A wise yoga teacher once told me that real change only happens when we get sick and tired of our own bullshit.
I didn't really know how to write about my first year away from the desk - I was never one of those people who dreaded their alarm clock going off every morning. I was regularly up before it had the chance to do its job. I was in the office before anyone showed up, my boss sat at the desk next to me and before my first cup of coffee I would learn something new on an almost daily basis. A year after walking out the door for the last time I still get a little lump in my throat thinking about not going back - it was not an easy door to close.
But it's been a year, and I have written previous about what sparked the decision to leave my job and all of the various ways I make money on the road - I thought this would focus on what my first year looked like and the lessons I’ve learned over the past 12 months.
In these 12 months I have visited 16 countries, packed my suitcase over 35 times and my backpacking pack not nearly enough. I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet so many amazing and inspiring humans that I could have never imagined crossing paths with otherwise (and surprisingly very few who tried to rain on my parade). I learned that, as cliche as it is, your life really can start just on the other side of your comfort zone, that the more you listen to your inner voice the louder it gets and that if your reaction to something isn't a "fuck yes!" then there is absolutely no shame in saying no. I learned the hard lesson that sometimes you outgrow friendships you thought would last forever, that there really is no substitute for hard work and, the most painful of all, that just because someone is family does not mean they will want whats best for you - in fact they may even do everything in their power to tear you down.
But I think the underlying theme of my first year away from the office is community, I spent the majority of my life priding myself in being fiercely independent. Growing up in a family with three brothers and two hardworking parents... marching to the beat of my own drum was my favourite part of myself - unfortunately it never really leaned its self to letting people in, showing vulnerability or admitting that sometimes I needed a hand (let alone actually relying on friends for support!). The root of social media is being social (which to a lot of people’s surprise) is actually not my natural state - I value my alone time and my privacy a lot. This past year has really pushed me outside of this comfort zone and forced me to be more social than I ever imagined. Be it the overwhelming support from this community in every respect from when I launched my website and began writing for more than just my personal journal to help with finding things to do and places to see when I am visiting somewhere new for the first time and the almost constant offer to have a new hiking partner or someone to grab a cup of coffee with one the road when the loneliness of a new place creeps in. I am a true believer in what you put out to the universe comes back a hundred fold. I remember reading a piece from a good friend of mine in which she talked about the importance of community over competition and it is something that I work on on an almost constant basis. It is very evident when people are only looking out for themselves, or use a tit-for-tat system and I have had such amazing luck surrounding myself with humans who live by these principles and set such a great example for me.
I think it is almost time to stop rambling and share some of the highlights from my first year wandering. So here are, in the most Andrea fashion I could think of, my fifteen favourite cups of coffee:
15. Havasupai, Arizona, USA
This trip will always hold a special place in my heart, it was the catalyst for change in my life. I had run out of vacation days when my phone lit up with a message from Holly Johnson inviting me to a literal desert oasis. Instead of figuring out a way to buy extra days I decided to take a leap. I left my job and spent a week 10 miles down a dirt road at the bottom of the Grand Canyon - in this special place surrounded by really amazing humans. The permits are hard to get but more than worth it.
14. Dubai, UAE
Dubai was never on my radar, none of the Middle East was, if I am being completely honest. But after I found myself with an abundance of free time and a lack for finding really good flight deals I hopped on a plane to visit one of my best friends who had moved years prior to work for a Dubai based airline. On my first day in Dubai I attended the birthday party of a friend I had met on maui years before and in attendance was someone that I went to elementary school with. There were a few instances over the year that I truly felt I was in the right place and this was one of them. Days spent on the Persian Gulf and evenings spent wandering the desert with good friends this quickly became one of my favourite places in the world. Thank you to Dennis Stever and Abbey Bates for showing me your backyard.
I didn't think in a million years I would have the chance to visit the Maldives. But as a professional third wheel when Dennis and Abbey pitched me on a job which included flying to the Maldives to stay at the Banyan Tree resort I didn't hesitate. We spent more time in the water than on land, I took my first astro photography shot and detached from "real life" for a few days. There are very few cups of coffee in my life that will top the few I had in my own little private villa in the Maldives.
12. Dolomites, IT
The Italian Dolomites - my favourite mountains (outside of the Canadian Rockies, of course). Ben Prescott, Jess Dales, Micheal Matti and I decided to go on a three day road trip through the Dolomites, running on only a few hours of sleep from our trip, singing country music at the top of our lungs (at a volume only slightly louder than the sound of Michael complaining about the fact that we were listening to country music) and zipping around some of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world. By the end of my trip my body composition was 25% pizza, 50% gas station cappuccinos and 25% I really hope water but I doubt it was even that high.
