All photos by the talented Luca Mercedes Stemer of the wedding photography company Hilo and Ginger.
“Eight years,” an acquaintance said to me a few nights ago. “That’s about the tipping point, right? When people are committed to staying in New York?”
Yeah, that’s about right. I moved to New York City in 2009, and I truly have a love affair with this place. I love the hustle, the energy, the fire, the constant forward motion. I love that people come here from all over the world to get things done. I love the innovation percolating here, the workshops and classes and meetups and conferences and coffee dates. I love making connections with creative, independent, smart people who are trying to change the world for the better.
I love the diversity. I love that people can wear whatever makes them happy and free. I love trying to guess where people are from, and being proven deliciously wrong: Israel, Iran, France, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Indonesia, China, Singapore, two or three countries even. I love how I’m never the craziest person within 100 feet, nor the wealthiest, nor poorest, the most beautiful, or most intelligent, or educated, or successful. There’s always something to reach for, in New York City. And I love that there’s always something further underground and more authentic, a secret, illegal yet uplifting, bizarre and beautiful, passed around by word of mouth.
I love our apartment. The sunrise turning our kitchen gold, and the pink sunset I watch from from my desk, the warm wood floors, the gentle click and hiss of the radiators. It’s cozy and beautiful. The neighborhood, South Williamsburg, feels like home. I love the fancy wine shop on the walk home from the subway, but also the bodega on the corner, the vegetarian taco restaurant/disco club a block away, the sustainable restaurant across from that, the coffee shop that turns into a cocktail bar, the Dominican tailor, the screeching above-ground M Train, the merengue playing loud on summer days.
I love our cat, who crawls into our laps and wraps us in a furry hug multiple times a day, or sits at a seat at the dining table when we’re eating or hanging out with friends.
I love having friends over to kick it after work, or inviting a dozen people back after a late-night party, to swap tales of work and love and woe. I love that no matter how weird or wonderful my story is, I will be one-upped with something even better in the next minute, bowled over with laughter, gasping with delight and shock. He did what? And then what happened next? I love running into people on the street, locking eyes with a celebrity, giving out hugs to old friends. Hey!! How are you? And hearing about what they’re working on and who they are dating. I love our friends the most, a sprawling group of fierce, funny, whip-smart, weird, honest, and humble people who fill me with gratitude and joy.
And yet, my husband and I are leaving all this behind for a year, to travel the world. And I’m not totally sure we’re going to come back.
Where We’re Going
But before I get to the why, let me tell you the where.
We chose our destinations according to a few factors. (This website was incredibly helpful in helping us choose!) First, we looked for cities that have a low cost of living, so that we can keep our work hours reasonable and allow time for excursions. Second, we looked for a thriving expat community, so that we know we have what we need to work remotely. And third, we looked for nightlife, so my husband, Illich, can DJ. (Here’s his music, in case you’re curious!)
Working off that, here is our very tentative itinerary. We’ve only booked our first three tickets so far. We want to leave everything open so we can take recommendations, and be flexible to take advantage of opportunities that come up. If you have suggestions, feel free to comment below! (UPDATED AUGUST 2018)
December 9, 2017: Mexico City
San Miguel de Allende
January 19, 2018: Panama City
Kalu Yala Eco Village
San Blas Islands
May 2018: Me in Copenhagen, him in Chile
June 2018: Lisbon
August 2018: Eastern Europe
Morocco (a vacation with my mother)
October 2018: Southeast Asia
Ho Chi Minh
Tonsai or Railay Beach
Bagan and Inlake
January 2019: Back to the U.S.?
Why We’re Leaving
If it’s not already clear, we love New York City so much. But there is something driving us to pull up our stakes and set off. Actually, multiple things:
We’re both already working remotely.
When Illich’s architectural office project wrapped up a few months ago, he already had offers waiting to work on freelance projects remotely. Suddenly, paying so much to just live in this city seemed like a poor choice. And with the rise of AirBnB, ride-sharing services, international coworking spaces, wifi-connected cafés, and powerful booking software right in your smartphone, being a digital nomad is becoming downright easy, from what we understand.
So, we’re renting out our apartment to a lovely friend of a friend who has promised to take good care of our cat, and heading to more wallet-friendly climes.
We need mental space.
I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.
Sometimes stress can be a great catalizer. But lately I’ve felt myself shutting down, folding into myself and building walls around me. I’m using my “no” way too often and with way too much glee. “NO, I can’t come to your event.” “NO, I don’t want to collaborate.” “NO, I’m not free for coffee.” “NO, I don’t want to connect on Facebook.” And when people are generous with me (because New Yorkers are actually incredibly generous, did you know that?) I actually become suspicious. How can they give away so much of their precious time and energy? I don’t want to feel that way. I want to feel abundant and generous.
And yet, despite feeling so busy and overbooked, I also feel like my life has slowed to a crawl and I’m not accomplishing anything of importance, just dribs and drabs of this and that. My days are filled with running from meetings to events to conferences, and I don’t ever have time to let things marinate. NYC doesn’t want you to sit still and think. NYC fills your life with commitments and chatter and things that may or may not actually provide value and purpose. I wanted to Marie Kondo my whole life, but I didn’t know how.
The solution came to me when I started putting up autoresponders for all my travel this year. I was having way too much fun telling people, “Sorry! I can’t. I’ll be in Stockholm/India/Burning Man/Hawaii.” That’s a bad sign, when you don’t even appreciate invitations to fun, fancy parties and panels anymore. Talk about cynicism. I don’t want to be cynical. I want to be filled with wonder and hope and excitement.
