Posted in Changes, Languages, Working Holiday

Oh. I guess I’m an expat.

It’s the same as going to Iowa City or Fort Collins or Asheville or Berkley and finding out you’re talking to a college student: well of course you are, how could you not? That’s nothing surprising and nothing new.

This world I’m entering? It’s just as obvious as that. To those back home, it looks exotic and interesting.

It’s easy to be impressive when you’re the only one doing something: owning a successful business, building your house from scratch, running a marathon or five, performing for a paying audience.

But when you’re surrounded by people all doing the same thing, it’s a little less sparkly.

Most certainly, there’s a camaraderie: an instinctual knowledge of depth and breadth and love and fear. It’s easy to dive in deep about nuance and common ground.

But you’re not the special and different one when you’re surrounded by people just like you. You become boring.

Today I become boring.

Today I become just like everyone else I talk to.

Oh, you’re just another Working Holidayer.

No big deal, been there, done that.

Just another American abroad.

Just another twentysomething deciding if I’m running towards or running away from something.

Today I become boring.

Today I become that predictable.

Everyone has been elsewhere.

Everyone is on the adventure of a lifetime.

Everyone lives in a van on purpose.

Everyone is chasing passport stamps.

Everyone is choosing this life instead of a house and kids and financial stability.

Today I become boring.

Today I’m just another expat zorbing.

Today I’m just another Midwesterner realizing the difference between artificial sweetness and genuine kindness.

Today I’m just another kid walking the balance between panic and elation, homesickness and sick of being home.

On the road, in the hostel, on the mountain, in the campground, I see my soul reflected on every face.

There’s nothing interesting about me here. Today, there is nothing unique, nothing that catches your attention and makes me different.

Today, my words become my own again. Among those who speak my language and feel my heartbeat, I am my own person. I am not “the traveler” – we all are. So who I am must be richer and more fulfilling, not resting on the easy reputation of being a globetrotter.

So much time to finally discover who I am meant to be when my default is stripped away.

Today I become boring.

Today, I become an expat.

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Posted in Changes, Lessons, Travel, Work, Working Holiday

A Checklist for a Working Holiday Visa

I’ve been on a mission to drag as many people along with me to beautiful New Zealand next year as possible. I’ve gotten plenty of the “Oh, I wish!” comments, but a surprising amount of my friends are eyeing me seriously and pondering joining me on this crazy ride.

It’s all fun and games until they start asking me what they need to do. Honestly? I don’t know. I’m making this all up as I go along. So in part because of that, and in part because I’ve been handing out so many business cards as people ask how I’m going to keep in touch, I thought I’d write a list of what I’ve been up to for the last six months in case you want to come as well.

 

Step 1: Passport

Do you have a passport? When does it expire?

Part of the reason why I’m going this year is my passport expires in April 2019. By starting my visa in December of 2017, that gives me the entirety of the up-to-fifteen-months without having to worry about renewing my favorite document. I’ll have to leave a smidge early of the full timeframe, but as the US has consular representation in New Zealand, I only have to have one month left on my passport rather than the full 3-6 usually required.

If you don’t have a passport, you’re looking at gathering proof of citizenship and ID, passport pictures, filling out a form, sending in some money… It can take a few weeks or a few months, and this is vital to do before beginning the visa application process.

 

Step 2: Visa

https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/united-states-of-america-working-holiday-visa

Are you under 30? Do you have no dependents? Okay, sweet, that’s about it. I was kind of surprised when filling out the visa application at some of their questions. For example, apparently being in prison for four years is fine, just not five. Thus far, no one has asked me to prove that I have the $4000 (~$2700USD) nor the health insurance mandated by the visa. For the record, I do have both (and I’ll let you know if they stop me at the border to demand this information!)

The process took maybe 20 minutes to complete, and I got my acceptance three days later. From the date of acceptance, I have a year to show up in the country. My 12-month visa begins then, and I can enter and leave the country as many times as I want for the next year. If I’m working on farms, I can have a three-month extension.

