Ever since I was a kid, I dreamt of traveling the world and exploring other cultures. I wanted to experience everything about traveling that I saw in movies. I wanted to try new foods, wear different clothing, have beautiful luggage, drive a Vespa, buy all the art, take so many photos and live in those amazing homes! Who doesn’t?
I grew up in a big family in your typical small town in Texas. We were an average family with pretty common struggles but our parents still entertained us well. I was a simple kid with good grades, who followed the rules and excelled in sports. Since we couldn’t afford fancy vacations like skiing or going to Disney, we mostly did road trips and camped during the summers at local parks and lakes. We were the Hispanic Griswold’s with adventures to Big Bend, Texas, visiting friends in Louisiana and even taking a few trips to Six Flags.
Although the love of adventure came from those family vacations, the idea of traveling on a larger scale first came from my aunt, Maria Lucia, my mom’s sister. She had these fantastic travel stories that she brought back from Hawaii, Mexico and Europe along with great souvenirs. One year for Christmas she bought me a globe and I was ecstatic because finally, I could see my dream! My first daydreams were mostly about lush tropical Hawaii because of the coconut souvenir bowls she brought me.
After college graduation, I moved to Austin without a job and with my whole bedroom in the back of my dad’s pickup truck. As scared as I was, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I needed to be far enough from home, and from everyone and everything I knew. I was on my own for the first time. As my adult life began, I focused on the conventional life I was accustomed to; I made goals and worked hard to build a career and the home life I wanted. Yet something was missing….I finally started thinking seriously about traveling, by making a list of places I wanted to visit, and figuring out how to plan and save for those trips.
At 24 years old, I finally went on my first vacation to none other than verdant, sumptuous Hawaii for two whole weeks! I could hardly contain myself; I didn’t sleep much on that nine-hour flight! The anticipation of the culture and beaches I would experience had my adrenaline running on high. IT WAS FINALLY HAPPENING! I love the feeling of stepping on a plane into the unknown. I savour the adrenaline rush, the butterflies in your stomach and feeling a bit scared but at the same time, knowing that you’re right where you should be.
Returning home was harder than I expected. I was glad to be home but within just a few days, I found myself ready to leave again. Fortunately, the next year I was invited on my first international trip to Spain. My co-worker and her sister were planning to visit a friend in Madrid and then travel around the country. I decided to fly in alone and then meet up with them a few days later. I needed to learn how to do this on my own regardless of the overwhelming stress and anxiety it gave me. This trip changed everything for me. Being in this foreign yet somewhat familiar country gave me the push I needed to get outside my limits. It showed me a different perspective on life, on people, on food. It introduced me to a new way of thinking, of engaging with others and of viewing history. Nothing would ever be the same after this.
I now firmly had the travel bug! Every year or so after that, I explored several U.S. cities and a couple of the Caribbean islands. Life was good; it was well structured. I was traveling, working on furthering my career, dating on and off, and becoming an aunt. Then I suddenly hit a wall. Family and relationship drama became too much to handle and escaping on local trips wasn’t enough anymore. I felt lost, had become stagnant and I needed the rollercoaster ride of the unknown again. I craved the fresh environment of a different culture and perspective. It had been years since my Spain trip but luckily, I had friends living in Ireland at the time. Within a month of contacting them, I was on a flight to Dublin, ready to explore Ireland and take a quick jaunt to France. Once I had gotten my travel fix again, I came back with new ideas about what I wanted for my life. At this point, I knew I was ready to travel more but I didn’t have any travel partners. My friends were all getting married and starting families but I wasn’t in the same place. Then, through my running group, I found out that my coach was planning a running vacation to Morocco for the next year. I jumped at the chance and immediately signed up without knowing anyone on the trip. Morocco was like no other. This trip gave me a feeling beyond what Spain had and it changed me once again.
Coming back, I knew exactly what I needed to do next. I needed to take a break, so I could explore the world on my own. I worked hard to save, simplify my life and plan for the day that I could take a sabbatical. I spoke of it for years as if it were right around the corner. I didn’t know how or when it would happen because I am a person who generally enjoys stability. During the four years before I eventually took that long-awaited trip, I continued to travel internationally often. Then 2017 happened. I went to Thailand in April with Cepee where we had an unforgettable conversation. Certain incidents leading up to that trip had me convinced that I couldn’t keep waiting to take that sabbatical. I told her, “I need a break, I want to hit refresh on my life. I am tired of waiting and I’m doing it now.” Cepee replied, “That’s a great name for a blog, Hit Refresh. You should blog about your travels.” However, I really didn’t want to focus on writing down every city and experience or have to be on my laptop all the time while traveling. I wanted to just be in the moment, see it all and let go.
Without any other plans, my only goal was a 3-month trip through Europe and then I would decide from there what was next. I finally quit my job in June, rented out my loft, stored my furniture at friends’ homes and left for Rome at the beginning of July. I traveled through 10 countries and 29 cities on my own. Sometimes I met up with friends who were visiting the same places and I always gained new friends in each city. I enjoyed every moment of that trip, even when I was tired, emotional and didn’t know what to do next. As Cepee told me, not everyday is an adventure. I knew that I might not have this moment ever again. What I found most inspiring was the other women traveling solo that I encountered along the way. I couldn’t believe how many women, young and old, were traveling on their own through this big ole world.
Since coming home, I know it shows that I am a changed person. I am in a place I never thought I would be. I’ve let go of my conventional, structured life and have become quite laid back. I’ve learned to let go of my past fears about the future and that I can make changes at anytime that I want. I don’t carry the stress about my career or home life that I used to. I don’t fear the aftermath of the refresh journey; I can do exactly what I want to do. I don’t need to follow a guideline or others’ ideas of what I should be doing but to just follow my heart. Every person’s journey is different. I’ve spent the last few months living with my sister and her family, enjoying the time spent with all my nieces, nephews and siblings. I’ve made new memories with each of them and have even been present for school activities. This is an opportunity I wouldn’t have had without taking this sabbatical. I could have continued to travel but I wanted to be here with family instead. I also have had the opportunity to start the She Hit Refresh community with Cepee.
Now, I’m happy to report that my next chapter begins in early May as I have accepted a position at a software company in Austin. I’m truly excited for this new beginning, and return to my city with a different perspective and several new goals. However my main goal this year is still to find a remote job in order to continue to travel; the year is not over. And for 2019, my main goal will be the most fun adventure I might ever have; I am planning to travel abroad with 2 nephews after their high school graduation. I write this to make it real, to be held accountable and to ask if this is the craziest idea ever?! Nonetheless, I am a happier person now and I will never regret this journey. I will make it happen again. After all, there are no guarantees in life, just the moment you are in.
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Hi from Boston! Keep the momentum Annette because life is too rapid to dilly dally . . . I, too, am planning to relocate the rest of my life to Spain. I’d just made up my mind when the pandemic shut down the world. Now things are opening again but I enrolled in school to make use of the down time. My newest plan is to finish the semester and sail over (with my cavapoo) in January. Hope to see you and CeeCee there!