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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.
Phew, where do I even begin? Let’s start with the good news: I won the lottery! No, I didn’t win a million dollars, but I won a green card.. i.e. permanent residency, the right to live in the US. Did you know that you can win green cards? Chances are that if you are from the US, you aren’t aware of the fact that your country gives away 50,000 immigrant visas through a lottery. Or at least most Americans that I told I won a green card didn’t know that this was possible. And most foreigners I’ve met in the past few months who I told about my green card win had heard about it but didn’t think it really existed, they thought it was more of an urban legend. But yes, the US have an amazing initiative called The Diversity Visa Program, which was introduced in the early 1990s to attract immigrants from countries with low immigrant quotas. You can enter every year (it takes place in October, running all month), and it’s completely free of charge. The only requirement to qualify for the DV lottery visa? You must have a high school diploma or its equivalent; or within five years of applying, at least two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years’ training or experience. Some countries – those that sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants (those issued green cards) to the US – aren’t eligible to participate, but millions of people from all over the world enter the lottery every year hoping to make their ‘American Dream’ come true: to emigrate to ‘The Land Of Opportunity’.Most of you know that I have been tired of the nomadic life for a while now, and that I have been spending most of my time in the US over the past few years – but I didn’t have permanent residency, making it impossible for me to get a lease in my name, to get a bank account, a phone plan, a job. The only way for me to get permanent residency? Get married. Or win the green card lottery. And guess what. In 2016, I finally won, after years of trying my luck. I would finally be able to make my American dream come true.
Fast forward nine months to today, when after months of being screened and vetted, after months of waiting, fearing, hoping, I’ve finally got the permanent residency visa in my passport. I am officially an immigrant. In light of the recent political events with regards to immigration in the US, you can imagine that my dream, which I was wishing for years to come true, has taken an interesting turn. Trump’s America doesn’t necessarily feel like a welcoming space for immigrants at the moment, no matter if Muslim or non-Muslim, I don’t think there’s a single immigrant in the country who feels 100% safe now from another, potentially broader immigration ban. Am I, as an LGBT immigrant, safe in the US, now that several outspoken homophobes are in power? Do I have to worry about moving to a country that is going through a lot of changes that I couldn’t have foreseen when I entered the lottery and started the vetting process, changes that don’t support my beliefs.Of course I won’t nix my longstanding plans to settle in the US because of these recent events, but you can imagine that I’ve found myself in an emotional turmoil ever since I received my passport and my immigration documents from the US consulate. Concerns and worries about the future that I’ve never felt like this before have been keeping me up at night, have been consuming my thoughts most of the month. I will write about the whole process of entering the lottery, winning and emigrating to America when I’m finally settled – granted I’m being allowed to enter the US.
I am going to leave it at this for now, because as you might have heard, all green card holders entering the US at the moment are being thoroughly questioned on their views about the current president and social media channels and other online profiles are checked.
Where I’ve been
January was my first proper month of winter in a long time – luckily I got to escape the cold for ten days, because I’m still not a big fan of snow or arctic weather. I spent 2/3 of the month in chilly Germany and 1/3 in Israel, where one of my favorite people in the world recently relocated to. The perfect excuse to head to Israel for the third time!While my travels in Germany were limited to my life changing trip to Frankfurt as well as a couple of trips to Leipzig, where my brother lives, and a couple of pit stops in Berlin, my itinerary in Israel was packed! I started my trip with a day trip to a stalactite cave in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, and went north from there to visit the two artist colonies Rosh Pinna and Tsfad. While we were in the north, I also got to have a traditional Shabbat dinner with my friend’s family. A couple of rainy days forced us to cancel some of our plans, but we still managed to visit the Roman ruins of Caesaria before heading to Jerusalem where I visited the Old City and the Western Wall for the third time – I love this place and think I have to finally write about it. I’ve never said much about Jerusalem but it is such a unique, historically and religiously significant city with a special aura. I then got to return to the desert and the Dead Sea – a day later than planned, because of a rained out half-marathon, but more on that below. We spent the last couple of days in Tel Aviv, another third visit after falling in love with the city in 2014 and returning for a quick getaway in 2015. All in all, it was an amazing trip and I am glad that I was able to fit it in before my return to the other side of the world (more on that in What’s next).