 

Step 3: Plane ticket

I got lucky. I had trackers going from Denver and LA to Queenstown and Auckland (both GoogleFlights and SkyScanner). When Glenna and I went to NZ in 2014, our flight took us via Denver and I wanted to get back to visit my old haunts anyway. All combinations of these flights have hovered around $800-900 for a one-way ticket for the timeframe I wanted. In July, a mere two weeks after getting my visa, prices dropped to $600 for mid-December. February has tickets in the $600-700 range again, but forget getting down south for less than $1000 one way over Christmas and right in the heart of their summer if you’re buying more than six weeks out.

 

Step 4: Forcing the bank to work for you

I knew I was going to be spending a lot of money relatively quickly. I also have a good credit score and knew I could afford to take a couple of hits. I first applied for Bank of America’s Travel Rewards card, and with their signup bonus I was able to knock another $200 off my plane ticket. That’s right: my one-way ticket to New Zealand now only cost $400. I’ve also gotten the CapitalOne Venture card and now have enough points saved up from their signup bonus that if all goes wrong, I can fly home on points alone. My only regret is these both are Visa cards rather than have one as a MasterCard, but I doubt I’ll run into issues with that. I attempted to signup for a Barclaycard Arrival Plus, but they refuse to do business in Iowa: if you’re from literally any other state, you’ll be just fine and this looks like a fantastic card.

My priority in getting cards was to have no international transaction fees, a signup bonus, and no fees the first year.

The second thing I did was apply for Aspiration banking and close down my Wells Fargo checking. I have mostly worked for small businesses who don’t do direct deposit, and you have to keep a $1500 daily minimum balance (which I don’t like having that attached to a debit card) in order to avoid a $10/mo service fee. So signing up for an online bank that doesn’t have the fees served my purpose. I will be getting a New Zealand bank account per the conditions of my visa, but that way I’m not hemorrhaging money in the meantime.

 

Step 5: Starter Pack

https://www.workingholidaystarter.com/

Oh, man, this is something I wrestled with like mad! Is it WORTH spending money to have someone help me do something I can easily do myself? At the end of the day, I decided that especially after coming out of a super vulnerable year of settling my dad’s estate, I did want to have at the very least an emergency contact in New Zealand. Plus, three nights in a hostel, someone else organizing my meeting with the bank and helping me fill out paperwork for getting a tax ID number and making sure my resume is organized in a way that their job board will like? Oh! And they give me a SIM card for my unlocked phone. Sometimes it’s nice to start a new life on “easy” mode.

 

Step 6: Phone Problems

I met two travelers this summer who both extolled the virtues of having an unlocked phone. Show up in a new country, pop in a SIM, and you’re good to go. The first one was telling me how she used an iPhone, and with the iPhone X due to drop in October, I figured I could get an SE for relatively cheap…. NOPE. Fortunately, the second had been using a Moto while literally globetrotting and Amazon had a deal running the week after that conversation on that exact phone.

I needed to cancel my US phone plan and decide what to do with my phone number: after all, it’s attached to everything these days. Grocery stores, two-factor authentication, e-receipts from Square… I think at this point the phone number I’ve had for a decade is almost as tied to my identity as my social security card. There’s a few options out there that let you port your number to park it for a while – take a look around and see which one is best for your situation.

 

Step 7: Health Insurance, at home and abroad

https://orbitprotect.com/

As a US citizen, your visa is too short to allow you to be on the national healthcare system, so you need to buy your own insurance for your stint in New Zealand. I kept things simple and bought mine through the company the Starter Pack recommended – their prices seemed on par with the research I was doing for other travel/medical insurance in the country.

Meanwhile, in the US, I called my insurance provider and let them know I was leaving the country for over a year. They took care of canceling my policy effective January 1, 2018.

 

Step 8: What to do with my car?!?

Do I sell it? Trade it with my sister? If it is in storage do I take the wheels off and disconnect the battery? Do I leave insurance on it? Fortunately, my insurance agent has always rolled with my insane ideas pretty well and we spent a good amount of time talking over options. The car has more value to me as a transportation mode for when I return than it does monetarily. So, as my legal address is my mom’s home as well, I added her to my title and when I leave my insurance will drop to comp only. It will sit in the garage for the next year or so, and she has kindly agreed to once a month run the engine and get the fluids moving, then pull it out from the stall and put it back in so the tires aren’t resting in the same spot.

