2018×12

In complete transparency, 2018 was a hugely transformative year for me.  It started very low and is ending on an incredible high, and though I knew it would be adventurous and slightly (okay, more than slightly) chaotic, I had no idea what was actually in store.  Though I never lost faith in this mantra, I can really definitively say now that things always find a way to work themselves out in the end.  Recently, I was really inspired by the host of the Women on the Road podcast, Laura Hughes, who posted 12 stories on her Instagram that she called 2018×12, which broke down her year with highlights month by month, and I wanted to do the same for myself here.  So here is my 2018×12 recap:

January

  • Rang in the new year at a ski resort in Canada with my best Australian friend, Julia, and her entire family.
  • Started a new job with a crazy remote schedule and dubbed 2018 my “year of semi-homelessness”.  The second week of the job was a ski retreat to Copper Mountain, CO where I finally got the hang of snowboarding!
  • After my temporary living arrangements fell through, I ended up on an air mattress back at my ex-boyfriend’s apartment until further notice.

February

  • Temporarily moved into a spare bedroom of a coworker, Elton, who is now one of my closest friends.  At this point, I was still super broke from doing a full-time three-month web developer bootcamp at the end of last year and then traveling for five weeks, I didn’t own any furniture (unless you count my air mattress) and had no idea what I was doing.
  • Joined a climbing gym, started doing yoga weekly, and went camping and hiking in the Smokies on a weirdly 60º weekend and was the happiest I had been in weeks.
  • Started having “dinner parties” with a few coworkers (now friends) in Kentucky.  These dinner parties have now grown to include lots more people now and always a fun food theme, and are one of my favorite things about being back in town when I am in Kentucky.

March

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  • Went home to my parents’ for a week and re-registered my residency and car there, since I didn’t technically have a home anywhere and wasn’t too sure what was in store for me next.
  • Got to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Columbus, OH with an old study abroad friend, explore a hiking trail in Cuyahoga National Park, camp and mountain bike in Knoxville, TN and drink my way through a self-guided brewery tour of Asheville, NC.
  • Started really trying to really downsize my possessions with the intent of moving into my Jeep in early May.  Sold lots of things on Craigslist and donated lots of things to Goodwill.

April

  • Spent Easter morning watching the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Parkway with my parents.
  • Got to prove to a friend visiting from Colorado that Kentucky is actually pretty cool (and remind myself that as well).
  • Visited one of my best friends, Hannah, in Austin, TX, as well as a really good friend in Dallas, TX (my ex-boyfriend’s sister-in-law) and was thankfully able to find out that friendship can last through all kinds of situations.

May

  • Built a wooden platform in my Jeep to maximize storage and bed space, and then got a storage unit and moved out of my friend’s apartment and into said Jeep.
  • EUROPE.  A week-long family vacation in Tuscany, a trip with my sister to Slovenia and Split, Croatia and then back to my solo travel routine through Mostar, Bosnia and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
  • I fell in love with Bosnia and made an awesome Couchsurfing friend there who I am planning to go back and visit this fall!

June

  • Summited Mt LeConte (finally) in the Smokies with my uncle.
  • Slept in my Jeep for a few nights right outside of my office (literally on Main St), and quickly realized how uncomfortable that was going to be long term.  My friend jokingly told me I should get a van.
  • Five days later, my Jeep broke down in Atlanta on my way to Florida and I took it as a sign.  I was able to thankfully stay at my aunt and uncle’s in the area for five days while it got fixed, where I then panicked and drove to my parents’ to deliver the news that their daughter was going to sell her Jeep and buy and convert a van to live in.

July

August

  • Started to feel like I had a community and a life in Kentucky, and that got me really scared because I didn’t want to feel settled anywhere right now.
  • Went on a work retreat in the Smoky Mountains, which connected me closer with my coworkers and got me super motivated to do good work with everything.  Like building out a van.
  • Van conversion.  Van conversion.  Van conversion.  Van conversion.

September

  • Somehow finished my insane three-week conversion and moved into my van!
  • Labor Day weekend surf trip in Charleston, SC with some of my coworkers/friends.
  • Finally made it back to Colorado. ❤️

October

  • Took my dad on a five-day #vanlife trip through Utah and southwest Colorado, followed by a killer Stoeckle family wedding/reunion in Denver.
  • Fell in love with the desert even more.  And mountain biked through it.  A lot.
  • Attended the first Women on the Road #vanlife gathering in Taos, NM and connected with the most amazing, inspiring and badass women.

November

  • Stayed in one place for two whole weeks (imagine that!), since I had to be back in Kentucky for work.
  • Got super fed up with sleeping in the van in the cold.  Winter came to Kentucky early and I was over it after effectively being cold since like October 1st in the Rockies.
  • Flew back to Denver for nine days and backpacked to Havasupai over Thanksgiving weekend with three other friends.  It was incredible.

