‘Twas the night before Expat Life

A tuk tuk driver races down the street in Chiang Mai

“You’re moving to Thailand?”

It’s been since February when I knew my future would take me to Thailand and I would become an expat. For nearly five months, my life has been in this stop-wait-move pattern.

Stop. Wait. Move. Stop. Wait. Move.

It gets tiresome after awhile. And severely emotionally draining.

Five months is a long time to know your future is right there, staring at you, banging down the door … and yet there is nothing to do but wait, wait, wait.

In March when I quit my job, I knew Thailand was coming down the pipeline. I just didn’t know when. Then, in April, everything was solidified. I had an offer at Save the Elephant Foundation. For those of you who are new readers, last autumn I spent a week at Elephant Nature Park and fell in love with the organization. In an instant, I knew I wanted my life to take me back to Thailand and back to the elephants.

Then, it was going to get my visa in April. Booking my flight for July 11.

It seemed like another lifetime until that flight.

Then, life became a whirlwind. A poorly-timed (yet awesome) trip to Sweden, followed by a move, followed by a drive across America, followed by two weeks to prepare for my new life.

Never did I pause. Never did I stop to think about … well … anything.

“Aren’t you scared?”

I have no idea how many people asked me that. Whenever I announced my plans, people would stop. They would stretch their eyes wide with a look of disbelief on their faces.

Scared? I am living my dream.

I never gave it much thought beyond knowing I was doing what I wanted to do. I was following my own set of rules.

My response would always be something to the extent of “No. I am not scared. I am excited. I am ready. I want to leave Las Vegas. I want to chase that dream I had back in September and actually use my talents to do something good. Something helpful. Something that will educate people about elephant tourism in Southeast Asia.”

“You’re so brave.”

Throughout all of my travels, that one statement has always echoed in my ears. From my friends. From people who don’t know me.

Brave?

It is really about being brave?

I’ve never thought of myself as brave. I try to steer clear of adventures. The bravest thing I have done is get naked in Sweden and that … well … it’s definitely not the same as jumping from a plane.

I tend to think bravery isn’t really what flows through my blood, but more of a passion. A desire to follow my heart. To live life the way I want. I am not settling for what the American culture tells me to have. Instead, I am going after what I believe in.

 The full moon rises in Maryland

And yet …

Tonight …

After the bags were packed, after my last dinner with my family … that bravery thing kept repeating in my mind.

I’m not brave. I’m not brave.

And then, I stop. I think. Is this being brave? Packing up a life, putting it in storage, saying “see you soon” to everyone I know and love and hopping on a long-haul flight to the opposite side of the world?

I wonder.

Tonight, my brother called me to say he loved me and to wish me luck. As we spoke, suddenly, I was overcome. Tears welled up in my eyes.

There is just so much emotion I haven’t even touched the past few months of my life. So much feeling I packed away because I just couldn’t … couldn’t think about anything but the future.

Be brave, D.

Even a few weeks ago, when I was learning more about my position, I emailed a friend of mine in a slight panic. Know what he told me? “Go. Be brave.”

It’s such a weighted word.

And yet, as I sit in my bed, on my last night living in America, it hits me.

Maybe I am?

I don’t know.

All I do know is I am giving it my all. I am giving myself the best chance I know to live my life with no regrets. To live for the now, and not for the happily ever after.

Am I scared?

I don’t think so.

Right now, there is so much adrenaline. So much happy. So much awe at the chance of possibility I don’t think I am scared.

Am I sad?

YES.

Without a doubt.

I forgot how nice it is to be with family when I lived in Las Vegas because I was so caught up in my life. To be home, to be with the people I love … to spend time with my parents … it makes it so hard to say goodbye.

The plane waits for passengers at Dulles

This is the end of this chapter of my life. From here on out, it is all new. Beautiful. Awesome.

Now, as I type this, I will be on a plane in less than six hours. Embarking on yet another journey.

Fear has never crossed my mind. I have full faith everything will work out exactly as it should.

And yet, I want to cry. To bawl my eyes out. To grab my parents, my brother, my niece, my friends, and make them all come on this journey with me.

But, that’s the thing about life: it’s mine.

I am moving to Thailand.

A year ago, if you asked me where I would be, I would have shrugged my shoulders.

