I hit refresh – and delete. And control. All at the same time!
Who am I? I’m a 57 year old woman. The oldest of four girls with a mostly absent father and a disinterested mother; mother of four active (and perhaps over-scheduled?) kids; wife of an alcoholic procrastinator; Realtor. I was the one taking care of everyone. It was my role and I did it well. I made lists, organized people and stuff, made things happen – like moving with my husband from Chicago to Denver with four kids under the age of 7, without jobs and knowing no one in Colorado.
I singlehandedly planned wonderful vacations for our family – Yellowstone, Alaska, Mexico, DisneyWorld, the East Coast, and more. I found that I totally loved travel. Besides juggling four kids and their activities, I was busy helping people find the perfect home – days, weekends or evenings – whenever they needed me. I was the one organizing my group of friends for hikes, scrapbooking weekends, camping excursions for all our families exploring the beauty of Colorado, “Groupon fun” outings like escape rooms and party bikes- hey, they didn’t call me “Julie the Cruise Director” for nothing! And don’t get me wrong – I loved it. I was good at coming up with ideas for fun things to do and I was pretty persuasive.
Then, the inevitable happened – those four busy, crazy, time-consuming kids grew up and moved away. The real estate market tanked and I found that my passion for selling homes was gone. My friends got busy doing things with their husbands as their children left the nest. And after almost 30 years of marriage, our relationship was stale, flat and boring as hell. We had completely drifted apart.
So, I found the perfect job to replace real estate sales – a software and sales trainer in the real estate industry that involved travel around the USA. I thought perhaps this would satisfy my wanderlust and also cause me to miss my husband while I was gone, since I knew we were on the skids. The short answer was sort of, and no.
I loooooved traveling – to San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles Nashville, Portland. I started extending my business trips to include the weekends since no one needed me back and home, and ventured out on my own – to the Virgin Islands, to Canada, to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle, to San Francisco…
My job as a trainer was wonderful – my team was amazing, I was making decent money, I was earning and keeping a bunch of airline miles and credit card points…but. But. There’s always a but. I felt like time was running out for me to have a life of my own – people my age were being diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, knee and hip problems. I know it sounds trite, but I suddenly realized, “I’m not getting any younger”.
I began to see that my happiness was up to me. Dang. Not for my kids to provide, not for my husband to manufacture. But what made me happy? I had spent my entire life tending to others, taking care of everything for everyone. I really had never stopped to think or ask this of myself. Too busy! Busy being busy – I realize now that “busy” is an addiction, to keep you from dealing with reality. But now, I had time – lots of time. Quiet time in the car commuting to work (without a group of lacrosse girls in the back singing Taylor Swift. Without a bunch of pre-teen boys on the way to the skate park). Quiet time at the end of the work day, sitting in a house not really interacting with my husband in any way. I knew my marriage had fizzled out along these last few (ten? years) and come to a dead stop.
We tried marriage counseling, and that was ineffective. More helpful for me was going to a therapist on my own (for the first time ever!). I found a wonderful woman who was certified to train the Brene Brown teachings based on her books, “Rising Strong” and “Daring Greatly” which had been recommended to me by friends. I did a couple of group therapy courses which I cannot praise enough. Brene’s work – and therefore, my work – emphasized two of the thoughts we, as women, often have – “I don’t deserve it/who do I think I am?” (“it” being a good relationship, that new sweater or purse, happiness, fun, a nap; whatever is your goal) and “What will other people think?” Shame, courage, being brave and vulnerability are her key points. Combined with reading two more self-help type of books (and I had NEVER read self help books before!) “You are a Badass*” by Jen Sincero and “Big Magic*” by Elizabeth Gilbert, I was ready to fly! Literally.
So. I got up the courage to move out of the master bedroom and into the guest room (oddly enough, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done). My kids were stunned, my husband flabbergasted. Everyone thought everything was just peachy. And after 3 months, I was ready to move out of the home I had raised the kids in for the past 20 years, and got an apartment of my very own – my first place without a roommate/spouse/sibling! It was glorious!
My next step was quitting my job so I could travel. I didn’t want to just take a 2 week vacation – I wanted to TRAVEL. So I planned a trip (we all know how good I am at planning!) and gave my notice…but my boss said she’d hold my job for me and if I wanted it after my three month journey, it would be waiting for me. Well if THAT didn’t make me cry…
I traveled to Italy with a friend. Then on to Ireland for a 12-day hike backpacking The Kerry Way, a 130 mile trail, with my cousin. Next to Greece with my travel buddy Theresa. After that…I was on my own. My travel companions all headed back home but I was going to stay. I’d travel solo – for the first time ever. And so, after crying for about 10 minutes and having a small panic attack, I booked a ticket from Athens to Lisbon. I backpacked through Portugal, Morocco and Spain by myself, meeting amazing people along the way.
I stayed in hostels, loving the ability to meet like-minded travelers out doing the same thing as I was. It was so much more fulfilling, fun and incredible than I could have ever dreamed! Although I was “alone”, I met women traveling on their own and we traveled together – sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer. For example, I met a 22 year old Australian girl while in Lisbon – we traveled to Morocco together for 2 weeks! And I spent about a week with a 26 year old from Texas, tooling around Portugal together.
