Year-end reviews have popped up everywhere and to be honest, I think there are a bit like the travel blogging version of a pissing contest. Who has been where, who has ticked off more countries, who has done the coolest campaigns. And yes, I am part of this whole machinery too, trying to go places, see countries, and would love nothing more than to do cool campaigns and once I do I will probably brag about them a bit too. And yes, I too, have written year-end reviews in the past. But to be even more honest, this year I simply didn't see the point and now, judging by the date I am even too late to call it a year-end review.
In travel blogging terms it has been a good but also somewhat uneventful year. I did see gorillas, mantas, and a black mamba but I 'only' traveled to 10 countries and only 3 of those were new on my list. One of those countries I outright disliked while another one I struggled with badly and was quite happy once I was back in Istanbul sitting on my hotel rooftop, drinking rosé and eating delicious Turkish food. Which just reminds me - I went to 11 countries - and actually made up with Turkey after a bad case of Turkey Tummy (just made this one up in lieu of Delhi Belly and quite like the phrase!) 15 years ago.
I know quite a few of my travel blogger friends have written year-end reviews and while I skimmed a few of them, they didn't inspire me to write my own. These posts do nothing for SEO and if they are meant to engage your readers, well, I think you could write about more exciting things than put together a braggy summary of your yearly travels. Yes, I know I sound cranky and maybe even, dare I say, envious but I am really not. 2018 for all intents and purposes was a decent year when it came to travel but overall my focus was more on my internal challenges. My friend Sarah called it a 'brutal, honest, and learning' year - something I can only nod my head in agreement too. For me, it was all about growth and laying the foundation for the years to come. With that came change and a lot of turbulence without knowing if I was going in the right direction. Change is always an effort, is always work and often not pleasant as is growth. They don't call it growing pains for nothing and if you think you are done with those after your teenage years, think again.
So yeah, if you want to know where I traveled, what I saw, and what I ate (sometimes in embarrassing amounts) just put '2018' into the little search function on top. I know I sound lazy (then again this post is over 2300 words long so there is that) but sometimes I just get incredibly tired of all that blogging and business stuff and rather tell you what really happened. In my life, during my travels, and hopefully in the future.
I hate to admit it but getting over my failed relationship from 2017 took me a lot longer than I thought it should or thought it would. I carried this baggage with me for a good while into the new year, couldn't let go, couldn't move on. No amount of writing about it, talking about it, crying about it seemed to help. It started to spoil things for me and I felt incredibly lonely and lost at times. Sometimes all that helped was telling myself that the worst was already over. The worst being me in the jungle, surrounded by giant spiders, having to listen to other blissful couples... coupling while bawling my eyes out. The fact that some readers felt the need to tell me it couldn't all be that bad because I was basically living in a perpetual paradise didn't help.
But eventually, I don't even know what did the trick, it clicked somehow and it just came to me: some people are not meant to be in your life forever and things always happen for a reason. Sometimes not knowing the reason just becomes part of your journey. Those were not groundbreaking revelations but all of a sudden I didn't just know in my mind but also felt it in my heart and with that, I truly moved on. I learned once again that I can always trust my gut and that it will eventually lead me to the right person who will travel alongside me, both literally and metaphorically, and even take the middle seat on occasion.
To make things better, I had a steamy affair in Bangkok which brought me back to myself and to my body, something I had lost for a while. It wasn't just about sex, it was about feeling good in my body, laughing, flirting, desiring someone and being desired and being stimulated not just on a physical level but also on a mental one.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't want more and was a little crushed when I was ghosted (by someone old enough not to know what ghosting means nonetheless...oh the irony!). It took me a while to realize that it wasn't so much about him but about what he brought back into my life and how he brought life back into me. Sounds a bit melodramatic? Maybe but when I look back on 2018 I see myself in a dark street in Bangkok, laughing, kissing, feeling light like a feather, invincible, and like the best version of myself. Sure of being at the right place at the right time (even if this may or may not have been the red light district*), sure of my actions, sure of myself.
This realization was a breath of fresh air and so I was sad when it ended. I had liked this version of me and I wanted more. More of this tingling feeling in your stomach that comes when you truly click with someone - whether that is a person or a place.
*I am working on a post about dating as a digital nomad which shall give you more insight into what a classy date I am...
The World & A Home
I also struggled with places in 2018. Don't get me wrong - I had some of the most amazing trips ever. I got to travel India on the Maharaja's Express with some of my favorite blogger friends, went on a liveaboard in Raja Ampat, fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing gorillas in Uganda, and finally took a long overdue holiday in the Maldives. But mostly I felt like I was searching for something. Searching for the place, a place to call home. If not for forever at least for a little while. It didn't happen. I was in Cape Town, in Bangkok, in Bali, and in Hamburg but nothing clicked. Nothing inspired me to set up shop, and the longest I stayed put was in a small flat in Bangkok where I lived for a month. I am not sure why nothing stuck but I trust that it will once the time is right.
