Happy New Year!

This year was amazing for travel—I fulfilled childhood dreams and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. It was a wonderful year for travel opportunities all around!

2018 was also a year that presented some challenges for me personally.

This blog is often a place for deep, personal reflection. I do it in most of my blog posts, but also intentionally through random life updates. I did this on a monthly basis during my extended trip 4 years ago (4 years ago, whaaat?!). Now, I only post updates about once a year around the new year. I love making the celebration of the new year into a time to look back and look ahead in a more intentional way. It's good for the heart, mind, and soul!

For this post, I look back on my travels this year, including my top 5 favorite travel experiences! I also share my reflections on life and personal growth behind all the travels. I do this mostly for me. But I know readers also appreciate the honesty and clarity about what's going on with me!

So here we go! This was 2018...

Travels in 2018

-DESTINATIONS-
International: Namibia, South Africa, Dominican Republic
Domestic: Washington DC, Woodstock NY, Sleepy Hollow NY, Austin TX, Orlando FL, Boston MA

This year included lifelong dream fulfillment! I finally visited Africa, the continent I have been dreaming about visiting since I was a child. In May/June, I went on safari in South Africa and I saw one of the most unique landscapes I've ever seen in Namibia.

I also pushed myself out of my comfort zone this year with my first all-inclusive resort experience! It wasn't exactly my favorite experience. Now I know that the trappings of a bougie experience do not necessarily make it so. Travel enrichment, for me, comes from the authenticity of the activities and experiences I have while I'm there—not the promise of free booze.

But there were parts of the trip I enjoyed immensely. For instance, I fell in love with the Caribbean Sea. Now I want to see more of it and I will—keep reading!

My job on Long Island in New York continues to afford me time to travel, especially domestic travel. I am so grateful for this flexibility in my schedule and for built-in travel to conferences. Conference travel means I get to explore new places on my employer's dollar! Win! For all the reflecting I have done on my career this year (see below), this is one of many things for which I am supremely grateful.

Favorite Travel Moments in 2018

I love this time of year because it gives me the chance to look back and recall the best experiences I had while traveling. It's like reliving the experiences or living vicariously through myself...or something.

Anyway, here they are – a top 5 listed as a countdown to reflect the countdown to midnight!

5. Visiting the Pulse Nightclub Memorial in Orlando, FL

In 2016, a gunman shot and killed 49 mostly Hispanic and LGBTQ people at a nightclub in Orlando. I finally got to visit the memorial in person this year while there for a work trip. This was one of the most important places I visited this year. It was as sad and humbling as it was powerful.

More to come from this trip in 2019.

4. Seeing Three Squid While Diving the Caribbean Sea

Squid are some of the coolest looking creatures! I felt so lucky seeing these three musketeers cruising through the water while in the DR. They were content to have my guide and I along. This was such a great dive experience overall because it was so customized and one-on-one!

Read more here.

3. Partying With Fellow Queers in Namibia

I find that the best experiences in travel are the unexpected ones. Staying with Naville and meeting his friends led to one of my favorite nights in all my travels! Quinn and her friend Jessica were awesome. They all made me feel so at home. I found a community of like-minded folks halfway across the world! This is always one of the most telling moments for me. I can go almost anywhere in this world and find my people—and find "home."

As Pumbaa once said, "Home is where your rump rests."

Read more here.

2. Visiting My Bestie in Austin, Texas

Click to watch the GIF!

I am so grateful for my 22 years of friendship with Erin. Erin recently moved from San Jose, CA to Austin, TX with her wonderful husband and amazing child. For her birthday, her husband helped buy me flights to visit them! We were both sick with the flu for the entire 4 days I was there. But that's ok! It doesn't matter what condition you're in when you're with your childhood best friend!

Erin has traveled with me to New Orleans, Utah, New Zealand, and many other places over the years. We managed to get out and explore her new city despite the sickness. But somehow, there's still nothing better than sitting on the couch together drinking smoothies!

More to come from this trip in 2019.

1. Seeing Wild Big Cats in Namibia and South Africa

Cheetahs, lions, and leopards were among the big cats I had the chance to see while in Africa. I've only just gotten started describing these experiences on the blog. Tune in for more in 2019!

Read more here.

Reflections on Personal Growth

Sometimes we are forced down a new path by uncontrollable forces. Sometimes we are lucky enough to curate our own deviations and destinations.

Change can be stressful, even scary. But it also keeps us on our toes. It allows us to grow as individuals and reminds us that we are able to tackle just about anything life throws at us!

That's my own words from the end of this post in 2017 about big changes in my life. This year turned out to have some unexpected, uncontrollable changes, too.

I am all about personal growth. I maintain travel in my life because it always pushes me outside my comfort zone. It pushes me to reassess my values and clarify my goals and expectations. But sometimes I don't need travel to push me to grow. Sometimes life throws wrenches and it's the wrenches that help me grow.

 

Dinner in Woodstock, NY this past Fall

 

Deviating the norm for me is a way of life. As I said back in 2016, deviating is not about doing things others do or even doing things different simply to impress others. Deviating is about doing exactly what feels right and authentic to me in the moment. But I'd like to add to this because 2018 has clarified for me something else that is also true to the deviating philosophy:

LOVE should motivate deviation; not FEAR.

When I think back on my decision not to drive the Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand, I know I made that decision out of love for myself, my body, and my soul. I also acted out of respect for Stefano, the Argentinian guy who wanted to make the trip in only 2 days. I knew myself well enough to know if I went along, I would have been a real drag! I would have wanted to stop more, drive slower, and spend more time. So, out of love and respect for this guy's own wishes/desires/time schedule, I encouraged him to go it alone.

