Goodbye, Europe = Hello, Canada

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I wrote this “goodbye, Europe” over ravioli and wine in Split, Croatia, the night before I left. I’ve been in Canada for a weekend now, and I owe a recap on my eight months in Europe, but life’s still moving pretty quickly in Vacation Mode as I roadtrip Nova Scotia. Stay tuned.

Strange day. Bad news day, but an important personal day. In limbo between sorrow for the world and personal triumph.

In London, untold are dead in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. As news unfolds, the corpses are counted, fingers pointing. In America, news of gunfire taking down members of Congress at a baseball game.

We Interrupt This Report For Day-Drunkeness

Here in Croatia, I’m getting day-drunk on Malvasija white wine, one of Croatia’s greatest hits, after a bowl of decadent cheese ravioli with mushroom-cream sauce. I’m saying “goodbye, Europe” in the most decadent, lavish way possible. Soon, I’ll return home, pack, and turn attention to life in Canada, after an layover overnight in London.

Normally, when I go to London, I stay with beloved friends Peter and Bill, but it makes no sense to pay the 37 pounds plus cabs to stay with them when I can stay by the airport for 50 pounds. As it happens, they live in Chelsea/Kensington, where the terrible fire is, so that’d have been odd.

Just some of the places I’ve been in the last eight months in Europe. From Morocco to Hungary.

Wine-Fueled Philosophy

It’s hard to reconcile tragedy when I’m in a state of triumph, but there’s nothing I can fix, and suffering on their behalf is pointless. We must all hold onto joy whenever we’re lucky enough to enjoy it. Allowing our lives to be governed by unthinkable horrors is easily accomplished on a daily basis. But, as the old quip goes, that’d be letting the terrorists win.

As humans, we must know triumph exists. It needs to remain a possibility, a reachable goal, something we can close our eyes and dream of, for a better day.

Often, the best thing we can do for the world is have your best day and remind others that goodness exists amid tragedy.

So, I am getting day-drunk. Over rich pasta. In the shade of a brutal Croatian sun. For one last, glorious day in European life. After this, I am Canadian in Canada with Canuckistanian goals and dreams and past-times, for four wonderful months. I can apologize endlessly with nationalistic aplomb, for I am Canadian in Canada!

And some more places I’ve been, from Tirana and Naxos to Mostar.

But First, A Crashing Beginning

This time of mine in Europe has been a vindication, a triumph, a righting of wrongs. It was a ridiculous risk to take, returning to Europe, but I did so with a determination to prove myself. Not to you, not to anyone else, but to me.

See, when I began the nomad life, the goal was eight months abroad in Europe. That was the dream.

But then my currency crashed just eight weeks into my travels. A month later, it was the beginning of the end of my lucrative writing contract. Suddenly, my finances were out by 75% and I was locked into the stupidity of staying in “private rooms” instead of having apartments I could cook in.

I’d trapped myself in all kinds of ways, and price was enormous. I felt like a giant failure. So, licking my wounds, I returned to Canada.

Then: Steff Eats Too Many Tacos

In the end, I’m glad I returned to Canada, because I saw my father several times. Three months after my return, he’d be out of contact in a hospital. Last June was the last I’d ever speak to him again before his death in September. So, my “failure” gave me the gift of an emotional farewell when we said goodbye before my return to Mexico last May.

But Mexico was the whiff of failure for me. I went there because I felt I had no choice. Like writers through the decades, it was a place where I could live reasonably and work. A $350 flight and $650/month rents. I resigned myself to the idea that it was where I could afford my failure and lick those wounds.

Despite enjoying it more than I expected, I never got over that sense of failure, because I never replaced my income until my last month there. And I never got over my anger about it, because my father died before I could get back to Vancouver.

Some of the people and sights I saw in Mexico. Ignore the distorted photo on the left. Something stupid happened.

Risk, Meet Reward

When I returned to Canada, I was down to just $1600 in credit, zero savings, and a flat-lining bank account. 90% of my credit was in play and gaining interest. Returning to Europe was a huge risk.

But it paid off.

