As I woke up this morning to the rising sun and the singsong of birds, I checked my clock and once again it was only 5 am. I went back to sleep as best I could but the bright light made it impossible. Here in Minnesota, it is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, and the sun won’t even set until a little past nine. The days are long and bright, and lately, I’ve felt like I don’t have a moment to stop and catch my breath.

For the past several months,  I’ve felt like I’ve been running on a treadmill, burning the candle at both ends and rarely stopping to just be present and enjoy life. The past six months  – and the past three in particular – have been a whirlwind with a lot of things on my plate which has turned into unhealthy stress and anxiety. So today, I’ve made a decision that it is time to slow down, to be present, and to catch my breath. To reflect on what I’ve learned over the past three months and move forward.

This post is more of a check-in on me and my life. It is not a traditional travel story. I decided to write it because sometimes people don’t see the human behind the voice. While everything looks so perfect and beautiful on social media and on a blog filled with amazing travels, life still has its many ups and downs. Taking a pause to reflect on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come helps me feel grateful for all I have despite the challenges. It also is a way to connect more with others who may be experiencing a similar moment in time that is perplexing and hard.

“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.”

– John De Paola

June 2023 family hike in Wisconsin

Big Changes

There have been a lot of big changes in my life (new career opportunities, hip replacement, son graduating high school and preparing to “leave the nest”, teaching my younger daughter to drive, and a house remodel to name a few).  The biggest of all, I am at the point where I am reinventing myself. In two years, my daughter will also be leaving to go to college so there is no better time than the present to figure out what I will do next.

Freelance Travel Writing

A little over a year ago, I attended the Women in Travel (Wits) Summit for travel influencers and creators in St. Louis, Missouri. I was looking for a way to engage more with other women travel bloggers and find a community. I signed up as the volunteer manager for the event where I worked with a team of 30 women volunteers to ensure the summit went smoothly. It was invigorating to be around so many fellow women travelers and writers as I mostly work alone. However, the biggest surprise was the one session I attended which changed my life. It was a session run by award-winning travel photographer and writer Yulia Denisyuk on how to become a travel journalist, a lofty dream of mine that had always been buried in the back of my head.

Yulia runs the brilliant Travel Media Lab, and her mission is to help women storytellers everywhere get knowledge, support, and confidence to publish their travel stories through her programs, events, and podcast. While I sat in the audience listening to Yulia speak, I started to get excited. My career had felt stagnant and as much as I love my travel blog, after 13 years it gets hard to keep motivated to write. Becoming a published, paid travel journalist was something different. It was something I had wanted to do for years but never knew how nor thought I could. Negative thoughts loomed around my head. Was I good enough? Could I really do this at age 50? Would editors think I was an impostor (aka imposter syndrome). 

While my self-doubt was high, my desire to follow my dreams was stronger. I decided “What do I have to lose”?  It was now or never.

After the conference, I enrolled in Yulia’s Into to Travel Journalism class in May 2022. The first few months were about learning the industry, shaping your mindset, developing story ideas, and most important of all, learning to write your first pitch.

51-year-old me at the Dochula Pass, Bhutan

I gave myself the time and grace to take it slow and learn as much as I could through the incredible knowledge, encouragement, and expertise from Yulia. What I liked best about her program is the community. Each Monday, our small group would meet via Zoom to go over our pitches and story ideas.  For someone like me who is highly extroverted, having a community was key and it also kept me on track and motivated to work on my ideas. In retrospect, I never would have even tried this path if it wasn’t for Yulia and her class.

Today marks roughly a year since I sent out my first pitch, and I have learned a lot about the industry. It is highly competitive, filled with a lot of rejection and a lot of hustling. However just like everything in life, if you are persistent and work hard it pays off. I have six published stories and two in the works of editing. While the income has not been great, the feeling of accomplishment has been worth the long hours it took to write and research some of the stories. Knowing that these stories – especially the ones on sustainable travel and social good – are reaching more people is inspiring and makes me hopeful for positive change.

For me, the one I’m most proud of is the Farm to Cushion Dining Along the Trans Bhutan Trail as this story was my first big win. With that story, I learned that I could do it. While of course I still doubt myself often and can be my worst critic at times, I remind myself of the important lessons I learned in Yulia’s class:  That I can do it, I can live the life I want and I can succeed. I need to put the “impostor syndrome” away in the closet and lock the door!  For now, I am seeing where this path will take me and giving myself the grace to take my time and experiment. (In case you are curious, my writing portfolio and website can be found here).

My first big story I got published was about my experience on this hike along the Trans Bhutan Trail. 

Hip Replacement

On March 1, 2023, I had a total hip replacement. I have actually written about it quite a bit on the blog as the hip pain had really impacted my life, especially this past year. I had suffered on and off hip pain for over 9 years but had always attributed it to an earlier injury. It was in August 2023 that I did a workout that would be “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. I had no idea that at age 50 there was not even a trace of cartilage left in my right hip. I was bone on bone and the doctor told me it was only a matter of time.

