Arriving in Croatia was a breath of fresh air. The trip from KL to Split was a long one, over 20 hours in total, but everything went smoothly and after four months in Asia, I was looking forward to Europe. As we prepared for landing I looked out the window and saw the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, spotted with hundreds of islands. We landed in the early afternoon and the sun was shining. It was warm, but not humid with a light sea breeze. It felt great to be away from the oppressive heat of Malaysia.
Tori, Aaron and I were shuttled to our apartment, a cozy little home, just barely big enough for two couples. Despite the close quarters, we had a well-equipped kitchen and a large patio where we could sit in the sun and gaze off toward the beach. Our apartment was just across the street from the beach and a five-minute walk from the workspace. We couldn’t have asked for a better location. We quickly unpacked and then headed down the driveway to a restaurant patio where we ordered white wine and delicious seafood, quickly embracing the local philosophy of “pomalo.”
Having taken it easy in Malaysia, my greatest goal for the month was to start searching for work and quickly find some extra income. I could live fairly inexpensively in Split from day to day by cooking at home and relaxing on the beach, but had planned a few short trips to see more of the country and surrounding areas. I had depleted my savings in the prior months, so it was time to start thinking of how I’d pay the bills going forward. In the first few days Tori and I stocked up on groceries at the local grocery store, the green market and the fish market. We found beautiful, fresh produce and fish and ate very well cooking most meals at home. Tori, a chef, was creatively inspired by the quality ingredients and our coastal surroundings, so she cooked fantastic meals and I would sous chef and help with clean up as much as possible.
I spent my days wandering down to the beach or the workspace, making time for self reflection and improvement, maintaining the balance I’d perfected the previous month. Claire and I started having weekly accountability meetings to stay on track with our own personal goals and swap ideas for professional development, finance management and emotional wellbeing. I also found myself carving out time for one-on-one chats with some of my closest friends in the group. I’d spend hours in deep conversation with Kayla or Chelsea or Tori listening to each others’ challenges and giving advice, connecting on a deeper level than ever before. Despite my financial stress and worries, these new habits allowed me to stay optimistic and attack each day with hope and positivity.
The first week in Split, Maja, our experience manager, led a free walking tour of the old city. Our apartments were a bit outside the city center, about a 40 minute walk down the beach. A few of us set off on foot and met the group at the Diocletian’s Palace, the main fixture of the old city. The Palace was built in Roman times and served as the summer residence of the Diocletian, who ruled the area at the time. Built in the 4th century AD the main walls and many chambers of the Palace still stand and are strikingly beautiful in their antiquity. These walls house many other ancient structures, including churches and cathedrals along their cobblestone pedestrian streets. Having seen many beautiful old European city centers, I can truthfully say Split is one of the most breathtaking I’ve experienced. Our first week in Croatia was full of low key fun, including wine nights and beach picnics reconnecting with members of the group who hadn’t come to KL. That weekend we went ziplining over a beautiful canyon and on Labor Day, a group of us took the ferry to the island of Hvar and explored Hvar Town, another beautiful ancient village. We hiked up to a fortress at the highest point of the town and wandered around eating well and taking in the views. In the previous eight months of travel I had only connected with a handful of people in our group. In the first week of this month I deepened those friendships and began to expand others.
Almost two weeks after our arrival, Sam joined us. Our five weeks apart had finally ended and I could barely contain my excitement. I booked us a hotel room in the city center so I could have him to myself for the first 12 hours. That morning, before his arrival, I participated in my second Race Across the Nation. Race Across the Nation is a charity run/walk organized by Remote Year in which all groups compete to rack up as many miles for charity as they can in a one-hour period. I had completed the previous RAN on crutches, wearing through my crutch tips after 3 miles of crutching around a park in Santiago. This time I walked five miles along the coast, marveling at what a difference six months can make. After RAN I hurried home to prepare the house for Sam, cleaning and grocery shopping so he would feel at home upon arrival. I went to a hair appointment and then headed to the hotel, where he was already settling in. I opened the door to our room and was instantly engulfed in his arms, overwhelmed by feelings of love and excitement. As we basked in each others’ presence, neither of us wanted to let go. We relaxed in our room catching up for about an hour and then wandered out to the old city to find some dinner. We walked through the Diocletian’s Palace, stopping here and there to listen to a series of free concerts that were playing in each of the squares and parks. We made our way along the water to the restaurant Maja had taken us to after the walking tour. We enjoyed a nice dinner recounting our stories from the past month, gazing into each others’ eyes and exchanging the goofiest, happiest smiles. I couldn’t have asked for a better reunion.
My third week in Split was a bit more stressful than the two before. After five weeks of independence, living only for myself, it took some time to adjust to being with Sam again. We had officially moved in together for the first time and were now sharing a very small bedroom with little privacy. Although I loved the sweet moments and loving gestures and remarks, at times it felt like too much after so long without. At this point I was also becoming frustrated with my search for work. I’d been applying for jobs, prospecting and updating my resume and professional profiles non-stop and wasn’t getting any bites. Despite my relatively frugal lifestyle, my funds were running dry. The stress was getting to me and making me irritable. Sam, of course, bore the brunt of this anxiety. I did my best to communicate my feelings to him so he would understand it wasn’t about him. He was receptive, trying hard to be patient and understand. I begin to wonder truly for the first time how I’d pay the bills the coming month and whether or not I’d have to head back to Colorado sooner than later without completing my year abroad.
