2019: Reflections, Lessons, and Where We're Moving Next

Hey readers! Happy New Year!

As I write this there are only a few hours left in 2019, and I can’t help but reflect. I began 2019 — a lot like we will start 2020 — in a new country, with plenty of questions, and a healthy dose of hope for our next challenge. The truth is, it’s hard to really summarize 2019 and do it justice. It was a year that felt like five condensed into one; it was a year that surpassed my expectations, one that took me by surprise, one that schooled me (and us) in more ways than one. What I will say is 2019 was one of the richest years yet, one of the hardest, one of the busiest, and one of the most fulfilling that I can remember. It was a year where Laurens and I both achieved, explored, lost, grieved, hoped, and gained.

Here’s a glance at the lessons, the people, the food, and of course, the wonderful places that made 2019 what it was.

The non-stop travel of 2019

Left to right: Italy, Belgium, USA, Bali, Thailand, France

Honestly, if it weren’t for the amount of photos I took, I might not believe the places we saw this year. Travel was our automatic mode, and we savored quiet moments and slow weeks because we knew there were busy times around the corner. I traveled to the middle east, the Mediterranean soul of Europe, the jungle of SE Asia, the sprawling desert of the US Southwest…I traveled for this blog; I traveled with Laurens; I traveled to reunite with friends and family. I can’t remember a time where I was constantly looking forward to the next trip, dreaming up my next place to explore; I have this blog to thank for that. I reviewed hotels and travel experiences in some of the following countries.

France – Belgium – The Netherlands – Portugal – Spain – Lebanon – Switzerland – USA – Italy – Germany – Thailand – Singapore – Malaysia – Indonesia

My latest trip to Thailand got me thinking about intention. In January 2019, I set out to explore the world of hospitality, design, and architecture as part of growing this blog. It started simply enough when I aimed for doing at least one press trip; by the end I did 12. Here’s a quick look back at my work exploring boutique hotels:

6 lessons learned in 2019

Several months back, I wrote 15 truths about living abroad longterm. By the end of this year, you could say I learned a few more. Here they are:

  1. Solo travel. It can be lonely at times but more often than not, it’s fantastic. I traveled to Rome, Chiang Rai, and Porto by myself and each time enjoyed writing, taking photos, and walking until I couldn’t anymore. I’m proof that an extrovert can enjoy solo experiences, too. 😉
  2. Friendships. There’s a time for solo travel, but this year taught me that the company makes the trip. I reunited with the people I love the most from all over the globe, and honestly, there’s nothing better than that.
  3. 30 felt like a slow-moving tectonic shift. I felt more confidence as a woman, more urgency to tackle my dreams, a craving for stability this year…Let’s see what 31 brings.
  4. Paris. Living in Paris for 8 months this year reaffirmed my love for cities. After all the cities I’ve touched down in, I can still say Paris is my muse, my happy place. My soul city. There’s no other place like it!
  5. Gratitude. Every morning for the last few months I’ve been jotting down what I’m thankful for in my Moleskin journal. These small acknowledgements of what’s good in my life are a great way to start the day on a positive note and reduce the negative vibes.
  6. Love. With all the change this year brought, it was hard to maintain true harmony in our relationship at times. Four years of marriage and 2019 brought the biggest lesson of all: it’s crucial to prioritize the health and balance of our connection. When our love is out of whack, so is everything else. Luckily, we’re now stronger than ever.

The intriguing faces of strangers

Ever since I bought my Fujifilm XT-1 camera, I was excited to test its street potential. 2019 was a year of diving into photography using my new camera for hotel assignments, but also, it’s a great travel companion, especially the 27mm lens which is lightweight, unobtrusive, and creates great results for candid shots. Here are some of my favorite shots of the year from the US, Europe, and Asia.

Reunions across the globe

As a couple who moves every few years, I don’t take for granted the friendships I keep and the people who still make an effort to be in my life, no matter where I am. I’m lucky to have friends and family who will meet up with me regardless of the place. 2019 was proof of that. ☺️

It can be hard to keep tight bonds with the distance and time difference. I’m lucky to have amazing friends scattered across the globe, and 2019 was the year of celebrating new and old friendships; it was also a year of family and realizing how important my bond with them is. Of all the places we pass through, I’m grateful that my bond with these friends is stronger than a country or border, and I’m also grateful that I have the chance to meet amazing new people in each country we live in.

The food I fell in love with

This year’s travels were just as much about the cuisine as they were about experiencing the countries themselves. I got acquainted with dishes and the chefs who love them; fell in love with Portuguese bifana, savored bright and fresh Tuscan wine, tasted impossibly smooth Lebanese hummus, fell in deeper love with French patisserie, chowed down on Texas BBQ…I could go on. I was in food heaven and learned more through my tastebuds than maybe anything else.

Here are some of my food articles from ’19:

2010 vs. 2020

Looking back on one year is dizzying enough! The change, challenges, and triumphs are too long to list in one blog post. When I start thinking of all that happened in the past decade, I smile. 21-year-old-Monica was a junior in college in Texas, dreaming of moving to Europe every single day, and completely unsure of the coming years. Fast forward: 2019 was a year completely marked by change. Every month of the year was dedicated to exploring more of this gorgeous globe, to being surprised by it; it was a year where my intentions materialized and goals became reality. It was surreal.

Now we’re headed to Switzerland to see what this year has to offer us in 2020. Here’s to a new decade of hoping, risking, achieving, eating, and traveling, of course!

2010 in Venice for the first time. I was studying abroad for 4 months in Spain.

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