BB Monthly Recap: January and February 2017

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written a monthly recap. For posterity’s sake, I’ve decided to make this a January and February recap. It just doesn’t feel right to leave out the first month of the new year.

Things have been a little quiet on the blog as of late, but I’m vowing to change that in March. I’m challenging myself to post every Wednesday. Hold me to it!

Destinations Visited

  • St. Joseph, Michigan
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Cuenca, Spain
  • Cercedilla, Spain
In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
Cuenca was my first trip of 2017!

Highlights

Celebrating my birthday in Michigan. As noted in my December recap, I spent the holidays at my parents’ house in Michigan. I was still there for my birthday, which is January 3. I turned 25 years old! For the blog, I considered doing one of those “25 things I’ve learned in 25 years” posts, but to be honest, those are kind of silly. Like, way silly. I’m 25, not 75, so I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about anything. I digress. It was so nice to ring in a quarter century (ew, gross) surrounded with people I love.

My weekend getaway to Cuenca. Finally finally finally, I recapped a trip! In January, I went to Cuenca for the weekend. You can read about my time there here.

Teaching English online. I’m declaring 2017 the year of the side hustle. I’m trying to make a buck, folks! In preparation for next year (more on that later) and to supplement lots of travel this year (more on that later), I’ve picked up a second job. In addition to teaching as an auxiliar de conversación, I’m also teaching English online to Chinese kids. I applied to VIPKID in December and started giving classes earlier this month. So far, so good! I plan on writing more about my experience with the company sometime soon.

My parents coming to Madrid. Recently, I read The Last Girls by Lee Smith. Overall, it was meh. But, one line stuck with me. One of the characters is talking about her children and says, “If our children actually knew how much we love them, they’d simply be immobilized by the force of it.” Since moving to Madrid, I’ve often thought about my parents’ love for me. It can’t be easy to have your child living across an ocean. If they ever let on to how hard it is and asked me to move home, I wouldn’t fault them. I might even do it. However, they never have. Their support for my life abroad has been unconditional. Their visit in mid-February, during which much wine was drunk and many laughs were had, left me with an incredibly grateful heart.

In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
It was chilly, but I still enjoyed walking around Cuenca all weekend!

Challenges

Weather. I hate to be one of those people that’s like “omg the weather totally affects my mood,” but omg the weather totally affects my mood. The weather in Madrid was kind of shitty for a few weeks, and it was making me kind of shitty. I’ve become so accustomed to the sunshine here that I thought I was going to lose my mind after just a couple cloudy/rainy weeks. Thankfully, the sun is back. Actually, it seems like it might already be spring in Madrid.

Next year. Would you absolutely hate me if I said I love a challenge? Well, I do. In my book, “problems” like what to do and where to go next year are good ones to have. I’ve started making decisions and preparations regarding life after Spain, and while it’s challenging, it’s also extremely exciting. I couldn’t be more excited for the future!

In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
One of several travel quotes I’ve been reflecting on as I make decisions for the future. Image Credit: Joseph Jayanth

What I Read, Watched and Heard

Read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It was my book club’s January pick, and when I told my dad I had to read it, he bought me a copy for Christmas. I hadn’t heard anything about it, but apparently, it was one of the best books of 2016. After reading it, I can see why. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. Emotional. Powerful. If you like good books, read this one.

Watched: Vikings (every damn episode).  I hardcore binged on this show, and I’m not ashamed in the least. The first three seasons are on Netflix, and the fourth season finished airing in February. For all my fellow Game of Thrones fans getting the between season shakes, you should check out Vikings. 

Heard: “East Coast Hiding” by Dounia. I’ve had this song on repeat since January. Cool vibes. I’m obsessed. Listen for yourself here.

In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
In January, my book club met to discuss Homegoing.

Coming Up in March 2017

March looks to be a busy month. This weekend, I have friends coming to visit, and they’ll be here until next Saturday. I can’t wait to show them around Madrid! On March 18, I’m flying to Tenerife for four days–also with friends. I’ve wanted to visit the Canary Islands for quite awhile. I’m excited for some tropical weather and to see Spain’s highest peak: Mt. Teide. If you’ve been to Tenerife, please pass along your recommendations!

 

What have you got coming up in March? Any travel plans?

From Michigan to Mongolia: Joining the Peace Corps

So, I know I’ve already talked a bit about my for travel resolutions for 2017, but another thing I hope to do more of in the new year is connecting with other travelers. I want to bring more voices to the Backpacking Brunette through guest posts!