Upon returning to the USA and to my awaiting job, I knew that I couldn’t work in corporate America any longer. I got the divorce papers ready, started planning the next big trip, and worked for one more year until I could head out the door again. And, I started dating. Yup. Online dating apps were my new hobby. I went on so many “meet and greets” that it became the topic of conversation at work every Monday, as my co-workers wanted to hear the crazy stories I had to share. I met a couple of nice guys, but no one to really get serious with…besides, I knew I was heading out the door soon for my next big trip.
So in December 2017, I quit my job (again!), rented my apartment as a fully furnished place to a traveling nurse, and headed to Laos and Cambodia with Theresa for three weeks, after which time she returned to Denver – and I kept going. I spent six glorious weeks exploring Vietnam on my own – what a wonderful country! From Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and everywhere in between! Then, I did a week-long village to village trek in the hills of Nepal, and spent another two weeks exploring Kathmandu and Pokhara, even attending a 2 day yoga retreat and trying paragliding for the first time!
Along the way as I traveled, I’d check my Tinder dating app to see if there was anyone around to get together with for a cup of coffee and some conversation. I met a few men for coffee this way, and had fun with a few others. While in Pokhara, I turned on the Tinder app and met a great guy from France who was spending the winter months in Nepal so he could paraglide there every day. He met me for a beer, and we then spent almost a week together in Pokhara, riding his motorcycle around the countryside, having dinner together – even appearing in a local movie! The next week, I flew off to explore Bali for a month and ended my four month journey in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a week and Singapore for four nights…before returning home to Colorado.
My Frenchman, Jean Marie, and I knew we had something special, and we wanted to spend more time together, so he booked a flight to Denver (his first trip to the USA) and spent two weeks with me in June. We had a wonderful, amazing, fun time together, and I got to show him the sights in Colorado, hiking, camping and enjoying the beauty of the mountains.
Meanwhile…I had applied for a position as a caretaker in a villa in Tuscany, and was lucky enough to be chosen! I’d be spending the months of August and September in Italy watering plants and keeping the place tidy, in exchange for a tiny room at the top of the spiral staircase I booked my flight, but instead of going straight to Pisa, I decided to fly to Paris in mid-July, spend a few nights there, and then travel south to the Dordogne Valley to spend another 2 weeks with my French paraglider pilot before heading off to Italy. Another fantastic and fun time together – I even flew with him on our last day together.
And now? Now I’m sitting here in Tuscany, in a 15th century villa, trying to get used to the slow, quiet pace of life in the Italian countryside. It’s different “living” somewhere as opposed to traveling, and it takes some getting used to. I’m taking day trips to Pisa, Lucca and Florence, and will be overnighting in the Cinque Terre and also in Verona, where I’m seeing Andrea Bocelli sing in the Opera House there, which, if you didn’t know (‘cause I sure didn’t!) is a Roman amphitheater from 50 AD. Yup.
Jean Marie will arrive here in Tuscany on September 20, and we will spend my last ten days at the villa together. After this, we plan to travel around Croatia and places like Macedonia and Montenegro for a few weeks. In late November he is headed to Madagascar and Reunion Island for a paragliding trip with his friends, and he has invited me to join him. Of course I said yes.
Do I miss my kids and my friends? Absolutely. Am I itching to hold my new grandbaby that was born while I was in Bali and that I’ve met a few times while home over the summer? You know it. But I realized everyone is busy with their own life, and I can’t sit around waiting for my life to happen. I need to make it happen. And for me, travel is the biggest “Reset” or “Refresh” I could ever hit!
My return ticket to Denver is on Christmas Eve. If I want to, I’m able to continue traveling with the money I got from the divorce from my half of the house, so I can relax and not worry about that for a while longer. I’ve found that it’s so much cheaper to live overseas than in the USA. I’ll head back to my apartment and see what transpires. Where I’ll go from there, what I’ll do next is still TBD. I’m waiting for the Universe to show me the way and let me know what’s in store for me. I’m a huge believer of manifesting – I truly believe that’s how I met Jean Marie, and how I ended up in Tuscany and spent months exploring Southeast Asia. My future may involve the Frenchman, it may not…and I’m actually ok with that! I’m learning to take it as it comes, and not have expectations.
“You’re so lucky!” and “You’re so brave!” is what I keep hearing from my friends. I am making my own luck, and closing my eyes and jumping in. If you call that brave, or just plain crazy, I’m not sure. But I am completely sure that I am having the time of my life! It’s all about saying Yes and trusting in the Universe. So take a deep breath, say “yes” and go ahead and jump. You’ll only be sorry about the chances you didn’t take, not the ones you did. After all, you can always go back to your ‘regular’ life if travel isn’t for you. Be the architect of your life and make it happen. Namaste.
Member Spotlight highlights stories of inspiring women from our She Hit Refresh community. We hope that by sharing their stories of change and travel we can expose the unconventional paths that thousands of women 30 years and older have chosen. There is no one way to live a life, just your way.
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