 

Step 9: Embassy

Now, I feel like at this point there’s enough electronic pathways that it should be obvious to the US government that I’m hanging out in a different country for a while. But more for my piece of mind than anything else, I signed up with “STEP” (Smart Travelers Enrollment Program). This was a five-minute form that lets the embassy in Wellington know that I’ll be spending the year there. If there’s a disaster (think, an earthquake in Christchurch or an accident that leaves me unconscious), they have my contact info in the country and my emergency contact in the US.

I have the embassy saved as a contact in my phone (which is attached to Google so I can access it anywhere), which means should something happen, I have their numbers for standard and emergency contact and their address.

 

Step 10: International Driver’s License

Some people choose to get a driver’s license in country. I may do that, honestly haven’t decided yet. But in the meantime, I went to my local AAA office for an international driver’s license. New Zealand doesn’t actually require this as my native license is in English, but if I should be wandering to different countries, I’d rather have it than not for the interim. It’s kind of a bulky document, and you need to have your US license with it for it to be valid.

 

Step 11: Copies, copies, copies!

I’ve had my passport stolen overseas before. That is not a fun experience, but fortunately the embassy is extremely efficient at taking care of citizens abroad. To make it EASIER for everyone involved, I have so many copies of everything. Copies of my visa, passport, driver’s license, health insurance – all scattered throughout my bags so that if one thing gets stolen I still have the information in other bags.

 

Step 12: Absentee voting

Hey, hey, hey! Your civic duty doesn’t end just because you’re spending one year abroad. As a “civilian voter abroad”, different states have different requirements. Iowa currently has a postcard system for federal absentee ballots – I’ll let you know how the whole process works once I have it officially sorted. Since Iowa just passed a voter ID law effective January 1, 2018, there’s a possibility that things will get complicated.

 

Step 13: The Ugly Stuff

We like to pretend we’re invincible at this young age. But since the reason I’m home to begin with was the unexpected death of my dad, I’ve spent a LOT of time with the attorney this year. He was the one who actually suggested appointing a Power of Attorney. Since I have a simple life, getting a boilerplate fiduciary and medical POA (and in my case, also a will) allowed me to give authority to my mom that if something should happen to me, she can take care of my estate and make the call on my medical decisions if I’m incapacitated. This was cheap and easy – literally, just a notary for the documents.

I also have all of my banking information and online presence in a sealed envelope left with my mom – again, should anything happen, she at least knows where to start. I have a very good working relationship with my family and trust her with this information: if that’s not the case for you, I’ve heard of programmers writing a dead man switch to send important information and instructions to a trusted source should they not log in for a certain stretch of time.

 

Step 14: Packing

I’m not quite “one-bagging” it, but pretty close. During the REI Garage Sale this year, I picked up a Traverse 65 pack. It’s one with supports that you can carry over a distance but also opens from both the top and front of the pack for ease of access. I’m using a few packing cubes to sort my clothes and have a small mess kit and a microfiber towel in the bottom of the bag. All said and done, the backpack weighs 29 pounds fully packed and I still think I’m bringing too much stuff. I also have a bag that counts as a personal item where I can carry my computer and clothes for the five days I’ll be hanging out in Denver. (Shoutout to my friend for letting me store my backpack in his downtown office rather than me dragging it around the city!) Since I’m going to attempt to follow the summer in New Zealand, I’m just bringing a fleece lined jacked – definitely cutting down on the bulk!

 

 

 

That’s about it, folks. There will eventually be a part two of this list describing adventures in transportation, living quarters, job hunting, and getting my ID number to allow me to work in the country. But since I don’t think anyone will be following me to the other side of the planet until at least April, we’ve all got time to let me tread through the waters first 😊

 

 

Posted in Home, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, Travel, Wishes

you let go

I didn’t think I owned much. After I’d left my apartment in Iowa, giving away my table and chairs, my dresser and couch, I’d moved to Denver by myself in a minivan. That was my standard: I can’t have much if that’s how I started, can I?

