goodbye

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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FUK to ICN to LAX to PHX

The morning I left Fukuoka I was nervous, but only slightly. Going to the airport to board a flight to Seoul felt like just another leg in the journey. Maybe it was the hangover dulling my senses, but despite my mind knowing that this was the end of my trip my emotions were playing catch up. And man did they catch up.

It happened when I was waiting at the gate in the Seoul airport (such a nice airport) and the destination name came up on the screen: LOS ANGELES. Oh my god I’m flying to Los Angeles. California. United States. My mind went into a tailspin, my heart started pounding in my chest, which felt like it was supporting the weight of a 300-pound man, and my eyes welled with tears.

“What have I done? I’m still in Seoul, I could just walk out of the airport right now. I don’t need my luggage right?” The loudspeaker announced that boarding had begun for a flight to Amsterdam. “I’ve never been to Amsterdam, that sounds nice, maybe I can sneak onto that plane instead.” Wanderlust combined with panic and every fiber in my being wanted to go the opposite direction of Los Angeles.

I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm myself. As boarding began I sat frozen in my seat, waiting for the seemingly endless line to die down (it was an Airbus with 80 rows, so boarding took quite a while). The screen flashed FINAL BOARDING in bold red letters. The line was down to a trickle that ended next to my seat. It was time.

I gathered all my strength and told myself that it would be ok. I was making the right decision. The world was not ending, it would still be there when I returned one day.

Despite the fact that I was on the most luxurious flight of my life, I couldn’t sleep more than an hour out of the total 10, something that was now very out of character for me with my vast experience of sleeping on all manner of transportation. It could have been due to the fact that this “overnight” flight was really “day to night” in Japan time, but I think my mind just couldn’t shut down. Finally the plane switched to morning mode and I watched out the window as we approached and flew over the city of Los Angeles, a place I had known well before, a place I almost moved to instead of traveling, that I now looked at as a stranger wondering how I could have considered such an exchange.

Stupefied is probably the best word to describe my expression as I walked through LAX, from picking up my luggage and going through customs to checking it in for my domestic flight to Phoenix. English was everywhere, I understood everyone, and everyone was so surprisingly friendly. I underestimated my countrymen’s kindness.

Waiting in LAX I turned back on my cell phone service. I called my mom. I was on American soil. I promptly received emails from a few family members welcoming me home and being thankful for my safe return. I was suddenly contactable at all times. I turned off my phone and napped for an hour on a bench in the terminal.

I slept the entire flight from LA to Phoenix, a necessary nap before the long night ahead. When I arrived in Phoenix a whole new nervousness took over – I was about to surprise my best friends. Only Kwaz knew that I had landed in the Phoenix airport an hour before everyone else and was hiding in baggage claim. I saw my friends come down the escalator, quickly grab their bags, and head out the door to drive off in Jen’s car. So, heart pounding, I walked out to meet them.

The minute they turned around I knew I had made the right decision. The shrieks, exclamations of joy, plus the occasional expletive, and endless succession of hugs were so much more than I had imagined. I thought back to my reasoning for coming back now instead of waiting until the summer when I had to be in Vermont – that since I had to come back anyway I might as well do it in a fun way – and mentally patted myself on the back for making this decision.

The thing is, I didn’t leave the US to run away from my life there. I had a fantastic life. I just wanted to enrich it, see more of what was out there, and grow as an individual. But I had plenty to return to, and these girls and the weekend that ensued were a huge part of that. The panic that I experienced in Seoul quickly faded into a memory. I was back, at least for now, and it was time to party.

 

1,000 Miles

The rest of our time in Khao Lak was just spent hanging out. We enjoyed an afternoon at the beach and played “name the US State” (a game started by the Germans). We had Christmas dinner overlooking the water at a table on the sand, and had the best spiciest red curry at our hostel, where I’ve so far had the best food in Thailand. Pascal and I rushed to the beach our last night in an attempt to catch sunset. The sun was down but the sky was still pretty so we had some beers on the beach and just enjoyed the waning light. We ended every night with multiple games of pool and the occasional foosball game or jenga. I discovered I’m actually getting pretty good at pool; I also discovered I’m not nearly as good at foosball as I thought and have a long way to go till I can beat Pascal.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though I only met Pascal and Chris on this trip it felt like I’d known them much longer.