Funny how life changes.

Funny how we adapt.

Here’s to the next chapter. I hope you enjoy the ride.

30 Life Crisis Americas Asia Blog Expat Life Maryland Nevada Thailand

Coming home

Pulling in to my neighborhood, I can feel my chest tighten.

The trees. When did they get so big? The homes. When did they get so old?

The woods in a Maryland backyard

“Welcome to my house,” I say to Erica as I turn the car off.

Home. We. Are. Home.

I open the bright red door, the same bright red door we’ve had since my childhood and am greeted by my parent’s two dogs.

Then, Mom comes out and wraps her arms around me.

I can feel myself loosen. The  excitement to come back to Maryland, the sad over the end of the road trip, the anticipation of my closeness to being an expat … they all flood through my veins.

I whisper in my mom’s ear that I love her. That it is good to be home.

Tired hits. We drove for more than eight hours today, from Louisville to Maryland with a stop for lunch in Frostburg to see my brother, an artist specializing in metal work.

Coming home, that tired just takes over and I quickly crawl into my bed as Erica gets herself situated in her room.

“Can you come and sit with me?” I ask my mom.

“Really? You’re going to sleep.”

But she knows this game well. Whenever I need to talk, to soak up my mom, I always ask her to come and crawl into bed with me. Even at 32, just having her next to me makes me feel at ease.

That’s when it hits me.

The magnitude of what I’ve just done.

Flashbacks roll through my mind:

I’m sitting at Putter’s across from my apartment in Las Vegas, drinking beer and shots with Dave on my last night in the city that has been my home for the better part of seven years.

I’m tucking my cats into their carrying cases, tears rolling down my face as they meow their protests. As I drive them to their new home, I sob. And, when I get to the house, it’s even worse.

I’m standing in my empty apartment, imaging where everything was. Seeing myself in my room. Playing fetch with the cats. Sipping wine on my balcony. Those memories seem so unfair as I stand there. The ghosts of the life I lived.

I lay with my mom and let tears roll down my face as I let the moments from the past month of my life sweep through my mind.

“It’s OK, D,” she says as I sit there, silently crying. “You’ve just done something major. And you are going to do something else major. You are allowed to feel like this. It isn’t easy.”

I know she’s right.

For now, I have two weeks to soak up my family and my friends in Maryland. And then, it’s on to Thailand.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Maryland

Rocky Mountains, sigh

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round are road tripping and exploring America through June 27. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

The rustic smell of the wooden stairs hits me as soon as we walk in to Pine Ridge Condos in Breckenridge, tucked into the vast expanse of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

It smells spicy, like winter.

The view from Pine Ridge Condos in Breckenridge

I don’t think anything of it when Erica, Shaun and I begin our ascent up the six flights to our condo, carrying two suitcases (because you never know if the warm clothes are needed), my bag of toiletries, my bag with the hair straightener, and my bag with my electronics.

I take the first flight with ease. And the second, too.

Then, it hits me.

I can’t breathe very well. 

My legs turns stiff. My heart races. What would normally take a quick minute to climb the flights of stairs lapses into a story in and of itself. Pauses. Moments where I feel my pulse in my ears. Lots and lots of curse words and mumblings about why the hell the condos are missing an elevator.

I’m not in THIS bad of shape.

High up and feeling ... awful

I like to think I am exempt from all things that suck, like jet lag.

I learned my lesson about jet lag back in September when I crashed and burned hard after arriving to Las Vegas from Thailand (and a disgusting 14-hour time difference).

And, now, this.

I get altitude sickness.

Granted, Breckenridge, where our condo is located, is more than 9,000 feet above sea level.  But, I don’t expect to feel … so entirely shitty.

The three of us clamor up the stairs, heaving by the time we traverse the entirety of the building.

Later, we attend an event a top Keystone, some 11,000 feet above sea level.

“Be careful and drinks a lot of water,” warns our friend. “If you don’t drink water and drink a lot of booze, you could end up in the hospital.”

Gondola rides

I quickly recount the start of our evening, which included two gondola rides with my old friend Anna, Dave (who was my road trip partner from Vegas to Colorado), Erica, Shaun and me. On the second, we were handed champagne as we hovered a good distance above the life on the slope below.

