in the next part of my journey. 

 

October 4th, 2017

Embarking on a Year of Travel, Part Two

I’m not quite halfway through my year on We Roam—this month is number six. But this month marks a huge shift in my experience, enough so to qualify as a second chapter.

I’m in Seoul for the month of October, which is a half day’s journey and a world away from Belgrade. After Seoul, I’ll move to Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Bali, Taipei…six months of Asia before going on to Australia. 

In the jump from Belgrade to Seoul, I’ve moved from a place that had some particularities but largely felt as home-like as New York to a place where many people don’t speak English and I have zero understanding of the written language, where I don’t know exactly what I’m eating half the time, where I’m asked to take off my shoes in the foyer of my apartment before proceeding. 

I’ve also joined a new group of people. We Roam is organized into itineraries—I began my trip on their first itinerary, Polaris, but with the move to Seoul, I’ve jumped to Lyra. October is the first month on this itinerary, so while a few people are moving over from Polaris and We Roam’s second itinerary, Orion, a large contingent of the group is just beginning their journey. 

So this is something of a reboot for me: new group, new continent. 

And for the most part, though I’m a little sad to have left familiar things and people and nervous about the new, I’m excited about the change. Asia will stretch my traveler muscles and coping skills in a way that Europe rarely does. I eased into that transition with a solo few days in Hong Kong (in the photo above) before flying on to Seoul—more on that trip soon!

After five months on the road, novelty has become routine. So it’s good to keep pushing the limits, to keep challenging myself. I didn’t sign up for a year of travel to be comfortable and complacent. So, as is becoming my mantra: onward. 

September 20th, 2017

Relaxing Months Make for Boring Blogs

This month in Belgrade has been my most relaxed month of the trip. In my fifth month on We Roam, I’ve adjusted to the group, and I feel almost comfortable never being entirely comfortable. As I wrote before, Belgrade is an incredibly livable city. I’ve been enjoying staying in an apartment flanked by a grocery store and a coffee shop, eating in multiple delicious restaurants within a five-minute walk, and having absolutely everything be affordable. (Though I’ve learned it’s not so affordable for the locals; apparently salaries don’t quite match up to the cost of living here…)

That’s not to say I’ve done nothing. Two weekends ago, we had a completely gorgeous excursion to the northwestern edge of Serbia. We visited the home of artist Sava Šumanović and a museum dedicated to his work—he spent time in Paris with the lost generation in the 20s before returning home to paint. We then spent the afternoon at the Ilić-Nijemčević vineyard, touring the grounds and the cellar, eating an enormous lunch, and sampling many, many bottles of their wine.

Closer to home, we had a rakija tasting and picnic in the park last week. One of our amazing city leads brought homemade snacks and a selection of rakija much tastier than anything I’ve tried in restaurants. We watched the sun go down while snacking and chatting.

And last night we went on a scavenger hunt. We ran all over downtown Belgrade, eating cookies, doing shots of rakija, and asking random strangers to take photos with us. The hunt even took us to Belgrade’s weirdest (and in my opinion, most delightful) attraction: a dino park where kids can play. For the record, my team won. 

All in all, it’s been such a pleasant month. Belgrade is the first city we’ve been to that everyone on the trip endorses—I haven’t heard a bad word spoken about it, and that hasn’t been true for any other destination. Usually, some people love a place, and others hate it. It’s a little surprising because Belgrade doesn’t have the natural beauty of Split or the numerous tourist attractions of Berlin. If someone told me they were visiting Belgrade, I’d say, “Wonderful!” If they asked what to do, I’d say, “Um…make friends with locals and eat good food?”

But after four months of exhausting travel and personal drama, I’m incredibly grateful for the month off. I haven’t even gone on a date. I’ve just been getting extra sleep and trying to prepare, mentally and practically, for what comes next. Because by this time next week, I’ll be on to the next chapter. And things are about to get crazy. Stay tuned…the blog’s about to be a bit more exciting.

