The last two years, I did a year-end review about my life and travels. I’m going to be completely honest and admit that I almost forgot this year. Do you ever get so caught up in everything you have to do that you forget to stop and look at where you came from? That’s been happening to me a lot these last few months. I’ve had my head down in my computer doing all of the boring blogging tasks that come with little praise or glory. The worst part is it takes months to see the results. I keep plugging away with little reward or encouragement. This sounds so negative, but I think it happens to the best of us and I want to be honest about it. I usually forget to stop and look at the big picture because I’m so caught up in all the tiny details.
I recently reconnected with a friend of mine who I met at a silent retreat in 2017. Actually, that’s a lie. We met at the airport after the retreat and happened to be taking the same plane from Thailand to Cambodia. A crazy coincidence that turned us into friends. After catching up, I realized how little time I’ve spent this year celebrating my wins. Writing down what we’ve accomplished and sitting there and acknowledging it is so important. I hope everyone reading this will do the same.
I moved to Kathmandu…
At the beginning of this year, I moved to Kathmandu. Well, kind of. It’s the first time I’ve lived in a foreign country where I rented an apartment and stayed in that apartment for months. I was still on a tourist visa, so I could only spend half the year there. In those months, I lived in Kathmandu. I went to the local vegetable market, dairy store, poultry shop, and fish market for food shopping. I ate at friend’s homes, my apartment, and local restaurants. I took public transportation (no easy feat in Kathmandu) and I lived like a local.
I always assumed that living in hostels and trying to travel like a local meant I was having an authentic experience. Boy was I wrong. Living in an apartment challenged me. I like to think I’m a true adventurer who can handle anything, but I had several epic meltdowns this year over stupid things. Things that are considered “basics” in America but are “luxuries” in Nepal. I cried over not having hot water for showers. I cried about having to wear all my clothes in my apartment in the winter because there was no heat, and even then, I was freezing. I cried when I misunderstood public transportation and we ended up abandoned on the side of a road hitchhiking. And then, I cried because I felt like a spoiled brat for crying over such dumb things.
Life in Nepal was not easy, but I loved it. It really showed me how much I take for granted on a daily basis. I grew up privileged. We’ve always had hot water for showers, clean drinking water, electricity and indoor heat. It was amazing to me how much I struggled without those things. I learned a lot in 2019 about how people in other countries live, and I appreciate the little things so much more now.
I went far off the beaten path…
Nepal is the kind of place that welcomes you with open arms. The people are kind and loving. They take you under their wing even if you’re a complete stranger. I’ve always wanted to say thank you. To give something back. I’ve tried to give back in little ways here and there, but it never felt like enough. Finally, an opportunity came up that my heart connected with. I saw a Facebook post about an organization called Clean Drink Adventures, who were delivering water filtration systems to areas in Nepal that don’t even exist on Google maps. I’d like to say it was an “off-the-beaten-path” experience, but this went even further than that.
Before leaving, I painted murals in South Carolina in exchange for donations and I asked everyone I knew if they could donate. In the end, I was able to raise enough funds to help the country that has embraced me. Our entire team raised enough money for 24 chlorine makers which were hand delivered in Western Nepal far from any tourist trail. This trip was the best trip I’ve ever taken. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve done some pretty cool stuff over the last few years. But this… it brought me to tears. It reminded me of everything I love about Nepal. Everything I love about traveling. About meeting people who you have nothing in common with. People you can’t even communicate with. And despite all of that, leaving with a deep respect for one another. Even though we delivered the chlorine makers, I left the experience feeling like I was the one who gained more from it.
I worked hard…
Over the last few years, I’ve heard a lot of interesting comments about my job. Most of them implying that it’s not a job or wondering when I will get a job. For some reason, everyone thinks having a blog takes 10 mins a day. I can tell you right now that I often work 40+ hour weeks.
Last year, I was so proud of myself for having 50,000 people read my blog over the course of a year. For me, it was a huge accomplishment. This year, the numbers rose so slowly, that I never really saw a difference. I felt like I’d accomplished nothing. It turns out, I had 130,000 people read my blog in 2019. I’ve put so much hard work and love into writing each post, editing each photo, and learning new skills with lots of weird acronyms. I don’t know why I’ve been so hard on myself this whole time.
This is also the first year that I felt comfortable saying I am a travel writer or professional blogger because it is the first year that I have been able to survive off of the earnings from my blog. I’ve spent so many hours working for free and paying my dues. Finally, I feel like it’s all been legitimized. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a phase I’m going through. It’s not something I’m doing until I find a “real” job. It’s a career, and I’m proud of myself for making it this far. I still have so much to learn and so far to go, but it’s been reassuring to step back and see what I’ve accomplished.
I got engaged!
In 2018, I saw an astrologer, and he told me I’d get married in a year. I laughed hard considering how I didn’t even have a boyfriend at the time. One year later, Suraj proposed. I usually keep my personal details out of my blog, but this was a big change for me. My friends all know that I’ve never been traditional and I’ve often thought I wouldn’t get married. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me or that I’d never find someone. I just didn’t really see the point.
But, all of that changed with Suraj. I truly feel like I’ve met my other half. The first week we lived together, he left me home alone to go hang out with his friends. It was my first time fending for myself in our apartment. In Nepal, it’s common to have two propane powered stove tops. There are no ovens. Almost everything I know how to make is cooked in an oven. And, the items I can make on a stove top are hard to find ingredients for in Kathmandu. I tried to keep my cool and decided I’d make fried rice with some leftover rice in the fridge. How hard could it be?
Five minutes later the entire kitchen was covered in soy sauce. That’s not an exaggeration. It was on the counter. It was on the cabinets. It was on the ceiling. It was on me. By some force of nature, it was not on the rice. I very quietly wiped everything down, went to my room, and ugly cried into my pillow. In Nepal, part of being a good wife is knowing how to cook. I was a failure.
Suraj came home and listened to my story which was accompanied by tears and more snot then I care to admit. After listening careful with genuine concern, he did the only logical thing a man in his position could do. He laughed. He tried not to, but the stifled laughter escaped his lips. I tried to remain upset but it was no use. His laughter was contagious.
The very next day we were in the kitchen making breakfast. Suraj walked over to the fridge to grab the eggs. Something made a noise and there was a long silence. I looked over and the refrigerator door was propped open. Suraj was squatting down with his head in his hands. I approached slowly, and as I got closer I saw a dozen eggs broken on the floor. Not one was whole. He looked at me utterly disappointed in himself and said, “What do I do?” I walked slowly over to the towels and did what any loving girlfriend would do. I grabbed my phone instead. I readied the camera and called his name. He looked at me with the guilt of a toddler who’d just gotten into trouble. We both burst out laughing.
It was at that moment I knew we were soul mates. There is no one in the world I’d rather share an infinite number of mishaps with for the rest of my life.
2019 has been such an extraordinary year, and 2020 holds a lot of promise. This upcoming year, my mom will be visiting Nepal along with a few of my close friends. It’s the first time that I’ll get to share my second home with them, and I can’t wait to show them around! And of course, the reason they’re visiting is because I’ll be getting married in Kathmandu! With so many new adventures lined up this year, I honestly couldn’t be happier. I’m wishing you all the most wonderful New Year and a Happy 2020!
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.