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!


Scotland in Love

I feel slightly guilty saying this, but I went on a holiday and I didn’t blog! To be honest, I even forgot about the blog. You see, this holiday was going to be an “away from everything” one. We were staying in a cabin by Loch Ken close to Galloway Forrest Park in the south west of Scotland. There were no plugs, no phone service, no appliances. The whole cabin operated purely on solar energy and some gas for the cooker and the hot water. So it didn’t really make much sense to bring our electronics as we wouldn’t be able to charge them anyways, and as we really wanted to get away from it all!

I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been to be away from all emails and social media! I really haven’t missed it for a second. And now that we’re back home, I really notice how different my day is when I forget about social media for a while! It’s amazing! For the Boyfriend as well, since he is always checking his emails for work and is a mad social media fan. His phone was out of power for a few days and it really changed our days! Sadly, his camera was out of juice as well, so there went his planned past time. But I secretly may have liked it. At least for that big hike we did. 21kms! Booyah! Longest hike we’ve done so far. And there was NO camera, NO phone, just us two and the forest and the sea and the birds and the sun. A whole day of each others company with nothing intervening. Fun fun fun!

Especially because at that point, we had something to celebrate…

Ladies and Gentleman! The Boyfriend is now the Fiancé! He proposed at the shore of Loch Ken at sunset, with the sky all purple and pink and the most perfect peace and quiet and oh man it was SO romantic! And spontaneous! Apparently he’d had the ring for a while and planned to do it in Scotland, and that night he just felt like it was the right moment. It really was. It was perfect! I have never been so happy before in my life, blahdeeblah cliché I know, but I really don’t know how else to say it. I felt a rush of emotions I had never felt before, I was crying and laughing and jumping up and down and kissing him and felt like there were fireworks of fluffiness exploding in my chest. (My  brand new Fitbit put my heart rate at 120bpm! Madness!) I am so happy that I am going to marry this most extroardinary person who makes me smile and giggle and burst with laughter every single day! Who gives the bestest cuddles and makes me feel so comfortable and at home. Who still makes me feel so insanely in love and fluttery just by smiling one of his thousand different amazing smiles of me. And now I don’t only get to tell everyone about how perfect he is for me and how I want to share my world with him, we’ll get to show everyone by marrying each other! I AM SERIOUSLY BURSTING WITH JOY!!!!

I was going to write a whole post about our holiday and what we’ve been upto but oh well, I got distracted again. I might just leave it at this and go cuddle my FIANCÉ 😀

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?!


A Book of Dreams, and a Lifetime of Dreaming Them

I think I’m gonna start making a little dream book. You know, a little note book with all sorts of ideas of things I want to do at some point in my life. Ugh I know, sounds awfully girly and cliché, it seems like the fast track to a “my-10-year-plan-scrapbook”. But it won’t be. It’ll just be a way to feel a bit less restless.

For all you fellow used-to-be-travellers, I’m sure you know what I mean. You don’t particularly feel stuck, but you just feel stuck right now. Like, you know you still have tons of time to do a lot of the stuff you dream about, but you wonder when and you have basically no patience. So, if I start writing down all my genius ideas and insane plans, maybe my wanderlustfilled mind will chill out a bit. And I can browse through my little book realising I really don’t have it that bad.

I used to do a similar thing when I was a bit younger. I don’t know where the book is right now, I probably threw it out in one of the many moves, but I remember it had things like “swim with dolphins” (check) and “get a tattoo” (check) and I should really be more proud of the things I’ve done rather than panic about all the things I haven’t done yet, like learn how to dive or take drawing classes so I can draw my travels. Seriously, I’m only 25.

