I saw a tweet that said ‘2018 was like JANUARYYYYYYYY februarymarchapriljunejulydecember’ and I felt that.
2018 has been, strangely, both an incredibly long and a fleetingly short year. It went by in a blur but at the same time included many important, momentous changes in my life.
This was the first year I spent mostly outside of Finland. I moved out in February to do an internship in Poland, and didn’t return until October to check out the autumn colours, get absolutely hammered with my uni mates and eat my mum’s cooking for less than two weeks.
This year I did a lot and accomplished very little. Wait, no, don’t try to comfort me. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I don’t feel regret or sadness over things that could have happened differently. I didn’t hit my social media or follower goals, but I did make more friends over the internet. I dated a lot, but I didn’t fall in love. I looked for work, but as the year is ending, my career still seems unstable.
I feel a little bit lost and out of place, a little uncertain about the future, but there is one feeling that overpowers all – I am happy.
This year I:
- Moved twice to two different foreign countries: Poland in February, and Spain and October
- Travelled to 17 different countries (Finland excluded), out of which 11 were new ones
- Graduated with my Master’s Degree
- Solo hiked over 700 kilometres
- And continued to push the limits of my comfort zone, becoming more daring and adventurous at the same time as becoming wiser and realising who I am and what kind of people I should surround myself with.
It has been a monumental, irrelevant, life-changing, dull, exciting year – this is all I got up to:
January marked my last month of living in Finland. I started the year at a house party at a good friend’s home, and celebrated New Year’s with her and two friends from my Brazilian student exchange.
I also got to travel for the first time in almost five months – the longest time I’d continuously spent in Finland in years. I re-visited Amsterdam to see a friend (and still hated the city, even though I liked the Microbes museum and the arcade games we played), and I also visited Belgium for two days to see another friend.
January was a whirlwind. I was desperately trying to advance in my Masters thesis – after having to change the topic completely – while spending every spare moment arranging my move to Poland. I sold all my furniture and packed the rest of my possessions in four cardboard boxes. I had dreamed of permanently moving abroad since I was 13, and when it was finally happening, I was both excited and scared.
I moved to Krakow, Poland, on February 1 for an internship. I made fast friends with the three other interns at the company, learned how to say ‘I don’t speak Polish’ in Polish, and continued to freak out over my thesis.
Travel wise I stayed local, exploring Krakow (read: going on Tinder dates and downing lots of 1 euro pints) and the nearby cities of Katowice and Wroclaw.
March was a CRAZY month for me. It seemed like I never stopped. On top of work (that, frankly, was easy), I continued to have minor and less-minor panic attacks over my thesis. If I wanted to graduate this year, I needed to hand it in at the beginning of May, and I still had nothing but scattered quotes and copy-pasted blog texts to show for my progress.
I travelled almost every weekend. I spent one in Zakopane, the Tatras mountains of Southern Poland, where I was the only non-Spanish speaking person. One weekend I explored Prague (that in comparison to Poland seemed ridiculously expensive to me. What do you mean 5 euros for a full meal??), another one I spent in Budapest. I ended the month by travelling to Lviv, Ukraine, despite the protests of my mother who thought that a conflict over 1,000 kilometres away could still somehow get to me. On the 8-hour bus journey to Lviv, I wrote out the whole analysis part of my thesis, and as we rolled to the bus station, for the first time I had a feeling that I might graduate after all.
Funny thing – as much as I always claim to not have a life plan, I still kinda do. This is what I wrote in a blog post in March:
The best thing would be to find a part-time job somewhere cheap and warm (or a full-time one since after the summer, I’m probably gonna be hella broke… again) to earn me some sweet sweet cash, and then spend the rest of the time focusing on building a life as a freelance translator and a writer. And I’d really like to give the blog some more love, too. South and Central America are reaaaally drawing me in… But I’m not sure I’m done with Europe yet. There are so many cool places to live here. Spain? Croatia? Greece? Who knows. It’s gotta be warm this time, though. (Says she, applying for an internship in Brussels.)
(Here I am, in Spain, a freelance translator and doubling the amount of weekly posts I put out on the blog. It’s still hella cold, tho.)
I spent most of April in Krakow. The weather got good quickly – my workmates and I got in the habit of taking our lunch out, hanging at the park bench in front of our office and tanning our pale faces. I was welcoming a stream of visitors, some from Finland, one from Germany.
I didn’t travel much, or go out much. I deviced a workout playlist almost exclusively made up of 2000’s emo songs and went jogging by the Vistula river. Somehow it had taken me months to take in that I really intended to go hiking in the summer, but by April I was telling everyone about it.
Mostly I kept my head low and spent night refusing invites out, staring at a blank screen and willing my thesis to life.
1st of May, I sat at a window seat in a cafe in Bratislava, and I hit sent on my Masters thesis.
I had arrived in the city late the night before by hitchhiking and stayed at a dodgy, dingy hostel by the train station. It seemed to set the tone for the rest of my visit in Slovakia, another new country added to the list, marked by pretty good highs and odd lows. But that first morning when I pressed send, I didn’t only submit my thesis, I also waved goodbye to months of anxiety, panic and stress.
I spent most of May in Krakow in sundresses and shorts, exploring the last of the city. I went to see the new Avengers film and got shocked with the rest of the world. I also visited Zalipie, the fairytale painted village close to Krakow, and the Tatras again with my best friend.
But most importantly, I was preparing. By the time the end of the month rolled in, I was done with Krakow and ready to embark on a new, Balkan adventure. On the last day of May, I hitchhiked to Brno, Czech Republic, where I couchsurfed with a great couple for one night.
June! The real start of this year’s travels!
