Friday, October 5, 2018

The Life of a Vagabond

This post is basically a summary of my lifelong love of travel and where it has led me to this point. Some of it has been adapted from the very first post I ever published on my blog; much of it has been revised or is completely new.

I've had the travel bug for most of my life. My parents always took my sister and I camping at the many state parks in the Tennessee area, along with an annual extended family trip to Panama City, FL. But I think I really caught the fever during junior high, in Ms. Freeman's French class. My first trip to Europe (a whirlwind tour of France, Switzerland, and Italy in one week) was in 1990 with a small group of kids from my high school. In 1991, I lived with a family in the suburbs of Paris for three weeks. My own family even hosted an exchange student from The Netherlands my entire senior year of high school. But it wasn't until I had graduated from college (with a French degree no less) and was on the back end of a failed marriage and several demanding jobs that I decided to take some time off for a more thorough exploration of Western Europe.

In the fall of 1998 I set out for two months of backpacking and train travel in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. That trip changed my life -- I returned to Tennessee and immediately got a job, but I kept looking for an opportunity that would involve traveling (and getting paid for it!). As luck would have it, Delta Air Lines ran an ad in the local paper, specifically looking for foreign language speakers. I secured an in-person interview at their headquarters in Atlanta, GA and was hired on the spot.

I graduated from flight attendant training on May 28, 1999 and immediately transferred to New York City, where I was based for the entire six years I flew for Delta. For the most part I took full advantage of the free flight perks during those years, and I often say I spent more time exploring the world than at home. My most frequent layover destinations were Paris and Brussels, but I was always swapping trips for something different and exotic: Istanbul, Athens, Rome, etc., as well as long layovers in towns and cities in the U.S. that I may have never visited otherwise: Whitefish, MT; San Antonio, TX; Milwaukee, WI... In addition, my independent travels during that time took me to places like India, China, and South Korea.

I had actually made a pact with myself that I would not fly for more than 10 years and after almost seven I gave it up to live and work full time in New York City. Believe it or not, not once did I ever miss being a flight attendant after I quit. I segued into the 8-to-5 routine fairly effortlessly (to my default career of Executive Assistant) and worked hard and saved money by living with roommates. When I was able to take time off I traveled to islands in the Caribbean, as well as Costa Rica, Europe, and some more remote places in the U.S. like Hawaii, Alaska and the Grand Canyon to name a few.

After about four years of working many long and mentally draining hours at the office and spending a lot of money just to live in the city, I realized I needed to rethink my life and refocus my priorities. I started saving as much money as I could with the goal of being able to take at least a year off to travel around the world and do some volunteer work. By June 2009, I had paid off all my debts and had enough money stashed away to set my plan in motion. I notified my employer that I needed to quit my job and they agreed to a transition plan that allowed me to work remotely for a few months before terminating my employment completely. I shipped my remaining possessions back to Nashville for storage at my family’s homes and started the process of planning my around-the-world adventure.

One small diversion: In late 2008 I had reconnected (via Facebook) with an old classmate from high school and we started long-distance dating in February the following year. He told me I was crazy to quit my job and travel around the world, but at the same time he was also intrigued by the idea. I convinced him he was the crazy one for living in Nashville basically his entire life to that point and for having visited only a couple of countries and a small portion of the U.S. As I was not necessarily in a rush to start my world travels (I wanted more time to research and plan), we decided to travel around the U.S. together as an "experiment" to see how we functioned as a couple sharing small living spaces and being together almost 24/7, while also testing out areas we might want to live long-term in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

After almost one full year of the living experiment, with our relationship still intact and my research complete, Greg and I set off together on an around-the-world adventure in August 2010. We ending up traveling for 278 days through 22 countries on four continents. It was an amazing experience to say the least, which I have written about in great detail on this blog. We returned to the U.S. in May 2011 to rest and visit our families. In July 2011 we got married in Nashville and then departed for our extended honeymoon that September, traveling through another 23 countries over 92 days.

With my dream of traveling around the world now at least partially fulfilled, Greg and I moved to Portland, OR in January 2012 to start our new life together. I have written about all of the things that happened during the past six years on my blog, although I haven’t always posted as frequently as I might have liked. Greg and I continued to travel, especially around the Pacific Northwest by train and by car, but only for more traditional one- or two-week vacations as he has been working full time since spring 2012.

I did really well for most of the first five years all things considered, meaning I loved my life in Portland with Greg, made a lot of friends, drank a lot of fantastic craft beer, worked several different jobs, and explored my creative side a bit. But in 2016 I started feeling restless and unfulfilled, and I knew the time was coming for me to make a change again. I started taking one- and two-week trips on my own, vacationing with friends, visiting my 50th state (North Dakota), and doing “beer research.” Then, in April 2017, I departed on a months-long trip through Eastern Europe with no set end date. I eventually returned to Portland exactly four months and 20 countries later.

That trip reaffirmed my love of long-term travel and I spent the better part of the next 12 months thinking about my life, my relationship with Greg, and what it would mean to hit the road again indefinitely. I eventually came to the conclusion that I would not be truly happy until my bags were packed and, since one of my goals after our around-the-world adventure was to explore all of Central and South America (the main region we did not visit during our trip), I decided that’s where I would go to “find myself” again. Greg was not ready to embark on such a journey, so we began the process of simplifying our life in Portland to make it easier and more cost-effective for him to live and work there while I traveled.

I left Portland on August 30, 2018 and flew to Nashville to visit my family, then departed the U.S. on September 11. I spent three weeks in central Mexico and am now living in Guatemala for the month of October with the intention of improving my Spanish, working on the book(s) I am writing, and reflecting on my life to this point and what I want for the future. I have no set itinerary and no return date. I am, once again, a vagabond.

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