rtw

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.

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6 Months in Central America

 

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.

Mexico City

I think I may have summed up my feelings on Mexico City best when I said goodbye to my friend and wonderful host this morning: “I feel okay leaving because I know I will be back.” Since my first night here I have felt connected to the city, immediately liking walking around its neighborhoods and continually fascinated by the kind spirit of people I met – even if we didn’t share a common language. So I can’t imagine a life where I wouldn’t return to this city that so easily found its way into my heart.

My first impression of Mexico City was awe. Flying in over the urban expanse my jaw dropped – this is sprawl to the extreme. I had heard how large Mexico City was, but nothing prepared me for this. Not since Sao Paulo had I been so stunned by the breadth of a city, and even that was smaller. But once inside, that overwhelming impression faded away.

It probably helped that I was staying in incredibly nice apartment in a beautiful neighborhood, between Condesa and Roma, and on a charming street, Avenida Amsterdam. My first day I wandered these areas, through one park full of dogs, one with a David replica, and one with an antique etc. market. The architecture was surprisingly familiar, partly European and partly Gramercy in NYC. I kept thinking, “I could totally live here.” I stumbled across murals on the sides of buildings and a small exhibit about vernacular Mexican architecture on display in a public plaza. I ended that day with a piano concert in the gorgeous Castillo de Chapultepec followed by my first tacos and horchata, which were, of course, delicious. Not a bad first day.

Up next was Sunday and I decided to walk Reforma. I was not prepared for what that would be like. The street was shut down and covered with activity: bikes by the thousands, a large dance group in one of the roundabouts, and plenty of observers out for a stroll like me. I walked all the way to the historic center, through the beautiful park Alameda Central to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and on to the Plaza de la Constitucion, encountering a market, a brass band, and a parade along the way. It seemed like everyone was out and about. Since museums are free for locals on Sundays the lines for Museo del Templo Mayor and Palacio de Belles Artes were prohibitively long, but I was happy to just walk around and take it all in. Plaza de la Constitucion is lined by impressive, stately looking buildings that give the impression that important things happen inside (which is appropriate considering two of these are the Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana). The Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de Mexico is massive inside, and I happened to be there during a service, something I am very unfamiliar with. I was struck by the gravity of it all. I met up with friends to climb the tower up to the bells and ended up getting way more out of it than expected. We did see the huge centuries-old bells, but then we climbed all over the roof to get to another group of bells, all while a guide told us the history of them (in Spanish). I definitely recommend doing it if just to see the Cathedral and Plaza from above. I also recommend eating at El Mayor, where we had lunch, which overlooks Templo Mayor – great view, fantastic mole.

Two things in downtown struck me as very strange. First, the security guard at the Apple store entrance was holding a shotgun. Seriously? A SHOTGUN? Is that really necessary? Second was the abundance of people dressed as action heroes or Disney characters along the main pedestrian street. Batman was hiding behind a news kiosk, a minion was waving to people crossing an intersection, and Alien was offering 3 photos for MX$15. What strange amusement park had I wandered into? A friend tried to explain it by telling me, “We have a weird fascination with the US.” It was definitely weird.

My last day in Mexico City was dedicated to museums. After a leisurely two-course breakfast at Matisse, I walked the now-familiar route to the park in search of the Museo Nacional de Antropología. It was the most recommended museum from everyone I talked to so I figured I should see it. I was not disappointed. From the minute I walked into the courtyard and saw the giant carved pillar supporting a modern cantilevered roof I was taken with the building. As for the exhibits, it was all about the Mayan and Tenochtitlan rooms. Intriciate carvings, architectural recreations, and interesting history in digestibly lengthed descriptions came together in a captivating study on early Mexican civilizations. The upstairs dioramas, however, I breezed through in 10 minutes. Just not my thing.

