San Diego

My life as a traveler

I never finished my posts recapping my trip to Nepal. That trip, save for a bout of food poisoning that hit during my 30-plus hours on flights and in airports on the way back to Texas, was incredible. Seeing Everest from a plane was incredible. Becoming friends with the people I met on that trip was incredible. But then I just felt uninspired writing about it. Like writing about it somehow took the trip away from me.

I went to Nepal in December 2015. I went to Taiwan and the Philippines (Boracay, specifically) in October 2016. Then I was in Guanajuato, Mexico, in January; Medellín, Colombia, in February; and Antigua, Guatemala, in March of this year. Thanks to my location-independent job, my trips to Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala were for the full month each – I worked full-time during those jaunts abroad.

Even with all the travel and adventures, I still had no desire to write. I journaled a little. But no blogging. My domain renewal notice came up, and I let it expire. This blog just sat. Dormant.

I’m going to Peru in September for a much-needed vacation. I’ll share photos on Instagram, as I have with my previous trips; where words have refused to flow, my photos helped me tell the stories.

Everest, Nepal. December 2015

My search history would show you my efforts to figure out if I can work abroad again sometime soon. Paris. London, maybe. Berlin? Or Frankfurt? Tel Aviv looks incredible. As does Dahab, Egypt. And I found out about this place in Tanzania…

That’s when I push my computer away and tilt my head back, eyes closed. This always happens. I start with a potential location – for vacation, to work remotely, to live – and then zoom out of the map little by little to explore more options until entire continents fill the screen and I’m overwhelmed.

The world, and the possibilities within it, is overwhelming.

I tried to quell that feeling of being overwhelmed by places to go by moving to Taiwan in August 2010. This site was born not long after; I’d started a listserv called Mandy’s Pushpins to keep friends and family updated on my life abroad. When that listserv turned out to be a pain to maintain, I bit the bullet and signed up for WordPress. I wrote regularly about my life in Taiwan, the trips I took in the two years I lived abroad, and how I handled coming back two years later on September 1, 2012.

(Spoiler alert: I didn’t handle it well.)

Then this blog became my personal space for feelings, some of which should have stayed in my journal, I’m sure. When I settled in Dallas and tried to join the dating scene there, the name of this site should’ve changed from Mandy Travels to Mandy Dates. Instead it became “Mandy travels… and stuff”.

“Stuff” is a vague word. It’s the kind of word you throw around when you’re not sure what word you actually want. And that signified where I was at the time. I wasn’t sure want I wanted. I’m still not sure what I want.

“Hey, Mandy. What are you doing with your life?”

“Oh, stuff.”

Boracay, the Philippines. November 2016

In order to better shape what I meant by “stuff”, I did what I tend to do when I get antsy: I moved. Thanksgiving of 2015 found me on the road with a U-haul full of the belongings that survived the great cull of 2015. Northern San Diego County, I decided, was where I’d figure out my life. Dating, exploring – LIFE – was going to happen. I was finally going to feel like I had my act together.

The itch started again about six months ago. It’s inescapable, powerful, and not necessarily something I’m happy about. Even my mom, as we talked on the phone Sunday evening, asked if it was coming back. I told her I wasn’t ready to leave, which is true, but that I’d started thinking about it. And, for the first time, that I was torn about moving.

This past Wednesday night I had a very “hippie California” experience, and that’s when everything seemed to become clearer.

I went to see a friend who practices Eastern Medicine. As I rested on the table, we talked about my physical aches, and with my guidance she poked, pinched, and prodded before administering acupuncture needles. My right knee and foot were a mess, which I expected. When she moved to my head without my prompting, I lay quietly. She put one in my left ear.

“What’s that one for?” I asked.

“Anxiety,” she said.

Guanajuato, Mexico. January 2017

The needling itself hurt very little. But randomly I’d really feel a needle. My eyes were closed, but I knew exactly where each needle was, especially when a particular one kind of… pulsed. My body was relaxed, but every few minutes it felt like a charge of some sort coursed through it. Not electricity – more like my body was adjusting and resetting back to how it should be. It was a wave of energy that gently passed as I lay there with a dozen tiny needles sticking out of me.

