Day One: A Plane to Spain

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky.” – Cesare Pavese

Travellers Flat
My Round-the-World Journey for a Year: Day 1

Nacho, the patient, kind-eyed proprietor of the Traveller’s Flat in Barcelona unlocked the door to my room and motioned for me to enter. The room was high-ceilinged but small and extremely spartan, with a bit of mauve paint on two walls; the kind of place a nun would love, I thought.

After a mini tour of the flat—kitchen and bathroom down the hall—Nacho left me alone in the softly echoing room. And suddenly, I realized I had never felt quite so alone in my life. I set down my day bag, and let my huge backpack crash onto the tiny bed like an enormous calving iceberg.

I took in the scene in blaring silence. The fact that everything before me was now my life flooded me with something resembling low-level panic.

What have I done? What did I get myself into? 

I looked through the window, two stories above bustling, modern Passeig de Sant Joan and saw cheerful Barcelonans below laughing and sipping espresso in groups of twos and threes outside a cafe. The chatter was in Spanish, and I couldn’t understand a word of it. I mentally berated myself for not ‘brushing up’ on my high school Spanish a little more before I left.

I sat down on the bed and wondered if I had made a very. massive. mistake.

Visions of my cozy apartment, thousands of miles away, hung like a sun-warmed haze in my mind, untouchable. I wouldn’t see it again for nearly a year. I could only hope that this feeling would not last long—that I, too, would warm up to my new reality, and the visions of home would calmly dissipate like even the thickest haze always does, eventually.

During the past nine months, I had carefully read about and researched how to be a successful ‘digital nomad’ armed with just a laptop computer, couple of cameras, a few items of clothing and that’s it. I’d be off and running, discovering the world. Happy as a monkey in a banana tree forest. Free as a bird…if the bird were lugging its nest around with it everywhere it went. I glared disdainfully at my bags, which appeared and felt as if they had been stuffed with boulders.

I’d watched several videos and read countless articles about packing light. I thought I had it down—a simple math problem with a finite answer: If bags A and B have X amount of space, and person C can only carry X amount of weight, then items inside bags A and B will therefore fill X volume.

At the San Francisco airport at 5AM on April 1st

At the San Francisco airport at 5AM on April 1st

I’d chosen versatile, lightweight clothing that could work for any situation. I’d thought small and light; a paper-thin quick-drying microfiber towel, tiny toiletries bag, itsy-bitsy hair dryer and the smallest flat iron I’d ever seen. I’d tested several times to make sure it could all fit into just my larger bag if needed, and it had. So confident in my packing prowess was I, that I’d even written and recorded a story on the local National Public Radio station entitled “Traveling Light.”

What a sham! I thought. I had labored breathlessly to carry the load through all three terminals of the San Francisco airport when my British Airways plane ticket had mysteriously been turned into an American Airlines ticket (as they are wont to do, I suppose). And I had thanked the Spirit in the Sky for a wonderful thing called bag checking.

Once in the vast metropolis of Barcelona, it had been a real struggle to get myself and the two bags up the flights of stairs at the hostel…and it was only the first day of an entire year of hauling them around! Like Cheryl Strayed in the book Wild, I lumbered and swayed under the weight like a drunken donkey. I found myself acutely regretting the last-minute decision to cram as many extra ‘must haves’ as I could into the bags, shattering my meticulous packing plans.

A year of this was simply inconceivable.

Rambo the Travel Ram

Rambo the Travel Ram

Exhausted, I pushed my self-contained mountain of excess to the floor and prepared to crawl under the covers to sleep off my doubts and jet lag, vowing to go all kinds of Buddhist monk on my bags and fill the metal trash can when I awoke. Before settling in, I fished around in my day bag for one item that I knew would not be taking a nose dive into the trash; a little ram given to me by a friend before I left. I placed the fluffy fist-sized figure, which I’d named Rambo, on a bare shelf in the bare room.

According to Chinese lore, the Year of the Ram (2015) is an auspicious year for travel. It made me pause and remind myself of the incredible sights I was going to be seeing this year, which I wouldn’t otherwise see if I were sitting at home in my cozy apartment, doing my old comfortable job, or hanging out and doing the same fun things with my utterly wonderful friends.

This is my year of change.

This is the year I break away from routine, claw out of the rut of the everyday, and haul every unwieldy pound of my new life on my back through the ups and downs, to find the magic that the world keeps in secret faraway places. I’ll be reunited with old friends, and will do everything I can to make new friends from strangers along the way—no matter how much my timid inner self protests. My familiar comforts will have to be wherever I make them, starting right here in this small spartan room; this speck, this tiny flicker of things to come.

