Home Reflections 2018 in Review + 2019 Plans

2018 in Review + 2019 Plans

written by Sam and Veren January 2, 2019
2018 in Review + 2019 Plans

Though we said this in our 2017 Year in Review post, we’ll say it again – this past year was a doozy. It’s hard to believe 2018 is almost already gone, even though the year has felt like it stretched forever and ever.

One of the things we love about traveling and this lifestyle we lead is that it compartmentalizes time. By having demarcated periods of time and not having a monotonous routine, the years feel longer and more satisfying to reflect on.

We are constantly questioning and evaluating what we want out of life and how we want to  spend our time. We want to avoid the sticking with stagnation pitfall: remaining somewhere because we’re afraid to take a step in a different direction.

2018 was about realizing what was working – and what wasn’t. It was about being brave enough to admit that we needed to step away from something we loved – living in Madrid.

If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ll know that Madrid has been our favorite place to live thus far.  

Read more: Why We Moved to Madrid + Why We Stayed Another Year

Madrid is an incredibly livable place – the affordable cost of living, health care, a great public transportation system, the size (not too big, not too small), the delicious vegan food, and the community that we built over the couple of years we lived there.

It was in Madrid that we truly spread our blogging wings. The affordability of Madrid let us work and cultivate this passion project. We wrote a ton, we spend hours upon hours learning, we  partnered with restaurants, and we wrote a whole damn book on Madrid.

Yet sometimes, the thing that brings you joy can also be the thing that holds you back.

Read more: Why We’re Leaving Madrid

At the end of our 2017 Year in Review, we wrote, “2018 is going to be about revving up this blog so we can both be location independent. Ideally, we’d love to split our time between Madrid, New York, and several months traveling via house sitting throughout the year.”

It’s so exciting to be able to look back and say we’ve accomplished that goal! We are now both fully location independent. This past year we spent 6 months in Madrid, 3 months in New York, and 3 months house sitting. More about all of that below!

Madrid’s famous Plaza Mayor

Living in Madrid (January-June)

By the time we returned to Madrid from our holiday trip to NYC last December-January, we were pretty sure that this was going to be our last stint living in Madrid. Our last six months in Spain were incredibly busy because we wanted to spend time enjoying Madrid while also ramping up our blog to prepare for location independent life, along with writing and publishing our first book: The Madrid Vegan Guidebook.

That being said, we still had some travel adventures before we left Europe!

March: Sam Goes on a #VeganLentTour!

I get itchy travel feet way more often than Veren. He can buckle down and focus for days on end, whereas after a few days cooped up in the house, I need to get out exploring.

So when our friend Caitlin of The Vegan Word mentioned that she had always wanted to do a tour of Eastern Orthodox countries during Lent, I pounced. During Lent, the Eastern Orthodox religion emphasizes fasting, which includes eating no animal products. This means that during this time, accidentally vegan food is readily available – or at least this is a theory that we wanted to test! Read more about this phenomenon in Caitlin’s post: This is Why Vegans Should Travel to Eastern Europe During Lent

Over the course of two weeks, we visited Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro (briefly). It was without a doubt one of the highlights of my year, and not just for all the vegan pastries we discovered.

Read more: 7 Delicious Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Sofia, Bulgaria

Oh and in case some of you are wondering – didn’t Veren get jealous?

Nope.

We work on solo travel as much as we plan solo time. For us, it’s key for balancing our time and better for our relationship, especially as we work-live-travel together the majority of the time. We could easily talk about all the benefits of traveling and spending time separately while in a couple, but that could be a whole other blog post!

May: Basque Country

One of our favorite trips together this past year was a week long trip through the Basque Country. This green, mountainous, seaside region is easily one of our favorites in Spain.

We stayed with a friend we made via Instagram and visited Veren’s great-aunt (105 years!) who lives in Biarritz, France, just over the Spanish border. Basque Country is known for its high-quality, gourmet food, and vegans don’t need to miss out!

Read more in our guide: Vegan in the Basque Country

June: We published our first book!

