Every few days, I think of a new possible combination of places to go in my first year abroad. Overnight, I had a nine-hour sleep but awoke with a headache as the forces of weather good and evil battle it out and days of sun establish themselves off the coast here.
This headache and the dread with which I approach work also makes it possible for me to daydream about the life I might be leading one year from now.
I’m pretty firm on where I’ll be in my first three months. It’s Croatia. After that, that’s when matters change. Will I do Northern Spain and Portugal, then France, then Prague, as I first thought? I don’t know.
This week I’m imagining a different route. Pack up around now in January, 2016, spend a couple days in Venice, then make my way down through Spain, staying here and there, exploring Andalusia a bit before spending a bit in Tarifa, especially with a car rental. (If you’ve ever read the wonderful tale about following your dreams, The Alchemist, it largely takes place around there.)
I found a 330-year-old building I want to stay in for a bit in Tarifa. Amazing architecture, and to live inside a building that predates the first German settlers arriving in North America, where someone might have sat reading the first edition of the just-published in 1684 Principia by Sir Isaac Newton… I mean, this is mind-boggling stuff to someone still impressed her apartment is from 1931.
Then a ferry to Morocco, specifically Tangier, where I’ve found a B&B decorated to 1800s Moroccan glory. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful and would be a real splurge, but Morocco is my dream trip. Like, dream trip.
I have a little town on the coast of Morocco I’d like to stay in, possibly for up to a month, just writing, relaxing, photographing the water, eating Berber food, and planning my future.
This would take me to about April or May, avoiding the hottest part of North Africa’s year. Then, off to who knows where? Perhaps Prague, Georgia, and other less-scorchy places for the summer months.
The best part of not committing to a plan is being able to dream of the endless opportunities I might have to explore and wander. All of them are good. All of them are enticing.
Dreaming is a lovely thing.
For now, time to work.
Photo by Odolphie, looking toward Spain from Tangier’s ports.
On Facebook, my friend Jason posted that it’s “The first day. 364 to go.”
I have been so very conscious of this day coming, for so long, like it’d be a countdown clock ticking in the background.
My New Year’s is weird and very anti-climatic. I’m doing as little as I can. Decidedly so. I’ve left the house once in over two days, and that was only so I could walk around the block at midnight with an empty suitcase.
Weird, right? It’s actually a South American New Year’s superstition. Take the empty-case stroll at the stroke of 12 and your upcoming year will feature abundant travel. What the heck, right? So there I was, 11:59, taking a walk around the block with a carry-on case. Maybe I should’ve taken my largest suitcase. I was trying not to be penis-y about it, though.
But in those other 60 or so hours, I haven’t been case-marching around the block; I haven’t even been outdoors.
Now that six days of sun have bled into a week of forecasted rain, I’m feeling a spot of regret I’ve not been out in the world much. You know what, though? I’m having EXACTLY the holiday I wanted when I asked my boss at the start of November if I could have 16 days off. EXACTLY.
Do nothing often? Check. Do something sometimes? Check. Set a new world record for pajama-wearing? You betcha. Watch whole series on Netflix? Yup. Sleep as late as 10? Yep. Get up and then go back to bed for the hell of it EVERY SINGLE DAY? YUP.
I have the luxury of knowing that I’ll very likely not be around for, well, five years. I’ve deliberately chosen to stay longer than I want before I leave for my world travels because I decided to savour The Last of Everything. Every season, every holiday, every weather, everything. I wanted to live knowing that this would be The Last Time I have any of these specific experiences for a very long time, maybe ever. Like, seeing the leaves fall in the park. Maybe I’ll never live here again, right?
After all, the only thing I can tell you with any certainty is that I have about nine months left in Victoria. Then, where? I don’t know. I don’t know where I want to start my adventure. I’m not committing to anything.
Except, that is, I’m committing to selling half of what I own, blowing this town, and becoming a citizen of the planet. Hopefully I’ll have it in me to experience five years of rootlessness. If not, so be it.
But when I’m done, my expectation is that I might find a new place on the planet to live. A new tribe. A new culture. A new thing. Newness. My eyes are wide open and my future’s whatever I want it to be — when I know what I want it to be, that is.
Nine months and then all my future is an unknown. Period. Blank slate.
It intimidates the shit out of me. It makes my heart go pitter-patter. And makes me smile a little too.