Next: the highlights and lowlights of the month:
Quality time with family and friends
When I got the notification that I had to come to Germany in the winter to finish my green card vetting process, I was everything but happy. I was supposed to be in Asia now, enjoying the tropical heat of Thailand or Vietnam. Instead, I was snowed in most of January. However, I realized two things this month: I am dealing with winter much better than I thought I would, and I am dealing with winter much better than most of my friends who have to go through this every year. I was able to skip most winters since 2010, or at least escape for a few months. However, I seemed to be the only one who didn’t let the weather stop me from daily runs (yes, that’s my hair FROZEN after a 12k run in the picture below), from being out and about, and NOT being cold all month (thanks to my new winter coat, my first one in eight years!).The other great thing about being stuck in Germany while waiting to get my passport back? Catching up with old friends and spending quality time with my family. Now that the green card will allow me to settle more permanently, I will probably not be able to take any extended trips to Germany anymore, unlike in the past few years, when I’ve seen my nephew and nieces twice a year and always spent at least a month in my home country. I treasured every moment I had with my siblings and the kids, and am grateful that my location independent lifestyle has allowed me to be such a big part of their lives.
A spa day at the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited – not only the lowest point on earth, but also one of the saltiest bodies of water. I’ll never forget the strange feeling of floating in the salty water for the first time in 2014. The desert scenery surrounding the Dead Sea, albeit being barren and lifeless, is magnificent in its own way. When I found out about a marathon along the Dead Sea, I thought to myself: running a race here would be so special! And when it just so happened that my trip to Israel aligned with the 2017 race date of the Ein Gedi Desert race along the Dead Sea, I didn’t have to think long. Sign me up, please! This was supposed to be the highlight of my trip – sadly it turned out to be a lowlight, see below – but nonetheless we went ahead with the spa day that we had planned post-race in one of the spa hotels on the shores of the Dead Sea, which is famous for its minerals and salts (of course). I didn’t think it’d be warm enough to float in the water at this time of year, but I took a chilly dip and it felt just as bizarre as it did the first time around. Unforgettable!
A rained-out half marathon
As I said above – this was supposed to be the highlight of the month: running my first destination race, the Ein Gedi half marathon. Right upon arrival in Israel I was told that a big storm was moving towards Israel and that the race might be canceled. And sure enough, a couple of days before race day, the dreaded email arrived in my inbox: the Ein Gedi Run 2017 had to be canceled for fears of heavy rains and subsequent flash floodings – this was not only the desert after all, but the lowest point on the planet. And sure enough, the photos that I later saw of the road I was supposed to run on looked horrific. I can’t believe how quickly the storm passed – we had our Dead Sea spa day a day later and the weather couldn’t have been better. I was also bummed out that I had trained so hard all month for nothing, braving the snow and icy temperatures, but in hindsight I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have gone running this month hadn’t it been for this race which I needed to train for. And it changed my mind about running in the winter – I was always too much of a wuss to do it, but now I know I can do it and I wasn’t even miserable.
I’ve already touched on this briefly above: This month I’ve experienced anxiety for the first time ever. After Inauguration Day, I started having this tense feeling in my chest, which hasn’t left since. I cried when the news of the green card holders ban broke. I’ve simply been feeling deflated by the current situation in the US, and had not pictured my move there to take place under the current circumstances.
20,000 Instagram Followers
For most ‘digital influencers’, 20k followers is a small number, but I have been working hard to reach this major milestone: reaching 20k followers on Instagram, my absolute favorite social media channel (looking at pretty pictures helps me take my mind off political stuff, work-related stress and distastrous news). Since most brands don’t even work with influencers who have less than 20k followers, this was also a big step for me towards becoming more profitable.