I did one final hiking trip to Bhutan in December 2022 and then came the long wait until the surgery in March. The winter months were challenging for me because I was in a lot of pain and had to quit the sports I love that normally get me through our long, cold, snowy winters. We had record snow (and ice) which would have been fantastic if I could have skied (I do both nordic and downhill). But I was reduced to only being able to take short walks with the dog and pool walking at the health club. It was really hard and looking back now, I realize how debilitating pain can be. By the end of February, I couldn’t sit through a movie or tv show nor pick up my daughter from school. Sleep was a challenge and I hurt all the time. My surgery on March 1 changed everything.

Around the same time as my hip replacement, we tore apart our kitchen and living room for a remodel. That had been planned for a year so there was nothing we could do to change the unfortunate timing. I recovered on the couch in dust, noise, workmen in and out of the house, and a lot of chaos. The saving grace is that I got out of doing dishes for a month (since we had no kitchen we had to carry the dirty plates upstairs in a plastic bin and hand wash them in the bathroom sink!). I even got spared cooking dinner in our makeshift kitchen for a bit. I healed slowly over the next month, rarely leaving the house except for a couple of doctor’s visits. Then it was off to a family vacation in Mexico, something I was not entirely ready for physically but was mentally good.

First “mini” hike I did in Los Cabos. My legs were shaky but I made it!

By the first week of April, I was walking up to 30 minutes at a time and finally not feeling so exhausted. While I wasn’t back to being me yet I was improving. It would be another four weeks until I could walk an hour around my lovely urban lake, and then another couple of weeks before I was almost forgetting I even had the surgery done.

Fast forward 3.5 months later, and I am absolutely amazed by my recovery! It was very slow going at first and at times I felt agitated about what felt like a lack of progress. However, once I passed 6 weeks, 8 weeks, and three months, my hip feels fantastic. I was able to hike up to three hours in the mountains only nine weeks after the surgery. While I was pushing myself, it actually did work.

Today I can hike, bike, and do everything I did before except run. I can sit as long as I want without pain and made my first five-hour car ride in years without feeling miserable. I am stunned by how life-changing the surgery has been and am truly grateful.

April 2023 Hiking in Cortina, Italy with my dad. It was our 15th international trip together in over two decades.

Fora Travel Advisor

After my surgery, I had a month of recovery time mostly laying around on the couch and icing. As I’m not one to sit around (I am too type A and seem to have “ants in the pants”), I knew that it would be a mental challenge. I used this time to complete the one-month travel advisor training with Fora. My new Fora Travel Advisor Profile is published here! I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to officially launch my work as a travel advisor but am planning to do it slowly over the coming months. What I love about Fora is the incredible community of like-minded travelers and the incredible support, travel planning tips, and partnerships (amazing suppliers, hotels, and other travel brands). I will be focusing most on helping plan sustainable travel however will also see where this new side gig goes. I hope to launch a newsletter of travel deals and inspiration this fall.

Family changes

If a hip replacement, house remodel and a new career wasn’t enough, these past few months have also been filled with the highs and lows of major family/life changes. For those who have been with me, following my blog since the beginning 13 years ago, you have watched my children grow up. My first post was in 2011 when my son Max and daughter Sophia were only  5 and 7  years old.

Just last month, Max graduated from high school, a major milestone. This fall, he will be setting off to his next adventure as an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin -Madison (me and my husband’s alma mater). We could not be more proud. Yet for me, it will be an adjustment when he leaves the house for the first time. I’ve had many mixed emotions ranging from excitement, joy, and pride to a deep sadness that he is leaving and anxiety that life will change. My daughter will follow two years later, and I will become an empty nester (where did the time go and how did I get so old? I sure don’t feel it! ). It is so bittersweet.

Got to love the socks! Hard to believe how much they have grown up!

For me, the big shift is truly in my identity. For the past 18 years, my number one job has been as a mom. My life and career have revolved around the lives of my children and I am so incredibly grateful to have been able to have that choice. But soon I will be moving onto the next uncertain chapter of my life, and sometimes that scares me.

I’ve talked to a lot of mothers who feel the same whirlwind of emotions as I do. I know that I will get through these changes but it has been hard. When the kids were toddlers and my life centered around their daily whims and needs, I remember someone telling me that being a mom is the hardest job you’ll ever love. Those words are so true. I also know that once a mom, always a mom, and that while my role as a mother is changing, I am still needed.

I look at how close I’ve become to my own parents as an adult and that makes me smile. There is so much to look forward to as I enter this new chapter of life. While the waters may be a bit bumpy these coming months and I will remind myself once again to stop, take a breath and slow down. Life is fleeting and it is with slowing down that we can stop, reflect and embrace the moment of life. And as always, be grateful.







    1. You are welcome! I’ve started doing my mindful meditation each morning and afternoon on the insight timer app and it has dramatically improved my mindset. It is hard to take the time for yourself in such a busy world. But it is so important. 🙂

    1. Thank you! It is hard but I’m also so fortunate to have the opportunity to reinvent myself. I remember years ago reading a story about a woman who did the exact same thing at my age. I was only 20 but kept the article for years and still remember it decades later.