That’s what awaits me this year. Up to 10 months of redundant routines, and then POW, the complete opposite.
So these days, I don’t want to have any new experiences, or at least I’m not chasing them down. I kind of want to enjoy my life of routine and comforts, because for maybe five years I’ll never have a home longer than maybe two months, but often not even for that long.
I won’t have a favourite blanket. I won’t get to spend a week sitting on my ass watching Netflix because I’ll have too much guilt that (Portugal’s wine country awaits / nearby French markets bustle / Croatia’s seashore entices me / Istanbul lurks beyond the door / Prague beckons…) and that’s only where I might go in the first six months or year.
For five years, I’ll have to be social and rely on the goodness of strangers to get me where I want to be. Recluse? Not a chance. I’ll have to talk a lot, be interested and plugged in. I’ll have to be constantly creative and engaged. I’ll need to write every single day. I’ll never get to have a favourite comfort food because I’ll never be around long enough to get comfortable. I won’t get to have favourite anythings because I’ll always be days or a couple weeks away from somewhere new with more millions of things to experience — which is the whole point of travel.
It’s okay to mourn the end of my mundanity and comfort. Mundane comfort is a beautiful, glorious, wonderful thing. Do-nothing days can be magical.
This, my wonderful spread of boredom, wine-drinking, TV-watching, slack-ass relaxation is possibly the last time I’ll get to do THIS without pressure and anxiety about all the things I should be doing before I leave, let alone for the five years which follow.
That constant whirlwind of stimulation that is proper travel, it daunts me a little because I love the end-of-travel flop-on-my-own-bed feeling, and I won’t even own a bed while I’m abroad. I mean… zoinks. Serious commitment to the cause, that — selling everything before I go.
So this Christmas holiday, I’m overdosing on domestic bliss. I’ll always be able to remember when I wasn’t sick or injured yet chose not to leave my house for over 72 hours. Except that walk around the block to summon the coming year of travel, of course. And tomorrow I’m only ending the isolation because I’m being bought a fancy meal and get to wear fancy pants (or at least my new jeans).
I like that I’m “mourning” Christmas as much as I’m celebrating it. I’ll miss this apartment and the simplicity of Christmas here. I like that I’m aware of so many “lasts” as I go through this final year. It’s a year of bittersweet savouring. It makes smaller moments seem very poignant.
Because I’m also excited to know my life will be me not knowing what’s next yet believing EVERYTHING is possible. I like knowing I’ll have week after week after week of amazing new experiences in mind-blowing places. I like that I’ll meet new people everywhere I go. I love that I’ll probably never see a sunset in the same place more than two or three times for five years.
It’s so completely opposite of the life I have chosen to live here in Victoria.
That’s the beauty of life. We can be whatever we want, live whatever life we choose. Most people just don’t get creative or risk-taking enough about it. Victoria was always going to be my jumping-off point. For awhile, I was trapped by life as one of those folks who couldn’t take a risk, then I decided to stop all that, and Victoria was step one. This around the world thing was a dream I didn’t have the guts to share, at first, but now I’m confident that I’ll make it happen. Somehow.
Today, I have three quotes I’m trying to live my life by. One of them is relevant to my five-years-around-the-world dream:
“It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you’re not,” attributed most often to Denis Waitley.
Right now, I’m a reclusive writer girl trying to resurrect her mojo (and succeeding at it). I’m still trying to decide what Next Phase Steff’s catchy tagline is. I’ll know it when I see it.
So for nine months, give or take, my life’s all about the Last Time. Comfort food, quiet nights at home, old casual lounging clothes, favourite blankets, sunsets in the boring same places, creature comforts of all kinds — that’s my year ahead.
Until one day it’ll be the complete opposite. Poof! All new! All firsts! All the time! ALL THE PLACES.
When I’m not daydreaming about my future, I’m completely stuck in the moment. It’s a nice, weird dichotomy, and I know what to love and appreciate about both. (And there’s not much to dislike about each of ‘em, either!)
I’m excited about 2015, minions. I’m really stoked.
I hope you are, too. Happy new year, you.
My last sunset of 2014, from one of my “boring old” sunset spots.
I vacillate. Often. Back and forth, back and forth.
“Why wait?” I ask. “Why stay? Why keep banging my head on this wall?”
