Life Update (Traveling After Tragedy and Future Plans) (Episode 19)
Finally: an update on our lives! We've made some recent episodes about specific places, like Ireland and Barcelona, but we felt it was necessary to update you guys on some things that have been going on with us behind the scenes. We've had a lot going on-- and that's an understatement. So, here we are!
Currently, we are doing a housesit in Viareggio, Italy, taking care of a couple of Galgos (Spanish Greyhounds). Our housesit began on November 15th and will end on December 16th. However, this episode isn't about our housesit. We'll make a separate one about that! We want to backtrack a bit and update you on other things.
We drove with a couple of friends from Prague to Croatia at the very end of June into the beginning of July. We were on Krk Island for about five days, which is a small island right off of the Northwestern coast of Croatia. We explored a few beaches there, one of them being Oprna Beach, which was my favorite. It was easily the hardest to get to, though. We had to hike down the side of a mountain! We almost looked like mountain goats going to that beach. Like Oprna Beach, most of the beaches we went to were covered in small rocks with crystal clear water. It was beautiful to look at, but a bit painful, considering the rocks and frigid water!
Overall, though, we'd say that Croatia was absolutely gorgeous to go to and we're glad we went! We can't wait to get to explore more of the country in the future.
Throughout our time in Croatia, though, I was distracted and nervous because my mom hadn't been feeling very well. She had told me a few weeks before we went to Croatia that she had bumps on her head, but told me not to be worried about it because her doctors weren't. On top of that, she was feeling a little rundown, which I also attributed to her being depressed that our family cat recently died. Knowing all of this, I was a little nervous and constantly messaging my mother throughout our stay in Croatia. On the last night, she told me that she had taken painkillers and was feeling dizzy from them. Knowing my mother, that was very unusual. She was not one to ever take painkillers, so this made me even more nervous than I already was. I told my friends and Matt, but they all said not to worry too much because she was fine and seeing doctors. Since that sounded rational, I tried to push it aside and enjoy myself.
That was on Saturday, July 1st. On Monday, we were back in Prague and I got a FaceTime call from my Dad. He told me that my mother was in the hospital. Naturally, I was impossibly nervous, but he was at home and was not too concerned, so that did calm me just a bit. Then, he explained that she had pneumonia and was being treated for it. I felt shocked, but felt a little relieved that it was just pneumonia and not something more serious.
Then, my brother visited her at the hospital and was texting me, updating me on her condition. He told me that her pneumonia had made it too difficult for her to breathe on her own, so they were going to put her in a medically induced coma the following day to rest her body, drain the fluid in her lungs, and heal her faster.
The next day, I got a Facetime call from my Dad, but this time, he and my brother were unsmiling and visibly nervous from what looked like a hospital room. They turned the camera around and I saw my mom, lying in a hospital bed being prepared for the coma. I commented on her gown, trying to lighten the mood, and she smiled and laughed. She was on quite a few drugs, of course. Then, she told me she loved me over and over. Little did I know that that was the last time I'd speak to her.
After just one day under, my brother informed me via texts that the doctors were thinking that it was cancer, specifically lymphoma, and they needed to test for that while she was under. Right then was when I decided I couldn't not be home any more. I booked a flight for the following morning (6:30AM!) and took it.
When I landed, my cousin picked me up, and gave me more news I didn't want to hear: she hadn't woken up from her coma like she should have and, while in the coma, she'd had a stroke. This was on Thursday.
On Saturday, my mother still hadn't woken up and we had a meeting with the doctors. They told us that she had had a major stroke, one that destroyed half of her brain. We were instantly devastated, of course, but then they told us that she most likely had lymphoma, a very aggressive one that only took about 1-2 months to become what it was then. She was already in Stage 4. Considering all of this, we decided to pull the plug after getting definite test results proving that she did indeed have cancer that Monday. She died on July 20th.
