2016 has been a challenging year for me with lots of learning opportunities. Here are some raw reflections. So many people tell me they’re jealous of my travelling lifestyle, and it’s true, there are many beautiful and amazing parts to it. But there is also sacrifice. When you are a traveler, you are largely alone on your journey. You connect with people along the way, but you give up a lot when moving through life largely without the comfort and support of close friends and family nearby. At the start of the year I was living in the Northern Beaches town of Manly in Sydney Australia. I had been there less than a month and had a hard time spending the holidays away from my loved ones. My travels throughout Indonesia in 2015 had been magical, exciting, filled with so many beautiful new friendships and experiences, but my time in Sydney was less than smooth… I had no real friends, no support network, and it was just one of those times when a lot of things seemed to fail. I faced so many rejections. But throughout it all, I knew that each failed path was not the right path for me, and each rejection was saving me from time that might have been wasted. A challenge is really a stepping stone after all, and in the words of Elbert Hubbard, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” In the yoga sutras, tapas (to burn or create heat) refers to pain which is welcomed because of its ability to aid in spiritual purification. We do not seek out pain of course, but when it comes our way, we appreciate that it creates an opportunity for growth.
So I persevered, drifting through several living situations and searching for my tribe, and in March I had a stroke of good luck. I met two people who would become forever friends, those rare people who you know you’ll stay friends with no matter how far away you live. Alas, shortly after, Bron and Jay moved up to Byron Bay, but I count myself lucky for having come to Sydney and met them, and I have no doubt we will stay in touch and cross paths again soon. Although I struggled to make friends in Sydney, it wasn’t all bad. I had a job at the Manly Beach Health Club personal training and teaching yoga and doing a bit of admin in the office. Everyone I worked with was great. I learned so much from my fellow trainers, all of whom had far more experience than I did. But I didn’t spend much time with my coworkers outside of work. I craved real friendship.
I didn’t let this stop me from making the most of my time in Australia. I visited Brisbane, Surfer’s Paradise, and Tamborine Mountain in Queensland. I hiked the trails around Sydney Harbor, swam, paddle boarded, surfed, partied with the backpackers, explored the city, and during this time I completed my Level 1 Wellness Coach Certification. Still, soon after Bron and Jay left and after another failed living situation, I knew it was time to move on. I had worked the 6 months allowed at one employer on the Australian working holiday visa and I was ready to explore somewhere new. I found a family in Perth looking for an au pair and off I went. I stopped in Melbourne along the way and had a blast! I LOVED Melbourne. I made friends at the backbackers there, finding a lot people who I connected well with in a very short period of time, especially compared to my experiences Sydney. The character and uniqueness of the city blew me away, from the amazing graffiti art to the secret bars with vintage vibes to the hidden alleyways filled with outdoor cafes reminiscent of the streets of Paris. I highly recommend Melbourne if you’re looking for an interesting and fun city to visit in Australia. I didn’t have enough time to travel out of the city and explore the impressive views of the Great Ocean Road, but I heard it was pretty spectacular and I did briefly visit the penguins on the coast!
Then I arrived in Perth and met my host family. What a change from my cold receptions in Sydney! The Duckworth family will be family to me forever. I took care of two adorable, crazy little girls, and I fell in love with them. My host mum, Karen, became my best friend. I was teaching yoga and fitness classes in the park and making friends with my students. I was able to feel really at home in Perth. But I was still feeling pretty roughed up from my Sydney experience and I missed my family. I planned to come home for a while and had just posted on facebook about how excited I was to see my dog again (my parents had been taking care of him for me). Then I got the worst news. My dog had passed away suddenly from a heart attack. He was old and he’d had a great life, but it was still completely unexpected. He was still happy and energetic and I was not prepared. My heart ached like never before at this sudden loss. Gizmo had been with me through many years when it was just him and me… when I first went away to college, then living alone in my twenties. He went with me everywhere and slept in my bed, and I loved him tremendously. I went through all the stages of grief… denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. Getting to the acceptance phase had a lot to do with my yoga study. I found comfort in the yoga sutras during this time and knew I had to make peace with Gizmo’s passing. It is after all, the natural and inevitable cycle. And Gizmo went in the best possible way… Though the suddenness made the loss all the more painful for me, it also meant he felt happy and strong up until his very last day. I felt gypped that he’d been taken away too soon, but really it was everything I could have wanted for him, except that I wasn’t there with him. I soon realized that I was mourning more than just the loss of my beloved pup, but also the entire life I’d had before I started travelling. The stability I’d had, my apartment, my dog, my friends, a very comfortable, healthy, and pleasant routine… That part of my life was over. Things would never be the same again. It is the natural way of life, and especially for the life of a traveler: You have to let go of things to make room for new experiences. There were so many joys in my life before I left California to travel the world and I knew when I made the decision to leave that I was giving so much up. But it really hit home after Gizmo passed. That old life was over and gone. I knew if I let Gizmo’s death keep me down, then it would be a waste that I had been away from him when he passed. It would be a waste of everything I’d sacrificed for this life. I resolved to continue to make the absolute most out of every day I had left in Australia.