Categories: Spain

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21 replies

  1. So as I look for ways to avoid doing actual work but still appear to be busy on this Friday afternoon. I find myself going back thru your old posts (your blog by the way has become a regular distraction from my actual work) and am amazed by how much you have changed in just 9 months! I mean the Kirsten of today would never pack a hair straightener in her tiny travel bag! Really proud of you my friend you’re doing an amazing thing!

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    • Thank you, buddy! I know, some of the things I was traveling with in the beginning (jewelry, flat iron, hair dryer, heels, 2 cameras, 2 tripods) seem utterly ridiculous now. But you live and learn fast on the road. I feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime in just 9 months. And yes, I feel like I am actually an entirely different person now — certainly a happier one 🙂

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  2. A voice from the past (pointing to self) Happy Travels Happy Easter. I know you are going to have an amazing time. I will be following your posts.

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  3. Kirsten, when I first met you, you were a frail little creature, who blushed at swear words and often shied away from ‘touchy’ subjects. Over the next couple years, at Suncoast, you changed — we corrupted you — and you opened up. What you are doing now is something many could not do, because they don’t have the intestinal fortitude, like you do. So what if your bags are heavy — grit your teeth and lug them around the best you can. If you have to lighten them a bit, do so, but don’t just throw things away, because you feel you need to… You put items in your bag, because you felt they were “essential” at the time. The thing is — it’s your FIRST DAY! You have 364 more days to roam around and discover mysteries, as well as discovering yourself, so, be that tough woman we all know and be strong — for us — because we’re ALL taking this journey with you, no matter how you look at it…

    And you’ll never know that the one item you may throw away… might be the item that eventually you need the most to keep you going.

    Stay safe. This is going to be an amazing journey. 😉

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    • Mark, if I weren’t going to have to lug this bag around for an entire year, I would agree with you. But my friend, a full grown man, tried to lift it and could barely do it – that tells me that I don’t need all of the things I packed. AT the last minute, I stuffed a few things into my bag that I hadn’t planned on, and that’s where I went wrong. BUT it’s not too late to change that – just like it’s not too late to make a change and improve and evolve one’s self 🙂

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    • Mark, if I wasn’t going to have to lug this bag around for an entire year, I would agree with you. But my friend, a full grown man, tried to lift it and could barely do it – that tells me that I don’t need all of the things I packed. At the last minute, I stuffed a few things into my bag that I hadn’t planned on, and that’s where I went wrong. BUT it’s not too late to change that – just like it’s not too late to make a change and improve and evolve one’s self 🙂

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  4. Get rid of your doubts by making a friend. Go have a café or libation at a casual spot and relax. Start a conversation because this time around, you’ll be that hot foreigner with an accent ;P Have fun!

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    • Ugh, god that is so scary to me — but you’re right, I need to initiate conversations with strangers (in English, hopefully, or they will be very short conversations, lol).

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  5. Beautifully written Kirsten! What a life-changing experience! I think some of your best work will come from your “nomad period” 🙂 heehee xoxo

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    • Hehe, my ‘nomadic period’ sounds so official, like Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ or ‘Cubist Period’ — but I like it! You know, you may be right actually, I feel more inspired to write than I think I ever have before. Maybe it’s because I’m jobless now, lol, I have more time – which technically WAS kind of half the point, anyway 🙂 xoxo

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  6. Kirsten – You’re doing the “year of traveling the world” thing that I always wanted to do but never actually followed through on. I will so enjoy following your adventures, knowing that I probably just waited too long. I am lucky. I’ve done enough world travel (and living in other parts of the world) to have gotten to the point where when I go somewhere new, it almost always reminds me a lot of somewhere I’ve already been. Anyway, as Shakespeare said, “Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.” So don’t worry about feeling fearful on your first day. There will be other days like that…mixed in with many other days where you’ll be thinking, “THIS is why I decided to do this!!”. 😉

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    • Ah, wisdom from The Bard never fails, I love that quote 🙂 Rick, even though you’ve already done a ton of traveling, I hope you don’t REALLY think you’re too old to do this if you truly wanted to — my first travel companion is a spunky 70-ish year old man, and if he can do it, you can do it!

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  7. Great first post! Actually though, the conversations in the cafes below you were likely to be in Catalan, so your high school Spanish wouldn’t have helped 🙂

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