    1. Oh thanks Angeline! It has been hard. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself and being a freelance writer can be quite isolating and lonely for an extrovert like me! I am working on it though. I realized that I have to engage my adventurous spirit more at home and try to step out of my comfort zone more. I always do that when I travel but get stuck and set in my ways at home. I am hoping to try some new hobbies and sports in the coming months. Hope you are doing well! 🙂

      1. I am doing great! It’s been a long journey, reinventing myself, and finding a new love quite unexpectedly. Take care.

      2. wow, that is lovely to hear Angeline!!!!! Best news ever! We have all been on this journey together for years on the blog. It has been fun to build a community of support. I am so grateful for it.

  1. Good to have this update, Nicole, though I know much of the back story. I am quietly envious because you have taken steps to achieve something that I’ve always coveted but never gone after. I will be 75 in a few months time and don’t have the energy and commitment to do so now, but I’m glad that you did. My son is 33 and getting married in August and my daughter in her 50s, and you’re right- being a Mom is a job for life. God bless you and yours, and good luck to you.

    1. Oh Jo your words of incredible strength and wisdom have really touched me. I have always admired your incredible writing and your work. Your blog has been an inspiration to me for years. For the writing, the first time I got published I was really excited but I will tell you that the editing process took a long time. It has been tough as there has been a lot of rejection too. However, I’ve realized that if I can just get a few things published each year, I will be happy. 🙂 I am very close to my parents and my mom is turning 78 and my dad is 80. I am so glad to have such a deep, connected and loving relationship with them. It is true, once a mom, always a mom! Enjoy your son’s wedding! Take care!

      1. Darlin, I have many friends who didn’t make it to my age. This week I have the company of some girls from my school days. One a widow for 2 years and one divorced, remarried, widowed and in another relationship. You never know what life is going to throw at you. Just grab it with both hands and do the best you can. You’ve made a good job of that, Nicole, and it’s been a pleasure to follow the journey 🤗💙

      2. Yes, my dad always tells me “Every day is a gift, that is why we call it the present!” I love that quote. Also, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your gonna get”. For me it is hard as I struggle on and off with anxiety and uncertainty and big life changes are always hard. Then I feel guilty for struggling but I am working on it. I know that it is through the hard times that makes us stronger. 🙂

    1. Thanks Sue! Yes it has been a lot of ups and downs. I am so relieved that I am pain free! It feels pretty amazing to be able to start doing the things I love again! I hope you are doing well! 🙂 Thanks for reading my story! 🙂

  2. I’m glad you wrote this, Nicole. Posts like this are exactly what make interactions among bloggers like us feel more real and organic. When my father passed away, I knew I had to write it before I could continue with my usual travel-related posts. Looking at your family photo taken in Wisconsin, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Your son and daughter are no longer the little kids I remember from your earlier blog posts many years ago. Gosh, how time flies! I’m really happy for your recovery. It’s amazing that now you can already hike and bike!

    When you say that for the past 18 years your number one job has been as a mom, it makes me think of my mom. She dedicated her life to me, and when I finally left the house for college, there was a period when I felt like she didn’t know what to do. But now, she’s a very busy woman with all the social events with her friends from high school and university.

    1. Oh thanks for the kind words Bama. I remember your beautiful post about your father. It was really lovely. I am so incredibly grateful for our group of WP Bloggers! it has been a long time and I don’t think I’d continue my blog without you all. Yes, I’m feeling a bit off these days about the changes but know that it is just another step in the journey of life. I am sure I will continue to write about it as time goes by. Take care and I am grateful for our friendship!

  3. An excellent update Nicole. I have watched your kids grow up! I remember them as little kids – and look at them now! We started our blogs at the same time, all those years ago.
    I wish you all good things as this new phase of your life unfolds. May all your dreams come true!

    1. Oh Alison! I just caught up on your own posts. I am so incredibly relieved to hear that Don is doing ok. What a scare!

      You have always inspired me and continue to do so. Thanks for the kind words as always. You have been such a mentor to me!

  4. Time really does fly, and none of us outrun it! (Even us competitive types! 🙂 ) Being a few years ahead of you, I’ve been through so much of this re-evaluating and discerning of what the future might look like, and while part of me wants (and likes) to control the forward narrative, part of me has learned and happily accepted that it’s OK to see what the universe brings. You’re still in the kid-focused years even as your son prepares to leave for college, so I agree that slowing down and savoring them, your home, and your health is a good plan. Sending you good wishes for slow and steady steps into your future!

    1. Thank you so much for this wonderful advice Lexi. This has been a confusing time for me and to read comments from people I admire deeply like you and a few other amazing women I’ve been following on WP for years, really really helps. I have decided to make some changes this fall that allow more play in my life as I try to rebuild a new community of friends outside that of my kid’s schools. I am signing up to try tennis lessons and pickleball! I also will continue my Nordic skiing and downhill women’s ski club this winter as it helps savor our long, cold winters.

      When are you heading to Cortina? I bet you are so incredibly excited! I would love to hike there in the summer! Hope you will be sharing your stories from your trip.

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