December

  • Took a Pittsburgh trip with three of my cousins to see the Penguins and Steelers play (and lose).
  • Was home for Christmas and all of the Christmas festivities leading up to the holiday, which I am never around for.
  • Stayed put for a month, got lots of work done (real work and van work) and watched about million Christmas movies.  It was a really nice change to be in one place for so long with heat, reliable wifi and bathroom access!

When I look back on 2018 as a whole, the first half of the year honestly just felt like a big blur of uncertainty, breakdowns and barely getting by, and the second half of the year was when I was finally able to get my adventures started.  But looking at this list, it isn’t quite so.  I was able to do some really great, unexpected things each month and make some really great, unexpected connections with people all over, especially back in Kentucky where I still end up having to be every few months for work.

And now that I’m looking at the photos I have added to each month here, the biggest common denominator I noticed from them is the people.  I have said again and again that I owe so much to my friends, family and even strangers for their kindness and help this past year.  Due to my circumstances, I didn’t expect to have much of a community while traveling so much, but I honestly think that my community and connections around the world grew even more this year.  I am rarely in one place for more than an month, but being able to visit so many of my friends and family that live all over the place has helped me to solidify or grow connections with them, as well as putting in the extra effort to stay in touch with those who I haven’s seen.  Only time will tell, but I hope for this to continue to improve as I keep traveling and putting effort into keeping in touch with everybody.

So in conclusion, lots went into this year, and it truly ended up being one of the best years of my life.  A year where I learned to let go, go with the flow and to keep pushing myself towards the next great adventure.  The sky is the limit, and I am both exhausted and anxiously waiting to get my 2019 adventures started.  So I guess a little bit longer at my parents’ would be good for me, and then I’ll get going. 🙂  Next stop: Mexico City!

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DIY: Building my Jeep Camping Platform

So with this whole semi-homeless year, I am effectively living out of my car right now as I travel constantly in between places.  I have a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Jeep WJ), and to have a more organized way to store my clothes, food and gear, as well as still have access to a lot of my car and be able to sleep in it, I built a platform inside of it.  The plan for the platform and photos of the build are below:

The Plan

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The plan was to have two separate units – one for the cargo area and one to go across my back seats when they are down.  The cargo platform has two openings where I can slide two “under the bed” sized Rubbermaids into them (one holding my gear and one holding my toiletries, towels and some miscellaneous stuff).  The backseat platform had supports going across it horizontally and one very long Rubbermaid that held most of my clothes to go underneath that.

The Build

The first step was to clean out my car and then make the cuts of wood and lay it out how I wanted it (it’s upside down in the photo, of course).  There were some slight modifications made to the layout since that photo, but it really depends on what you want.

I realized after getting this set up that if I ever wanted to remove the backseat platform and put those seats back up, then the cargo platform had to have angled supports and a shorter top, since the seats lean back slightly.  So I ended up making the backseat platform top 3″ longer, and the cargo platform top 3″ shorter, as well as cutting angles in the cargo platform supports.  You can see some of it in my sketches when I was thinking about doing something like that initially.

Also, in an effort to maximize the little amount of space I had, I ditched the second support for the backseat platform and ended up screwing a few blocks of wood into the front of the cargo platform, and resting that side of the backseat platform on them instead.  This way, I had at least an extra inch of room underneath for the Rubbermaid I was using for my clothes.

The cargo platform was the first to go in, and fit like a glove!  I bought two of these Rubbermaids for my stuff and they couldn’t have fit in the spaces any better.

The Result

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Here’s a dark photo of the finished platform the night before I moved out of my friend’s apartment that I was crashing at. 🙂  Note that I later cut the top of the backseat platform in half and attached a hinge to it, so I could more easily lift that up to access my clothes each day.

I used 3/4″ thick plywood, 1×8″ lumber for the supports and Kreg Jig screws to fasten everything together without the screws sticking out.  I bought the materials and built the entire platform in just a few hours and for about $90.

With this contraption in place, I have a bed on the left side (just using a Thermarest, sheets and a comforter) and my Yeti cooler and a Rubbermaid of dry food on the right side.  My shoes also fit really well in the space behind the wheel well, between the cargo platform and the Jeep’s left wall.  And on the right in the same spot, I have my yoga mat, Camelbak and a few other odds and ends for camping/living.

