A Little Cheers …To Unexpected Changes and Amazing Possibilities

I turn 29-years-old today. This birthday is already going a lot better than last year … last year my lovely friends in Chiang Mai came out to celebrate with me at a Mexican restaurant and instead of enjoying it, I spent much of the night sick in the bathroom (that was the first day of what became a three month battle with Giardia parasites … fun times). The illness made me slow down at the start of 2012, but it didn’t put a damper on the plans, because it was early 2012 when I began writing my book, which was such a hard but positive part of my life for majority of 2012.

So, anyway, 29 today. You know, I don’t feel very old, and yet I have an acute memory from ten years ago of thinking how “ancient” the nearly-30s seemed. I had lots of ideas and few clear plans at 19—college and acting amounted to most of my tangible goals at the time. And yet now, at 29, I am much more willing to look into the New Year with an eye for unexpected gifts and amazing possibilities than with plans and specific goals. I had so many plans and definite ideas (comes with the territory of being a young adult) and now most of those are gone, and I often feel a little lost, but I feel like I am more on the right track now than I ever was before.

My fifth birthday with my brother Brucey nearby

A photo of my fifth birthday with my brother Brucey nearby.

The fact is, I couldn’t have planned out these last few years in my wildest dreams, and I still can’t figure out the key moments that led me here. Perhaps at a time in the future I will look back and see those pivotal moments where a butterfly beating its wings rippled change throughout the course of my life … but for now I can merely go along with the events and hope that changes, obstacles, and decisions have a deeper purpose. Because some of what happened this year hurt, and it was hard. The book was a personal challenge, but beyond that there was dysfunctional family drama, hurdles, changes, and new directions for myself and many of the people in my life who I love.

mango sticky rice street food

Ana and I enjoy one last mango and sweet sticky rice at a street food stall in Bangkok before we headed back home to the US. The kid is so cute–she waxes poetic to her friends here about the food we ate in Thailand :)

For my niece, I hope and believe that a Butterfly Effect moment in her life was our decision to travel to Asia last summer. And now, another change as she returns to life back home while I continue traveling. Plans shifted over the past few months and Ana is re-enrolled in public school. My dreams for her haven’t changed, and though I am her aunt—and it would seem to many that me even taking her to Asia for nearly seven months was strange—I can only say that I have been a very strong part of her life since birth. And so … it’s hard to let her go. It’s hard for me to let her integrate back into a school system, friends, and a life that only includes me on the periphery.

It was harder than I imagined to watch her again embrace life in my hometown … a town I intentionally and very methodically plotted my exit from at 18-years-old; a place I do not want to live.

laos

Ana frames her photo and snaps some shots of the cows outside of Hongsa, Laos.

My rambling stream of consciousness now turns back toward 2013, and the 30th year of my life. Ana will not be with me on my next trip, which is to Mexico in January (though she will join me again in the future to be sure!), and I am back to the solo traveler I started as in 2008. But not the same at all, there were choices along the way that have changed who I am and changed my perspectives.

I like to use the end of a year and beginning of the next as a way to both reflect and look forward, so here are both, intertwined!

To New Countries …

Myanmar (Burma) was a new country in 2012—I loved the fun of exploring a new culture and sites with my niece. Ana and I also traveled back to one of my favorites, Laos, but it was a very different experience in Myanmar, to spend three weeks immersed in an unfamiliar country with little internet and connectivity. I loved my break from the online world and used the time to talk and really pay attention to friends during our adventures in some of the prettiest places on earth, like Bagan and Inle Lake.

Sunset in Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)

As the day ends the sun drenched the ocher temples of Bagan in a warm, comforting light.

I also hope to explore a new place in 2013; though plans are unsure, I may travel with friends to Peru (I haven’t stepped foot in South America yet!) and if not, I have a very deep interest in taking several months in the fall to travel to Kenya or other parts of Africa (also an unexplored continent for me!). Africa is the dream right now, I like the world better knowing that I might make it there this coming year, so I mention it here, even though it’s the more distant possibility of the two. Looking closer to home though, immediate travel plans are to as-yet unexplored regions of Mexico, where I will hunker down for a few months to work on new projects. I need a place to hunker–more pointedly a place to hunker in solitude I think, I am ready to feel a part of a city again and have fast food and fast friends on hand, which happens most when I find a new place I want to call home.

