For the past few years, I have sat down at the end of the year to look back at my travels, to relive memories from my trips and make a list of my favorite travel moments of the year.
I had 20 favorite moments in 2015, and listed 16 unforgettable travel moments in 2016. Obviously, I was going to follow 16 best of 2016 travel moments with 17 best of 2017 travel moments. But when I sat down to narrow down the very best memories of my travels last year, I came up with only three: Cuba, the Galapagos Islands, and walking the Camino de Santiago. Granted these were only the ones that came to mind immediately, but even after giving it some more thought I realized that I would not be able to come up with 17 awesome travel moments. Which made me think – was 2017 really that bad?
So I decided to take a different approach this year and instead of only sharing the most amazing travel memories, I want to share a fuller picture of what’s been going on in my life this year. I’ll still share my travels of 2017 in pictures, as I’ve done before, but I have to be honest – even though I’ve traveled a lot this year, it’s been a year of struggles and overcoming unforeseen obstacles.
After a very public breakup, I prefer not to talk about my personal life in detail anymore, aside from letting a few things slip here and there. But to be transparent, I’ll share a few snippets of a heart break that has haunted me all year long. Even though I rang in the New Year with someone special in Berlin, this short-lived, intense romance came to a harsh, abrupt end only a few days into 2017.
As unexpected as this love story had begun a few months prior, it also came to a sudden end. Instead of trying to figure out how I could make something work that seemed jinxed from the beginning, since we were living in different places, I focused on making my long-lasting dream come true: To finally move to New York City. But was this even still my dream? I often asked myself this question after the president’s inauguration on 21 January. When I found out that I had won the Green Card in May 2016, I was so giddy with happiness that I felt like nothing could stop me. I would live in my favorite city in the world, under the first female president of the U.S. I would find a nice apartment in Brooklyn, ideally near Prospect Park or near the East River, and I would finally be able to officially work in the U.S., making it easier for me to enjoy this expensive city. Because even though I’d spent more time than anywhere in New York over the past four years, I wasn’t allowed to work in the U.S., making it a constant struggle to survive in New York on savings and passive income alone.
But by the time I received my Green Card in the mail, I felt more defeated than happy. I had pictured myself jumping up and down, glowing with you, once I was holding the Green Card in my hands – something I’d dreamed of getting for so many years – but all that I could muster was a halfhearted smile, when my friend wanted me to pose with the visa for a photo. And that was only because I noticed that my immigrant visa was issued on 19 January 2017, Obama’s last day in office. The thought of moving to America under Trump was daunting, and when I got ready to fly to New York in February, news of the travel ban and Green Card holders being stranded outside of the U.S., not allowed to enter their adopted home country, were making the rounds, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
I decided to spend the winter in Latin America again when an invite to the Galapagos Islands landed in my inbox – a dream destination for me. And why not make a whole trip out of it, visiting mainland Ecuador as well, one of the very few places in South America that I hadn’t been to. I had my Green Card now, and yet nothing was pulling me towards New York. Two of my best friends in New York had just moved away, and I knew it wouldn’t be the same without them there. The media was talking about the rise of xenophobic and homophobic incidents throughout the U.S. – I was in no hurry to get there.
I stayed in Ecuador, trying to heal my heart, and to ignore the news that was coming out of my chosen ‘home country’, but couldn’t shake off the negative energy I felt like I was bringing with me everywhere I went. It also didn’t help that I never really connected with Ecuador, no matter where I went. Things looked up a bit when I impulsively decided to cut my time in Ecuador short and to cross the border to Colombia, a country I had fallen madly in love with the year before.
I started feeling better, and after craving solitude for several weeks, I was ready to have company again, and road tripped with my friend Chrys around Mexico for a couple of weeks, an extended version of last year’s road trip. And what can I say – Mexico never fails to raise my mood. I was also excited about my next destination, Cuba, another dream destination I got to tick off my bucket list this year.
Cuba turned out to be a dream trip, one of the best three travel experiences this year, and a country I hope I’ll get to return to soon. However, the closer we got to the end of the trip, the more anxious I started to feel again. It was the same anxious feeling I had when I flew to New York with my brand new immigrant visa a few months earlier.