September 5th, 2017

The Difference Between Vacationing and Living

Whenever I go on vacation, I find myself wondering if I should live there. I definitely contemplated it when I went to Anguilla last winter. Why return to snowy New York?, I thought. Anguilla has everything I need.

Traveling with We Roam has allowed me to test this idea. While a month isn’t long enough to experience all the nuances of a place, it’s long enough to give you a sense for what day-to-day life is like. And I’ve learned there’s a huge difference between places I want to visit and places I want to live.

I’ve only been in Belgrade for three days now, but I can tell it’s extremely livable. I already have a favorite coffee shop, Aviator—they have several branches, but one (pictured below) is just around the corner from my apartment. And if around the corner is too far, I have another lovely coffee shop by day/bar by night right next door. On the other side of my building is a reasonably well stocked 24-hour grocery store, and there’s another just across the street. Every restaurant I’ve been to so far has been delicious, affordable, and within an eight-minute walk from my flat. 

Yes, food and drinks comprise 90% of my happiness. 

But really, I’m not saying Belgrade has everything I need (New York’s arts scene has ruined me for most cities, and the dating apps here offer slim pickings), but my essential building blocks for contentment are present.

An interesting flip side is the cities where I’ve felt most at home so far, Berlin and Belgrade, are two of the least picturesque. Last month in Split was such a strange month for me—while I had some of my favorite moments of the trip there (visiting the waterfalls at Krka on my long-distance date, for one), I felt frustrated living in a town that was filled to the brim with other travelers, where the closest grocery store was a 15-minute walk away and closed at 7 pm, and the restaurants were largely either unappealing or overpriced with middling food. 

Yet Split is undeniably beautiful. While it shares some unfortunate Communist bloc architecture with Berlin and Belgrade, the ancient beauty of the old town with Diocletian’s Palace and the natural beauty of the coast shine through. 

For me, though, amenities trump appearance. I would have loved Split if I’d stayed there for a couple nights on my way to the islands, as most travelers do, but 37 days there was far too long. 

All of this is deeply subjective. I knew that before this trip, of course; New York is an incredibly polarizing city. But it’s been fascinating to travel alongside people, having nearly identical experiences of a place but completely opposite reactions. My roommate last month adored Split. She drew energy from just walking around the old town and felt like she could happily stay there forever. Berlin, meanwhile, the latest love of my life, left her cold. 

I’d be happy to visit Split, but I’d go crazy if I lived there. I could easily live in Belgrade, but it wouldn’t be my top recommendation to someone looking for a vacation. But you might disagree. And that’s one reason why we travel—to discover these things for, and about, ourselves.

August 25th, 2017

When Epic Becomes Your New Normal

Two weekends ago, I was walking the city walls of Dubrovnik. Last Friday, I was talking to my mom, and she asked what I was doing for the weekend, if I was traveling anywhere.

“No,” I replied, “staying in Split for the weekend. We’re going whitewater rafting tomorrow; that’s about it.”

“Um…I think that’s enough for a weekend,” Mom said.

I laughed, realizing how ridiculous I sounded. In a few months, something that would have been a banner event before has become almost run of the mill. What was once epic is now normal. 

That’s not to say I do something amazing every single day. Yesterday I spent the whole day in yoga pants and a t-shirt, sitting on the couch doing work—pretty much the same thing I’d be doing at home but on a far less comfortable sofa to be honest.

But I do have the opportunity to do something amazing each day. Right now I have friends on various island trips that I could have joined. And I may still be in my pajamas at the moment, but this evening I’ll be headed out to sea on a sunset sail. 

Given the new state of my life, I think there are three things I should remember to do:

1. Be appreciative.

Sometimes it feels like gratitude is the stick we beat ourselves with in 2017; all of our problems are #firstworldproblems after all. I’m not a fan—your problems are your problems—but there is something to be said for taking a moment to acknowledge things that are good. And while it’s easy to get caught up in obnoxious minutiae (group drama, tiny coffee, why is my apartment so hot, how have I gone through FIVE PHONES in four months), this year with We Roam is a spectacular opportunity. 

