Notes from the Brink of Age 32
This week I turned 32. It’s had me deep in thought. 32 isn’t one of the more significant birthdays, but it’s been a while since I went through a year filled with so many changes.
Every year I write a birthday post, talking about where I am now in this part of my life. For this year’s post, I’m illustrating it with several “imperfect selfies” from the past year that never made it off my phone to be published anywhere. They’re not great shots, but they’re as real as they get.
On a cold winter evening, shortly after moving into my new apartment, I sit down with a cup of wild berry herbal tea. Just me on my groovy purple couch, the magenta-and-indigo Persian-style rug spread beneath it. Spotify’s “Late Night Jazz” playlist wafts through the air because apparently I listen to jazz now. Fuzzy fuchsia Ugg slippers are on my feet.
I’ve had no need to own slippers for a long time.
It’s late, it’s soft, and everything here belongs to me. It’s all mine. I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that I nearly cry.
And I promised myself, “I need to remember how good this feels.”
On Being in Transition
Moving to New York and scaling down my travels was absolutely the right decision. I have zero doubts with that. Sure, I’d love it if the cost of living were more reasonable, but the benefits exponentially outweigh the drawbacks. I have a community and so many close friends in New York. It’s the center of just about every industry. Blogger friends are always passing through.
That said, I’ve been struggling with the transition from full-time travel to being somewhat settled down. I often worry that I’m not traveling as much as I should be, that I’m not experiencing as many new places as I used to.
Sometimes I feel like I’m living two different lives. Take the month of April — it was wonderful. I did a lot of fun things. I had several friends come to visit during the month. And then I realized I had gone a full month without leaving the city. How could I be happy with that?!
If there’s anything I know, when you’re doing two things that are contradictory to each other, you can’t do both well. The better I did with travel, the worse I would do at building a home life. As long as I was at home, my travel life would suffer. So where exactly would I draw the line?
And that’s where the public life comes in. It’s hard enough dealing with a major lifestyle change on your own — but what about when 1) you’re living in a fishbowl, the world’s eyes on you as you make this change and 2) your previous lifestyle provides your income, an income that now must be much higher given your new lifestyle?
So these days when I get my Snapchat profile featured in different publications and the description starts with the inevitable, “Kate doesn’t travel as much as she used to, buuuuut…” I panic. Is that me? Is that who I am now?
But it goes both ways. Because then, Jayne of Girl Tweets World writes, “I’ve discovered through Adventurous Kate’s snaps (@adventurouskate) that she’s pretty good at cooking,” and that makes me so happy. (Jayne, come to New York and I’ll make you dinner!)
So I find myself in the middle. Enjoying my new settled life, but wondering if I’ll still be feeling the travel pangs months or years later. I don’t see myself traveling open-endedly long-term for a very long time. Probably not until I’m in a very different stage of life. And when that happens, I’ll probably rent my place out instead of selling everything to travel.
What I’ve Learned at 31
Here are two things with which I’ve come to terms in the past year:
Balance is a fallacy. No matter who you are or what you do for a living, you’re never going to achieve a perfect balance between all of the important things in your life. Hell, you’re not even going to get close. While there might be a day where you happen to hit it out of the park, that’s a rarity.
It’s like that for everybody. If you read a handful of travel blogs besides mine, you’ve probably read a few posts saying, “This isn’t working — I need to find a new balance.” Then a few months down the line, the same blogger will often write the same thing. It’s an unending battle.
But that’s fine. I think it’s smart to be at peace with the fact that you’re never going to get it perfect, and instead just try to do the best you can and not beat yourself up about it when you fall short.
There is no financial satisfaction ceiling. There will always be reason to make more money.
I remember sitting speechless in Krabi, Thailand, nearly six years ago, after my friend Cody’s offhand comment that I’d be financially sustainable within a year. (In reality, it only took six months.) All I need is to make a thousand dollars a month — then I’ll be able to live in Southeast Asia, I thought to myself.
Funny how things change! Sure, that $1,000 a month could still work today, even with inflation (you can live in Chiang Mai on far less), but my personal goals changed. Living on the cheap in a developing country would have worked in 2011, but soon I wanted to live in nicer places and travel more often. I had to make more money to support a slightly better lifestyle. And then a slightly better lifestyle than that.
There will always be higher goals. The old me would have been ecstatic that I could make enough money to live in Manhattan without roommates. The current me is wondering how she’ll be able to buy property in Manhattan someday, or if that’s just a pipe dream.
Hell, maybe in the future I’ll be wishing I made just a little more money so I could buy my own yacht instead of renting them all the time!
I know the answer to this quandary is to be grateful for what you have. Which I am. But it’s hard to push away the thoughts of what you could do with just a little more.
A New Quest for Privacy
There’s something else. I’ve been wrestling with the notion of privacy lately.
The duality between public figures and their privacy fascinates me endlessly. Like how Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd campaigned successfully to get the major celebrity magazines to stop publishing photos of celebrity children. How Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck joined their effort, but only after their strategy of posing for a million “candid” family photo ops to win Ben his Oscar for Argo.
