Almost Fearless

Shifting Gears



I spent much of the last month in bed, which for me, is a record-level amount of downtime. I slept a lot. I pondered my life. I wrote. It’s funny that so many people set out to travel the world so they can be changed by the world, but for me, it never really works like that. It’s not the travel so much as the misery, the struggle, the moments where you’re way out of your comfort zone. I don’t feel much changed by weeks of puttering around idyllic rice paddies in Bali on a motorbike, but the first time I saw a dead person on the street in Delhi, that changed me. I didn’t feel changed, really, except for my new haircut, by shaving my head and releasing my hair into Mother Ganga just a few weeks later. But living in China did. The brutal cold, the pollution, the realization that there is a line of how far I’ll go for that travel experience, which starts and ends at my son hating Beijing, so we left. But other things change you too, you don’t even have to leave your house — falling in love, having a baby, or getting really, really sick.

This time I did the latter, and I came out of it questioning everything.

It was better than a 12 day meditation retreat with Buddhist monks — which my husband did and the effects wore off after a few days of normal life — there’s really nothing better than losing your health, even for a short period of time, to suck the wind out of you. Breathless, there, in that moment, it hits you. I have to get my shit together.

It’s not easy to explain the sudden shift in my thinking but here it is: Cole needs to be in a bilingual school, we need to find somewhere that’s not a seasonal tourist town to live as a home base, I need less work on my plate, and we desperately need some stability.

You see, when you’re sick with two kids, in a foreign country, you become aware of how fragile the relationships you have really are. There isn’t anyone to bring me chicken soup or to help Drew watch the kids, or to just stop by and see how we are. Sometimes I hear about solo travelers getting sick abroad and it’s so scary, my friend Jenny was in the hospital for weeks and months alone in Thailand. It’s easy to feel like your life is full of friends and family when you have a vast online life, like I do. But when you duck offline for a few weeks, you realize how quiet your life really is, how that feeling of fullness was an illusion, that you’re actually homesick but didn’t know it.

I guess what I’m getting to is that I work too much, I have been traveling for so long that all my friends are other travelers, who are often bouncing around from country to country like me, and I’m scared to raise my kids like that, to rob them of friendships out of my desire to keep traveling.

Still, I can’t leave Mexico until I get a clean bill of health, but this week we’re taking the first small step: enrolling Cole in a bilingual pre-school.

Other big, big changes are afoot, that I’ll reveal in the next few months. Everything is up for grabs.

Image: Trey Ratclif

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • I’m glad you’re on the mend, I had a feeling something wasn’t quite right but didn’t want to poke my nose into anything. As always, looking forward to what comes next for you guys!

  • SOO glad you’re at least on the mend. After I lost my health in May and haven’t been able to fully recover it yet, I too realize how little all else matters without it. And how important it is to structure a life that can encourage health, not hurt it further once we’ve lost it.

  • The beauty of life is that we each get to decide what’s right for us. And sometimes, that changes with time, kids, work, etc. My family and I just took a 6 week trip around the world (kids ages 12 and 9), and realized that our dreams of living the travel lifestyle weren’t for us. We were homesick, and, while we loved every experience we had, we longed for home and our friends. I’ve been reading your blog for months now, and envied your ability to live the life you wanted. This post made me come out of hiding to say “thank you” for being honest and continuing to live the life you want. Speedy recovery, and peace for whatever lies ahead for you and your family.

  • So glad you took the time away to work on your health. I also had surgery earlier this year and have never felt so powerless or incapacitated. It made me feel really thankful for my health. Also, I am glad you are finding your way with what is right for you and your family when it comes to travel and kids. I always admire the non-traditional steps you have already taken and will be interested to see how you navigate going forward. Best wishes for a wonderful recovery!

  • It’s the ying and yang of everything. Traveling gives you the freedom to do what you want when you want it and generally allows for growth that’s not constrained by the expectations of a community of friends and family.

    Being around a consistent community, however, gives you all the support of being around people who will help you when the poop hits the rotating blades, but can sometimes be restraining when people expect you to do/be a certain way.

    If only there was a way to create a roving hippie commune…

  • Getting seriously ill and ending up in the hospital is what made my now husband realize he wanted to marry me.

    I really hope you’re recovering nicely, and that you’ll have your full energy and health back soon!!

