Returning

There It Went

As a year that is despised by most ends and a new one begins, countdowns and resolutions have taken over the internet. I have been guilty in the past of naming years – “2014 Year of Travel” and “2016 Year of Possibility” (at the time I didn’t think possibility would turn so negative) – but this next year I will not name. I will just let 2017 be whatever it decides to be as it happens, because living in the moment is one of the best lessons I can take away from this whole adventure. As for a recap of the past year, I don’t think anyone needs another rambling post from me about what ending my trip, dealing with cancer, getting a job, and moving back to New York City was like. I don’t even know if I could write that post. Suffice it to say that I did not expect last year to be what it was at all, and it has not been easy on me. But that is not what this post is about.

This post is about that time three years ago when I started this blog. My first official post was on January 30, 2014, but in the month leading up to that first post I had already told everyone in my life of my grand plan, including my job, and started preparing for my departure. I promised myself that I would document it all, from the planning stages to every location to my eventual return, whenever or if-ever I did return. From that day until now I have been halfway around the world and back, I have boarded two one way flights out of the United States and two unexpected one way flights back, and I have found myself settled again in a place I never would have predicted when I started this journey three years ago.

I started TravelAbrodge to document my Round the World trip. Then I continued it to document my Round the Central America turned Life in Guatemala time. And then I used it when I didn’t know any better way to update everyone on my experience with a sarcoma surgery. It has been one hell of a ride.

But some part of me always knew that ride would end. That one day, my TravelAbrodge would be a part of my past, and I would re-enter the stable working world. My blog would have to end with it.

Now that the time is here, it’s been hard for me to actually shut it down. Not only is it a clear sign of the drastic change that has occurred in my life – from a nomad who could take off on a moment’s notice to a project manager who reports to an office 5 days a week – but it is something I grew to depend on in a way. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I would always take time to sit down and write about it. Some posts were short and some were way too long, some were factual and some were deeply introspective, but all were a part of me.

I have enjoyed sharing these parts of me with you. My experiences, my thoughts, my challenges, my elations. And I thank you – truly and sincerely thank you – for reading along. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

And with that, I say farewell to the blogosphere. I know I will have many more adventures and miss writing about them here, but they are for another time and place. This story is complete.

Adios my friends.

– Kristen, aka Brodge

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I Got a Job, and I’m Back in the Working World

I said in my last post that my return to the working world would be a two-part story. In reality it could probably be many more parts, but in my mind there were two major factors that needed to be addressed regarding the transition from full-time traveler back to full-time worker. Part 1, discussed in the previous post, was about how my trip did not hinder my job search but helped it. Part 2 is about what it’s like to go back to a 9-6 life.

While I was on the road it was nearly impossible to imagine returning to a desk. The morning commute was something I scoffed at; I felt like I had escaped the rat race and found life’s true meaning. I don’t take that back at all, I did discover many things that I deemed meaningful during my travels, and one of those happened to be my work ethic. In order to reach that point I did something I think was very valuable: I kept going past my initial timeline. If I had returned to work after that first year I probably would have felt like I’d missed out on something. Continuing on the way I did – ultimate flexibility that led to an expat life – allowed me to feel like I’d satisfied my nomadic cravings and was ready to return to that “real world” I’d hated referencing as such. (My travel world was just as real as my working world, what makes one deserve that title more than the other? Cultural norms, I suppose.)

By the time I came back to the U.S. I knew I was ready to go back to work – back to a desk, a routine, and hopefully a career. These were things I had never completely sworn off but rather had taken a break from. I knew one day I would have to choose between my two lives – the eternal nomad or the successful careerwoman – and after two years away I realized that I was ready to put my nomadic life in the past, to be that person who had lived the dream and came back to pursue professional goals.

After so much time living according to whim, I expected it to be a very tough transition. In reality, I was so ready to go back to work that I threw myself into it. 10 hour days felt like 2 hours, and empty weekends felt like biding my time until Monday when I would be productive again. It didn’t hurt that my first task was opening a bar in an extremely accelerated schedule.

