I’ve felt kind of radio silent this summer, and there’s a good reason for it. I’m in the middle of three months in Europe, with my headquarters in Germany. To the casual observer, it might seem like this trip came together quite quickly (I first mentioned it to friends in the beginning of April and had arranged it by the end of the month), but it’s actually been in the works for 17 years.
When I was 16, I received a Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship to spend my 11th grade year abroad. The family I was paired with was wonderful, and my time there opened my eyes to a lot of things and gave me an incredible education. I returned to my small town in Ohio with a new understanding of the world and its possibilities, along with near-perfect German and a well-overdue IDGAF attitude in regards to my final year of high school. (After my first year of college, went back to Germany for a year, but that’s another story for another time.)
This summer, I’m back in Gelsenkirchen with my former host mother, Ursula, even sleeping in the same room I occupied for a year as a teenager. Everything is simultaneously the same and different. The house is just as it was, but her two younger children are now grown and out of the house, and her husband, Hans-Josef, died a few years ago. I immediately remembered the walkways from the main street through the Siedlung to the house, but the streets seem much smaller than I remember. My concept of a big city has evolved quite a bit since I was 16, when in comparison with my hometown of 5,000 people, Gelsenkirchen (about the size of Dayton) seemed very large to me.
How do you afford three months in Europe, you might ask? Well, for one, it isn’t a vacation. I’m working as normal, just from a different time zone. I sublet my apartment in Cincinnati so my rent is covered and my cat has people to hang out with. The money I’m saving on rent more than covered my flight out here, and my housing in Germany is free. I’m sharing the costs of groceries (which are already very cheap here) with Ursula, and trying to pair up my excursions with assignments so I can write off the travel and keep getting paid. I’m basically saving money by living in Europe.
From this vantage point in northwestern Germany, I’m actually finding more stories to pitch — Quartz, which I regularly write for, is focused on international business, so being outside the US is advantageous. The rest of my freelance work is running as usual; I just had to ensure direct deposit was set up for payments for all my accounts or that clients were willing to mail checks to Germany (and I can then deposit them with my credit union’s app).
Where am I going this summer? Where aren’t I going? So far I’ve been to Berlin for a week, which was just as rad as everyone says, and then I flew back to the states for five days for YxYY in Palm Springs, which was totally worth the jet lag. The area I’m living in is close to Essen and Düsseldorf, which are also cities worth seeing, and I’m planning trips to Reykjavik, London and probably Berlin again before the end of the summer.
This past weekend I took the train to Munich, where I was writing a travel story for Cincinnati Magazine. From there I took the train to Friedrichshafen, where I wrote about the largest amateur radio meet in Europe. And then, just for kicks, I took a ferry across the Bodensee (Lake Constance) to spend a day in Zürich before flying back to Düsseldorf last night. The two stories I wrote just about paid for the entire excursion, so basically free trip!
Before I booked my flight, I was scared. I reached out to a Facebook group of women freelance writers I’m a part of for encouragement. Their general reaction was: “This sounds perfect, you’d regret not going, and if you don’t want to go, we’ll go.” Point taken. The stars aligned perfectly for this to happen, and it would be a smack in the face of the universe if I didn’t go.
From quitting my job to go freelance three years ago, I realized that I’m not afraid to shake things up in my life sometimes. I actually get antsy if things stay the same way for too long. “Great things happen outside our comfort zone,” one of my fellow ladywriters told me. And it’s so true.
My first adventure of 2013 (hopefully the first of many) is going to San Francisco for about a week in February and March. I love the Bay Area will take any excuse to spend time there. I’ll be teaching some workshops at Makeshift Society, which I’m so stoked to finally check out. Here are the three crafty/DIY workshops I’ll be doing the first week of March:
Get Your Book Published
Monday, March 4, 6 to 7 p.m.
Do you have a killer book idea but don’t know how to get it published? I have plenty of practical advice for you. In this hour-long workshop, we’ll talk about:
- developing your book idea
- preparing a proposal
- finding an agent
- pitching it to publishers
- actually writing the dang thing
- how to make it a success
Cost: $30 per person ($25 for Makeshift Society members) — REGISTER HERE
Coptic Stitch Bookbinding Workshop
Tuesday, March 5, 6 to 7 p.m.