Our Basque trip was our last hurrah for Spain. June was a particularly rough month, with lots of ups and downs. Sam’s grandmother passed away at the end of May and she flew back to the States for a week, back to Madrid for a week to pack up, and then directly to Portland. It was a crazy and not fun time.

Publishing our book was a highlight, though to be honest, we didn’t really enjoy it at the time. People asked if we were going to have a book launch party, and the sheer thought of organizing people together was way too overwhelming to even contemplate.

Besides, publishing felt like more of a relief than something to celebrate. It was a huge weight off our shoulders and we kind of put it away for the next few months after that (mistake!).

That being said, we’re extremely proud of this book and have received such great feedback on how helpful it is. We slaved away over it for so long because we truly want people to have an amazing vegan experience in Madrid, and we know that with this book in hand, they will!

Read more about the book and what people have said about it here: Madrid Vegan Guidebook

Madrid Vegan Guidebook cover
Our book!

Back to Traveling and House Sitting Full time (June-December)

We were so burnt out by the end of June that we ended up giving ourselves a mini vacation for the first 2 weeks after leaving Madrid. We spent most of July in Portland, Oregon and allowed ourselves to indulge a bit while we were there.

Portland is known as one of the “vegan hot spots” of the world and we can fully attest to this.

Read more: Our Epic Guide to Cheap Vegan Food in Portland.

August through November saw us in NYC and surroundings. While we loved spending time with friends and family, exploring new foodie spots, and biking around, it was more clear than ever that NYC is not our place for any lengthy period of time.

Greenpoint in Winter
New York winter scenes.

House Sits of 2018

Since going back to house sitting full time in July, we’ve house sat for a total of approximately four months. We fill in the gaps house sitting with visiting friends and family or very occasionally paying for a place to stay. Barring referrals, we find all of our house sits on TrustedHousesitters.

Read more: TrustedHousesitters Review

Portland, Oregon: 3 weeks with 2 dogs and 4 cats near the beautiful Mount Tabor park.

Yonkers, New York: 3 weeks with 3 cats in Yonkers, a city about an hour north of NYC on the train.

Astoria, Queens, NYC:; 2 weeks in our favorite neighborhood with 3 kitties who we house sat for during the holidays last year.

Ridgewood, Queens, NYC: 1 week with an older doggie who we found out has since passed away 🙁

Manhattan, NYC: 5 days with 1 kitty thanks to a referral from our friends that run pet sitting business WoofWoofNYC.

St. Croix, US Virgin Islands: 6 weeks with 13 cats and 6 dogs. This was our biggest assignment yet but we were up for the challenge. The owners are lovely and generous people with whom we are glad we connected!

Lessons of 2018

2018 wasn’t all sunshine and roses. We learned several lessons the hard way this year.

Lesson 1: Smaller, walkable cities are where we thrive

Over the course of this year, we’ve spent time in a variety of places, from the massive concrete jungle of NYC to the remote US Virgin Island of St. Croix.

We cherish each place for what it teaches us about not only the world around us, but ourselves. Each place we go, we assess what we love and what we don’t love about that place. While we appreciate each place for the unique things that it has to offer, we’re not going to lie about our preferences.

One of these preferences is walkability.

Being able to walk to the grocery store, a cafe/restaurant or a neighborhood dive bar is very important to us. We don’t mean we literally have to be on top of those things. We’re happy to walk or bike much further than most. We’d rather walk 20 minutes to a grocery store than drive for ten.

Yet at the same time, huge cities just aren’t our jam anymore. We know what we want to spend our time doing. We don’t need the endless distractions, conveniences and inconveniences, expense, and general craziness that come with big cities.

After three months in New York, we vowed not to repeat that experience again. We originally left New York for many reasons and this trip back only served to reinforce those reasons.

Read more: New York Glorifies Personhood but Does Not Prioritize People

In a scary short amount of time this fall, we found ourselves sucked back into the grind of New York. We thought three months would be a good amount of time to see everyone at a relaxed pace, yet it seemed like our days were always filled to the brim. Since everyone is so busy, you spend so much time juggling other peoples schedules trying to make time for each other.