We recapped to someone how long we’d known each other and sort of stumbled over the facts. Was it really just 10 days in Australia? That didn’t seem right. It didn’t matter how long or how short we’d technically known each other, the point was that here we were in Thailand and we had followed through on our plan to see each other again. I had jumped up so excited to see them when they arrived in Khao Lak and my sadness equalled my excitement when I had to say goodbye.

I’m not kidding that I’m so happy I got my tattoo with these guys. It will always remind me of them and that’s a great thing. Habibi, Byron Bay, Khao Sok and Khao Lak, these were great moments in my trip that were made great because Pascal and Chris were there too.

They live in Germany. I do not. This is a sad fact that means I don’t know if or when I’ll ever see them again. I have mentioned a potential visit to Germany, plus there’s the Travel Abrodge Burning Man camp in 2016, but even without the certainty of future visits, I sincerely hope we keep in touch like we have so far.

But there is still that Germany possibility. So guys, I may have to walk 500 miles, and I may walk 500 more, just to be the wandering traveler who walked 1,000 miles to show up at your door.

Love you both.

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The Why of Buenos Aires

BA was so incredible to me for 2 reasons: first, the city itself; second, the people I met there.

The city is beautiful. It’s Paris and New York City combined, with classic mid-rise buildings on tree-lined streets, shops and cafes along the ground level, and sculptures, fountains and parks around every corner. Graffiti is also around every corner, but in an artful not harmful way. Every neighborhood has its own feel and just walking the streets is an activity worthy of your time. People are active everywhere, from rollerblading in the park to running along Puerto Madero. And the food – incredible. Not just the delicious steaks but I had great salads, crepes, pulled pork and cheesesteak sandwiches, tacos (actually spicy ones!), and desserts. Then there’s the nightlife. Everything you’ve heard about BA nightlife is true and it still doesn’t prepare you for it. Live performances, DJ dance clubs, or chill local bars, it has something for everyone every night of the week.

BA has an energy and it is addictive. It’s not surprising that so many people visit and don’t leave. It has everything you could want in a city, but it’s more than what it can offer that makes it so special, it’s just the atmosphere. The kind of thing you have to experience to get. So go, experience it, and you’ll see what I mean.

The people I met in BA. Where to start? After being on the road for 3 months I was missing some normalcy in my interactions – having conversations that went beyond where you’re from and where you’re going, being able to message a friend to see what they’re up to today and create a spur of the moment plan, and just generally having people around who you’re comfortable with, who you can actually do nothing but sit on a couch with and still have a good time. I found these people in BA.

This group of solo travelers had all met at different points in their journies and I was lucky enough to be welcomed into their family. Travel times ranged from a few weeks to over a year, so somehow the timing just worked out that everyone was in BA staying at America del Sur. I haven’t ever so quickly felt so at home with a group of people before. We spent hours lounging together in the basement, cooked dinners together, had some crazy fun nights out, hung out in parks, explored the city, and experienced BA with each other.

My first night in BA I had one of the hardest moments of my trip so far: I was missing a close friend’s wedding. My friends and I came up with a plan to FaceTime the night of the rehearsal dinner so I could say hi to all of them together. I was at Alex’s apartment and these people I had just met made sure I had the wifi password, enough time before we went out, and a quiet place to talk. They saw it was important to me and helped me make it work. And then they helped cheer me up since of course I was sad I was missing this big event. I couldn’t have been in a better place for that weekend. That set the stage for the next 2 weeks of good times. When I left for Uruguay I was sad to go, but when I got back it was like I’d never left. I was greeted with big hugs and my plans for the weekend. That was the first night I had to go back to my hostel in Palermo instead of staying at America del Sur. When it was time to leave I said I had to go home. Tom responded, “You are home.” That’s how I felt. For 10 days, I had a home in this year of homelessness.

Goodbyes can be hard, and leaving BA was my hardest goodbye so far. Could it possibly have been even harder than leaving the US? 10 days in this amazing city felt as important to me as a year. When I left, I felt satisfied as a tourist, like I had seen and done all I wanted to, but sad just in life. Couldn’t that perfect combination of city and people last forever? My only comfort was that everyone had either left or was planning on leaving 3 days later. It was over for all of us. But these people will forever mean a lot to me. Thank you for being such a big part of making BA as special as it was.