To New Projects …

My book, The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook, launched in October at an event where I spoke on a panel at Housing Works in New York City. Writing, publishing and launching my book was a wonderful and scary learning process and it’s more rewarding than I imagined to have it out now. Perhaps the best part? I loved hearing feedback from the wild—and by this I mean people completely unconnected from me and this blog—from people who read the book and have reviewed the book online, or emailed to share how it’s helped them solidify plans to volunteer or visit social enterprises. That’s the point, when I saw that I could actually have this sort of positive effect, it has motivated me in a way the idea of it never did. I want to help people travel, and all the better if they volunteer or give back when they do that traveling.

travel speaker volunteering

Speaking on a panel about travel at the Housing Works Bookstore in NYC for the launch of my book, alongside the authors of the Food and Solo travel handbooks.

In the coming weeks I will share more about the book and my journey in 2013 to support it out there in the world—podcasts, guest-posts, and giveaways are in the works. I often fear criticism, and equally fear looking like a braggart which keeps me quiet and silent as I hesitate to post any real-time updates—neither the successes nor the failures. I intend to do better on that in 2013.

And speaking of 2013, I have lightly mentioned my other projects, but my volunteer site will formally launch next month, and that is exciting; it’s been in beta form for well over a year, so I will share more on that in January. Then, throughout the year I intend to speak more often and about volunteering and travel when possible. I spoke with an 8th grade class in the United States last month  about following passions and how—for me—that has been travel these past few years. Those kids were so bright, inquisitive, and fascinated by the idea of long-term travel that it’s further inspired me to work with youth and college students in that capacity as a goal this year, and into the future.

To New Ideologies …

In summer 2011, I wrote a post that detailed my desire to travel for the better part of each year, and to weave that travel with time at home. This is how I have balanced old friends and family with my wish to travel for years on end. And that worked well as I bounced around between continents at roughly five-six month intervals.

sunset in yangon

A man on the commuter docks in Yangon, Myanmar takes in a quiet sunset as the last of the boats zip across the river, bring the workers back to their homes and to nearby cities.

Now though, I am shifting that a bit to take the lessons I have learned through travel and channel them into other passions like speaking, more writing, and creative projects. To do these things though, I want to settle somewhere more permanent and with a home-base that isn’t well, home. I haven’t found “the place” yet. It’s not the United States. I think it might be Mexico because I like the country’s proximity to the US (and thus Ana), I already speak the language, and the food is pretty great. But I’m not sure. Four years of travel wore me out some; perhaps it’s the solo travel aspect of it weighing on me lately. I rarely mention (um … never) my relationships, but that could be factoring into things too. I want to be closer to friends, while keeping the joys that travel brings to my life.

2013 is a conundrum for me. I have many professional goals I’d like to see happen in regards to my book. I am looking for a home—anyone, anywhere want to adopt me?! I still have many travel plans in the works. And I will miss my niece when I leave for Mexico. I am in a state of change right now. I know that what I’ve had for the past four years is not the pattern that will make me happy long-term, but I don’t know where I am headed precisely. And this is where the amazing possibilities comes into play. I never thought I would write a book, I never predicted my niece and I would explore Southeast Asia together, and traveling the world was a mere pipe dream at one point. And so, though I feel lost sometimes, I am willing to believe that the possibilities out there may bring some great changes.

tbex speakers spain

Hanging out with my bestie Jodi after we both spoke at the TBEX travel conference in Girona, Spain.

To What I Know …

For all the uncertainty I just laid out there, here is what I do know:

… I was blessed with finding a smart, sweet, funny friend in my niece as we traveled, and that is a gift I will cherish.

… I wrote a book, and I think it’s great. I want to help people and I want to see my book help people. So I know I will make that happen in 2013.

… None of us died during the Mayan apocalypse (had to add a dash of humor here folks).

… I am deeply grateful for the community and people who have supported me through this site, and throughout my travels.

… A new year means so many possibilities for each of us and when we stay open to potential, great things can happen and wonderful people come into our lives.

… I am 29-years-old today and this will be a kick-ass year!

Happy New Year!  :-)

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63 Responses to A Little Cheers …To Unexpected Changes and Amazing Possibilities

  1. Adirondack May 5, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    Enjoyed your blog regarding life on the road and your desire not to return to that dysfunctional hometown. Sounded like my life! I’ll be back living solo in the redwoods of northern California as a volunteer again this summer and hopefully writing another book. You have inspired me to return to Chiang Mai with your vivid descriptions! Maybe in November of this year. Pleasant travels and may you find friendship and happiness…..

    • ShannonOD May 6, 2013 at 2:29 am #

      Solo in the redwoods — that sounds amazing. Just tonight I was talking with friends about how much I loved the forests and culture in Northern California. As for CM, if you go in early November you may even be able to make it for Loy Krathong, which is gorgeous if you’ve never partaken in it.

      Best of luck with the book writing, hopefully the redwoods keep you inspired :)

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