On Traveling around the world for a year.

One year ago today, I ran away.

Thoughts on a year of traveling the world.

Everyone’s told me that I’m so brave. But I’m not. I’m a chicken. I’m scared to death of this whole thing. I hate being out of my comfort zone. But I just think I want to be a braver person. A different person.
July 3rd, 2011 at 6:56 am


Crammed in a hot tub in a hostel in Sevilla, Spain.
Crammed into the “hot tub” at our Sevilla hostel.


When I left home, a year ago today, I really didn’t think I would make it this far. I was scared. I was intimidated. And a whole year seemed like such an immensely long time.

I’m pretty sure that no one reading my blog in the early days of my trip thought I would make it three months, let alone a year. Honestly, there were so many times that I was ready to just pack up my bag and buy a ticket home. Dejected. Thinking that this trip that I had thought I had wanted to take for so long was neither something I really wanted nor something I could accomplish.

But, here I am. Twelve months later.


Me, covered in tomatoes after La Tomatina.
La Tomatina was one of the most amazing things I ever took part in.


Am I a braver person like I hoped to become? I don’t know. Am I a different person? I think, in some ways, I am.

Travelers often say that they travel to “find themselves.” It’s one of those generic and cliche answers that is also so perfectly appropriate. “I want to find myself.” I mean, isn’t that, in some ways, a goal all of us have? Who doesn’t want to look in the mirror and know exactly who is looking back? And what better way to find yourself than to throw yourself into a massive world-wide game of hide and seek.


Authentic Turkish dancing...
I was shown an amazing and “authentic” side to Istanbul.


I don’t always feel like I’ve changed, but I know, in a lot of ways, that I have.

I’m more confident, I’m more relaxed. I’m able to deal with strange situations on a different level than I could have before. I’m able to interact with people on a different level than I could have before.

But I can’t say, in any way, that I’ve “found myself.” In fact, looking back, I feel like I pretty much knew the girl who I was.


Le sigh, me and Gabriel.
Le sigh. The one that got away.


I was a girl who didn’t have sex with guys she just met. The kind of girl who loved her pasty white skin. The kind of girl who dreamed of a nice wedding, a nice house. Kitchenaids and granite countertops and the like. The kind of girl who was perfectly content to sit around watching DVRd reality shows on a Friday night.

It’s this girl, who is unfamiliar to me.


Angkor Wat with Corey.
Angkor Wat with Corey. I get culture too.


This girl smokes an occasional cigarette while drinking. This girl orders beer. This girl has a constant tan. This girl has had sex with more men in her 30s than she did in all of her 20s. This girl will sit down at a table full of strangers. This girl has gotten impossibly good at remembering people’s names when they introduce themselves.

That girl had planned her wedding since she was five years old. This girl is looking at her savings account and thinking “I don’t need to ever get married, I can travel for just another year…”

Quite frankly, I have no idea who this girl is. But, even though she’s a hot mess, I’m pretty sure I like her a lot.

And she doesn’t want to stop traveling anytime soon.


Celebrating the New Year on Halong Bay.
Celebrating the New Year on Halong Bay with Matilda. I miss her.


Sure, I want to return home. I want to meet my no-so-new nephew. I want to eat deep dish pizza and beef sandwiches and hot dogs.

I want to see my friends.

Because my friends are kind of amazing. I am more than thankful that I have so many amazing people in my life who are so supportive of what I’ve chosen to do.


I was a hot mess in Vang Vieng.
I was a hot mess in Vang Vieng.


People keep telling me that I’m going to come home and no longer be able to relate to my friends. And that makes me sad for those people.

I think I’m lucky that I have so many friends who just get it. Like Heather, who ditched an engineering degree because she wanted to teach and is always able to find ways to make ends meet and whose perseverance has finally paid off for her. Like Nadia who went back to school to study science because it’s what she’s always wanted to study. Like Jen who packed up and moved to Seattle because she’s always wanted to live there.

Just because they aren’t traveling the world doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to make the life they want for themselves. And I totally respect them all.

And, besides, I can drink beer now which totally makes me relate more to people at home. Just saying.


Me in a Ladyboy show.
I swear I’m not a Ladyboy. I just play one onstage.


Of course, part of me wants nothing more than to go home and get an iPhone and a condo. I mean, my life list…and my life…doesn’t revolve around travel. And I haven’t totally given up my dreams of Kitchenaids and granite countertops.

Some days I just want stability. Routine. I would like to have a relationship that lasts longer than two weeks, something I don’t know if it’s even possible that I’ll ever find that on the road. And I want to be somewhere were I can take guitar lessons, go to a gym.


