Greetings from Warsaw, Poland!
New Year’s Eve will mark four months on the road for me – and it feels like it is going by way too fast! Normally I would do a four-month review post, but since it is the end of the year, I’m going to look back at all of 2011 and look ahead to 2012.
January-August: The Pre-Departure Months
Last year at this time, my condo in Chicago was on the market and I was hoping to sell it in time to depart on this trip by early June. As day after day went by in January without a single showing, I realized the outlook was bleak and started to think about Plan B – renting out my condo and leaving at the end of August.
I spent the months of February and March taking improv classes two nights a week as part of Fear Experiment, which culminated in a performance in front of 700 people at the sold-out Park West the first weekend of April. I met dozens of great new friends and it was a nice diversion from my otherwise nonstop obsessing about this trip. I also learned that a career in improv is not in the cards for me.
That weekend was an emotional rollercoaster for me as I also had to say goodbye to Wally, my beloved Siamese cat of 13 years. He was diagnosed with diabetes and after consulting with my parents, my brother and the veterinarian, I made the heart-wrenching decision to put him to sleep that Monday. I still get a little teary thinking about it.
In early June, I ran a half-marathon in Chicago and then headed to Seattle and Vancouver the following weekend – Seattle for work and Vancouver for my first ever travel-blogging conference – TBEX. I felt like a bit of a newbie and a little out of place at times, like I was just someone trying to masquerade as a travel blogger, but I came away with a desire to really start taking this blogging thing seriously.
Things really started to swing into gear in July as I found tenants for my condo, a new home for my other cat, Leo, and I gave my notice at work that my last day would be August 12.
The rest of the summer was a whirlwind as I tried to tackle everything on my massive to-do list, including obtaining my Russian visa and securing worldwide health insurance. After my last day at work, I spent a week in Chicago finishing up selling my stuff, clearing out my condo and saying goodbye to friends before heading home to Minnesota for a week.
August-December: The Beginning of My Soviet Sojourn
I kicked off my trip with quick visits to Helsinki and Estonia, which included finishing the Tallinn Marathon on September 11 with a new personal best. Then I was off to Russia for the rest of September, October and November. I experienced a less than ideal homestay in St. Petersburg but tried to make the best of it. I found a few things to like about Moscow before flying to crazy and chaotic Vladivostok. I spent a month traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway, visiting a Buddhist monastery, dipping my finger in Lake Baikal and playing in the snow on Olkhon Island, and hiking in below temps at the Stolby Nature Reserve along the way.
By the time I arrived in Riga, Latvia on December 6, I was pretty exhausted – mentally and physically! Although my time in the Baltics was a welcome change from Russia, it was a little too late to prevent me from hitting the proverbial wall. Luckily, Vilnius proved to be just what I needed – the Vilnius Tourist Information Centre hosted me for a couple days and then I swung a good deal at a nice hostel to get my budget in check. I also had some friendly dorm-mates, including a student at Macalester (in Minnesota), a fellow University of Iowa graduate and a woman from Minsk who volunteered to show me around when I get there next week.
The Year in Blogging
One of the things I have enjoyed most about my travels this fall has been the opportunity to share my experiences through this blog and elsewhere – over the last few months:
- BootsnAll included my Soviet Sojourn as one of their RTW Themes: 9 Epic Quests to Inspire Your Trip
- BootsnAll also interviewed me about the first leg of my Trans-Siberian journey for their new Traveler Postcard series and for Round the World Travel Budgets Revealed: The Real Costs of 11 Real Trips.
- I was a panelist for Meet, Plan, Go in Chicago (via Skype!) in October, an event designed to encourage people to chase their career break travel dreams.
- Most recently, I wrote a guest post for Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site about How to Travel the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Looking Ahead to 2012
I have had a lot of downtime the last week in Warsaw, which gave me a chance to reflect on what has gone right and what has gone wrong since I hit the road four months ago – as well as think about what I can do going forward to make the most of this year of travel and beyond.
As I reflected, a few themes kept recurring, which led me to develop the following goals/resolutions for 2012:
- To be more pro-active socially. In my post about hitting the wall, I wrote about feeling a little socially isolated on the road. The truth is, though, it is partly my own fault. I have crawled into a shell a bit on this trip, being much more introverted than I ever am at home. I need to make more of an effort to reach out.
- To start running again. Back in Chicago, running was my great stress-reliever. While I probably walk several miles a day while traveling and I manage to squeeze in 30 minute strength training workouts here and there, it just isn’t the same as running. So, my goal is to start up again when I am in Armenia. Why Armenia? Well, I get there in early March and will stay through mid-April. I hope that by the time I leave I can ditch my winter boots and some of my other heavy winter clothing, which will give me space to travel with running gear again.
- To develop a better blogging routine. I think some of my best posts have been those that I wrote while I was still in the moment and without a lot of over-editing. When I wait too long to write a post about an experience, it loses something and feels too forced. My goal going forward is to write at least something, no matter how rough, at the end of each day so I can capture those immediate reactions and convey them to all of you.
- To travel with more spontaneity and live in the moment. Before I left, I talked about the perils of being a planner. I will always be a planner at heart, but I know I need to be open to the opportunities that may come out of nowhere, even if they aren’t part of my original plan. Another downfall of being a planner is that I am constantly looking ahead to my next destination, which prevents me from enjoying where I am at as much as I should – something else to work on in 2012!
- And finally, the big one – to find a job that I love when this trip comes to an end.
I do not see myself traveling forever as a “digital nomad.” I am already looking forward to having a steady income again and a home base – and ideally employer-paid health insurance! I have a few ideas about what I might like to do – for example, planning individual travel, organizing group trips, social media consulting or developing tourism strategies for up-and-coming destinations (like many of those on my trip!). As long as I am doing something to inspire, encourage or facilitate the travel of others and I am able to travel a fair amount myself, I will be happy.
Of course, if you have any other ideas for me, I’d love to hear them – and if you know of anyone working in any of these areas who might be willing to let me pick their brain a bit, I would love to get in touch!
So there’s my 2011 in review – I hope you’ll continue to follow along as I start the next phase of this amazing journey – I’m off to Belarus on January 2!
Happy New Year and best wishes to all of you in 2012!