2. Take advantage.

I’m about to embark on a couple ambitious work projects, and I’m by nature a rather slow-paced, indoors sort of person. When I was a kid, I used to hide in the hall closet with a book and a flashlight rather than play outside with my siblings. I haven’t changed all that much. So it’s easy for me to stay inside my apartment with my Kindle, especially if I’m not super in love with a place. I’ve started adding specific city exploration items to my to do list, and I need to continue pushing myself to try new experiences and keep exploring.

3. Strive for epic at home. 

I still have quite a few months on the road, but the prospect of going home is always vaguely looming. All of my curl-up-with-a-book, focus-on-the-annoying-bits tendencies are magnified 100x when I’m in a familiar environment. Yet I live in New York, one of the most exciting cities in the world. I already have a list going of the NYC experiences I never got around to in my four years there. When I do finally wander back, I want to take advantage of the fantastic things at home, too.

P.S. No whitewater rafting photos at the moment—we were busy paddling, and there was no safe space for a camera or phone. But the guides took some shots that they gave to us on a CD. If those ever get distributed, I’ll be sure to update. For now, enjoy the Dubrovnik pics. 🙂 

July 20th, 2017

3 Problems with Constant Travel

I’m nearly to the end of my third month with We Roam, a quarter of the way through the time I’ve signed up for. My challenges so far haven’t exactly been the ones you’d imagine. In the midst of a busy month, I’ve been mulling over a few unexpected hazards of constantly circling the globe.

1. There’s not enough time to plan…and anticipate.

Currently I’m in Berlin. I really want to explore and appreciate the city as much as possible. But I’m also taking a road trip around the country tomorrow. And next week I’ll be in Croatia, where I want to island hop. And the following month is Serbia, with a trip to Hong Kong en route to Seoul, and a possible long weekend in Montenegro. And my friend and I are tentatively planning on Machu Picchu next spring and need to reserve by September for Inca Trail permits.

All of this is AMAZING. But trying to plan for these things while on the road takes a tiny bit of the fun out of it for me.

I’m a planner. I love it. And I’m really good at it. I can cross reference travel guides and blog posts and TripAdvisor reviews until I find the perfect spot. This trip is definitely challenging my desire to have things mapped out (just got word of an itinerary change that may dash those Machu Picchu plans), and I can appreciate that some great things happen with spontaneity. But there are also some things you just miss out on if you don’t plan.

For instance, I can’t find a restaurant with availability for Saturday night in Kassel. And I’m pretty sure I got the last Airbnb in the main town on the small island of Vis. Several of the places I would have liked to stay were sold out or only had their most expensive rooms still available. Some things about travel require advanced planning.

Also, researchers now think that the anticipation of a trip–the investigation, the daydreams, the culture studies–may be even more enjoyable than the trip itself. (See this Times article for more.) It’s tough to anticipate one thing when you’re in the midst of something else. 

2. When I’m always traveling, I’m never on vacation.

I’m on a work-while-traveling program. So yes, I’m sightseeing and touristing and experiencing new cultures. But I’m also doing my job, which means sometimes I’m sitting inside sending emails on a sunny Berlin morning or leaving the farewell to Barcelona party to have a conference call about a crisis. I’m lucky that my job is more flexible than some. I don’t have to keep US hours and be at my computer from 4 pm to midnight. But when I get an email about an audio book in the middle of a food tour in Prague (7 pm my time, 1 pm theirs), I step to the side and answer it.

And in addition to work, there’s just…life. I can’t eat whatever I want for a year because “calories don’t count on vacation!” I have to pay bills, do laundry, wash dishes. I’ve heard a few Roamers talk about getting back to real life, but honestly, this feels pretty real to me. There’s more fun smushed around the edges, but a lot of the day-to-day is the same.

Also, a few people have implied that I must be slacking off if I’m traveling, and I feel I have to work even harder to counteract that perception. So there essentially hasn’t been any time since I left a few months ago that I haven’t been on call–the distinction between work and personal time has been completely wiped out. And while it would be perfectly reasonable to take a few days off to go island hopping in Croatia, I was scouring the Airbnb reviews, making sure the WiFi is good in all the apartments I’m staying in. Even though I’m on this fabulous trip, I’m still longing for a vacation.

