reflections

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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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.

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.

Leaving Antigua

Where to begin?

I am leaving Antigua. The place that has become my home, that I have found a community, friends, family, that I have cared for puppies, that I have lived with a boyfriend, that I have talked up as a bartender and become a presence in as a manager, that I have lived abroad. It’s not an easy choice to leave such a place, but I knew one day it would come.

I didn’t know the circumstances under which it would happen. Simultaneously making the choice easy and difficult on the level of leaving San Francisco, there were clear factors that led me here.

I had a one way flight to New York in June. Going for a wedding, staying for a surgery that had an unknown timeline, I couldn’t predict how long I would need to be in my home country. My best guess was a month or two. With an impending trip like this it obviously made me take a closer look at my life, my priorities, my goals for the rest of the year. I haven’t been one to plan ahead too much in the past year but with ideas like Oktoberfest and the fact that I’ve been away from my profession for two years already I started to seriously think about some things.

Oktoberfest. The idea had come up to go with my best friends and, having wanted to experience this epic German festival most of my life, I couldn’t say no. Before I got locked into a lifestyle of limited vacation it seemed like the best way to blow the rest of my savings. And I’ve talked about visiting Europe for a year now to see if I wanted to live there. Oktoberfest could be the start of a research trip that would show me my next move.

I love bartending. I love Cafe No Se. I love the conversations and the people and the atmosphere. I love that my job is making sure people have a good night. I miss architecture. I miss working towards a project, pulling together something tangible, something that I’m proud of, winning a job. I left my career at a crossroads, when I was offered a manager position most people would kill for. I would have at one point. As my friends move into these roles I question where in the ranks I will have to reenter the architecture world. Will I have to start over again as I did at 22? How long can I rely on 5 years of experience? I’ve been away from it almost half as long as I was in it. But the realization that I want to go back to my former profession was enough to make me rethink my return to Antigua.

The people of Antigua made me stay here. The people of Antigua were making it nearly impossible to leave. Brayan has meant so much to me, from the time when we were just good friends wandering Mexico together to the deepest points of our relationship, and I am incredibly fortunate to have had him in my life. But as our relationship ran its course, I wondered if I could have a life in Antigua without him. My No Se family made me think it was possible. In the last two weeks before leaving I felt like I truly had found my people. They had me thinking about coming back when I’d already decided I wouldn’t. They have me thinking about coming back periodically over the years even after I have gone. But I have people at home, people I have missed dearly, that cannot be ignored. I do not take for granted how lucky I am to know so many terrific people that I feel pulled in so many directions.

I have loved being a nomad. The traveler life is one I took to instantly and lauded to any and everyone who would listen to me. Leaving to travel was the best decision I have ever made in my life. But there are things I have started to miss.

I miss winter. I miss cities. I miss walking on paved sidewalks in heeled boots. I miss sipping on a hot beverage because the air is brisk outside. I miss having my things in a place that I know I don’t have to leave. I miss sushi dinners with my friends. I miss the holidays with my family.

Trust me when I say this was a decision that haunted me for weeks before it came to fruition. I am positive I will have moments of doubt, I will look at flight prices, I will consider going back for just a month if I have it between surgery and Oktoberfest or Europe and a new job. And I am okay with that, because it is just further proof that Antigua was the right decision for me. That my time there meant the world to me. And that I will always consider it to be one of my homes.

(May 30, 2016)

200 Days Since I Arrived in Antigua

Antigua, how do I describe you?

Your first impression is among the best in the world. When first walking your streets your charm is undeniable. Your pretty colors, manicured parks, and commitment to cobblestones capture us. Our cameras snap at every glimpse of a wall half in ruins or a gated window holding a flower box. We hike to your Mirador, Cerro de la Cruz, and marvel at your tiny size dropped into the valley between three volcanoes. Your neighbors, the volcanoes, amaze us. We gape in awe at the erupting Fuego. We ascend Acatenango to watch the sun rise over you. We can’t get enough of your beauty.