I’m falling into a point of my life where I want own nothing but what I can fit in my Sentra. A few changes of clothes, a few dishes, a book or two. As I’ve started pushing my earthly possessions into the storage closet in my parent’s basement (sorry, Mom) I’ve realized how even with moving frequently and often from one bedroom into another basement room, I’ve managed to accumulate quite the collection of useless items.

There’s so much stuff. A pair of pants I never wear because they fit me funny. Mismatched socks, some with holes in them I keep meaning to throw out. Mugs with chips in them because I’m too sentimental about where they came from to throw them out. A mini ironing board that I use once a year when I’m in a hurry and forgot to pull my shirt out of the dryer right away. An old college textbook that I thought might be useful someday. A stack of papers from a volunteer program I did three years ago.

Somehow I keep carting them around, address to address, state to state.

I now have in my possession less than a dozen outfits, a few blankets, and my computer. That’s about it.

I now have the ability to pack up my life in a heartbeat. Ten minutes, and I can be on the road with no trace that I even existed. I don’t own pets, merely adopting my roommates’ or friends’ animals for the brief moments we share space.

I think I expected owning next to nothing to be more freeing than it actually feels.

I’m a nomad, so my heart has always been ready to go. While I had more of a physical attachment than I was aware of, the emotional connection has always been held with loose fingers. It’s something I’ve encountered with many travelers: we’re quick to befriend, but just as quick to move on. People will ask you how long you’ve been traveling together, and you’ll admit that you just met twelve hours before when you joined in the same walking tour.

You become accustomed to living out of a suitcase for a few weeks or months at a time. Your four shirts are quickly melded to the exact contours of your body, no matter how often you’re able to find a washing machine and soap. But it doesn’t matter, because those four shirts see so many sights and absorb so many smells of so many cultures. The more you absorb, the less rigid you become.

You learn that you’re not always right. You hear how other countries, other religions, other families operate. You adopt some of their world, and they adopt some of yours. Or you toast each other and your differences, knowing some things won’t change. But it doesn’t matter, because you realize on the other side of the table is a human being, not the enemy.

You start holding on to less.

You hold on to fewer strict opinions, more open to discussion and ability to change.

You hold on to fewer languages, realizing the fluidity body language and how your brain won’t recall the right word at the right time.

You loosen your grip on time, allowing for change and fluctuation, last minute ideas and new companions.

You let go of the determination that something you know is the best or the worst, as you come to appreciate the nuances of home and away.

You start demanding that others speak with respect and facts before making blanket statements.

You let go of the concept of home, because there are people and places that hold your heart all across the globe, scattered like dust in the wind.

I own so little. I hold on to so little.

Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is it just fine in this precise moment?

It is so easy to accumulate. It is so easy to continue to carry things around that have no worth, whether it’s a broken lamp (I just need to find a new pull string!) or a relationship (we’re not that bad for each other), a job (but what would I do if I left?), an apartment (yeah, everything’s gross and it’s really expensive, but it takes so much work!).

I’m so young, but I’m learning the weight of value. Who do I value? What do I value? When I live in a six foot by four foot space, what is worth so much that I am willing to sacrifice those inches? When friends are a dime a dozen, which relationships do I value enough to fight to maintain when I’m “out of sight, out of mind” and have to make an intentional effort?

My external environment now matches my inner self. Perhaps now my inner self will do some spring cleaning as well. Perhaps I can let go of the past, both the good parts and bad. Perhaps I can begin each day in peace and fresh beginnings. Perhaps I can empty myself and go in to each morning in each city with eyes wide open. Perhaps the past can remain there, and only the lessons follow me into the future.

I have no possessions.

I have nothing holding me down.

Defying gravity.

It’s time to find color in the earth instead of my wardrobe, vibrancy in real relationships instead of the fleeting. Hold on to what has value, release what holds you back, create beauty in each moment.

I didn’t think I owned much. But now I want to own even less.

Now I just want to own myself, to take accountability for my words and actions, and then to move on in freedom.

Live simply.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Changes, Family, Home, Travel

there’s no place like home

“Are you sure you don’t need another cup of coffee?” Nick asked as we hugged goodbye.

I shook my head with embarrassment. “I’m actually gonna grab something at Casey’s. I really want to get some breakfast pizza.”