3. I feel guilty about downtime.

Sometimes even though I’m in an amazing city, I’m tired and have cramps, and I just want to lie on the couch and binge watch Suits all day. (That…may have been what I did yesterday. That plus all the planning. Those Croatia ferries are booked!) I don’t really feel great about doing this in NYC, but I feel absolutely terrible about doing it in Berlin.

But you can’t go nonstop for a year with no breaks. Or I can’t, at least. Hamilton probably could. And a month in each place really is enough time to a) get your work done, b) see the major sights, c) get a feel for the day-to-day life of a place, d) go on one side trip, and e) take a day or two off. But that’s still a pretty crowded month, and the pressure is real. 

The group definitely heightens that pressure: someone is always doing something cool, whether it’s a new restaurant to try in a city you’re in or a crazy side trip. A bunch of people are going to a music festival in Amsterdam this weekend, for instance. I’m doing my German road trip instead. I hate bullshit millennial acronyms, but…FOMO. 

***

I came on this trip in part because I felt like I wasn’t traveling as much as I wanted. I’m loving being able to explore places more deeply, not having to deal with jet lag, and having easy access to side trip destinations. But I think the ideal for me going forward might be 2-3 month travel stints followed by a few months at home–where I can relax a bit, focus on work, and plan my next adventure.

But for now, onwards. 

July 3rd, 2017

Hallo, Berlin!!!

I’m not just being lazy with my post title here; they really do say hallo, and it’s a mercy because every other German word is beyond me. But language struggles aside, we’ve been here two days, and I’m a little obsessed with Berlin. 

I was definitely ready to leave Prague. It has its highlights (sign up for my newsletter if you want more on this and some helpful tips for visits there), but I don’t think there’s enough to fill a month. A few Roamers were grateful for this, appreciating a more leisurely pace after months of travel. Perhaps it’s because it was only my second month, perhaps it’s because I hail from New York, but I was not into the activity shortage. 

Berlin feels like the opposite of Prague: not nearly as pretty to look at but bursting at the seams with things to do. I spent several hours today just reading guides and organizing my calendar.

I’m in the neighborhood of Neukolln (Noy-colin, roughly). Part of it is known as Little Istanbul, and on some streets, you can feel the Turkish influence. But it’s also been gentrified over the last several years, and the hipsters have put their stamp on it. The intersection my apartment sits on has a bar on one corner, coffee shops on two corners, and a teeny cinema on the fourth corner.

If you turn left down that intersecting street, it’s just a line of adorable restaurants, bars, and cafes, with a couple tattoo parlors for good measure. My first night here I had delicious Basque tapas (yes, I miss Barcelona!) and then I went on a lovely date in a little bar where the back room had no wired lighting and was instead illuminated entirely by candles. They had tall tapers in traditional holders, and the server would replace them as they burned down, in addition to delivering your drinks.

Probably my three favorite things in life are books, food, and movies, and Berlin is overflowing with all three. There are at least ten bookstores just in my neighborhood, and our coworking space for the month, St. Oberholz, is also a boutique publisher. There are a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants in the city and so many more bits of yumminess beyond that; I would recommend every restaurant I’ve eaten at so far. And in the summer, the city is filled with open air cinemas, many of which show movies in English or in their original German with English subtitles. 

I’m also basking in the freedom I feel here. It’s no secret that I’ve had a tough time adjusting from living on my own and working at home to being frequently surrounded by dozens of people. Berlin is a sprawling city, and we’re very spread out here. My closest neighbor is a 10 minute walk, and we have access to multiple coworking spaces. I can see the group as much as I want, but I don’t feel the same pressure to that I have in the previous months. It feels more like the best possible version of my regular life.

I’m really excited to explore this month. Hope you’re excited to come along for the journey. If you have any Berlin tips, let me know! 

