I have been struggling.
You know, the kind of struggle where after so many years of veering off-course and fighting to get a to a point of self-understanding and getting knocked down over and over again by the crafty little universe, you finally have plan that feels right and true and 100% in alignment with who you are in your soul but everything goes horribly wrong and you wind up feeling lost, confused, and alone once again and re-evaluating everything you thought you knew over too many tubs of salted caramel ice cream and tacos?
Yeah, that kind of existential, soul-crushing, crying yourself to sleep all too often, yelling at the universe aloud kind of struggle. I know you’ve been there, we all have (and if you haven’t yet, consider yourself lucky AF, and also, brace yourself: you will).
I have felt like a complete and utter failure, pink-faced embarrassed by my return back home, dead broke with all sources of income suddenly and unexpectedly dried up like the damn desert, lonely and isolated and dazed and confused and lost and really really cold, shell-shocked at how spectacularly my grand plan exploded, depressed at the lack of prospects for getting back on track anytime in the near future, and, why I’ve been missing from the blog, stuck without a single spark of inspiration to write.
Now, if you’ve been following my micro-blog on Instagram (if you’re not already, please give a girl a follow), you’ll already be aware of the highlight reel of this journey. For all of y’all (I’m so country now), this is the story of how I got to this point, and how I’m working on Cowboying Up (yup, there I go again) to take a step backward, regroup, and shift my idea of of what home really is.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” -Thoreau
When I was spectacularly ejected from Mexico by an unfortunate and surreal series of events, I crawled back to America with my tail between my legs and a whole mess inside my head trying to make sense of the WHY and WHAT NEXT questions bouncing around my brain like metal spiked ping pong balls. I traded in white sand beaches and 80 degree sunshine for the worst cold, wet, and ugly season the great state of North Carolina has to offer, the dynamic energy of free spirited creative travelers for the quiet, slow, steady energy of small Southern town, and the opportunity to meet and converse with fascinating people from around the world for being stuck, without transportation, a solid 30-45 minute drive to anything resembling a dynamic creative crowd.
At first, I relished the quiet, the peace, the time to regroup, and the arms of family after such a dramatic and exhausting (mis)adventure. After not sleeping in the same bed for longer than a few days for months, it was a welcome feeling to unpack a suitcase, nest a bit, and experience a piece of stability (never thought I’d say that, like ever). I read books, slept, binged on all the shows I’d missed, got my life together a bit, stocked up on some proper craft beer and farmers market groceries, caught up with friends, and spent the holidays with family. I was enveloped in warmth (well, at least metaphorical), love, and comfort.
But, as it goes, about three weeks and a newsworthy “Snowpocalypse” in, I found myself climbing the walls, certifiably about to lose my mind. I had no local friends, it was too cold and gray to leave home often (and even if I did, there really wasn’t anywhere to go), and man, seasonal depression had kicked in hard (there’s a reason I found my home in sunny California for so long). I was left alone with my overthinking brain (exactly what my healer in Bali had sternly advised me to unequivocally stop doing), ruminating on how I got to this point and how the hell I was going to get myself out.
When I first set out on thinking about my journey of location independent life last year, I had this romantic vision that for my half-of-the-year home base, I wanted to find a tiny house in the countryside somewhere, chill with my dog, grow mushrooms, maybe find a sweet Southern man, and live a simpler, quieter life. If that sounds a bit extreme and idealistic, that it is for sure, but at the time it was the polar opposite of life in Los Angeles, and at the time I was battered, bruised, and just f-ing done with everything that my existence was in the city of Angels (read all about that here). I had recently left the culinary social club startup I co-founded, where I was working to the bone 7 days and 5 nights per week and CONSTANTLY around a shit ton of people without reprieve, and battle scarred and exhausted, all I wanted was to not be around a crowd of over 2 people for the rest of my existence. So when evaluating what I wanted my life to look like, I came up with my plan of living half my year adventure-filled and vibrant while slow-traveling the world with a peaceful quiet respite of a rural life in the other half. I even got ready to book a farmhouse in rural Oaxaca to test out the concept after my crew left me post-Dia de los Muertos. I had it all figured out. (Insert big hindsight cackling laughter).