It’s also hard to hole up and focus on a creative project unless you already can afford to live in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood. We clearly can’t or we wouldn’t be house sitting.

Read more: How to Start House Sitting

Don’t get us wrong – we LOVE our NYC friends and family. They’re why we keep going back to New York and why we stayed so long this time.

But as introverts, socializing nearly every night of the week took its toll on us.

On top of that, our blog suffered.

It was too easy to say “I’ll work on that tomorrow, we’re only here a short amount of time.” That tomorrow became the day after, and the day after. Not to mention that when we did sit down to work, we were mentally drained with no creative energy, and/or subjected to construction noise literally outside the window of seemingly everywhere we stayed.

We wish we were joking.

In one instance, a jack hammer, drill, and chainsaw were all competing for attention. Sounds unbearable? Most people who glamorize NYC leave these parts out or have to money to escape it.

Other scenes you won’t see in articles, blogs, or Instagram posts glamorizing New York:

Think NYC house sitting is the dream?

Let us bust that myth in the following article:

Read More: NYC House sitting 101

We pet sat in Queens, Manhattan, and even the neighboring city of Yonkers, yet all of these were short term. New Yorkers rarely go away for longer than a week or maybe 10 days at most. House sitting full time works best for us when we have house sits of a month or more. This way, we can get into a solid work routine while still enjoying the area.

When we do a shorter house sits, the couple days spent settling in, and packing up become a bigger chunk of our time. For example, a week long house sit leaves only five uninterrupted (hopefully) days of work. Compare that to 28 work days from a month long sit.

Point being, it was nearly impossible to get into a good work routine in New York.

As a result, our blog stagnated. Fortunately, we’ve built this website as a passive income stream, so we still made money in this time, we just didn’t progress forward at all.

Which brings us to our next lesson:

Lesson 2: Long Term Situations are a Must for Full Time Travel

This is not another “We quit our jobs to see the world” blog.

Long-term travel via house sitting is simply more practical and affordable for us right now than staying in one place.

We need to keep a low overhead so we can keep building our blog aka business. House sitting is the perfect way to do that since it takes a huge expense out of the equation  – monthly rent.

That being said, it’s not a perfect set up either. For us not to get burnt out, we need to make sure we have long-term situations set up for us to be able to get into a routine and get work done. This means we prioritize 1 month+ house sits in “less glamorous” locations over week long opportunities in so-called more desirable spots. We’ll talk more about this below in our plans for 2019!

This year, we worked A LOT from January-June, got burnt out, and didn’t work nearly as much as we wanted July-November. Since then, we’ve been getting back into a routine thanks to longer-term situations, and it feels great!

We spent 6 weeks on the island of St. Croix this year and worked a ton on our blog!

A Year in Alternative Travelers Blogging

In 2017, we enacted what we called “Phase 2” of this blog. That year, we put out a regular stream of articles and learned more about blogging, namely how to help readers find our articles through search engines.

In 2018, we instituted what might be called “Phase 3”. As we started to realize that we’d likely be leaving Madrid, we set “monetization” as a goal for the year. We wanted to learn how to make money via our blog but in a non-spammy, unobtrusive way that’s entirely on our terms. While some bloggers see “monetization” as a dirty word, we don’t see anything wrong with receiving compensation from our hard work of providing a ton of informative, free content. If we made money we could continue doing even more of that, while living a location independent lifestyle. Win-win for everyone!

Non-bloggers might be surprised to learn that there’s A LOT more to blogging than just writing articles and publishing them on social media.

Writing articles is only the tip of the blogberg.

This year we actually scaled back writing new articles in favor of learning, updating and optimizing old articles, getting our name out there, publishing our book, and working on behind the scenes tasks like growing our email list. Once we started treating our blog like a business, investing in certain tools for growth and taking it seriously, it started paying off.

In 2018, this blog became a solid passive income stream for us.

