Breck’s First Test Drive

After an unbelievably hectic few weeks to end my summer, my new home was just livable enough for a three-month trial run, and I was ready to move the heck in and get back “home” to Colorado.  I’d be back at my parents’ in early December for the Christmas season and to finish the van build, and I had my to do list organized and ready to go for when that time came.  But for now, mountains and friends were all I could think about.

The time since I decided to sell my Jeep in June and bought my van in July was incredibly chaotic (have I mentioned that yet?).  I was high-strung with the stress of balancing work, life and the van build.  Having to drive the van back and forth between North Carolina and Kentucky for a few weeks each time for work made life unsettled and uncomfortable, as I was sleeping a hammock strung in the van over my Rubbermaids and van supplies while stealth parked in a hotel parking lot or crashing at friends’ places, all of my belongings for that trip disorganized and sliding around the back of the otherwise empty van.  And working on the van every minute I wasn’t doing my real job work was exhausting and took a toll on my body.  Needless to say, apart from being excited out of my mind to get back to adventuring out west, having a mostly comfortable and constant place to “live” in, or at least sleep in, was an incredibly attractive concept to me.  It had been a while.

As I shoved the last of my items into the van at 10pm the night before I left my parents’, there was still much to be organized and figured out, but the plan was to not plan and just do it on the fly, much like this entire project.  I spent the first week back in Kentucky for work, sleeping in the hot AF temperatures in my office’s parking lot on Main Street (much better in the van vs. the Jeep at least) and showering at the climbing gym I belonged to there.  Through a few coworker friends, word got out about what I was up to when I bought the van, so at this point, everybody knew that I was sleeping in the parking lot.  Generally, everyone thought what I was doing was really awesome, but coming into work in the morning and having everybody there know that I had just walked in from sleeping in my vehicle in the parking lot was still pretty uncomfortable.  Just something else to get used to with this whole van thing, I guess.

Overall, there was a much bigger mental jump into this lifestyle than I expected.  I thought I had been preparing for a lot of it, but I was very unprepared for a lot of it as well.  My electric wasn’t fully hooked up until the end of that first week, and so my roof vent fan could open but couldn’t turn on, leading to some very hot nights.  So my routine for my first few nights in the van was this: Eat out or get take out (more on this in the next paragraph), shower at the gym, go pee in my office and hope I wouldn’t have to again until after I was ready for work the next morning, change into my PJs, brush my teeth and do any dishes I had in a small bucket because I didn’t have a sink yet, probably do some reading and then lay on top of my blankets and sweat my butt off for a while, until I took the rest of my water and soaked my t-shirt in it, and then fell asleep slightly cooler than before.  In the morning, I would wipe down with either a wet washcloth or a wet wipe, and then change and get ready for the day.  I’d rinse the small bucket of toothpaste and water somewhere discreetly in the parking lot, grab my backpack and walk into the office and try to act like I’m a normal functioning adult for 8-10 hours…  except for the 20 minutes I would sneak out to take a nap in the van around 2pm each day (possibly the best van perk of them all).  It took some small adjustments, but the week went smoothly.

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One of my first cozy nights in Breck.

So the eating out thing: I think I was just too mentally exhausted to think about more new things that I had to.  As simple as the task sounds, the idea of learning to use my new camping stove and to plan and cook in the van, in stealth mode, in downtown Lexington was just exhausting and seemingly impossible to me at the time.  I really had to ease into things, and that was something that could largely be avoided for a little while, whether I had the money to eat out everyday or not.  Apart from my ease into cooking in the van, there were other things that I had to take my time with as well, and I would like to take time at this point in the blog post to give a hearty shout-out and THANK YOU to everybody that helped me out these first few months in my rolling home.  To everybody that let me crash on their couch/air mattress/spare bedroom, I needed the break and return to normalcy some nights more than I wanted to admit.  To my friends that let me park in their driveway or outside of their homes/apartments for a night or more, this might have been the biggest help of all.  Stealth camping in downtown Denver for multiple weeks at a time was stressful, and having a safe space where I didn’t have to worry too much about where to park and getting “the knock” in the middle of the night (or anything worse) was a huge relief.  And to everybody that let me shower in their home, thank you thank you thank you.  My newest motto for van living is “Never pass up a free shower”, and I greatly appreciate everybody that offered one to me, because I was almost certainly going to take you up on the offer if it came.  So if you either fit into one of the above categories or just offered your support in kind words to me – I truly could not have done this without you all.  In all honesty, if I didn’t have such a great network of friends in Colorado, I would have been downright miserable on a lot of this first trip.  I was second-guessing myself enough on that trip, especially in my first few weeks out there, and every little bit of help and support that I received helped me to get through.  But now I am finally settled into life on the road, I’m reenergized and eager to get back out there next spring.  And all of you helped to make that happen.

So after I got out to Colorado, I had no choice but to start cooking in the van, or else I’d have no money for gas into the mountains or anything else.  I spent the first two weeks driving around Denver, staying inside/outside of friends’ houses and working at Union Station and some other coffee shops.  It was a busy few weeks and I was hardly in the van to be honest.  I spent a lot more time in Denver than I expected to on this trip (the extrovert in my really took over), and stealth parking/camping there as much as I did was not exciting, and also kind of taxing.  My very first day in Colorado, I parked the van outside of my best friend’s house and we took her Jeep to tent camp off of a 4×4 road up near Winter Park.  Upon returning to her house then next afternoon, her neighbor came out to yell at me for camping outside of his house while we were unloading my stuff from her car into my van, and wouldn’t listen when I tried to explain that that wasn’t the case at all.  Needless to say, I felt super uncomfortable city camping for the following weeks, and was extra cautious.  I had originally assumed that Denver would be a pretty safe space for being in my van, but now was worried about being judged or upsetting people.  The fear of being judged was a huge mental obstacle that took me weeks to get over.

