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I woke up this morning in Bali, sunburned and exhausted and happy. Last night was a dreamy blend of mango cocktails, tropical centerpieces, entire roasting pigs on spits, dance floors lit up by twinkle lights, and the sun setting over the ocean. A wedding.
And not just any wedding. A wedding with some of my life-long best friends, friends who, by some serendipitous twist in the universe, just so happened to be in Bali at the same time I was.
I still can’t believe how lucky we are to all be here together. Months of planning and five international flights later, I am amazed that I’m spending two weeks with some of my favorite people on the actual other side of the world.
I grab a cup of coffee and sit out by the pool while the geckos and birds make all their morning sounds. I start messing around on my laptop, tweaking old blog posts, reading my 500th article on SEO and wondering what the heck any of it means anyway, and drooling over pictures of pumpkin spice lattes on Pinterest.
Then I noticed the date on my phone.
Today is my anniversary. It’s been a year since I got on a plane with a one-way ticket and started traveling.
House Sitting To Save Money
House sitting is an awesome way to save money on travel so you can explore longer. I learned about house sitting while reading other travel blogs and it sounded like a win-win. Saving money and hanging out with new pet friends? Sign me up!
It can take a while to get your first house sit, but I cast a wide net and was open to going pretty much anywhere. I eventually found a sit that was a great fit and kicked off my great traveling adventure!
Where I Went
My adventure started with a house sit in a cute countryside town just two hours outside of London.
This town was well known for having a huge crazy roundabout which is actually made up of six smaller roundabouts. I was so excited to be out traveling that even day to day tasks like going to the Tesco grocery store were exciting.
On my house sit, I cared for two friendly German shepherds that were as strong as Clydesdales, two guinea pigs that talked to me in their squeaky little voices while I made dinner, and two huge rabbits with fur so long and luscious I never saw their eyes.
I was in great shape after two weeks! Walking two German Shepards twice a day is an excellent workout!
After my first sit, I had a few other house sits in the UK countryside. I loved exploring dog parks and beaches with new furry friends in tow and it was amazing to discover towns that I’d never heard of before!
When it was time to leave the UK, I did something that I wildly underestimated. I rode the Chunnel.
I just thought the Chunnel was a road that went under the English channel. You know, like everyone would just drive on it. Like it was an underpass in downtown that just went on for like twenty miles.
But it’s way more exciting than that.
First, you’ll drive into this box that looks like a shipping container.
The door to your box closes behind you and just when you start to feel like you’re in a sci-fi zombie movie, you start to sway a bit. It hardly feels like anything, but you’re moving.
You’re moving under the English Channel, in a metal box, on some kind of train track. It’s very exciting.
I was deposited in France and my bus took me to Brussels where I had a house sit and plans to travel with my sister. I arrived during the Christmas Market season. It snowed and I loved having chocolate, fries, beer, and waffles all easily accessible.
When my sister arrived, we, wandered through the historical town of Bruges until we were so cold the only solution was to eat our weight in piping hot waffles, went on chocolate tours, and even took a little jaunt down to Paris where we would get hopelessly lost and have the time of our lives.
There were free light shows every night and Christmas concerts in the Brussels Grand Place. We ate very strange combinations of sauces on frites and met even stranger people at Delirium Cafe. One night, somewhere around three in the morning at a discotheque, we decided that we felt at home in Brussels.
After the holidays, my sister flew home and I continued onward to Germany. Luckily, I arrived in Cologne just in time for Carnival – one of Germany’s biggest festivals. Imagine Mardi Gras mixed with Oktoberfest but in winter and with much more chocolate involved. That’s Carnival.
I made friends in Germany. I had a local market where they knew me and a bakery where they judged me for how many cakes I ate on a daily basis. I practiced speaking German with limited success and went on excursions to nearby towns. Germany was good to me.
Next, I traveled east to Romania. Romania was recommended by a teacher friend and I loved it from the minute I arrived. The architecture was so fascinating and I even randomly ran into a friend I’d met in Germany while we were both waiting for the metro.
Romania is very well connected by train so it was easy to explore some smaller towns in Transylvania, as well as the larger city of Brasov.
I ended my European trip in Bucharest in a tiny studio with a stellar balcony on which I drank far too many instant coffees and watched spring arrive in front of my very eyes. I wore a teeshirt outside for the first time in months.
I made even more friends through my connections with International TEFL Academy.
We stayed out late and had wild game nights resulting in me now knowing how to say the rooms of the “Clue” house in Romanian. We went to wine tasting and ate traditional potato pies and explored a failed engineering project that was turned into a national park.
Before I knew it, it was time to see my family. My family has been amazing and supportive of this adventure and I missed them a ton.
I had mixed emotions as I got on the plane in Bucharest. I was thrilled to see my friends and family, but part of me worried that if I stopped traveling, I wouldn’t start again. Like I would lose my momentum or something would happen that would keep me from leaving for the second time.
This scared me because, as I walked down the gangway to the plane with my thousand pounds of luggage, glasses tilted, phone already dead, and hangry at 4:30 am, I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted more travel in my life.