Within a month of being in Europe, in November, I landed a contract for a couple thousand bucks. I didn’t see Budapest at all, but I made moolah. Plus, I’d started a new writing gig adding 75% to my monthly income. I worked like a fiend.

In December, I found a writing resource group that educated me about freelancing and being audacious in pitches. A month later, I had an article in the Washington Post. It didn’t pay much, but I’d written it quickly, and the cachet of saying “Washington Post-published writer” pays off an ongoing basis now.

Since then, I’ve had several other bylines, landed corporate work, had return work from other clients, and I’m making connections. The future is bright, as they say.

Money Talk

Despite facing major surgery and a month off work, and living it up GLORIOUSLY in Croatia and Mostar, Bosnia… and eating out far more than I should have in Sarajevo… and paying all my Canadian flights in advance already, I’ve paid off 50% of my total debt after eight months in Europe.

Also long gone is the final $1,800 on a loan I’d been recycling and refreshing for over 20 years. It’s down to the cards and low-interest line of credit, baby!

Returning to Canada, I’ve got four months of free lodgings coming up after a week’s splurge on my Nova Scotian roadtrip. But that’ll be offset with some stuff I’ll be returning to stores and new articles commissioned by publishers in the last week.

After four months in Canada, it’s off to Asia for the winter, where I expect to continue living under my income level and paying things off. The further plan is, buy a new camera and phone this summer, plus be debt-free by end of January, 2018, if not sooner. That’s the dream, the big goal. We’ll see!

People I’ve met along the way — drunken hijinks in Greece at 3am to a homicidal train dinging car waiter in Hungary and streetworkers in Albania, the nice Muslims who patched my knee in Morocco, Bosnian hosts, and more.

The Next Goal: Wellness in Asia

I’ll be honest, in a way, I’m not “wild” about going to Asia, because it’s never been big on my list. Going there was the plan in May, 2016, but I changed my mind to Mexico. Why? I never found myself dreaming at night about Asia. I never daydreamed about it, either, and that’s a big flag for me.

But now my excitement grows.

And my goals are different now. Asia is where I can change my lifestyle. I mean, I just ate a big bowl of cheese ravioli in cream sauce after a quadruple-espresso with whipping cream, and I’m day-drunk on white wine. I’d argue a lifestyle change wouldn’t be terrible, right? (But, gosh, this sure is tasty and fun.)

In Asia, I want frequent massages, in-season avocados, low-priced fresh fruit juices. Even the “less alcohol” thing is appealing. I don’t have a drinking problem, I have an accessible cheap wine problem.

In Morocco, I went from drinking daily to zilch for a month. I never craved it, because it wasn’t around. Mint tea rocked my world. When it’s not around, I don’t care. But, gosh, I love nice wine. Always will. It’s not affordable in Asia, though. I’ll have smoothies and juices and Vietnamese coffee and all that, and I’ll be very happy to do so.

The first 5 months that sent me licking my wounds in Morocco… but, boy, was it cool.

Retrospect… And Goodbye, Europe

It’s funny. I told friends in the two years leading up to nomad life that I had realistic goals. My first year abroad, I said, would be for “fucking up.” Things would go wrong, I would make mistakes, but I’d learn from them and would overcome them. As someone who had never travelled before, I expected adapting to the life to challenge me, but it never worried me.

Year two seems to have been about coming to terms with those mistakes, getting over them. It’s been about the surgery and just getting through things.

Year three? Getting healthy, falling in love with my life, apologizing to no one, not myself or anyone else.

I’ll further my professional goals, publish my first ebook on my travels, become a public speaker, and take my life where I dream it’d go when I began these travels.

For now? I’m fat, happy, half-drunk, and I’m headed home to pack up and reconcile another goodbye with another hello.

Canada, I’m coming for you.

Showing 2 comments
  • Avatar
    Julie H. Ferguson

    You’ve rocked!!
    BTW, I looooove mint tea. WHen I got home I went out and bought two big mint plants that are growing madly. I shall take them to Penticton when I move. So, still looooove mint tea!!

  • Avatar

    Love the raw honesty of this post 🙂 .. thanks for sharing all your highs and lows! You’re quite an inspiration .. keep at i!

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