At the end of 2015, I came to a realization. With a big birthday milestone looming on the horizon and years of focusing on my work and other people rather than my personal life, I made a decision: I was going to stop saying, “I can’t” because of work and start saying, “I can.”
Travel was now at the top of my priority list. I hadn’t taken a proper vacation or been out of the country since I started a crazy passion project called Cherry Bombe, a magazine about women and food, in the spring of 2013. Prior to that, I hadn’t traveled because I’d started a creative agency called Orphan with a partner, which lasted a little over five years. And before that, I ran another publication called Me magazine … you get the point. There was no sense of work-life balance. I had spent the previous nine years working around other people’s schedules and being too nervous about missing job opportunities to take the time to travel. I love what I do most of the time, but the older I get, the more I come to realize that work and making money aren’t everything. For once, I decided to focus on my own well-being and get the hell out of town.
So I asked my parents for an Away Carry-On for Christmas—the first suitcase I’ve ever owned—and made my New Year’s resolution. Not long after, opportunities opened up for me.
That March, I was invited to give a talk at an indie magazine conference called Underscore in Singapore. I met some amazing people who were crazy enough to publish and create their own magazines and discovered that we all had a lot of the same problems with making the financial and business sides work.
I convinced a friend from New York who’s the ultimate travel buff to come meet me in Singapore. After I got through my nerve-wracking 40-minute speech where I tried not to kill anyone’s dreams but was very frank about the realities of self-publishing, we set off—though not before getting caught in a torrential rainstorm while attempting to get dinner at a hawker food market. Our itinerary: Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok, followed by a week on the island of Koh Kood in the Gulf of Thailand. On that trip, I learned that I am a trillionaire in Ho Chi Minh City (if you count my wealth in Vietnamese dong), that there is a 7-Eleven on practically every block in Bangkok, and that one of life’s simplest pleasures is just sitting around, looking at the ocean with an open coconut in hand.
My next trip was equally life-changing, although in a totally different way. I had been invited by a friend to the screening of a short film produced by a company called the Sailing Collective. The party was, fittingly, at the Explorer’s Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The film featured Tara Norvell, a chef I’d been hearing about, who had sailed and cooked during a weeklong trip to the volcanic island of Ischia in Italy. It definitely piqued my interest, but it wasn’t until the founder asked my friend Diana Yen, of the creative studio the Jewels of New York and a Cherry Bombe contributor, to be the chef on board that I decided to join her and write about the experience for the magazine.
Our boat set off from Sardinia and sailed up to Corsica, making stops along the way. There were eight people on board—friends of Diana’s from Portland, Denmark, and New York City—plus our captain. Of course, we were worried about being seasick, and we packed enough dramamine and herbal remedies among all of us to last a month. We never had to touch them. All I will say about spending a week on a boat in the Mediterranean, visiting places you can only reach by water, was that I came to understand why some people sell all of their belongings, buy a vessel, and sail around the world with their cat. There really is nothing like it. Life becomes pretty simple. You, the sea, the destination, the journey, the next meal, the next sunset, the next swim, the next sunrise.
I didn’t become an expert sailor, but it’s now a goal I’ve set for myself for the future. On the last night of the trip, we ran out of water while cooking dinner and were down to our last provisions, but that didn’t make the experience any less beautiful. We jumped into the sea after we ate and suddenly the water lit up—bioluminescent plankton had surrounded the boat, and when we swam, they released their light. It was magical, and something I’ll never forget.
My last big trip of the year was planned around a friend’s crazy idea to go see the Cure play in Antwerp. I think the thought was that all the cool, goth fashion kids would be there, since this was the city of the Antwerp Six, Belgium’s most famous exports from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980’s and some of the hardest-to-spell names in fashion (Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and Dirk Bikkembergs among them). That didn’t turn out to be the case. The median age of the concertgoers was definitely higher than expected by about 20 (or 30) years, but we still had a good time.
Afterward, we took the train over to the art-school town of Utrecht in the Netherlands for a music festival, stopped in Amsterdam for a jaunt, and then spent a week in Berlin. I discovered some of the best chocolate I’d ever had in a food hall in Berlin, and recently ordered 13 bars from the guy who makes them (and plan to order more when I’m done).
The common denominator of these trips? Days upon days of quality time with people—something I would never get the chance to do in New York. It’s easy to get into a routine and to only associate with the same people who think like you and share the same values. A lot of people live in a bubble of some kind, myself included. I cocoon myself in the work I do, and often use work as an excuse to shut myself in.
My family immigrated to the U.S. from Canada when I was two, but I lived in Asia for a year when I was 10. I remember what it was like to start dreaming in a different language, when your mind finally switches over, and when you make your first joke. You return home, but maybe a little changed, thanks to the people you meet, the foods you eat, the memories you make. It leaves an impression on you—something you carry with you.
I’ve carried it all with me. Now, work is just something I do in between planning where I’m going next. I have something that I work toward now, while before work was, well, everything, in a way. I let it define me and consume my life. So maybe I’ll see you later this year in Croatia or Cartagena or Maine or Upstate, just a few hours north. You don’t have to go far, really—the beach and the mountains are as close as a train ticket or car ride. You just have to get away.