Cut to: my concussion and 15 stitches in my forehead a week before I left America and then the worst flu I’ve ever experienced upon the immediate hour of arrival in Bali, leaving me isolated, sick, and in pain thousands of miles from home and anyone I knew for the first two weeks of my new life as a nomad (more about that misadventure here).
This was my first taste, perhaps ever, of what it’s like to be truly and inescapably lonely. And a reminder that everything happens for a reason.
Now, don’t get me wrong- I actually really like being alone, and alone does not equal lonely. I often travel alone, choose a night in over a party, and am skilled at entertaining myself and finding joy in silence. I have had moments of loneliness while traveling solo or just in everyday existence, but I have go-to tactics on how to combat those feelings. But during those two weeks in bed, passing the time in all those tried-and-true pleasurable ways I had always found happiness in solo, without the ability to leave the house, I realized something I suppose I should have seen loud and clear before that moment:
Being alone has always been a choice, a re-charge, and something I relished in contrast to, and in balance with, having a rich array of options where I could socialize, explore, and exist out in the world.
When one of my biggest goals in my new life is balance, why would i choose a life for half the year where 90% of the time I would be completely alone in the country with just a tiny 10% of opportunity to be out in the world. This ah-ha moment was reaffirmed with I finally convalesced and was able to leave my sheets, surround myself with people, and make friends (and I kind of did it on steroids- had to balance the scale from the extreme). I felt alive, inspired, and happy again, and it only took a few days to feel like a brand new person. I immediately cancelled the farm in Mexico (sorry Eric!) and booked a place in the city and continued on with this new nugget of wisdom in my arsenal of self understanding:
Happiness has a cap when you’re alone, yet is multipled when shared, and human connection is what makes life rich and worthwhile.
The coming months traveling were shaped by my Balinese bout with loneliness, and I made a conscious effort wherever I roamed to maintain a good balance of connection and peace. I took in every piece of data, evaluated every experience, and added to my own internal algorithm that would eventually help me shift, pivot, and sift through what my ideal “home” really looked like. Snakes waking me up from a dead sleep aside, I quickly realized that living as a long-term resident in another country has a multitude of issues that I naively did not even even consider before, that beach towns with the checklist I need are few and far between and nearly as expensive as living back in smaller cities in the states, that sometimes the timing of things is completely out of your control and I hadn’t taken the necessary steps to set myself up well enough with sustainable work as a digital nomad, that getting my dog in and out of the majority of countries in this world was going to be far more difficult than imagined, and that it was going to take a wildly special stumble to find a place I loved more than Bali.
Those of you that travel know without a doubt that a week away from home is the equivalent to a month back in the comfort of your routine, and a month’s worth of experiences abroad can provide insights about yourself and life that it may have taken a year to gather at home. My 4 months away equated to what seemed like years of new data, and so the sum of my experiences roaming completely flipped my plan on its head, and made me re-evaluate some important pieces what my future path looked like, mostly about what my home town will need.
After the months away, and now the few months in a small quiet town (oh how I now cringe at the thought of that mushroom farm dream of yesteryear), I have started shift what the essential components of a new home base should look like for me. One of the largest factors was the loneliness and social isolation I spoke about above, and the next, not entirely unrelated, is the connection and proximity to family.
I haven’t been in the same town as my kin for longer than a week once a year in over 20 years (I wanted to forge my own path, live my own independent life, and I under no circumstances wanted to live in the midwest ever again). But in the past year, and after everything that has happened with my father’s death and my loss of a great love and the dream career, I have finally started to understand how wildly important the one ever-present source of support and love that family is, especially when you have one as amazing as mine.
