As I look back over 2019, I feel a rush of emotions. The highest highs and lowest lows met us this year, across 4 continents, over multiple months.

Some of the travel was for our nonprofit that works with communities in Latin America. Other travel was for family, friends, or simply getting away to experience something new. I should make it clear that we are not travelers by profession. So beyond the flights and hotels and all the navigating is our very full-time work and life at “home,” here in Connecticut, where we’ve lived since August 2018.

Whether abroad or at home, this year was filled with milestones, events, and experiences. The challenge isn’t to remember the specific details of each milestone or trip (there were too many), but to narrate them in a way that moves us forward. Whether we come away with lessons, reflections, or more questions, we can allow these experiences to shape us in meaningful ways.

The Round Tower in Copenhagen, Denmark

Places we visited in 2019

  • Chile: woke up in the middle of our family Patagonia trip on January 1st and spent a handful of days there. Personally, I think the Torres del Paine national park is the best!
  • Peru: traveled with a professor and classmates at Yale and learned so much about the country. Got to work with the chef of Central too!
  • Ecuador (x2): for our mental health startup, I visited our local partners twice and are moving forward with some exciting plans for 2020!
  • Taiwan: a tough trip to bury my grandfather, whose name was the first word I spoke as a baby. This was the 3rd funeral in my extended family since 2014, and hopefully the last for a while.
  • Paris: spent a long weekend there (like true East Coasters) to celebrate our 5-year anniversary! Never enough time in Paris.
  • California: Aaron defended his dissertation in February and I returned to LA in May for a board meeting, saw our closest friends, and swung by San Jose to be with my parents.
  • Mexico: Our big startup work trip of the year, we spent all of July in Mexico— primarily in Mexico City but also in San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca for the Guelaguetza, a fabulous dance festival.
  • Canada: Drove with my mom around Banff, Yoho, and Jasper national parks, was blown away by the magical scenery.
  • Copenhagen and Stockholm: a much-needed getaway for just Aaron and me, to remember how relaxing non-work travel can be and to bask in Scandinavian aesthetics and food.
  • New York City: This hardly counts as travel since it’s less than 2 hours away, but we spent a couple nights in Manhattan seeing close friends and eating fantastic food not available in Connecticut.
  • Japan: I flew 26+ hours to Osaka and Kyoto to explore with one of my best friends in business school. We were surprised with the most vibrant fall foliage and I can’t stop showing people those photos.
  • Virginia & New Hampshire: Closed out the year with some family time with my in-laws in Virginia, then to a snowy getaway in New Hampshire to ring in 2020.
Dancers at La Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca, Mexico

Reflections from the road (and from home)

1) The challenges of frequent travel

Here’s the thing. I love to travel, but I really cannot do it full time or even that often. A major international trip every 1-2 months and I start to feel a little rudderless, as though there is a noise in my head that won’t turn off. I really admire people who travel all the time— even short distances on consulting assignments. But I think travel becomes more and more exhausting when you are crossing borders, adjusting to local languages and cultures, and in many cases recognizing the harrowing histories and injustices that have taken place.

Meaningful travel requires deep engagement, and deep engagement both enriches you and costs you something. Appreciating local art is to also appreciate the communities that make that art. Look a little closer, and the stories emerge. No society is perfect, and many have darkness lurking beneath the surface. We cannot ignore that when we travel, and feast only on the delights that please us.

Travel can also lend an anonymity that exposes people’s less admirable character. It’s easier to push and shove on a train and at the airport because you’re tired and pretty sure you won’t see any of these people again. Call me fragile, but exposure to airport after airport and station after station can simply become a blurred experience of chaos that has me running for the hills (maybe literally). Many times I leave airports after a meaningful trip only to arrive home wondering why I ever left my couch. It usually takes a bit of time to recuperate, but I’ve rarely had that time. We live in the rhythm of land-Sunday-night-and-go-to-work-Monday-morning. Possibly half-asleep on 14-hour jet lag. In other words, we maximize our travel in a way that reaches levels of self-exploitation we would claim never to allow an employer to impose upon us.

And yet… travel is so wonderful. Meaningful travel humbles me over and over, challenges me to examine my assumptions, delights me with beautiful scenes and amazing people. I’m a storyteller at heart, and travel gives me so many vignettes to draw from to bring a conversation to life, or help a friend think through a challenge closer to home.

The stunning Okochi Sanso Villa in Kyoto, Japan
2) Rhythms of rest and reflection are sacred.

