1 year without a cell phone

Can I get your number?

I don’t have a phone.

He looks at me like I’m crazy and says, Look, if you don’t want to give me your number, you could just say that.

Of course I could just say that, I reply. I honestly don’t have a phone.

And that part, the part where I repeat that I actually don’t have a phone, the part where people realize that I’m actually serious, that freaks people out more than if I were to have just said no.

No is relatable. People know no. No happens. No is normal.

Life without a phone. That’s not.

Blank stares, awkward silences, an occasional “Wow!” or “OMG I could never do that!” That’s what I get in response.

Today I celebrate 1 year without a phone. Today I celebrate 1 year of traveling.

8 months abroad, 9 different countries, 22 major cities, 4 months at home with family and a few days of falling in love in New York City. All without a phone.

I left my phone behind the day I set out to travel.

Why?

I want to be fully present with the people and places I would visit.

That’s the short version.

Before I set out to travel, I questioned whether or not I wanted to take a phone with me. I attempted to weigh the pros and cons, but found those categories unhelpful. The pros and cons blurred. Each benefit had drawbacks and each drawback had benefits. I was asking the wrong question.

It wasn’t about bringing a phone or not bringing one. It was about asking myself, How alive am I willing to be? How could I, how would I connect with the world?

If I was a tourist, or perhaps just a normal person, I’d have taken a phone. But there’s nothing normal about me and this wasn’t a trip.

I wanted it to be travel, pilgrimage. I needed it to be the kind of setting out that scares people, the kind of searching that our ancestors knew before we became accustomed to staying found.

I needed it to be adventurous and unknown. Columbus sets sail into uncertainty kind of travel. Moses hikes Mt. Sinai kind of travel. Jesus loses his mind, freezes his ass off and fears for his life in the wilderness kind of travel. Buddha sits under a tree on the night of the full moon, stares at a single rose petal and is enlightened kind of travel. The initial Mecca, let’s do this as a way of life, not just once in a lifetime, get lost to get found, disorientation is actually divine and time exists to transform you kind of travel.

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And I knew that if I took my cell phone that Siri would make it far too easy to stay found. So I left it at home.

Safety seemed to be the number 1 concern of my family. They wished me security.

Everything social seemed to be the concern of my friends. They wanted to see me.

But having a cell phone, I realized, would make things far too simple and I didn’t want simple, I wanted struggle. I didn’t want easy, I wanted experience.

I didn’t want to have Google Maps at my disposal, pull up answers in the palm of my hand, or browse through the Top 10 Places to See on a screen. I wanted to touch the shoulder of a stranger and ask for help, get local advice, hear stories firsthand. I didn’t want a search bar telling me where to eat.

The best restaurants will never show up on Yelp; they’ll come to you by word of mouth after you’ve shared your second beer with a local in a back alley bar.

Security will come to you after you’ve thumbed your way into a beat up car and trusted a stranger to carry you for 35 minutes on 3k of winding roads to a small village, completely inaccessible by bus, with 22 residents.

An offer to go out on a small handmade fishing boat to catch some “lunch” will come to you after you’ve taken the time to sit down and listen to the strangely alluring tune of a Spanish guitarist playing on a large rock by the beach. When you ask who the artist is, he’ll introduce himself, smile, and tell you the story behind the song. You’ll realize you’re witnessing a miracle. You’ll realize you’re living one.

Stepping out of the sun and into a shaded doorway to grab something cold and asking the woman behind the counter for her opinion will lead you to try a new piece of fruit, a type of red cactus, that is native to this island and this island only. Your enthusiasm about this delicious and exotic juice will lead her to share with you another one of her favorite drinks on the island, a cup of coffee, but not just any cup of coffee, she says, coffee made from the only coffee beans grown in Europe. And did you know, she’ll continue to tell you, that you’re standing right here in the village where we make it? She’ll reach her arm out an open window and point across the street to the valley where it’s grown. Care to try it?

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Travelling without a cell phone hasn’t always been easy or convenient, not in the traditional sense of those words, at least, but it has been adventurous, memorable, meaningful.

365 have passed.

I feel connected and alive. It’s amazing how the absence of a single object can make space for so much awareness. My chin is up, my eyes open, my hands empty, ready to receive, hold, touch. I no longer suffer from phantom phone vibrations.