I went home. I went to weddings and birthdays and spent two months catching up with the friends I love most in this world. I drank mint juleps on the front porch and cooked veggie dogs out on the grill.
And soon, an opportunity came up for a house sit in Thailand.
I shouldn’t have been worried. After a few more weeks of road trips, visiting friends, and eating as much Taco Bell as I could get my hands on, then I jumped on a flight to Bangkok.
On The Road Again
In Bangkok, I discovered my love for Thai cooking and ate until my belly ached at the amazing, sprawling night markets. I made friends who showed me where to find the best Mango sticky rice and taught me that the best way to spend a Friday night in a big city is in a board game cafe playing Pandemic.
I’ll admit it. I also spent countless hours searching for giant lizards in Lumphini Park.
One of the greatest experiences I had in Bangkok was meeting up with some of my mom’s childhood family friends. They had kept in touch even into adulthood but hadn’t seen each other in decades. And they just so happened to live five minutes from me.
The first time I went over for dinner, all anyone could talk about was how the last time they saw my mom she was about my age, and I looked exactly like her. Together, we toured the Ancient City and spent long nights sharing stories over many cups of tea.
After Bangkok, I was ready for the beach. I found a little place in Ao Nang, Thailand and used it as a home base to explore the islands in the Andaman Sea.
During that time, I took snort trips to Phi Phi Island and countless day trips to Railay Beach. I toured temples and kayaked through national parks and probably spent way too much time at the amazing Thai restaurant near my house.
Ao Nang spoiled me. After living beachside for weeks, it was hard to imagine ever living inland again. So after Thailand, I flew to Bali.
There are a lot of reasons you should go to Bali. It has some of the best surf in the world and lavish cafe culture. For weeks, I ate nothing but poached eggs, avocado toast, and tropical smoothie bowls.
But I had two very specific reasons to go to Bali – I wanted to meet up with my friends who were traveling here – and lizards.
You’ve heard about Komodo Dragons, right? Those giant prehistoric lizards that only roam on a few tiny islands in Indonesia? Yeah, those islands and those lizards are near Bali. And I intend to see them.
So far, Bali has been good to me. I’ve explored up and down the beach, I’ve eaten my share of smoothie bowls, and now I’m getting to experience it all with some dear friends. I’ve even taken a few surf lessons down on the beach where I managed to stand up two whole times!
After Bali, I’m not sure what’s next. But I’ve learned that not knowing exactly what your next plan is leaves room for some pretty awesome adventures.
Statistics from my first year of travel
- New Cities visited: 26
- Number of animals watched on house sits: 8 dogs, 6 cats, 2 rabbits, 2 guinea pigs, 4 chickens
- Number of blog posts: 58
Finding a place to stay while traveling can have a big impact on your budget and the type of experiences you have. These were my favorite places to stay while traveling!
House sit – I had house sits throughout my travels that really helped keep costs low. I cared for a total of 22 pets.
Airbnb – When I didn’t have a house sit, I usually lived in Airbnb’s. I’m a huge fan of Airbnb because I like having a kitchen. Believe it or not, having a full apartment with a kitchen to cook in can actually save money in the long run!
Hotel – Occasionally I would stay in traditional hotels. For example, when my sister visited for Christmas, we took a Christmas trip from Brussels to Paris and lived it up in an adorable hotel in the Marais. Totally worth it. Nothing like sitting in your cute hotel room looking out over the little French rooftops while you fill the bed with bread crumbs from a delicious baguette!
Hostel – Hostels are awesome for budget-travelers and trips where you’ll be doing a lot of exploring outside of your accommodation! Most rooms in hostels are shared but this means you’ll meet lots of new friends.
With friends – International friends are the best! It was always fun staying with a friend who knew their way around the city.
Favorite Eats and Drinks from my first year of travel
- Indian meal at Dishoom in London. It was worth waiting outside in the cold for over an hour for this meal. There’s a reason it’s number one on TripAdvisor.
- Frites at Friteland in Brussels. You can find frites everywhere in Belgium, but Friteland in the city center was my favorite. And the dipping sauces…. Oh my.
- Belgian beer. Pretty much all Belgian beer is incredible. My favorite is Delirium.
- German bread – I can’t tell you what kinds of bread I ate, but I can tell you that German bread is heaven.
- Som Tam – I mean there isn’t anything better than fresh papaya salad. It’s cool on a hot day with just the right amount of spice. You can find delicious Som Tam all over Thailand and it’s definitely one of the foods I miss the most.
- Cocktails at Havana Social in Bangkok – This bar is so cool that you have to enter through a hidden telephone booth after getting the secret code. The drinks are creative and delicious, definitely some of the best I had in Bangkok. Havana is beautifully designed to look like 1940’s Cuba and Latin dancing lasts all night.
- Bali beach bowls – Healthy, delicious, and photogenic. Beach bowls are usually some kind of fruity smoothie topped with granola, fresh fruit, nuts, and honey. You can find them all over Kuta and while I guess they sound like breakfast food, you can pretty much eat them any time, all the time as I do.
- Chicken Satay from Hog Wild in Bali – So there are five of us here and we all agreed that the chicken satay from hog wild that we had at dinner last night was literally the best thing we’ve ever eaten. Just gonna throw that out there.