My friend stared at me in astonishment. “Wait,” he asked me from his Omaha front stoop, “You don’t have Casey’s in Colorado?”

I laughed at my friend, and crossed the border into culture shock.

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I’m from Iowa. I’ve spent 22 of my almost 26 years in this state. Yet for the first time, I felt like a stranger.

I haven’t used a GPS in Des Moines in years, but I found my heart skipping a beat as 235 weaved. Is this how I get to my sister’s place? I thought the road split here… maybe not?

Feeling disoriented, I called my mom to ask her if she needed me to pick anything up before heading back to our farm. List in hand, I stepped into Hy-Vee and gasped at how high the ceilings soared and far the grocery aisles sprawled. I next went into Walmart – good, old, familiar Walmart, just like in Colorado – and nearly toppled over a beer display. It took me several seconds to remember that alcohol can be sold outside of liquor stores in this state.

The longest that I’d been away from home prior to this stretch was the 10 months I lived in Slovakia. This time, it’s been 17 months. Much can change, much can stay the same.

I’m now curled up in the farmhouse where I grew up – the farmhouse that I haven’t lived in for a decade. My parents are out in the fields, and I’ll join my dad in the combine soon. Right now, I’m just enjoying the silence.

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When I left Iowa almost two years ago, I was heartbroken. My dream job had been ripped from my fingers by city politics, and I was fleeing to the mountains. Perhaps my unrequited love affair with Denver was my rebound – I fell head over heels for the city in the blink of an eye. So now it’s time to leave Colorado, to seek my fortune in the great, wide world.

While my deepest self is a nomad, a city-dweller, a wanderer, I can never shake those deep roots: I am a farmer’s daughter.

It’s funny now. Wherever I travel, this is home. Brands that I grew up with that I can’t find anywhere else in the world. Endless, uninterrupted horizons for incredible sunrises and sunsets. The refreshing scent of corn husks being harvested, sometimes interspersed with the not-nearly-as-pleasant scent of manure from the chicken and hog confinements. The furniture has changed, but my mom still lines the walls with cards and pictures from the friends she writes on every birthday. It’s several generations of kittens later, but they still mew on the front stoop, begging for attention – and I can guarantee our family’s four-note whistle will still bring them running for food.

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It’s a much slower pace than I’m used to. Driving through Des Moines felt like going through a one-stoplight town – I became the Texas driver that we grumble about in Denver. But it’s refreshing, clean, and beautiful.

I know it’s not forever, being back.

But right now, as confusing, as wild, as different as it is? There’s no place like home.

 

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Bonnie and Clyde, Changes, Stories, Time, Vagabonding

independence day

The United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4. As of this year, I have my own Independence Day: July 3.

That was the day Ben told me he was moving back to Michigan. My favorite colleague, my trainer, my friend. I told him he wasn’t allowed to drop off the face of the earth, and we started sharing our plans for the future. Me, leaving Denver in a year to start buying one-way tickets and doing seasonal work. Him, live in Michigan for a year and start a business.

We should take a road trip, we decided. A week of wandering.

Erick, our mutual friend, joined the conversation.

No, we decided. It’ll be longer than that. Let’s make it the “Great American Road Trip”!

It was all still humor. All still a half formed dream that would never come to fruition.

I don’t remember who said it first, but someone suggested, “Let’s buy a bus!”

We started looking it up.

The joking stopped.

“Wait, are we really doing this?”

We awkwardly shook hands as a trio. Yes, yes I think we are.

The last two months have flown by. We incorporated Ben’s business, got a joint phone plan, talked to insurance agents, bought an RV, and drank a lot of tea.

Today, I hugged Ben tightly as he climbed into our Breaking Bad-eque RV and began his nomadic trek to Michigan.

I’m not sharing this article with my ten followers on Facebook. I’m allowing it to be open, published. The world can see it if they look hard enough. But my soul is quiet right now as preparations begin in earnest for me to begin vagabonding.

The story will be here. Someday in the future, I want to be able to look back and see what I was thinking. See the journey. But keep it quiet from my audience, while the trepidation still lingers in the shadows.

I will go. I will nomad. I will vagabond.