Your people welcome us. They make us feel as if we belong, that we have found our new home, our island of misfit toys. They say hi to us on the streets after just one encounter. They offers us jobs, that lead to a family. They warn us that we are one of them now, that though we may try to leave we will always return to Antigua.

Your nightlife never ends. It carries us away with it – morning, noon or night – until we can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a drink. For better or for worse, it keeps us going.

Everyone loves you, Antigua. And everyone hates you. You bring out the best and the worst in us. But you make us feel like we’re in it together. You never judge us, you forgive us, you encourage us, and sometimes for good measure, you kick our asses.

Is this a love note or a hate note to Antigua? I don’t know either. All I know is that Antigua will be with me forever.

Back in Antigua

So I came back to Antigua. When I left in September I thought that my return to San Francisco at the end of March would signal the end of this Phase 2 of Travel Abrodge, yet here I was, sitting on a plane on my way back to Guatemala. Much like on the way to San Francisco I knew I had a lot to look forward to upon my return to Antigua. I had my puppies and my boyfriend and a new role at work to begin and people to catch up with and a few events in April I was looking forward to, plus it was about to be low season so I would get to experience Antigua outside of hectic tourist season.

When my airport shuttle hit the cobblestone streets I was genuinely happy to be back home. Town looked bright again, like it did when I first arrived, and my house welcomed me back with comforting arms. But as time moved on I realized that I was not the same person who had left. My trip to San Francisco had messed with me more than I had realized at first, and more than I ever thought it would. Every day I woke up was a coin toss – would I want to live here today or yearn for the place I had just left? I found myself unhappy for no good reason, riding an emotional rollercoaster with no end in sight. I wrote this.

I knew I had to wait it out. There was a reason that I had decided to stay in Antigua, made a life for myself here, decided to get on that plane to come back. Removing myself from the bubble to go back to a life that was familiar, comfortable, loved, was a risk, but it didn’t mean that was the life for me right now. Right now I was here, living as an expat, living out a bartending dream, living with a new family I created here with Brayan, Molly, and Mary. Right now I was doing this. So it was time to really do this.

Spanish classes three times a week. Volunteering at Caoba farms. Going for walks and runs. Creating a perfect work schedule. The uncertainty didn’t go away entirely, but it faded with every day.

I celebrated my birthday in Antigua. I didn’t want to do anything big, 29 is just another year, I’ve had enough birthdays in my 20’s to let this one go by like any other day. Brayan and I went to lunch at a place I’ve always wanted to eat and for a good craft beer. And it isn’t a birthday without stopping at San Simon for a delicious cocktail. And then the day turned into a bar crawl. A friend had invited me to a pop-up DJ show. I walked around with Brayan promoting Ladies Night at Lucky Rabbit. Which of course ended at Lucky Rabbit. Everywhere I went everyone said Happy Birthday. People bought me drinks, gave me hugs, were so happy I came back from the States, and had big smiles as they called me the Birthday Girl. When I got to Lucky they broke out the party hats, free shots, and an embudo in my honor. There’s nothing that makes you feel more welcomed and loved in a new home than everyone you know wanting to celebrate your birthday with you.

I leave for the States again in a month, this time with a one way flight. This is already messing with my head again. Everything was going great and here I am again, unsure about how I feel. People are leaving all around me, should I be one of them? Or will this little reprieve make me happy to return again? Who knows. But for now I’m trying not to focus on that. I’m trying to focus on all the greatness that I did experience here before and after the last round of U.S.-induced emotional turmoil. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Early Morning Musings

I woke up today thinking about New Zealand. I have no idea why. I couldn’t remember the name of that grocery store that I was so in love with, the one that had cheap fresh products perfect for the backpacker budget. New something. New Lands? No, that’s the Justice song I put to my Fraser Island video. New… New… World! New World! Yes I wrote a post about it. After Kaikoura, when I woke up to see the sunrise with tea. Tea sounds nice. I’ll go make some tea and read my post about New World.