“Passive” meaning we receive monthly payouts from articles that we’ve already written without having to do any more work on them, rather than receiving a one-time payout for writing an article. While it doesn’t pay for 100% of our living expenses, it pays for a sizable chunk that we’re confident will continue to grow as we do.

Top 3 Most Popular Posts of 2018

While our top 3 most popular posts of all time are a bit different, these are the most popular posts published this year.

Top Vegan Friendly Cities in Europe in 2018: We started doing this list in 2017 and it proved so popular we revisited it in 2018! Which cities will make or change the rankings in 2019?!

25 Books About Spain to Read Before Your Trip: We are avid readers and love to read about the places we visit. Learning a bit about the history and culture of the place you’re visiting is an essential part of sustainable travel and one that’s easily overlooked. We’re happy to see so many other people want to read about Spain before traveling there! This list has a mix of everything: history, culture, memoirs, fiction, and travel guides.

What to Wear in Spain in Winter: Contrary to popular belief, Spain does get cold in winter!

Winter markets in Madrid. Note the jackets!

Favorites of 2018

The best of our year!

Favorite Blog Posts of the Year

While our most popular posts tend to be useful, informative articles that people search a lot for, our favorite articles are usually ones that are a bit more reflective, where we get more creative with our writing.

Sam’s favorite: Landareak: Cooking Happy Ingredients

This is my favorite post of the year for reasons that go beyond the post itself. I love reading Veren’s loving words about this local vegan spot in Madrid. I love remembering the joy in chef and owner Julian’s eyes when we got so excited about his food. I love the fact that we had such a special meal there on our last day in Madrid, which was also Veren’s birthday (which I told the owner despite Veren pleading for me not to).

I LOVED hearing from a friend in Madrid recently that he went to Landareak and spoke to Julian, who sung our praises because he’s had so many people from around the world visit his restaurant thanks to our recommendations. I couldn’t believe it when our friend told us that Landareak is receiving more customers thanks to us! This is sustainable and impact travel in action.

This is why we do what we do.

Our Favorite New City:

Bilbao, Spain

It was wonderful to explore the Bilbao vegan food scene together along with our friend Patricia, her boyfriend, and their puppies!

Through these Bilbainos, we learned about how much the city has been revitalized over the years. Bilbao used to be an incredibly industrial city (it still is), but the city has worked hard to create green spaces, parks, and promote tourism to the region through attractions like the famous Guggenheim art museum.

The Bilbao waterfront. Walkways, trees, and beautiful buildings.

New Country

Basque Country, Spain

While technically Basque Country is in the political borders of Spain, if you’ve ever visited, you’ll have seen the signs that say “This is Not Spain.”

So we get to choose Basque Country as our favorite country of 2018!

While most foreign tourists in Spain beeline to the sun in the south, we’re all about those lush, green mountains and rugged shorelines. The Basque culture and language is fascinating, as one of the oldest in Europe and unrelated to any other languages in the world.

Read more about Basque Country in the fantastic book The Basque History of the World.

Favorite New (to us) Restaurants in 2018:

Landareak in Madrid, Spain: see above to learn more about this experience and read our post here: Landareak, Cooking Happy Ingredients

La Tia Carlota in Madrid, Spain: A brand new vegan restaurant in Madrid opened by the owners of our favorite Distrito Vegano. We were so lucky to be able to attend the pre-opening event, and taste their entire menu! Read more about that incredible experience here: La Tia Carlota: An Entire Menu Review

Virtuous Pie in Portland, OR, U.S.: Hands down some of our favorite pizza in the world. Virtuous Pie originally hails from Vancouver, but we tried it at their Portland location. All handcrafted, woodfired pies with homemade cheeses and some damn good garlic knots.

Bunna Cafe in Brooklyn, NY, U.S.: Bunna Cafe has been open in NYC for around 6 years, so we can’t believe we hadn’t been there before! Though truth be told, it’s not in an area that we frequent much, and there are just so many places to try in NYC. We loved this vegan Ethiopian restaurant SO MUCH. It quite literally feels like you’re being transported to Ethiopia, with a coffee ceremony that takes place right in the restaurant.