Whether you’re on the road or riding life’s waves at home, developing rituals is absolutely key. I kept a journal for the better part of this year, and I wrote in it obsessively toward the end. Almost every morning since October, I’ve sat at our table with a cup of coffee, a scented candle, and my journal. Most of my entries are prayers and reflections, and this practice has grounded me. When traveling, I used to be a “minimalist” packer and would leave my journal at home. Not anymore. I take it with me everywhere.

One thing I’m still trying to figure out is how to truly rest well. It’s difficult when we constantly have things to do — business school is a full-time gig, and so is running a nonprofit. Aaron has a full-time job and several other jobs while completing his PhD, so suffice it to say we can always be working. And while neither of us are neat freaks, we like our home to be clean; we cook our own meals; and we try to stay on top of all of our finances and other “adult” responsibilities. All of these activities take time and do not feel like rest.

It’s all too easy to equate rest with surfing the internet’s odd corners or watching a few episodes of a TV show. There’s nothing wrong with that— but it often feels more like a distraction to me than a real way of releasing our minds from work into freedom. We love heading outside for a walk, and have spent some time in the local Connecticut forests. Do you have regular restful practices that help you feel refreshed?

The mountains surrounding Machu Picchu in Peru
3) Becoming friends with uncertainty.

Now three quarters of my way through business school and also turning 30 this year, I have come to realize that the sense of knowledge and certainty of my early 20s are fading away. I say a lot less “I know” and a lot more “I imagine” and “I wonder.” Perhaps alongside the current generation of thinkers— many of whom bear resemblance to the muckrakers of a century ago— we find ourselves questioning more than we assert. There’s an uneasiness with which we view the status quo; perhaps we don’t know the answers and we don’t have solutions, but we want to rewrite the future.

Uncertainty is not the same thing as skepticism, however. It is simply a humble way to respond to the complexities of our world; to remember to listen readily rather than compete to speak first. This is a hard thing when we are also trying to take up more space, represent our perspectives, and challenge all the norms that are experienced as oppression. I suppose uncertainty is useful when you know you have more power in the room, whether you deserve to or not. It’s a reminder that the use of force is the most impoverished way to persuade.

Commemorating our love in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

Our 2020 adventures ahead

It’s a good thing I’m becoming friends with uncertainty because there is much of it awaiting us this year. A few things we know for (almost) sure: after we each graduate and Aaron completes his doctoral internship, we will be moving back across the country from New Haven, Connecticut to the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m so excited to finally go “home”— though I haven’t lived in the Bay since 2009— and to be back in California where many of our good friends live.

Our nonprofit is working with 3 partners now in 3 countries: Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. The months to come will be filled with communications with each of them, working to support them while our ability to travel to see them is still fairly limited given our other full-time commitments. I’m excited to become a full-time Executive Director, which means I’ll be able to spend much more time with the partners we serve. 2020 will represent my stepping into that role, a dream job of sorts, and a very demanding one.

I also don’t want to ignore that 2020 is a big year for both of us educationally— I’ll graduate from Yale with my MBA in May, and Aaron will graduate from Fuller with a PhD in Clinical Psychology in June. I often gleefully shout that this is the year we will be forever done with school, and Aaron often jokes that he’s going back for another degree. It’s always been our plan to finish graduate school before we turn 30 so we can move into our vocations. My program was rather short, but I am really excited for Aaron to finally be done with school (and one more year to be licensed and to be able to legally refer to him as a psychologist in the US)!

New Years Eve in the snowy woods of New Hampshire, US
Where should we travel this year?

All right, I have one definite trip planned for 2020 and it is coming up next week! A college friend and I are heading to Mexico (surprise!). She’s never been to Mexico City so I get to show her all my favorite places before we fly to Mérida, a town in the Yucatán known for cenotes, delicious cuisine, and local art. I’ve been to the area but this is a new destination for me. Check back for a blog post on that when we get back!

Aaron and I don’t know when our next vacation trip will be— but we have a few ideas in mind for 2020!

  • Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • London and the Faroe Islands
  • Egypt, Israel, and Jordan

What do you think?? Where would you go?

My 2020 dreams for all of us

I probably will have more than one word that represents the year ahead, but right now my dream is that we all choose to engage meaningfully. When the world crushes our spirits, when people disappoint us, when we fall short of our own expectations, the temptation is to disengage or give up.

Let’s not do that. Let’s choose to remain engaged in the systems around us, the issues we care about, the people in front of us.

What are your biggest hopes, plans, destinations, or goals for 2020?

PS – read other bloggers’ year-in-review posts through Helene In Between‘s link-up!