Similarly, in 2017, when I broke off my relationship with Jono, I did so out of love for myself and for him. There was nothing I was afraid of—except staying in that relationship and making myself and him miserable for all eternity! When you're making each other miserable, that's when you know the most loving thing you can do is end it.

In Brooklyn for Jono’s visit in 2016

I started out in 2018 feeling the most intense love I have ever felt for another person. By the end of 2018, I felt the deepest loss I have ever felt when the relationship unexpectedly ended. But both love and loss equally served me this year in my personal growth.

I am proud to say that no decision I made in love or loss was out of fear this year. That's because I thought carefully about what I was feeling before I acted. Both love and loss pushed me to think more deeply, to think outside the box, to fully and wholeheartedly welcome new possibilities for the future all while holding strong and steadfast to my ideals and values.

At the Pulse memorial in Orlando, FL

In doing so, I have learned to clearly distinguish between feelings that are love-motivated versus fear-motivated.

I'll use travel as an example of what I have learned. When I traveled around the world in 2014-2015—I traveled for many reasons. One of those reasons was that I wanted to give myself the gift of travel after working hard to earn my PhD. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it on my own, and by doing so, I was finding a way to love myself more than ever. In fact, I was afraid to go on this trip—but I didn't let fear keep me home. I let my love for myself and my love for the world and all its beauty motivate me to get out there and see it!

Taking in all that worldly beauty on Mt. Ngauruhoe, New Zealand

But there was another reason for my travels that I was less willing to admit to at the time. I was afraid to start my career right away. I had insecurities about the fact that I had given up on a tenure track professorship career. I felt a bit like a failure for realizing that dream was no longer mine. And so I traveled. I avoided and created distance between myself and having to make this next, ambiguous step in my career trajectory.

In short, fear, at least in part, was motivating me. And don't get me wrong, I wouldn't take back that extended world trip for anything in the world! It was one of the best times in my life. It helped me grow more than in the 6-years of my PhD program and I now think it actually helped my career trajectory in the long run.

Regardless, the fears and insecurities did not go away. Upon returning to the states, my insecurities came zooming back tenfold like the Balinese current that nearly drowned me. I didn't think I was good enough for anything in academia anymore! I struggled in this thinking for 3 months searching for a job. This thinking likely cost me many job opportunities because I wasn't my best self when I interviewed.

After surviving the current in Nusa Lembongan, Bali, Indonesia

This year, I realized some of those insecurities were still there despite amazing successes in my current job. There were moments this year where I dreamed about changing careers. But this is when I put a stopper on it. After some deeper analysis, I learned to appreciate what I already have.

I asked myself, “Why am I dreaming about a different career? What am I running away from? What is so scary about staying here?”

Experimentation with ideas and fantasies of a different kind of life or future are normal. Fear is also normal. Use it as an indicator that you should be paying attention—that this is important! I did that. I stopped and asked myself these questions because I wouldn’t let fear have control over me and my future.

Running away from something doesn't mean you actually leave it behind. You can boldly state, "Nope! This is right for me. This is what I want" all you want. But be sure that proclamation is made out of love and not fear. Because the thing you're running from—the thing you fear—will never leave you. Fear travels with you.

Trudging through the Namibian desert

Until you recognize and tackle your fears and insecurities, you'll always be on the run. Because fear will always catch up with you. Fear will hold you back from your potential and you'll hurt yourself and everyone in your path to escape it.

I am proud to say that, while 2018 presented challenges, the majority of my choices, actions, and words came from a place of love—for myself and for others.

But there is always work to do. That's life. It's work.

Settling into complacency, stagnancy, stubbornness, and self-righteousness are not a life I want to live. Ever. Personal growth is a lifelong process. Each year I dig a little deeper. I open myself up to new ideas and ways of life. I learn another lesson that helps me better understand myself and what is important to me. And I grow a little more.

That’s progress.

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” —Frank Zappa

Looking Ahead: Travel and Life in 2019

And with that lengthy reflection, I'd like to end by looking into the future. In particular, what travel plans do I have in store for 2019?

Well, in about 2 weeks I will be exploring another island in the Caribbean Sea! No secrets or hints like last year...I'm going to Curaçao! I am so excited to spend more time there than most do. As a popular cruise stopover, most only have a day or less to explore this place. I will have a full week!

Caribbean Sea views in the DR

I decided I loved SCUBA diving in the DR so much that I needed to do more of it in the Caribbean. Some of the best diving and snorkeling is right off the shore in Curaçao. So you know I'll be bringing along my snorkel gear and doing it up Niue-style!

I am also excited to explore a Caribbean nation in the way that I love most—adventurously. While the resort life was a good experience to have, I'm very happy about where I'll be staying: An awesome, entire home Airbnb with all the amenities I could need and more. I will also have a car so I can easily explore at my own pace. I'm pumped! I can't wait to share this adventure with you. I also can't wait to share how it's costing me less than $200 for airfare, accommodation, and car rental combined! Bwah-haha!

In the meantime, I'll be continuing to share many stories from the second half of my trip to Africa last summer. I know, I know. I have so much to tell that I'm still writing about it 6 months later! Insane! I hope to break up these writings with some of the other adventures I had this year. So stay tuned for all in 2019! I hope it's a happy and healthy one for you and all your loved ones!

#lovenotfear


-Rikka