It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce this blog’s first ever guest poster: Lindsey. Three years ago (holy shit has it really been that long?!), I met Lindsey when we were both working at our university’s student newspaper.

Recently, Lindsey accepted a position as a Peace Corps volunteer. How inspiring is that?! After studying abroad in the Netherlands, she decided to pursue a life of travel and adventure. I’m so excited to have her as today’s guest writer. For more from Lindsey, check out her blog.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.

Image Credit: Lindsey Rose (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

A year ago today, I was packing two huge suitcases for a five-month study abroad trip to the Netherlands, which eventually turned into a seven-month trip around Europe.

I stuffed my brand new, matching suitcases to the very top with a bunch of crap I would eventually leave behind, and I spent my last week in the United States buying a bunch of “travel necessities” T.J. Maxx and Pinterest convinced me I needed. To say I overpacked would be an understatement.

But, I was a naive American who, at the time, did not realize that traveling was not about the brand new sweaters and luggage tags I had purchased. It was about the people I was about to meet and the new experiences I was about to embark on.

I still remember arriving at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport on January 13. I was terrified and excited. I  regretted not buying a Dutch dictionary.

As I said before, I left for the Netherlands for a “study abroad” trip, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t study much at all. Instead, I spent my time doing a workaway, traveling to nearby countries and enjoying my time in my new city with all of my new friends.

It was the best five months of my life.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.
Lindsey embracing the local fashions! Image Credit: Lindsey Rose

What would you do if you could not fail?

Sometime in April, about halfway through my seven-month trip, I attended a TED Talk type of event in Amsterdam called “How to travel the world without any money”. I didn’t think much of the even leading up to it, but after the presenter, Tomislav Perko, began sharing his story of how he travels the world—with you guessed it: almost no money!—I began to realize I was meant to be there.

One of the questions Tomislav asked the audience during his presentation was: “What would you do if you could not fail?”

I realized I had never been asked that before. Or perhaps I had and just never taken in seriously. Regardless, even days after the event, the question still stuck with me. I began to think about what I could do if I knew I could not fail and the options seemed endless.

I could drop out of school and do odd jobs to afford traveling for the rest of my life. I could go to school to become a pilot so I could see the world from above. I could sell all of my belongings and travel until I go completely broke.

And then I realized this: all of my hypothetical options involved traveling.

Instead of doing any of those things, I skipped my plane ride home at te end of my semester abroad. I purchased a one-way ticket to Malta for $25.

It was the most liberating thing I had ever done, and I spent the following seven weeks living on my friend’s couch on the most beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. I spent my summer days sipping Cisk on a rocky beach and my summer nights eating traditional Italian pizza with my friends.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.
Lindsey (far right) with friends in Malta. Image Credit: Lindsey Rose

Joining the Peace Corps

Of course, paradise had to come to an end. I needed to return to Michigan to finish out my degree. At the beginning of August, I flew home and began planning my future.

Even while I was catching up with family and friends, Tomislav’s question kept popping up in my mind.

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

I asked myself this question a million time and, eventually, had my answer: the Peace Corps.

I knew the Peace Corps is very competitive and not just an excuse to travel the world. It’s the real deal.

You commit to serving 27 months in a country you’ve possibly never heard of, and along the way, you are faced with situations that will challenge you. You will meet people who will change you. You will fully immerse yourself in a completely different culture from your own.

The more research I did the more I knew it was the perfect option for me.

I have about one year’s worth of experience tutoring international students at my university in the English language, so I looked into every single English teaching position available on the Peace Corps website. I read all of the position descriptions in great detail, and I found an open Secondary Education English teaching position in Mongolia.

After the first paragraph, I knew I was going there. I felt like it was meant to be.  It was the same feeling I had when I was sitting in the audience in Amsterdam listening to Tomislav Perko share his story.

I knew very little about Mongolia: the country, the culture or the people. The only real information I had ever learned about Mongolia was what I read on the Peace Corps website.

After finding the opening, I began researching information on Mongolia. In early September, I applied for the position.

After the most awkward Skype interview of my life and several weeks of waiting, I found out I got the job! Reading the congratulatory email from the Peace Corps brought tears of joys to my eyes. For the rest of my life, I’ll look back on that day and smile.

Fast forward to now, I am currently wondering how I will fit 27 months of stuff into two suitcases.

Feeling both terrified and excited, I recently purchased a Mongolian dictionary on Amazon.

Lindsey is a recent graduate from Ferris State University and a future Peace Corps Volunteer. Lindsey is the blogger behind lettersfromlindseyrose.com, where she writes about her experiences traveling on a tight budget, working in a hostel, and all of the high’s and low’s that go along with solo travel. When Lindsey isn’t writing for her blog, she is binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix or trying new recipes off of Pinterest.