All the good ones are too young for me.
All the good ones are too young for me.


And I buy souvenirs. Lots of them. And I imagine where I’ll put them in my imaginary apartment.

I’d like to grow a garden. Keep a plant alive for longer than 6 months. And I still dream of renovating a Wicker Park three-flat.

But I’m not sure I’m ready to give this lifestyle up anytime soon.

I can’t imagine going back to a desk job. Working 9-5. Waking up in the morning thinking “what do I have to do today?”


Happy Holi in India.
Happy (or unhappy) Holi in India.


I love the freedom. I love meeting new people with new accents. I love seeing new things, new places, daily. I love waking up in the morning and thinking “what do I want to do today?”

And, truth be told, I kind of like the status of it. It kind of makes me feel like I’m, for once, the cool kid at the table when I’m sitting with a group of backpackers and I’ve been traveling months longer than anyone else at the table.


Me and Jaime at the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is big and important and pretty.


So, the question is, what now?

I had originally planned to go home in May. And it’s now July 3. And the return date in my mind keeps creeping further and further back.

I do plan to go home. I may return in September to road trip for a few weeks. I may stay in Asia a little longer, head to Bali and the Philippines and return in October.

I’m still not quite sure, but I will be back for a wedding in October. That I will not miss.

But I don’t plan to stay home for long. Not yet.


I became a Bollywood star.
I became a Bollywood star.


I think I may go to Mexico and work my way down until I really am out of money. Through Central America and hopefully a little bit of South America.

And I hope to find a way to make money. Because, seriously, I made a plan for where I would like to go for the next 5 years (I still want to road trip Australia, I want to spend more time in Spain, I want to go to Morocco, I want to visit England and Ireland and Scotland, I want to drive to Alaska). And while I’m not sure how long I will want to keep going, I’m hoping I can make the option to keep going work out.

Because, here’s the thing: I’m 31. I can go home, buy a condo, think of all the travel I still want to do. But if I go home I would probably settle into a job and a mortgage. I want to keep the momentum going. I want to keep going.

So here’s to the last year of my life. The first year of my life where I really took control and lived the way I wanted to live. And here’s to the next, I can’t wait to see what other adventures are waiting for me out there.


Me on the beach.
Me on the beach in Palolem, Goa.


Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Rich Riley
    July 3, 2012at1:23 pm

    You are so made of Awesome. I’m the gregarious one who will nonetheless still be sitting at home, and waiting for you to come visit and share your stories. 🙂

  • Sadie
    July 3, 2012at2:38 pm

    I can’t believe you’ve been traveling an entire year! Beautiful post, made me cry a little 🙂

  • Carrie
    July 3, 2012at7:48 pm

    Aww I loved that post! and I’m so glad you drink beer now, and one of these years we’ll all go out to coney island and have a ruby’s lager. 🙂

  • Talon
    July 3, 2012at8:59 pm

    Loved it! You go girl!

  • Jenny
    July 3, 2012at11:47 pm

    You’re awesome. Thanks for celebrating your one year with me in Chiang Mai. :]

  • Jaime
    July 4, 2012at4:54 am

    EEEEeeee love it!!! Can’t believe it’s been a year. I remember one month in you didn’t think you were gonna make it. Well look at you now… conquering the world and buying souvenirs along the way. I love it and love that we have been able to meet up 3 times on this trip. Congrats on the one year and cheers to how ever much longer you wanna stay on the road!!!

  • Ali
    July 4, 2012at8:03 am

    I love the way you wrote this post! I’m so glad you made it past those rough first couple months and ended up enjoying being on the road. Congrats to 1 year, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the next year (or however many) of travel 🙂

  • Hbomb
    July 4, 2012at10:54 pm

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fantastic form and position on the jazz leap on the last picture.

    Also I miss you, this post made me cry because I miss you, you’ll always have a home here with me, cat misses you, and despite all of that I’m really fucking proud of you.

  • Erik
    July 7, 2012at7:10 pm

    Either way, you’re an incredible person.

    I hope your journey and the way you’ve found yourself, and don’t care about being different, can inspire lots of other people who need it. That’s why you and Jaime are a good team- you both are inspirational.

    Congrats on a year on the road.

  • Jennifer
    July 7, 2012at10:59 pm

    Keep traveling as long as you can. Have fun but continue to not expect too much from the men you meet. Your dream life will come and be a combination of everything you want. The cow milk thing is true.

  • Dominique
    February 8, 2017at7:18 am

    I really enjoyed reading your post, I can across it while in search of homeless people to help, glad to see all is well with you. God Bless and Keep You.

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