    I think the hardest part about travel, especially offline, is lacking a strong sense of community. We’ve moved, oh, six times in the past year, and when we’re moving around that much it’s really hard to establish a stable sense of local community. Frankly, it wears down on us. We really miss having a group of mutual friends, and people we can hang out with and depend on. Now that we’ve moved again and are planning on staying long-term, I’m hoping to take a few courses in the hopes of meeting locals, and hopefully D-Man can get a few fishing buddies. Little by little, we’ll all figure it out. 😉

  • Hi Christine. This really resonates with me. I haven’t been sick or anything like that, but am currently in a massive emotional struggle trying to figure out what the hell I want with my life. I want it all, of course, which is impossible. My husband and I keep coming back to this “where will we end up?” question. How long will we travel? What matters to us? Family matters to us, but that means we have to be in the midwest of the U.S. which we hate. But it’s all about love, right? When it comes down to it… I look forward to seeing how you’ll shift gears.

  • I am so so glad to hear you are feeling better. And I have a lot of confidence in your ability to make smart decisions that will serve you and your family well. You are a remarkably intentional individual – that’s come through on your blog always.

    Wishing I could bring you chicken soup, for sure. But do let us know if there is virtual balm we can offer you and your family.

  • I’ve been thinking of you and hoping all is well. While we still want to travel we feel so blessed and lucky to have such an amazing community to call ‘home base’. It helps the healing process to be surrounded by people that care about you, and will offer you whatever they can… even if it’s just chicken soup.

  • I know what you mean. It was being paralysed after I had Moxie that led me to quit my job and stay at home, screw the fact that we’d be living off of 32k in the Bay Area~! It’s just like… fuck it. It’s too short, too much can happen. When I felt this intense gratitude over being able to WALK again, just LIFT MY KID… I swear, it was like, the meltdowns that happen only a few times in a life. The big howling kind.
    What I’ve realized from being here at home and being in this environment is that it’s not our place. I mean, this isn’t where we should be. Noone is going to bring us chicken soup here either – they’d need to schedule that in for the third friday of the fifth month at two pm, you know? We don’t work like that, we’re not that kind of people.
    So now… we’re going to find our place.
    It’ll be cool to see you in Mexico. I’m really glad you are better. That is HARD.

  • That’s crazy, but I know what you mean. When I had dengue fever in Brazil it was way scarier than ever before to be alone in a foreign country… maybe the key is not to be constantly on the move but to pick places to live for a few years at a time, so you can form a support network and a system. Just hope you don’t get sick again before that happens.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  • First I want to say that I’m glad you are on the men’s and you were able to use that time to think. And I want to thank you for your honest writing. It’s a scary thing to reevaluate everything you have been driving toward. It’s even scarier to admit it and out it out the way you have. I admire that because I’m going through that same process myself currently, but I’m not as brave to admit to myself yet the inevitable.

    Having a support unit around you is key. I’m only beginning to realize that now that we have two kids, we both have busy careers, and we have virtually no family around to help. We have developed a small network of friends but sometimes you need that grandma you can always count on when care falls through. You need to do what is right for your family. And I’m sure you will figure out what that is. And remember, their are plenty of travel writers and bloggers who have a home base. You are a wonderful writer and a good mom. I’m sure you will find a way to fulfill all your passions in a way that will be the best situation for our family. Good luck in your upcoming life changes and I wish you only the best.

  • Christine, Rod and I were discussing your situation coming home from dinner.I know we’re only “virtual” but …. you are certainly real to us:) Bottom line: you’re such an excellent writer, I know you’ll be great blogging on any subject even if it isn’t perpetual travel. I wish you could’ve connected with other ex-pats, but likely they are in Puerto Vallarta proper and are retirees. But some old people like kids!:) Anyway, I do hope you recuperate quickly and continue to be kind to yourself, your body, giving it the rest it needs.

    • A lot of people leave this area for the summer, so it’s sort of an expat ghost town at the moment.

      • Hi Christine! I just came across your blog just right now – I was looking at how to get to the Little Bee in town to find some coconut flour ; ) Cosmic.

        We too are a family that decided to live our dream of a “life experience” in another country… And here we are! We have been visiting Bucerias for 10 yrs. now and purchased a home here about 7 yrs. ago, but only visiting for xmas, etc. (at most 3 wks at a time).

        Although we have spent many years getting to know this town, there really is so much more for us to explore. But, trying to figure out how to do that – get out of our comfort zone is for sure the challenge. As is just about everything that comes with moving to a new place. Our children 12 and 11 started school (Colegio Salzman) with no foundation of the Spanish language – yikes! And they are navigating their way through meeting new pals, figuring out the cultural differences and learning in a language they do not understand. I am so very proud of them!