As soon as our friend mentions getting sick so high up, I look down at my glass of wine. At the plate of food I have barely touched.

I don’t want to be that girl.

Even later in the evening, when our group heads down to River Run to drink at Kickapoo, her words repeat in my head.

The entire weekend, my body feels the effects of being in such thin air.

I can’t form sentences correctly. I know what I want to say, but the words just don’t come out right.

I can’t walk great distances without feeling winded.

Stairs? Forget about it. Instead of walking through the tunnel to cross the street safely from the Keystone Lodge to the Conference Center, I opt for risking it and hauling it across Route 6 instead of having to climb the little beastly stairs.

I moan. I complain. I feel like someone is punching me repeatedly in the stomach.

On our last night, as Erica and I discuss the merits of leaving the Rockies a few hours ahead of schedule, the final decision is made because both of us are not only excited to start our cross-country road trip, but to get the hell out of the high altitude and back down to some place where we can feel more normal.

As we crawl into bed, down in Denver, at 2 a.m., it feels incredible to take a big breath of air into my lungs.

Yes, the Rocky Mountains are gorgeous. And yes, by Day Three of being at such a high altitude, I was able to feel more like normal, but in order to get the most out of the region, more than three days are definitely needed.

When the two of us loaded into the car Monday morning, I gave the mountains one last glimpse in my rear view mirror, then smiled.

It’s time to go to Omaha, where we can breathe (a lot) easier.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Colorado

On the open road …

It’s dark, but above me I can hear the pitter patter of little feet on the floor. Little voices delighting in the morning.

I roll over.

It’s too early. I’m too tired.

But, I’m awake. Awake. In Denver. Starting Day Four of my Life After Las Vegas.

Laying in bed at my aunt and uncle’s house in Colorado, it has yet to hit me the huge life change I have just endured. The decisions I have made. The hole in my heart.

None of these things have hit me yet, but I know I can feel something.

Movers empty the van

My last days in Vegas came and went with only a little fanfare. My going away party a few days before I left was calm, spent with some of the people in my life I love with all of my heart. The second-to-last night in town, I spent with my best friend and her family, watching a boxing match in the comfort of their home. And my last night in the life I have lived since 2010 was spent with Dave as we prepared for the start of our road trip exploring America and my life as an expat.

Over drinks at the dive bar across from my house, he and I sat together, talking travel.

Absent was the large amount of pain I was feeling about my decision to leave this world. But, the next morning, as the movers hauled my material possessions out of the condo I rent and into storage, as I dropped my cats at their new home, the tears fell freely. Dripping down my face, drying in the desert sun.

This is pain. This is change. This is life.

But then, as quickly as those tears seared their way down my cheeks, they disappeared.

At my last meal in Las Vegas, sitting at the bar at the local wing joint, Dave turned to me.

“This is the start of your new life,” he said.

How can tears fall when there is something so joyous beginning?

Even now, three full days into life post-Las Vegas, I have yet to really cry. The adventure we’ve been on the past few days has been spectacular.

We’ve wandered through Zion National Park, just outside of St. George, Utah.

The entrance to Zion National Park in Utah

During our visit to Zion, we stayed at the “budget” motel, Terrace Brooke Lodge. For a mere $83 (plus tax) a night, we got two beds, slow (and often times non-existent wifi) and quite possibly the worst free breakfast I’ve ever had (including the 60 plus hostels I have stayed at). But, it was fun!

Nighttime at Terrace Brooke Lodge

Aside from the lodging, Springdale, which touches the entrance to Zion, is filled with beautiful restaurants that let guests enjoy the surroundings with huge patios. We checked out Bit & Spur and Oscar’s. Both were great, albeit pricey.

Bit and Spur reflects the stunning Zion

The view from Oscar's

We’ve driven through desolate (and still beautiful) parts of the desert southwest in Utah, complete with obligatory stop in Salinas for Denny’s at 10 a.m with an old friend (it’s the last stop before hitting Colorado, some 100-plus miles beyond).

Denny's

We’ve even cruised through the Rockies.

The Colorado Rockies

Yes, there are times when my heart feels that tinge of pain. When I long to have my cats snuggle in the crook of my arm and fall asleep together. When I realize I don’t have a bed, a home, a life in America anymore.