Now that I am past that initial rush, I am happy to report that, while I do fondly reminisce about my travels from time to time, I do not wish to go back to them. I have returned to that rat race, that desk life, that 9-6 schedule, that “real world,” and I am completely okay with it. I guess that’s the thing about pursuing your dreams – when you leave it all out there, there’s no wrong decision, and even those choices that may surprise you, like returning to an old way of life, end up being right where you’re supposed to be. Because after doing a trip like I did you know yourself too well to let yourself go the wrong way. So work it is, and hopefully the beginning of a long, successful career.

I Got a Job, and My Trip Helped it Happen

October 13th I started a new job. I’ve been meaning to write about this for the past month, but a) didn’t know which route to take, and b) was way too busy to get my thoughts straight. Now that it’s been over a month and things are finally settling down a bit, I have decided this will be a two-part post. This is Part 1.

Last weekend a friend asked me, “How did you get a job?” Not that I’m unqualified, just that I have been out of the typical workforce for two and a half years, and that sizable resume gap seems like it would be a huge hindrance to getting back into the professional world. This is actually a question I’ve heard a lot from people leaving work to travel as well, whether the experience of travel outweighs the “seeming irresponsibility” of being out of work for so long.

Let me be living proof to you all: you can leave your career for over two years and have no problem getting a job when you’re ready for it again. In fact, it may help you land an even better job for you than you expected to find, as happened for me.

Over the summer I updated my resume, and instead of shying away from the past two years I decided to highlight them. Next to my “Work Experience” section I added a “Life Experience” section. Formatted in the same way my job listings were, it made my trip into a professionally-digestible asset.

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I got interviews at the first two jobs I applied for. Three rounds at each. The first one was an international architecture firm that wanted someone to help with their markets in South America and Japan, but they didn’t seem to care much about my experience in either. In fact they didn’t seem to notice that I’d even taken time to travel. They were focused solely on my work experience before I left, and for some reason that actually bothered me. My trip was a huge part of my life, and would help with this job opportunity, but they acted like it never happened.

This is also an important thing to highlight for anyone worried about being interviewed post-travels: you are also interviewing them. I found I was annoyed that something so important to me had been so blatantly ignored. Just because a place has decided you are worth talking to doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Don’t just take a job because you’re relieved someone is taking a chance on you, take a job that wants all of you – professional and travel version – there.

The second job I interviewed with not only appreciated my travels, but partially hired me because of them. Also an international firm, they focus on hospitality design, and were in need of a Project Manager to help open a new mezcal bar. Now my experience working at Cafe No Se was invaluable to my being hired. The combination of my work experience before and during my time abroad combined perfectly into a role at this fantastic firm, not to mention the personality match that both sides sensed.

I am happy to say that my job search ended there. I know, some of you probably hate me for how easy that was, but when it’s right it’s right. And my new role at this incredible restaurant, bar, hotel, retail, and residential design firm is very right.

Moral of the story: taking time off to travel will never hinder anything in your life, it will only enhance everything, down to finding the perfect next career move.

The Sun Will Always Rise Again

If I have found one constant around the world it is this simple fact: the sun will always set, and it will always rise again.

I have watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Andaman Sea, Lake Yamanaka, Laguna Bacalar, the Wörthersee, and the Amazon River. I have watched it rise over the Himalayas, the Kaikoura Ranges, Mount Rinjani, Volcan de Agua, the boulders in Hampi, the Temples of Angkor, the Temples of Bagan, the skyline of downtown San Francisco, and the rolling hills of Vermont.

The end of the day, the beginning of one. Sunsets and sunrises are events that encourage reflection, or at the very least taking a pause and admiring the beauty of nature. Sunsets are beautiful scenes, but I have discovered a personal preference for sunrises. The start of something new. The chance to begin again. When the sun sets on one phase, it rises on another.

If I have found one preference around the world it is this: I like the mountains.

Anyone who has read my posts over the past two years knows my affinity for rocky terrain. I love a good beach trip as much as anyone, but I can only last there for so long. Put me in a tiny mountain village, surrounded by nature so impressive all you can do is look up, and I will be happy. If there is water near by – a lake surrounded by hills, for example – I may never leave. From my family’s roots in Vermont and Austria to my homes in San Francisco and Antigua to some of my favorite travel destinations in New Zealand and Myanmar and Japan, the constant is mountains, often accompanied by water.