I’ll teach you how to sew a sketchbook in just one hour in this workshop. The coptic bookbinding technique is great for journals because the books lay completely flat when open and you can make them out of any paper you like. We’ll even send you home with a few essential tools and resources for binding books on your own.
Cost: $50 per person ($45 for Makeshift Society members) — includes all materials — REGISTER HERE
Zine Making Happy Hour
Wednesday, March 6, 6 to 8 p.m.
Kick off those heels, loosen your collar and come make a zine at Makeshift Society after work. These photocopied little magazines can be anything you want them to be — a manifesto, a bitchfest, an art project or a dream. We’ll provide the scissors, glue sticks, paper, ephemera, examples and wine — you bring your friends and your ideas.
Cost: $25 per person ($20 for Makeshift Society members) — includes all materials and lotsa wine — REGISTER HERE
I keep meaning to post a full recap of my road trip, but it’s so hard to distill three weeks of living down to one blog post! I’m going to keep working on that, but in the meantime I thought I’d share what I learned about packing light for a long road trip.
Before the trip I googled stuff like “how to pack for a long trip” with little luck. The little good advice I found was for business travelers and always written for men. (Thanks for the suggestion of just taking one suit that I can wear during the day and out on the town, Internet.)
I started by making a list of all the things I thought I should bring on my three-week trip. I was travelling by car, but I was going to be in some big cities where I wouldn’t want to leave anything in it overnight. So restricting my stuff to one big suitcase was ideal. Then I edited down the list, on the advice of Mr. Glass, who knows a thing or two about travelling. And then I edited it down again as I was packing and running out of room.
One thing I didn’t account for in my packing was how much the temperature would change from early September in DC and New York (muggy and warm!) to upstate New York and Cleveland in mid- to late September (hella cold!). Whoops. But for a summertime trip I would’ve been good.
Here’s my final, annotated road trip packing list:
- one pair of jeans [cut from two]
- three skirts
- four dresses [two of which I wore over and over again — could’ve cut two]
- four short-sleeved tops and four tank tops [I needed more sleeved shirts, in retrospect]
- a cardigan
- a sweatshirt-like jacket [and then I had to buy a fleece jacket on the road when the cold crept up on me in upstate New York. So if I had to do this again, I’d add a real jacket to this list]
- 12 undies and 3 bras
- four pairs of socks
- two pairs of tights [but I only wore and rewore the super-opaque American Apparel tights — highly recommended]
- a pashmina scarf
- workout clothes [never used these]
- bathing suit [ditto]
- sleeping clothes
- flip flops, green flats, sneakers and black heels [never wore the heels]
- TECH ITEMS
- laptop and charger
- smartphone and charger
- iPod and car adapter [hardly used this]
- a clear makeup bag of toiletries and meds
- Sally Hansen nail strips [lasts so much longer than nail polish, though it’s a bitch to remove]
- 20 copies of my book
- a couple dozen of my cards and stickers to sell
- gifts for my hosts [9 cans of Cincinnati chili and sauce, basically. Luckily these went to the first people I visited on the trip]
- a cloth laundry bag and extra cloth totebags
- small craft kit [hardly used it, but it was small]
books to read[initially on my list, but I scratched it when I realized every person I was staying with would have plenty of things for me to read]
- a few NYT Magazines [lightweight and easy to roll up]
- an umbrella [bought at the MOMA store]
- NPR mug [best pledge drive investment ever — works for hot and cold drinks]
- tea, emergenC, instant coffee packs, bottle of water
- granola bars, almonds, mints, oatmeal packets, microwave popcorn
All that stuff fit into one big suitcase (a cheapo Target suitcase that is on its last legs), a messenger bag (for the computer), my handbag, and a totebag for the snacks and drinks. Half of my books I put into the bottom of my suitcase; the other half I mailed to myself at my roadtrip’s halfway point in Boston. Best idea ever.
Another thing I did and highly recommend was get a clear plastic storage cube to use as a divider in my suitcase. All my small items (socks, bras, toiletry bag, toothpaste, etc.) I put in there in the top, which kept them from getting lost in the bottom of my suitcase. And, of course, crashing with friends almost everywhere along the way meant I had the chance to do laundry.
I was seriously skeptical about my ability to live out of a suitcase for three weeks, but I got used to it really quickly. Makes me wonder what I’m doing with a closet full of stuff…