A year of saying yes (and what’s next)

*A note: I wrote most of this piece before the world completely burst into flames. So I kept putting off hitting publish, as it felt inappropriate to post when so many of my friends are (rightfully) upset over Brexit, terrorist attacks, police brutality, etc etc.

But I’ve realized there’s never going to be a ‘right’ time to post, and after today I pretty much have zero free time until October (more on that below). So here we go.

Valbonne, France by Expat Edna

Valbonne, France

I’m deliriously happy these days. There’s no two ways about it.

For some reason, I feel women tend to downplay when things are going really well — to qualify it with a negative, act super humble, and brush off success as luck. And I won’t deny I’ve been very, very lucky.

But screw it: I’m happy, and happiness is fleeting, and if my world were to come crashing down tomorrow I’d like to remember I was once this full of joy.

This post was originally meant to be a reflection on my first year of full-time travel. So before I get into why I’m feeling so good about 27, I’d like to start with a few notes on what happened at 26.

Monaco by Expat Edna

The story behind this photo: “Wanna drive to Monaco?” “…Sure.” Bam, country 31.

On a year of full-time travel

Here’s what I’ve realized: I don’t know what I was thinking when I quit my job to travel.

I mean, I know why I did it: my job was no longer rewarding, Shanghai as a city was breaking my heart, and my boyfriend was still traveling full-time and I wanted to rejoin him.

But I don’t know what I wanted from it. 

I certainly didn’t quit to “find myself”: after seven years of living abroad, I’d felt pretty found.

It wasn’t to see more of the world: In the past year I went to three new countries…but revisited 15 old ones.

And I didn’t intend to be a digital nomad: I completed only three freelance pieces over the past year; barely blogged like I thought I would; and have otherwise (enjoyably) blown through every cent I saved up and then some.

Sunset on the French Riviera by Expat Edna

So as fun as it was to do nothing but eat, drink, and be merry, five or six months in I began wondering: what was I doing with myself?

I wasn’t building up skills I could put on my CV. I wasn’t making money. I wasn’t even catching up on the blog.

It seemed I’d basically quit my job to take one long extended vacation — but then what? What happened when the money ran out and I needed a job again? (“So can you explain this gap on your resume?” “Ummm, I spent a year taking a lot of photos of food?”)

Berts Jazz Bar, Belfast by Expat Edna

At least they’re sometimes for work. On set in Belfast

At month 7, burnout set in. Constantly moving wore me down, more mentally than anything else. After all, I spent years being an expat for a reason — and having to pack all my worldly possessions into a suitcase every week was not one of them.

In January, in a state of mild career panic, I applied for the New Zealand working holiday visa. With that in hand, I felt slightly more relaxed knowing that, if nothing else, I could always book a one-way ticket to Wellington and begin a new expat chapter there.

I also made the decision to go to Taipei for months 10, 11, and 12. This solved two problems: it gave me a temporary home base, which I sorely needed to treat the burnout, and it kept me out of Schengen for three months to reset my tourist visa.

But then. As soon as I had my backup plan in place, of course, things started coming together.

Nice, France by Expat Edna

Filming in Nice

Lessons and what I’ve gained

Looking back at all the anxiety, man, was I being silly. Five or eight months, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t a long time — especially when you’re trying to assess the impact of a major life change!

After a full year, I’ve recognized the greatest benefit from quitting my job to travel. It wasn’t about finding myself, or seeing more of the world.

It was the gift of time. 

And the real beauty in having time, you see, is having the ability to say YES to anything. The freedom to accept any invitation or opportunity that comes your way.

I could say yes to flying home for my Dad’s 60th birthday, or going to Amsterdam to catch up with my best friend; I could say yes when BBC Travel asked me to go to Venice, or when I was invited to Sheffield for an underwater hockey tournament.

The possibilities for adventure were endless. I spent the year nurturing old friendships and making new ones; I learned what worked for me (BBC Travel!) and what didn’t (sorry, underwater hockey), and adjusted accordingly.

Edna and Julie in Cannes by Expat Edna

The view from our dinner party in Cannes

Which brings me to what else I’ve gained from this year:

Career direction. Man, I was terrible at freelancing. But it turns out, I’m kind of good at producing. It’s something I could see myself possibly pursuing permanently, and I’m so jazzed to be doing more of it this fall.

