I was still working as the Education Programs Coordinator at an environmental nonprofit. For the most part, I loved it. I’ll go into why I ended up leaving that job below.
I was also in a relationship that was about to end because I was leaving. That was tough, as we both still cared about each other, but neither of us wanted to do long distance.
And now, I’m writing this from Bansko, Bulgaria, a place I hadn’t even heard about back then.
So, I thought it might be fun to do a little recap of each month in the past year. This is honestly mostly for my purposes as I’m nostalgic AF and love reviewing the past (probably a little too much?).
But ya know, I’m also posting in the hopes that by sharing about my journey it might help others as well.
DECEMBER/JANUARYI rung in the New Year at a concert in Oakland with my then-boyfriend.
I was finishing up at my job and quit mid-January, which gave me about a week to pack and prep to leave. Leaving was TOUGH.
It was a small environmental nonprofit, and to be honest, a really awesome job. I loved my coworkers, bosses, and volunteers. I really enjoyed the tasks that I did for the most part. I felt like I was making a difference and was part of a team. (Want to snag an environmental nonprofit job yourself? I wrote an article about how I landed mine!)
But I HATED living in the Bay Area. I was sick of the traffic, the pay wasn’t enough to allow me to move out of my dad’s place (and trust me, I’d looked A LOT), and I was bored of the California weather (I know, I know, I’m the worst).I also really wanted to be in charge of my own schedule – my job required me to work random weekend days and nights, and I didn’t like that I had to be somewhere when someone said I had to be. I really wanted to be more in control of my time.
And as much as I loved everything I got to do – by the end, I was burnt out. My brain felt like it was going to fall out of my head from trying to juggle so many different things at once. I loved the variety, but at the same time – it was a little too much variety.
I’d go from leading a field trip, to creating some graphics for our newsletter, to writing social media posts, to answering emails and chatting with my boss about an event I was planning next month, to a meeting about writing curriculum for our educational programs. There was just so much to do, not enough time to get it all done, and my brain was constantly spinning trying to keep everything in order.
I had also fallen deep in love with travel. Every chance I got, I was going out of town. I’d either go on a camping road trip with a friend, visit my boyfriend 2 hours away, or fly somewhere when I found cheap tickets. I used all 3 weeks of my vacation time, which is basically unheard of in the US lol.
And in the spare time I had, I was also working on this blog. I was trying to keep up with writing posts and starting to scratch the surface of SEO. So, the burnout was probably my fault, too – I definitely wasn’t giving myself enough downtime.I knew it was time to leave when I started having weekly, then sometimes daily crying sessions the summer before. I was so frustrated with myself because I knew I was in such an awesome position that many people I went to school with would KILL for – environmental full-time jobs that actually pay can be tough to come by – but it just wasn’t enough. I wanted, and needed, OUT.
And luckily, I had a friend who also wanted OUT of the Bay Area as much as I did. We decided we would set off for Europe together; I heard about this thing called house sitting; we made a profile and booked our first sit within a couple weeks. Once we knew it was real, we bought one way plane tickets to London for $190 each (no one wants to go to London in January, lol). I found a job teaching English online, my plan to supplement my travels.
So then I just had to tell my job. I agonized about it for the next couple weeks. I tried to tell my boss about 358573 times but something kept happening that pulled her away just before I could spit out the words. I was finally able to tell her one day as she was leaving, and to my surprise, she was absolutely STOKED for me. We told the rest of the team and our volunteers later that week, and no one called me a selfish and horrible person, the worst case scenario scenes that my brain had played over and over.
So then, the fun began. And by fun, I mean packing!!!! This is a joke because it was way harder than it sounds and really no fun at all. Each time I move, I’m always so surprised by how much crap I’ve accumulated. I gave a LOT away and stuffed what was left into several boxes that I left in my mom’s garage.I remember the day before I left for Europe like it was yesterday. I totally forgot to back up my old computer (I’d bought a new refurbished one…which ended up being a HUGE mistake but that’s another story for another day…) and was stressed out trying to do it last minute. I had to drop off a bunch of boxes at my mom’s. I got my last burrito at my favorite spot in San Jose and my then-boyfriend drove me to the airport, where we said a very sad and tearful goodbye.
I met my friend (thankful she was going with me, otherwise I would’ve been a total mess…) and we walked into the airport together. She was also leaving someone she was dating behind, so it was nice that we were in the same boat.But it was a weird feeling – us embarking on this journey was supposed to be so exciting! And yet, there was a heavy feeling in the air as we were both pretty bummed about leaving these important people.
