This is my fourth year as a travel blogger and my third year doing a end of year wrap up. It’s also the first year I’ve been traveling “full time, ” so I’m at a bit of a loss at how to format this. How do you chronicle your trips when your whole existence is foreign now?
You see, in March, I bought a one-way ticket to Australia. In May, I got on the plane and haven’t looked back.
I had a lot of fun in the three years between my university graduation and my move here, but I didn’t realize how stuck and unhappy I’d been at home in Texas until I realized just how happy being here made me feel.
2018 was the year of doing the hard thing. I learned how to let go of tense, temporary comfort in exchange for something better down the line, even if in the moment, letting go made me feel like I was literally going to die.
States visited: Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado
Countries visited: USA, Australia
- 2017 in Review: My Best and Worst Travel Moments
- 2016 in Review: the Good, the Bad, and the Terrible Jokes
Met up with Pals in Austin
I love Austin. It’s a blue island in an otherwise deep red state that lives by the mantra “keep Austin weird.” It’s only 2 1/2 hours from home, but I hardly ever visit. I only went twice in 2017 and that wasn’t enough, so I tried to start 2018 off on a better note.
When one of my great friends from university said she was coming to visit, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see her and play tourist for the day. The only downside: I was on day 28 of my Whole30 at the time and there was no way I was giving up that late in the game. So, I had to forfeit the cactus lemonade at Taco Deli and the kolaches at Hruska’s on the drive up. It was hard y’all. Real hard.
- Whole30 Travel Tips: How to Eat Whole30 on Vacation
- Tours of the Texas state Capitol: Who’s in my District?
Rode a Longhorn in Fort Worth
I do my best to put crazy Texan stereotypes to rest…but I did really ride a longhorn when my mom and I went to Fort Worth to visit the famous stockyards in early January. His name was Jake and I think about him all the time. Miss you, Jake.
Basically Went to Mexico
My mom works as a children’s pastor, so for spring break, we visited a town right on the border with Mexico to meet with a church there and see about sending a team to help out in the area with various projects. I had a lot of fun on this mini road trip that almost took us south of the border with my parents and my mom’s best friend.
We ate a LOT of good food, I got to pet a few dogs, and I learned that my dad always carries a metal spoon in his briefcase so he can eat ice cream in grocery store parking lots between sales calls. Talk about a life tip.
Went Peak Texas in Corpus Christi
I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing much of my family in the next few years, so before my big move to Australia I wanted to carve out some time to spend with my sister and brother in law, who live about three hours south of the rest of our family.
They live right on the beach, which unless you’re on South Padre Island isn’t much in Texas. However, they do live near enough to the famous Selenas memorial and the two-story Whataburger that I still managed to have a nice time. And yeah, yeah. Spending time with them before moving to the literal other side of the planet was nice too, I guess.
Celebrated Julia Roberts and my Uni Bestie in Mystic
I’ve always been one to make time for the people that I care about. So, I went up to Massachusetts to celebrate another friend from university’s birthday. I knew I wasn’t going to see her for a while since I had my move to Australia planned already, so the trip was very important to me.
I’m also one who very much enjoys eating pizza where Julia Roberts has once eaten pizza (#tbt to going to Naples, Italy and eating where she did in Eat, Pray, Love). So, after we spent the morning exploring the Mystic Aquarium in coastal Connecticut, we had to stop into Mystic Pizza for a slice…since Mystic Pizza is a cult masterpiece and also one of my favorite movies.
Tried Skiing for the First Time in Lake Placid
Do one thing every day that scares you. Okay sure. A great mantra to live by. But not when you’re sliding down a mountain on tiny strips of metal with absolutely no control over your likely impending death.
I’m not a sporty girl by any means. But, when I visited my friend from uni in Lake Placid (a resort town in Upstate New York that has hosted the winter olympics TWICE) I knew I HAD to try skiing. Especially because she works at the Whiteface ski resort.
