Confused on where we are? I’m taking this moment while my travels are grounded to catch up on my black hole of un-blogged content. Here, I’m picking up on my trip to Bali in March 2017. My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.
Though it would have been almost impossible to admit at the time, I can now look back and confess simply that I kicked off 2017 in a bit of a slump. I had gotten bogged down in the sadness of the election, of worrying about my family and internalizing their problems, of taking friend drama deeply personally, and of feeling like, well, I was stuck on an island that maybe, after eight years, I had started to grow out of.
So when February rolled around, I was ready for a reboot. I attended an incredible, Burning Man-esque festival in Thailand with a big group of friends, I spent a few days falling for Penang with my boyfriend, and then I set off for Bali, just me, just what I needed.
I’d had a rush of reasons to go there, suddenly. And it just so happens that Bali is one of those places that you’re always kind of looking for an excuse to go back to. Thus, a beautiful two week trip (which later turned into a two and a half week trip, when I couldn’t stand to leave), emerged.
I kicked off the trip with five nights at The Chillhouse in Canggu, a surf and yoga retreat I’d long ached to visit. I was right around the corner from Heather, my longtime friend and partner in crime, travel, and photography adventures, and I spent the week taking a little peek at her life there, and indulging in all that Chillhouse had to offer.
I then headed down the road to the Institute of Code villa, where I’d spend the next ten days learning to code a website, exploring some of Bali’s best homework distractions, and bonding with the bootcamp’s first-ever all-girl graduating class.
And finally, when my flight date approached and I was filled with dread at the idea of getting back on a plane, I payed a ridiculous amount to change my flight for just three short more days on Bali.
It went against every logical and frugal nerve in my body to do so, especially for the short amount of time I had available. But I was so high on Bali I was happy to do it.
And later, I’d look back on it as one of my best decisions of the year, because that spontaneous moment led me to a last-minute trip to Uluwatu with a handful of the ladies I’d spent the previous two weeks with, one of my dreamiest girlfriend getaways ever.
“You did come back with a bit of a glow about you,” one of my friends later said, when we were discussing how I’d gone through a rough time that seemed to have been healed greatly by my own mini Eat, Pray, Love — or rather, Drink, Code, Laugh, in my case.
If you’re kind of rolling your eyes, at this point, I know. I know. I lived, at the time, on a beautiful tropical island. What, exactly, was so enlightening about a brief trip to another beautiful tropical island?
I guess the answer is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a universal truth that a change of scenery can help you shake up the snowglobe of your life, and see things in a different light. I had reached a point where I was feeling stale and I didn’t know how to shake that off. I was out of sorts with the island I lived on, and the people in my orbit. I was off balance. This trip hit my reset button.
Bali reminded me that I still could be carefree and fun and silly, and there were still a million adventures ahead of me, and an endless amount of paths my life could take. I had been feeling strangely trapped in Koh Tao, like I had built a life there and I finally had everything I ever wanted — but what if what I wanted had changed? Indonesia reminded me that it would be hard and it would be heart-wrenching, but there were other places that I could build a life, perhaps one that was perfect for my late twenties self in the same way Thailand had been perfect for my late teens self.
(Omg, you guys. Can you believe I was nineteen years old when I first fell in love with Koh Tao?)
Bali reminded me that you don’t have to always sacrifice urban energy for blissful beach scenes. For a long time after I left New York I felt like I’d found my absolute perfect paradise in Koh Tao, and I had — all I wanted to do was be swimming in the ocean or hiking in the jungle, and I loved that barefoot was an appropriate dress code for literally every single place on the island.
As years ticked on, I did start to feel a slow-growing longing for all those creative sparks that emerge when thousands or millions of people live side-by-side. I started to crave a buzzing restaurant scene with new places opening every month, nightlife where I didn’t know every person working behind the bar, artist workshops where I could take classes, movie theaters I didn’t have to take a ferry to get to, co-working spaces and sustainability conferences and exciting concerts and all that other magic that somehow manages to exist on Bali… right alongside an ocean to swim in and a jungle to hike through.
And oh, the travel! I swooned thinking how easy it would be to access international Denpasar Airport as opposed to my current slog to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi, and how many new and hidden corners of Bali I could explore without even getting on a plane. As much as I still have lingering on my Thailand bucket list, well, I’ve ticked off a lot.
Mostly, I loved how Bali made me feel. Maybe it was all the years I’d spent there, maybe it was just my group of friends starting to naturally settle down, but Koh Tao had started to make me feel old. Bali made me feel young. Bali reminded me I could still dance until the sun came up, I could still make lifelong friends gossiping on a pool float (heeeey Katie), I could still hop on some random guy’s motorcycle at closing time and ride to the next bar, I could still go back to a classroom and learn new things that challenged my sense of what I’m good at.
I was actually mad about how much I loved Bali, because it gave me so much clarity on what I needed to do next. And that, I knew, was going to be hard.
Hard means something different now, than it did then.
It’s quite bittersweet to write about Bali this way, now, right when I was meant to be wrapping up a very significant trip there. I was booked to spend all of October in Indonesia, running a retreat with my wonderful new friend Becky on Bali, going diving in remote Indonesian islands for a dream campaign I literally feel like I worked my whole life to be invited on, and returning to Canggu to live a trial run, of sorts; to figure out if Bali was the place I next wanted to call home.
My first two trips to Bali were just vacations — a quick week in between my base of Gili Trawangan and trips home to New York. This recent one, my third, was when I finally started to discover “my” Bali, the one that set me on fire. My fourth trip, perhaps, was meant to point my compass in an entirely new direction.
It turns out life had other plans for me, and I write this from my childhood home, where, as many of you know, I’m caring for my mother since her sudden diagnosis of brain cancer. Turns out I did, in fact, finally leave Koh Tao, though it wasn’t on the timeline or in the way I had expected.
And it turns out Bali wasn’t meant to be. I hated breaking my commitments, I hated cutting loose projects I’d worked so hard for, I hated how it made my mom, who was still very cognizant back when I made that choice, feel wracked with guilt, as much as I tried to play it off as no big deal. Backing out of my Indonesia trip broke my heart, even though I knew with every cell of my heart that it was the right thing to do. This is exactly where I belong, and I’m privileged to be able to be here, lucky to look back on so many wonderful years, grateful to have so few amends to make.
I tell myself Bali will always be there, though life suddenly feels so terrifyingly fleeting, so precarious, part of me wonders if by the time I’m looking for my next chapter, the moment will have passed. And another part of me responds with that old motivational poster quote that life is what happens when you’re making plans. I suppose I do a lot of talking to myself now, rambling around in this big old house.
But it’s true — there’s no sense trying to imagine what my life will look like when I do leave this house, heartbroken and for good, because I don’t even know who I’m going to be. Maybe that girl who felt so alive in Bali will be gone, shed off to make room for all these roles you need to take on when you’re twenty-eight and stopped cold in your tracks by the news that your mother is dying. Maybe that girl will still be in there, just pushed aside somewhere for a while.
Maybe I’ll find someone new entirely.
All I allow myself to hope for, in this new reality where I’ve learned to hope for so little, and instead simply accept each day as it comes, is that there will always be places and trips and adventures that make me feel the way this one did.