While in Perth I cherished every moment with the girls I was looking after. (Even when they were being pains in the bum and bickering while I was trying to cook dinner!) I took up salsa lessons with a friend of mine. I sand-boarded and the Lancelin Sand Dunes. I went wine tasting in Swan Valley. As a birthday present to myself I booked a trip to Darwin. I had some friends from Yoga Teacher Training there and was eager to explore a region of Australia I hadn’t been to yet. I fell in love with Darwin. I loved the warm tropical climate and I had some pretty amazing experiences. I went out on a boat with the rangers to check the crocodile traps and ended up riding back with two tethered crocs in the boat right at my feet! (These are crocodiles near the harbor and they have to be collected as they cause a lot of problems/deaths/injuries.) I also went on a jumping croc tour in the area where the crocodiles are protected and got to see massive crocs jumping out of the water for food. The biggest was a 5.5 meter or 16.5 foot croc known as Brutus, has been spotted eating a bull shark on the river bank! I swam some beautiful springs in Darwin, that looked like a picture out of The Swiss Family Robinsons. (Only fresh water crocs in the springs, quite safe!) I hiked in Litchfield Park and swam in waterfalls and rivers. I highly recommend Darwin to any travelers looking for warm weather, outdoor adventures, and a relaxed atmosphere. There was something about Darwin that really made me feel at ease… the smell of moist tropical soil in the air, the views, the trees… I can’t quite describe it, but I loved it, and the crocodile experiences were pretty out of this world!
Leaving Australia was bitter sweet. I was so excited to go home and see my family, but saying goodbye to Karen and the girls was hard. Again, it’s the way of the traveller’s life… Constantly meeting new people, making new connections, and then having to say goodbye.
I made one more short trip to Bali while I was still close. My longer stay in 2015 was magical because I had my fellow yogis with me, and I felt like a local in Sanur, because I lived very simply and locally, not doing much of the touristy stuff. This time I went to research for future retreats. It was a little less magical because I was on a mission, instead of just relaxing, but boy did I do a lot! I drove through the mountains to the northern coast, stopping to see the silver smiths in action and visit a coffee plantation, where I had a tour and got to do a coffee and tea tasting. I saw the magical temple on the lake, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan and the Buddhist temple Brahmavihara-Arama. I bathed in the spiritual waters of the Banjar Hot Springs, watched dolphins from a traditional fishing boat at dawn, hiked in the jungle, jumped off waterfalls, strolled through the rice paddies led by a local little boy, and was welcomed by a local family in Lovina. And to top it all off, I got to meet up with a friend in Kuta for a night out on the town on my way out (Kuta is back down near the airport). Bali is such a magical place. If you haven’t been there, go. And take your time.
Finally, I returned home and it was bliss. I had missed my family so much. When you’re close with your family, it’s hard to be away even when times are good, but through the loneliness of Sydney and the loss of my dog I was just dying to see them and spend time with them again. Still, being home turned out to be a bit different than I had expected. I thought my primary focuses while I was home would be wellness, my business, the holidays, and spending time with family and friends. This was true to an extent… I spent lots of time with family. I switched exclusively to private clientele and my business grew significantly during this time. However, something else became a large focus. I confess I got a bit out of touch with what was going on in the US while I was away, but when I returned home shortly before the 2016 election I was shocked at the state of things. I have always been politically aware but never had I seen a political climate in the US that was quite so consuming for so many people. I saw friendships being divided, even among people who previously had not been particularly interested in politics, and I felt similar impacts on some of my own friendships. The strange thing was that hardly anybody (on either political side) seemed to be happy about the election. “How did we get here?” many of us had to wonder. I felt and still feel very disturbed about this and one revelation I took away from this situation was a newly invigorated passion for education. I have always cherished education and held the highly educated in great respect, but the appreciation of the power of knowledge and learning seems to be dwindling among many. I teach every day with my clients and I am constantly continuing my education. Before starting my wellness business I was a consultant, an educational role as well. As I reflected, I realized education has been the common thread of my life, and perhaps it was time to broaden the scope of this ability in order to better serve the world. I decided to start looking into Masters programs in education and I’m excited to see where this path takes me. It’s interesting how the most seemingly benign triggers can lead to great realizations.
So in 2017 I will be travelling to the UK after a nice long visit back to the US. I will be applying to graduate schools, as well as continuing to teach and instruct yoga, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Who knows where 2017 will take me, what I will learn, where I will end up. Perhaps it will hold much joy. Perhaps it will hold many challenges. Whatever the case, I know I will only continue to grow and to learn. I wish you all the same!