So, I borrowed some snow pants, rented some gear, booked myself a lesson, and was good to go. Or so I thought.
My friend and I started off on the extreme bunny slope before her shift started for the day. We practiced turning and stopping. I was doing great. We even practiced falling and getting up (which we had also practiced the night before in her living room — I was SO serious about being good at this guys).
When she started her shift and I went off for my lesson, I headed off to the actual bunny slope with sky high confidence. I was doing better than the only other student in my group (a very kind woman from Belgium who kept grabbing my sleeve to steady herself), so I thought, “I’m basically an Olympian at this point.” But then I fell. It was our second time down the green circle run and I just lost control.
Somehow, my hip rotated 360 degrees, one ski got flung 20 feet across the run from me, I was upside down, and my hands were bleeding from the ice.
So I was done for the day. I went and sat in the lodge and tried to shake off the pit in my stomach, but even thinking about getting back on the lift made me feel like crying. But when she finished her shift, she convinced me to give it one more go.
“Why not?” she said.
I have to give her the biggest shout out for her patience with me because I was a WRECK. The run was only one step up from the bunny slope and she could’ve gotten down to the bottom in two minutes, but it took us over 30. The entire time, I was cursing, crying, and stopping before I even started. But I did it! She made sure of that. She even took some sick GoPro footage of me while she skied backwards down the mountain.
That’ll never see the light of day because my mom follows me and I don’t want anyone to ever see how uncool I looked in that moment. BUT, as a personal victory, I see getting down that mountain as one of the proudest moments of my life.
Had a Girl Gang Reunion at Mount Holyoke
This year got off to a really rough start for my best friend Brittney. On New Years Day, my sister and I were driving from Corpus Christi to Houston. It was raining and I was napping on and off, seriously neglecting the navigation and DJ-in-chief duties that come with riding shotgun. I got a text from Brittney that said she was having some stomach pain and was in the emergency room.
Ah, that sucks, I thought. What a way to start the year! But, I didn’t think much about it. The next day, Britt let us know that there was a mass and she was getting a surgery scheduled. I immediately made up my mind that it was a cyst and that she’d be back on the plane to London (where she was getting her masters degree) in no time. I mean, I had just seen her in October. We traveled in London and Zurich together. She was fine! How could anything be different now?
I mentioned this to my friend Lauren a few days later, still treating the situation like a minor annoyance, and immediately got the “Can I call you?” text. I knew what that meant. My heart hit my heels. I wanted to puke.
It’s very unsettling to be so far away when someone who you love so dearly is experiencing such a life changing event. I was helpless. I was also in serious denial. But Brittney wasn’t.
If you ever are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances or are wondering why you’ve been dealt a certain hand in life, I want to encourage you to watch this interview Brittney did. Sometimes, you have to be okay knowing your situation sucks. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you aren’t able to be strong today, because you need your strength for tomorrow. And sometimes, you have to allow yourself to cry into your bread bowl at Panera because you’re scared about what’s going to happen and it’s not even happening to you.
My core group of uni friends reuniting under such dire circumstances was overwhelming. But it gave us all a very important reminder: never, ever take the people you love for granted. If you truly care about someone, you have to make an effort to keep in touch because if you let time slip away, you never know when you might run out of it.
But enough of the sad stuff. Brittney’s been given a clean bill of health and will soon be back in London. I’m making the trip from Australia to see her in May and am counting down the days!
Took #MammaKamm on a Great Southwest Road Trip
I get my love of travel from my mom. She works so hard and doesn’t get nearly enough vacation time from a job that requires a lot of emotional energy. So it was the least I could do to to take her to see something she’s only dreamed of since she was a little girl: the Grand Canyon.
I know most people don’t set out to visit Las Vegas with their sober mother, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Vegas is like that cool girl at school that your parents tell you to stay away from she’s a bad influence, but then when you meet her, she’s actually really nice. The only downside: I paid $32 for a drink at the Sugar Factory. And it didn’t even have any alcohol in it.