June 14th, 2017

Traveling with Steamer-Trunk-Sized Emotional Baggage

People always say you can’t run away from your problems, but I’ve done a pretty damn good job of it over the years. When life gets messy, travel. When life turns catastrophic, move. I took Cher’s mantra in Mermaids (a classic) to heart: “Death is dwelling on the past or staying in one place too long.”

But now I’m traveling for a year and moving every month, and I’m starting to realize that there might be some truth in that old saying. While I’m not even a little bit sorry I came on this trip, it is highlighting–and even exacerbating–some of the issues I had before I left. Here are five pieces of baggage I’m hauling around the globe with me:

1. I’m still perpetually, painfully single.

I’ve been single for thirteen years now. There have been lowercase-r relationships, varying in seriousness, some of which have lasted years. But the last time I had an official boyfriend, I was 20. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it, that’s fucking miserable. 

I have enjoyed taking some of the pressure off dating. Before I left New York, I was working with a matchmaker–a longer story for another day, but spoiler alert, it didn’t work–and dating was starting to feel like a job that I hated. Since now I’m here today and gone tomorrow, I can look at dating as more of a fun activity than a search for my life partner. 

But, as it turns out, bad dates are bad everywhere. It sucks to get dressed up and excited and then have a guy show you pictures of another girl or walk away when you say rape jokes aren’t funny. And, while some pressure is off, I still had a lot of giggling girlfriends convinced I’d fall in love on this trip. So yes, it’s stinging a bit to watch two of my fellow travelers fall for each other while romance continues to elude me.

2. I’m still terrible with large groups.

My kindergarten carpool. Fifth grade student council. My high school debate team. The sorority I joined in college. Junior League, most recently. I have a lifelong history of not playing well in group settings. One-on-one, I’m good. Small groups of five or six, I can handle, if the right people are involved. But once you get into double digits, my introverted, Type A, fun-fest of a personality makes things tough.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite introverted enough to eschew the group all together and stay in my room or travel alone for the year–I’m about a 55/45 introverted/extroverted split. So I want people around, but not all the time, and if there are too many of them I feel awkward. Super easy, right?

And I have Very Firm opinions about what I like and dislike and how I want to spend my time–especially with just a few weeks in each location, life’s too short to do things I have no interest in or to eat bad food. But I’m not always great at asserting these opinions with people who aren’t my close friends, and I wind up feeling either steamrolled and frustrated or bitchy and persnickety. 

So while there are many awesome people in this group, and everything has been very well run so far, just dealing with the day-to-day group issues of where are we going to go, okay see you there, no wait he wants to go here, oh she’s coming too, never mind we’re doing that instead…it’s exhausting. I suspect that this is good for me, but I’m struggling.

3. I still feel time passing too quickly.

Listen, I know mid-thirties isn’t that old, but it’s not that young either. I’m writing this blog post as I lie in bed with what I’ve self-diagnosed as a knee injury common to overweight, middle-aged women. SIGH. 

And while the average age on this trip is about 30, praise be, that still puts me in the older half of the group, which I feel particularly keenly since a few of the people with whom I’ve been spending the most time are the youngest in the group. Those 7-8 years aren’t stopping us from being friends, but they do make a difference at this stage in life. 

I hate when people say, “I’m too old for that!,” but yeah…my recovery time isn’t what it used to be. And while I certainly can still go to the club, the amount that I want to has greatly decreased in the last decade. Wine bars are nice. 

4. I still question what I want out of life.

With this rapidly accelerating passage of time comes the oh-shit-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life feeling. Right now, I’m traveling the world. Yay me! People have subtly (and not so subtly) reminded me though that I can’t do this forever.

Or can I?

I have no idea, really. I love New York, but I find it overpriced and draining. I love my job, but publishing is increasingly improbable, and I don’t know whether I’ll be one of the lucky few who survives. When my mom was my age, she was married with three kids. That’s not what I want from life, but I haven’t entirely sorted out what I want instead. Travel increases my introspection, which means I’m asking myself this question more, even if perhaps I should be asking it less, since I have such a great answer for now. 