Road Trip South Island: Queenstown, Take 2

Now this was the end of the road. Frank and Josi had flights out on Thursday, not just out of Queenstown but out of New Zealand – Frank moving on to Chile and Josi going home to Australia – so after returning from Milford Sound, the place that felt so much like a final adventure together, we decided to just hang out and chat over a chill beer at 1876.

This was our kind of place. Nice outdoor tables and good cheap beers, it was a great atmosphere to enjoy each other’s company on a pseudo-warm evening. One beer turned into two turned into going to the liquor store for more on our way back to the hostel. And while we were debating how many we should get who walks into the beer aisle but Karim from Wanaka! Frank and I were overjoyed to have our two travel buddies together, so obviously we went with a 15-pack of Speights and all hung out in our room for a few hours. I knew I didn’t have to say bye to Karim when I left Wanaka.

I had planned to leave Queenstown on Wednesday but that night Josi convinced me to stay one more day. She and Frank were leaving Thursday, so I should wait till then too. This was definitely the right decision; I had two more days in Queenstown to just hang out with the people who had become more to me than just travel buddies, they were my close friends.

The next morning we returned Fez. It was a sad moment for all. Then Frank and I had to hitchhike back into Queenstown from the airport. My first real hitchhiking experience! It made sense to try this in New Zealand, land of nice helpful people, and with a 6’3″ British guy to scare away the crazies. We were picked up by a very nice Irishman in less than 5 minutes who dropped us off right at our hostel door. My first hitchhiking was a success.

Due to bad weather, we lost all motivation to be active this day so instead we watched movies inside, eating the hostel’s free popcorn and soup (Southern Laughter, it’s related to the one in Franz Josef). Sometimes you have to love those lazy hostel days. Plus Josi had never seen Love Actually before. How was that possible?! Obviously we had to right this wrong immediately.

Our last day together was pretty much a summary of our trip: hiking and hanging out. First we went on a hike up Queenstown Hill. It was a perfect choice for the day, uphill enough to feel like we expended energy but, at an hour and a half return, short enough that it wasn’t a huge undertaking. The view at the top was fantastic. We could see from Queenstown to Frankton, looking out over the lake and with the background of The Remarkables mountain range. We took our time on the way down, pausing to take pictures and have some interesting discussions on a bench. Traveling for so long and having such fleeting interactions with people I sometimes missed the deeper conversations I can have with people from home. Frank, Josi and I were at the point of deep conversation, had been for a bit now, and that was very much present in our walk.

That night we took it easy; out for dinner and hanging out at the hostel with some wine. We tried to say our goodbyes at night since Josi and I had to leave early the next morning but none of us were ready. We all woke up early, in time to see a beautiful pink sunrise sky over the mountains, and first said bye to Josi. At least for now. We agreed that it wasn’t goodbye, it was see you soon. We made a plan to reunite in Berlin over the summer, and more short-term I will see Josi in Melbourne in a month.

An hour or so later, Frank walked me to the bus station. We had known each other for 19 days, but it felt like years. It was a big risk to decide to travel together after more or less 15 minutes of conversation and we would have been lucky to even just get along, but who could have predicted that we would become so close over that short time. I guess that’s what happens when you do a road trip in a foreign place together, when you experience intense new things like skydiving together, or share a new favorite place in the world like Wanaka. Although we are going different directions from here – Frank to South America and me to Asia – I know we will see each other again. It just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t, the universe isn’t that mean, and we won’t let it happen. Frank – you know I miss you, because we still talk all the time, and don’t you ever lose touch.

Thoughts from Cordoba: Goodbye South America

September 11, 2014. “As I finish my deluxe jamon y queso sandwich (con tomate y lechuga!), sip my Stella (tastes so good after so much South American beer), and enjoy the brisk spring air at an outside table in Cordoba, I think: ‘I am ready for Buenos Aires.’