Biggest Travel Mishaps
Even though it was an awesome year of travel, I had my share of hiccups along the way.
That bus trip where I was car sick
Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that with this much travel I haven’t “grown out” of my carsickness but nope, it still rears its ugly head at the worst possible time, like when I’m stuck in a packed bus in stop-and-go London traffic and they’re blasting the heat. That trip itself was bad enough, but it got worse.
When they finally opened the door and released me from captivity, I only had two hours to regain human status before I had to get on another, even longer bus ride. Oh god. I wept into my curbside falafel almost considered buying a crazy expensive train ticket just to avoid the bus.
But thankfully I found much cheaper and much better motion sickness meds in the British pharmacy which not only took care of the car sickness but also knocked me out for the whole trip. I now travel with five packs, just in case I walk too close to a car and get sick.
Leaving my ATM card in a machine.
No, it didn’t get stolen or eaten by the machine. The machine did its job and returned the card like a good little ATM. I just didn’t pay attention and walked away without it. It took a week to get it back from the bank on the other side of town. Here’s the full story.
The Rabies Affair.
Okay, so I need to write a whole post about this because it was a pretty wild experience. I was on Phi Phi Island, minding my own business, and it started monsoon pouring down rain.
A bunch of people started running to get out of the rain and scared a cat that was just casually chilling in a gutter. The cat freaked out and leaped onto the back of my leg where it proceeded to swing from my leg flesh, holding on for dear life.
In the tussle, I got scratched up pretty badly, and given the condition of the cat, I thought it was best to take a cute little detour to the hospital. It was right next to the bar where I was heading anyway.
The doctor was amazing and she cleaned up the cuts in no time. She recommended that I get a rabies vaccine because you just never know. As a result, I had to stop by a clinic 5 times in total over the next few weeks to get the round of vaccines. It wasn’t fun, but better safe than sorry!
A lot can change in a year.
One of the biggest changes is something I haven’t talked about on this blog. But since I have no problem telling you every single other detail of my life on here, why not throw this one in too.
At the beginning, I was traveling with a partner. Shortly after we went abroad, we realized things weren’t working and we needed to go our separate ways.
When I thought about this trip at the very beginning, I thought I would be doing it with someone else. When things didn’t work out, I considered calling it quits and heading home because I had no idea how to travel alone. I just didn’t even know where to start. I worried about safety, about getting lonely, about missing everyone more since I was now on my own.
So I gave myself two weeks. I told myself that if I didn’t like it after two weeks alone, I could always go home.
But traveling solo wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.
I actually really, really enjoyed it. I liked having the flexibility of just my own schedule and being alone forced me to reach out and make new friends.
Those two weeks were a turning point in my trip because I realized, for the first time, that I actually could do this by myself.
I decided to keep traveling. I was going to do it alone. And that was something I definitely hadn’t planned on.
There was an unexpected side effect of becoming a solo traveler: time. With much more time on my hands in the heart of a European winter, I decided to take this blogging business course with Nomadic Matt. The class showed me exactly how to stop thinking of my blog like a hobby and how to approach it like a business.
So I bundled up in fifteen coats, bought a few pounds of potatoes for sustenance, and got to work. One month later, I had a completely redesigned website and had a whole new mindset about blogging.
I love writing about travel, remote work, and everything in between. Before, this blog was just a hobby. Now it’s something that I could one day use as a source of income. That’s pretty cool!
It’s a slow road, but I really love it. Today, I’m still climbing, but I’m miles ahead of where I was a year ago.
Some things have stayed the same.
Back home, many of my friends have gotten married and grown their families. They have bought houses and gotten job promotions and spent time with their friends doing amazing things.
Before I returned from Europe that I worried things would be different with my friends – like we would have grown apart. Our adventures, though both worthwhile and important, are different.
It’s been said a thousand times before but I’ll say it again in case you’re still skeptical: with your real friends, the ones you care about the most, being gone for a year is nothing. You will pick up right where you left off.
You might even have a huge party where they all come to see you and you have a cactus pinata and play corn hole and grill a thousand hot dogs in the backyard.
With the technology we have today, keeping up with friends and family is simple.
I still talk to loved ones almost every day. We have at least three running group chats where we send each other pictures of our cats and memes exclusively from The Office, as is the tradition.
I shouldn’t have been worried.
Life goes on after you leave, sure, but that just means that when you get back everyone will have a lot of stories to share.
So thank you to my family and friends who have supported this idea from the beginning and encouraged me to travel farther, longer, and more adventurously. They’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, back when I just wrote 400-word undetailed guides to cities nearby and posted old travel pictures with no captions, bless them.
I don’t say it enough, but you all are the backbone of this operation and I really appreciate it.
Thank you to those who new to the blog, who are interested in traveling, or teaching online, or who are just here to read about me eating tons of pastries and getting lost in new places. It makes my day when you send me emails to ask travel questions or share your own adventures.
The travel world is surprisingly connected, and I love that my blog might play the teensiest, tiniest part in your travel story.
It’s been an amazing year. And I hope you’ll join me for many more.