From Havana, I flew back to New York, but while my last trip there was nothing more than a short layover, this one would signal the beginning of a new life. I would have to deal with all the bureaucracy I’d managed to avoid during my last short visit. And over the past few months, I’d not heard a single good thing about being an immigrant in Trump’s America.
When I had won the Green Card twelve months prior, I pictured myself starting my fabulous New York life with a wonderful apartment and a great job to supplement my meager freelance income, but of course it didn’t work out like that at all. I quickly came to learn that as a foreigner, a freelancer, and someone without a credit card (and hence without a credit score), it is pretty much impossible to get an apartment, and even finding a room in a shared apartment turned out to be much more challenging than I expected since I couldn’t prove regular pay checks or an income 40 times the monthly rent (What? Who can?!).
These obstacles, combined with the political climate and the news of yet another close friend leaving New York made me nearly abandon my plan of a permanent move to New York and to keep traveling instead.
But of course I am not one to give up easily, especially not on the dream of living in New York, which has been a dream of mine for nearly a decade. Winning the Green Card was possibly the best and most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, and I can’t think of a single thing that could top this in the future.
The only thing that New York made easy for me was finding a job. I received an offer after my first job interview – before I even got back home from the interview.
Even though I came to New York to ‘finally settle down’, I knew this wouldn’t really happen because I had a big trip planned for the summer, which meant I’d be gone for at least three full months.
I only spent 3.5 months in NYC, which is of course nowhere near enough time to settle and feel like you’ve arrived somewhere – even though it was the longest period of time I spent in one single place since summer 2014, when I had also spent a long period in New York. The fact that I couldn’t find any long-term accommodation and moved several times during that short period of time didn’t help me feel like I’d arrived, and I never stopped feeling unsettled during the entire time I spent in New York.
With work, the attempt of getting a new business off the ground, social gatherings and moving several times, these months flew by, but to be honest, even though I felt unrooted, I was not ready to leave. And I wouldn’t have left had I not had several family commitments – including meeting my newest niece, who I got to spend a few weeks with in August. Her arrival was reason enough to fly to Germany, even though it meant leaving New York when I love it the most: when it is hot and sticky, and everyone but me curses the August heat. But spending a month with my sister, my niece and my nephew was well worth giving up New York for, and as so often in the past few years, I felt incredibly grateful for this location independent life I’ve created, even though it means very little stability when it comes to income and financial security.
When I embarked on my three month trip, it ended up looking quite different from the original plan, which was to spend a month in Germany with my family and then fly to India. The motivation for the India trip was not just to see some parts of the country I hadn’t made it to on my last trip, but to attend a travel influencer conference in September. When I was first invited to the conference back in the spring of 2017, I noticed right away that the dates in late September would be perfect to combine it with a trip to Nepal afterwards. Not only was it nearby, but October was also a perfect time to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a roughly three week trek through the Himalayas, which has been on my travel wish list for a while now.
My mind was set on a big hiking trip, and the conference was a great excuse to return to that part of the world. However, before I even got to the planning stage of the trip, the organizers of the conference announced that one of the main sponsors had dropped out, which meant the conference would have to be canceled. All of a sudden I found myself in limbo – what would I do instead? Return to New York earlier than planned? Go on a completely different trip? Going all the way to India without the conference as an excuse for the long journey didn’t seem worth it now.
And then it hit me: I would be in Europe in September, which happens to be one of the best months to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage across the north of Spain, which I’d also been wanting to walk for a few years now. I hastily ordered some hiking equipment online before I flew to Europe, and my only preparation for this giant walk was a day hike in Upstate New York to break in my new hiking shoes. Even though I was barely prepared for a long distance hike, I was determined to make it to the final destination, Santiago de Compostela.Walking the Camino, which hadn’t been on my travel plans for this year whatsoever, turned out to be the best trip I took in 2017. After the hectic months in New York and trying to balance family and work time in Germany, I finally had time to reflect on the past few months, the obstacles I’d faced in New York, and most importantly, to check in with myself on an emotional level. I had noticed – during my time in New York in particular – that because of my busy schedule, I hadn’t really dealt with any emotional matters that came up throughout the year.