And the sleeper surprise of the whole year: people actually like what I do on Snapchat. And will pay me to do it. I feel lucky the medium blew up right when I began traveling full-time, because no way I’d have grown the audience I have now had I stayed in one place.

Stronger relationships. With everyone in my life. With friends scattered across the globe, many of whom I saw for the first time in years. With my detached Asian family. And obviously, with my boyfriend.

Being able to properly put time and energy into those valued relationships was so precious — that alone to me is worth taking a year off work.

Acceptance of limitations. I realized what exactly I can and cannot do; and by extension, what I do and do not want.

I’ve accepted that my blog and Instagram aren’t going to blow up — and that’s alright by me.

I’m positive now that I don’t want a digital career. And that’s totally cool.

I love having a bigger purpose than what lies in bits and pixels. I need to work in the offline; to create things larger than myself. And my next jobs are just that.

Dinner party in Cannes, France by Expat Edna

What’s on for 27

Which brings me to why I’m so deliriously happy.

27 has been excellent so far: I kicked it off by visiting my 30th country, climbing a volcano at sunrise on my birthday, and landing some dream gigs. June saw me move back to Europe, where I spent an incredible ten days in Cannes and Belfast with BBC Travel.

This week I’m resting in Paris (if you can call having your sister in town and celebrating the Euros, Firemen’s Ball, and Bastille Day in one week “resting”), and in a few days I fly to Brazil for Rio 2016 — my fourth Olympics!

After Rio I hop on a plane to Singapore, where I’m stoked to be reuniting with my BBC Travel team and spend three weeks filming across Southeast Asia.

After shooting wraps I fly to Venice for a week, where one of my best friends from high school will be joining me on her first-ever trip to Europe. I’m then dragging her to London (where I’ll be attending Snaphappen!), Belfast, and Paris.

In early November I head back to the UK, and then maybe — finally? — I’ll move to New Zealand. By then I’ll have been traveling full-time for 18 months, and I’m looking forward to putting down temporary roots in Wellington.

Although…I may also pop by Los Angeles first. Who knows?

Duke of York, Belfast by Expat Edna

So! Although I have so much I want to share with you guys on the blog — 2016 has been a hell of a ride so far — after today I pretty much won’t be sleeping again until October.

I’ll try to update when I can (I do have notes scribbled here and there for shorter posts) — but you can always find me actively posting on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

As always, thanks for following along — hope you all have the loveliest summer!

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  1. Whoa, so many exciting things! And I am really happy you didn’t continue putting off publishing this post because, oh my goodness, it’s so lovely to read something filled with such joy for a change. Your plans sound amazing and while I’m too boring to be on Snapchat (or something like that) I will continue drooling over your gorgeous adventures on Instagram! Have fun xx

  2. Edna, I am THRILLED to see that you are happy! Yes, the world is coming crashing down these days, but if we are going to do the things that need to be done to help it get better, we need some joy too. Enjoy the ride, Edna. Even with all the time off, you’ve worked to get where you are today and you deserve this joy. Have a blast and please keep sharing your joy with the world! We all need more smiles.

  3. That’s fantastic! Best of luck in the future adventures!

  4. I firmly believe that you have to make room for awesome things to happen. Quitting my seasonal job that had been my main income source for years allowed me time to travel and pitch bigger stories! Hope the next year is a great one for both of us and that our paths finally cross! Although NZ isn’t yet on my docket for 2017…

    • That’s such a great way to put it. Making room for awesome things to happen. No reward without risk, right? And yes I’d love to finally meet somewhere!

  5. Great reflection. Time is one of the best advantages for everything to come together! Looking forward to following along on the next leg of your adventure (and love that I recognize the Duke of York pub from your photos – love Belfast!).

  6. Congratulations on a fantastic year – looking forward to following the next :)

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

  7. Belated happy birthday! So cool that you’ve had the chance to get a better idea of what works for you – this is super cheesy but reading about it really has inspired to think more about what I want to be doing and whether I should experiment with trying some new things… Enjoy the next months, they sound exciting!

    • Aww thanks Zoe! Can’t hurt to try some new things, right? Even if they don’t work out, you never know where they’ll lead!