Refusing to leave Mexico City without seeing at least one art museum, I switched gears and went straight for the contemporary Museo Rufino Tamayo. The building again instantly caught my eye – a contemporary concrete structure with a coffered ceiling and whitewashed parquet floor – but the temporary exhibits were a bit of a let down. Then I made it to the permanent collection and was completely won over. It’s a small exhibit, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in content. There’s just a handful of contemporary Latin American artists on display, but each one is given a wall with a description of their history and a few examples of their work. I couldn’t help but think of the MALBA in Buenos Aires when I saw most of them, and then my hunch that I had seen these artists before was confirmed when I reached Le Parc, who was featured in the incredible solo exhibit I saw last year at MALBA. I wrote down two names from this exhibit about who I hope to find out more. On my way home I took a detour through Polanco to see the more fancy neighborhood, which of course looked fabulous, and I vowed to one day return to Mexico City with more money and spend some time lounging at one of its restaurant’s outdoor tables.

Mexico City was a spectacular introduction to Mexico. There were some surprises both good and bad, such as the abundance of trees and parks scattered throughout the city and the constant presence of police in kevlar vests, respectively. But I left with an overall positive impression. I was introduced to the sights of Mexico – a diverse architectural makeup and a rich history next to a modern era; the sounds of Mexico – the call of the furniture/mattress selling/buying pick-up truck and a subway serenade; the tastes of Mexico – three ways of eating cactus and traditional dishes featured on a chef’s menu in honor of Mexico’s independence; and the people of Mexico – my gracious hosts, the genial maître d’ who took care of me at Matisse restaurant, the many patrons and employees of the cafe who tried to help me find a post office despite not speaking a word of English, and the man at the airport who picked up my check and wished me a pleasant stay in his country. The spirit of the Mexican people is warm, and that alone impressed me.

And with that, I left. Despite my obvious fondness of the city, I felt like I had to move on. The coast was calling my name and I couldn’t say no. But like I said, I know I’ll go back one day, because Mexico City has joined an elite group in my mind: Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and now Mexico City are the cities in Latin America in which I could see myself living.

“One Year”

One of my summer projects was to go through the boxes I have stored at my parents’ place and try to eliminate some of them. It’s amazing how much stuff I still have from years past, and how much I still have yet to go through. But one of the boxes I did make it to was my high school notebooks. While the notebooks went the way of the recycling bin, I held onto the papers I found out of curiosity. When I couldn’t fall asleep last night I decided to read some of them. I came across one called “One Year.”

I don’t remember the assignment – it was in my American Literature class, in which we had to write a series of reflective journals – but I can guess from the title and first line that we had to write what we would do with a year of free time. Anything we wanted. Here are the first and last paragraphs of my response:

One free year. It sounds like a lot of time, but it is so hard to fit everything I want to do into one year. I want to see the world, spend time in the wilderness of Vermont or Alaska, live in the city, intern, work on my photography, play ice hockey and lacrosse, relax by the pool, and so much more. But it is impossible to do all that in one year. Choosing the most important enterprise requires a lot of thought. What can I benefit from the most at my age? What can I fit in the time of 365 days? What offers the most opportunities for amazing adventures and exploration?  The first two questions have many different answers, but in considering the third question one endeavor in particular stuck out: see the world. Granted, it is an extremely courageous plan, but just choosing certain places can cut it down to being doable in just one year. One day I’d like to have been to every continent but that will take many years, not just one. So in order to shorten the list I thought of where I have wanted to go for the longest. These four ventures are the places that I want to go to as soon as possible. They all reflect a way of life I wish to attain: spontaneous, relaxed, peaceful, and cultured.

As I finish this paper I can just imagine all the wonderful places I have written about and I wish I were leaving tomorrow. All of these locations have so much to offer and I want to absorb all that is there. Ultimately I choose travel because of the experience. There is no way to gain a greater knowledge about the world than to see it. As profitable as that is, there is more to it than becoming more cultured. Travelling is where I can really explore myself. Being away from what I’m used to and in completely different surroundings, sometimes even with new languages, is how I can really tell who I am. Can I adapt well to these situations? There is no way to know until I try. I hope that visiting all these places would bring out the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be, the person that is stuck inside but needs help being released. The entire experience would open me up more and each place would bring out a different quality in me. San Francisco would show the more relaxed part of me while Fiji displays the exotic. Australia is just the fulfillment of a life-long dream. Europe is for the culture. Hopefully every place will help me achieve peace in life and help me be the kind of person I want to be.