After two weeks back together, Sam got an opportunity to participate in a start-up incubator in Berlin. He left with 24 hours notice to pursue something that could be great for his professional growth. It was also perfect timing for me as I was beginning to feel a bit suffocated from spending so much time together. Our relationship has always worked best when we can go off and do our own thing for a few days every two weeks or so. His departure gave me the space I needed to process my feelings, focus on my job search and spend some much-needed time with the women I connect with most. The most disappointing part was the timing. We’d scheduled a trip to Dubrovnik with Tori and Aaron, and Sam would miss it entirely. Despite that I was excited to road trip and play the third wheel with two of my favorite people.
Saturday morning my roommates and I loaded up the rental car and headed south. Before long we found ourselves crossing the border into Bosnia. We were headed to Mostar, a picturesque town with a river running through it. It’s become a tourist destination solely because of a picturesque bridge and a handful of old building around it. The route to Mostar took us through small villages, on dirt roads and along an insanely beautiful crystal blue river with long mosses streaming through it. At one intersection we got out and picked a few wild figs from a tree. We arrived in Mostar and walked to the bridge, then walked over to another bridge to get a view of the historic bridge we’d just been on. There were old abandoned buildings everywhere with bullet holes in the walls, reminders of the war. On our way back to the car we stumbled upon a craft brewery. Craft beer isn’t common in the Balkans, but the owner of the brewery had lived in California for a time and brought the craft back to sleepy little Mostar. His beers were delicious! We patted ourselves on the back for our find, drank a beer or two and then got back on the road.
As we drove through Bosnia, we headed toward the coast. We climbed up mountains on one lane, cliff-side roads. We rounded the other side of the mountain and found ourselves in the heart of a mountain range where all we could see was peak after peak for miles on end. We could see the road winding on in the distance and were awe-struck by the ground we covered as we wound through the sea of mountains. From time to time we’d pass through a tiny village, but for the most part the road and passing cars were the only sign of civilization. Eventually, we crossed back into Croatia and shortly after, arrived in the tiny ancient town of Ston. If you aren’t familiar, you should look at Croatia on a map. The country is actually broken up along the coast and there’s no way to get from The North to the Southern part of the country without passing through Bosnia. The political reasoning for this is fascinating. Back in Roman times, the republic of Dubrovnik didn’t want to be ruled by the Venetians. In order to avoid this, they gave a portion of their territory to the Ottoman Empire as a sort of protection. They knew the Venetians wouldn’t dare cross through Ottoman territory to get to them. In return, they remained under independent rule.
We spotted Ston a ways before our arrival by the extensive wall and fortress up on the mountain behind the town. The wall was built in 1333 in order to keep away invaders and protect the republic. The town was a major producer of salt, one of the hottest commodities of the time. The other major industry in Ston is oysters. The oysters there are world renowned. We stopped shortly so Tori could tour the salt fields. We tried some oysters and relaxed in the old square for a short time before heading onward to Dubrovnik. Driving along the coast as the sun began to set, we arrived in Dubrovnik around 8pm and caught our first glimpse of the old city as we made our way to our Airbnb. We had a wonderful dinner at the pizza shop below our apartment then headed to bed exhausted from a day of laughs and the long journey. The next morning we woke early and explored the old city of Dubrovnik. We spent the days wandering the streets, pulling up scenes from Game of Thrones and taking pictures. This gorgeous UNESCO world heritage site was a highlight of the month. It was easily one of the most beautiful old cities I’ve ever visited. After a full day we returned to the car and made our way back to Split. We put on a singable soundtrack and drove along the coast winding down the cliffs over switchbacks. I drove the last hour, checking another box from my bucket list. I’d never driven outside the US.
Returning from Dubrovnik I was happy to have enjoyed such a great weekend, but still stressed financially. I had pursued opportunity after opportunity but just couldn’t seem to get an interview. I scheduled a session with my therapist hoping she could help talk me through some of the mental blocks and insecurities that I felt were holding me back in my job search. It was an uncomfortable session where my therapist told me a lot of things I already knew, things that had been swirling through my head for the past few weeks. She gave me a pep talk of sorts and my ego and insecurities pushed back hard, trying not to allow me to accept her compliments and encouragement. She gave me some ideas to help change my energy and better manifest the reality I was searching for. She brought me to tears and eventually I felt relief, because she gave me permission to stop beating myself up and relieve some of the pressure I’d been putting on myself week after week. Just the opportunity to speak openly with someone about how I was feeling and my fear of failure was a huge weight off my shoulders. To have her remind me of my strengths and my successes put me in a better headspace as I started a new week. Miraculously, that week, a few things fell into place. I received approval on two proposals I’d written in the past two months. I was contacted by a recruiter and set-up an interview for the following week. And I also received my first request to apply for a writing job through the Quill platform. While you may say this was coincidental, it really felt like the shift in my energy after my therapy session had opened me up to these opportunities. As I emitted a more positive energy, the universe rewarded me with the things I wanted and needed most. While the two new projects were not quite enough to put me back on my feet financially, they helped alleviate the immediate stress. They also restored my faith in myself and my ability to manifest what I need to survive and thrive.
I started the month in a state of pure positivity. While my financial instability worked to erode this state of mind over the course of the month, I fought hard to maintain the balance I’d found and, in the end, I think I did alright. A friend reached out a few days ago and said she’d been reading my blog. She was sorry I was facing so many challenges while so far away from home and my closest friends and family. My response to her was simply that I was facing these challenges because I’d left home. I chose to travel because I was seeking personal growth. I set out to push beyond my comfort zone. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I would face things I couldn’t anticipate or even imagine. Growth is painful and uncomfortable and it tests our limits, but what we endure will make us stronger and give us a better understanding of ourselves and a greater appreciation for what we have. Despite the stress, anxiety and depression I’ve fought through this year, I am living with more joy and hope and happiness than I ever have before. This lifestyle is worth fighting to keep, so I’ll keep doing what I can to figure it out so I can continue this journey around the world.