 

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the summer before Spain

I didn’t cry for 2 entire weeks after I was born. No, not even when the doctors smacked my bare butt with their latex gloves in an attempt to startle me out of my silence. I like to think that I was being stubborn, that I gave them nothing but wide eyes and wonder to show them that a soul can rest in stillness in the midst of traumatic transitions. I’d like to think that I made them question how we exist in the face of everything unknown and all things uncertain, but I’m pretty sure they just thought I was weird. I’m pretty sure my brain was just trying to tell my body to breathe.

When my twin came out pink and screaming, I came out blue and barely breathing. My mom tells me that Chris did enough crying for the both us during those first two weeks. And no, while my mom says she wasn’t worried, I do wonder what she thought of her mute child and the way I breached my way into the world without sound.

In 7 days I’ll make my way to the Canary Islands of Spain. Geographically, I’ll exist on a small spec of land just off the coast of Morocco. If a world map could hiccup, I’d be swallowed by the slightest involuntary spasm and I’d suffocate beneath the same uterine water that brought me into being.

Physically, I’ll have a 56 hour journey through 4 airports, on 3 different airplanes, the last of which is a tiny propeller plane from the Azores Islands (Portugal) to Gran Canaria Island (Spain), and I’ll endure 2 sleepless nights in over-trafficked terminals.

When I arrive on the island I’ll head straight for a hot shower. I’ll attempt to sleep but I will be too excited to sink my toes into Spanish sand and I’ll collapse on the beach instead. I’ll see old friends, make new ones, visit some of the same places, swim in the same salty sea, sleep in the same bed and wake up to carry out my daily yoga practice on the same rooftop terrace. Much of what I will experience will be familiar and yet, it will all be foreign.

A summer, a season, a story, a single day spent in the sun, a smile–it all changes you.

I will remember this summer as the one where my nephew started talking and named me Auntie Gui.

I’ll remember walking out to the backyard with Barrett, picking him up and shifting my hips to hold his little body against mine as we watched apples grow on trees together, weekly, from April to Almost Edible. I’ll head to Spain while they’re still sour.

I’ll ask my mom or my sister to continue this tradition with Barrett so that he can see, from beginning to end, how an entire season unfolds from a single seed, how beautiful, how slow, how perfect the timing of each blossom is, what it means to wait for something good to grow, how much anticipation we are capable of holding, how nothing evolves into something, and how a single flower begins in a hostile and unpredictable environment–helpless and susceptible to frost and finches–yet is determined to become full of life and, eventually, fruit.

I’ll replay in my mind, over and over again, how confused he was when I pointed to a tiny ivory triangle on a tree and told him that this would one day be an apple. I’ll replay his look of astonishment when green circles started to appear on brown branches and how his hands reached out to touch each one, how counting apples on trees, 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 4, 3… felt like a miracle.

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I’ll remember this summer as my grandfather’s last. I’ll remember accompanying him on flower deliveries to funeral homes during his last days, how he watched me place a large casket spray on top of an open casket because he was too weak to do it himself. I’ll remember holding his calm and clammy hands while he struggled to breathe beneath trembling white linens and how lime green lines twitched above and below anything steady on the monitor above his bed. I’ll remember how I kissed his sweaty forehead, whispered a Spanish blessing into his left ear, and licked the salt off of my lips as I walked out of that hospital room. I’ll remember how, a few days later, I spoke words on his behalf and in his honor as he listened beneath the satin covered walls of a closed hardwood casket, grinning at God with crooked, cold lips.

I’ll remember this summer as the one when I fell in love.

I’ll sit on that island, missing everything that was once summer, and let images of apples and absence and awe and everything in between fill my mind and free me to exist fully wherever I am finding myself in that moment. And I will smile.

I don’t know why I am leaving, but I can’t stay.

I feel less excited and less giddy than I did last year when I set out, for the first 7 months of travel, perhaps because Gran Canaria feels like home now.

I am far more relaxed, perhaps because traveling has become a way of life, not once-in-a-lifetime.

If I’m being entirely honest, I feel tired, which is when it becomes appropriate for me to share with you that all of this long-term traveling is not always as glamorous as it may seem. I’ve been writing articles about car seat cushions, superfood smoothies, and sex museums in Vegas to scrape by and fund these adventures. There’s always a trade off. While I make next to nothing for the work that I do, it does allow me to do what I love. I choose to live simply in exchange for stories and sunsets on foreign soil so that I can become speechless and silent like I was when I first entered the world with wonder.

I was 2 weeks old when my body was ready to cry. While my mother doesn’t remember exactly what it was that triggered that leakage, she does remember that she wasn’t holding me. When she heard my first whimper she turned to whomever it was that was holding me and snapped, “What did you do to her?!”