HartBreakers in Brooklyn, NY, U.S. : A new 70s themed vegan restaurant in the same neighborhood as Bunna –  Bushwick, Brooklyn. Their food is LEGIT and the chicken tenders, which took 6 months for the chef to develop, are among the best we’ve ever had. Run, don’t walk! Veren would add Pickle Shack and Toad Style to this as he likes them all equally.

Charly’s Vegan Tacos in Miami, FL, U.S.: Charly’s opened up first in Tulum, Mexico, and this past summer opened a location in Miami. We got to try the latter location on a short four day trip to Miami and were blown away with the layers of flavors. Owner Charly Garcia has adapted his grandmother’s cooking with all plant-based ingredients, and the attention to detail shows.

L’Artisane Creative Bakery in Miami, FL, U.S.: Another vegan Miami spot! L’Artisane blew our minds with their incredibly flaky vegan croissants and French pastries. The bakery is a French-inspired bakery opened by a trained and award-winning chef. These are legit and Veren would know. These are quite simply the best vegan croissants we’ve ever had – and we’re not alone. They won “best croissant in Miami” – vegan or otherwise!

Sushiko, Jacksonville, FL, U.S.: Oh boy, Sushiko-opted our vegan nostalgia hearts. While we are big fans of Beyond Sushi in NYC, small, low-key Japanese restaurants are part of our American upbringing, much like Chinese takeout spots. Imagine our delight when we waltzed into this unassuming sushi restaurant only to learn they have a massive vegan menu. Not just an addendum on the original, but a separate physical menu book with all the usual offerings at a sushi restaurant, but all vegan! Gyozas, teriyaki, tempura, hibachi plates, salads, rice and noodle dishes, plus 49 different sushi rolls! Way to make us feel included, Sushiko!

Favorite Book We Read This Year

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

As we embarked on this creative entrepreneurship path in 2018, it’s very fitting that this was one of our top books of the year.

Though you may not know her name, Amanda Palmer is one of the most successful crowdfunders OF ALL TIME. She was the first musician to break $1 million through Kickstarter, raising $1.2 million to self-release her solo album and go on tour. Today, she uses the Patreon platform to crowdfund her creative projects, to amazing success. Read more about Amanda and her crowdfunding story in this great article on Billboard.

Amanda is an incredible example of the power of community. She is an important reminder to give give give to your community before you even think about asking for anything.

She nurtures her community, connects directly with them, opens up to them, and keeps them in the loop about everything. They love her and will do anything for her. In The Art of Asking, Amanda talks extensively about not being afraid to ask for help and support. In American society, we have such a deeply ingrained aversion to asking for help, lest we be seen as weak, not able to do something entirely on our own. But we need to lean on each other, support each other, and lift each other up. Humans are social beings, so why do we pull away when the going gets tough?

As we take off the training wheels and plunge into building a business, learning that it’s okay to ask for help was an important reflection of the year. The people that care want to help – you just have to let them.  
Pick up the book The Art of Asking or watch Amanda’s Ted Talk on the art of asking.

Veren’s other favorites: Sapiens and Homo Deus

Our Favorite Films of 2018

We love films. Veren has a degree in filmmaking and has directed several short films. We used to go to the movies about once a week in Spain (4 euros Wednesday tickets). Films can expand our minds, transport us, make us reflect, and so much more. This article talks more about the benefits of film therapy.

Black Panther: A new era of inclusive Hollywood? Hopefully. One of the best superhero films of all time? Definitely. Our favorite thing about Black Panther? The graceful way it deals with the Black experience in America while challenging racist norms in films and entertaining you with a solid superhero flick. We saw it a second time and it holds up even better.

Roma: Beautiful art house film that isn’t boring despite its subject matter: Imagine trying to pitch a film that follows the maid of a middle class Mexican family in the 1970s! Which is why Alfonso Cuaron literally helmed every major facet of this film: production, cinematography, direction, script, editing – find us all the other films where the director is so involved (seriously – we’re always adding to our To Watch list). Don’t come here for a conventional plot either but instead expect a slow, steady meditation on the world the director grew up in but woven with such a rich tapestry of details. Make sure to watch this on a big screen as the transporting quality will be lost on a tablet or mobile device.