But while those plans form, while states separate us, I will remember it here in the silence.

Because I know it’s real: I have my independence day.

Posted in Changes, Lessons, Love, Snapshot, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Life out of season

I loved Denver – she was just my type.

In appearances, the mountains glistened, the city sprawled, the old became new. In personality, there were a thousand places to go, craft scenes to explore, people to meet. In soul, she was vibrant and alive and six hours from everywhere.

No wonder it was so easy to fall in love – Denver was just my type.

But something was never quite right. Long timers warned me. She’s changed, they said. I didn’t care.

But Denver didn’t love me back. Oh, we were friends, certainly. She took me along for the ride. But the lust was never reciprocated. I was one of many to court her, but in the end she chose another.

She was the heartbeat of Europe with the familiar shoes of Iowa and an exotic note all her own.

She fought me. Threw housing problems, ill-fitting jobs, broken relationships, car theft and exorbitant prices my way. I ignored these signs. I had friends! I had adventures! Surely, we were meant to be, Denver and me.

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

But then, one day, as dreams began to form again, I looked at the dart I’d thrown on a map. I looked at Denver. And I realized with sadness that she didn’t love me back. She’d never given herself to me as I had to her.

The suffocation of the unrequited love affair began. I felt our connection crumbling. I was a barnacle clinging to her rather than a lobster paired for life with this beloved city. Trapped, I felt the urge to flee. What now? Where do I go from here?

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Career, Current Events, Dating, feminism, Love, Snapshot, The Barista, Travel

The Serenity of Singlehood

Although statistically the median age of marriage has skyrocketed since the early 90s after remaining static for a hundred years, there’s still a stigma associated with being without a partner.

Don’t believe me, city dwellers?

When was the last time that you read an article that genuinely celebrated the author’s singleness, instead of making-do until the next relationship came along?

I’ve struggled with this mindset.

I have always warned potential mates, “I’m really good at being single,” as a way to prepare them for the fact that I’m going to continue to live my own life with my friends, dreams, and aspirations. If I’m choosing to include you as a significant other, it’s because I want you around as a part of it, not because I’m going to replace everything else in my day with you.

Unsurprisingly, most guys aren’t a huge fan of this.

No worries for me. Like I told them, I’m really good at being single.

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I’m currently reading the book All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. I was on the waiting list at my local library for six months, and it is well worth waiting for. Allow me to share a couple of excepts that resonated with me.

On life after a breakup:

Suddenly, my life was so much richer and so much more full of people to depend on and relate to and connect with. I never felt more fundamentally lonely…than when I was in a relationship. And I’ve never felt more supported and connected and fully appreciated than when I was single!

And on marrying later in life after living in a big city:

It’s not such a bad thing to always have something to do, someone to meet, work to complete, trains to catch, beers to drink, marathons to run, classes to attend. By the time some women find someone to whom they’d like to commit and who’d like to commit to them, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that they will have, if they were lucky, soaked in their cities and been wrung dry by them, that those who marry later, after a life lived single, may experience it as the relief of slipping between cool sheets after having been out all night. These same women might have greeted entry into the same institution, had they been pressured to enter it earlier, with the indignation of a child being made to go to bed early as the party raged on downstairs.

Many of my small town friends are married. I danced at their weddings and coo over their children. They tell me of their domestic lives, and I cheer for them while inwardly shrinking back in horror from the entrapment of even a long term relationship. There are so many mountains to climb, cities to get lost in, men to flirt with, wines to sample, nights to wane with conversation. For me, singlehood offers the best of all there is. With some recent developments, I’ve realized I’ll be single for at least the next two years, and that concept doesn’t frighten me at all. Oops, I might not date until I’m 27? Meaning at the absolute earliest I’ll be married at 29, if then? Ah, well. Did you hear about that new taco place on Tennyson?

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Last night, I borrowed a sleeping bag from a friend (as mine was lent out to someone else), and headed out into the mountains. With the fire ban in effect, I decided to just car camp near the base of Mt. Bierstadt. I’d hoped to hike it in the morning, but as I rolled by the parking lot, the cars overflowed onto the roadside even at 6:30 in the morning. Anxiety welled up in me, and I realized that I needed solitude. I kept driving down winding roads, occasionally turning and barely keeping track of how to get home. Eventually I found a place to walk around. I spent a good hour strolling, encountering only one other soul as I listened to the river beside me and rejoiced in the gray skies relieving Colorado from the relentless heat.