For her, the 3-month trip was a vacation, but for me, it was a ‘test run’ to see how whether or not I liked digital nomad life. To say that I was terrified is an understatement, as I didn’t really have a back up plan in the case that I hated it. And, even though it felt right, I was secretly freaking out that I’d made the wrong choice to leave my job to teach English online.After a horrific red eye flight and an awful couple of nights in the UK (shall I count the reasons why? The girl next to us was loudly laughing all night and I could hear her even with earplugs; the airline lost my friend’s luggage; our hostel in London was freezing cold and next to construction that went on alllll night long; my friend got really sick from the flight; we missed our overnight bus to Glasgow; then the actual overnight bus was also awful and a very dumb thing to do after taking a red eye flight two nights before) we made it to our first house sit.
And luckily, after that, everything was pretty much perfect. Our hosts were so cool and kind, the dog we house sat for was adorable, the house was beautiful, and we just had a really nice, peaceful first week. We were both still in a bit of a funk, but having each other really helped.
FEBRUARYAfter Glasgow, we headed to an AirBnb in Basel, Switzerland for a week, where we had a private room booked. Our hosts there ended up being amazing, too, and we spent the first night chatting with them for hours.
We both loved Switzerland, (my wallet didn’t), and saw quite a bit of the country thanks to a promotion on train tickets that our hosts knew about (now I love booking private rooms because hosts always have the best hookups…).
Then it was off to Amsterdam to celebrate my friend’s birthday! Of course we had quite a bit of fun there (probably too much…) and stuffed ourselves with stroopwafels, one of my favorite European foods.Then it was Prague! I’d been to Prague before, but never in the winter. It was just as gorgeous as I’d remembered and we even made a friend there (shout out to Carlos!). We spent Valentine’s (Galentine’s?) Day surrounded by couples and went to a bunch of funky bars. Our next stop was Norway! We were both SO excited for it, but ended up being just a littttle disappointed. We’d both underestimated just how expensive it was and didn’t end up doing everything we’d wanted to. I’d started teaching English online, but was barely getting classes because I’d waited so long to start (pro tip: start teaching with VIP Kid RIGHT AFTER you get hired because they apparently put new teachers in front of parent’s faces! I was dumb and waited a whole month…). I had some money saved but wasn’t trying to spend it allll since I wasn’t sure how teaching would shape up and I didn’t have a back up income at the time… (Spoiler alert: teaching ended up going well! Really well, actually. See here to find out what I’ve made in a month).
We had an AirBnb booked in Bergen for a week. Our AirBnb had really nice views even though it was the size of a shoebox. I started running again and it was fun charging up the hills. The views were amazing. We hiked Ulriken and Fløyen. We went on a fjord cruise which is probably still one of the most magical days of my life.Oh, and my computer decided to stop working there. YAY! Luckily, I was able to use my friend’s when she wasn’t using it. This turned into a whole year-long saga that’s kind of still going on…
We were both pretty ready to leave Bergen at the end of that week, and headed to Stavanger in southern Norway for our second house sit with two pugs.These hosts were wonderful as well, and the view from their house was AMAZING. I loved having a glass of wine, working on my blog, and watching the sunset with the two pugs snuggled next to me. They lived right by a huge lake, which was nice for runs and dog walks. I loved being so close to nature and felt quite content there.
MARCHWe kicked off March with our longest stay yet – Hamburg for 2.5 weeks!!! I was so so happy to be in one place – packing and unpacking really starts to take a toll after a while, let me tell you. We were in the very very very outskirts, in Ohlsdorf, house sitting for 2 adorable cats. The house we were in was so incredibly nice which made it worth it to take an hour train ride to get to and from the center of the city.
That ended up being a really fun time. I met someone, we started dating, and then made friends with his friends and had so much fun.I did end up having a small health scare, so although I was having a ton of fun I was also pretty anxious in the back of my mind much of the time. I had to go to the doctor in Germany which was pretty interesting, but surprisingly inexpensive! I was very, very happy when it worked itself out a few weeks later and I felt normal again.
I was really bummed when we had to leave and go to our next house sit in Berlin. I’d been to Berlin before and hadn’t liked it, but was willing to give it a second chance since we’d found the sit and my friend really wanted to go.Well, I still didn’t like it. And it pretty much reinforced that I have zero desire to go back, haha. It was nice that our place was next to some woods and a huge lake (and, a jail, but apparently jails in Germany are quite safe lol), so we’d walk the dog there everyday. There was a ton of wild boar in the area, and thus we learned the word “Wildeschwein” quite well.
