So, what’s next?

I was drifting around a perplexing European city. I didn’t know where exactly, but it seemed familiar. My surroundings were unclear because the cityscape was comprised of small circles, like an abstract painting. It was blurry and confusing and void of joy. People moped through the streets with hunched backs and sadness swelling in their eyes. They avoided each other like the plague, but this appeared to be normal as they carried on with their daily, mundane routines. I couldn’t understand what was happening or why. I felt trapped and I didn’t know how to escape, but I shared in their sorrow as I dragged my feet aimlessly through this obscure melancholy world.

Eventually, I stood up a little straighter, held my head a little higher and looked forward. My eyes aligned with two of the circles that created the bewildering landscape and suddenly I could see clearly. It was like I found a pair of new glasses with a strong prescription and I could finally see the happiness and bright colors that surrounded me. Kind of like one of those Allegra allergy commercials. At last, I felt free. As I was adjusting to this newfound blissful world, I was overcome by a powerful voice. It said, “Once you find what makes you happy, don’t lose sight of it.”

And then I woke up covered with goose bumps. I have never had a dream like that before.

My plans for next year have been on my mind a lot lately. Should I return to Spain? Should I try to find a “real” job at home? But what would that job be? I can’t even begin to think of a starting place.

For me the hardest aspect of life is the direction I lack. It weighs on me daily and I constantly wonder if I’ll ever find “my thing.” You see, I didn’t come out of the womb wearing a fighter pilot suit like half of my family. I didn’t enter college with a specific career in mind. Some days I desperately wish I could have wanted to be a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer, and so that’s what I could have studied and that’s what I could have become. But it hasn’t been that easy for me. It’s never been that easy for me. I mean, I changed my major four times in college until it was my senior year and I just needed to settle with something, anything really, to graduate on time and avoid more student loans.

The only thing I’ve consistently been sure of is my deep desire to travel and explore this world. I’ve only ever been certain of my wicked case of wanderlust.

When I decided to move abroad for the first time last summer, it was an impossibly difficult decision for me to make. I felt like I was swimming upstream and going against every social norm and expectation. Trying to make a decision transformed me into a monster and I hated every single minute of the process. I made it unnecessarily difficult for myself because I wasn’t focusing on my own happiness.

However, I’ve decided that it’s not going to be so difficult this time around. I could spend my time searching for some job in some office in Dallas or Fort Worth, trying to conform to what is expected of “grownups.” But I know every day I would look back and think something like, “Ugh, last year at this time I was surrounded by whales on a boat in the Canary Islands but that adventure has ended and now here I am in—what the hell am I doing?” I know my heart couldn’t handle that. My heart isn’t ready to give up this adventure. And the scary part is, I don’t think it ever will be.

So I’m not going to wage a war against myself this time. I’m going to listen to my heart, and my heart only. And that feels good. If I’m happy and content here, why should I change that?

I want my life to be “the opposite of loneliness.” I want to chase the one thing that undeniably brings me bliss and makes me a better person. I want to continue to share my stories, my photos and my writing with you all.

So, simply put, my plan is to return to this beloved city. Plans can change, and I’m prepared for that, but for now this is how I intend to keep my happiness in sight.

But as much as my heart lusts for travel, I absolutely cannot wait to spend some much-needed time at home this summer. I’ll be returning to the great state of Texas at the end of June and I imagine I’ll be eating Chipotle everyday for quite some time.

On July 7th, I’ll be packing up again and heading north to Alaska for some quality time and adventures with my extended family.

I also plan to travel to Tucson, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles for more friend and family time.

At the end of July into early August, I’ll spend a week volunteering at my favorite place on Earth, Camp El Tesoro de la Vida.

Then, in late August, I’ll help my littlest little brother settle into his new home and university in Malibu.

And sometime in September I’ll make my way back to my beloved Madrid to spend another year working with smiley Spanish kids and making the most of my time living abroad. I expect to have even bigger adventures, some, I hope, with my family in tow.

I’m probably going to need a way to make some money this summer, so if you have any odd jobs, want a family portrait, need a babysitter, or want someone to plan your vacation, I’m your girl.

Thank you for your endless support and encouragement! It means more to me than I could ever explain.

Costa del Sol: The road trip

Sometimes the best way to see a country is to hop in a car and drive. Desperately wanting to see several cities on Spain’s Costa del Sol, we did just that.

In March, we flew from Madrid to Malaga and effortlessly rented a car from Malagacar.com. Less than two hours after we had landed, we were on the road, driving along the sunny coast heading south.

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There was an immediate feeling of freedom. This was a different kind of travel, one without confusing buses and tiring metro systems. The wind tangled our hair as we sang our favorite tunes and admired the tremendous and endless views of the bright sea.

Our first stop on our Costa del Sol checklist was the British territory, Gibraltar. About an hour and a half after leaving Malaga, we could see the giant rock on the horizon. Like a scene out of Lion King, the sun disappeared and clouds suddenly surrounded the monkey-infested rock. We parked on the Spanish side and walked across the border.

After passing through “border control” and walking across the long, long airstrip (how strange, right?) we were no longer in Spain. We wandered through the small controversial British territory and found our way to the cable cars.

