Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Oct 23, 2013

Another Year Older…and Maybe a Little Wiser?


I spent the better part of my 36th birthday in a compartment on an old rickety Hungarian train traveling from Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia. Eight years before, I was eating breakfast in my apartment in Chicago while watching The Today Show. It was the time of year for the “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” series and as he walked through cobblestoned streets in a town perched high above a glistening sea, I knew I had to go wherever he was. It was later revealed that he was in Dubrovnik, Croatia and since that day, I have been dreaming of visiting Croatia on my own.

We unfortunately didn’t make it all the way south to Dubrovnik during our two weeks in Croatia, but I have seen enough to know that I love it here. Thank you Matt Lauer.

But, back to my birthday. While I was beyond excited to finally be headed to Croatia, it was a pretty uneventful day of celebration.

Okay, there was a bottle of Hungarian Cabernet Franc involved.

OK, there was a bottle of Hungarian Cabernet Franc involved.

I used the better part of the eight-hour train ride to think back on this past year and the journey I have found myself on. Travel at this pace and for this duration is entirely different from a week or two-week long vacation. It’s not a vacation at all actually, it’s just my life. There are great days and there are shitty days and all I can really do is learn from both kinds. I have not only seen so much in these months on the road, but I think I have grown as a person and learned a little more about who I want to be and how I want to live my life.

The greatest thing I will take away from this year is the desire for connection – to be with others, to share experiences and to know there is a greater world out there which you are a part of. Life on the road can be really lonely at times and it has been through those tough moments where I have realized that most of truly living relies on our connections with the people around us (whether near or far).

Our Croatian sailing, cycling and hiking group. A nice chance to connect with others while traveling.

Our Croatian sailing, cycling and hiking group. A nice chance to connect with others while traveling.

Wherever this life takes me in the next three months, three years or 30 years, it is these things I want to remember and use to build a life rich with experiences and with people.

Patience. I am humbled by this every day. Patience has never been one of my strengths. I want things to be done quickly and correctly and get frustrated when they don’t go as planned. Well, welcome to my current life situation. Rarely anything I do on this trip can be done quickly and they aren’t always “right” in the way I intend them to be. Things like booking a place to stay, researching where to go next and just figuring out what to buy for dinner take so much longer than the typical daily activities at home. It has been in baby steps, but I am learning to have greater patience with myself, with others and with the process.

Trust. From getting on a minibus in Thailand to interacting with strangers at all levels, if this year has taught me anything, it is to trust in others. I’m not talking about blind trust and ignoring instincts, but that most people are good and have good intentions. Coming from a place where I assume everyone has ulterior motives for everything, trusting in others doesn’t come naturally. Fortunately, Dave can take the leap of faith better than I can and it has helped me be more comfortable with it. Come to find out, it’s a pretty good feeling.

I really had to put my trust in this Cambodian motor boat driver.

I really had to put my trust in this Cambodian motor boat driver (and no, we were not kidnapped).

Happiness. It is an elusive word and an even more elusive feeling, but one that has hit me time and time again in the strangest ways. This past week we took a sailing cruise in Croatia and our entire ship was filled with Austrians. I rarely understood them because I know zero German, but I had waves of happiness flood me throughout the week in their company. One of the older gentlemen on the cruise was a fantastic story teller. He would stand up at the end of meals to recite poems and stories he had in his repertoire. While I didn’t understand a single word of them, watching the reactions from the rest of the group and their appreciation and reverence for his gift was magic in its own way. This and so many other things from this year I will never forget. (If you can understand German, I have a 12-minute video with him telling a story and I’d love for you to translate it for me!).

Beauty. With little to occupy our time besides just putting one foot in front of the other to keep traveling, I have had the time to truly observe and be present in what we are doing and where we are. I have found the greatest beauty in the mountains and the oceans of the world, but also in people and things people have built. Our normal daily lives are usually filled with running from one activity to another and we rarely have the time to appreciate what is around us. Having the chance to slow down and really see these things continues to amaze me every day.

Sunset in Zadar, Croatia - sitting on top of the magical sea organ (plays music when the waves hit it).

Sunset in Zadar, Croatia – sitting on top of the magical sea organ (plays music when the waves hit it).

It has been an incredible nine months so far. I’m looking forward to the next two this year and what I will learn along the way.

Could I have found these things without taking to the road for an entire year? Yes, I’m sure I could. But like I said, patience isn’t a strong suit of mine so I have appreciated the crash course.


  1. Love following all this stuff, it’s been amazing! Like I told you years ago, you’re the one that made everything fun! So happy for you and Dave!

    Ps, one of my buddies speaks German if you get a chance to upload it, send me the link and I’ll have him take a look.

    All the best,

    • Thanks for following along, Joe! I’ll let you know when I get the video uploaded 🙂

      Good luck with your upcoming big day!

  2. My favorite post to date! Jill, thank you for sharing so openly and authentically about yourself and your feelings. Made me feel closer to you, even thousands of miles apart! Miss you guys. XO

    • Thanks Brad, miss you guys tons!

  3. No offense, but it’s a bit surprising you have not realized that most of your happiness derives from being with a Shabelman. Trust me, you join the crew and it just comes naturally– ask Beth.