  8. That’s so exciting!! I’m having major second-hand excitement vibes right now haha. I can’t wait to see your insta and Snapchats. Cheers to saying yes and owning your career and life successes.

  9. What an awesome year, Edna! So happy for you and definitely share those BBC Travel episodes when they’re available to watch! I’ve been loving following your snaps this year and can’t wait to see what you get up to in Rio!! Enjoy it all x

  10. “And the real beauty in having time, you see, is having the ability to say YES to anything. The freedom to accept any invitation or opportunity that comes your way.”

    Ugh, yes. I already knew this deep down, but once I’m done with my contract in a year I’m just going to take some time off and not worry too much. I know I’m expat-y as well, but I think I need to spend just a little bit of time with no commitments for a while.

    • Yes! It really is so beneficial, even if at the time you’re like, What the hell do I do with all this free time now?

  11. So exciting Edna and congrats on your first year of full-time travel!! I’m glad you had such a great year of travel and life revelations. Can’t wait to follow along more, and please do let me know whenever you make it to Wellington so I can give you recommendations – it’s a great little city! Ps – OMG Olympics!! One of my life goals to get to at some point!

    • Thank you Mimi!! And I’ll definitely hit you up — I’m pretty excited for Wellington!

  12. Erica Jordan says:

    Girl, this makes me so happy. And if I can pull you even further back, remember our convos in Milan? and even Seattle? Things are a-movin’ on my end as well (though obvs not in a travel kind of way) so I can’t wait until our next catch up. Until then, I’ll be stalking you on snapchat! xx

    • Oh my god I KNOW. I’m so, so happy to be out of that rut. Those were dark days haha. I can’t wait to hear about your latest news too! xo

  13. What a great year! It’s funny how hindsight works… I often freak out a bit too when I have that first feeling of, well, lack of security… just flying into the wind… but then later you realize how silly it was to feel so nervous about the future. Things have a way of falling into place, and it looks like they definitely did for you. Yay!
    Have a fantastic week of celebrations! Sounds so much fun :))

  14. You said your blog isn’t gonna blow up and maybe it won’t but I still enjoy reading it ;)

    • Aww yay, that’s all I need :) So long as my friends still read it I’m happy!

  15. The world is such a mess right now but I’m glad you posted this. Although now the news is saying something tragic happened today in France and I’m worried all over again. I hope you’re okay.

    • Yeah, I couldn’t believe it, we’d just finished the fireworks in Paris and all these messages started coming in about Nice. So, so awful. I’m ok and so are my friends, appreciate the concern.

  16. Hooray for a happy post!! I’m sort of where you were a few months back – wondering what I really want out of this quitting my job adventure, but not expecting to ‘find myself’ because I am also pretty found by now. I find that big changes that feel intuitively right usually lead to something positive so that helps.

    Maybe maybe maybe we will catch up in the southern hemisphere soon…? One of these days it’s going to happen.

    • Yes! Come to Wellington! We can talk about how found we are over much beer.

  17. It’s not luck – it’s you. You deserve every bit of success which comes your way because you work for it! So happy you’ve found what you do and don’t want from life. So happy for you Edna! xo

  18. I’m so excited by all of this! :) producing makes so much sense. I’m so glad you get to go to Rio and are looking forward to many adventures ahead! Miss you!

  19. Amy Persons says:

    Brava! Loved meeting you in Venice, excited for what lies ahead. The world is your pearl, Edna, no doubt about it.

  20. I’m not quite sure who directed me to your Snapchat but I have enjoyed your Rio snaps immensely. I really like the tone of your snaps — friendly but still vaguely professional in a way. Matter-of-fact but personable. I though your comment about producing was spot on — your snaps all come off as natural but again, there’s this structure and professionalism to them that suggests a layer of (an eye for?) production value. Well done!! Safe travels!! (Last I checked you were in Abu Dhabi airport.)

    • Thank you Krista! That is really kind of you, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  21. yes, yes YES!! I’m glad you decided to hit the publish button on this one. I don’t know you, but I love your blog, your snaps, and your Instagram :) It’s been an inspiration watching you do what I achieve to do! If you stop in LA, please consider having a meet-up! I know more people than just me would love to meet you. :) #travellife :)

    • Thank you Vanessa! That is so sweet and really means a lot. I hadn’t thought about a meet-up in LA but I would love to grab coffee!


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