There was silence. There was solitude. There was no one to call and check in with, no one to text that I’d changed my mind. It was simply the delight of following the open road, following what my body and soul so desperately needed.

Certainly, there are moments of loneliness. But at the end of the day, I crave freedom more than warm arms. I prefer to forge a family out of the friends and city around me than to create one by law. Thanks to the generations of women before me, I’m able to be wild and nomadic and make my own rules. I’m able to be alone or surrounded by people on a whim. It is here, in this self-made world, that I am truly able to find serenity in singlehood.

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Posted in Backyard Tourism, Growing Up, Languages, People, Snapshot, Stories, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Soul Wide Awake

I know you don’t mean to insult me when you call it a vacation. But I don’t think you realize how wrong that word is.

A vacation is an escape from reality – relaxation, scheduled time to recharge. A vacation has hotels booked, tours planned, beaches chosen.

This is not a vacation.

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I am not escaping from reality – I’m finding it. My soul, at rest in the world of money and responsibilities, stretches and swells here. It fits my body perfectly instead of wearing my skin like a hand-me-down coat: not uncomfortable, but ill-fitting and not my style.

My plans are but a vague outline, often changing on a whim as a passerby says, “We’re going here, want to come?” I stay in a 12-bunk dorm, forgoing privacy and pray the locks hold on the cabinet where I’ve stashed my passport. I dine on street food and cook pasta leftover from a long departed traveler – that is, if the whirlwind of the day reminds me to eat at all.

I wear blisters on my feet with pride as my legs ache from getting lost all day in an unfamiliar city. I sneak into quiet streets to consult my map and compass as to not draw attention to my foreigner status, and curse my body’s need for sleep.

I listen to the cadence of a new language swirl around me and stare at signs, struggling to decipher their meaning. I cringe in shame when a hostel worker or airline employee glances at my American passport and immediately switches to English for my benefit.

You think this is a vacation?

No.

 

 

This is travel.

For now, I become she who has been hidden since my last journey into the unknown.

I become she who feels more intensely, sees in brighter colors, and smells the universe each morning. I live with abandon and belong exactly where I am.

I am she who is confident, beautiful, fearless, strong, and fierce. I am she who is curious, radiant, defiant, wild, laughing, and free. I am she who holds her arms open to the world and says, “Here I am! Give me the best you have!”

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My soul is wide awake, and every moment is a precious gift.

And then I return.

Back to the world of routine. Of bills and schedules and putting gas in my car. Of small talk and appointments and wearing a path in the sidewalk I tread each day.

In the traditional world, a groove becomes a rut, and I soon look up from the bottom with fear and trepidation building.

“I can’t leave this,” I tell myself. “I’m too afraid. This isn’t fun, but it’s comfortable. This isn’t right, but at least I know where I’m sleeping and how to get around. I’m afraid to go again. I should stay where it’s safe.”

But that tiny spark that can’t be put out whispers to me, “You must go.”

You think I’m going on vacation?

No.

This is breathing.

This is living the best version of me.

This is seeing my soul wide awake.

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Published on Thought Catalog on October 26, 2017

Posted in Career, Changes, Current Events, Languages, Travel, Wishes

Things that scare me

 

To: Stephanie

From: Eliska

05/09/2016 10:18:06

How interested would you be in, about a year from now, taking 6 months to a year off your life to travel and work around the world with me?

I hit send, bit my lip, and copied the message text. I pasted the text and sent it off to a second friend who I knew would read it without thinking it was a joke and consider my proposition. Then I sat back and waited.

I’m three weeks away from my next international adventure.

Back in March, two significant things happened to me through my Tuesday night dinners. The first was two familiar faces said their final farewells and packed up their lives bound for Costa Rica. The second was a vaguely familiar face reappeared and we went out to brunch, where she regaled me of stories of France and New Zealand and dreams and just how she made it happen.