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Car camping in Chattanooga, TN at the start of a road trip

I’m a little over a month in, and the platform has worked out really great so far!  And I am finding that it is really convenient to have everything stored away in my car (mostly out of site under the plywood), so I can access my things any time I need them, wherever I am.  Space is a little tight for actually living, but when I’m camping, it’s great, and I may be upgrading to something else soon… Stay tuned. 🙂

Mission: New Zealand

So, why New Zealand?  I’ve gotten this question more than a few times since the decision was made to go there over a year ago, and the answer is actually pretty short:

As a US citizen, I can apply for a Working Holiday Visa in the following countries:

…So that really narrowed it down for me from 196 countries to five.

Out of those five, I had just been to Ireland, so that took that one off of the list pretty quickly.  I didn’t want to commit to living in a place as different as South Korea or Singapore for an entire year (oh how I’ve changed since then), so Australia and New Zealand were left.  Out of those two, Australia seemed too “mainstream” (for lack of a better word) – so many of my friends have studied abroad there – and New Zealand definitely seemed more exotic and naturally beautiful (though Australia is quite beautiful, too!).

That’s literally how I made my choice.  It took all of about three minutes of thinking after I decided on the working holiday portion, and I took it and ran with it.

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There are a lot of really great guides, websites, blogs and even Pinterest pins out there for further information about Working Holiday Visas.  This is one I found particularly helpful during early stages of research; it breaks different components down really nicely.  That being said, if anybody has any questions about this stuff, particularly in New Zealand, then don’t hesitate to email me or contact me over social media!  I’ve done TONS of research and would love to help sort out any confusion or decision-making you have ahead of you with what I’ve learned.

The Gap Year, Part One

(Written November 3, 2015 – I didn’t have much internet/computer access during my trip after this, so it’s posted quite a bit late!  Sorry!)

To give you a little background of my life, I am an American, born and raised in a small town in Connecticut that I desperately wanted to escape by the time I graduated high school.  I ran away to college at the University of Kentucky in 2011, and I travelled to 18 different countries in the fall of 2014, 14 of them with the help of Semester at Sea, the amazing study abroad program where you live and take classes on a cruise ship as it sails to different ports.  I (reluctantly) came back after that, took to traveling within the U.S. in the meantime, graduated from my university in May 2015 with a degree in Creative Advertising, and most recently moved to Boulder, Colorado in August to begin working at a startup doing User Experience Design.

I’ve had a pretty comfortable, happy life so far.  Most people are happy with doing just what I did and then settling down: Get a degree in four years, maybe study abroad in college, move to a new city afterwards, start your career, and then go on about the rest of your life chasing the American dream.  I was extremely lucky to be able to have done all that I did in college and still graduate on time and land a job in a ridiculously cool city afterwards.  But for me, my wanderlust was just taking off and I was getting restless again already.

Growing up, I was never the bold and brave type.  Generally, I’m a very quiet person, though it has never bothered me to move or visit a completely new place where I don’t know anybody.  I guess I’ve always had the travel bug deep down, daydreaming here and there about taking a year to go around the world or do a mission trip to a third world country, but always thinking it would happen in the far future.  When the bug finally came out last year, it came out full force and has not let up one bit.

Fast forward to now (November 3, 2015): I’m in Sydney, Australia in the middle of a two-month solo backpacking trip.  I just came from Thailand and Malaysia last week and am leaving in a few days for New Zealand to backpack there for six weeks.  It’s been quite a long road to get to this trip, but that whole story will be in my next post and can hopefully shed some enlightenment on those that are in the same wanderlust-confused position that I was in this past year.  Stay tuned.

Why I’m Starting a Travel Blog (Now)

I’m currently sitting in a hostel in Sydney, Australia typing out this first blog post.  I don’t know what made me realize last week, when I was sitting on Koh Phangan island in Thailand, that I wanted to start a travel blog, but something did and it was a majority of what I’ve been thinking about for the past few days.  Most blogs don’t become profitable successes, and I doubt mine ever will, so I’m not doing it for any money or attention.  I think part of the reason I’m committing myself to typing out my life on the road is to share my experiences with any readers that may come across this site, so they can read about my life and travels and learn things I would have liked to know when planning for this solo two-month excursion that I am in the middle of.

But I think a majority of the motivation for this blog is so I don’t forget.  I don’t want these important experiences and memories to fade away into nothingness, especially the small details and thoughts that cross my mind daily, because those are what make the larger impact in your travels.  I want to be able to look back on these posts in the years to come and be reminded of all that I did and experienced, all of the important lessons I learned and habits that I broke or formed, so I don’t conform right back to how I used to be before experiencing the world.

So here I am.  I have no idea what exactly these posts will look like, if they’ll be long-winded stories or lists and tips or random, quick thoughts I have.  I’m passing through my 24th country this week and am onto my 25th on Saturday, so I hope I have something worthwhile to say.  Regardless, thanks for reading.