After Brno, I skipped over to Vienna where I couchsurfed with a local girl for three days. We got drunk at an amusement park and went to see a surprisingly great local band in an underground bar.
From Vienna, I hitchhiked down to Slovenia. I almost got stuck at a gas station but finally managed to get a ride to a better spot from a lovely Chinese-Austrian couple, where a chatty Slovenian picked me up. (For the record: Slovenia was by far the easiest country to hitchhike in – I never waited longer than 10 minutes.) As I crossed the border, Paradise by George Ezra started playing on the radio.
But this time it’s real
It’s something that I feel andIf it feels like paradise running through your bloody veins
You know it’s love heading your way
After two and half weeks on the mountains, I finished, and consequently celebrated by partying for the next few weeks. I got a travel buddy and then we separated ways. Croatia came in second in the World Cup. I found out I didn’t get the translation internship I’d applied for in Brussels, and once again my plans were completely open. I remained underwhelmed by the Plitvice park and hitchhiked into Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I had ended up spending seven weeks in Croatia, and this was just a beginning of another three in Bosnia. Its history fascinated me, and I fell in love with the cultural, historical mess that is Sarajevo.
In August, I started on the next stretch of Via Dinarica. The two weeks I spent hiking in Bosnia were my favourite section of the trail but also the hardest, both physically and mentally. As my friends were getting ready for another semester at uni, I crossed the border between Bosnia and Montenegro and set up my tent on the edge of a forest on my first night in the country.
The week I spent hiking in Montenegro was (excluding the climb to Bobotov Kuk, the second highest peak in Montenegro) pretty easy. On a 0 day in Zabljak, I felt homesick and booked a flight to Finland for mid-October. I camped out a lot and enjoyed the solitude of the trail before heading down to the coast to meet up with a friend who was working there as a tour guide. She, then, tried to convince me to become one, too.
The last full month of my trip went by in a whirlwind, mostly because I realised that oh shit, I’m running out of time to see everything I wanted to. I spent a few crazy days down in Kotor before hitchhiking into Albania, where I got on another six-day trail and walked into Kosovo.
(This was also the place where I found out I had graduated. I had fought all summer to get my last credits approved by the uni since the international coordinator chose to ignore my multiple emails, but on my second day in Kosovo, in an empty little roadside restaurant connected to some guy’s weak internet hotspot, I received a message on Whatsapp from my mum. It was a picture of my thesis certificate.)
After a fantastic week in Kosovo, I sped up back to Albania. Albanian drivers warned me against hitchhiking in Kosovo, and Kosovan drivers warned me against hitchhiking in Albania, and that’s when I realised just how much fear and prejudice controls the lives of people who never travel.
In September, I was worn out. I was sick of making new friends just to see them leave in a day, and I was sick of packing and unpacking, and updating social media, and just travelling. By the time I left Albania – overwhelmed and in love with the country – I felt relief that I only had one country and a few weeks left before I’d be back home.
Not for long, though: the month brought some good news in its wake. I found out I’d be moving to Spain in November!
I celebrated my birthday (the 3rd) in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, at a club with a funny Macedonian girl, a shy German guy, and an older English man whose drinks kept getting him swept off his feet. I abandoned hope of doing another long hike since it was starting to get cold; it was bittersweet to realise that the hiking season was over, so I just did a day hike in Bitola and clocked in 700 kilometres.
From Macedonia, I hitchhiked to Thessaloniki where I spent two days shopping and eating cake. I was tired and done. I realised that as much as I love travel, I can’t go on continuously for months, but that I need some stability in between too. And as much as I’d scattered pieces of my heart all over the Balkans, I almost cried when I saw Flying Tiger. Call me materialistic, but I missed all the little comforts of the modern world.
I got on the plane for the first time in nine months and flew to Finland for twelve days – just in time to catch the last of the autumn colours – and then caught a flight to Seville, where I spent two days photographing (how I’d missed my tele lens!) and mentally preparing for my upcoming hostel job. (I even ate a zebra burger. It was delicious.)
On the last week of October, I finally made my way to Granada, my new home for the next six months. And it did instantly feel like home.
I swear November lasted about a week.
Confined by my two-nights-off-a-week schedule (and the fact that I was broke AF), I didn’t travel. I spent one weekend on the sunny coast meeting up with a uni friend, but I have actually been quite happy to stay within the confines of Granada, exploring all the great tapas bars and slowly forging friendships. And working. Things finally started to look up for my translation career, and I updated the blog more diligently than all year.
So – what’s in store for 2019?
I don’t think I have ever started a new year with less idea of what I’m doing or where I’ll be. And that’s okay.
My contract with the hostel ends at the end of April, after which I still want to spend some more time in Spain. I’m just going to come out and say it straight so anyone on the internet can hold me accountable – I want to hike the Camino de Santiago. And I want to start in Granada, marking up to 1,200 kilometres on foot. I haven’t decided on an exact route yet but I do know that I want to explore some of the less popular trails – partly because I like the idea of off-the-beaten path destinations, partly because I hate people.
I guess I’ll travel during the spring, too, but since I only have three days/two nights off per week, going for a longer break is hard. But I do want to visit Cordoba and Cadiz and other cities in Andalucia, and I want to go to Gibraltar before a possible no-deal Brexit messes the whole ish up.
After I leave Spain, I have no clue what to do. (Any ideas are welcome, as well as pictures of kittens, physical kittens, and puppies to keep company to the kittens.) I want to live in Berlin for a while to improve my German and meet cool people. Or perhaps I should go back to South America? Middle East and Central Asia have been in my sights for a long time too, especially since I’ve been following my friend Alysa’s journey through the weirdness of Western China and mountains of Uzbekistan.
So, who knows. All I know is that I know nothing.
It feels wonderful.