There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself.
It was one year ago on August 18th, 5:15 AM local time, when Icelandair Flight 384 touched down in Gothenburg: Mango and I had arrived in Sweden. I’d spent the past few months disassembling my comfortable little life in the US to get to this point, and I was proud of myself as I heaved my oversized cardboard boxes into the taxi and headed to the city. The future was ours to shape as we pleased, I told myself, and I went about building my dream life in Sweden. Of course, things didn’t go according to plan and 90 days later, I found myself packing my bags – no cardboard boxes this time around, I'd learned my lesson – and once again heading into the unknown.
Fast forward and again I find myself heading into the unknown as I prepare to leave Spain after 90 days, my grand plans of building a life here also chased away by reality. This time, though, I feel more sure of who I am (or do I?) and what I want from life so I don’t feel completely hopeless, just frustrated and tired. This past year, I’ve visited 14 countries, slept in 46 different beds, and taken 19,817 photos. I’ve indulged in luxurious Turkish baths and Thai massages, eaten my weight in olives in Spain, and been arrested in the UK for the crime of being a tourist. For as many ups as I’ve had, I’ve had as many downs, struggling to balance my unexpectedly nomadic lifestyle with frequent bouts of loneliness, depression, and the overwhelming desire for stability. Some days, I wonder what the hell am I doing with my life and I walk around in a haze feeling lost and useless. Other days, I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this opportunity to travel the world with my dog and build the happy life I’ve always wanted. But it's every day, though, that I spend thinking about my personal and professional goals and how to reach them.
As difficult and stressful as it’s been to travel full-time this past year, ultimately, I’m glad that I started this journey. I’ve acted like a sponge absorbing new experiences and cultures like it’s my job (who knew there was this thing called a Schengen Area?), while also pursuing writing and photography with an earnest I’ve never felt before. It feels amazing to now know where certain countries are on the map, or to finally understand a complicated period of world history, or see something up close that I'd only seen in photos; I've learned so much in a year, and I’m grateful for this. This past year, I've especially enjoyed working on this blog which serves as an amazing accountability tool to improve my writing and photography, organize my thoughts, and identify what I'm passionate about. Looking through past posts, I can see how much I’ve improved and I also enjoy reliving some of my travel experiences.
So where do I go from here? Since I wasn’t planning a departure from Spain, I’ve had to get creative in where I want to go after Madrid. Seeing 1986 nuclear disaster site Chernobyl in Ukraine tops my travel bucket list (not to mention I purchased my camera in Madrid and can get hundreds of euros in taxes back by leaving the EU) and I'm preparing to book a 3-day photo workshop with Chernobyl Photo in September. (And yes, I did get Mango a titer test in anticipation of traveling from Ukraine back to the EU, thanks Thailand.) Afterwards, in early October, I’ll head back to beloved Zagreb and once again try to put down roots for a few years. This time, hopefully I'll have some success because Croatia has always been my lucky travel spot, and besides, the third time's a charm, right?
Fourteen countries, fourteen favorites:
Sweden: favorite design aesthetic & coffee culture
Croatia: overall favorite everything 😊 (including favorite abandoned site)
Montenegro: favorite day trip
Slovenia: Ljubljana, favorite car-free zone
Czech Republic: Prague, favorite pet-friendly place
Austria: favorite desserts (marzipan!)
Germany: favorite people
Belgium: Brussels, favorite architecture (Art Nouveau)
The Netherlands: Edam, favorite bike ride
Bosnia & Herzegovina: favorite history
Turkey: Cappadocia balloon ride, favorite tourist experience
Thailand: from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, favorite train ride
Cambodia: Angkor Wat, favorite UNESCO site
Spain: Malasaña neighborhood, Madrid, favorite local experience