Then, I remember this is the start of the next amazing adventure. That I am seeing America. That I am going to Thailand. That I am living my life according to my own set of rules.

And that, my friends, is an awesome thing.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Colorado Nevada Utah

Exploring America

So, what does one do after making the decision to leave America and become an expat?

Plan an epic, massive, awesome road trip.

That’s right.

My time as a Las Vegan is coming to a bittersweet end in a mere few days (the movers come Monday, June 11). Then, I’m off on a cross-country road trip adventure before I head to Thailand and Elephant Nature Park.

Who is coming along for the ride?

First, Dave, of What’s Dave Doing, will be joining me.

He arrives Sunday to Las Vegas and gets to deal with an emotional D for a few days. (Yes, I feel bad but he has promised alcohol to take the sting of leaving my cats and driving north on 15.)

Where are we going?

No trip through the gorgeous southwest is complete without a stop in Utah at one of the stunning national parks. For this journey, we are parking it for two nights in Zion.

I’ve lived in the area for a total of five-plus years, so Zion isn’t new to me. But, it is to Dave! While I’m not going to be doing any death defying Angel’s Landing adventures, I do plan on re-visiting this gorgeous enclave of nature … and chilling by our hotel’s pool for a bit.

Then, we’re off to Colorado and TBEX — with a stopover to chill out in Denver and possibly drink some Fat Tire.

After getting some travel blogger conference time in, Dave and I will part ways and the passenger seat will open up to one of my favorite travel bloggers in the universe, Erica from Over Yonderlust.

#WinosontheRoad

Like Dave, we’ve never actually met in person, but through e-mail and phone conversations, I know I already adore the girl.

After Colorado, we are heading to Omaha (someplace in middle America, you’re welcome), then Chicago to see one of my best travel girls, Katie, and to make sure Erica crosses off “eating a hot dog” in the Windy City from her bucket list.

From Chicago, we are going to bop on down to Louisville, Kentucky to spend a few days with a good friend of mine, don fascinators and check out the Churchill Downs and even embark on a little bourbon tour.

Then, we’re in the home stretch and headed to Maryland to drop off my car, go sailing with my dad and raise a glass in our nation’s capitol.

What does this mean for the site? Well, for the next few weeks, as I pack, move and road trip it, there will be some guest posts to entertain. Then, once I’m back in the 301, it will be back to a more normal routine again! And, likely, tales of our epic adventures!

Want to follow along on the journey? Be sure to check out #winosontheroad on Twitter, Instagram and our blogs.

Have you done a cross-country road trip through America? Any places we should stop along the way? Leave a comment below and share your story!

 

30 Life Crisis

The price of becoming an expat

 

Curled up in my lap, light blue eyes heavy with sleep, Jagger barely whispers to me, “will you bring my back a coconut to drink from?”

I fight tears as I twirl his blonde shaggy hair between two of my fingers.

“Absolutely,” I promise, even though I know there’s no way I am going to be able to leave Thailand with a coconut. I promise myself to figure it out before I come back to Las Vegas.

As his eyes close, sadness washes over me.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt like this since I’ve made my decision to become an expat.

I don’t want to leave him, or his eight-year-old brother, Presley, or his mother (and one of my closest friends in the world), Kyla. They are my Las Vegas family. And leaving them makes my heart hurt in that way impending loss just aches through your entire body.

When I come home, Jez greets me on the stairs, meowing a conversation to me. She neck-dives into the carpet, turning up her chest for me to scratch. Then, Keeley, the cat I’ve had since 2007, comes down, too. Meowing her approval at my return.

It’s gotten worse lately with the cats. It’s almost as if they sense I am leaving. That I am passing them along to a new home, and the bond we have created, the relationship we have, will cease in a few short weeks.

That tears my heart into shreds.

Even sitting on my couch, taking stock of my Las Vegas life, my gorgeous condo I rent, the paintings that hang on my walls … the life I have here … it makes my head swirl with doubt. With second thoughts.

Am I really ready to exchange this for a new life?

I knew when I returned to Las Vegas it wouldn’t be forever. This is my home, but it isn’t the place I want to live right now.

I know very well that my future does not lie in the southwest desert.

But, as I sit, nearing my last weeks in this town, in this life, I wonder to myself if I really know what it is I am doing.