5. I still struggle with anxiety and depression.

This one colors everything else, and vice versa. I don’t take medication (personal choice! zero judgment!), but I’ve been in therapy for basically my entire life, and I was seeing two different therapists simultaneously for a while in New York. Now I’m out in the world with new stressors and without my usual coping mechanisms. I’ve started having trouble sleeping again–my usual mental health indicator–and I’ve had a couple of near-panic attacks in the last week.

I’m not saying this to scare anyone (Mom, I’m fine), but it’s something I didn’t think about much before I set out on this adventure, and I think it’s important to be candid about mental health. I’m taking steps in the right direction–setting up a Skype session with my therapist, meditating, reading for pleasure–and there are things I need to do better–exercise consistently, set clearer boundaries with the group. I want to make this work, but it’s a huge adjustment.

Let’s be clear: this trip is awesome. I fell in love with Barcelona–the food, the schedule, the fake-old architecture. And while Prague doesn’t thrill me in the same way, I just had the coolest theater experience in the little town of Cesky Krumlov. I love discovering new things, and traveling in this way keeps the novelty coming at a rapid pace. 

But awesome isn’t perfect, and I’m still me, which means I’m cranky and reactive and particular in addition to curious and smart and loyal. So don’t freak out if my social media isn’t a nonstop feed of EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS AMAZING–because that would be bullshit. I hope that this year will change me in ways I can’t yet foresee and help me grow as a person. But there are always some growing pains.

May 30th, 2017

Hasta Luego, Barcelona; Ahoj, Prague!

I honestly can’t believe I’m in Prague now; I have a bit of whiplash. 

We landed here two nights ago after a day of travel that I’d rather not memorialize in writing. (Teleportation, people; it’s 2017, why has travel only gotten worse post-airplane?) While I’m happy to be here and I’m really happy that my apartment is a bit more spacious, I wasn’t ready to leave Barcelona.

To start, there’s just so much to do. So many cultural sites, so many restaurants to try–part of working while traveling is that you can’t be a nonstop tourist. If I’d been in Barcelona with nothing to do but explore for a month, that may have been long enough, but working and doing We Roam activities as well…I could have easily spent the whole summer there.

And on top of that, saying goodbye to Barcelona also meant saying goodbye to a new friend. One of my fellow Roamers, Dawn, became one of my closest friends over the last month, but Barcelona was her final stop. For now, at least…Dawn, if you’re reading this, you better come back. 

Then on a deeper level, I’ve spent the last couple weeks feeling very off-balance. I was too overwhelmed initially to react to anything; I just experienced it. But as time has gone on, I’ve become adjusted enough to actually feel overwhelmed, if that makes sense.

I truly like every member of the trip individually, but collectively, it’s a lot. People are always doing something or planning to do something. And then those plans change, constantly and rapidly, which is difficult for someone as Type A as I am. Last night for instance, I was in the middle of trying to write this blog post when my friends decided suddenly that it was time to leave to go do something that I was only mildly interested in doing. So I closed my computer, put my shoes back on, and ran out, only to wind up spending 20 minutes standing in a hallway because we ran into people we know. (There are always people we know.) Then there was the negotiation: where are we going, how will we get there, in what order will we do things.

Once we got the excursion underway, I had a great time. I almost always do, which is why I didn’t say, “Go ahead without me; I’ll just sit here with my computer.” But in addition to that healthy self-knowledge, there’s also an unhealthy layer of social anxiety that kicks in whenever I think my friends may be having fun without me. 

I had a minor conflict with someone last week (almost entirely of my own making and resolved with friendship flowers, so all is truly well on that front), and it made me question whether or not this trip is a good fit for me. While I love the travel, the group is a tough environment for someone with my personality and particular brand of anxiety. I’m used to spending a lot of time on my own, even–perhaps especially–while traveling, and the day-to-day currents of the group can be very draining for me. But they can at times be exhilarating as well. Part of me is still wondering whether this is a great new challenge or an unnecessary irritant.

