2023 was a year of recalibrating. I came home from Europe in mid-December of 2022 with no job, no savings left, and no plans. What I had instead was 50,000 messy words of a fiction manuscript and months’ worth of stories I wanted desperately to write about my trip. Nothing felt more important. But the inspiration that came so easily was far harder to find once I got home.
Coming home after my trip was very hard. It felt similar to the way I felt when I went away to college and came home for a holiday break for the first time—like everything was exactly the same, but I was different. Friends would casually ask how my trip was, and I would give short answers that felt meaningless. “It was amazing.” “It was wonderful.” “I had an incredible time.” There was no polite and concise way to say, “It felt completely transformative and made me feel an urgent need to reprioritize my life. And how have you been?” Even simple questions like, “Where all did you go?” were hard. I’d see their eyes glaze over after I started naming countries. There would never have been enough time or words for me to convey what I wished I could, and I didn’t expect that’s what people were really asking.
I felt lonely for a long time because my trip was all I wanted to talk about and, other than my mom who felt a mini version of this herself, I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could talk to about it who could relate. Even Michael couldn’t relate. Though he’d spent over a month and a half with me in Europe, he’d been ready to head home long before his return flight. He will always prefer hanging out with friends at home to traveling, and he couldn’t make sense of why I wasn’t overjoyed to be back. The things that felt most important to me were things I felt I couldn’t share. I became paranoid about monopolizing conversations. I love to hear every detail of other people’s travels, but I had to accept that this is not a trait I can expect others to share.
So instead of telling people about my trip, I wrote it. I wrote a blog post every week, reliving my journey in chronological order, using my photos and journals to remember all the details. I started making reels on Instagram of all the cities I visited as I wrote the corresponding blog posts. It was a project that would have felt overwhelming if I’d known how lengthy it would become, but because I wasn’t doing it for anyone except myself, it felt therapeutic and exciting, like a version of travel while sitting at my kitchen table. I doubted anyone would read it, but I didn’t care. I wrote 44 blog posts this year—more than I’ve ever written in a year in over a decade of having a blog. I finished the blog post about my journey home almost exactly a year after arriving home. I finished a very rough draft of my fiction manuscript. And by the end of the year, I had two book-length projects that would have felt impossible to consider a year and a half ago.
Slipping back into my old routine felt like a trap that I refused to fall into even though it meant a few very stressful months of searching desperately for remote jobs. I finally found one that paid hardly anything, but it gave me the freedom with my time that I wanted. (I started a new job with the same company just a month ago.) Because of working remotely, I was able to take a 2-week train trip up the East Coast with Michael (which I wrote about here, here, and here) and a 3-week solo trip to Mexico. It was the type of travel that felt achievable if I’m determined to keep prioritizing it.
Last year, I traveled by (at least) 15 trains, 4 planes, and 7 buses. I visited 15 cities in 3 countries and stayed in 3 hotels, 4 Airbnbs, and 7 hostels. We celebrated Chewie’s 17th birthday (though there is NO WAY this elegant goddess is really 17 years old). We fostered Dory after her amputation, my precious angel Callie for a second time before she found her forever home, and the weirdest and most perfect extraterrestrial, Kipp. I read 80 books. I joined a book club that has brought me immense joy and become one of my favorite events each month.
2023 was a lot of sitting at my kitchen table writing about elsewhere. It was golf cart rides and beach walks in Florida with Chewie because we didn’t want to do another family vacation without her. It was job application after job application for months. It was riding bikes from Alexandria to DC, Levain Bakery in New York City, visiting Providence for the first time in 6 years, and showing Michael all the places I used to call home. It was over 100 hours on trains with Michael from New Orleans to Quebec City and across New England. It was a terrible eye infection that meant I couldn’t read, drive, write, or watch TV for 2 weeks. It was my first Cirque du Soliel show and watching the Eras Tour from an opening outside Gillette Stadium even though we didn’t get tickets. It was loss and funerals and the constant reminder to not take those we love for granted. It was my dad finally retiring after a decade of thinking about it. It was my mom’s scans coming back clear. It was scooter rides to Levee bakery on Saturdays, trivia on Tuesdays, crawfish boils and pool days, dairy free ice cream from Parish Parlor, and gallons of bubble tea. It was Michael building me the Little Free Library I’ve always wanted. It was the bird call at the pyramid in Uxmal, salsa lessons, seeing my first coatis and iguanas in the wild, the blisters that scarred my feet in Holbox, Spanish class in Merida, photoshoots in the street, and swimming in cenote after cenote after cenote. It was learning and creating and prioritizing the things that felt important.