A part of me wants to cut and run tomorrow. Today. Now. Zippity-doo-dah, gone like the wind.
But the pragmatic part of me clears her throat and says no, we stay. We see the summer through. Turn 42. Celebrate Thanksgiving with my whole family together. Vote out Stephen Harper. Leave two days later, either in victory or defeat. That’s the ideal situation. See another shoulder season, enjoy another summer. Ensure I’ve laid solid freelance ground beneath my feet before I plunge.
Then, poof, off to Europe and chase the dream.
By Max aka Max Tim Tom on Flickr.
Five years abroad. 89 days or less per country. Working my way through — keeping my job, my writing, all of it. Writing books. Photographing. Plodding the land, meeting the folk, noshing the foods. Write it from a first-person living-the-dream perspective. A literary treatment given with my voice.
The world through my eyes. Not travel guides, not tips. You want that shit, go read Lonely Planet. My journey will read as a mashup of Elizabeth Gilbert and Anthony Bourdain — a weird lovechild / hybrid of edgy, insightful writing set in the here-and-now of someone trying to figure out where in the world she belongs.
[INSERT DREAM HERE]
When I go to bed, I don’t know where to dream of. Should I dream of two weeks on the hills in Tuscany, a writing/reading/eating retreat, growing fat(ter) on cheese and wine as I trudge the verdant slopes?
Maybe I should dream of working on a new ebook in a seaside port on a lesser-seen part of Portugal’s coast, where fishermen persuade me to get over my fear of seafood and eat fresh-from-the-sea local specialties, laughing at my timid ways and shoving wine at me to wash it down with?
Perhaps I should instead fall asleep imagining a bucket-list check-off of shooting Prague’s St. Charles Bridge in early autumn morning fog as steam rises from the river below, hatching a plan for eggs in some underground cellar joint for breakfast as warmth returns to my chilled photographer’s fingers?
Tonight, it’ll likely be dreaming of dining on Croatia’s Pag Island, drinking local wine to accompany the famous island cheese made from the milk of sheep who spend their lives roaming seaside cliffs eating salt-dusted wild herbs daily.
I’ll do all of these things, and many more. Someday. One day in the next six years, I will.
My dreams, they’re not outlandish. No five-star hotels or crazy excess. Not my style, never has been. My dreams are like people I favour — a good way to spend a little time. Filled with intrigue and wonder, appreciation and simplicity, lively and fun. That’s how I roll.
The salty-herbs-eating sheep of Pag Island, Croatia, shot by Dimitrij Mlekuz on Flickr.
You Gotta Ask Yourself One Question…
Waiting for these times ahead, so hard. Especially knowing I can do this lifestyle less than I pay now. I can improve my quality of life while living my dream, and yet it’s on ice ten more months. The idea of the wait is killing me already. I’m not sure I’ll last that long.
Just weeks ago I asked myself: Can I be this person? Am I cut out to spend five years abroad? Am I willing to just up and sell my belongings to do this? Have I got the guts?
At that time, I had to convince myself. The part that said I can wasn’t as loud as the part that scoffed at the notion.
Now, it’s not about if I can do it — it’s that I have to do it. I have to take this chance. I need to sell everything. I need to get the fuck out, live the dream. I need to know I tried. And one country isn’t enough. Five countries isn’t enough. Five years, that may be enough.
The hills are alive with wine and cheese. Tuscany, photographed by Konrad Jagodziński on Flickr.
The Little Traveller Who Could
When I took this apartment, I increased my monthly rent by 25% in one jump. It was a risk. Only a year before, I sold my bike just to buy groceries. Could I hack the increased expenditure? Was I capable of working that hard, seeking out opportunity? Could I up my game? Could I commit?
I decided I could. Sure, I doubted myself and had a lot of fear, but I decided I wanted to make it work. So I would do just that.
I’ve done better than I hoped. I’ve really led the good life in this apartment. My standard of living is better, my dreams are bigger, my confidence higher, my focus sharper. A year ago, I didn’t have the guts to tell folks about this travel dream of mine. Now I can’t shut the hell up.
That’s not to say I’m fearless with this adventure. I have a lot of fear. Lots. And I should. There’s so much unknown. There’s new cultures, places, risks, threats, adventures, mistakes — all just sitting there, waiting for me. I know that.