For now, I still don't know where home will be and when it will be. While I love the freedom my lifestyle brings it also makes it incredibly complicated at times: too many choices, always missing something, and when it comes to finding a home base there are so many practical issues to take into consideration - what is the visa situation, can I afford it, does it have a well-connected airport, is there good food, does it provide certain creature comforts I need, and how far is the next scuba destination? All that in addition to the very personal question of - do I click with the place? While some places do tick all or most boxes on paper this last one still has me searching and I continue to buying plane tickets instead of putting down a deposit.
Mind you, 2018 was the first year when I started to feel a strong urge to settle and maybe this can be considered the first step, maybe I don't need to decide right this moment. I guess ultimately I am trusting that I will not only find my person when the time is right but also my place.
I have also thought a lot more about how I travel and why. I have started to really make a very conscious effort to travel greener, travel slower, and more purposefully. Sometimes that didn't work at all. In hindsight, I think I didn't do my trips to Nepal and Kyrgyzstan justice at all. I was excited by the sound of the destination and to be invited but did little research, was ill-prepared, and it showed during my trip and in my coverage. While I am a firm believer that you can't and don't have to like it everywhere, I think if you are a travel professional you should at least give a place a fair chance. I realized that I struggle to separate the organization of a trip and fellow travelers from the journey itself. This has happened to me in Brazil and now again in Nepal and Kyrgyzstan and I feel quite bad about it. I think as a professional I should be able to differentiate the two but to be honest, I was having the hardest time with that. I am not sure if that makes me unprofessional or simply human but those trips have left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth and I am vowing to do right by the places I get to travel to in 2019.
Moving with Purpose?
While I feel like 2018 finally brought a little bit of money thanks to different writing assignments which allowed me to travel more freely than before, I started to question the overall purpose of my business. As of now, this blog makes little to no profit and most of my income stems from freelance content writing jobs. Not that there is anything wrong with it but let's just say these kinds of jobs aren't what legacies are built on.
To be honest, when I got approached to write my book I thought I'd made it. Now I am laughing at my naivety and wonder if I ever even considered what 'it' may be. While writing a book has been an incredible experience I really struggled with the downside of putting me and 'my baby' into the spotlight, even though it was more like a flickering candle. I was incredibly hurt by a few bad reviews and couldn't shake the feeling of self-doubt nor appreciate all the amazing and lovely comments and emails I got about my book. It really got to me and made it so much harder to finish the translation I published on my own. In addition to having to write what was basically the same thing all over again, I now also battled to make it better and to ignore the people who had called it trivial. - Guys, if you review a book please never call it trivial even if it is. The author will feel like a mother whose baby you just called ugly. Just don't do it! -
I persevered and finished but it left me rather depleted. The English translation has basically not sold at all (wow, I am really all about honesty today aren't I?!) which made the time I spent on it as well as setting up the online shop a complete waste. But money aside it also left me wanting to do something more and better with my life. Don't get me wrong, I love writing and I do love inspiring people, especially women to travel but I am starting to feel there needs to be more purpose behind it all. Some of my favorite things I have written have nothing to do with SEO research, top things to do somewhere, or live off pretty pictures. They are posts like the ones below, initiated by a moment somewhere, a random thought or a nagging feeling that needed exploring and I love how they were received by you and in return sparked an awesome and I like to think important discussion.
Alas, my blog and my business can't survive from posts like that and to be honest, I don't mind doing a mix of both - useful SEO drive posts and more personal, inspirational pieces. Still, I am starting to feel even that is not enough for me. I want more for my life and ultimately for this world. I want to learn more and teach more. I don't want to be a travel blogger who gets told off for posting something political (also, I am one of those who thinks that traveling is always political), I want to be a travel blogger who also does some really cool shit to give back or pay forward, depending on where you stand, and ultimately does her part to make the world a better place.
Two of my travel blogging friends really found their mission in 2018. One of them is Sarah who founded Girls That Scuba, an incredibly successful and empowering all-female scuba group and Nikky who started Unearth Women, the first ever travel print publication exclusively by and for women. These women inspire me to reach for the stars as well. To be honest, I have no idea what this might be but I am grateful for the inspiration, for a gentle kick in the ass to get out and do cool shit myself.
Looking back, I think 2018 was a year of challenges and difficult growth for me but it also prepared me for what is to come. I can't remember the last time I welcomed a new year so fiercely, not because the old one was horrible but rather because I can't wait to get started. I have finally learned to go with the flow it seems and the current is strong but for the first time in a long time, I trust in my abilities to keep my buoyancy.