I’ve had countless starts and stops in trying to get down what happened while traveling for 5 months. I have lists of topics I want to cover, articles I want to write, in depth dives into touring Romania, trekking in Colombia, and dispelling Mardi Gras myths. But, at its core, these travels have taught me more about me than anything else.
From backpacking in Colombia, living with faraway aunts and uncles in Israel, and crashing on couches in New York, New Orleans, London, to touring my Romanian homeland with my dad, bachelorette life in Tel Aviv, and road tripping across the Southwest, here are some of the themes that presented themselves:
No bad days
The most important realization I had upon returning home was that I didn’t experience a single bad day while abroad. To be clear, there were times when I was angry or sad, but I knew why.
While living in New York, half of my time was an inexplicably bad day, bad in the sense that I was stressed with knots in my back, felt frustrated, rushed, unhappy, and in turn, short tempered and annoyed by loved ones, for no solid reason.
It’s kind of messed up when I think about it too hard. My travels were such a selfishly freeing time for me, regardless of being alone or with friends and family. My choices were my own, even when that meant making no choices at all. I rarely set an alarm, I went to bed at 9pm or 2am, if I was lethargic and lazy, I let myself be.
Before leaving, I had no expectations about my adventure. Though I’d quit my job, I had freelance projects lined up so that I wasn’t in a monetary bind. I didn’t research a thing. I was really just interested in doing whatever felt right that day, and so pleased to say it couldn’t have gone better.
Just because you were there, it doesn’t make you an expert
I love writing, and above all, I want to share my experiences about the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. But it’s just my opinion. I can give you a brief history lesson and repeat a few things that sound right, but I’ll never be an expert in the way that a local person is. So yes, please ask me for directions in New York City.
On a hike in Taos, New Mexico, I was talking to my best friend who’s applying for business school. We discussed using the success stories of her students in New Orleans in her essays, and she was rightfully weary to feel weird about using her students to excel her own story.
As an Anthropology student, we were taught that at a certain point, the entire discipline was flipped on its head. In its nascency, Anthropology was a white British man’s gig, writing from their comfy armchair at home as the experts on whatever faraway culture. Shout out to Franz Boas who had the beautiful idea to debunk that practice with the concept of cultural relativism, saying, “Civilization is not something absolute, but relative.” There was a surge of Anthropologists to emerge from around the world, to bring a well rounded lens to the question of culture.
So, as I made my way around the world, I checked myself at the airport: I am an American (though often chose to say I was from New York because Trump), I am a woman, I am Jewish, I am financially stable, and I am lactose intolerant. I learned to listen to conversations that I didn’t agree with, and how to figure out common denominators between different people.
The 68 people you meet while traveling
I met 68 people while backpacking through Colombia. If that was just in January, then let’s say I met 200+ people this year. Let me take this opportunity to just throw some self analyzed data at you:
52% of people I met were women, 48% were men. Of this 68, 33 were traveling alone, and of these 33, 60% were solo female travelers. All in all this sample group broke down into 28% Europeans, 26% North Americans, 19% Central and South Americans, 12% British, and 5% Australians.
17% of these 68 were in the “28 Club” with me, also known as people who quit their jobs, were alone, in the midst of a career change, and bonded with me immediately. I made numerous connections with a wide variety of people from around the world. I will forever be thankful to Simona and Marco, a brother and sister from Switzerland who treated me like family during the 13 days we traveled together in South America. I spent 3 weeks with my dad, a special time that we may never do again. I had so many wonderful encounters and conversations about every and any thing.
It truly is the little thingS
My favorite moments on the road were not monumental. They were the little things: discussions in broken Spanish, playing with babies, living a day in the life of family and friends around the world, eating almond croissants for breakfast.
The first night of my adventure in Medellin was one of the best. I panicked for 20 minutes that I was so totally alone, and two hours later I was sharing a pizza with a Canadian, and dancing with 12 travelers, all of whom had met that night.
I got lost with new friends in the rain. I rescued a dog in Tel Aviv. I covered myself in glitter and wore a wig for 10 days in New Orleans. I woke up to go on a sunrise hike 8 times while in Colombia, Israel, Arizona and Utah. I smoked weed (sorry Mom) with 20 year old Chilean boys, air drumming our way through Daft Punk’s Giorgio by Moroder. I swam in the Mediterranean with a handsome man from Santa Barbara. I chased a puppy around a yard with two Romanian women. I drank homemade wine and ate pickles and meat with my dad in Sighisoara.
Every day manifested into a unique and good day.