(13:25) As personal as this story may be, there are reasons for my telling it. I want those who worry about these things happening when traveling to know that, yes, unfortunately, they could happen. For me, it did, and I wasn't physically there when my mom went under and I hate that I wasn't. But, then again, I can't spend my life waiting around for people to get sick. I miss my mother more than anything. She was my best friend and my confidant. She was one of the greatest people I've ever known. However, she did understand that I was living my life. I live in a time where I can travel and explore the world, so why not?
After my mother passed and after her services, I was a wreck. I was devastated about my mother passing, but also felt a constant push and pull: to stay and to go. While talking to my brother about this, he gave me excellent advice. He told me that there's no reason to stay. Mom died and it's horrible, but you can't just sit around, waiting for the next person to get sick. Mom gave us life. We have to live it.
And he was absolutely right. About a month after my mom passed, I had a flight with Matt to go to Barcelona with his parents for a week. We already planned on going there before my mom got sick and we felt it would be good for me to go. I was nervous and constantly upset about going, especially since afterwards, we would return to Prague. I often told Matt when the time came closer that I didn't want to go. He reassured me that it would be good for me to go and that I'd be alright. In the end, I said goodbye to my family and got on that plane to Barcelona.
To be honest, it was an excellent decision. I was far less melancholy and weepy there than I was at home. At home, I was surrounded by her things and her smell, which was its own kind of torture. I broke down several times per day. But, in Barcelona, I was distracted and enjoying myself with good company. I did have a few breakdowns there, of course, but I felt better there than at home.
What I'm saying is that, no matter if you're near or far, tragedy can strike. But, we live in a time where we can hop on a plane and be back home in a varying number of hours. We can FaceTime, Skype, text, call, you name it. On top of that, travel can help heal you. It helped me and continues to help me every day. I miss my mother constantly. I dream of her, I wear things she's knitted me, and wear her favorite necklace every day. I think of her all the time. But, I can't let the fear of something like this happening again stop me from enjoying my life. I have just one life to live and I need to enjoy it while I can. After all, I can be home quickly once again, if I ever need to. Fingers crossed that I won't.
(17:01) In mid-August, we traveled to Barcelona with Matt's parents-- our first trip with them! With everything that was going on with me, it was a nice breather... until we experienced a terrorist attack! You can listen to our episode or read our blog post on our time in Barcelona here! You definitely don't want to miss that.
Since we already have an episode on that, we didn't talk about that again during this one.
(18:20) After Barcelona, we went back to Prague, since our apartment was there and pretty much our life! We had to return home in October for my best friend's wedding, so our goal was to return to Prague and work an insane amount of hours to save some money.
(19:20) We found ridiculously cheap flights from Ireland to Stewart International Airport, which is a tiny airport close to my house in New York State. Since we'd never been to Ireland and the flights from Prague to New York were expensive, we made the brilliant decision to fly from Prague to Dublin for $50 each, spend a week or so there, then fly from Dublin to Stewart Airport for $150 each! Thank you, Norwegian, for your excellent deals!
Right before boarding our RyanAir flight from Prague to Dublin, the workers checked our carry-on bags' sizes (we only ever fly with carry-on bags because we can't afford to be checking bags and paying insane fees for that over and over). Even though our bags never had a problem being carry-ons anywhere else, they happened to be just slightly too big for RyanAir. Then, they charged us 50 Euros (around $65 at that time) each to check our bags. Rude.
We then landed in Dublin airport and spent about a week driving around the entire country with our friend from home, who came to meet us there! We already talked about that amazing trip and you can listen to that podcast here!
(21:20) As I mentioned earlier, we then flew from Dublin to New York, since my best friend was getting married and I was her maid of honor.
However, we did run into a little dilemma before leaving Prague: what do we do with our apartment? We don't want to pay rent if we don't have to! Luckily, a couple of friends we'd made in Vietnam back in February of 2016 were actually going to Prague for a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course at the same time we'd be gone! How fortuitous! We ended up subletting our apartment to them while we were gone. Sweet!