Maybe I’ll know better by the end of my month in Prague. This is the stop on our tour that I’m least enthused about from the outset. I’ve been here once, for a long weekend, and that felt like enough time to do the touristy things that I wanted to. And our first couple days haven’t overridden my initial feelings–we’ve gotten yelled at for making too much noise in every restaurant we’ve been in, my new phone is currently sitting in the labyrinth of Czech customs, things close earlier than I’d like, etc. I don’t hate it, Prague is a beautiful city, but it doesn’t fit me like Barcelona. 

But maybe this will make me a little less frantic, a little bit better equipped to find the balance I so sorely missed last month. I hope so because Barcelona felt like a careening roller coaster–fun and exciting, to be sure, but thrill rides are designed to last two minutes, not twelve months.

May 10th, 2017

If I’m the New Girl, Where’s My Tiara?

New Girl Tiara

When I signed up for We Roam in March, I thought about joining their itinerary that launches in July, Orion. I knew I wanted to be gone for at least a year, and the idea of starting from the beginning with a group really appealed to me. But, once I decided to leave, I wanted to get going ASAP, and I was lured in by the prospect of Barcelona in May (spoiler alert: it’s fabulous).

So I agreed to join Polaris, the inaugural We Roam tour, and hop into a group that’s been traveling together since January. There have been a few new additions and a few departures, and I’m one of five to join this month. But the other four new recruits are guys, so…

I’m the new girl.

The last time I was the new girl was in high school, when I transferred schools halfway through my junior year. It didn’t go well, to put it mildly. The other students had been together since preschool for the most part, and the cliques were well formed. Coming in as the new girl meant harassment and capital-D Drama.

I’m happy to say that this is going better. Whether it’s age or just a correlation between the type of person who signs up for this program and a certain level of chill, everyone’s been very welcoming. I’ve had drinks and dinner (and played quarters, but let’s not talk about that right now) with a bunch of different people; the clique factor seems uncommonly low.

Which is good, because that’s honestly the only thing I was worried about coming into this trip. Everyone else was concerned about exchanging money or how I’d stay in touch or whether I’ll get mugged at some point (I mean, possibly). I felt like, all of that will be fine, but as someone used to spending a lot of time alone–hence the blog name–is traveling around with a big group of people going to suck?

So far, it doesn’t. Yay! But even with a relatively smooth transition, they’re still learning about me–and vice versa.

You don’t get very many opportunities in life to make a wholly fresh start. Maybe college, grad school, a few moves–but the longer you’ve lived, the higher the chance that you know at least one person wherever you go who will be able to tell your old stories. So coming into this trip, knowing absolutely no one, I have a little bit of freedom, a chance to show my idealized self, if I choose.

But I think for the most part, I’m just being me. Maybe a more extroverted version of myself, but I’m sure that will balance out over the next few weeks. I’ll admit that part of the drama in high school was my fault–unsure of myself, I tried to be what I thought they wanted. At 33, I’m pretty settled in my personality: I like fancy food and hate spin class. I read. A lot. I hate futbol but love football. I’m an incorrigible flirt with bad follow through. I like to dress up but hate heels.

I’m still willing to try new things, but I’m no longer formless; my personality has parameters.

And everyone on this trip with me has the same opportunity to present the version of themselves they wish me to see. Given that a few of them are here because of pretty seismic life events, they might be taking advantage of that. I wouldn’t know. One guy spent half of my first night trying to convince me his name was Steve. It is not anywhere close to Steve, and that was a pretty rude thing to do to a girl meeting 30 new people on zero hours of sleep. He was properly chastised.

Beyond the individuals, though, I’m also meeting the group. Everyone else has been together for at least a month; some of them have been together for four months. They have shared history, experiences, inside jokes. Relationships of all sorts have come together and fallen apart. Over the past week and a half, I’ve been putting together a puzzle and discovering new pieces every day. I’ll probably never have all of them–and I’m adding pieces of my own as I go. But I’m happy with what the overall picture looks like.

One of my fellow Roamers pointed out that I’ll only be the new girl for a month. He was a new guy last month, and next month in Prague, we’ll get a few more. I told him that given that, I wanted a tiara. Instead of anxiety, I think a new girl celebration is in order.