A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Barcelona: On Finding Home

Last updated on December 11, 2018

Finding a way to stop traveling has been an evolving process. When I booked that one-way flight ten years ago, a year of travel loomed before me, an epic round-the-world trip that would fulfill my dreams to see more of the world while also preparing me to contentedly return to Los Angeles at the end.

I had no idea that ten years later I would move to Barcelona instead.

Plaça Reial in Barcelona

I also didn’t know that this decade would both fill my memories with achingly lovely moments and allow me to find my passion for writing and photography, while also bringing a raft of unexpected health and emotional challenges, too.

When I set out on this journey, I had big expectations. I didn’t love all aspects of myself and my life when I left—I hoped that traveling would shore up those lingering doubts, fears, and insecurities. And I hoped for adventure, grand adventures beyond the borders of the U.S. and into cultures I had never yet seen, through the landscapes I had only glimpsed in magazines as a child.

Six years later, depression creeped into my life, infiltrating the edges of even the most banal thoughts. I didn’t talk about it much because, well frankly it wasn’t a great year for me. At first I just drifted away from blogging. I needed a few months off from travel writing to right my world.

I just needed space.

A tiny hiatus and I’d be right as rain.

On Searching for Home

Alcala in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Even then, however, I suspected that it wasn’t blogging alone that needed to change. I needed a home base. I moved to a beach town in Mexico for five months, and it helped. I took nightly sunset walks on the beach, my desire to write came back in fits and spurts, and having an apartment settled me.

But it didn’t stick.

By picking a country with a lenient visa policy—six months free on arrival for Americans—it allowed me treat the endeavor like a grand lark. When the good friends that I had made moved on, I did too.

I traveled again but distanced myself from my travel writing. Instead, I returned to my hometown in Florida to connect with old friends and to find new ways to treat depression’s quiet darkness that would never quite lift its invisible tentacles; its darkness had reached into every part of my waking life.

I eventually moved to Oaxaca, Mexico with a bestie who was also a long-term traveler in search of a place in the world to call home. It seemed promising. I fiercely wanted to hang my hat there and officially end my peripatetic decade.

Hanging at Hierve El Agua
Jodi on the left, a friend Brock in the middle, and me on the right on a day trip to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca.

When my six month visa expired, I bid it adieu forever. During that spring in Oaxaca, I experienced the most serious allergies I’ve ever had—hay-fever so terrible I would flee street-side dinners with friends so I could shower and hide under my covers, the only place I found relief from the urge to rub every last piece of skin from my face.

By the end of my time there, my activated immune system developed a permanent allergy to my contact lenses, which I had worn for 20 years without issue (I’m still a little bitter about that).

flame tree in bloom
Oaxaca’s historic city center could not be any prettier when the flame trees are alive with color.
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
The Zócalo in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I left Mexico tired. Every year on the road seemed to worsen my allergies, which I have linked to nearly dying of dysentery my first year on the road. I needed to stop traveling but I was at a loss for which place in the world was worthy of calling home. It had to be perfect if I was going to finally pick a single city to see every day of my life.

So yeah, of course I fell back on old patterns and I traveled while I figured out the answer.

Travel has been my default state since I left in 2008, and I have struggled to stop moving, to pull the trigger on a decision like buying furniture again and a car. Partly because the weight I felt the decision held, but also because it was cheaper for me to travel the world than return to LA.

I am terrified of being in debt again, of that desperation I felt just a couple of years out of college as I sunk under the weight of low-paying work and ever-accruing credit card interest. The debt was complicated; it wasn’t all from “keeping up with the Joneses;” it was a series of unfortunate events that created a teetering tower of debt that threatened to crush me if I didn’t constantly run on my spinning wheel. Traveling arrested that process.

Three-and-a-half years into my travels, and I had cleared that ominous debt tower. I wasn’t making a ton of money, but I was free from debt and actually saving money. The thought of returning to a lifestyle that would put me back in that circumstance wasn’t on the table.

Another year on the road slipped past me almost unnoticed; I was a leaf caught in a rushing river and riding the easiest current. I housesat in southern Spain, spent a few months with friends in Australia, and then for the hell of it, I backpacked Vietnam for three months. It wasn’t my best moment of follow through, but that additional year of travel got me closer, somehow, to where I am now. Closer to living in Spain.

When I left Vietnam, I returned to the states to fulfill one of my last big travel promises: to take my remaining niece on an adventure. Over this past decade, I somehow managed to backpack Southeast Asia for seven months with my angsty pre-teen niece Ana, then I followed that up with a road-trip across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with my two naughty nephews (cute, but naughty).

Children are so impressionable in the middle school years, and I deeply wanted to show each what I loved about this huge world of ours at least once before they entered adulthood. Last summer, my niece Jinnai joined me on a five-week, 500 mile (800 kilometer) pilgrimage across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago Frances.