For me, BA means a few things. It is a big city, and I have lived in big cities for the past 5 years. I find comfort in them. I like them. More than the city, BA is finally my time to stay put. I will be in the city for 2 weeks, my longest time since Rio. Ok I messed this up a bit with booking 2 different hostels (to get to know different parts of town) separated by 2 days in Uruguay, but at least I don’t feel rushed to see and do everything so quickly. I have time. I will get to know BA – its barrios, its public transportation system, its energy.

It feels like I’ve been moving towards Buenos Aires. ‘Just keep going, you can slow down in BA.’

BA symbolizes the end to my South America portion. It is my final destination before I go to a new continent. It is Part 1 completed.

By the time I leave BA, I will have been traveling for over 3 months. It’s hard to reflect on that. It flew, yet Saõ Paulo feels like ages ago. These months in South America were and weren’t what I thought they would be. For starters, I didn’t mean to land cross every border, but I did. Plans I set out with changed along the way, and in some cases (Ecuador) changed back to original plans. In the end, I think I actually did the South America that I meant to back when I started planning this RTW trip over a year ago. It’s funny how that worked out.

I have been to incredible places, and added even more to a mental list of next trips. I have met incredible people, ones who I hope I don’t lose from my life. I have survived in a language I don’t know in places where they don’t speak English. I have slept in bunk beds, real beds, hammocks, buses, airplanes, airports, and one tent. I have eaten all manner of meat from Brazilian BBQ to alpaca to a termite (does that count as meat?) and celebrated any time I got vegetables. I have tried the local spirits from Caipirinhas to Aguardiente to Piscolas and had memorable (and occasionally forgettable) nights with them all. I have encountered the cultures of 7 different countries across this content. And all of this still feels like just scratching the surface of South America.

But it is almost time to experience all new things in an all new continent, and I guess I’m ready. So with Buenos Aires I will say goodbye to South America. Thank you for the best start to this adventure that I could have but also never could have asked for.”

Goodbye Rio

I spent my last day in Rio on Ipanema beach. What better way is there to say goodbye to Rio than with this view?

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Last night I paid one final visit to FIFA FanFest for the final. It was packed with Argentinians who flocked here once they made the final. Some drove for two days just to be here for the game, slept in their cars last night, and drove back today. This meant that unfortunately it wasn’t a very excited crowd when Germany scored, but me and the little old German woman who was standing next to me (who came to FanFest alone, good for her) were jumping and hugging and yelling GOTT SEI DANK. Then Germany won the World Cup, and my Brazil World Cup experience was complete.

Well, almost. After I said bye to my German friend and we cleared out of FanFest, and past all the cops who were policing the riots that apparently were happening further up the beach (according to the Australians who I again ran into, the ones from my hostel in Argentina who I saw at FanFest on Tuesday – this time when I saw them they yelled “hey it’s California!” and we all hugged it was just too funny to see them again), and we got some food and had a lovely conversation with a traveling American couple, then we really got to celebrate the end of the tournament.

Juan and I spent the rest of the night walking up and down Copacabana beach, buying beers as we needed them. I really do love the lawlessness of Brazilian street drinking. We walked down to see the bears that were painted for every country and took pictures with ours – me with Germany and Austria, Juan with Panama, and both of us with USA. Then at the end of the beach we ran into the Germany celebration party. It was AWESOME. There was a big group of Germans jumping and singing and chanting on repeat, reveling in the joy of being world champions. It was exactly what I had hoped we would find without even knowing it would be there. I got to kiss a few trophies and sing a few chants before we wandered our way back up the beach, talking to people and continuing to grab beers as we went. Thanks Juan for exactly the last night in Rio and of the World Cup that I wanted.

Tonight I head to the airport to move on to another city. I still have a post about our day trips from Rio to come; maybe I’ll write it if I can’t sleep during our 5 hour layover in the Recife airport. Tomorrow morning I land in Salvador to explore a different part of this fantastic country. Rio, it’s been great, but it’s time to move on.

After spending two weeks in the same city with friends, now it feels like I’m really taking off on this journey. I’m a little nervous, but a whole lot more excited.

Bon Voyages

Over the past month I’ve said goodbye to a lot of people. I’ve moved out of the city I loved with some of the best people I’ve ever known, I’ve reconnected with college and high school friends only to say bye again, and I’ve gotten together with family in a wonderful sendoff celebration.