But I also know of what I’ve toughed out — all the misadventure and adversity of my thirties. And I kicked its ass.
I don’t know what gauntlets await me, what struggles might come. I just know they’re there. They’re always there. But so is the knowledge that whatever else I might be, I’m a survivor. I make it through, and I come out better. And sometimes I have fun during the mindfuck of it all. Because that’s who I am.
So, yes. Just weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this. If I had it in me. Now I know I do. The more I learn about the places, the more I know I can hack it. Besides that, I’m smart enough, savvy enough, and I’m good with strangers. I have rarely-fallible intuition on folks that will serve me well.
Fishing boats in Portugal, shot by salvadorveiga on Flickr.
To Dream a Vivid Dream
I may not know what specifically to dream about when I lay myself down, but I’ve inklings of experiences I want. I want this craving I have right now, coupled with the heart-exploding anticipation of being amidst the travel zeitgeist. The brighter-than-bright saturation of moving fast or slow through worlds previously unknown to me. The kaleidoscope of color, places, and people swirling together around me. The feeling one gets from stopping to just be of a moment, in some strange great place. “I’ll never be here, like this, again.” And knowing it.
I dream of being confused by things like trying to buy vitamins and toothpaste in local shops, never knowing the same bed for longer than two months, shaking my head in confusion at foreign-language street directions, wheezing from running to catch planes/buses/trains, and always finding a new spot to see a sunset.
I long for the day when the boredom and routine of me being a hermit in my character apartment here/now seems like a great and distant fantasy. I think of the people I might meet who’ll indulge just a moment, or maybe for a stolen hour over coffees, to teach me their language.
I don’t need to dream of specifics. I dream of moments. Tiny moments I’ll remember for a lifetime. These vague and fleeting seconds will fuel me. I don’t want planned travels, just organic and whimsical detours. Dreamlike and surreal. Fed by impulse.
And with that, I have some wine that needs some drinking, and more travel shows to get lost in, as I tab through AirBNB listings and cost-of-living comparisons. Because this is what I do, these days. Haphazardly living in the present while stuck in the future.
I’ll be writing ebooks about these journeys. Sign up for my mailing list. I won’t be spamming you.
I should be in bed. 12:43 am, work comes early. I’m writing by the glow of the Christmas tree on my right (with an assist from my monitor). To my left, a fog-rimmed half moon rises.
I’ve spent my evening cutting out paper snowflakes, eating carbonara, watching the (adults-only, and awesome) documentary I Am Santa Claus, and drinking wine, after a long day of work punctuated only by escaping to buy my best friend a Christmas gift, myself an alpaca knit toque, and some jam. Ahh, Christmas craft fairs, for the win.
I’m savouring the day, the weeks, the months. This might be the last time I decorate a home for Christmas for five years. FIVE YEARS. I love Christmas. I love my version of Christmas. It would be strange and odd to live under other people’s ideas of Christmas for a half-decade. To travel the world, though, I can make that sacrifice. And wherever I go, I can always make paper snowflakes. I’m a pro now.
But this exactly is why I favour the long-term approach for leaving. If saving money is the goal and I can save up to 30-50% per month by living elsewhere, shouldn’t I leave sooner than later?
Well, frankly,I’m under no illusions that my life is anything but great right now. I may have some operational shortcomings in which I fail to maximize on my life’s awesomeness, but the bones are there, man.
I’m not in a rush to LEAVE this. I’m just wanting something new. That saying you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? Wrong. I know what I’ve got. So, I’m aiming to at least get close to “overstaying my welcome” as opposed to “premature departure.” I don’t ever want to regret not living in this particular apartment just a little longer.
If it goes as planned, next Christmas I’ll be enjoying the holidays in Croatia, a predominantly Catholic country that does it well. I’ll be just a few weeks away from a late-January/February trip to Istanbul in an attempt to photograph snow falling in the Old Town. (Which is currently my desktop wallpaper, by dilemmanya.)
I know where I am. I know where I’m going. I may want the world of travel today but I also know I will have frequent times of fatigue and weariness where I miss owning a bed, having a routine, and knowing EXACTLY what is around me. Which is what I have, and am savouring, now.
I’m a woman of two minds right now, but the one I’m “in” is the one that’s got my attention tonight.
