For seven months, the gaping absence of Africa stories on my blog has nagged me. During this time, some of you wrote me with concern. Thank you, all is well. I needed time to sort out personal things post-Africa. As this new year takes shape, I am jumping (maybe limping) back into writing. And for starters, I thought it apt to share a bit about this past year that has gone unsaid.
It was a hard year for me.
I started the year on a high, speaking at a National Geographic Live event in Washington, DC, which scarcely seemed real — it was an honor I hadn’t dared to dream of when I left six years ago. And yet there I was, up on stage and talking to people about how they can create meaningful travel experiences. It was rad.
And yet, even then, as I confidently told the audience of my plans to travel across Africa, I was unsure if that was the right next step. I loved the lure of Africa, but never thought I’d go there solo. I left anyway. I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa in early February and I already feared burnout. My Dispatches from Africa were darker, more critical of each experience. The problem, of course, is not with Africa; how could an entire continent be at fault?
My ability to cope with the highs and lows of travel skidded to a halt early last year. Six years is a long time to travel, and I wasn’t in a good head-space at the start of the trip. A series of setbacks — many not unlike those in past travels — began to snowball. I killed my pricey laptop a week into the trip. I was robbed in Cape Town… twice. Sketchy internet made working with my clients difficult. Traveling Africa was expensive and a lot of the hostels were empty of other travelers. I was alone all of the time. There is something to be said for persevering, though. It was poor timing, but dipping my toe into Africa’s range of cultures and history widened my perspective. Traveling through parts of Africa deepened my appreciation for travel. Even more than before, I believe travel creates so deep connections in our lives.I stayed the course throughout the spring. I checked-off bucket-list items and I found amazing local projects, the stories of their founders begging to be told to a wider audience. I was there with these incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences, yet under it all, I couldn’t shake a deep depression. I was sad all the time. The last straw was contracting dysentery (again) a few days before my flight home. I’ve struggled with depression in the past, and there is a deep history of it in my family. Constantly traveling exacerbates the problem. I needed to stop moving and collect myself.
I kept it together for the two weddings I attended in June, just long enough to wish them well, then I broke down. I didn’t want to talk about Africa and I cried a lot. I had lost my ability for gratitude and perspective. Things are on the mend now. I’ve gotten help and I reconnected with friends. I slowed down and house-sat in Seattle for two months. For the past three weeks, my dad and I hosted family from Panama for their first visit to the U.S. (a visit complete with Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center, and plenty of time exploring Florida’s lakes and beaches).
There was much good in 2014, too. This year made me examine my long-term goals and assess how I can better balance work, travel, and life. I was still making traveling the point of my life, and it no longer fit.
The whole of this is to say, I was working on me these past months. I was putting back together the parts that I allowed to break by constantly moving.
I haven’t figured anything out for sure. But six years traveling is a long time to constantly travel solo. Too long, maybe. I miss having a community and a set of friends. For years, I have loved picking a place and living for three to six months in a new city. I loved finding a new pop-up community of nomads like me, it added to the journey of self-discovery and fun. And each day I was grateful for my ability to construct this intentional life; it felt right.
Now however, I’m considering where I can find a home-base from which to travel for shorter stints. I’ll leave for a month or two at a time, then home to work on other projects. Projects like lining up more college speaking this year, a second book, or any of the cacophony of ideas tearing through my thoughts each week. I will look back at my travels last spring with a fresh perspective; I will share stories in the coming months of the people and places from my time traveling across Africa.Also! I’m adding two new members to the A Little Adrift Jr. gang. My oldest nephew turned 11 a few months ago, and he informed me that “it’s my turn to travel with you, just like Ana did.” And since I was taking him, I figured I needed to take my 10-year-old nephew too, just to be fair. And though I won’t homeschool them, this summer I will scoop up my nephews for a month of roadtripping the Yucatan in Mexico. They are both already psyched and googling the beaches and cenotes we’ll explore while there. After that, it’s off to London in August for a wedding and hopefully a bit of time exploring Europe (I’d love to head back to Ireland).
At the beginning of each new year I set goals for myself. I’ve used vision boards in the past and I’ve also asked for accountability by laying out my goals on the blog.
Instead of goals, however, I have set one intention for 2015: creating balance.
What are you working toward in 2015?