All of these goodbyes have been sad, and they’ve made this very real. But more than anything, they’ve reminded me of all the fantastic, supportive people I have in my life. For that I am forever thankful. I will miss you all so much.

I know I am looking forward to taking a break from our hyper-connected technological world for a bit, but I can’t help but feel grateful that the same technology I’m escaping will allow me to keep in touch from wherever I am in the world. Through this blog, through email, facebook messaging, google hangouts, and WhatsApp (yes I have decided to bring my iPhone as a wireless device), I will at least be able to say some quick hellos and hopefully have some great catch-up sessions while I’m away.

And maybe I’ll be able to convince more people to join me. Or at the very least, I’ll be able to feel like it hasn’t been so long when I see everyone again upon my return.

So for now, all of you have been a part of this journey already. Thanks for everything, thanks for following so far, and I will try my best to follow through on my promise to keep this blog updated so you can all come along with me, at least virtually.

9 hours till my flight.

Auf Wiedersehen, USA.

Bucket List Results

I know you’ve all been dying to know how I did on my San Francisco bucket list, or #brodgesbucketlist as it’s now known. Below is the entire list – maroon text is completed, black text I didn’t get to do. What do you think?

The Bucket List

The Bucket List

I think I did well! 34 out of 40. There are a few missing, unfortunately, but for all the ones missing and more I did plenty of #unofficialversion bucket list items. Plus there are a few that I did part of – my last weekend I did make it to Bootie and then Aces, we just happened to nap during what was supposed to be the EndUp time so I didn’t count it. And then there are a few that I admit are a bit of a stretch – I did go climbing at Dogpatch Boulders when I stopped by my friends’ climbing competition, and we did have a growler from Magnolia at their apartment after, so technically that counts right?

In the end I am just so happy that I was able to do as much as I did, and I’m even happier that so many people joined me for the fun!

I’ve posted some highlights already, but really everything I did could have had its own post. I had the best time exploring all the city has to offer. My last months in SF could have been filled with sadness about my upcoming departure, but instead they were a celebration of the wonderfulness of the city and all my friends.

There are still plenty of activities to do and places to visit in San Francisco, so when I return one day I hope more of you will join me again for my #brodgeisback list.

 

Transition Time

I’m in limbo right now. I have left San Francisco, but I haven’t left for the big trip yet. This is the time frame that when people would ask “when do you leave?” would cause me to hesitate over my answer – “leave San Francisco or leave for the trip?” Often I would get the response: “both!”

So here I am at part 1 of 2 of that answer. I left San Francisco on Wednesday May 28, but I am still in the country till June 21.

It still hasn’t sunk in at all that I moved away from SF. I think part of it has to do with how hard it was to say goodbye to everyone and to the city that I grew to love so much. I haven’t thought about it enough to process it, and honestly I’m kind of avoiding thinking about it much because I’m a little worried about what will happen when I do finally process it (the reason this post is not about that, I’m not ready for that post yet).

The other part is that I feel like I’m just on vacation. Less than 24 hours after flying out I was already in a car on my way to my 5 year college reunion, which I just got back from late last night. There’s no better way to ignore the emotion that comes with moving out of SF than spending a long weekend pretending you’re in college again. And there’s no better way to recover from that kind of a weekend than not having to go to work after it – I slept for half of today.

Due to all of this – moving, goodbyes, reunion – I have a lot of posts I need to catch up on. I sat down to write about things like how I did on my SF bucket list, my travel insurance decision, and the pain of moving all of my stuff out and shipping it across the country. Instead I find myself writing this noncommittal post about how I am physically and mentally in between the realities of SF and my trip. I have a feeling these posts I mean to be writing will be usurped by more reflective posts about what it’s like to be unemployed and homeless, and beginning to spend all the money that I just spent 5 years saving.

So for now, I am just trying to recover from the craziness that was the month of May. For the next few weeks I’m spending my time with family in New Jersey and friends in New York City. The farewells will continue, just like the planning, and I’m still working on processing the fact that this adventure is beginning.

But that is the reality for me right now – this adventure is beginning.