Swiss Army Man: Very bizarre and strange which we love in general. Watch until the title sequence – you’ll know for certain whether or not you want to stick around for more. This director duo (you’ve probably seen their brilliant two most popular music videos) doesn’t hold back while pushing this wholly unconventional narrative that defies logic and basic physiology. We can’t imagine a film like this produced ten, maybe even five years ago.

Travel Plans and What’s To Come in 2019

Now that we are traveling full time, the world is our oyster!

Kind of.

We don’t just go anywhere we want. In fact, we are passionate about showing that traveling sustainably often means NOT just going wherever you want.

We travel via house sitting, meaning that we go wherever we can land long-term house sits, and/or wherever we have friends to visit. One of the benefits of living a location independent lifestyle is that we can make more time for visiting those that we love.

Right near we are staying at Veren’s sister’s house for the next 6 weeks with her, her husband, their two dogs, and their black kitty. We’ll round off our stay with a bit of house sitting for them and then head on to Greensboro, North Carolina, where we’ll be house sitting for 2 months.

In telling people about our North Carolina plans, we’ve met a mix of reactions. Some include, “What are you going to do THERE for 2 months”, to which we respond: work and explore a smaller city. We’re excited about Greensboro, where we’ll be staying in the walkable downtown. Remember that lesson I mentioned above about small cities being our jam? This is another chance to test that theory in action.

This takes us through April, at which point we’ll probably head back up the East Coast to visit friends along the Eastern seaboard. We’ll end in NYC, where we’ll revisit the crew there, before heading off to another European stint.

We’re not going to lie that we’ve missed a lot of things about living and traveling in Europe. Public transportation. Walkable cities. A better work-life balance. Good, affordable wine (for the Sam). Also all our friends!

Our plans aren’t set in stone – our travel is always dependent on where we find house sits. It’s the only way we’re able to afford this lifestyle! But an ideal European tour would involve Madrid for a 2019 update of our book, southern France to visit Veren’s 106 year old great-aunt, Nantes to visit our friend Charlotte and her soon-to-open vegan restaurant, Paris to eat, Sweden and Finland to visit friends moving there next year, and if we can swing it, another stint in Berlin because we love it so damn much and there are always long-term house sits there. If you’re in any of these places give us a shout!

2019 Blogging Goals

We’ve got lots of big goals for 2019! Mainly we want to strengthen our connection with our audience, especially through direct emails. While social media platforms can come and go (remember when Vine closed and people who had built up audiences of millions lost their minds?!), email is forever. Right now, we only have our monthly newsletter, but because we cover several topics here (sustainable travel, veganism, house sitting), most people usually aren’t interested in all these topics. We are starting to build specialized lists so readers can get updates on the topics they care about.

In 2018, we created a Facebook community, Sustainable Vegan Travel. We haven’t guided conversation much in there, but this is something we’ll be picking up again in 2019. Join the group and say hi!

And while this is slightly more boring for the average reader, we (Veren) are also working on the behind the scenes nitty gritty technical stuff that keeps our site running smoothly. Sam will be working on the PR side of things, getting our name out there! We also have some monthly traffic and income benchmarks that we hope to hit this year as well.

Finally, we’re going to be giving our site a lil facelift. We improved our site’s look in 2018, but there’s still a lot to be done to make it easier to navigate and to put our best feet forward as a professional blog. Also, stay tuned (finally) for a logo so people can recognize us across the web!

What are your plans and goals for 2019?

OUr 2018 in review as expats in Madrid, Spain for 6 months, and full time traveling pet sitters for 6 months! We talk about the pros and cons of long term travel, how we afford to travel continuously, the ups and downs of our blog this year, as well as our favorite places we visited, favorite eats of the year, and much more! #ExpatTravel #Expats #DigitalNomad

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