So it should be no surprise that, two days before leaving Antigua, two days before I uprooted a life in search of the next adventure, I got another tattoo memorializing all of this. Two years of travel, two years of not knowing where I would end up next, two years of the sun setting on one place and rising on another, in a lifetime of the sun setting on one phase and rising on another. My Antigua phase was over. My Travel Abrodge felt like it was coming to an end. I was hoping to return to stability, a hope I never knew I would want again but there it was. My sun was setting on my nomadic life. But it will rise again on another.

I never want to forget how important this philosophy has been to me. And now I never will.

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The Expat Ending

Last year when I came back through the United States I knew I had a series of wrap-up blog posts to write – photo projects, how my planning worked out, how it felt to be done with that trip and moving forward, highlights of places I visited. The list was long and comprehensive.

This year I feel like I should do the same, but I don’t have a list. I don’t really know how to neatly wrap things up like I did before. Going through some pictures the other night I was reminded that my Central America adventure started much like my round the world trip, hopping from place to place seeing the sights of a new region. But in December that got derailed when I decided to stay in Antigua for an unknown amount of time. Over the next six months I built a life there, and that’s what has defined this part of my Travel Abrodge. I became an expat.

And I couldn’t imagine any better way to end this adventure.

One thing that I craved when I set out again in September was to get stuck somewhere. I’d encountered places in my first year that were tempting but I was so set on my moving itinerary that it wouldn’t have been possible to really enjoy stopping. This time though that wasn’t the case. I was intrigued by what it meant to be an expat, to get to know a place on a deeper level. Antigua became that place.

Antigua, the expat haven. It’s not a unique choice for this kind of experience, but maybe that’s also why it was appealing. I entered a place where expats were a huge part of the community. For better or for worse, I wasn’t alone.

I straddled a line between expat community – Cafe No Se – and Guatemalans and backpackers – Lucky Rabbit – in a way that made me feel like I got a pretty well-rounded experience of what living in Antigua was like. And on top of that, I had a more grounded life than I had maybe ever had before. I had a house, I had a relationship, I was caring for two dogs, I started to know people in town, was invited to parties in the city, became a person people would come visit at the bar, and couldn’t walk around without running into someone I knew. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had a real home and it was in Guatemala. A little bubble of Guatemala called Antigua. But it still had the market and the water issues and the language and the characteristics of being a town in Guatemala.

It was everything I didn’t know I was looking for, and even though it came to an end somewhat abruptly, I will forever be happy I experienced that life. My first year away was world exploration, constant movement, the backpacker life. My second year was dominated by this expat life. It’s the best combination that really made me feel like I’ve done it all now. Of course it’s not possible to have “done it all,” it never will be, but without that expat time I would not feel like I could come back to the States. Come back to a job. Come back to a life I never knew I would want to return to. It’s because of Antigua that I realized I did want to return to it.

Thank you to Antigua – to everyone there for making me feel so welcomed, so at home, and to the town itself for being the picture perfect place to stay.

Over the next couple of months I will probably write a handful of posts on concluding thoughts from the past two years. I don’t know what form they will take yet or where they will lead me. I just know that I can wholeheartedly say that I have just lived some of the best years of my life. It is bittersweet saying that it’s over, but if I’ve learned anything from it all, something wonderful still lies ahead. It always does.

I Can’t Keep Quiet About the Brexit Vote

I usually stay away from politics. It causes heated arguments that never seem to reach a conclusion, in fact they seem to do more damage than good. Plus I am admittedly less informed than those who want to fight about it so why enter into a conversation I don’t think I’m fully qualified to discuss in depth.

Today though, I don’t care. Because today I’m worried about the world.

As everyone knows by now, the U.K. has voted to leave the European Union. More specifically, the rural upper class in England have voted to leave the EU. This decision has serious consequences for my friends in the UK and across Europe, as well as millions of people I don’t know in those areas and around the world. I can’t even begin to fathom the economic impact, other than knowing my trip to London in October just got significantly more affordable. Silver lining?

The part that worries me most? Felix Salmon said it best:

“The result is that we are now entering a world in retreat from progress, a world of atavistic nationalisms and mutual distrust, a world in which we demonize foreigners and prefer walls to bridges.”

Demonize foreigners. Walls to bridges. Xenophobia. A misunderstanding of the world.

