What’s Next?

Since starting this blog, I’ve covered the thought process that led to me quitting my “real life” and taking off for the other side of the world without a plan. I’ve discussed the benefits and drawbacks of a life in transit. But I’ve never really talked about how this whole crazy idea of long-term travel entered my head in the first place. There were quite a few factors, actually; multiple voices of reason and whimsy and fate that all converged over time to get me here. But there was also one specific moment of inception that I remember quite well.

I was working for the French tourism board in New York, and one day my boss asked me to compile a list of blogs written by Anglophone expats living in France. It turned out to be the greatest assignment ever: reading accounts of exciting lives abroad from my desk, 29 floors above NYC — it was like professionally endorsed 9-5 escapism.

My first stab at solo-travel, inspired in part by Nomadic Matt: two weeks on my own in France, where I already knew both the language and the culture. Baby steps.

Of course, Google searches aren’t always all that precise, and plenty of non-French expat blogs were popping up on my screen before long. The only one that stuck with me, though, was written by a guy called Nomadic Matt. He’d quit his own office job years ago and had been traveling ever since. The idea of doing something similar had literally never crossed my mind, but suddenly I was wondering if I’d ever have the courage to do the same, daydreaming of where I’d go if I were ever to follow suit.

A couple of years have passed since then, and this blog is the proof that I eventually took a hint from the Nomadic Matt handbook and set off a-wanderin’.

Matt’s also still on the road, and has more or less made global galavanting into a career, with loyal readers and even partner companies. That means, among other things, that he’s often able to run amazing contests — like the one that will send one lucky blogger, maybe even yours truly, on a free 12-day trip to Budapest, Prague, and Vienna. And all he needs is a little convincing in a public forum. Like this one.

So, at the risk of sounding like a kid trying to get the attention of a dodgeball team captain, here goes:  “Hey, Matt, over here! Pick me! Pick me!”

Picking me is “cool”! (It also means endless terrible puns to look forward to in posts I’ll make from Europe!)

OK. I’ll probably have to do a little better than that. So here, in no particular order, are a few reasons  why I think Matt should help me out once again with a little more inspiration. A little more support for living the life less practical, if you will. And hopefully a plane ticket.

  • I’ve spent the last eight months traveling New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. And I’ve loved every minute of it — but it’s time to move on. The thing is, I’m not sure where to — and I like it that way. The idea that I don’t have to over-plan everything, that a surprise-factor can often mean the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a life-changing trip, is something I’ve dedicated the last year to learning to embrace. And even though I’ve already got my return ticket to the U.S. from New Zealand booked, I just can’t let my travels end then and there. So maybe I’m just waiting for a sign, maybe I’m opening the door for serendipity — but winning this trip would be like life throwing me just the kind of curveball I need right now.

  • The contest rules stipulate that the winner can start traveling any time after October 15, 2012. October 2012 marks the one-year anniversary of when I finally left my old life in New York — my career, my friends, my apartment — behind to see what else the world had in store for me. What better way to celebrate my whim’s first birthday than to keep it going in three European countries I’ve never visited?
  • Speaking of birthdays: did I mention that October’s also when I turn 30? That number would be a whole lot less daunting if my birthday cake were a Sachertorte. I’d represent all those who got off to a bit later start living the life they want to live — and I’d keep proving wrong those who think they’re already too entrenched in the “real world” to get moving.
  • Anyone can write about hunting down the best wiener schnitzel in Vienna or sampling meaty dumplings in Prague. But my travel specialty is weeding through sausage carts and piles of deep-fried insects to find authentic, delicious, unfamiliar vegetarian food that would make even carnivores salivate. I’d literally bring something different to the table (did I mention the bad puns yet? Oh, good).