This paper is dated November 23, 2003. I have been saying that my Round the World dream started senior year of college, so I’m sorry to say that I have been lying to you all. It appears to have started junior year of high school.

It is an incredible thing to read the thoughts of 16-year-old me and be able to tell her: “you will do this.” And: “you nailed it.” That final paragraph is everything to me. The fact that I actually went to most of the places I talk about in the rest of this paper – San Francisco, the Great Barrier Reef, the Coliseum in Rome – and even accomplished some of the other things I mentioned in the first paragraph – interned, lived in the city, spent time in Vermont – is just icing on this cake from the past.

The World I Saw

 

Next Steps: Planning, or Lack Thereof, and Why I Got a Guidebook

So I’ve decided to go to Central America… Now what?

The planning process this time is much more low-key than it was for my RTW trip last year. In fact, it’s near non-existent. With the aim to travel totally flexibly and recommendation-based, I don’t want to do much research into specifics. I know some places I want to see in every country – obvious ones like Chichen Itza, Caye Caulker, Antigua, the Panama Canal – and that’s enough of a start for me. If I look into it too much then I’ll come up with all of these places that I’ll try to make it to like I did last time and feel rushed to keep moving. I’m going with a more “ignorance is bliss” approach this time; I can’t miss what I don’t know about.

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I still did buy a guidebook: Lonely Planet’s Central America on a Shoestring (if it’s not broke don’t fix it). In my last trip I thought the Shoestring guides were good resources to have with me even if they weren’t my first mode of planning. At the end of each country chapter there’s a history section that I would read on my way into the country to get a little background on where I was going and what I would be experiencing. If I found myself without a clue of where to stay when I arrived somewhere I would go to the accommodation page and target the neighborhood pointed out as a hostel-centric area. Plenty of times I tore out the maps and used them to get myself around a city or neighborhood, especially at night in search of a bar. And of course if I had a lack of advice on where to go next I could read through the locations for inspiration.

Most helpful though was the transportation information. Each country has a “getting to” and “getting away” section that not only helps with flight versus bus evaluations but also finding your way into town from the typically far away airport or bus station. Then there’s the call-out boxes of bus matrices that are good guidelines for frequency, length of time, and cost to get between between places of interest. But if I were to give a “most helpful section” award it would go to the border crossing information. These guidebooks highlight the best places to cross borders and explanations of how it all works. This information is hard to find elsewhere; many travelers referenced my books to see what we were up against.

As helpful as the internet is, there’s no way to beat having a physical reference in your hand when you have to make a snap decision in Bangkok traffic about whether you can ditch the southern bus station idea and instead go to the train station with your new travel companion to catch an overnight train to Surat Thani to make it to Khao Lak by tomorrow. With no cell phone service and no understanding of Thai where else are you going to get the answers you need?

Notice though that all of these reasons for getting the guidebook are not talking about planning, they’re focused on use on the road. I’ve barely opened it since I bought it and don’t plan on reading it much until I’m on my way into the next country. And of course I will again rip out the countries as I leave them, decreasing the heft of the book as I go.

I got one more reference book: Lonely Planet’s Latin American Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary. Now that I have this, I wonder how I could have possibly gone to South America without it. The layout is so helpful, broken down into sections like transport, meeting people, and menu decoder, plus a small two-directional dictionary in the back, that I am already anxious to put it to use. I am also trying to keep up on my Duolingo app to refresh what Spanish I knew and learn more before I go. This time I really do want to learn Spanish, especially when I think about how easily I picked it up last time. I’ve even thought about taking a language class in Guatemala for a week or two.

