On “what if”s, forks in the road and also: how do waves work?

I started this blog about four years ago to deal with my post-travel blues. I always expected to kick out the travel blues by now, and get my backpack from under the dust again. But four years after putting the backpack in storage and the post-travel blues moving in, going on the road again is not what’s next for us.

Four years ago, I met my then-boyfriend-now-husband while on the road in Australia. (I still get SO excited calling him my husband!) We were both there on a working holiday visa and whereas he didn’t really plan to go back (or plan anything at all, as a matter of fact), I had a job waiting for me back home. My plan was to go home after one year so I could pursue a PhD, starting in October 2014. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I just had to try it. And I did. And it wasn’t for me. But I’m not one for giving up, so here I am, almost four years later, absolutely and totally ready to move on from my life in academics. So after my one year down under, I moved back to Belgium and the husband came with. We always said that after my contract would finish, it would be up to him where we go next. We might go back on another working holiday someplace else, we might move to England (where he is from), or do something different altogether. But as it turns out, making plans, even these kinds of super vague ones, for something that is four years away, didn’t work.

(I absolutely loved waking up in a tent to absolute nothingness when we were first on the road together.)

I am now 27 and the husband is 30. Yes, I think that is freakishly old. But it is definitely too young to make long term plans. Four years ago, I was a silly 23-year old! I thought I would still have all the freedom in the world after my PhD. And don’t get me wrong, we do. We don’t have a mortgage, no pets, no kids. Nothing really ties us down. But we have opportunities. Just like my PhD was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, the husband now has a very exciting job. It drives him crazy a lot of the time, the last month more than it used to, but we know that in this job, he will get opportunities he might not get anywhere else. He’s been there for about two years now and his job has already changed so much. The company is expanding super fast and he gets to ride the wave. And he’s riding it to the top! (Is that a thing? I think you might actually ride a wave from top to bottom, or maybe from side to side? But you get what I mean, right?) So if we pack up and leave now, we would always be wondering, what if…

Ah, the million dollar “what if” question. It’s how I’ve figured out every dilemma I’ve ever faced. Which decision do I need to make so that in five years time, I WON’T ask myself “what if”. If I do the One Thing, will I regret not doing the Other? Will I ask myself: What if I did the Other Thing? Or if I do do the Other thing, will I ask myself, what if I did the One thing? It works pretty well. It made me go to Australia.

Me talking to myself five years ago: “Fast forward five years in time: will I regret not having gone to Australia for a year because instead I chose to spend time with my grandparents, or will I regret having actually gone to Australia because I didn’t get to spend more time with my grandparents?” My grandparents thought it was a stupid question with an obvious answer, so I went and sent them lots of post cards. And after these five years, me as well as my grandparents are indeed super happy I went and found my now-husband. Not once did I ask myself the question “what if I would’ve stayed home?” Even writing down that question makes me giggle because it is just too stupid for words.

For the PhD, I asked myself the same question: in five years time, will I regret not having tried the PhD to travel for a bit longer, or will I regret not having traveled longer to try the PhD. Honestly, at this moment, I’m not so sure if I made the right decision. This PhD really changed me into a much less happy person. I’ve asked myself the horrid “what if” a thousand times already. But on the other hand, if I wouldn’t have tried it, I would’ve always felt like I let an opportunity slip through my fingers and still wondered “what if”. Seems like there was just no way to win there.

So I guess my “in five years time” method isn’t as failsafe as I thought it was. Which makes it so much harder now that we are stood in front of the next fork in the road! If we want to go adventuring again (and then I mean proper adventuring, just the backpacks and us, for a long long time, with no ties to come back to a “home” any time soon), we let a lot of opportunities pass us by. But if these opportunities turn out to be the same kind of buzzkill like my PhD was, then we might end up regretting not having taken the leap.