APRILNot gonna lie, I was pretty damn stoked to get out of Berlin. We ended up going back to Hamburg and doing a combination of staying with our friends there, an AirBnb, and another house sit for the month of April. Hamburg in spring was really, really fun and beautiful – everything was blooming, and I loved visiting the numerous parks all over the city. I went sailing for the first time. I did a short trip to the Saxony area and saw some castles (!!!!!).
That was just a really, really good month.
MAYI went home with my friend to see my family. I’d also decided to fully commit to the digital nomad thing, so I wanted to get rid of more stuff and repack.
That was a very busy month, and quite a sleepless one – teaching hours in California are quite different from those in Europe, so I was having to wake up between 2 and 4AM in order to continue with it. Although I’d finish around 6-7AM, I find it really hard to fall back asleep after being up, so I wasn’t getting much sleep each night. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t able to do it the whole month. I think I ended up doing it for about 2 weeks.
It was nice to see friends again, and I stayed at my cousin’s house place in San Jose for a week while her boyfriend was out of town. That was really, really fun as we’re around the same age and have always been pretty close.My friend from Germany came out to visit and we went on a 2 week road trip through California since he’d never been. That was really cool – I’d never gotten to show someone around my state before! And we went to some places I’d never been, like Death Valley and the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite, and some places I had like Mammoth and Yosemite Valley.
We did a mix of staying with my family and camping. We found a lot of free campsites all around California!
I also found my next house sit during that time – I was a little anxious as it was a pretty short turnaround – but I was heading to the UK!
JUNEI left for my house sit in Welling, just outside of London. The people I was house sitting for were leaving for their wedding, and were just a little older than me, so it was fun hanging out with them for a bit (they were so incredibly kind and let me come 2 days early!).
I ended up really really bonding with their cat, and was so, so sad to leave. She would constantly cuddle with me and was basically a dog in a cat’s body.
I’m not going to lie, though, I was pretty lonely during that time. There were definitely lots of “what have I done???” moments. Luckily teaching was keeping me busy, and I was working on my blog again, but I really missed having someone to have dinner with at the end of the day.
I kid you not, the cat became my best friend. I still think about her!
JULYI headed to Saltburn-by-the-Sea for the month of July. It took about 4 train transfers to get there, with all my luggage, which was super fun, let me tell you! I always forget how much of a hassle it is to drag all my stuff around. One day I’ll be one of those super minimalist nomads that just have a small backpack, but for now I have my 55L backpack, small daypack, and carry on suitcase.
I was much better at packing for Europe in winter during my first three months of nomad life…
My time in Saltburn-by-the-Sea left me with a funny feeling. I had always thought that as long as I was somewhere beautiful, I didn’t need people so much. Well, I was totally wrong.
Saltburn-by-the-Sea WAS gorgeous, though. It’s a small seaside town, and although I was actually house sitting in the next town over Skelton-in-Cleveland, Saltburn was just a 40 minute walk or 15 minute bus ride away. Skelton was small and charming, and to get to Saltburn you could walk through these really pretty woods.However, I was lonely AF to put it lightly. There was no digital nomad community to be seen there, and it seemed to be mostly families and retirees living there. I made friends with a lady who ran the local pub, and went to one of their gin tasting nights where I chatted with 3 awesome women about their grandkids.
I was literally starved for human interaction during that time. I was house sitting for 4 cats and they were all sweet, but only one of them liked to cuddle, and very rarely at that. They were all pretty independent and often gone most of the day. I was really missing the cat I’d looked after in Welling that seemed to really enjoy my attention.
I would literally go to a cafe to work after finishing teaching and try and talk as much as I could with the owners. I reached out to anyone I’d ever said a single sentence to just to have someone to talk to LOL.My German friend did come to visit for the 4th of July weekend, though, which was fun! Especially since my whole family went to my grandparent’s house and I was really missing being there. I really liked Manchester, and it was a nice change of pace to be in a bigger city again for a weekend.
I was productive AF during my time in Saltburn, though! I worked A LOT on my blog, and teaching REALLY started to pick up then since the kids were out of school, giving me almost full time hours. I taught almost every single day since I didn’t have anything else to do, lol.
I also got to do some awesome day trips to surrounding towns like Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, and Whitby, and returned to York where I’d studied abroad 4 years prior. Those were certainly highlights!
However, I was really really happy to leave when that time came.