Viewpoint in the Pyrenees on the Camino de Santiago
My niece Jinnai looks out over the Pyrenees mountains on our long walk across Spain.
Camino de Santiago 12.5 km sign
End of the Camino de Santiago

Our long, long walk is a story for another day, but suffice to say that at the end we wanted nothing more than sun, sand, and good food. So, we headed to Barcelona.

One day during our week of exploring, we wandered through charming working-class neighborhood called Barceloneta. Dockworkers lived here in times past and now it has a “village within a city” feel.

Laundry dripped from rows of wrought-iron stretching into the sky and the neighborhood’s narrow streets all led to the water. I looked around and realized this was it; in a stutter of a heartbeat I decided to move to Spain.

Plaça Reial
Pretty views of Barcelona’s Plaza Real.
Barcelona Parc de la Ciutadella
Exploring Barcelona with my niece after our long walk along the Camino.

On Finding a Home

I am penning this dispatch from my apartment in Barceloneta—a small six-floor walkup with heaps of sunshine and views of the ocean if I lean over my balcony. And I feel at peace. Friends and travelers have asked why I chose Barcelona, and my answer is usually something like: “I realized it was good enough.”

There are people who fall in love with Barcelona in an instant. That wasn’t me. When I visited in 2012, I thought it a gorgeous city—I did the touristy things and enjoyed it all immensely. But little to compelled me beyond that. I didn’t dislike the city—I’m not really sure how anyone could dislike it!—but I didn’t fall for it in the way that people assume.

Instead, on my second visit I realized that this small neighborhood near the beach, in a city where I speak the language and enjoy the culture, was enough. It’s not perfect—local Spaniards laugh at me when I tell them I moved to Barceloneta, which heaves with tourists in the summer—but all of these years I have searched for the impossible: an idyllic place that combined the best aspects of every city I had ever loved.

Barceloneta architecture
window view from my house in Barcelona
Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona instead meets most of my checklist wishes; it’s a vibrant city with a young population and it sees more sunny beach days than not—as a born-and-raised Floridian, I am fanatically committed to both warmth and water. The one thing that had long kept Barcelona off my list was that I know almost no one in the city. I am not just tired of traveling, I am weary of being far from connections, from the people I know and love in this world.

It had always seemed like moving back home to Florida was the most obvious choice since most of my dearest friends live there, and my family, too. Even as I applied for my long-term Spanish visa last fall—an arduous process—I looked at real estate near my hometown and thought hard about where I should settle, because it was going to happen in 2018 no matter what.

For so many reasons, however, Florida is an unhealthy place for me. One day it might be right—after all, I never saw the curveball coming that I would live on the road for nearly a decade, make a living writing about responsible travel, and have friends dotting the globe.

When I received a letter in the mail just after Thanksgiving granting me the right to live in Spain for a year, I knew it was the right move. Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t terrified, because panic flashed in my chest that I was making the wrong choice and needed to abort ship asap.

I didn’t abort ship.

Pretty buildings in Barceloneta
views of barceloneta

Here in my small apartment I have created balance that I haven’t had since I left Los Angeles in 2008. I furiously write every morning and my mind dizzies with the number of creative projects I am inspired to work on—without constant strain of planning travels and nonstop movement, my mind has space for new ideas.

I am writing a book proposal, and the idea SO spot on for what I want to put into the world that I can’t believe it’s taken me this long figure it out. And now I have the time to make that project, and this blog, all a bigger priority in my life. I can work, but also have a balance with other aspects of non-travel life. There are joys in this, too.

On the weekends, I walk to the market nearby and already the vendor knows to weigh out a half-kilo of cherry tomatoes while I sort through the selection of peppers. An old man who lives in my building waves when we pass on the street and the owner of my local bodega gives me a mini chupa chups lollipop for free when I stop in for a chat and a bottle of agua con gas.

friends from BridgesandBalloons.com

And friends come visit! That’s a new one for me since usually I’m the one passing through for a quick hello. Victoria and Steve brought the tiniest addition to their family and we had grand fun playing in the park, strolling the beach, and partaking in many cups of gelato.

It’s fun. Better yet, it feels right.

Sunday brunch in style!

My friend Louise lives in London and we last traveled together to Cuba many years ago—since then we have rarely managed to cross paths. Now that I am living in Europe, she invited me on an impromptu girl’s weekend to Lisbon next week. And in June I’ll jet over to Morocco with a Florida-friend—I have these great little trips planned for every month from now until October!

Instead of feeling a heavy weight on my chest from the burden of planning new travels, there’s no pressure—I’ll stuff a few clothes into daypack and leave the rest folded neatly in my drawers for when I come back.

Because I live here now.

I live in Barcelona.

Maybe not forever, but I live here now and that’s enough.

Dreaming of living in Spain? I share the all of the pros and cons after five years living here—including why I plan to spend the 10+ years still living in Barcelona!