The Grand Canyon looks fake in person. Also, I saw like four people almost fall to their deaths trying to get Instagram photos. Not very street smart of them.
Mom and I had a DAM good time here. We spent FIVE HOURS exploring the Hoover Dam National Monument today. I was in awe of the modern engineering marvel and its Art Deco interior.
As mom took this photo of me, there was a family to my left also trying to get a picture. One of the little boys (five or six years old?) was not having a good day. “I’M SO BORED! THIS IS STUPID!” he screeched, nearly throwing himself onto the ground. He was so adamant that Hoover Dam was the worst and I nearly spent all day there.
Antelope Canyon + Horseshoe Bend
If I told you I went to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend for anything other than getting absolutely banging Instagram shots, I would be lying to you. And I achieved this goal, thank you very much. Mostly because Debbie went peak mom and wouldn’t let me anywhere near the edge of the canyon. Always looking out for me.
I only wanted to go to Monument Valley so I could yell “Run Forrest, Run” at as many people as I could. I’m proud to report that I got to yell it at AT LEAST eight people and only almost got hit by a car while trying to take a photo like Tom Hanks once.
I visited the Four Corners when I was 14, but our hard drive crashed a few years later, so unfortunately the world will never get to see the photos of short-haired, buck-toothed baby Emily experiencing it for the first time. Oh well! Mom and I stopped in again on our way from Monument Valley to my grandparents’ house in southern Colorado. Not much has changed in the past 10 years. It’s still kitschy. But still oh so fun.
Moved to Australia
This is a big one and it takes up most of my year. I don’t even know how to quantify the stupidest, scariest, bravest, most amazing thing I’ve ever done. So maybe, for now, I’ll just hit a few of the highlights:
Fell in Love in Sydney
There’s only been a few cities that have knocked the breath out of me. London. Istanbul. And now Sydney…but not at first. I think it’s because when I first got here, I sat alone at Opera Bar and, while watching the sunset behind the Harbour Bridge, the permanency of my decision hit me in the face.
“Oh right…you just moved to the other side of the world alone with no actual plans. Cool cool. Great choice, Em.”
But then, day by day, the easier it got. The more familiar everything became. But even so, as I settled into my new reality, coming through Circular Quay on the train and catching sight of the Harbour or the Opera House still hyped me up and made me feel just like Mary Kate and Ashley, no matter how many times I passed through.
Sydney is still a hard place to pin down.
In the CBD, it’s easy to get shoulder checked by a suit rushing off to an investment meeting while yelling about someone named Cheryl into his cellphone. But then, a mere stones throw away in Bondi, you’ll find that time seems to not exist and there is an endless supply of sunshine. It’s like New York and Los Angeles had a baby, but it has a weird accent and is much more expensive.
- Short Trips from Sydney that Won’t Break the Bank
- Baby It’s Cold Outside: Things To Do in Sydney in Winter
- Australia Gets Cold! Here’s What To Wear in Sydney during the Winter
Met My Family for the First Time in Brisbane
My mom has two half brothers who we were recently able to connect with on social media. We got to meet the youngest and his family last Christmas, but my older uncle lives with his family in Brisbane, so we weren’t sure when we would be able to connect. When I decided to move to Australia, one of my very first priorities was to connect with my family. I was so excited to meet them in person after a lifetime of hearing about them and years of Facebook updates.
Getting to spend two weeks together in August was one of the best parts of my whole time in this country. My aunt made tacos on my first night with them because she knew that I missed Mexican food. My little cousins never ceased to amaze me with their intelligence and cuteness. And my uncle introduced me to his “pet” kookaburra named Fluffy who basically lives in their backyard. I can’t wait to visit again.