But all babies cry, that’s what she’d tell you now.

I can’t tell you why I didn’t cry for the first 14 days of my little life for the same reason that I can’t tell you why I am embarking on another adventure overseas. I only know that I must go.

I believe, at certain points in our lives, that we are given ushers, like great ancestors, who move our feet for us when we don’t have the strength to do it ourselves, who think for us when we do not have the mental capacity to comprehend life beyond our next breath, who remind us to keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Perhaps it is worse to stay where one does not belong than to wander for a while, searching for the things that we require.

Do I want to stay? Yes.

Am I eternally meant to wander? Yes.

We begin by admitting that we contradict ourselves precisely because we contain multitudes. We are vast. 

 

with a free and simple heart

I’ve been getting a lot of requests to say more about how I got started with traveling.

When I started thinking about this, I realized that my decision to “get up and go” began long before I bought my first flight. Before I decided to travel, I desired to live simply.

Eliminate 1 item for each day of the year.

That was my 2012 New Year’s resolution.

By the beginning of February, just over 1 month into the journey, I had purged, recycled or repurposed 382 items, thereby technically “completing” my year of simple living.

But when everything I was willing to give away was gone, things shifted.

My resolution became less about getting rid of “stuff” and more about creating space.

For the remainder of the year, I began experimenting with what creating different kinds of space looked like.

I started with my schedule and made 2 easy changes. First, I stopped overbooking and then I started scheduling “spaces” into it. By saying “no” to just a few things each week, I felt more energized and was able to be more present at the gatherings I did attend.

Put simply, I started “doing” less.

After making a few adjustments to my schedule, I started simplifying a few other aspects of my life like cleaning out my inbox and deleting old files on my laptop. Not having to sift through thousands of files or weeks worth of emails to find what I was looking for was a huge timesaver.

I made some personal, arguably drastic, changes and cut 12 inches off of my hair so that I no longer had to style it every day. Talk about freeing!

stopped wearing makeup, except for special occasions or every once in awhile when I felt like dolling up. Allowing myself to walk around town and into work without any makeup for the first time since I was 13 was initially quite terrifying. I felt naked. But after a week or so, I started feeling free and really beautiful without a bunch of beauty products.

I started re-wearing my clothes and washing them less. This saved me time, money, water, and allowed me to spend a few extra minutes each day channeling my creative energies into projects instead of into picking out “the perfect” outfit.

I made a few dietary changes, mostly related to how I ate and what I bought. I began buying “happy” products instead of potentially harmful ones and I chose to savor my food instead of scarfing it. I chose to pay a little more to buy and savor a single organic, fairly-traded chocolate bar instead of mowing an entire bag of Hershey’s Kisses and eating all of the negative things that Hershey’s stands for, like forced child-labor.

Practicing conscious consumption brought a greater awareness and appreciation to the food I was eating and challenged me to think about the people and the policies that helped bring the food to my plate in the first place. While this wasn’t always “simple” in terms of efficiency, saving money or ease, it was certainly helping me live with a freer and simpler heart.

When I was unsure of how to continue simplifying the external elements of my life, I turned inward and started playing with some soul space. I wondered how presence played into living with a free and simple heart and how I could more fully “practice presence” and “show up” for the tasks and people in my day.

I practiced listening as a way to be present and attempted to hear without interrupting the speaker or “needing” to say what I was thinking. I became aware of the violence and noise of everyday conversation and withheld, to a certain extent, a good deal of small talk and mundane chatter for the sake of asking a single conscious question.

I began a daily meditation practice and experimented with different forms of contemplative prayer that allowed me to focus on my breath as a way to still my mind, center myself, and exist more fully in the world and with others.

Doing all of these things saved me more than just time and created more than just space.

What started as a resolution quickly became a lifestyle,

to live with a free and simple heart.

A few years later, during the summer of 2014, roughly 1 year before I would lose my job, I learned a simple but sacred lesson during a week-long silent retreat.

I’d been walking labyrinth as a form of prayer and meditation. Each walk took about an hour and each time I found myself entering with expectations. I wanted answers to all of the questions I had been asking lately. I wanted insight and clarity and I wanted to get over and get out of the uncomfortable space I was in. I was frustrated.

And then the labyrinth asked me a question.

Do you fly a kite to change the world?

What?!!! That’s absurd, I thought, and so silly! And then out of my mouth came an audible response, like it was totally normal to converse with a plot of land that had a spiraling pathway mowed into it:

Of course not! I usually just fly a kite to fly a kite.