Within a matter of weeks, my life has changed entirely. I have accepted a position with Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. I have quit my job and gone into business for myself. I have gotten a non-immigrant visa to live in Thailand for one year.

Life changes oh so quickly.

And now … I am leaving the life I have lived since November 2010. Since returning from my long-term travels. I knew this life was not permanent. But suddenly, it’s just so hard to say “goodbye.”

When I left to go on my travels in 2010, I didn’t feel like this. I knew I would be back. I knew it was temporary. This is, too. But, it feels far more permanent. Maybe it is because I am getting older. Maybe it is because I know in the next few years I want kids, and by leaving, by uprooting my life once again, it means I am still as far aways as ever from that goal.

Does it delay me from the inevitable growing up? Or, is this my grown-up life? Where nothing is permanent? Where I live my dreams but at a price of not ever having a truly stationary existence?

The other day at lunch, an editor asked me where I saw myself in five years. I looked at her, dumbfounded.

Five years? I can hardly imagine five months.

The truth is, I don’t know what I want for my future.

Nor do I know the extent of what I want to give up.

Leaving Las Vegas this time is bittersweet. I leave all of my loves behind. My best friends. My cats. My life. And, a few weeks after I leave Las Vegas, I leave my parents, my brother, my niece …

And I exchange it for something brand new. And entirely different. And beautifully wonderful.

30 Life Crisis Americas Nevada

The time I quit my job again

Clock Work Man

I have no intention of  quitting my job so soon after returning from Red Mountain Resort. Except, the words from the shaman and my reiki practitioner echo in my ears: remove what it is from your life that is causing you the unhappiness.

And, while I am no longer unhappy, I certainly do not enjoy walking into the back office four days a week and doing the same annoying tasks, dealing with managing people who can’t be managed …

It’s hard to avoid this simple fact staring me down: I am done with my job.

Six days after my first sign, getting the e-mail from Elephant Nature Park, I sit at lunch, idly picking at a piece of pizza, and remark to my friend how over my job I am, how I can’t wait to quit.

“Well, why don’t you?,” she asks, staring me dead on over lunch. Instantly, it takes me back to my conversation with Katie in Thailand and the excuses I was throwing out to defend myself for not being ready to leave the country.

I have yet to  hear back from Thailand, and, to my horror, in the days since the e-mail arrived to my Inbox, the park has been the subject of a raid. I don’t have an exit plan, other than going into business with myself and trying to make ends meet.

It’s not time to quit my job.

“You know, you’re right,” I say, surprising myself. “I’m going to resign. Right now.”

What. The. Hell.

But, once I’ve said it, it feels right.

Yes. I am going to go ahead and quit my job.

Leap.

So, I shoot a text to my boss, asking for a phone conference. He responds immediately, telling me “no,” he can’t talk with me, and then follows up with another text asking what I want to talk to him about.

He’s got to know. In a previous meeting, he had all but given me permission to quit. He went as far as to say, “D, I understand if this job doesn’t work out for you anymore since we can’t give you a raise or hire you full-time. I know you have to look out for you.”

And, that is exactly what I am doing.

He and I go back and forth for a few messages, as I carefully tip-toe around resigning via text. Finally, when he tells me he is driving and can’t talk (although most of our conversations take place in just that manner), I throw my hands in the air.

I’ve got no choice.

“I am done,” I say to my friend, furious at his brushing me off, as we walk back up to her office and I borrow a computer.

Then, quickly, with some instruction from my career counselor mom and life-long government employee father, I craft a short, sweet resignation letter that essentially says:

I quit. My last day is in 10 days. Thanks.

Within moments, my phone rings, and its my boss.

Now he can talk to me.

“I don’t understand why you don’t want to work here anymore,” he says, entirely unaware of the stress which used to render me awful.

“I don’t want to work for you anymore. I want to write, and I want to be happy, and I can’t do those things so long as I work with the company,” I explain.

He doesn’t get it. And, after saying it over and over, I decide to just give up. “It’s just not going to work for me anymore,” I offer.

Then, I hang up the phone.

Free.

Even if I hadn’t been ready to work for myself, suddenly, that is exactly what’s happening.

And the roller coaster begins to shoot down the first drop …

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Nevada