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After waiting in line for 20 minutes, we were quickly ascending up the rock in a crowded car.

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The top of Gibraltar is a unique place because it’s home to Europe’s only wild monkeys. Although, once you meet them, these frisky little guys seem more like well-trained primates sent from neighboring Morocco.

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They may look cute and innocent, but they pestered the tourists (who were usually provoking them) by grabbing at their pockets, jumping on their backs, and searching through their bags like little gypsy pickpocketers.

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In order to keep the macaques in the vegetation at the top of the rock and away from the civilization below, city officials actually feed the monkeys daily.

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Here the weather wasn’t as pleasant, so once we were completely windblown and shivering and satisfied with our monkey interactions, we trekked back down to civilization, crossed back into Spanish territory and jumped on the road again.

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costa-del-sol-road-trip

Our final destination for the day was the windiest place on Earth (according to, well, myself), Tarifa. The route to Tarifa was simply splendid. When the views weren’t of beaches, they were of the lush, green mountains decorated with white wind turbines. Sometimes we could see Morocco in the distance (on the horizon pictured below).

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Typically I dislike being in the car for long periods of time, but I could have driven for hours without growing bored.

About 40 minutes after leaving Gibraltar, we had arrived to our Airbnb in the old town.

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Tarifa is the most southern point in continental Europe, and the water is a perfect mixture of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

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This little town is known for three things, and three things only: whale watching, windsurfing and day trips to Morocco (which is extremely visible from Tarifa’s coast).

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Here we explored the blustery beaches, gawked at fishermen reeling in octopuses, and observed the windsurfers crashing into and over waves. This tiny town lacked tourists and I may have loved that the most.

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My highlight of Tarifa was sure to be the whale watching, as there is definiely not one activity that I love more. The unique mixture of the ocean and sea is home to pilot whales, sperm whales, killer whales, fin whales and many dolphin species… oh my heart! But unfortunately, due to the high winds the sea was too rough for any tour company to take groups out.

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After choking back tears we drove a little further down the coast to Bolonia beach. Quite quickly after we arrived, I had forgotten about the whales because… BABY BULLS ON THE BEACH!

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This couldn’t be normal, but I didn’t care. This strange phenomenon was so thrilling to me, as any animals in the wild are.

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Finally after two relaxing nights in Tarifa, it was time to venture back north toward Malaga. But we had one stop left: the luxurious Marbella.

Although this city has beaches and harbors, the highlight was the old quarter. Filled with juicy orange trees, inviting terraces, narrow cobblestone roads and picturesque buildings, Marbella’s old quarter is nothing short of fabulous.

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We wandered the tapering roads, taking photos around every curve because, “Oh my gosh, this is just beautiful!” Or, “Ah, look at this!”

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Every twist and every turn through the quarter was rousing. Simply stunning.

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Because we couldn’t afford the pricey, B-list celebrity destination hotspot, we ate our own homemade sandwiches and later enjoyed a smoothie on a sun-lit terrace.

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As the weekend came to a close, this little road trip quickly climbed its way up to the top of my favorite trip list.

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Still not convinced? Check out our GoPro video mix from the long weekend.

My Costa del Sol road trip suggestions

Gibraltar

-Although border police hardly glance at it, a passport is necessary to enter Gibraltar.
-Buy your Gibraltar cable car tickets online in advance for €14.70 roundtrip.
-Don’t bring plastic bags to the top of Gibraltar. The monkeys associate these with food and will surely help themselves to see what you brought them. Food is also a bad idea.
-Try to be respectful of the animals at the top of the rock… the way tourists interacted with the macaques really disappointed me and deterred me from wanting to spend very long there.
-No more than half a day is necessary to see this British territory.
-Park on the Spanish side and avoid waiting hours in line to cross the border. Plenty of parking is available extremely close to the border.
-Things are expensive here, so keep that in mind when considering making purchases.

Tarifa

-We stayed in a centrally located, large and lovely Airbnb for €30 per night. This was a huge money saver for us. Check out the property here.
-Schedule your whale-watching trip in advance so you can be guaranteed a place on the boat and notified if your trip is cancelled.
-Although I think it’s impossible, don’t miss the windsurfers in action!
-Definitely check out Bolonia Beach and let me know if you find cows, too.

Marbella

-Marbella is a great place for looking, but not touching. For us backpackers, things are very pricey, but it’s always free to wander around!
-Carve out an afternoon to wander through the old quarter.
-Swing by a market and make your own lunch to eat in the sunshine.

General

-The route to and from Malaga is extremely simple and a GPS wasn’t necessary for us. We took the A-7 the entire way (this is the route that avoids tolls).
-I was extremely nervous to rent a car, but don’t be! It was the best decision we made for this trip.
-If you want to rent a car, I highly suggest Malagacar.com, as they seemed to have the best rates. If you’re under 24, there is an extra fee for renting. For three days, we paid around €50 total, not including €40 for gas.
-Don’t be afraid to pull over and enjoy the view! The best thing about road trips is that you’re in control.
-Stock up at a market or grocery store along the way and this will save tons of money on food!

 

Have you ever done a road trip in a foreign country? Tell me about your experience below!