Then I laughed out loud. I was trying to make the labyrinth into something other than the labyrinth. If I could fly a kite just to fly a kite (and enjoy it!) why couldn’t I walk the labyrinth with that same mindset? And what was the point of walking the labyrinth if I wasn’t going to enjoy walking the labyrinth?

When June of 2015 rolled around and I lost my job as a part-time Youth Director, I asked myself, “Do you fly a kite to change the world?”

I thought about kites and their purpose: to take flight with the wind.

No doubt, I had a good tailwind. I could let loose the sails and let the elements carry me in a new direction of travel or I could anchor myself to this sinking ship (the end of a long relationship, a roommate that had just moved out, a job I had just lost) and stay.

I chose to take flight with the wind. I decided to leave my other part-time jobs and I began to simplify my life even further. I moved out of my apartment and sold my car.

Then, I simplified everything I had left into 6 boxes.

I decided to leave my cell phone at home (on purpose!), as a way to be present with the people and places I would meet and while I didn’t know it at the time, I wouldn’t buy a cell phone upon my return to the States because I fell in love with life without one.

I said goodbye to family and friends, stuffed everything into a carry-on sized backpack, and hopped on a one-way flight to Newfoundland, Canada.

I spent the next 198 days on the road exploring 8 different countries and 15 cities.

I lived for 7 months out of a backpack and exercised the muscles I had started to develop during that year of simple living. I realized again how little I actually needed and I learned to care for my clothes as a way to care for the world; if something needed mending, I sewed it instead of tossing it out and buying something new!

When I began my resolution in 2012, I had no idea that it would become a lifestyle and provide me with a “lightness” that would allow me, a few years later, to get up and go and pursue my dream to travel with a free and simple heart. But it did and it is.

I’m excited to see were the spirit of simplicity takes me next and how it will continue to free me to live and love more deeply as I prepare to fly back to Spain.

Or, perhaps I’m all wrong.

Perhaps my desire to live simply began long before I made a 2012 New Year’s resolution. Perhaps it began in my youth, on Lake Huron shores and over the course of many summer days, where much of my time was spent sifting through sand for seashells and splashing in the waves under a warm, golden and gracious sun.

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Perhaps I’m simply searching for the things that are worth smiling over. Perhaps I’m simply willing to try.

nothing to lose

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I took a risk. I used my tax return to buy a one-way ticket back to Las Palmas, Spain. I bought the flight for the exact same reason that I left the island with sand in between my toes.

For love and for laughter. I’m not kidding. It’s actually that simple.

Something about that island brought me to life again and introduced me to so many good people, places, and things. I’ve never laughed or loved so deeply as I have when I was there.

I took a chance. For a short while, before I officially purchased my flight, I realized that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, by making this decision to return.

I came to this conclusion after I reviewed a few of the facts that showed me how spot on I was in my assumption:

  • I have no job
  • I have no bills
  • I have no money
  • I have no health insurance
  • I have no cell phone, no car, no partner, no mortgage…
  • I don’t know what I’ll be doing
  • I don’t know where I’ll be working or volunteering
  • I don’t know how long I’ll stay
  • I don’t know if I’ll get a VISA

On one hand, I have nothing to lose because I literally have nothing.

On the other hand,

  • I feel free
  • I am happy
  • I have a (growing!) family and friends that support and love me
  • I dwell in possibility
  • I have everything to gain
  • and I have a dream to return to Las Palmas.

So I took once small step in making that dream happen.

The morning I left the island, I found myself sitting at the airport at 6:30AM, not having slept all night, nodding off in-between sips of espresso and smiling—as I looked through teary, tired eyes—at the sand that had stayed between my tan toes from one final night of singing with friends at the beach. I could have rinsed it off in the bathroom sink or brushed it off with a few extra napkins, but I decided to leave it. It made me happy. Those grains were full of memories and they reminded me of what I had come to love deeply.

Even before I left the island, I knew I would return.

I’ve been home for exactly 1 month now. To my surprise, I’ve found myself much busier than I thought I would be. Up until a few days ago, when I bought my ticket back to the island, I was wandering around all insecure, lost, and confused like I did when I was in Jr. High and I had flashbacks of our 7th grade dances where everything smelled like pepperoni pizza and pimple-faced boys with uncontrolled body odor burped Mountain Dew into your face as you slow danced to Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” standing an awkward arm’s-length apart, touching someone else’s sweaty back for the very first time, avoiding eye-contact at all costs and smiling at your best friend nervously—with bright pink, punch-stained lips—from across the room, as the disco ball sent all sorts of silly shapes dancing about the room.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

I’ve been job searching, looking into the logistics of getting a VISA, thinking about returning to Spain, looking at a pile of clothes that need mending, mourning the fact that mice ate through half of my wardrobe while I was away and nested in every single pair of my shoes.