My last written guide, for now, is BootnAll’s How to Plan an Extended Trip in Central America. I read this back when I was still debating what to do; I wanted to have some sort of idea what I would be getting myself into, and as I read about the different places and type of travel I would be doing I found myself only growing more and more excited. It’s part of the reason I ended up seriously looking into flights. As always, BootsnAll provided helpful inspiration. I marked the places the guide highlighted in a Google Map to get a general idea of a route, and I will again be using this website to outline my budget.

Otherwise I’ve already gotten extremely helpful tips from friends on where to go in Mexico and Nicaragua, and am hoping for more soon. So please, if you know anywhere I absolutely can’t miss, let me know!

Here it Goes Again

A funny thing happened at the end of June. I bought a flight to Mexico City.

It happened just like that – sudden and unexpected. But since it happened I haven’t looked back, so I am taking that as a sign that it was the right decision, since I feel pretty settled in it. So what does that mean?

I am going to Central America for 6 months.

Let me take a step back and explain how I came to this decision. When I returned to the US it was under the promise that I would be leaving again, I just didn’t know where to yet, so I was going to take the summer to figure it out. I knew I had a six month window between the end of my summer job and my sister’s wedding, an unmissable event in San Francisco next spring. With that in mind I narrowed it down to four options:

1. South America. To be honest, I really thought I would be going back to South America. I pretty much came back to go to South America. I knew the exact trip I wanted to do: I would fly to Lima, hit a few places I missed in Peru like Arequipa on my way to a few places I missed in Bolivia like Sucre and Potosi before a border-hopping adventure down Chile and Argentina into Patagonia, then I would loop around the southernmost point of South America and work my way back up to Buenos Aires. Sounds great, right? I even dreamed about continuing up the coast of Brazil to the beach towns I missed like Puerto Alegre, Fortaleza, and Jericoacoara.

2. Wanaka, New Zealand. I knew the work-study visa was an option until I hit 30 and I loved this town so much I thought about just finding a job and staying put for a while. It would be their summer so I could potentially farm or do something on the lake. I would hike, get to know a foreign country well, and do some wandering in the meantime. Maybe I would finally get to do more of the Great Walks or jump over to Tasmania or Perth.

3. Central America. This choice was a continuation of the backpacker lifestyle in a mostly new region. People raved about traveling through CA and my week in Nicaragua in 2011 was enough of a taste to make me want to go back and see more like it. It’s cheap, it’s got the kinds of adventures I like, and my timeline of September to March is the exact right time of year to explore it.

4. Europe. I’ve been talking about moving to Vienna for a long time now, and with so many friends going to Oktoberfest this year maybe it was time to bite the bullet and go for it. I have friends to visit across Europe who I’ve been telling I’ll see at some point, I could fly to England and go through France and the Netherlands on my way to Germany, with a quick Swiss interlude before ending in Vienna. I haven’t been to Europe in years and that should be corrected soon.

With four fantastic options I thought it would take all summer to decide and after Labor Day I’d end up flipping a coin or buying the cheapest flight to one of the regions I was considering. Turns out it didn’t take all summer to decide, but that cheapest flight idea may have been right.

I quickly eliminated Europe. As much as I want to go there, a six month window is not a time to try to move to a new place, it’s a time to do another adventure that I know I will return from. Europe would have to wait until after April. Next to go was New Zealand. I was forcing it on this time because of the age limit on the work-study visa. If I do want to go live in Wanaka I can do that any time, it’ll just be a little more complicated. But for any American under 30 who might be thinking about some extended time in New Zealand or Australia, I highly recommend looking into the work-study visa. It’s a great way to spend a year or two abroad and something I wish I’d known about before.

I was down to two options: South America or Central America. The two backpacking options that would again have me moving around quite a bit. South America had been calling me back ever since I left. I woke up in Myanmar longing for it, a physical pain in my chest that told me I needed to be on a different continent. I knew the exact trip I wanted to do and had originally said I needed 6 months for it. The time frame was right, an estimated December/January arrival in Patagonia would work out perfectly, and I would finally feel like I completed South America (at least for now). At this point you’re probably wondering why I don’t have a flight booked to Lima.