The itch in my soul is getting harder and harder to satiate.

I broached the idea with my mom recently, and I was rather surprised that when I talked about buying one-way tickets and meandering around the globe without a plan she didn’t blanch. Rather, she started suggesting people to talk to, wondering if I could sell my mattress, agreeing to let me store my car at their farm when I was out of the country.

I’m 25 this year.

I want to look back on my 20s with no regrets.

I feel like I’ve done well so far.

Adding stamps to my passport. Spending dozens of evenings sipping a brew with a stranger, learning new stories. Ending relationships and work environments that didn’t bring me joy.

I check in with myself every once in a while. “If you were to die on the drive home, would you be upset at ending life here?” I keep answering no. I think the decisions I’ve made have been beneficial – even deciding first to apply for a second round of a bachelor’s degree, then turning down the acceptance.

This is my natural next step. The one that makes my heart feel as alive as swing dancing does. The fear, the joy, the beauty of the unknown. It scares me half to death. Nothing is logical about doing this.

But I’m going.

Sometime in 2017, I’m going to wrap up my life and go. Alone for most of it, probably.

But if you want to tag along for part of it… come with. Weave stories with me. Ask questions with me. Get lost and sleep on the streets with me. Work bizarre gigs with me. Learn languages with me. Taste new foods with me. Cry with me. Laugh with me. Stretch yourself with me.

You won’t ever fit into your old self again.

You’ll have to find a new way of being again.

But do it.

Do it with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Beer, Dating, feminism, The Geek, Travel, Wishes

Dilemmas of a Frugal Feminist

“You’re a pretty girl,” my date waved me off as I reached for my wallet. “Pretty girls don’t pay for things.”

I bristled, mentally calculating how much he had spent on me already – well over $100 in two days. He grinned at me cheekily. “I’m going to always do this, you know. Let me enjoy treating you.” And off we went to another out of the way restaurant that I’d never been to, the sapiosexual in me wrapped up in our invigorating conversation. The next morning, I got a text from a different recent date inviting me to go to a last minute concert, and that his offer still stands to pay for me to get a costume for the Ren Faire this summer.

Every date I’ve ever been on, I walked in assuming it would be dutch treat. If we clicked, I’d allow myself to feel indebted by letting the other party pay for me, and then I’d pick up our next tab. If I never intended to see him again, I’d interrupt for separate checks.

Egalitarian is how I’ve always operated in relationships and dating – if not bent towards me paying more because I was so adverse to feeling like I wasn’t pulling my weight. To be told I shouldn’t pay for something because I was “too pretty” left me looking like a gaping fish, and my inner feminist reeling. I was angry. Angry that beauty mattered. Glancing out at his brand new truck, I was angry that I pinched pennies for over a year to be able to travel to a friend’s wedding while he could casually drag me to expensive adventures and not bat an eyelash.

I’m an adventurer. I’m a traveler. I do a job I love that will never put me in the 1%. I’m a feminist. And every once in a while, these collide terribly.

Dating is really, really fun. Being able to go to new places all the time, meet new people, hear new stories, start new arguments. It’s expensive though – a couple beers can run you $15, and $15 is a night in a hostel, or three backpacker meals. To adventure at home, or away. That is the question.

I’m wrestling with all this. “New” is what makes my heart race for travel. If someone else is offering to pay for it, allowing me to explore the nooks and crannies of my home, is it so wrong to accept? Even thinking about it is making me clench up anxiously. I want to be able to be on the same page as a partner in crime. I don’t want to even have it be an issue, yet here I am, wondering if I’m taking advantage of someone. Feeling like accepting an offer for dates is slapping my feminist beliefs in the face. Wanting to go, to dream, to wander, to explore, to taste, to dine, to be absorbed in sound and sight. The desire to vagabond battling with the desire to do it all myself.

Often when I blog, I use it as a method of processing thoughts, ideas or questions. I still am. But for once, I haven’t come to a conclusion. I’m lost. I’m desperately needing a girls night, wanting to hear the words of fellow feminists who have already wrestled with these thoughts, these questions. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what I want to do, what I ought to feel, how I think I should behave and respond. It’s frustrating! Friends, let me ask you: what would you do?