I have been getting ready to sew and sell some more tunics, visiting with friends and family, staying up late watching sappy Spanish movies and watching bugs crawl across my bedroom floor out of the corner of my right eye, not caring about the fact that bugs are crawling across my bedroom floor, taking pop cans back to Kroger and collecting measly sums of money to add to my travel fund, frequenting the family flower shop and dumpster dancing on mountains of useless waste that I’ve pitched to the curb and decluttered, watching my skin crack, dry out and fade in Michigan’s cold weather, wishing I could be back in Las Palmas…

You know, the things you do when you return home from a heavenly holiday and find yourself feeling slightly lost in transition and transported right back to that 7th grade dance. It’s horrifying, really.

After the ecstasy, the laundry… or so they say, and I’ve got loads of it.

And then one morning I woke up and jumped out of bed with a divine dose of clarity, feeling totally inspired, as if the moonlight had bleached all of my fears and anxieties from my body.

I was laughing and squealing with excitement, jumping up and down and doing silly dance moves while I was on the phone with my mom asking her if I should really, “like seriously, Mom,” do this. Should I honestly buy my ticket?! I asked, rhetorically really, because I made up my mind months ago. Of course I should. Of course I would.

Her response confirmed what I knew to be true. “Yes!,” she said, “you should do anything that makes you laugh this much.”

Is it that simple?

It can be.

But we have become so very good at complicating things, overthinking our options, overanalyzing everything—even the bloody grocery list—and worrying, sometimes about silly things, like what toppings to put on our pizzas.

What is the balance between choosing our dreams over life’s demands? What if we woke up and gave ourselves permission, on a daily basis, to pursue the things that help us accomplish our dreams? Perhaps this is isn’t possible; perhaps it is even a bit unrealistic. And even if it was, none of us would actually have time for it anyways, right? But what if?

Aren’t we, to some extent, the authors of our own reality?

For the time being, because I’ve decided to follow my heart back to Spain, I’m learning what it means to make a living as a digital nomad, which is a super cool way of saying that I’m learning how to use my skills in combination with WiFi and my laptop in order to earn money while traveling. Although it can be quite painful at times, I have begun to write articles for pay online. It’s very freeing to know that I can work and travel simultaneously!

If I were to put an image to this place and time in my life, I would say that it’s a bit like doing a puzzle. When I was old enough to attempt my first “big girl” puzzle with actual “big girl”pieces, I was taught to begin by flipping all of the pieces over so that I could see what I was working with. From there I was taught to separate the straight edges from the swiveled ones, fill in the four corners, set the border, and have at it!

When I put it that way, I guess it doesn’t sound so crazy that I’m heading off to Spain without a plan and everything in place. I trust that the pieces will fall into place with time, and if they don’t, then the adventure continues! There is always 1 piece missing from the box anyways. That’s just life, isn’t it?

198 days

Tomorrow I begin my journey back to the States. I’ll fly from Málaga to London to New York and stop in Myrtle Beach for a few days with family before settling into my Michigan home.

198 days of life on the road have left me feeling full and forever wanting more. Six months have passed like six days and the seconds have sprinted away in heats of hello’s and goodbye’s.

Tomorrow I will not sink my toes into Spanish sand or swim naked in any salty sea. I won’t eat breakfast on an open terrace, volunteer in a foreign establishment, walk along the beach, or pass the days with friends I’ve met along the way.

Things will change, although I’m not entirely sure how. This isn’t a bad thing.

I’ll cry as my plane takes off—as the wheels leave the runway—and carries me through the clouds, across the Atlantic, to another continent. I’ll savor my last moments abroad and in the air by looking out the window at the blue sky blanketing both worlds, and I will feel at home there, suspended somewhere between Spain and the States.

Or perhaps, as I’m flying, I will feel totally lost, fall into a restless sleep and dream myself a pair of long, elastic, green Gumby legs that straddle the Atlantic, so one foot is always in each place I’ve come to call home.

In either case, I’ll cry when I land.

I’ll greet the first person I see in Spanish because speaking the language has become normal for me and I’ll be shocked when I hear English in return. I’ll want to give two kisses, one on each cheek, and a hug with every verbal greeting but I’ll be pushed away and scolded by the majority of Americans for trying. For the next few moments, I won’t know where I am, how I’ve arrived there, or what will happen next. I will move slowly.