Vegetarian pho

  • I want to get back outside my comfort zone. My first-ever solo trip was to France, a country I adore and a place where I’ve always felt at home. Next up was New Zealand, a country I’d never visited but where everyone looked and sounded — essentially — a lot like me. But my best solo travel experiences were unquestionably in Southeast Asia, where I knew next to nothing about the language, culture, or anything else before arriving. It’s great to feel comfortable and at home on the road, but it’s often far better to speak in pantomime, wonder what the hell it actually is you’ve just ordered, and relish the fact that you’re going to get lost because you can’t read the road signs.

  • Not that I’m totally clueless, language-wise: I already know how to say “cheers” in Czech and German. And that knowledge is just going to waste right now.

Prost! (See?)

  • I almost went to Prague and Budapest, once. My roommate and I started planning the trip in earnest, buying the guidebooks, getting excited. And then we decided to use the money to move to a better apartment instead. It was the practical decision at the time — but this is the year I make up for all those practical decisions I made in the past.

  • I can be pretty shameless when absolutely necessary. To the point where I’ll rope in my friends, family, and anyone who happens to have stopped by my blog to help my cause: why do you guys think I should win?  (Update: My friends, family, and other readers are apparently also a pretty shameless and dedicated bunch. I expected them to post comments about my taste for Pilsner Urquell or my Bohemian roots; instead they wrote essays. Even more than I deserve to win this trip, they all deserve to be taken along for the ride).

13 thoughts on “What’s Next?

  1. why do you deserve to win the amazing trip nomadic matt is offering? quite simply, because i love you. yes, yes, i know that will sound hokey to the average non-jess knower, but let me explain myself. the first time i really met you was when we went to Majorca our junior year in college. You were good friends with my good friends, but we hadn’t really met. You were coming from France and the rest of us London. I remember being at the airport in Spain and everyone was worried that you wouldn’t make it because you were the worst person with directions and could get upset if things went wrong. I was then regaled with stories from college years past of you getting lost in the middle of Boston.
    well, you thankfully made it to Majorca and and the story of mel and jess began.
    since then, you have become one of my best friends, but also have transformed from that person I met nine (NINE!) years ago. you moved to hollister, with only the cows as potential friends, and survived. you (finally) moved to NYC, and even though you lost your bag and fell down steps within your first 20 minutes of being in the city, you survived. you taught me the main roads of brooklyn so that i could convey them to a cabbie at 4 in the morning, so that we could both survive. you made the hard decision to move out of NYC, and survived moving back home as a 29 year old. and finally, you took the risk of moving halfway around the world to have an amazing adventure and live life, and you’ve not only survived, you have thrived.
    and that’s why you deserve it. your adventure down under has given you the confidence and wherewithal to go from surviving situations to thriving in them. You’re still the same jess, with your witty retorts and puns (yes, the puns will continue), but you’re finally realizing how amazing you truly are, and you’re finally starting to see yourself as your friends have seen you for the past decade, and THAT’S why you deserve this trip.

  2. Why should you win the trip? A.) Is there another vegetarian penguin stalker out there I don’t know about? B.) Have you read this blog!!!!!! You are an amazing writer with unique ideas of what is fun and/ or funny. Send Nomadic Matt “Flip Flops at the Ballet”. It’s my favorite post and surely deserves some sort of award.

  3. Dear Nomadic Matt,

    Jess is most definitely the person for your prize. I mean just read this post and what she’s liable to do, see the Ballet post Tori recommends, and read about her time in S.E. Asia. This woman may be a major cause for the fall of communism in Asia, she’s set back culture in Sydney at least 2 weeks, and I just started a rumor the NZ Ministry for Sanity and Common Sense wants her deported or nominated for a Nobel(this part of the rumor is unclear). Please pick her and inflict her on another innocent unsuspecting country.