I’ve read many a blog of young couples like us, saying that nothing prevents us to pack up and leave now or at a later stage in life. But I don’t agree. There are other things in life we also want. And what these hipster travellers fail to mention, is that you can’t have it all. The husband, he is ambitious. The jobs you get on the road hardly are. Me, I like a little bit of stability. Just knowing that we have a place to come home to. When I was younger, that was my parents house. But now, for the husband and me, that wouldn’t be a home. It would be a short-term solution. And also, we want to have a family. Tick tock says the biological clock. One baby on the road, exciting! Two babies on the road, exhausting! Not to forget wanting to give your children all the opportunities you can, including a stable home.

Does that mean this is it for us? The last fork in the road where at least one of the two options involves a crazy travel adventure? I don’t know. And I won’t know. Not all the planning in the world can help me out here. We just have to ride the wave, whether it goes up or down or sideways or maybe it’s just a really calm day and there are no waves at all. Maybe it’s time I stop thinking so much of the future and of the future “what if” moments I may have. Because if there’s anything I learned during my four years of PhD hell, it’s that you just don’t know what will come next. So rather than picking the option you think you’ll be happy with five years from now, maybe we should just pick the option we’re happy with now?

DAMN THAT’S SCARY! And: what does it mean!


Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

So obviously I’m a massive Potter-head. (And then I’m talking about the books. I don’t care much for the films. But the books, oh man…) I mean, me and Harry, we grew up together! I remember the books being totally new, no one at school had heard about Harry. I was about 10 years old when I got introduced into the World of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And from that year onwards, every summer, me and my family had a fight about who got to read the new book first. Mom, dad, brother, me. As I grew older, Harry and his friends grew older and his adventures went from exploring his newly found magic to and playing quidditch to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

I’ve read all the books at least 15 times. I’m not exaggerating. I really have. I even got a Harry Potter-themed birthday party after reading the first book. My mom was Professor McGonnagal and my dad professor Snape, and my brother Pieves. My friends all got an invitation for Hogwarts and we spend the whole evening doing magic tricks and brewing potions out of all sorts of brightly coloured soft drinks. Best. Birthday. Party. Ever.

So naturally, this new “book” has been on my mind. I wasn’t sure whether or not to read it. I mean, it’s not really a book. Seeing the play would’ve been better maybe, but who’s got money for that shizzle, right? I’d heard some mixed things from friends about reading the script. From “fun read” to “it’s just not what you want it to be”. So when I finally did give in and started the first page of the script, I tried to read with no expectations. And after finishing the book, all I can say is I have mixed feelings.


First of all, let’s not forget, it is just a theatre script, not a book. And that means that what I liked most about the books, the magical world it creates and makes you become a part of, it just wasn’t gonna happen. The set directions gave only very basic info as to the location (which still, in theatre terms, seemed pretty complicated to make happen on stage), and your memories as a Potter-head would fill in the gaps. (That way it was quite smartly written, revisiting a lot of old locations and stories.) But because it lacked all of the detail that created this wonderful new world, and our familiar characters had changed so much and new characters were introduced, there just wasn’t enough backstory. You know, the fun-in-the-Hogwarts-hallways scenes, the quidditch games, potions class, Christmas dinners,… Far from crucial to the story, but unmissable in the Potter-world.

At the same time, the story was a fun read. Already quite early on, you were shot into the level of suspense we are used to when reaching the final part of each book. What starts out as a little adventure goes more and more wrong, plot twist here and there, more suspense, turn-the-page-how-is-this-going-to-end. Perfectly readable in just one cozy couch session.

On the one hand, it scratched my Potter itch by reconciling me with my old friends. On the other, it left me wanting more. More Hogwarts. More adventure. More silly Weasleys and smart Grangers and loyal Potters. I think more than anything, this script has shown that us fans aren’t tired of Potter just yet. And we are willing to give anything a shot if it means we get to revisit the good ol’ days of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The Weirdest Wanting – Baby Season

Here’s a weird thought: what if your mind and your body are ready to have a baby, but your life isn’t?

Lately I’ve been seeing babies everywhere. No one told me the end of summer is baby season! It’s like an invasion! They’re taking over the world! And on top of that, for the first time in my life, people in my group of friends are getting babies too! Even my childhood friend whom I’ve known since we were 4 years old. She’s like super pregnant. And I’m ridiculously excited to meet her mini version any time now. And also, I notice myself daydreaming more and more about starting our own family. Huh?!?!?!?!