Standing on American soil will further confirm that I am no longer physically with the people I love abroad and no longer traveling in different places, but my heart will refuse to believe this and will remain in a state of confusion and emotional disagreement for a while as it continues to love and live as if it was still there.

My mind will be muddled, my soul will sink into a mild depression for a season, my body will fall temporarily ill because all of me is sad to leave, my sun-kissed skin will fade, my heart will break but only because it has loved so deeply, and I will soon be back in Michigan, adjusting slowly to the next phase of my journey, which I know is on-going.

I’ll return home to family, who I’ve missed dearly and love deeply. The first person I’ll want to see is my nephew. I’ll hold him in my arms and cry like a baby because a screen no longer separates us, because he has grown so much and I wasn’t there to see it, because I am with someone I love, because he will understand me.

I’ll return home to friends. Some will receive me with open arms and incredible affection, like a daughter raised from the dead. Others will have hardly noticed I’ve been away. Some will ask me out to coffee but I’ll shrug and suggest wine instead, Spanish wine, because it reminds me of home.

I wonder if they’ll expect me to share six months worth of experiences over a bottle of Protos? I’ll want to tell them that I’ve lived and died many lives since being away, I’ll try to put into words everything that I’ve felt and experienced on the road, but I’ll struggle to produce even the simplest of sentences and I’ll raise my glass in a silent toast instead.

I’ll run into people at Kroger, the local grocery store, and they’ll ask me in front of a can of baked beans or a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes about my time abroad. It was incredible, I’ll respond, absolutely incredible.

And I’ll leave it at that. What more could I say? I believe in giving things away in the same manner we receive them. Beauty for beauty, love for love. If I spend an entire lifetime or even a single summer crafting a beautiful poem I wouldn’t post it on Facebook or Tweet it. I’d write it by hand, carefully and slowly, reciting the words as I print them on homemade paper and give it to someone I love. I’d seal it with a kiss and deliver it by hand.

I cannot put six months into a silver wrapper and call it candy so you can taste a morsel of the sweetness I’ve experienced. Some things are far too sacred for simplification. Better to say nothing than to speak injustice. And if I were to speak in this moment, I’m not sure what I would say.

These are my last days in Málaga and my host family, who I’ve returned to see, has been asking me if I want to go into the city and see things. No, I’ve told them, I don’t. I feel so full of experiences and so blessed to have had them that I can’t imagine taking anything else in, especially as I prepare to transition home.

I can’t tell you how I’ve changed over a glass of red wine or go into great detail in the grocery store. If you really want to know, I’ll respond, come with me. Let’s go together.

I’m prepared for all of the routine questions upon my return and to an extent, I welcome them, I need them to help me process. What was it like? What did you see, experience, love, hate, learn?

Ask me everything or ask me nothing, only be sincere.

I want to share my stories with you and I want to thank you, those of you who’ve journeyed with me via this blog, for sharing these six months with me. Let’s unpack them together.

I’ll let the stories unfold in the same manner I received them: slowly, naturally, carefully, openly.

I will be gentle with myself as I practice at home what I have been living abroad: Resistance is in the head, intuition in the heart, and everything that sets the soul free is actually a series of physical movements that open us.

I will extend my arms, unfurl my hands, walk in this world with wide eyes, lift my chest to the sun, throw my head back in laughter, open my lips to speak love with smiles, and go with a free and simple heart down every open road.

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Where to next?

on the road

When in Tesarte I kept hearing the love birds call, day and night, but especially at dawn when I was doing yoga. Before I knew that those birds, las tortolas, choose only one partner for life, I heard them say to me in their monogamous trio of coos, “Casarte, casarte, casarte.”

Casarte, a semi-direct command meaning, to marry. What an odd thing to hear from a bird, I thought.

I convert their coos into questions. Who or what will I choose to marry today? Our days are full of matrimony: mercy with justice, movement with breath, reality with reason, work with play, wants with needs, contemplation with action, and the list goes on.

I travel to hear the tortolas.

It’s funny how things find their way in and out of our mind and memories. Lately, a Jewish blessing of Thanksgiving that I learned in Ireland has been popping into my head. It came to my mind this weekend when I was in Tesarte with four incredible ladies. I sang its haunting, yet liberating, tune as we shared a meal together on the rooftop terrace, watched the full moon rise from behind a mass of black mountains, observed the constellations hovering above uninhabited landscapes, listened to the tortolas profess their love and laid beneath dry palm leaves as they brushed together, a soundtrack out of silence, like a giant rainstick played by wind.