Celebrated my Birthday on Fraser Island
My birthday is my favorite holiday. I call it Emilypalooza and every year, my family goes all out to make sure that my day is really special. Some staples of the celebrations throughout the years have been mani/pedis, ice cream, movies, and dinner at Outback Steakhouse…coupled with however many other activities I can cram into 24 hours.
I turned 25 this year and as a summer baby, it was my first time celebrating not only away from my family, but away from anyone that I knew. Even during university, I was always home for my birthday. As I wrapped up my time in Brisbane, it worked out that I would spend my birthday on Fraser Island. I didn’t even really know if I wanted to go to Fraser, but it’s what all the other backpackers did, so I booked in.
The 25th Emilypalooza was the best one yet. If I turn 26 or 27 back in the States just watching a movie and eating ice cream, I will be sorely disappointed. Nothing can top dancing in under the Milky Way, fighting off dingos, swimming in champagne pools, and going out with the kindest bunch of people, one of whom (shout out to Caitlin!) even went out of her way to buy me a birthday cake once we got back to the mainland.
Met My Soulmates in Whitsundays
Never have I ever met a group of such perfect people. You’re never truly aware of when you’re living through a life-changing moment, but while lying in the sunshine on a sailboat in the South Coral Sea, I kind of had a hunch.
I was nervous about boarding Avatar. I shouldn’t have been, since I knew a few of the passengers from my Fraser Trip, but when you’re traveling solo, the transition into suddenly being social again always gives you jitters. Or it always gives me jitters, at least…especially when I knew I was going to be stuck on a small boat with strangers for the next 72 hours.
But, just like summer camp, after the first hour, none of us were strangers anymore. And we never will be again. It was such little things that tipped me off to how things were going to be. The fact that two of the girls were celebrating their birthdays as we boarded and one gave me the second half of her sandwich when I said it looked tasty…even though we’d only known each other for 20 minutes.
That us girls were literally braiding each other’s hair after knowing each other for less than two hours (snorkeling, sun, wind, and no shower on board will do a number on you…I was ready to shave my head tbh). Or that no one was stingy with their alcohol and on the second night, your goon was my goon and mine was yours.
It was just the right amount of party and playfulness, of friendly and feisty, and a perfect reminder that random people can easily become very important to you if you just take a moment to get to know them….even if they suck at math.
Earned My Second Year Visa in Cairns
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I wanted to stay in Australia a second year. When I say I’m in love with it here, I’m telling the truth. But I hesitate to say that I want to stay forever. I’ve been asked that many times, “What are you doing after your second year?” And the truth is, at this point, it’s likely that I’ll be on to my next adventure. Immigration isn’t something you should start the process of unless you’re completely sure. And I’m not.
I felt so stuck that I was suffocating in Texas. There was nothing for me there in this season of my life. And, I think, that if I stay in one place too long here, that it’ll start to feel the same way.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In order to stay in Australia for a second year, most working holiday makers have to work on a farm for 88 days. But Americans are lucky. We, along with a kind of random group of countries like Spain, Slovakia, China, etc., can work in tourism and hospitality instead. But only in certain areas.
And that I did. I was worried that I wasn’t going to have any friends in Cairns. After meeting such amazing people in Fraser and Whitsundays, I felt a little bit overwhelmed by the prospect of having to meet new people all over again. But, I was blessed to work at a Tour Booking Centre where the staff treated me like family from day one. The perks of the job are unbelievable. I’ve never worked in tourism before, so getting “FOC” agent trips was a new and exciting adventure.
I’ll be sad to leave.
But, it’s almost 2019 and time for a new adventure.
My 2018 in review was full of great adventures! Here’s what is in store for 2019:
A road trip down the East Coast of Australia to see what I missed on the way up.
Two weeks in Melbourne for the Comedy Festival, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and whatever else I can squeeze in.
- April / May
A trip to Europe to visit friends from university, my brother in law’s family, and friends I’ve made while traveling.
- July / August
Back to Australia to start round two of my working holiday adventure.