Short answer: I booked a one-way flight to Auckland in early November and figured the rest out afterwards.
The long answer is a bit more complicated. I met a girl from Ohio the other day who has the same 1-year Working Holiday Visa as me (for US citizens 31 and under), and she’d had her NZ year planned out for years. Definitely not the case for me. But I got here, nonetheless. 🙂
The long story, in a nutshell, goes as follows. Once upon a time I was in a long-term relationship. During that time, I went on my second solo trip, and first totally-solo-for-part-of-it trip to Peru. I booked a small group trip to hike Machu Picchu and spent a day before and after that exploring the massive, lovely city of Lima alone. That trip was a pivotal, life-changing experience. My introverted self got out of my comfort zone and made friends. With strangers. And had fun. And spoke terrible Spanish for days. And laughed, and learned, and (practically) cried in pain from the grueling hike. I learned how to rough it in the wilderness, go make-up-free, and for maybe the first time in my life, felt completely confident just the way I was, dirt and all. Coming back from that trip, into my “home” environment that was much less exciting, and not filled with laugher and learning, was a shift I recognized, but chose to ignore. Instead, I started planning for next year’s spring break trip, and my already planned summer Europe trip.
Fast forward to April. Relationship ends. I immediately know I will move to California (in the not-so-immediate future, but not far-off future, either). I know I will not return to my job the following school year. In July, I go to Europe as planned. I have an amazing time, but it’s still too soon for me to be at peace with some things. I need more time to feel fully alive again. Mid-trip, I have an epiphany–in Italy, of course.
In Rome, walking around on a lovely day, eating gelato (duh), I hear an accordion player playing “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. Cue instant flashbacks to my freshman year at NYU, playing the Cycles album on repeat, feeling both homesick and excited about my future goals. They’re buried so deep I can’t quite verbalize them, but at the same time, I know already, at 18, that my life path is gonna be pretty twisty-turn-y. It’ll be unique–my way. So in Rome, getting all sorts of nostalgic, I think back to my days of studying Italian obsessively in college, trying to work out a plan to study abroad in Italy–and ultimately deciding I couldn’t afford studying abroad AND moving to NY after college. I chose to move to NY. (Again. Stay with me, here. :))
In Rome, I sat down for lunch at a restaurant in Piazza Navona that had an aggressively persuasive older gentleman as a host outside, and began daydreaming about living and working in Italy at some point in my life, like I’d always wanted. I thought about all the dreams I had as a ridiculously naive younger person (who also had debilitating anxiety when it came to big changes). So many of those goals fell to the back of my mind for 5 years while I was in a relationship. Remembering all the plans that used to bring me joy, that I’d discarded, perhaps by fault of my own for latching my life onto someone who was content in a small town–it was enough to make me want to cry into my ravioli. At the end of my meal, the host began chatting to me about the US, saying he’d lived in Chicago. “I want to work in Italy… somehow,” I said. The words came out, timid, slowly, but as soon as I said them, I knew they were true.
Fast forward to August. My parents picked me up from the airport when I came in from Dublin and I faced my fear of revealing my plan to travel more. To push back my move to California. In trepidation, I hoped they wouldn’t mind babysitting my cat for a longer amount of time. Their response: “We get it. Do that stuff while you can. We want you to be happy.”
Throwing caution to the wind (a.k.a. my credit card balance), I went to Australia for two weeks to visit friends and do some bucket list-y things. I returned for a month, substitute teaching in the Milwaukee suburbs while bunking with my parents for free. At this point, I had a vague sense of my travel goals–which continued to evolve–and still continue to evolve. I wanted to go somewhere warm, and needed to be back by the holidays to play some Shakedown shows (and not missing out on family stuff, after living away from home for 6 years, was a bonus). I found a volunteer gig and headed to South Africa to live at an orphanage and school for a month. A few days before I left for S.A., though, I knew I wanted to do one more trip–a gigantic one–before I moved to California and had hassles like bills, and rent (and no cat care) to worry about. Initially, I thought about going to Italy, then Thailand, then New Zealand, making a quasi Round the World Trip that would extend through the US summer, at which point I would move to California.
When a “duh” moment reminded me it would be winter in Italy and summer in New Zealand in February, I quickly reversed the order of my plan. “What would I do in New Zealand?” was not a question I thought about when I booked my ticket. I reasoned, I’ll figure it out.
And luckily, I have. At least, enough parts to get me to where I am: living in Wellington with a family, working as an au pair, with loads of free time to work on music and writing/editing and blogging. The things I always dreamed of doing while I had a full-time job last year.
I’m finally living without set plans. Before arriving, I thought I needed more concrete ideas of how long I’d travel in each place. Now, I’ve realized, in this beautiful country with seemingly endless gorgeous sights to see, sometimes it’s okay to take life day by day, month by month. Because even the best laid plans change. I’ve changed plans before, because of other people, because of wanting to make my life fit with someone else’s. And so, I’ve been my own worst critic as I continually change my mind ever-so-slightly about the timing of my plans. But this time, the only person I’m accommodating for is myself. And when I can let go of the sometimes automatic guilt about living solely according to what I want and need, it feels so freeing. It feels like I’m finally living.