One of the most underrated countries in the world. We spent a week running around this beautiful country exploring dynamic mountains, rolling hills, alpine lakes, two wine regions, one of the largest underground cave systems in the world and finding hidden coastlines along the Adriatic Sea. Needless to say that this trip exceeded every single expectation I had for it. If you ever have the chance, do visit Slovenia. (I wrote an entire blog about it here with everything you need to know about visiting this beautiful country).
10.Gap Mountain, Alberta, CAN
If anyone ever wanted to know what my favourite scramble in the Canadian Rockies is... look no further. Gap Mountain in Kananaskis is not the longest (by a long shot) nor is it the most challenging and it does not even have close the best views. In 2015 my goal was to climb 50 unique summits - this was to be #50. Unfortunately we got to the saddle and were (quite literally) blown off of the ridgeline. It was the first time I was truly humbled by a mountain, and from that experience my love and admiration for the alpine strengthened (full disclosure: I then flew to Vancouver for my 50th summit). I got my redemption in 2016 with my name listed as the season's first summit of the mountain (and then had a repeat in 2017, above). To me, this mountain feels like home.
9.St John, USVI
This trip combined two things that I love dearly when there is snow in the mountains - National Parks and Tropical Islands. The United States Virgin Island of St John was one of the most picturesque islands I have visited. My good friend Simone Sinclair-Walker and I spent the day with a new friend named Garfield (I like to think of him as the unofficial mayor of the USVI) beach hopping and learning all about what makes this place so perfect.
8.The Enchantments, Washington, USA
I think I mostly invited myself on this trip (thank you Renee and Matthew Hahnel!) - but with permits next to impossible to come by I was not about to miss out on any chance to visit this place. I spent a few nights off the grid with my friends Christian, Elisabeth, Erin, Matthew, Michael and Renee - we slept under the stars, jumped in alpine lakes and watched the ebb and flow of smoke from the Washington forest fires in the sky. To say that this is a special place is a severe understatement.
There were two trips this year that really challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to grow as a person. The first of these two I failed, I booked a flight home and within 24h pulled the plug on what could have been an amazing trip (does anyone remember which trip this was?). So when Iceland presented a similar test (for lack of a better word) I knew I had to push through and make the best of some not so great experiences. I honestly think that this was the week that I had the most personal growth of the entire year.
6.Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, CAN
There is nothing that I love more than exploring my own backyard with good friends. When Jess Dales and Quin Sherock came up to my side of the 49th and suggested backpacking in Kootenay National Park I jumped at the opportunity. Over dinner we were joined by Alex Strolh and Bruin (Alexander) McDonald - it was one of the coldest (read: unprepared) nights camping to date and I may have had to get just shy of a dozen stitches in my toe but waking up with good friends, new and old, making a pot of coffee (followed shortly by some breakfast ramen) and having one of the most beautiful places in the world to ourselves... it really can't be beat.
5. Yoho National Park, British Columbia, CAN
I ended this day hiking out just after midnight with achilles tendonitis and a note from my doctor to stay off of my foot for over a month - it does not change even in the slightest how much fun this day was. We hiked the road out to O'Hara in Yoho National Park in the middle of the afternoon as we knew we wanted to shoot sunset and spent a day meandering from lake to lake, often being the only ones along their shorelines. Pro tip: don't wear new boots on a 30+km day!
This was the ultimate test of "just say yes" for me - I was planning on flying out for a few days to visit Whistler and see Bruin... right before I bought my ticket my phone rang and with a plan in mind Bruin told me to only book one way. We spent a few weeks driving from Whistler to Calgary taking the (very) long route. We stopped at ten hot springs and visited friends all along the way. There is really no way to get to know someone better than to trap yourself in an SUV with them for weeks on end.
I spent New Years with a dozen of the coolest, most badass, inspiring, creative, kind, compassionate, driven(this list could go on forever)... humans. I think I have always struggled with fitting in, and there was something about this cabin in the woods with these humans that seemed to work. We spent five nights playing board games, cooking food, going on hikes, finding hot springs and musing about everything and nothing all at once. Thank you Chelsea for making this happen.
2.Maui & O'ahu, Hawaii, USA
I don't think I could not include my birthday trip in this list! I woke up the day I turned 28 and had a gigantic cup of coffee with three good friends. I proceeded to spend the next two and a half weeks running around Maui and O'ahu with old and new friends alike. After well over a decade of visiting these islands I thought I had it all figured out, this was to be my last trip - but four days tacked onto the end and a quick flight over to O'ahu changed all of that. With two a day hikes, some of the best poke of my life and views that I can't wait to see more of... I cannot wait to go back.
1.Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN
Escaping the cold of the Alberta winter my final trip of my first year on the road was spent ordering takeout, hiking mountains and visiting the island with quite a few of the people who made my first year possible. Thank you.
As much as social media can seem overwhelming, and look like "we" are travelling all of the time it is important to remember that it is nothing more than a highlight reel. And most of my days start the same way that they have for years - long before I hopped on a plane with any intention to make a career out of it. A cup of coffee at my computer trying to find the motivation to start working.