Obvious question: then why don’t I? Well, because I’m only 25 and my life hasn’t really settled yet. The boyfriend and I have been living together for over a year now and it’s been bloody amazing. So that part is definitely settled. But we live in a smallish rental apartment. I mean, it’s not small now, but I think if we add a baby to the mix it’ll start feeling small real soon. We don’t have the money to start thinking of getting our own place any time soon. Let alone the money to support a child and then eventually a second one. Oh yeah, and I still want to get married first and turns out that also cost money, because secretly I think we want to do it right. And did I mention my current work contract only runs for another two years? Quite likely, I’d be pregnant and unemployed with a toddler at home. I think anyone would agree: not the best plan.

Not to forget: I still want to travel. One more big one. Before we take our foot of the gas for at least 18 years, I’d want to have one final race. And I really don’t want to make any life-changing decisions like starting a family knowing that I might regret not having done everything I wanted to before the boyfriend and myself stop being the most important people in my life.

But also: I really want a baby. A tiny little human to show  the beautiful things in our world. To want to make the bad things in the world disappear for. To love and care for with my amazing boyfriend. To cuddle and laugh with. To share our wonderful life with.

Why do I want something I know is such a bad idea! I mean, it’s not like wanting that new sofa that’s really too expensive. Or wanting seconds even though you’re quite full. It’s a baby for god’s sake! Can the mother instinct please go into hibernation now so I can focus on what my life is supposed to be like the next two to five years?!


Same Old Same Old: Worries About The Future

I am officially not young anymore. Why? Because I’m scared of time sneaking up on me.

No, I’m not talking about wrinkles and back problems. I’m talking about having to make choices. Big ones.

In the next 5 to 10 years, there are two main things I would like to do.

Go on another crazy adventure, me and the boyfriend against the world.

Have children.

The last part is not necessarily something I want to do in the next 5 to 10 years, it’s more something I have to do in the next 5 years if I ever want to. Fuck that’s scary. I’m only 25. I feel like the world is at my feet, but I’ve got this heavy backpack full of lack of time.

I wonder how these adventure couples do it. We all know the stories: ‘we sold our house and bought a van and have been travelling for three years now’. How do they plan for the future? Or do they not? Are my dreams not combinable?

I mean, think of your parents. Parents used to be awesome before we came around. My mom and dad travelled through the Atlas Mountains on donkeys. They used to grow weird organic food in their garden in the 80s. My dad used to take meditation classes. Now, they are members of the local tennis club. They go to the opera once a month. And since my brother and I have left the house, they are slowly picking up travelling again. Last year they cross-country skied through Lapland. But for about 25 years, my parents drove us to our hobbies and made birthday cakes, while attending parent-teacher meetings and buying us new shoes every so many months.

I am so not ready for that. And I’m scared I won’t be by the time I need to be. Because let’s face it ladies, we are stuck with a biological clock. If we ever want a little version of us running around the house, we need to plan for it. Of course we want a wonderful partner first. Now that part I’ve got sorted, thank god. But ideally, we also have some financial security. A sound job and at least a two bedroom apartment that is our own. And then we will give our little rascals everything we have and we will love them like we have never loved before. And they will love us back, and that’ll be everything we need to keep us sane between all the smelly nappies and crazy teenage drama.

But what happens to our other dreams? I always figured you should live your dreams until children become your one and only dream. That’s when the time is right. And that’s the way time would do it. You get to grow up, find yourself, see the world, meet people, bump into your second half, and by the time you’re tired of the adventure, your motherly instincts will give you butterflies every time you see chubby little baby cheeks.

I seem to have skipped a part. I adore chubby little baby cheeks and tiny little grabby fingers. But I’m not tired of the adventure. And let’s face it, if you’re that crazy to combine them, you’re gonna need a whole lot of money to back you up. Because you will want your little monkeys to have it all. Just like you want to have it all. And if maybe time would just slow down, you could.



Just a Random Evening with a Magnificent Dinner

The other night my parents invited me and the boyfriend to go out for dinner. Apparently, their date had cancelled last minute and we were the honoured second choice.