And that means the kaleidoscope glow of a tree, snowflake-filled windows, and a bed that’s all mine, from which I’ll pad away in the morning, and restart my work week.
Tonight I know it’s 24 days to Christmas, and less than a year to the adventure of a lifetime.
Both are working for me. Night, minions.
I’m working on the first of the books to come about this life-changing journey/goal/dream I have. If you want to be alerted when it’s coming together for your reading enjoyment: Join my seldom-mailed Mailing list!
It’s one of those Wet Coast days I think might wash away all my sins if I stand in it long enough. The kind of rainy day that makes my head thick and my eyes heavy.
I sit by a window, umbrella-head after umbrella-head passing me by. Between pulled-taut hoods and umbrellas, I’m not sure anyone with a face remains. It’s like some surrealist daydream. The bobbing umbrella-heads.
This rain, these days… in some ways it’s all I’ve ever known.
I drift off between the wet tires splashing and my clacking keys, wishing it was the clickety-clack of a train rumbling under me instead of the Wet Coast Writer soundtrack that it is.
I have a tentative date of November 1st, 2015, for when I set out on a bold adventure I hope will last me five years. Trains, planes, and automobiles: Steff Style. If I don’t leave earlier, that is.
I have ideas of where my path will lead but I’ve learned life’s more fun if you misplace the roadmap. Maybe I’ll plan it out, maybe I won’t.
For now, I have a rough idea of my first year abroad with pretty simple rules — stay nowhere less than two weeks or more than three months. I’ll tell you more about that one day.
I have many places on my list. Many weird little things I want to do, like ride as many funiculars as I can everywhere I can. Forage for food in every region I stay longer than 4 weeks in. Write ebook upon ebook, but in the classic travelogue or literary journal style, not the “I got your deets” type travel-writing one sees everywhere on the web.
I want to write about places and times, peoples and experiences. My culture-shock and awe. I want to dream of adventures to come then embark on a completely different journey than planned, and to be changed in every way by the world I get to explore.
I’ll sell half of what I own before I go, strategically “loan” my antiques to friends and family. I’ll start over with a simpler life when I return. I wonder sometimes how living around the world for five years and opting out of this rooted life, tapping into a roaming nomad life will change me. What new values will be sculpted? What parts of the old me will crystallize? How much metamorphoses do I have in me?
It’s a big goal. I don’t have anything emotional invested in making it to the end of that five years. Instead the end of the journey will be something organic. Like love or a really good sale — I’ll know it when I see it.
I want to live in locations as far flung as Tangier, Zagreb, Prague, off the beaten path in Spain, Cape Town, the vineyards of Mendoza. I want to sit in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, photograph Madagascar’s baobab trees, dip a toe in the Congo river while I read The Heart of Darkness. I want to walk the beaches of Fiji, visit family in Australia, live in the mountains of Ecuador. I want to see cherry blossoms in Japan, drink tea in Osaka, and ride a scooter in Vietnam.
The list keeps getting longer, because that’s what good lists do.
So today I stare wistfully through my rain-soaked window, knowing that all this familiarity and routine is not long for my world. I relish in being bored and stuck in routine lately. I cherish bad hair and pajama days. I know it soon won’t be an option soon. Not for the better part of five years.
In the end, this life of mine where I’ve felt trapped in this costly part of the world is proving to be a gift — the gift of losing connection, of sensing opportunity, and of daring to take a chance.
I’ve deliberately made my departure date further away, because I think I want another summer here in Victoria. Like I say, I’m not married to my plans. I’m going to listen to the wind and go where it leads. Those winds may gust sooner than November, like say on my 42nd birthday in September. I’ll listen for the breeze and heed its way.
Paul Theroux once wrote that tourists don’t know where they’ve just been, and travellers don’t know where they’re going.
And so I daydream of all the many places I would love to see while committing to none of them. Wherever I start, it’ll be the adventure of a lifetime. With every day that passes, I grow a little more ready for it.
For now, I’ll return my gaze to the screen, fall back into the routine of the dayjob, and sigh wistfully about a future I’m not sure I can wait 11 months to begin.
As that day draws near, I’ll begin issuing ebooks of all kinds on my travels — the days leading up to it, the dreams I have for it, the plans and logistics of it, and more. If you’d like to be on the mailing list for when I begin issuing those books, that’s here.