Lindsey asked how I was, and I told her what I was feeling. It was normal, she assured me. She then stepped out so I could just be. I asked if I could fall asleep, but even with her permission it didn’t happen.

Two minutes after she stepped out, I teared up. No warning, no reason, just tears in my closed eyes that eventually made their way down my cheekbones. I wasn’t sad. At the time, my mind was fairly blank. She let me be there, alone and responsibility-free, for roughly 20 minutes.

When I left, I felt good. Tired. Since I was close and the sunset looked promising, I made my way to my favorite beach, where a wooden set of stairs takes people down to a local surf spot. The tide was up, so onlookers stayed on the stairs, and there were over a dozen people in the water catching the last waves of the day.

 

The sunset was beautiful, but I was fascinated watching the surfers. They would casually launch into a wave, none of which were larger than a few feet. At the end of their run, each surfer would fall into the water.

What brought me immense joy was how they fell. It wasn’t a graceful hop or dive. Legs splayed, most of the surfers crashed into the ocean on their backs or sides in a full surrender. They’d resurface, violently shake their hair out of their faces, pull themselves back onto their boards, and paddle out to the next wave.

One let out a gleeful, surprised yell as he crashed out. From 100 yards up, I watched and laughed.

Several surfers surfing at sunset. San Diego. July 2017

I realized at that moment that I’d love to be as in-tune with the ocean as those surfers were. But I’m not a surfer. As the night went on, I realized what causes my antsy moves and my near-constant wanderlust.

Most people describe themselves with an -er. Hiker, biker, entrepreneu(e)r, surfer, mother, father, homeowner, volunteer, shopper, skier. Even the non-ers, like wife or husband, still have a way they identify themselves. And where they live needs to fit them.

I struggle with feeling like I fit in. In Dallas I wasn’t a wife or mother, a shopper, or a proud Texan. In Southern California I’m not a surfer or hiker. All I know to use to identify myself is “traveler”. I don’t have many other -ers that feel right. And when a traveler cannot travel, they get antsy. Since I want a home base in the States, that complicated things a bit, too; otherwise I’d hop place to place and be a permanent digital nomad.

There are two key steps to take now. The first is that I need to adapt better. I’m in one of the vacation capitals of the country, and I need to take advantage of that and try everything it has to offer. I might find another -er here. In fact, it’s highly likely I will. But that takes more effort than I’m currently putting forth.

The second step is to be able to afford to travel. That means making hard decisions and committing to some major lifestyle changes. At least, I think it does.

Flying over Los Angeles

As far as this blog goes, I’m not ready to delete it. I considered it multiple times over the last year, but I don’t feel done with it. For a while I thought I wanted to become a travel blogger, and I was going to use this as my launching point. I even contacted Intrepid Travel, the company I used for my trip to Nepal, and let them know I was blogging about my trip. I’m now connected to a couple people from Intrepid on Twitter, but nothing else came of it.

It’s taken time, but I realized I don’t really want to be a travel blogger. Nomadic Matt does a fine job, but a lot of travel blogs are just content for the sake of content (and popularity) (and free, touristy trips). If I see one more faked photo or fluff piece about a place, I will do nothing of consequence, but I’ll be annoyed.

Really, the travel blog “industry” shouldn’t bother me. I think the frustration comes from thinking for years that it was my dream job. When a long-term dream fizzles out, you start to wonder if you’ll ever figure out what you want to do.

I still want to tell stories. Hopefully my stories help someone somehow. I don’t know. But I need to figure out a new name for this site, because “Mandy travels” isn’t my entire life, and “Mandy travels… and stuff” is such lazy copywriting.

I’ll figure it out.

(Now it’s “No time for regrets”. We’ll see if that stays. I kind of miss “Mandy travels” already. The tagline, “Figuring out life by running directly at it”, stays.)

For now, it feels good to have written again. I wasn’t sure I could still do it, to be honest. Cory Richards, a photographer who has worked extensively with National Geographic, puts it well.