If I’m not in New York City anymore, then I don’t even have to say no. Everything is cleared off the calendar for me, so I might finally have a full three days of heads-down working. I might get into the flow of a project, without being interrupted. I might finish a book! (This applies to Illich as well, who would like to do less networking and more music production.) Plus, I’ve found that travel forces us to be with ourselves, to actually let our thoughts run. I want to be on a train or plane, staring out the window, or in a garden with no wifi or cell phone service, meditating.
I want to clear it all away and see what comes in to fill that space.
We’re bummed about the United States.
Is this the beginning of our empire’s fall? Who knows. I perhaps should stay and fight – that would be the noble thing. I have felt guilty every time I’ve unsubscribed from representative, community, or political action newsletter in preparation for this trip. But I just don’t love our country right now. In fact, it scares me a little.
So, I want to see what it’s like to live outside of its comforts for a year. We’ll spend at least a week, if not two, in each city. And I’ll be asking myself, “Could I live here?” Maybe our trip will show us just how exceptional the United States really is, and we will come back after a year. Or maybe, we’ll fall in love with a place across the world and want to put down tentative roots.
I have no idea or expectations, but I need to know we at least considered the possibility of being a citizen of another place.
I want to deepen my understanding of ethical fashion.
Because of my disenchantment with the U.S., I want to turn my focus to indigenous, handcrafted, traditional design and its merits.
I’ve immersed myself in the sustainable fashion scene in New York City, which is filled with startup founders, CEOs, merchandisers, professors, PR representatives, marketers, and other professionals who make decisions that ripple across the globe. But I’ve failed to meet the people on the other end of the supply chain: the people who make our clothes. I’ve been writing about them in the abstract for five years, going off pictures and descriptions handed to me by brands, while devoting all my energy to cultivating the Western values of fashion.
It’s time I show the artisans respect by going to them. I want to visit their community, talk to them, see the process of making, play with their kids, eat the food they eat, humanize them to myself and to you all, my readers, and truly understand what artisan fashion really means.
I already have connections to artisans in Oaxaca and Peru. I’m hoping to meet many more in Central and South America, South Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Illich, meanwhile, will be collecting samples and crate digging and DJing as we go as well, reconnecting with his Latin roots and expanding his musical repertoire.
I want to learn Spanish.
I grew up learning French, which is not terribly helpful anywhere but in France, Morocco, and in some former French colonies, sort of. In fact, it seems like such an elitist choice to me now (though I didn’t choose it, it’s what my private school offered), meant for rich school girls who want to know merely how to properly pronounce the names of French fashion houses and order fancy cuisine. Now, I’m married to a Venezuelan and can barely carry on a Whatsapp conversation with my mother-in-law. I’m always asking my husband to text the super, or to talk to our neighbors in the building. That needs to be rectified.
My husband, having become more than fluent in English after living in the U.S. for 23 years and getting his master’s degree, is too far along to teach me Spanish at this point. (For more on this, read this beautiful essay on learning your loved one’s native tongue.) I figure that four months traveling through Central and South America might finally do the trick. At the very least, it will push me out of my comfort zone, and help me rewire my brain a bit to spark some creativity.
Sustainable travel needs more promotion.
I’m not calling myself a sustainable travel writer, yet. The field of travel blogging is oversaturated (everybody wants to get free hotel stays, not surprisingly) and I am surely not an expert in it, the way I am in fashion. (By the way, the experts on sustainable travel, if you’re wondering, reside at the Impact Travel Alliance, formerly Travel + Social Good.)
But, the travel industry is exploding. It grew 3.1% in 2015, which was the 6th straight year of growth, and employs 1 out of 11 people in the world. Millennials are indeed choosing experiences over objects, which is great for the concept of sustainable fashion: buy less and buy better, take only pictures and leave only footprints, etc. But the flipside of this stampede toward Instagrammable experiences is “over tourism,” in which a delicate destination is damaged by too many uneducated and thoughtless visitors.
With the UN declaring 2017 the Year of Sustainable Travel, and eco travel frequently listed as a “trend,” I want to know: Does truly sustainable travel exist? What does sustainable travel really mean? How do I find it? And how do I reconcile the airplane problem? I certainly don’t know the answers to these questions right now. But I’m hoping this year of travel will get me closer to a real understanding. And at the same time, I hope to inspire some would-be travelers to make more thoughtful, sustainable, community-oriented decisions.
We’ll need your help!
This is not a last-minute thing, by the way. We’ve been planning this trip for months, now, refining our packing list, getting travel vaccinations, and researching technology. But actually researching the places we’re going? We’re a bit behind on that. We know that the best resource for finding an unforgettable travel experience is people that we know. So we would be so grateful for your help in this crazy experiment.
If you have recommendations for eco hotels and resorts, authentic experiences, people we should connect with, resources that could help us, or festivals and venues Illich should play, please comment below and share. We’re going to try to be very organized in our notes and give a proper shoutout to anyone who tips us off onto something special that’s worth sharing.
We know this is going to come with challenges. We know we’re going to get in fights, get sick, make mistakes, lose or waste money, and overall feel really stupid sometimes. But isn’t that what life is about, not letting yourself get too comfortable?
And no matter what, know we are so grateful to the people who have helped us along on our journey in NYC over the past 16 (him) and 8 (me) years. And while we don’t know what exactly is going to happen this year, we’re going to cultivate open hearts and minds, and try to be ready to receive whatever the universe sends our way with deep gratitude, and a little humor, too.