Anyway, we were in New York for my friend's wedding. Unfortunately, I missed her bridal shower because it was in early September, but I did mainly plan and go to the bachelorette party, which we had at a male strip club in NYC!
Her wedding was on October 20th in Connecticut at a magical castle! It was so perfect for her, you guys have absolutely no idea. If you couldn't guess, Matt was obviously my date, so he came with me. But, we had to stay two nights: the first was the rehearsal dinner and the second was, of course, the wedding itself. However, if you couldn't already tell, we aren't made of money, so it would've been very staining on us financially if we stayed at the $150-per-night hotel for two nights! Instead, we put our traveling knowledge into use and booked an AirBNB for the first night, then the hotel for the second night, just for convenience.
The AirBNB was $50 altogether for one night and the hotel was $150 altogether for one night. We ended up saving about $100 just by staying at an AirBNB that first night. Worth it!
Our AirBNB was in the middle of nowhere with lots of weird looking dogs on a farm, but it was still worth it. That, and it was only 10 minutes from the hotel and not far from the rehearsal dinner!
After the rehearsal dinner, I dropped Matt back at the AirBNB and went to the hotel to drink and hang out with my friend and her other bridesmaids. While there, she handed out gifts to everyone, but I didn't open mine because I had a feeling that I shouldn't have opened it there.
Good thing I didn't. I opened it the following morning and it was this gorgeous necklace with a picture of my mom and I from when I was a kid. Freakin'. Precious. Naturally, I started bawling the moment I opened it. It was such an amazing gift from an amazing friend.
She turned out to be even more amazing, by the way. I never gave her that picture. As it turned out, she went to my house when I wasn't home, sat down with my Dad, and looked through old photo albums with him for about an hour until she found that picture. Then, she went out and put it into a necklace. Pretty cool, huh? You need to get yourself a friend like my Jane, reader!
(27:20) After the wedding, we were unsure where we should go and what we should do. Our apartment was being subletted and we didn't want to stay home because, you know, we're travelers, after all. That, and we wanted to go somewhere warm.
We were looking for a place somewhere warm to housesit and take care of animals while saving money by not paying rent. We had joined Trusted Housesitters and luckily found and was accepted for a housesit with two Galgos (Spanish Greyhounds) in Viareggio, Italy! It's not exactly warm here anymore, but, it's in the 50s during the day, so that'll do!
One downside to this website that we found is that a lot of hosts get your hopes up, then crush them by telling you very late that they found "someone local." I mean, why are you on this site with thousands of people in foreign countries and then choose "someone local?" Makes no sense. But, luckily, this housesit didn't let us down and we jumped on it!
Fun fact: Matt is allergic to cats. Unacceptable!
(31:25) We arrived in Italy on November 15th. We planned to do the housesit in Viareggio (in Northeastern Tuscany) for a month, then simultaneously backpack through the country for a couple of months or so and work on our computers.
However, within days, we realized that that wasn't an option. For one, Italy is super expensive. And secondly, their internet here is abysmal. Internet cafes doing exist, there's hardly ever any WiFi anywhere, and when there is, it doesn't work! Considering these horrible things, we knew backpacking through the country and working on our computers at the same time was out of the question for us.
We ended up booking flights to go back to New York for the holidays. Especially since my mom just died, it made the most sense to be home during this time. Unfortunately, my brother won't be there because he'll be in Chile-- which is super cool! We're both currently digital nomads, no big thing. We're both cool people, I guess!
(34:00) Even though we have the holidays figured out, we're unsure what to do until the beginning of March. At that time, we'll need to be back in Prague to pay our taxes for the previous year, since we are technically working and living there under our business visas. But, we aren't sure what to do for two months from January to March! And sitting at home is off the table.
We desperately want to go somewhere warm, since we both hate winter and the cold. Hopefully, we'll be going to Mexico for about two months since it's real close to America, it's cheap to fly to, cheap to go to, and it's warm! But, we'll see if we actually go there.