That led to watching my road trip video to the boat video to the oceans video to the sandboarding video and I felt myself enter a downward spiral of reminiscing and nostalgia. I knew I didn’t actually want to be on the road again, but I will always miss the lifestyle I had that year.

I’m just shy of a year away from the end of my 300 days around the world, so maybe that’s a contributing factor to this feeling of uncertainty about settling into a single place for so long. Every Timehop that shows me where in Japan I was a year ago is just a countdown to the end of that trip, to the time my first year of travel was over, to that feeling in the Seoul airport when I had a panic attack about going back Stateside. I’m not Stateside now but I am stopped. I live and work in one place, something I haven’t been able to say for almost two years.

And I just got back from San Francisco, the last place that I did live and work. It’s been a rough adjustment since I got back a week ago. I do owe you a blog post on my time there, and that will help explain this a bit, but suffice it to say that reentering my old life for two weeks has put my new life in serious contrast and I’m not sure how it will play out. Yes I am still happy in Antigua, yes I still believe this was the right choice for me right now, and yes I am still staying for the foreseeable future. For the foreseeable future. What lies beyond the seeable I don’t know yet.

I do know that for now, I must make the most of my time here. Many of my friends are on their way out or have already left. Sometimes I feel like I’ll outlast everyone. But then I remember how many people have left and come back and are still around and I am still just getting to know and I know that there is still more for me here. But what some of these friends have said about their final days in Antigua is how much they’ve come to appreciate it at the end, almost like seeing it for the first time again. That instant love that we all felt when we got here, that made us stay here, seems to return when you’re about to leave. So instead of waiting for that moment when I decide to leave, I will try to remember every day how wonderful this place is and make it my own. It won’t be my permanent home, so in a way every day I’m here is like a day on my way out. Even if that final out is still months away.

But for now, I will indulge my nostalgia and watch a few more travel videos. And why not? Those first 300 days remain 300 of the best days of my life. Why wouldn’t I want to relive and remember them any chance I can?

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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2016 Year of Possibility

This morning I received a reminder about a status I posted on this day 2 years ago:

It’s official: 2014 Year of Travel. Thanks everyone who talked me through the past few weeks and helped me decide what to do next year. Stay tuned for the itinerary…

Two years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life when I said no to an incredible job opportunity and gave five months notice that I would be leaving my current position to follow my dream of traveling the world. Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I chosen the other path. Not having been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen, met who I’ve met, and lived how I’ve lived in the past two years. I would not be who I am today.

Two years later I find myself in a strangely parallel place, but this time I have chosen the other path. When faced with the decision to continue traveling or put down some roots I have opted for stability – a house, a job, a life in one place. For the first time in a long time I can answer the question “where do you live?” with “here.”

Contrary to popular belief, I am not freaked out. I have lived nomadically long enough. It’s because of the past two years that I felt ready to make this decision. Do you know how nice it is to not pack up my backpack every other day? To sleep in and watch movies all day because I don’t have to rush around to see and do everything? To have a favorite lunch spot, cocktail spot, or walk? To have people around who aren’t going anywhere, who I don’t have to say goodbye to but instead see you tomorrow?

Everyone loves to post end of the year recaps. 2015 was quite a year – I started it in Thailand and am ending it in Guatemala, not to mention everywhere I went in between – but this isn’t about a recap for me. I’m more focused on what is about to come in 2016. I am making a life somewhere I never predicted I would live. Whether that life lasts a month or a year I have no idea. Maybe that is part of why staying here feels so different. Living in New York and San Francisco I always knew I would leave to travel; I had an expiration date of sorts. Living here, I know nothing about an end. Sure I have ideas about what could happen when I leave here, travel dreams and stability dreams, but nothing that I am so committed to like I was before. It’s flexible stability. It’s go with the flow. It’s live for today. It’s my traveler mindset in a home.

2014 year of travel. 2015 year of continued wanderlust. 2016 year of possibility. Possibility for a calmer type of life, for a deeper connection, and for absolutely anything whenever I feel ready to move on. It should be an interesting year.