  4. Jess enters a new country with her eyes, ears, nose, and heart wide-open. From the moment her feet hit the ground and her ankles threaten to twist from finding the one pothole or by chance crumbling curb, she delights in all her excursions, finding the humanity (and sometimes lack thereof!) in new peoples met and new cultures visited. And then she takes it one step further by processing her adventures into words and images that she shares with all who wish to log on to her blog. Blasting out the highs. Explaining the lows. Exposing those frequent adventures that I (THE INTREPID TRAVELER’S OFTEN CITED MOTHER) know all too well are well outside her comfort zone and probably insurance coverage but she does them anyway. Sometimes boldly from the start. Sometimes not so boldly. Sometimes wisely. Sometimes stupidly (what were you thinking bicycling on the main highway in Lankawi (LANGKAWI BY BICYCLE (FOR DUMMIES)/June 6 blog entry)???? I could go on with numerous “what were you thinking motherly” entries about Jess, but they would all end with “damn I’m proud of you, Jess–continue on!!!”

  5. i could go on and on about all the reasons why jess should win this contest. but here are a handful:

    – i can personally attest to the fact that she and her former roommate almost went on this same trip about 4 years ago – because i’m that roommate! like jess said, we instead opted for the practical route of using our savings, which was upgrading apartments and moving from queens to manhattan. now’s her second chance. pick her!
    – jess has a good heart and she genuinely cares about other people. jess and i both did a lot of volunteering, and we had a blast doing it. whether it’s taking a group of kids from a homeless shelter paddle boating in the poconos, or soliciting donations from wealthy wall-street types at a benefit for an inner city arts non-profit, jess was there and she was in it to win it.
    – jess is the best writer i know. jess and i met freshman year of college and both of us were journalism majors. i’ve been reading her work since 2000, and it’s only gotten better. i genuinely look forward to reading her travel blog – not merely because i want to know what my friend is up to these days, but also because i find her posts to be often hysterical, sometimes sentimental, and always entertaining.
    – i’ve lived with jess on and off for the past 10 years or so, and she’s the best friend ever. there’s nothing i can’t talk to her about, and i know she’s here for me through thick and thin. you name it, we’ve been through it. she’s my maid of honor for my wedding next summer, and i can’t wait for her to stand up next to me when i get married!

  6. Dear Nomadic Matt,

    All the prior comments surely do a great job of enumerating the reasons why Jess should win your contest, so at the risk of sounding overly redundant, let me just say that you really could not pick anyone better for this great opportunity. Jess is one of my dearest, best friends, and she fulfills a very specific and very critical role in my life; mainly, she’s the girl who jumps into pools with me at midnight in the middle of an autumn thunderstorm. She’s the girl who will break out into a moonwalk the minute she hears the first few beats of “Billie Jean,” no matter where or how drunk she is, just to give her friends a thrill and a laugh. She’s the girl who meets me in San Francisco on my lengthy layover from Shanghai to Miami and, due to her non-existent sense of direction, takes me to the one place I don’t want to go to – Chinatown (she made up for it for taking me to a Starbucks, though). I could go on and on. Bottom line is, she is loyal, incredibly funny and self deprecating, always ready to laugh at whatever situation she’s in (and obviously, herself). And well, she is the only person on Earth whose grammar I never – ever – have to correct.

    In 2000, my floormates (Jess included) and I were all newly minted freshmen at Boston University, all of us very far from home. One night in the fall (was it Jess’ birthday?) we all went to the North End for a group dinner. On the walk back down Hanover Street en route to the T, after getting some requisite cannolis for dessert, we suddenly realized that Jess was not with us. We all immediately panicked – this was the time before cell phones were commonplace, and no one knew where she was. We backtracked and found her easily enough: she was the one sobbing in front of Mike’s Pastry, her eyes swollen and red and her face white with relief the minute she spotted us, because she had no idea how to get herself home.

    Fast forward twelve years, and well, her blog speaks for itself. Boston’s Hanover Street, Commonwealth Avenue and Harvard Avenue; the apartment on 97th, between Lex and Park, in New York City; the hills, boredom and monotony of Hollister – they are all distant memories. Instead, she now jumps from cliffs and surfs and serves pastries and lives in gypsy palaces and endures slow boats and rides on the back of motorcycles and pedals around Angkor Wat and walks into the Sydney Opera House in flip flops and eventually, tells us all about it in the most fulfilling and heartbreaking way.