During the pilgrimage, I was finally able to connect with myself again, and selfishly take time to indulge in things I love doing but never get around to when I am in New York: reading books, writing every day, listening to podcasts, take time for long, extended breakfasts and dinners, instead of eating at my desk while responding to work emails.
The Camino was so much more than that though. It turned out to be the most physically challenging journey I’ve ever taken. It turned out to be one of the most scenic journeys I’ve ever taken. It showed me what my body was capable of. It introduced me to some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. While walking, you often hear ‘The Camino Provides’, a concept that refers to all the things ‘The Way’ gives pilgrims – from shelter to shoulders to cry on, from food to direction, and more foundational things like answers to fundamental questions people have, or even a new direction in life. It is something that I guess might only make sense if you find yourself on this pilgrimage, since most people who set off on this five-week hike seem to be on a quest of sorts, or a spiritual journey,- trying to figure out life, to process a trauma or a loss, or to simply take some time off to contemplate life.I was one of the very few people on the Camino who was doing the pilgrimage without having recently experienced any drastic, life changing events, or facing a fork in the road, unsure which path to follow. Despite not having any elementary questions when starting my journey, I learned a lot about myself along the way. Getting perspective on my own life through conversations with other pilgrims was eye-opening in many ways, and finishing this physically challenging – more so than I thought – hike was a huge achievement for me. The biggest gift the Camino gave me was a wonderful new friendship, and several other great people who I know I’ll see again sooner or later.
Sadly, the Camino didn’t only bring good things. It was during the month-long walk that an important friendship fell apart, causing me to cry about something completely different than I thought I’d cry about on The Way – because letting tears flow is an inevitable part of this pilgrimage. At some point, every pilgrim cries, and it is a freeing feeling to allow yourself to cry, knowing you aren’t judged by anyone for it.
During the five weeks I spent on the Camino there were many times when the finish line, Santiago, seemed terribly far away, almost unachievable, but when we eventually reached our destination, the journey was over too suddenly, in a way it felt anticlimactic, unspectacular, to walk into Santiago after all these weeks of walking.Following the celebrations of having made it to Santiago, an unforeseen sadness set in. Me and my Camino BFF Kate had gotten so used to the simplicity of the Camino, and to sharing stories while walking together for hours each and every day. The daily routine of getting up, having a cup of coffee, strapping my boots on and starting to walk was easy – I was not ready to return to reality.
I know that the post-Camino blues would have lingered longer, but there was no time to be sad. As soon as I left Spain, my life was back to being as hectic and busy as it had been before the pilgrimage. It almost felt as if this incredible month never happened.
I flew to Germany because I wanted to see my family one more time before returning to New York, knowing it’d be a while until I’d see them again, but I still hadn’t even bought a plane ticket to fly to the States. I noticed how little desire I had to go back to New York, which concerned me. This was my favorite place in the world after all, so why did I feel so lackluster about finally going ‘home’?
The truth is that I had no hurry to go back to dealing with the bureaucratic issues I still needed to sort out. Not knowing if I’d be able to find a decent place to live, if I’d finally be approved for a credit card, and if I’d be more successful in signing up for healthcare upon my return didn’t make me too keen on going back to the U.S. Add to that all the upsetting news that came out of America while I was gone, from mass shootings to the disastrous ways of how the hurricane in Puerto Rico had been dealt with by the government, plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and Trump opening National Parks to fossil fueling – to name just a few things – made me have serious second thoughts about moving to the U.S.
I was also frustrated because a new business venture I had spent months preparing during my stint in New York in the summer had not come to fruition, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go back to the job I had started back in May.However, as soon as I landed in New York all my doubts disappeared. I found a place to stay quickly, and being reunited with all my friends blew away all the dark clouds. Before I could even get settled back into my New York life, it was already time to leave again, but this time only for a couple of weeks, for my last trip of the year.
I was able to take one of my New York besties on her first South East Asia adventure, inviting her to be my guest on an amazing experience flying Singapore Air’s Premium Economy class – thanks to two round-trip tickets I had won a couple of years ago. The short trip to the tropics – Thailand and Singapore – was a much appreciated break before braving the chillier temperatures in November and December in New York, and reminded me of how much I loved that region of the world. I decided that for my annual winter escape, I’d be heading back to South East Asia.