And was I delighted to be their first second choice! It wasn’t just any dinner in any restaurant. We went to the Voltaire in Heverlee because the restaurant  was celebrating its 20th birthday. And for this joyful occasion, the chef had invited famous Belgian television chef (think the Flemish equivalent of Jamie Oliver) Jeroen Meus. As he told us later on the evening himself (the good man made time to have a chat with everyone in the restaurant), he used to be a kitchen hand in this restaurant many years ago before his career took off. And now he had helped put together the menu for this wonderful evening.

We started off with some pre-dinner drinks. The gang ordered a variety of different gin tonics, for me a cava as I simply do not like gin tonic and will not give in to the hype even though it does look awesome in the big glasses with the funky stuff in it. As an appetiser, we got ham with tuna. Say what now, I hear you say. Yes indeed, ham with a tuna sauce, as delicious as it sounds surprising.

But this evening had more on offer than yummy food and casual chats with a famous person. We went for the menu with the wine tasting. This meant that before the starter and before the main, the waiter would poor us three tastings of white, then red, and let us do a blind tasting. Now, both me and the boyfriend do not know much about wine, but we do know the kind of wines we like more than others. All wines were always very distinct and even though all of them were tasty, it was fairly easy to pick the one you wanted. The waiter would then come back to the table and explain a little bit about the wines. Where they were from, the kind of grape, the kind of dirt they grew in (apparently you can taste the minerals in the dirt in some of the wines), and what kind of food they would accompany well. And all of it smoothly in English as well, so the boyfriend could follow! I was well impressed.

Turns out I like my white wines quite “mineral” and my reds with a lot of tannins. My favourite red in the supermarket in the section of affordable wines, is an Australian Shiraz. The red I went for, was a blend of different grapes, including the Syrah grape, as the Shiraz is called in Europe. I was quite proud of myself that I could actually tell the difference between the wines and obviously know my kind of wine. I consider it my first step to become a snobby wine specialist. Hooray.

For starters, I decided to go for the salmon, a mix of smoked and raw. I am sure “raw” would not be the correct culinary term as it sounds a bit untasty, but it was tasty I can assure you. The only downside was that, since the two kinds of salmon were mixed up on the plate, the smoked salmon flavour massively predominated and it felt like a bit of a waste of the lovely fresh uncooked salmon. It came with a tzatziki and some fresh green apple, brilliant idea!

For mains, I had a hard time deciding. I wasn’t really in the mood for fish, and I am always to scared to order a steak as I secretly like mine well-done, and having worked in a kitchen myself, I know that chefs go berserk if anyone orders a steak well-done because it is a waste of the good quality meat. So I went for the duck. A slow cooked duck leg with veggies and spuds. And this is where I tell you what heaven tastes like. My goodness, that was the best duck I had ever eaten. The meat just fell of the bone, and I ate every last string of it. It was deliciously stringy, like the meat you get in stews, but so juicy at the same time! And the sauce, I don’t know what it was, but it was so perfect for the dish! The taste was subtle, so as not to ruin the delicious duck flavour but to add just that little bit more deliciousness. I was a happy bunny.

For dessert, I picked the mascarpone with white chocolate and cherries. I wasn’t a big fan of the cherries, but I guess that’s just my own taste, since I have never really liked cherries. I merely ordered it for the white chocolate to be honest. It also came with some berries (raspberries, blackberries,…) and I am more than a big fan of those. But of course raspberry season is already over, and the raspberries weren’t the tastiest I had ever had. But now I’m just nitpicking.

The evening was truly wonderful. Just the other week I mentioned to the boyfriend how I would like to see my parents more often, so of course we had loads to talk about. The restaurant has a really nice lay-out as well, it was a joy to look around. It was a spacious room out of a dark wood, with some hunting-themed decorations. The lighting was perfect, bright enough to inspect the food meticulously but dark enough for a super cosy atmosphere. We were sat in a quiet corner by the window and taken care of excellently by the waiter. By the end of the night, we wobbled down the stairs wonderfully satisfied and ready for bed. Evening at the Voltaire: successful!