I can go months without touching my camera. Most of what I make is garbage. I’m relentlessly hard on myself for not shooting more. I’m often paralyzed by the fear that if I make something, it will suck. I can sit for months in despair without ever making a single image. I’ve struggled the last two years with photography… but occasionally it rises new again in a moment of surrender and I remember why I love this so much. I don’t have to be prolific to be passionate. But I do have to show up.

I need to show up. Find my -ers, find out how I can travel more, find ways to tell more stories, and find the time to write. It’s up to me to make it happen.

How to Move from Dallas to San Diego in 48 Easy Steps

  1. Move.
  2. Drop off empty trailer at U-Haul and marvel at how much lighter and faster your SUV feels.
  3. Giggle and clap while driving to get fish tacos.
  4. Laugh when the sweet kid at the counter apologizes for the bad, rainy weather.
  5. Put phone on vibrate so Jennifer, my new roommate and old friend from high school, doesn’t get annoyed at all the texts.
  6. Love my friends and family for blowing up my phone.
  7. Use the word “weird” as often as possible when describing how it feels to be in California.
  8. Eat fish tacos.
  9. Love fish tacos.
  10. Consider having them for dinner every night.
  11. Put together bed.
  12. Put memory foam mattress topper on bed.
  13. Make bed.
  14. Get really, really excited about bed.
  15. Lay in bed, answer texts and Facebook messages.
  16. Miss everyone. A lot.
  17. Sleep.
  18. Wake up parched with dry mouth.
  19. Drink water.
  20. Fall back asleep.
  21. Wake up.
  22. Unpack.
  23. Feel a bit more at home.
  24. Decide last minute to drive to the coast for the sunset.
  25. Witness beautiful sunset.
  26. Celebrate by driving with the windows down.
  27. Sing along to Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid.
  28. Make a u-turn.
  29. Realize I was going the right way.
  30. Turn around.
  31. Consider getting fish tacos for dinner.
  32. Return to apartment.
  33. Go to bed early.
  34. Sleep like the dead.
  35. Wake up feeling like I got hit by a truck.
  36. Unpack.
  37. Decide to buy a map.
  38. Drive to Barnes & Noble, which is five minutes away.
  39. Buy map after long search for the right one.
  40. Continue driving for over an hour.
  41. Get lost in a hilly area full of nice homes.
  42. See three or four hot-air balloons.
  43. Go blind from the sun.
  44. Feel very far away from friends and family.
  45. Return to apartment.
  46. The apartment where I live now.
  47. The apartment in San Diego where I live.
  48. WHOA.

The waves and peaks of San Diego

San Diego is a dry, brown city shoved in the bottom left corner of the United States. It might as well be TijuanDiego.

But hey – at least it’s California!

This just in: I used to be an idiot when it came to anything San Diego. In my defense, it was a former boss’s fault; he told me that the city used to be a desert until all the foliage was brought in, which led me to believe the city was the ugly stepsister to San Francisco. Flat. Dusty. Front lawns full of rocks and sand. Pancake beaches reminiscent of Florida’s coastline.

Even though I fell in love with California when I visited San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Ventura, I just never felt the urge to visit San Diego.

Then my friend Jennifer told me to come visit her. In desperate need of a weekend outside Texas’s border, I booked a cheap flight and found myself on southern California soil late on a Thursday night. I was excited to be there and catch up, but was pretty apathetic about seeing the area.

Jenn picked me up around 11pm. My 48-pound checked bag with 30 bottles of Texas craft beer inside survived the jostling of the trip, and we excitedly chatted as we drove north to her apartment. I saw the beautiful skyline lit against the dark night, and then noticed the city’s lights dotting the scene outside my window.

“Hills! Wait! There are hills?”

Not only is San Diego very much not flat, it’s also lush and beautiful. It’s not brown. Even on the beach (well, one beach), where the sand is brown, there’s mica that makes the beach shimmer as though it’s covered in gold glitter. San Diego isn’t shoved anywhere, and it doesn’t seem like the conjoined twin to Tijuana, Mexico. Just like the pilot said as we were landing, San Diego County is paradise.

(If you want to read the captions or see the photos in their enlarged glory, click.)