First it was time to spend some time in New York though, which, albeit me usually answering ‘Brooklyn’ when asked where I was living, I hadn’t actually seen much of it in 2017 – by the end of December, I had barely spent four months in New York during the year.
And then December rolled around, and with it, a massive bout of December Blues, triggered by an unexpected birthday message by someone I care a lot about, which caused tears and an emotional meltdown. I started doubting my decision to spend the Holidays in New York instead of with my family in Germany, and was almost ready to fork out thousands of dollars on a last-minute flight to Europe. I couldn’t wait for 31 December to roll around and to leave 2017 behind me.
Thankfully, my self-pity didn’t last long, and things started to look up just as the year was coming to an end. I reconnected with several people I sort of lost touch with or hadn’t spend a lot of time with in recent months, realizing how much I missed having them in my life.And most importantly: In early December I got a phone call that Airbnb would offer a bespoke Brooklyn Tour I’d conceptualized and tweaked during the spring and summer months in their Experiences section. For anyone not familiar with Airbnb Experiences, AirBnb isn’t just offering accommodation through their platform anymore, but they recently added experiences – tours and activities offered by local hosts. Competition is fierce, and to get an experience approved by them is not easy, because their platform is the most powerful marketing tool any tour provider could get – and the marketing is done for providers by Airbnb, which is amazing for anyone running a one-person company like I am.
When my tour finally went live, I had no idea that it would take off the way it did, but instead of taking some time off over the Holidays as I had planned, I ended up running tours every single day. I was ecstatic when after only a week of being on the platform, my tours started to sell out, and I even had to turn away guests. What’s been even more amazing is the feedback I’ve been getting from guests. I have been wanting to run tours for years (you may remember that my ex-partner and I launched Globetrottergirls Getaways a few years ago, which I sadly couldn’t continue on my own), and now it is finally happening. And not just any tours – I get to show off Brooklyn, a place I love dearly and know better than any other place in the world.
I feel like my life has been turned upside down since I started the tours, because now that I am taking groups of ten people (and sometimes even more) around Brooklyn, it is quite different from the tours I was running previously, which were mainly word-of-mouth referrals and smaller groups – families and couples. I’ve been learning as I go, continuously tweaking the tours as I introduce tourists to some of my favorite parts of Brooklyn.
Sadly, the blog has been taking a bit of a back seat since I started running the tours, as I also still have several freelance writing and social media clients. I hope that going forward, I will get better at figuring out a way to balance all my projects.
Life threw me a curve ball (in a good way!) just when I needed it. I won the Green Card at a time when I felt completely lost about where I should settle – I knew I wanted to live in New York, but getting a visa (without getting married) seemed impossible. And then there it was, a visa, thanks to a lottery (I still can’t get over the fact that I won the permission to live and work in New York!). And just as I was feeling lost again, this time around unsettled and unsure about whether I’d be able to make living in New York work, life threw me a curve ball again, giving me something that ties me to New York, and not only that, but something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and something I’m excited about every morning when I get out of bed.
Having worked in a job I hated for years, I still feel blessed every day that I’m able to do what I love instead of working a job just to be able to pay my bills. And considering how cold New York has been over the past few weeks, the fact that I am still stoked about spending four to five hours outside in these freezing temperatures, reaffirms that this is something I truly enjoy doing. But there was a reason why I wanted to get this off the ground during the summer 😉
As I look back at 2017 and how often I’ve found myself struggling over the past few months, I can only hope that these last couple of weeks of the year are an indicator for what 2018 will be like – a successful year with less restlessness, less worries about money, and most importantly, a year where I will finally find a permanent place to settle in New York.
And what about travel, you may wonder? I am going to be honest here: After traveling to twelve countries in 2017, including an epic five-week hike, I am in no hurry to travel anywhere anytime soon. I will go on shorter trips this year, but my main aim for 2018 is to spend as much time as possible in New York, and travel more within the U.S., which I haven’t done at all this year. I still have plenty of stories to share of all the trips I’ve taken in 2017, so Globetrottergirls will not disappear – my (blog) baby is turning eight in April, can you believe it? I hope you’ll join me for whatever adventures 2018 will bring.