Year-in-Review post is always my favorite post to write each year. It allows me to reflect on the year, identify all of the marvelous changes, and prepare for the year ahead. Usually, I lament at how quickly time has passed. But for 2019, I marvel at the way January feels like a lifetime ago.
This year, I gave myself a central theme to work toward, rather than new year resolutions. The 2019’s theme was Be Uncomfortable. Let’s see how I’ve lived up to this theme over the year.
After six months of pretty aggressive full-time travel, we decided to continue exploring the world a bit more, but slow the pace way down. Full-time travel was beginning to feel like another routine, and I wanted to spice it up. We spent the month living out of a tent and working on an off-grid permaculture farm in Uruguay. Very much out of my comfort zone, but possibly the best, certainly the most unique experience of 2019.
We headed to Chile for another Workaway experience, located in Curacavi, halfway between Santiago and Valparaiso. This time, much less successful. On the first day, I came down with a cold, and the host requested that I remove myself from the property to avoid getting others sick. We left for Valparaiso instead. Found another Workaway project that was fine, but not stellar. Biggest Workaway takeaway: Bartering isn’t practiced anymore for a reason. The experience was a total hit or miss. Uncomfortable box – thoroughly checked.
Nevertheless, we cherished the unexpected three-week stay in Valparaiso, and concluded our time in Chile with an epic road trip in the Atacama Desert. We traveled in and out of Santiago numerous times during the month, and I was glad for the chance to explore this cosmopolitan city.
Before heading back to St. Louis, we joined my sister and her new baby on a Caribbean cruise on my brother-in-law’s ship with Royal Caribbean. Cruise travel isn’t typically my cup for tea, but after 9 months of travel, it was quite a luxury not to plan anything. Full-time travel is a lifestyle, and with any lifestyle, a break is necessary.
We headed back to St. Louis to house-sit for my parents, and also stay put for the spring to figure out our next steps. We were craving a community, and realizing the perpetually nomadic lifestyle isn’t for us. I decided to take the time to work on my blog more seriously. Meanwhile, exploring some freelance opportunities. I snuck in a long weekend trip to Detroit to see some Peace Corps girls. Must take advantage of seeing friends whenever possible!
Relished in the extended time back in St. Louis. I hadn’t spent so much time in town since I graduated from college in 2008. Reconnecting with friends in the city, and exploring our old stomping grounds provided that sense of community we had been craving. On the work front, I dove into working on the blog. Got back on Twitter after years of dormant due to China’s Great Firewall. Discovered #PFTwitter to muse over financial freedom, and learned that the blogging scene has changed dramatically since I was last active in 2012.
Wrapping up our time in St. Louis and said our goodbyes. Xav received an offer for Saigon, so we announced the next move to Vietnam. Accepting the relocation simply felt like another travel destination. Minimalist living had lightened not only our possessions but also our mindset. We ended our time in St. Louis on a high note, cleaning up nicely to attend my high-school bestie’s wedding! So grateful to have the time to be around for this season of her life.
We headed back to Europe for a final month of whirlwind travel. The month comprised of a week in Paris, a week in London, a week in Munich via a road trip through Switzerland, a weekend in Lyon, and a final week in Xav’s hometown in France, where we celebrated his brother’s wedding. The month was a perfect way to end our year of full-time travel. We reconnected with friends from years past and had quality time with family. One primary reason to pursue financial freedom is to have ample time with loved ones.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at the height of the rainy season. The first impression was that the city is LOUD, and I had never sweated so much in my life. Discomfort level was cranked up very high. As the weeks passed, the idea that this isn’t just another city that we are passing through, but rather, our new home began to set in. Xav went back to work, and I was left with copious time alone. Not sure what to do, I applied randomly to a few jobs. I picked up my blog again after a month of neglect in Europe, and basked in the discomfort of being a “housewife.”
To buy ourselves some time to find longer-term housing, we had moved into a temporary serviced apartment for two months. August was spent making new connections and apartment hunting. We learned a lot about the city in the process to determine which neighborhood would be most suitable. Meanwhile, we started Vietnamese classes to guide our assimilation process. Despite only three hours of lessons per week and minimal review/study outside of these lessons, we still notice marked progress.
I celebrated my birthday by chopping off my long hair for donation. The cut also felt like a fresh start as we moved into our more permanent home. As we settle into our new home, I worked on being confident as a writer and cherish this time to work on my blog. Imposter syndrome is real, but I zoned in on the rare opportunity to cultivate a hobby.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have an identity as a student, a Peace Corps volunteer, a financial analyst, or even a traveler. I struggle to own the title as a writer, and that discomfort challenged me to think about who I want to be. Life can change in an instant, and the free time I have now could vanish. I decided to focus my time and energy on this blog singularly.
We reached the three-month mark of our time in Saigon. The transition this time is slower than previous moves. I gained perspective by reflecting on our experience settling into a new place as expats versus refugees. The process is slow but overall very smooth. We stopped traveling, partly, because we craved a community, but that process takes cultivation.
A ten-day trip back to Shanghai at the end of the month gave me much needed perspective. Our marvelous social group in Shanghai took years to build, and the same applies to Saigon. The trip was also a necessary closure to remember all the reasons we left Shanghai behind, including that comfortable corporate grind.
I returned to Saigon with newfound enthusiasm to make the city my own. Early in the month, I volunteered my time to help organizing a Non-Profit Job Fair. Met some interesting people and gained a better understanding of the non-profit scene in Saigon. In the back of my head, there is still a desire to put my $120k grad degree to good use. This was the first step.
A connection from this fair led to a freelance writing gig at the end of the month. One never knows where opportunities may arise, showing genuine interest and lend a helping hand whenever possible seems to have worked well for me thus far. More on the writing front, I cranked through nearly 30k words for this blog by participating in the November writing challenge with #NaNoWriMo.
In between writing, I also took up cooking, and have been attempting to #LiveSlowerCookMore. Successfully creating my own sourdough loaf is surprisingly gratifying. For Thanksgiving, I co-hosted a dinner with a fellow Peace Corps Cameroon RPCV here in Saigon (the world is marvelously small). I made Mac n Cheese, and we debuted Xav’s Chocolate cake. Sharing food has always been our favorite way to connect. Slowly, the sense of community begins to emerge.
We received our first guests in Saigon! The timing somehow led to back-to-back visitors spanning over ten days. By sharing tips and showing our guests our city, we become aware that we, indeed, have gotten a grasp of life here. Quite a rewarding feeling to see progress!
I spent the second part of my month in Taiwan, as part of a three-week trip to help my parents resettle into our Taiwan home as they return from twenty years of life in the US. This is also the longest time I’ve spent in my home city since immigrating to the US in 1998. The Chinese saying 落葉歸根 (fallen leaves return to root) comes to mind.
2019 followed the “be uncomfortable” theme quite well. I had no way of knowing where we’d be, both literally and figuratively, back in January. Discomfort fuels growth, and what a year of growth it’s been! Grateful for all of the people with whom I’ve both reconnected and newly connected.
Finally, a big thank you for readers new and old for your encouragement and continuous support to read my words this past year. Every feedback and comment is motivating for me to write better and more. I’m immensely grateful. Happy New Year!