AUGUSTI found a week-long house sit in Chichester that was absolutely lovely (and apparently I’d been pronouncing “Chichester” wrong the whole time LOL). The house was huge and old and beautiful and the cat was adorable. My window overlooked a horse pasture, and I felt really warm and calm and happy for some reason, even though I was still mostly alone. I then landed a last minute house sit in London for a couple of days, and flew back to Germany afterwards for my birthday! I spent it in Hamburg and was so incredibly happy to be back.
I ended up finding an awesome house sit right in the center of a really cool area in Hamburg, Sternschanze. The apartment itself was beautiful and on the top floor with a nice view, and I was house sitting for two cuddly cats that I ended up falling in love with.
SEPTEMBERSeptember in Hamburg was awesome. It was still pretty warm but not too hot like August. I joined the Hamburg branch of the Girls Gone International Facebook Group, and ended up making some of my own friends! It was so nice to have so much social interaction again after my two months in England. I didn’t realize how lonely and sort of sad I’d been at the time, but looking back, I realized I was kind of depressed. It’s amazing how much of an effect human interaction (or the lack of one) has on you. We took lots of day trips in September, and it was just another overall good month. I also tried out the coworking space, the Hive, for their 3 day free trial which was really cool. I joined a gym and it was nice to get a regular workout schedule going again. (Also gyms in Hamburg are so cheap! I joined Sportspaß, which was only €10 a month for classes!).
I found a local organic grocery store that I liked going to. I tried out working at different cafes.
It was the longest I’d stayed in one spot, so I basically just settled in and got used to having a ‘home’. I really loved it!
OCTOBERThe same friend that I’d traveled with before came to visit for 10 days! It was SO NICE to see a familiar face, especially someone I’d known for so long (we’ve been friends since we were 16!). I cleared it with the homeowner (apartment renter?) and she was really cool about letting my friend stay with me. We went on a 4 day road trip through wine country which was AMAZING. The area along the Rhine River is just gorgeous, and we saw so many castles. And if you didn’t know, I am just a little castle-obsessed (ok, no, more like A LOT) so that was really awesome. My friend stayed in Hamburg for another week after that which was really fun. I was still teaching during the day, but it was nice to have someone to grab lunch and dinner with on a regular basis.
I did more cool day trips after she left, and just really enjoyed my time there. I hosted a meetup for VIP Kid teachers (only one came, but it was still really fun to do!). I fell more in love with the cats I was house sitting for (although I did have to take one on an emergency vet visit – that was stressful!). I celebrated Halloween at my German friend’s friend’s house and dressed up like a pop star alien.
NOVEMBERI’d been in the Schengen area almost 90 days at that point (as an American, I can stay in the Schengen area for 90 days but then have to go elsewhere for 90 days), so it was time to leave as I knew I wanted to come back to Germany for a few days in December for Christmas markets. So, my German friend and I packed our bags and headed to Thailand!
Thailand was totally different than anything I’ve ever experienced. It was beautiful, that’s for sure, and I loved all the fresh fruits and the FOOD. I only really had one bad meal there and it was totally my fault (I was craving a veggie burger and ordered one in a traditional Thai restaurant – hands down worst meal of my entire life, no joke).But otherwise, it was amazing and the islands were gorgeous. I also got scuba certified which was awesome and something I’ve always wanted to do.
But other than that, I didn’t really love my time in Thailand if I’m being 100% honest.
I learned that I do not really like hot and humid weather for long periods of time. I was also SUPER paranoid about dengue. Mosquitoes love me, and I hate wearing repellant, so instead I’d just cover up from head to toe when I went outside. This kinda sucked because it was pretty hot already, so I was just a giant sweatball most of the time.While scuba diving on Koh Tao, I think I encountered some ‘sea lice’ as small itchy red bumps showed up on my forearms and calves and pestered me for the next week.
We also booked a lot of things last minute which was a little stressful. So that’s totally our fault. But regardless, I just wasn’t my happiest self during that trip.After my friend left, I stayed behind at an AirBnb and then a house sit. Both were in Bangkok, and I honestly mostly just stayed inside and worked on my blog and did some teaching. They did have gyms and pools at both places, though, so that was really cool – I definitely utilized them as much as I could!
I also got a teeth cleaning for about 1/3 of the cost of what I would’ve paid in the US so I was stoked on that. I went to DentalBangkok.com and had a great experience, just FYI!
DECEMBERI went back to Germany for a couple days of Christmas markets, and I was SO HAPPY to be back in the cold! I kind of love winter and being cozy and the heat in November in Thailand just felt wrong to me.
But before getting on my plane to Germany, I had to show the airline my ticket from Hamburg to Bulgaria! Otherwise, I don’t think they would have let me on the plane considering I only had a few days left before I had to leave the Schengen area.