After my birthday at the end of the month, I took off for a two-week mountain trip.  I last-minute changed my itinerary (another perk of living in your home) after seeing a billion photos on Instagram of the aspens changing down in the Aspen area, and headed out on a Friday afternoon to mountain bike with my good friend, Teresa, in Eagle and then make my way there.  I then spent my time over those two weeks hiking in Aspen, coworking in Crested Butte, visiting friends in Fruita and Salida and mountain biking in all of the above places, as well as Moab.  Apart from taking quite a few literally jaw-dropping scenic drives, I watched the sunrise at my favorite camping spot in Aspen, got the van stuck in some sand while boondocking in Moab, showered under the stars in the pitch black night in the Fruita desert and slept in a Walmart parking lot for the first time.  Those two weeks were the closest glimpse I felt that I had to what my #vanlife adventures will look like next year as I work my way up the west coast alone.  There were some hardships of course, but overall, it was incredible.

I snuck back out to the desert a few more times during the month of October to go mountain biking quite a bit, and hid at my uncle’s in south Denver for half a week as well when I started to crash from all of the traveling.  My time out west ended with a women’s #vanlife meeting in Taos, NM at the end of October, which deserves its own blog post, before I headed back to Kentucky for the month of November and then home for the holidays.  I learned a lot about #vanlifing,  got a lot more comfortable with the uncertainty of the lifestyle and how people perceived it and changed my to do list quite a bit for finishing the build.  Living in an MVP version of my van was a REALLY great thing to do to make sure that my van build plans fit my needs.  Things I thought I definitely needed aren’t even on my to do list anymore, and some things that were lower on my to do list are now top priorities.

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I spent more time in the desert than the mountains on this trip, which was unexpected, but wonderful as my love for the desert grew even more.

In conclusion…

One of my biggest findings this trip was how surprisingly difficult it is to just live simply in this world.  It’s MUCH easier to just go along with society today and pay lots of money for luxuries and things.  The most basic things are hard and take up lots of time, like finding a place to shower that week or use the bathroom, planning only one-pot meals, washing dishes without running water, being alone a lot… Some people are starting to spread the awareness of this on social media, but #vanlife sucks most of the time.  Truly.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and probably not for most.  But for those few that can and want to embark on this lifestyle, all of the small, incredible moments you have with the van: the perfect campsite, having everything you need all of the time, the mobility, the connection with nature, the freedom… those things make it all worth it.  One hundred percent.

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Why I Travel

I just booked my flights for my next trip in December.  Hooray!!!  I will be going back to Thailand and visiting Cambodia for the first time (soooo excited for Angkor Wat), as well as a 24-hour stopover in Qatar before flying back home for the holidays.

As I was explaining my trip to somebody the other day, they asked, “So are you doing all of this because you actually like to travel?  Or do you just like being able to say that you’ve been to all of these places?”

Something to know about me is I’m not a good arguer, I can’t think on the spot or debate on a topic very well.  So I said nothing, I was too dumbfounded anyways, and frankly hurt.  I’m still wondering where they got that idea from, if I had said something that made them think that…  Anyways, I wish that I had a good response ready to their question.  And now I do, so here it is:

Travel is what makes me feel alive and energized more than anything else.  I am trying to see and experience as much of the world as I can during my life, because, to me, that is what it is all about.  It’s not about your career, it’s not about buying a new purse or binge-watching that new popular series.  Real life is about meeting new people and experiencing new things.  And I am trying my hardest to keep proving that to myself and anybody who I cross paths with.  I want to inspire others to travel and break down those barriers and stereotypes so many people in society build up, because nothing enriches the soul like seeing the world, and that is worth more to me than anything.

This is just my opinion at least.  If you don’t agree, then that’s fine, but don’t try to down my travels because of that.

*I’m sure I will revisit this topic in the future, but this is the start of it.

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 Two

(This might be a little dramatic, but…)  On September 6, 2014, at about 7am at a hostel in Berlin, Germany, I woke up with the surreal and terrifying realization that “I don’t want a career in advertising anymore”.  Cue quarter life crisis.  I don’t know how/why exactly this epiphany came to me in my sleep that night, but I was graduating in almost exactly eight months and my degree was in Creative Advertising.  So what the heck do I do?  Obviously, I had to figure it out right then and there, so I turned on my laptop and proceeded to research various careers and jobs and who knows what else until the rest of my friends woke up a few hours later.

Over the next three months, I woke up with a new life plan just about every few days.  Maybe I could become a travel photographer!  Maybe I’ll backpack South America this summer and another epiphany (with an actual plan this time) will hit me!  Maybe I can just take off and travel until the government comes after me for not paying my student loans!  Do you see a theme here??

Long story short, I kept coming back to the two basics that I needed after graduation: Time and money.  Time to figure out what I want to do with my life, and money to a) sustain me and b) start to pay off my hefty student loans that were hitting six months after graduation.  I also decided that I needed to leave the country again after graduation, because isn’t that where everybody tends to “find themselves”?  I settled on the idea of doing a working holiday in New Zealand.  That would buy me up to one year (perfect, because my boyfriend Michael graduates one year after me) to work in a different country and travel/meet new people from all over the world.

So as I got back to America in December 2014, that’s what I set my sights on, and I was willing to do just about anything to make it happen.

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.