The boyfriend has moved over to Belgium exactly one year ago today, and this morning I was thinking about how far we’ve come. Most of the time I wonder about how far I still want to go, but my oh my we’ve done so much already! Exactly one year ago, we packed up as much of his stuff as we could take on the plane with us, and started moving in to our apartment. One year later, our apartment feels so homely! Last addition: we bought an awesome big new couch. Seriously, how much more settled can you get?! We’ve moved away from what we need to get by to what we want just because, and it’s a wonderful life. In the mean time, my job is progressing nicely I think, and the boyfriend found an amazing job as well, with fun colleagues who trust him and his skills, and a lot of possibilities for the future. Tonight, we’re meeting up with friends in town for some live music on the market squares, as happens in summer in Leuven. I can imagine none of this sounds very exciting, but to us it really is. I really think we can be proud of what we’ve accomplished. And what we’ve accomplished is… happiness.

So now, rather than ruining that happiness with my crazy ideas and restlessness, I’ll keep good track of all my dreams and make sure they come true. And I’ll be okay with that not happening today, or even tomorrow, or even in the next years.

Bring it on dreams, we’ll have a good run together.

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.



Call Me Crazy: My 40-year Plan to Happiness

I’ve never really been one for planning for the future. Planning one year ahead, that’s the furthest I’ve gone since I started studying. And I liked it that way you know.

2008: I finished secondary school and decided to try my luck at uni in Brussels, studying English and Dutch philology: linguistics and literature. Stick it out for at least a year, see if I can make something of it. 2009: I could. So I went for the second year. Which is when I started planning my first year abroad, an exchange to Finland. 2010: When I was in Finland for that glorious adventure, I had to think about what to do when I got back. I’d only have an academic bachelor’s degree, and in Belgium you really need a master’s as well if you want to get a job in your field of study. But I really didn’t know what to pick. So I planned a gap year in Ireland as an au pair. 2011: Once in gorgeous Ireland, I had to figure out which master’s to do when I got back. 2012: I went for a master’s in linguistics in my home town, Leuven. And of course, having been bitten severely by the travel bug by then, graduating meant going on another crazy adventure: to Australia. 2013: During that travel-and-work-my-way-around-Straya year, I wrote a project proposal and prepared for the job interview as a PhD student for the year after. 2014: I left Australia with a boyfriend across the Channel and a job interview scheduled the week after I got back. I got the job. 2015: The boyfriend moved over. 2016: Three more years of this job to go.

So as you can see, the last 7 years have been absolutely amazing and inspiring, only by planning year by year.

But I guess I’m too old for that now. I know some of you people out there disagree, you would say I can still throw things around. But my reality is that I have a 4-year contract at work (three more years to go) and a three year lease on the apartment. So like I have mentioned in several of my previous posts: the boyfriend and I are kind of stuck here for a while.

But that doesn’t mean my one year adventure planning has stopped. Only now all these plans have to be planned to start only in three years time. And then suddenly I have my life planned out for the next 4o years. Ow dear.

This is what it’ll look like: finish my PhD and save up as much as we can! Go on another crazy adventure of about one year before we go back to the real world. Decide which country we want to (and are allowed to) live and work in next, probably the one where we’ll be for a long time since it is then time to settle down. Try to buy some property, an apartment, ideally a house. Start a family. Retire. Stay healthy. Go travel again. Help!

I thought people with long term plans like that only exist in movies, you know, those young women stuck in their little-girl dreams not wanting to live in reality. But here I am now. I have a 40-year plan. Before, I was even thinking of starting a scrapbook.

I started this blog a little bit less than a year ago to deal with my post-travel-blues. The blues haven’t left me yet. But now I am not trying to find glory in my little adventures in order to not miss the past, I am doing it to not worry about the future. The future isn’t here yet. And the way futures work, the future will never be here. So just to remind myself: enjoy the little things in life. Happiness will accompany me along the way. And thinking about the future isn’t going to get me anywhere. Because happiness isn’t a destination, it’s the road trip you take trying to get there while never actually reaching your endpoint.


(Just a quick side note: this last sentence isn’t my idea. I read it somewhere and have thought about it daily since, but I can’t remember where I found it.)