Hamburg had also begun to feel like a second home at that point, and it was nice to be somewhere familiar after Thailand which felt so UNfamiliar.I was bummed it was a short visit because CHRISTMAS MARKETS, but also excited for Bansko as I’d heard so many good things about it. And don’t worry, I went to multiple Christmas markets each day, haha. And had twice as many Glühweins, of course 😉
I flew to Sofia, spent one night there and then took the bus to Bansko. When I arrived I legitimately almost started to cry – it’s just so beautiful here! The Old Town is gorgeous, the whole town is gorgeous, and the view of the mountains is AMAZING. I still pinch myself that I get to live here.I mainly came because of the coworking space, Coworking Bansko. I’m absolutely loving it so far – it’s made it so easy to make friends! And not only friends, but other digital nomads who understand this weird lifestyle. I don’t have to explain myself and I’m not met with skepticism when I tell people about what I do. It’s just the norm.
Update: I ended up staying until my 90 days were almost up – until the beginning of March!But overall, it’s been a pretty damn good year. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I like and don’t like. I think this will really help me make better decisions regarding the places I choose to stay this next year, lol.
I hope you enjoyed this very lengthy recap – I was originally just planning to do bullet points of all the places I’d been, but then…I just started writing and felt I had to just word vomit my entire experience! It was pretty cathartic tbh. Kudos to you if you made it through.And just because I love lists and making lists and looking at lists:
MY YEAR @ A GLANCE
- Last few weeks of work in California
- 1 week Glasgow, Scotland (house sitting a dog)
- 1 week in Basel, Switzerland in an AirBnb
- Weekend in Amsterdam in an AirBnb
- Several days in Prague in an AirBnb
- 1 week in Bergen, Norway in an AirBnb
- 1 week in Stavanger, Norway (house sitting 2 dogs)
- 2.5 weeks in Hamburg, Germany (house sitting 2 cats)
- 10 days in Berlin, Germany (house sitting a dog & cat)
- 1.5 months in Hamburg, Germany – did 1 more house sit (10 days), AirBnbs, and stayed with friends
- 1 month at home in California (2 weeks at home, 2 weeks road tripping)
- 2 weeks near London, England (house sitting 1 cat)
- 1 month in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England (house sitting 4 cats)
- 1 week in Chichester, England (house sitting 1 cat)
- 2 days in London, England (house sitting 2 cats)
- 3 months in Hamburg, Germany (house sitting 2 cats + 1 snake)
- 1 month traveling around Thailand (staying in guest houses & 1 week house sit in Bangkok with 2 cats)
- 2 weeks in Bansko, Bulgaria (in my very own apartment (!!!!); I’ll stay for the full 3 months I’m allowed)
LOVE IT? GREAT! PIN IT FOR LATER!
Vanessa Shields says
What an exciting year you had! I can only imagine how tough it was to make the decision to go but I think it’s awesome that you did despite the tough days abroad! Love following your journey! 😁
Thanks so much, Vanessa! And yes, it was tough at the beginning, but so worth it now. 🙂
Shafinah Neville says
This is sooo inspiring, Kelsey! Thanks for the motivational boost for the rest of us! ❤️
Thank you so much! I’m glad you thought so. 🙂 Thank you for reading!
This is so awesome! I haven’t heard of house sitting before. Is there a certain website or app you use to find house sitting opportunities? I’d love to know more about it! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
Yes, I use Trusted Housesitters! I also tried Mind My House because it has a lower yearly fee ($20 per year instead of Trusted Housesitters’ $119 per year) but had more luck with Trusted Housesitters. So, I didn’t renew my membership for Mind My House but did for TH. It’s worth it to me because I’ve saved so much using it!
Feel free to contact me via email or Instagram if you have any other questions 🙂
Your year sounds crazy and amazing. You’ve definitely left your comfort zone and it sounds like your rockin’ it.
I’m glad you think so! Yes, I sure did. But now it’s becoming comfortable again, haha. Funny how that works!
From horrible commuting to a life of adventure… what and amazing jump! Congrats on making the decision! Seems like it was the best thing you could have done. If your house sitting brings you to Croatia, reach out, I’m sure we have plenty of stories to share 🙂
Yes, totally! I hated that commute haha. And yes, it ultimately was even though it was quite difficult at the time. Aw I definitely will – Croatia is on my list!! I’ve been dying to go forever.
Congrats on your first year as a digital nomad! What a scary leap, but it sounds like it was well worth it!
Thank you! Yes, it definitely was 🙂