As a person who just spent two years of her life dedicated to exploring and better understanding the world, this is heartbreaking. How can two countries – now I am including the United States, whose upcoming presidential election terrifyingly mirrors this Brexit vote – who pretend to be so progressive, such leaders of the free world, be in favor of shutting their minds and their borders to the unfamiliar?

At no point in my travels did anyone in a foreign country tell me I wasn’t welcome there. Quite the opposite. Colombians yelled “Bienvenidos!” to us on the streets, people in Myanmar gave me the thumbs up when they greeted me with “Obama!”, and when I moved to Guatemala I was not questioned as to my purpose of being there or hounded for taking a job, I was admitted into the community with nothing but smiles and “Buen Provecho”s all the time.

The world has its terrible people and places, I will never deny that. But get out from behind your TV set, leave your comfortable rocking chair, and you will see that those people are not the majority. They are the exceptions that get the attention, as most exceptions to the rule do. The reality is that the world is full of kind, good-hearted people. If only that was the message that was broadcast around the world instead.

I know I can do nothing to change what has happened, and come November I will be like my friends in the UK – my fellow travelers who are saddened and angered by this outcome – and vote to stop the xenophobia from taking over. I can only hope that enough of us turn up to the polls to tip it in our favor. But outside of official elections, I will continue to do whatever it is I can do in my own little sphere of existence to spread the good news of the world, to share the stories of kindness I have received abroad, and to keep in mind that though today may seem bleak yesterday and tomorrow do not have to be.

It’s June 21 Again

How has it been 2 years already? 2 years to the day since I got on that plane to Brazil, since I left the world I knew behind and set out to discover the vast world I did not know.

One year ago today I wrote a reflective post about how I had spent the previous year living the trip of my dreams, and how, even though I was currently in Vermont to work, I was going to continue traveling in the coming fall. It was a pause, a shift of focus, an end to one phase and the beginning of the next.

Today I find myself somewhere I never expected I would be on this day: in Vermont. Again. Another end to a phase, another time to wrap things up and refocus, another summer in the mountains to clear my head and figure out my next move.

Vermont has become the place where I transition. Even as I write this now I realize that my trajectory will be similar – last year I took off in September for Central America, this year I plan to leave in September for a month or so in Europe – but the end goals are vastly different. Last year I came back with the intention to continue my backpacking life for at least another 6 months. This time I came back with the intention to go back to what many people call “the real world.”

So I guess now, on this 2 year anniversary of my departure, I can officially say that my journey around the world has come to an end. When I set out 2 years ago with a one way flight plan ending halfway across the world I did not know that I would end up with a one way flight back to the United States. I didn’t know where I would end up, truthfully. I definitely did not plan on living in Guatemala for six months, and then leaving such an established life behind to return to my home country.

When I left I felt like I had the world at my fingertips. Anything could and would happen. I was excited to see what that meant, to live freely, and solo. It was me and the world and nothing or no one could stop us.

Now that I’ve returned I feel oddly similar to how I felt then. Sure, I will experience a range of emotions that have already begun – denial at being back, confusion about the future, happiness at having achieved my travel goals, excitement for the possibilities of what comes next, serenity at where I am in life – but I am still excited to see what me and the world will do. Because for most of my 20’s I had a plan: work in architecture, live in New York City, live in San Francisco, leave to do my trip of a lifetime around the world. And now I can confidently say that, by the age of 29, I have achieved my life goals.

So now what? The world is still my oyster. And where I end up now will not be overshadowed by anything – no longstanding dream of travel, no need to save up for that goal or always live temporarily knowing I would one day depart. Now, I can really dig into life somewhere. Or not. Anything is possible.

My Visit to San Francisco

6 months after I left the U.S. and 4 months after I came to Antigua, I boarded a flight to San Francisco. It was the first time I really removed myself from the bubble I’d been living in, and it was to go back to what I once called home.

Home is a difficult word for me. Is home where I grew up, New Jersey? Is home where I chose to make my life for a while, San Francisco? Is home the place I would go if shit hit the fan, Vermont? Is home where I now pay rent and work, Antigua? None of those really feel right but they also all do at the same time. I declare my status homeless.