If you have a story to share and would like to contribute a guest post to Backpacking Brunette, leave a comment below or contact me via email at ealexiswittman (at) gmail.com. 

BB Monthly Recap: December 2016

I started writing this recap post while at my parents’ house in Michigan, but I didn’t end up finishing it until I got back to Madrid. Blogging took a backseat to family time, and I don’t feel bad about that at all.

This is my monthly recap for December 2017, including destinations, highlights and challenges.

Image Credit: Rachel Kramer (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

I’d originally planned on staying in Europe for the holiday break and using the time off to do some traveling. But Christmas Day, surrounded by family at our traditional gathering, I knew I’d made the right decision. It just felt right.

Destinations Visited

  • Madrid, Spain
  • Granada, Spain
  • St. Joseph, Michigan 
This is my monthly recap for December 2017, including destinations, highlights and challenges.
One of my favorite Spain memories to date: watching the sunset over the Alhambra.

Highlights

Visiting Granada. Earlier this month, I made the most of a puente (long weekend) and went to Granada with two girlfriends. A five-hour bus ride from Madrid, Granada is located in Spain’s Andalusia region. It was my third time visiting Granada. Southern Spain keeps calling me back! I plan on detailing the entire four-day trip in a post sometime in January (same goes for November’s Logroño trip). Until then, here’s my favorite moment of the trip: hiking up into Sacramonte and watching the sunset over the Alhambra.

Christmas in Madrid. Even though I wasn’t in Madrid on actual Christmas Day, I was still able to enjoy the holiday season in Spain. Taking part in the Christmas celebrations at my schools was so much fun! Like the students, the staff was also in the holiday spirit. I had a blast at the staff Christmas dinner for my new school, which was held at La Castela (Calle Doctoro Castelo, 22). The teachers at my school know how to have good time, and I didn’t get home until almost 4 a.m.!

Going home.  Would it be too cheesy to say Dorothy was right? There really is no place like home. It felt so good to wake up in my bed at my parents’ house on Christmas morning (even though I woke up two hours before everyone else due to jet lag). All the family time is just what I needed.

 

This is my monthly recap for December 2017, including destinations, highlights and challenges.
Here’s a not-so-great photo of me and my co-teacher Alicia. Can you tell we’re relieved to have finally sung “I’m the Happiest Christmas Tree” for the last time?!

Challenges

Time management. To say December was a busy month would be an understatement. It was positively nonstop, and even though I accomplished a lot, there was still so much I just wasn’t able to fit in. I’ve been so focused on writing lately that I’ve kind of put running on the backburner. In the new year, I need to make time to run. It’s important for both my physical and mental health. I understand it’s not possible to do it all, but I want to work on managing my time better, so I can fit in as much as I possibly can.

This is my monthly recap for December 2017, including destinations, highlights and challenges.
With so much going on in December, I kept putting off reading my book club’s pick. I finished reading Bad Feminist just a few hours before the meeting!

What I Read, Watched and Heard

Read: Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. This was my book club’s second pick, and it definitely provided some interesting discussion material. I found the essay “Peculiar Benefits” particularly thought provoking. Gay wrote about different kinds of privilege, how almost everyone has some degree of privilege and why we have trouble acknowledging our privilege.

At some point, you have to surrender to the kinds of privilege you hold. Nearly everyone, particularly in the developed world, has something someone else doesn’t, something someone else yearns for.

Roxanne Gay, “Peculiar Benefits”

Watched: Bates Motel (Season Four). I don’t know why more people don’t watch Bates Motel. Amazing writing. Amazing acting. I’m seriously always recommending it to people, and everyone who’s followed up on my recommendation is just as obsessed as me. Sooooo, go binge on it now! The show is a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and depicts the lives of Norman and Norma Bates in a modern setting. I think the “Master of Suspense” would be pleased.

Heard: Madonna’s Billboard Women in Music speech. I could listen to this speech every day for the rest of my life. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. Ferocious. Funny. Fearless. Her honesty is inspiring. Please, if you haven’t heard this speech, go listen.

Coming Up in January 2017

January marks the beginning of my final seven months in Spain. I have so much I want to see and do before leaving Europe. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make the most of my time in Madrid. Sometimes in my quest to visit as many new places as possible I forget to explore the amazing city I’ve been fortunate enough to call home for the past year and a half. Madrid, tell me your secrets. Here’s to more adventures in 2017!

What have you got coming up in January? Any travel plans?