        I was motivated to write you as I am pretty sure you were talking about putting your son in school… There are many other families like ours that are “hiding” out there and their kids are at school too. I must say I was surprised. Now, in my children’s classes, they are they only “gringos”, but within the entire school, I know there are many more ; )

        It occurred to me that the social circle that will be built for the children at school, will be where my husband and I will need to start too… We are up for the challenge! My husband speaks Spanish, but I do not, so this will add another level of “toughness” to meeting the families of the kid’s friends, but my goal is to only slightly butcher the language before we go home (whenever that may be).

        It was nice to have been able to read about your family, and I’ll look forward to reading more… Cheers, Jillian

  • This is a little late but I still mean it: I hope you get well soon. I had a thunderclap of my own last year about stability, friendship and the like after problems hit. And I’m still working out how to change things step by step…Good luck to you!

  • I understand this feeling. I was lucky enough to be at my mom’s last fall, in between work assignments, when I fell. I had a concussion and hurt my shoulder pretty bad, had to stay with them for six weeks. I hate to think what it would have been like if that had happened while I was working in a city where I didn’t know anyone. Since then I have had recurring nightmares about going back to where I lived in the 90s and trying to fit back in, but of course everyone has moved on… And then I wake up and realize that the same thing is true of every other place I have lived since then, too – I just regret leaving that place the most. I am looking in to an ecovillage now – had been traveling partly because it paid more and I was saving up to buy a lot of land to create one, but now I’m looking in to joining one that is already being established.
    I like the “roving hippie commune” idea, though. 🙂

  • Happy to hear you are on the mend. Agree that a serious illness drives serious introspection. Losing good health always forces one to prioritize and reflect on what is really important in life. Best of luck on this next phase of your journey.

  • First, may I say I’m thrilled to learn your health is improving. Second, thank you for your candor. Witnessing a life lost in Delhi, experiencing Nature’s stern lessons in Beijing, and persevering through sickness remind us of just how fleeting happiness may seem. The core, family and friends, endure when happiness flees. Journey on.

  • Thank you for this reminder. A support system is something that we don’t often consider until it is missing and something happens. I am glad you are getting better. I hope you get your clean bill of health soon and that you can achieve whatever it is you have in mind with bountiful success.

  • I’ve been thinking about you and your message and how wonderfully authentic it is. After needing an emergency surgery while trekking around Nepal a few years ago, I realized sometimes it’s the kindness of strangers that gets us through things. This stranger is rooting for you.

  • I know this sounds stupid, but I love moments like that. Where, out of the blue, everything is crystal clear. It’s like God took you by the shoulders and gave you a shake and said “LISTEN TO ME.”

    And, then, everything just makes sense because you know *exactly* what you need to do.

    I wish I had moments like that more often. And, I’m glad you had yours.

  • Oh, life. Sweet, wonderful, unexpected, life. Epiphany moments, where things become clear, are life’s miracles. It sounds like great things abound for you and your family. All the best.

  • Hi Christine. I just want to send you lots of well wishes. I’m sorry I’m not still in San Pancho so I could come round with soup. This question of stability is something I think about a lot too. It’s a conundrum and I’m intrigued to see what decision you’ll come to. take care and get well soon.

  • Very profound. Sobering because it offers the other side of travel and still some people experience that same loneliness at home ! I for one hope that you have found some comfort and healing and am anticipating your next move.

  • Beautiful post. Losing your health, even for a brief period of time, really gives you a wake-up call. You realize that although many factors can change your outlook on life, its really your health that stands above the rest. I remember getting the stomach flu last year and feeling the start of the symptoms on the plane ride over to Sao Paulo. I was traveling alone through Brazil’s largest city, with not a lick of Portuguese, and had no idea what was wrong with me. After a week of barely eating and trying to nurse myself back to health in hot, humid weather, I was ready to call it quits and called my mom through Skype in hysterics. She told me exactly what I needed to hear: that I was welcome home if I wanted to come back. Which made me realize that I desperately wanted to continue my journey. So I spent a very lonely couple of weeks nursing myself back to health. In the end I realized that even in the most difficult circumstances, I’m strong enough to take care of myself.

    Sorry, that became kind of a ramble. But I hope you’re feeling better and that your “shift in thinking” is creating wonderful things!

    -Christine (as well)

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