Soon after my return (thank goodness they moved from Detroit to North Carolina- though not as ideal as a warm climate spot, at least it’s an upgrade), I discovered how much I was needed at home, how much my mom was struggling with her own loneliness in wake of my dad’s death, and how essential the timing of my return was for her. It’s the most we’ve spent time together since high school, a very long time ago, and I absolutely love getting to know her as an adult and truly enjoy her company. She’s seriously fucking awesome. I also get to hang with my brother, sister-in-law, and my adorable little nephews and see them grow. And the sense of unconditional love and support I have experienced is something that has been missing from my life for decades. In my past few months here, while I have been mind-numbingly bored and isolated in the social sense, I have found a greater purpose for staying put, and have now prioritized being close by for at least part of the year moving forward. Also, unlike in Mexico, Bug really ridiculously loves it here with my family, so I can leave her behind when I visit a country that won’t allow her in.
Now, the small town I’m in now is DEFINITELY not the answer for any sort of prolonged happiness. But, I have been exploring cities within a few hour drive that have glimpses of the energy and vibe I’m seeking, and believe that I could build a home base in one of those small cities and be content for part of the year while taking mini US based explorations, and then rent out the spot while I live my grander idea of a life out in the big wide world.
Looking Forward: Cowboy Up, Girl
I set out in creating The Boho Beet to tell the uncensored stories of living a life without a “home”, to share the adventures and misadventures of my journey, and to show you the whole big wide world of possibility through my lens and my words…and I guess this part, this pause, is still part of the complicated fabric of that story. Even though I’m not dazzling you with stories and photos of swimming in crystal blue waters with manta rays, the northern lights dazzling the Arctic sky, a technicolor sunset from a tropical vista or beautiful foraged food from a hidden restaurant in a cave, I hope you’ll hold on while I’m on this foundation building stop and stick with me until I can get out there again and find inspiration for more stories to tell on the blog. I’m also realizing I need to acknowledge that I’m not one of those wealthy bloggers that have their initial travels (by family, savings, or other sponsors) funded, and I need to not compare my journey to theirs or measure my success against theirs. Since from the beginning I have been committed to showing you the REAL deal experience of choosing this life, not the over-curated, only the happy good stuff, unrealistic glossy portrayal, I am ok with exploring this downtime, knowing that it is a common part of the nomad’s journey, and that so many of you out there have expressed that you’re also trying to navigate a similar experience.
I’m going to be here for several months more until I can build up my coffers, expand upon a couple businesses that will truly allow me to work from anywhere, and come up with a far more solid game plan for what travel looks like than I had in September. And while the life I was living feels so far away and I feel like I’ve taken a big step back in my journey, I’m trying to remind myself that as Thoreau speaks to, sometimes taking a step backward to rebuild is necessary to keep those dreams alive moving forward.
Until I get back out there and have real-time travel stories, I am committed to pushing myself to write about topics that I have been mulling over in the past few months, things that I find fascinating, relevant, and particularly challenging to those of us who have opted into the digital nomad/location independent lifestyle. Now, I can almost guarantee they won’t be such showstoppers of topics as a witch attempting to drown my dog, but I do hope you find them applicable to your life wherever you are, and at whatever stage of your journey you’re in. Consider it an interlude.
To start this off, I put together a pretty little download for you all experiencing (or contemplating) loneliness while on the road (or during your own interlude). You can read more about my thoughts on social isolation in the next post, and download the printable poster, here.
Thank you for your unending support, love, and being a constant source of inspiration and ideas for me as I’m in this period of metamorphosis. Your emails, comments, and messages keep me filled with hope for a brighter tomorrow, and a soul-warming feeling of connection and community even on my darkest of days – I cannot wait to take you all up on offers of real-world visits in your corner of the globe!
Any topics within the world of travel, digital nomad-ing, finding your path, etc. that you’d be interested in hearing about during my interlude?
What are you currently struggling with? Share your story with me – I madly, deeply, truly want to hear. I believe in my heart of hearts that we all rise, learn, and feel not so alone in this world through the open, vulnerable, and bare sharing of our collective stories.