Central America wouldn’t leave my mind. The more I thought about what I wanted out of this six months the more I realized it was in Central America. I still have the stamina to travel in the backpacker way, on chicken buses and in hostels, and this region felt like the last frontier of backpacker life that I had to get to before I grew out of this phase. It has everything I liked from the last trip that would make for a great next trip: mountains and volcanoes to hike, jungles to adventure in, oceans to scuba and snorkel in, awe-inspiring architectural ruins from another era, charming colorful towns, cheap street food, and hammocks all over the place. It’s much quicker to travel around, with 3-hour bus rides between places instead of 24-hour bus rides, allowing me to cover more ground in my time frame. And the likelihood of being able to travel solely based on people’s recommendations was high. This is something that is really important for me on this next trip; I had such a positive experience going to places that friends recommended last time that I want to pick most if not all my locations that way this time.

Then there were the negatives for South America. First of all, it’s way more expensive to get to and from. Second, it’s freaking cold in Patagonia, and the stuff I would have to bring is bulkier and costlier. Third, I could actually do that trip in shorter spurts, going just to Peru or Argentina for two weeks at a time; it didn’t really have to be six months. Fourth, hiking alone is lonely, it would be nice to go with people, and that was putting a lot of stock in meeting people I wanted to hike with. I wasn’t really worried about it given the incredible people I’ve met on the road, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a buddy or few for a trip like that. Fifth, my motivation for returning now was partially fueled by the fact that I’d dropped a lot of money on visas for Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil that expire in 5 or 10 years, and I felt like I should use them again. I already said that visas weren’t a good reason for NZ so I had to remind myself of that again here.

Then there were the book-ends of Central America. I have friends in Mexico City who I would like to visit while they’re still there, and I would love to return to Colombia, which is possible by boat from Panama. Working at an eco-retreat or coffee farm in Colombia was also an option at one point, so ending my six months with a month in Colombia was an intriguing idea.

So one day I looked at flights, just to see what getting to Mexico City looked like. CHEAP. So cheap. And not only was the flight cheap but it was from San Francisco, meaning I could go see friends and family in SF on my way out of the country. Then I realized that my flight to SF could be covered by points, aka free. I slept on the idea and the next night bought the flight before it disappeared. Like I said, I thought I might just end up buying the cheapest flight out of the country…

I got a round trip flight SF to Mexico City and a one way flight Newark to SF all for $260.

September 10th I arrive in San Francisco. September 25th I leave for Mexico City. I plan to be back in San Francisco around March 25, 2016. In between, I will just see how far south I make it. If I end up loving Guatemala I could stay there the whole time, or if I get fed up with chicken buses I could jump down to Colombia early. The beauty of how I’m traveling this time is anything could happen.

I also still have a month plus until departure, and it’s not like Mexico City to Lima flights are totally outrageous, so if for some reason I have buyers remorse about this decision I could still change it at any point. The world is my oyster, and I will go where feels right. But for now, Central America feels pretty damn right.

Now begin the posts about my next adventure, what I have come to call my Round the Central America trip.

Here it goes again.

The End. And The Beginning.

I saw the sunrise today.

For the first time in months I was up early enough to witness this natural daily occurrence that to me has become a meaningful event. I missed sunrises. They were some of my more pensive moments while traveling. I came to appreciate them even more than sunsets – maybe because it felt like you had to earn a sunrise, waking up way before an alarm should go off; or maybe because it was a more singular experience, less popular than sunsets and quieter too; or maybe because it was more hopeful, witnessing the start to the day instead of the end. A new dawn. A new day. A new adventure.

So when I was suddenly wide awake at 4 in the morning wondering why the hell I couldn’t sleep anymore I decided to stop fighting it and just accept that my day would start early today. I remembered Inle Lake. I woke up for no reason at 4 in the morning there one day and by the time breakfast started at 6:30 am I had already finished some video editing I’d been putting off and was more than ready to set out on our full day boat adventure. 24 hours later I was riding in the back of a tuktuk as the morning mist rose over the fields on my way to the train to Kalaw. The 45-minute tuktuk ride was frigid cold but I didn’t mind. I had a lot of thoughts that morning about where I was and how far I had come to be there that never made it to this blog. It’s about time they did.