    I’ve been to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, and I can’t wait to hear Jess’ take on it! So pick her, Nomadic Matt! You won’t regret it.

  7. I am looking forward to Jessica posting dispatches from the Czech republic. I know that she will be channeling he inner Zappa. If she reaches Vienna she is sure to find herself unwittingly involved in some nihilest caper and did I mention, darling, she has Hungarian, gypsy blood. What could go wrong in Budapest? Stay tuned to the blog

  8. All of the folks who have commented so far have covered so many reasons Jess should win this contest, but I’ll do my best to add a bit to the picture. I’ve known Jess for nine years, and while we all know she’s always had trouble finding her way around, whether it be to the other side of the town we all lived in or to the hotel we are supposed to meet at in a foreign country, in my eyes Jess has always had the spirit of an explorer. She was the friend in college who had the farthest flight home for Thanksgiving, the one who chose study abroad in Paris instead of the much safer (culturally and linguistically) London, like the rest of us. She moved from cozy Boston to big, scary New York at 22, and traveled to amazing locations to film videos for her job at the French tourism organization. Jess is one of the most entertaining and talented writers I’ve ever encountered. I enjoy reading her blog not just because she is my friend, the one I’ve blabbered to in French after too many cocktails or engaged in well-researched, detailed debates about the authenticity of the relationships of various celebrity couples, but because she writes so wonderfully and from a place of keen, nuanced observation that you are place right in her shoes, even when she is halfway across the world. I have loved reading about Jess’s travels in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, and would love, love, love to have her take on yet another continent. Matt, please pick Jess!

  9. Dear Nomadic Matt,

    Jess has a story that resonates with everyone. Jess has a blog that makes you laugh out loud, makes you feel what she feels, makes you see what she sees and makes you feel like you are along for the ride. Jess has done what many of us dream of doing, packing up, getting on a plane, traveling, working to travel again, and repeat. She has captured the spirit in such a short period of time. If you want someone who will do Budapest, Prague, and Vienna proud, Jess is your gal!

    Pick her, pick her!!

  10. Dear Nomadic Matt –

    Jess is an inspiration, plain and simple. At first, she gave the rest of us sell outs stuck in NYC the ability to vicariously live through her every blog post. But with each blog post our own private hopes and far-fetched goals seemed somehow slightly more in reach. Maybe those goals aren’t independent long-term travel per se, but isn’t the whole point of this adventure to throw off the trappings of what we’re supposed to do and just do what we want to do? Jess embodies that and I can say that at least for this lone New Yorker, she has given me the extra boost I need to take the next leap. If you give her the trip to Prague, Budapest, and Vienna I can guarantee she will continue to inspire another marching ant to make a change. And at the very least we will get some AWESOME puns.


  11. Where do I start…

    Jess is such an incredibly deserving person of this trip! She took such a daring giant leap of faith deciding to leave the comforts of her NYC life and trek half way around the world to NZ and then on to Asia. I don’t know how many of us would actually put ourselves out there like this and not only enjoy it but make the absolute best of it. With each blog entry I become more and more impressed with how far out of her comfort zone she continues to push herself and how much she is truly embracing this new adventure in her life.
    She’s truly and inspiration and such a wonderful person! Selfishly, let’s be honest I also want to continue reading her scintillating writing in a new region with fresh culture, food and history :).


  12. Pingback: The Art of Standing Still While Moving « My Year on a Whim

  13. FTRAIN! “Whoaaaa!!!” I have internet! It is a glorious occasion. And your blog was my first stop (obviously). Looks like your devoted followers have been oh-so-eloquently singing your well-deserved praises! You are a fantastic writer with an adventurous spirit — a dangerously awesome combination. I’m looking forward to catching up on missed entries! You are fabulous and certainly have my vote to win this trip! In it to win it… all or nothing… bring it on (again).
    Miss you and love you!
    Lil Mot

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