(36:02) We're also doing more research on the further future, which we're both more concerned about. We enjoy having a home base where we can leave our stuff, have a visa, and all of that good stuff. But, our time in Prague is drawing to a close, sadly, but we know we don't want to stay another year. Our visas will be up at the end of April, so not super soon, but soon enough to need to start planning what's next.
We were talking to our visa company (they helped us get our first visas) and they said that it's possible for us to stay 90 days in the Schengen zone after our visas expire. This was fantastic news, especially since we want to backpack through Eastern Europe in the summer, but want to leave all of our belongings some place nearby! With this new information, we are thinking of doing this: returning to Prague in March, staying 60 days out of those 90 extra days past our visa expiration dates, backpacking through Eastern Europe (that freezes our time left that we can stay in the Schengen zone, specifically Prague), returning to Prague for those last 30 days to gather our things, then off to who knows where!
We've been debating spending some time in Central or South America after then. We also might even teach English in a school again, specifically in China. Who knows! It's all up in the air. That's one of the many the luxuries of our lifestyle: everything's up in the air!
(40:45) We are thinking of China specifically because while teaching English there, you get loads of benefits: they pay for your flight there, your rent, they give you a nice salary, take care of your visa and tax nonsense, and provide you with a nice 3-month long summer vacation (for public schools, specifically). It all sounds so nice, especially after having to figure all of those visa and tax things out on our own for the last couple of years!
Then again, we're tentative about doing that since we had a horrible experience teaching English in Korea! So, we'll just have to wait and see what we want to do. I mean, we've been even talking about getting our Masters degrees (not in America, though, because screw that crazy expense!)!
Why not in America, you ask? Because we are thousands of dollars in debt from our Bachelors!! It's insane! But, there are a good number of countries that offer free schooling-- yes, you read that right: free schooling. At some point, we'd like to take advantage of that.
But, then again, Matt loathed being in school, so this is another thing that's up in the air for now!
(45:00) Yet again, we also love having the freedom that we have working on our computer, working for ourselves, and being able to do whatever we want when we want. It's hard to beat!
As of right now (when we recorded this episode, I mean), we are in Viareggio, Italy, housesitting two dogs, which we mentioned earlier. It's in Tuscany, which--fun fact--was a place that my mom always wanted to go to. She always dreamed about going there, always talked about its beauty, always loved watching Under the Tuscan Sun, and so on. Plus, her family was originally from Italy, but nowhere near there, though. It's kind of a little extra nice for me to be here because I feel as if I'm paying homage to her, to her memory, and to her biggest dream.
I mean, we even went to Pisa and got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa! We're eating all of the delicious food items, of course, too! (You can check out more pictures, videos, and info on our time in Italy here!)
By the way, if you didn't notice that we mentioned it earlier, Norwegian Air is amazing. We are flying back for Christmas, which normally would be an insane price tag, but we found flights for $200 each! And we booked them only a month in advance! Unfortunately, they don't supply you food on board and such, but if you pack right and bring food with you, it's worth it!
(49:20) People often ask how we afford our lifestyles. Well, for one thing, we only buy cheap-ish flights. We don't spend a ton on them by using SkyScanner and Google Flights. We also only stay in cheap-ish places when we're traveling by using AirBNB. That, and we do work a lot. We work far more than we actually travel because we do need to fund our travels somehow! Also, when we fly, we never check bags, so we save money on that (that adds up quickly-- believe me!).
(49:50) The wine was fantastic! I mean, we were in Italy, so it has to be.
We've been looking at places to stay in Mexico for a couple of months before we return to Prague, specifically Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cancun, but we've been unsuccessful at finding affordable places in decent areas-- and we're noticeably frustrated! If anyone has any recommendations of actual places to stay there, please speak up!
Thank you all so much for listening and/or reading! We'd love to hear from you. Let us know what you think about this podcast/blog post. Cheers!
Wine: Bella Vista - Chianti (Italy)