Anyway, as I left my new home for my old home, I knew I had a lot to look forward to. I was going back for my sister’s wedding! I’ve been to family weddings and a friend’s wedding but nothing is the same as going to your only sister’s wedding. Not only would I be involved in a variety of stages – from a pre-wedding celebration of Kara (aka a bachelorette party but we’re not really using that word) to a flower market run to hair and make-up the morning of the big day to giving a toast at the reception – but I would also be a part of a family changed. My sister would now have a new first family with her husband and a new branch of the family with his family. I would now have a brother and extended family through him. The Brodgesell’s would now be a fivesome or a trio at holidays.

I wondered how this change would hit me. Would I feel the losing a sister or gaining a brother side more strongly? In truth, I didn’t really feel either. I simply felt happy for my sister. That she has a partner in life, one who I truly believe is right for her and genuinely like, and that they had a celebration of their love. It’s not like things will drastically change, they already live together and share pretty much everything, but we were all able to take a weekend to recognize how wonderful they are together. Isn’t that the point of weddings really? For everyone to be happy together because the couple is so obviously happy that it wafts over everyone like chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven?

Mmm chocolate chip cookies. What’s a girl gotta do to get some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in Guatemala?

Leading up to the wedding I got to have some great San Francisco time with friends and family. I revisited my old neighborhood and ate all of the food I missed (burritos, sushi, udon, pizza, a legit burger, even a ridiculously expensive kale cesar salad) and drank all of the drinks I missed (IPAs and bourbon). I was fortunate enough to be in town for Easter, a day typically known for its drunken debauchery amongst my friends that was noticeably tamer this year, but at least I got to see friends and then see adults race down a serpentine road in costume on big wheels at the Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race, an event I forever associate with my first weekend living in SF. In between the bigger activities I just hung out with my friends, the real highlight of being back, in the city I love so much.

And then there was the family time. The bonus of being at your sister’s wedding is knowing most of the guests. Family from both sides were in town for the weekend so I got to see everyone on this visit. The longer I’m away the more I truly appreciate spending any time with family, so it was wonderful to see them all this time around.

The wedding itself was beautiful, perfect, seamless, and fitting for Kara and Noah. They looked fantastic. The ceremony was touching and candid. The dinner was tasty and filled with joyous conversation. Then everyone danced until they told us we couldn’t dance anymore. So we went to a bar two blocks away and kept going for a little while longer. Surprise of the night? The dance off between my dad and my sister’s husband. I never expected it and will never forget it, for better or for worse.

All in all, it was a fantastic visit to San Francisco. I couldn’t have wished for anything more. I would be lying if I didn’t admit it made returning to Antigua more difficult than I expected. But I wouldn’t trade my trip for anything, it was magical to be back in my old life for a little bit.

My Unexpected Reaction to Being Back in San Francisco

I approached the Bay Area at perfect sunset timing. The sky was beautiful, and its vivid colors were reflected on the shimmering ocean. I resisted the urge to take out my camera. Just enjoy it, I told myself. San Francisco was welcoming me home with a stunning nature show.

Returning to San Francisco didn’t worry me when I left Antigua. I knew that I had a flight back, that this trip was just a vacation from the life I had begun in Antigua. I mentally prepared myself for the inevitable culture shock – I can flush toilet paper! I can drink the tap water! I can understand everyone around me! – that I had experienced before. I also mentally prepared myself to face the changes that had altered a city I once loved and called my home. A city that, just the day before, I permanently marked on my body in a new tattoo I got with my SF roommate.

I did not mentally prepare myself for wanting to move back. Within the first 24 hours of being back I was riding Andy’s hoverboard (technically it’s called a OneWheel but hoverboard is way more fun) through Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Bridge in front of me. Then we stopped for empanadas before meeting friends at a bar to watch March Madness, where I happily drank a Lagunitas IPA and Chainbreaker White IPA, my two favorite Bay Area beers. More beers and empanadas followed, and my night ended in the bar we’ve affectionately nicknamed “the littlest bar” talking literature with men twice our age. My San Francisco was still here. It wasn’t totally the same, but after two years neither am I. The point is, new me and new SF can still hang out.

Shit.

It hasn’t even been two days, so I’m not saying I will feel this way by the time I get on that return flight. But if it’s only taken this little time to feel at home here again, I fear for what will happen when my entire family comes to town next week. Best friends, all my family, and feeling again like this place is my city soulmate. I’m in for one hell of a trip.

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