I travel so blessings may always be upon my lips.

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Last week I hiked around the brim and into the center of a historic volcanic crater with my friend Phillip who came from Germany to visit with me.

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A few days later, we hiked to the highest point of Gran Canaria, Pico de las Nieves. From where we stood we could see the island of Tenerife rising above the cloud cover and an entire valley of mountains below. I felt like I was part of three worlds or in some strange dream that I never wanted to wake up from.

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The view was so beautiful and the gratitude I felt so deep that I wished for something to say or do to give back to the earth, this place and this moment. I had an urge to recite a poem, but when I tried most of the words escaped me.

For a moment I wished that I had put a greater emphasis on memorization, but then I chose to let this feeling pass and allow the words to leave me. We sat before far off things seen for the silence they hold and chose to let that be enough.

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Before I left home in September I thought I would travel for a bit, return home, get a job, buy a tiny house, go back to school and invest in an MFA so that I could teach English and Writing—two of the things I love most in this world—and have the summers off to travel.

Without knowing it, I was differentiating “real life” from “travel” in my mind. Can they not exist together?

How have I been lead to believe that “real life” looks like a 9 to 5, owning a house, having a car, a city to associate yourself with, a savings account and a family? Why have I believed that life must be built around a static housing structure?

I’m almost 30, I’m single and the world is telling me that I need to begin considering the next phase of my “real life,” but my heart is telling me something different.

What is more “real” than the energy and freedom I feel when traveling? What is one house compared to every home that I’ve been welcomed into throughout my travels? How could I invest in something better than stories and shared experiences? What better education could I afford myself than traveling?

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I love traveling and being away from everything that I’ve known and at the same time I find myself longing for something familiar, to be close to the ones I love.

I Skype my sister and watch my nephew grow up on a screen. Six months have passed. I open emails with updates from family and friends and see pictures of my nephew laughing as bubbles pop all over his beautiful face. I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Occasionally, I reach out to touch him but the screen stops me and I am left wiping fingerprints off of a dusty computer screen instead of sticky bubbles or mashed banana off of his round, rosy cheeks.

I see him, and I see things, growing and changing. I see them from a distance and yet, I feel them very closely. I cannot be both there and here at the same time. It seems, at some point, I will have to choose.

To bear humbly the mystery of our own reality, to allow the heart to speak out loud in the clear air. Is this not one of life’s greatest and most beautiful challenges?

To begin. To marry. To choose.

We all begin before we are ready, before we are strong enough, before we know enough, have enough or think we are enough.

This is where I’m finding myself. As six months of beautiful adventure come to a close I realize that I’m not ending this journey like I’d end the final pages of a great book… not unless there’s a sequel, a trio, a quartet.

I’ve lingered somewhere between the introduction and the foreword and when I turn the next page, I guesstimate Chapter One will begin. The name of the book, the storyline, the main characters, themes, settings… it’s all to be determined.

The only thing I know for certain is that I have married myself to life on the road. My legs are fresh, my heart is ready and I’m hitched to eternal exploration.

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One week from today I’ll begin my journey home. I’ll leave this hostel, make my way to Málaga for a few days and head back to the States for the first time in 180 days.

I’m ready for this and I’m not ready.

Some say travel is an addiction, an illness, a bug, a habit, a way to escape life, to get away.

Yes, and… it’s so much more.

Traveling is life’s greatest teacher. It is a mentor, a means, and a magnet that draws our desires out of our meaty flesh and hangs us raw from the heels, like freshly butchered pork left to dry, flavor and tenderize in the cool air. Salt to taste. Everything is better with time.

Travel is soul stuff, anything but routine, a place where the shadows of the subconscious can surface like seaweed on a sandy beach. Cover yourself with it.

Travel saves us, strips us, steadies us, sustains us. It is solid ground for unwarranted and unparalleled discovery. It is permission to ask what lies beneath and beyond, inside and out, everywhere and yet nowhere. It is permission to be, to exist with purpose, to savor.

If travel is an addiction, I need a support group.

If it’s a sickness, I want to be chronically ill forever, until death do us part.

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We are always beginning and we are always ending. Always, always, always.

When I was in high school my English teacher taught us to avoid sweeping statements and generalizations like “always” and “everyone” in order to maintain our credibility.

But today I feel there are no other words. It’s time to take new things in, to follow my heart, to stand by my decision to go against the grain of normality and drench my hands in the guts of a different kind of goodness.