How the Obama girls, despite living in a world of social media, have much more privacy and respect from the media than Chelsea Clinton ever did. How Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin gave interviews about their relationship but refused to be photographed as a couple. How Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes never breathed a word about their divorce and no tabloid published so much as a rumor. How Isla Fisher, Eva Mendes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and some of my own friends kept their pregnancies secret until the baby was born. How Mark Zuckerberg decides which photos of his wife and daughter to share on Facebook.
Not everyone is a Kardashian. A great many celebrities have found ways to promote their public brand while protecting their private life.
Whether you’re a blogger, a celebrity, or just a regular person with a Facebook account, social media means having your life available for consumption. You get to decide how much you want to reveal.
I admire my travel blogger friends who don’t hesitate to talk about the ugly parts of travel and reveal raw, honest, intimate details about their innermost feelings, details that most bloggers would be afraid to share — and yet never mention that they have a serious romantic partner. That’s the level I want to return to.
A few years ago, I decided to take my romantic life off the blog. And aside from a few ambiguous travel anecdotes from the past, like my love stories post, I’ve stuck to that. I haven’t even breathed a word of my love life on Facebook! The next time I mention I’m seeing someone, well, don’t be surprised if it’s accompanied by wedding photos. I like it this way.
Not only is this fair to my partner, it allows me to keep a major aspect of my life free from commentary from the public.
I keep other things private, too: my finances, most business stuff, and exactly where I live (though obviously I’m open about living in Harlem). The other day, a reader asked in a blog comment what street I lived on, and it freaked me out. I don’t even snap or take selfies on my own street. Where do I live? At 69 None of Your Business St., right between Why Would I Tell A Complete Stranger Ave. and Are You A Rapist Lane.
I recently came across a quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, and although she wrote about it in terms of her marriage ending, I think it’s valuable to all of us who write publicly about our lives:
If I don’t mention something, it’s not because I forgot to. It’s because I desperately have to find the balance here between honesty and a tell-all. Between transparency and responsibility. What I owe you and what I owe myself. There will be parts of this story I (try to) keep for myself…If you can, please resist assumptions, gossip, or asking for details I haven’t provided.
She’s absolutely right. We should all follow suit — as readers and as bloggers.
The Traps That Befall Us
One of the scariest things about starting a career in a new and burgeoning industry is that there are no blueprints to follow. While of course we can always learn from our friends, colleagues, and mentors, there are no people who already went through the Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories debate years ago and can tell you which route to take.
We’ve been soaring blindly, coasting on the faith in our dreams. Or flying by the seat of our pants.
The most common problems I see among travel bloggers are from trying to work too hard and/or travel too hard at the expense of everything else. Lots of people burn out; lots of people run out of money; lots of people neglect their personal relationships, health, and interests outside the world of travel; lots of people sacrifice the quality of their blog to improve the quality (and especially luxury) of their travels.
I’ve even seen these problems leading to bloggers having a full-on breakdown and pull the plug on their site, never to blog again. I don’t want that to happen to me, but I can see how easily it could happen.
I’ve had some serious lows myself over the past six and a half years. As I always say, travel blogging isn’t heart surgery. It’s not coal mining. To be able to travel for a living is a luxury and a privilege. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its challenges.
Travel Goals for Age 32
And on to the fun stuff! Travel goals!
Colombia and New Zealand are definitely slated for this year. Poland and Slovakia are high possibilities. Beyond those trips, aside from a handful of conferences and trade shows in the US and Europe, I have no travel plans for the next year.
But it’s always good to have travel goals. Here are a few of mine:
Keep chipping away at new countries. The last new country I visited was Latvia, over a year ago! I’m holding at 63 now and while I don’t have a desire to visit every country in the world, I’d like to visit over 100 before I turn 40. That said, I don’t like flying in and out purely for the sake of visiting a new country, so this will take some time.
Get closer to visiting every country in Europe. Only 10 remain: Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. I don’t count the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) as Europe.
Go on another wildlife trip — hopefully in the Galapagos. I fell in love with wildlife photography on my most recent trip to South Africa, thanks to finally using quality photography gear. I’m craving MUCH more! The Galapagos is at the top of my list, but I’m also dreaming of lemurs in Madagascar, penguins in Antarctica, gorillas in Rwanda.
Visit at least one of my major US travel oversights. Austin, Portland, Nashville, Miami, and Hawaii top the list! (At this point I wonder if I should keep mentioning Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the most egregious oversight for a professional traveler who lived most of her life in Massachusetts.)
Take a digital detox — or perhaps a creative retreat. Either kind of trip would require getting away from the internet for a few days, something that is highly beneficial yet becoming more and more of a challenge.
Explore a LOT more of New York, particularly the areas that aren’t covered as often in the travel media. I know I’ll have no trouble doing that!
Life Goals for Age 32
I do have some personal goals, but going back to the privacy issue, I think I’d like to keep them under wraps.
In a nutshell:
I will continue what’s going well.
I will improve what’s not going well.
I will continue doing unpleasant things that are good for me, even when they’re difficult.
I will contribute more joy to the world.
Thank you for reading.
I value your readership so much, and having you here means the world to me. None of this exists without you and I never forget that.
But beyond that, I’d love to hear your thoughts on maintaining privacy as a public figure. Share away!