Current status: sitting under a palm tree at Delnor-Wiggins state park in Naples, FL, waiting for a gulf coast sunset, and channeling all my California memories.
That was a pretty influential 9 months of my life, when I took my first 2 travel assignments out of CT and moved away from my home state for the first time. At that point, I really didn’t know how I would react to starting a life somewhere else and on my own. CT was comfortable but I knew that I didn’t want to settle there before I had the opportunity to see if there was something I loved more. What if I was happy at home just because it was all I ever knew? Cue California and Alaska and now I’m more confused than ever where I want to be. But the journey continues..
My Dad helped me move to LA in October 2016 for an assignment in Woodland Hills. My immediate desire was to drive down any canyon road I could because the Santa Monica Mountains were incredible. I ran out of descriptive vocabulary often in California because the scenery is so panoramic and so vast. You can see mountain ranges that are so far away. In New England, the land is relatively flat where you aren’t able to see so much scenery at once. With many of the views I would put my camera down because it didn’t seem worth it to try and capture it through a lens. Essentially, I was quickly love-struck.
I was fortunate to have my aunt and uncle nearby so I spent a lot of the time I was there developing a relationship with them which I now hold so dearly. I bonded with my uncle over his adventurous spirit that I was also seeing in myself. He had moved to California when he was the same age as I was then and he explained the same pull that I was feeling California having on me. I spent time with my cousins that I wasn’t able to grow up with but still felt the same love for them that I had for my family back home. This gave me some of my first insight on what makes home “home.”
I also had the most awesome roommates in LA. They were 2 girls, both from Germany that moved here pursuing acting/producing careers. This was my first taste of the Hollywood lifestyle and these girls were two of the most driven, focused people I’ve ever met. They chased auditions and gave 100% in order to get back any bit of return in such a competitive saturated market. But they carried on with such unwavering faith and inspired me so much early in my travels in the realms of determination and chance taking. I also look forward to the day I get my invite to the Golden Globes with them for my work in reading/recording their scripts so they could practice my lack-of-accent CT speaking. My New Year’s Eve had a taste of some of the LA crazies and to be honest that was the closest I got to spending time in the city. It’s a whole different world. What I loved more about my time in SoCal was the beautiful beaches in Santa Monica and Malibu.
After 3 months in LA, I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway with my sister, my mom and her friend and spent a week in Sonoma before I started my next assignment in Santa Clara. One of the greatest things we did was a horseback ride through a vineyard in Napa. My mom, being a horse lover, was beaming through her soul. It was then that I really felt this adventure being bigger than just me. My parents have been nose-to-the-grindstone hard workers their entire lives. We didn’t take many vacations growing up and they’ve never indulged. But they are now sharing in this adventure that I’ve started, which they more than deserve.
And if I wasn’t enamored enough by California, Northern California was sealing the deal. Of course, I was there for the rainiest summer in 10 years (then I moved to Ketchikan Alaska, the rainiest city in the country, for their highest record rainfall, but I digress..). But that rain turned everything so green and beautiful in NorCal that year (insert obvious metaphor about getting through the rain in order to see the greener grass). We actually had to back track about an hour driving up the PCH because of a mudslide that closed the road. BUT in the detour we got to see ZEBRAS on the side of the road (another metaphor about taking the path less traveled), I’m still not really clear on why they were there. But the love affair continued and the dense redwood forests and smells of eucalyptus trees stepped that up a notch for me.
I started my new job in Santa Clara, in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and found that Northern Californians were a lot more welcoming and friendly than those in SoCal as a whole. (They also hate LA for syphoning down their water and the traffic.) Something I did note about Californians, which I only figured out after discussing with other people that had similar experiences, is that people in California tend to be transient in nature. Up front they are super friendly and welcoming, but for some reason it’s more difficult to make deeper connections. On the East Coast, typically people are more guarded at first, assessing your motives or sizing you up. We tend to be more competitive and up front. But once there is a relationship, the bond becomes deeper. It was interesting that most of the people I was closest to in CA were from the east coast- birds of a feather? Obviously a generalization, but just something I observed. The people that I worked with were great and there were other travelers at this assignment which made my experience a lot more fun. The first weekend I was there was the Superbowl and the travelers at work were going to a bar with some other travelers to watch the game. It turned out to be a group of 10-12 people, most that had never met each other before. “Hanging out with strangers again” is how someone described it. I found a crew here that was just as down to explore and that made my time there so much better, proof that life sends you the people you need. After 5 months, I had a new home in San Fran.
The rest of my time up there was a blast. Every weekend was an adventure (some of my Must Do’s I’ll put in a list below) to the point that it started to not feel like real life. We hiked and explored and took San Francisco by storm.
And then it was time to leave and I had such mixed emotions about falling in love with this place, meeting such great friends, and still looking forward to where I would go next. Being a traveler is helping me to be better at letting go. I’ve always struggled with things ending. Bringing it back to those childhood journals, when I left elementary school for middle school I wrote a literal ode to every teacher I had there and about how sad I was to leave. Weird kid for sure, but my emotion has always run deep. Breakups, not good. Funerals, I could be a professional crier. Even when I left CT initially for CA, my roots were so deep I remember almost feeling numb- I had no idea what to expect and my brain went on defense mode just processing it like I was going on vacation. As I’ve been traveling I’ve had to let go a lot. I leave my family over and over, I leave people I meet and become attached to, I leave patients, I leave jobs usually at about the time I’m just getting used to them, I leave places that in only a few months start to feel like home. But life continues to get better. I learn that I’ll always have emotion about letting go and it’s important not to suppress that. I can acknowledge that things can change again and everything will still be ok.
So what happens if I fall in love with every place I travel to? Where do I decide to call home? Before I left LA, my roommates gave me a metal sign that says “home” so that I can be home wherever I go. I think for me, for now, that is exactly what home is. Home is where you build a happy life around yourself. Home is where you have people you love. Maybe home will end up being back where I started. Maybe someday a new home will be an obvious choice. I just know that wherever I end up, I’ll always feel blessed to have had the opportunity to learn that you can make a place home if even for a few months, even 3,000 miles away.
Must Do’s in Cali:
- San Diego Zoo
- Drive up/down the PCH (if you drive North you’ll be an extra lane away from the cliffside that plummets toward the pacific ocean, just saying)
- Go to any beach anywhere
- Monterey Aquarium
- Drive the winding SoCal canyon roads
- Learn to surf
- Yosemite National Park (I wasn’t able to get into Yosemite Valley (yet) but Hetch Hetchy is the sister valley, about ½ the size and flooded and dammed to supply the entire Bay Area, there’s a 5 mile out and back waterfall hike that is fantastic)
- Hike Angel Island (take the ferry in San Fran to the island, 1-2 mile hike to the top for the most unreal 360 degree view of the SF Bay Area. Try for a clear day even though they’re hard to come by in SF)
- Hike Mount Tamalpais (state park just north of SF, I believe the highest point to look out over the bay but I could be wrong)
- Off the Grid at the Presidio in SF (food truck festival every Sunday, straight lawn chillin with the Californians)
- Mezcalito restaurant (Polk St in San Fran, top 3 restaurants I’ve ever been to in terms of delicious food, also a fun area to go out)