If generalizations strip me of credibility then today I want to be naked.

Here’s one: Every time I set out to travel I am always amazed, totally moved, and completely transformed. I want to die traveling.

 

love in las palmas

A few months ago I had no idea that the Canary Islands even existed. Now, after having been here for 2 wonderful weeks, I can’t imagine my life without them.

I could say that I was brought here because I chose, in typical “Chelsea” fashion, to come here via the “Look and Point” method, which I have become so fond of. Pull out a map, look for something south, somewhere warm, by the sea, somewhere Spanish… and voila! Before I know it, I’m pointing to a set of islands, boarding a plane and arriving somewhere special.

Sure, the pointing part is quite easy, but it always happens that I’m arriving for greater reasons, all of which surface as sporadic surprises.

It seems fitting that I’m sitting down to write on Valentine’s Day because my heart is so full of love for this place and for these people, which make for the perfect ending to my 6 months abroad.

I’m in love with everything this island has to offer. The air is alive with Carnaval—a month long celebration of costumes, bright colors, cross-dressing, parties, parades and Canary Island craziness. Every so often we dress up and join in on the festivities!

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I’m close to the beach, which means I’ve been working on warming up to the ocean (i.e. overcoming my childhood fear of jellyfish and JAWS from all of those crazy pool games we used to play as kids).

I’ve been able to get out of the city and do some great hikes. After my first hike I understood why they call this island “The Little Continent.” It’s so rich in biodiversity. In just a few hours we hiked through dense jungle forests, up rocky mountains, through caves, swam in fresh-water springs, stood under waterfalls, got cut by giant desert cacti, ventured through bamboo tunnels and stood on volcanic ridges overlooking lush valleys!

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I’ve had time to explore and relax. A few days ago, I went off-grid and into the mountains for 2 nights in a cave house in a small village called Acusa Seca where I hiked among 6th century caves and through one of the first aboriginal settlements of the island. This place, like so many I’ve discovered, left me speechless and in tears.

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I keep swearing that my time here couldn’t get any better and yet, amazing things keep happening. One of these moments, for example, happened on the way home from the cave house. Anne and I decided to hitchhike home from Acusa Seca to Las Palmas instead of taking 3 busses. Of course it happened that the man who picked us up was a friend of the owner of the hostel I’m staying at. He took us to his house, introduced us to the people he lives in community with, fed us a delicious meal and showed us around. We weren’t there for very long, but our time was immensely inspiring.

He showed us the eco-housing they’ve built and told us about what it means for him to live in community—how they share meals, grown their food, work the garden, use solar power and run the washing machine by pedaling a bike!

All of these experiences have been so incredible!

But most of all, more than any hike or beautiful view or inspiring place, more than a relaxing day at the beach or bathing in the hot Spanish sun, I love the people at this hostel.

Naturally, we’ve grown to do everything together—cook, eat, make music, work, laugh, cry, learn…

With a connection this special and rare, like finding a deep sense of belonging, all of the hostel havoc seems pretty petty. Of course, though, it’s not all romance. We deal with our fair share of dirt and drama.

There are many nights of restless sleep because somebody is snoring or soaking themselves in alcohol and wants to tell you all about it, showers occasionally leak all over the floors, toilettes get clogged, sinks fill up with dirty dishes, constant noise streams from the restaurants and bars across the street, the garbage truck comes at midnight every night, etc. And then there’s the volunteer work.

Every morning I clean the toilettes, strip the sheets, do the laundry, wash the dishes, unclog the kitchen sinks and tend to the needs of guests. This is my volunteer work, but because I’m in good company, I really love it!

I’ve met novelists, digital programers, sailors, personal trainers and professional performance artists who identify as digital nomads or long-term travelers and have packed everything up to volunteer at hostels around the world as they work at their own projects on the side. People are creating new ways to exist in the world and they are loving life while doing it.

I walk around feeling so full of love and gratitude and sometimes find myself wishing that I could press “pause” to give myself time to soak up the goodness of this place, to let the love settle into my bones and dissipate deeper into my body, but the incredible experiences keep on flowing without reserve and since I cannot take anything else in, I keep giving it back to the world, to this place, to these people.

If I could stay here for a year, I would, but I have no Visa and my 90 days in “The Schengen” are winding down quickly. For the moment, I’ve chosen to buy myself a bit more time.

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Yesterday I chose to pay ridiculously expensive airline fees and change 2 flights just so I could spend 1 more week with the people I’ve met and now call my family in the place I love and now call my home.

Anything for love, always.