No hairbrush? No problem
I didn’t have a hairbrush on my trip. I know, I could have bought a hairbrush one thousand times, but I just got used to not having one. I also didn’t have conditioner for one month, this did get old, and I had to make that purchase.
I’ve been living out of a suitcase since October 1, 2017. My shoes are my shoes, my clothes are my clothes, and the power of dangly earrings is so, so real. The lack of options has led me to be quite efficient in my daily routines. It has also taught me to not care so much about my appearance and having a lot of things.
I spent a lot of time in beautiful, full homes. On one hand, I took mental notes about how I want my future home to look and feel, and on the other hand, I saw all of the unnecessary things that people have because they think they should. Living a simplistic life has been an ever active pursuit since 2010, and I’m definitely on the right trajectory.
To be clear, I’m not saying throw out your hairbrush, but it’s surprising how little you need, even objects you use every day, it’s cool to know you can be you without it.
More bread plz
Some unique things happened in the last couple of months.
First, I stopped binge drinking. This could totally have to do with the company I kept (me, myself and I, me and my pregnant cousins, and me and my dad), but while backpacking, I gravitated towards befriending people who were interested in getting a good night sleep and having a full day in the sun. While living alone in Tel Aviv, I enjoyed that glass of wine, and that was that. I got weird a few times, but way less than at home, and I was so happy with that. Drinking is annoying. I hope to do more things in New York City without the pressure of having a drink. It’s a work in progress.
Second, I ate bread and meat nearly every day. You heard it here first. I ate a shit ton of bread and meat. I’m not on a diet and I’m not a vegetarian, but I eat healthy, and for the last five years of buying groceries, I was a vegetable first, tofu second kinda gal.
But trying to find what you’re used to at home is no way to live abroad, and I didn’t do it. In Colombia, I ate chicken, corn and rice every day, and in Romania, I ate pickles, salami, pork fat and drank Coke. And guess what? It was awesome.
Home is always there
Home is not going anywhere, regardless of where you are.
I was aware that every day that my friends were at work, there wasn’t much to share with me, and that every day that I wasn’t at work, probably seemed a lot cooler. I wasn’t in touch as fervently as I expected, but it was a good reminder that habits are fluid. I had to respect that if I could live without my hairbrush, then I could also live without knowing what my best friend had for lunch.
I had days were I felt untouchable from the pressures of a work week, responsibilities, and the winter blues, and other days where I was hit in the face by a thing I couldn’t escape, like the ex-boyfriend who keeps on giving, and the severe FOMO of Passover seder.
These reminders are natural and necessary. It’d be crazy to not think about home or get homesick. I learned to navigate being on one path, while your closest people are on another.
When the forecast is spring, and nature is your schedule
One theme to this entire trip was: sunshine and warm weather. And boy did I nail it. If correlation is causation, then it’s possible that the sunny days are the reason I had such a content time. This is not a joke. I existed in perfect weather for months, I chased spring through Colombia, Israel, Romania and the Southwest. I was the definition of blessed.
For four and a half months, I was outside more than I was inside. I walked, hiked, biked, or ran 5+ miles a day.
While in Israel, my day revolved around the sea, seeing it, watching it, enjoying sunset, and taking note of the tides and waves. In Colombia, I trekked through mountains for a week, from rolling hills, through rivers and jungles. I drove around Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, through 9 National Parks, hiking in the morning and afternoon, devouring the big skies, canyons, buttes, plateaus, and insanity that is planet Earth’s geology.
I don’t know when this will happen in my life again, but I hope it’s sooner than later.
What I walk away with and hope to keep carrying
At the end of this adventure, I was hoping that where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do would manifest itself clearly. It occurred to me very early into this trip, when I would chat with people about a million and one things, except what their job is, that it doesn’t really matter what you do. But who are you? Who will you be?
I don’t want to be that stressed, short fused person. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to be bummed because it’s cold out. I want nature to be part of my day, not just when I’m on vacation. I don’t want to live by a set rules of like needing to make my lunches in advance. I want to work in focused spurts, not in a swivel chair, twiddling my thumbs unable to concentrate.
However the next pans out, what I have walked away with might be the most valuable: the home within me. I never want to lose the confidence in myself, nor the comfortable sense of being okay with uncertainty. Can I turn a new job and new home into an extension of my happy, traveling self? I hope so.
I have been humbled beyond expressions of gratitude with the generosity I’ve encountered from friends and family. I have laid my head on the couches or beds of 18 amazing people, they have brewed me tea, fed me, and I know without their hospitality, more than half of this trip wouldn’t have happened. I am so lucky and will never forget it.
Here’s to the next 137 days!