2017: The year of challenging myself
After a quite boozy December, I made an on-the-whim decision to quit alcohol for all of January. I usually don’t drink much, but I noticed that in December, I drank nearly every day. In Berlin, my friend and I went to cocktail bars and drank mulled wine at the Christmas markets every day, I went on a wine-themed trip to Sonoma County, I spent a weekend craft beer tasting in L.A. So I decided it was time for an alcohol cleanse, which I’d never done before but which turned out surprisingly easy. There were a couple of awkward social situations, but I generally avoided them by meeting people for breakfast or over coffee instead. Of course I felt I needed a drink on Inauguration Day, not gonna lie 😉
Since this challenge was fairly easy, I decided to continue to challenge myself this year, mainly giving up my main vices for a month each, but also to do a few things I wouldn’t usually do (quit sugar, go vegan, 30 days of daily runs, maybe even 30 days of yoga). And next month, I am really challenging myself: February is the month of no coffee. Which happens to be my biggest and most beloved vice… so we’ll see how that goes.
It had been nearly a year since my last visit to a hairdresser (last February in Santa Marta, Colombia) but my reader Sarah already told me a few months ago that it was time for a new haircut. Sarah, this one’s for you: I finally went to the hair dresser (of course I only ever looked like in the picture right after he blow dried my hair.)
The invite to speak at Women’s Travel Fest
I always want to take my business to the next level, add new skills to my portfolio, challenge myself to things I haven’t done yet. One of these things is public speaking. I had to drop out of a panel at the New York Times Travel Show last year, and haven’t pursued any other public speaking gigs since, but I’ve been asked to speak at the Women’s Travel Fest in New Orleans next month which isn’t only a huge honor but also the perfect fit for me. The Women’s Travel Fest is one of the best travel summits in North America to attend for women, and if travel is your passion and you don’t have any plans yet for the first weekend in March (3-5 March), I highly recommend you buy a ticket! Maybe see you there? I have to admit that at the time of writing this I’m not 100% sure if I can attend since I will be in South America then (see below: What’s next for me), but I’m trying everything I can to join the inspiring and impressive range of speakers and panelists (check them out here). It is a great opportunity to connect with like-minded female travelers, to learn about female solo travel, get inspired for your next trip, maybe even a long-term adventure by yourself. (If you attend the conference, please let me know – I love meeting readers!)
Connect with me on Pepo!
This month, I’ve joined Pepo, a new chat app that connects you with people who share your passions. I created a Globetrottergirls chat (boys are welcome to join, too 😉 ) in which I talk travel, share travel tips and answer your question. You can also start a private chat with me on Pepo, but I’d love to see you in my public chat and have you join the conversation. By the way – Pepo is not just for travelers, there are chats for all kinds of passions: food, street art, LGBT chats, and more.
What’s next for me: Upcoming Travels
I’ll return to Germany for a few short days at the beginning of February, but just long enough to pack up my stuff before heading to New York City. I won’t be spending much time there either, just long enough to celebrate my new immigrant status, because South America is calling! Ecuador, to be precise, the only country in South America that I haven’t made it to yet (other than Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French-Guiana) but which I’ve been intrigued by for a long time. In fact, it was a close tie last winter between Colombia and Ecuador, and after lots of hemming and hawing I chose Colombia, which turned out to be an epic adventure. I hope that Ecuador will be equally as enthralling, and I’m off to a good start: I will be visiting the Galápagos Islands, a dream trip for me! I can’t tell you how excited I am to tick these fascinating Islands off of my bucket list. I will be cruising around the islands with Galapagos Luxury Charters, which is something beyond my wildest dreams. I can’t wait to share photos of the experience and just ordered a bunch of new camera gear to be able to photograph all the wildlife and do some underwater filming (I had to after watching this video by my friends the Nomadic Boys).
My next round-up will be coming from Ecuador – expect lots of seal and turtle photos!