Most important was this: “It’s really the trip I set out to do. I will never regret a single decision I’ve made.” I remember the moment I thought that and the smile that came across my face. The way I traveled wasn’t for everyone – fast-paced, covering lots of land in little time – and I received some flak for it. I was told I was planning too much, I needed to slow down, I was just doing the highlights tour. Sometimes they were right, I did and still do wish I had stayed some places longer, but I made my decisions with reasons behind them and I had to be okay with that. People will always tell you how to travel but in the end it’s up to you, me in this case, to decide what’s best for your trip. My trip was a highlights tour of the regions I went to but what’s so wrong with that?

I never traveled after college. The one- to three-month trip that everyone should do when they graduate (I’m sure the Europeans are scoffing at that short timeline but that’s what is more accepted in the US) was something I skipped. I blame the recession; I graduated in a time when everyone was in such a panic to get work that I just started applying for internships as soon as possible. I also knew that I would make time for travel later. So this trip was my chance to do all of those trips at once.

South American highlights, the World Cup, Australia’s East Coast, a New Zealand road trip, Southeast Asia – think about how many times you’ve heard recent college grads take a month to do any of one of those. That sounds more digestible right? Well, in my all or nothing way of life I decided that I would take a year to do all of those and then some. I could have easily stayed in Colombia for a couple of months and worked at a hostel, applied for a work-study visa for New Zealand and called Wanaka home for their summer, or done a personal exploration long stay in Laos or Northern Thailand, but that wasn’t what I set out to do. I set out to see the world, to do a survey of the types of places that are out there, and to have some fun along the way.

I did that. Mission accomplished. And I am so proud that I can say that.

Something else that became clear to me along the way, although it hadn’t fully taken shape before I’d left but was always lingering in the depths of my mind somewhere, was the idea that this trip was an introduction to the world not a closing statement. Just because I can check the box that says Indonesia does not mean that I won’t go back. I didn’t check off destinations, I added more in a different way. Now I know when I have limited vacation time (because let’s be honest, at some point I will have a “normal” job again and won’t be taking year-long world-traveling sabbaticals) where I want to go and how I want to see it.

That how is also a huge lesson of the past year. Now that I have tested the backpacker lifestyle I know better what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, on my next trip I want to plan even less, mainly going off of word of mouth from friends and fellow travelers, and if I find somewhere I like I’ll stay a while. I will also bring a hammock to sleep in and need to pack light enough to throw my backpack up on top of a bus in a hurry. In the future, I will probably not do the same backpacker style of travel (a major contributing factor to the decision of where I’m going next) and know the places that will benefit from having a bigger budget and more comfortable travel arrangements.

All of this is really my way of finally rounding out my posts about the 300 days I traveled the world. I felt the need to say once and for all that I did what I set out to do. Even some places I originally intended to see but had at some point cut, like Ecuador or Brisbane, found their way back in. And new places were added along the way, like Myanmar and Shambhala, that were wonderful compliments to the original plan. And to end the way I did, with an impromptu trip to Japan, could not have worked out any better. I look back at my month in Japan so fondly. It was a place I never expected to end up in that year, despite a strong curiosity to see it, but the flexibility of my open-ended plan and continued communication with a fellow traveler from months before combined in just the right way to bring me there. It was the perfect unexpected adventure to close out my ultimately perfect year of travel.

I’ve wanted to write this post all summer but something held me back. It took an unexpected early morning for me to get here, but that only seems fitting really. Early mornings were times I enjoyed on the road, where the conventional timeline of a day didn’t exist. It’s also August now, and maybe that’s the shift I needed to finally feel like I can focus on the next adventure. I saw the dawn of a new day today, and it made me excited about the many new days in new places to come.