It's 9:20am right now. I've been awake for nearly four hours already today (you're a bitch, jetlag), and I'm sitting in Seniman Coffee Studio in Ubud, Bali, drinking a double cappuccino with a bowl of tropical fruits. Boy, oh boy, has it been a long road to get here. For the many of you who have asked, over the months, how and why we left Tel Aviv—consider this your (probably longwinded) answer. It was a road that began nearly three years ago. Walking in Laos amidst these giant karst mountains jutting into the sky, Tali and I wrote our 5 year plan. We would return to Israel for at least two more years. Then we would go somewhere else—anywhere else in the world—for at least two years. Then we would move back to America and have careers, or something. Five years, mapped out, just like that. Then last October during our trip to Kenya and Ethiopia, we began to discuss how to make it happen. Travel begats travel talk, and that trip birthed our first real conversations of the 'big next step'—or, what the hell were we going to do with our lives after we got married. The ideas basically broke into the following options, including a few that did not fit into the 5 year plan: 1. Go backpacking again, for longer than last time.
2. Go backpacking again, for longer than last time, and try to make money while on the road.
3. Pick a new place to live, and try to make money there.
4. Stay in Israel.
5. Move to America. One by one, we tore apart each one, sitting on our Tel Aviv balcony over coffee each morning or wine each evening. We'll call it The Decision Room:
So, America? After elbowing my way through the Middle East and touching down in two dozen countries over the last 6 years, the thought of backtracking to America just seemed untenable. How could I go back to a supermarket after years sweating and pushing through the Tel Aviv shuk to find the perfect pomegranate?
Stay in Israel? Obviously it was appealing—our friends were there. Our favorite cafes, our happiest moments, our life. Tali and I both had great jobs in Tel Aviv. I would recommend working at Wix.com to anyone. But with marriage soon-to-be under our belt, and the thought of maybe, eventually, someday having kids creeping in, raising them in the Holy Land away from our family was too overwhelming. And as much as we love, truly love Israel, we were both itchy to get out and experience a brand new place, somewhere else on Earth, while we didn't have any real responsibilities. No kids, no mortgage, no car. The most valuable thing to our name was a couch. A great couch, but a couch.
So—travel it was. But mere backpacking started to lose it's appeal. Strapping on a pack and hitting the road is something I'll always love, but a more sustainable model just seemed more sensible. I'm 30, after all, nearly middle aged. My knees aren't what they used to be. Time for responsible decision making. And so we landed on our version of responsible: moving to a new country and starting over—but doing so while making (at least a tiny bit of) money!
Please, please note: the previous explanations are huge, dramatic oversimplifications. You don't live somewhere you love for six years and then sip a coffee, scratch your chin and yell, "I've got it! Let's leave! Pack your bags!" These decisions were weighed slowly and heavily, over many, countless cups of coffee, and I scratched my chin so often I've got a bald patch in my beard. Deciding to leave Israel meant leaving people as much or more than leaving the place itself. Leaving friends, family, even my favorite fruit-sellers at the shuk, to whom I became weirdly attached. I come by acquaintances easily—I'll literally talk to anyone about anything upon first meeting them. But real friends, real connections don't come so easily. So to walk away from all of the relationships I'd worked for years to create felt like self-sabotage. Like I was an idiot, honestly. But concurrently, I had to acknowledge that there was an itch to see more of the world, to really dig into it, that would not go away.
Nevertheless, about two months after returning from Africa, we landed on Number 3: Keep traveling, but keep working.
So, uh, how does one do that? Don't you need a desk to make money? Well, (again with the oversimplifications, forgive me) not really. As a writer, I've always managed a few freelance projects outside of my full-time jobs—projects I could truthfully do anywhere with a wi-fi connection and half-decent coffee. And Tali is an English and Yoga teacher. Everywhere on earth people want to speak English, and most places on earth people want to try yoga. Certainly when I'm deeper into this new phase of my working life, I'll add to the giant canon of blog posts detailing how one can work remotely. For now, I'll stick to our tale.
As any number of American 20-somethings could tell you, it's exceedingly easy to get a job teaching English in Southeast Asia. Just ask Dave. For many of those positions, you need no qualifications, just a working knowledge of the language and the ability to explain the difference between a verb and an adverb. And sometimes not even that. But with her MA in Education and more than 5 years of teaching behind her, Tali wanted something a bit more substantial. So she began the process of applying to International Schools. Everywhere on earth, except for Middle Eastern countries that hate Israel, and America.
She applied to experimental schools in India with 15 students. She applied to schools in Vietnam that boasted how many students they sent to American Ivy League universities, and everything in between. Through the winter, her part-time job was applying to schools, and her stats were pretty incredible, eventually topping out at nearly 250 international schools. Our average dinnertime catch-up was basically this:
"How was your day?" "Good. I applied to 15 jobs in 15 different countries. Would you want to live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?"
By March, Tali had been offered teaching positions at international schools in Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, and India. All were intriguing, but none felt perfect—and the locations had to be a fit for both of us, meaning a great, challenging school that matched Tali's values as a teacher, but also a place where I could work from my computer with a good wi-fi connection and, ideally, a sizable expat community.
Then the sky opened up, and Bali, Indonesia, fell into our laps.
Tali had just received upsetting news that a school she was majorly crushing on in Cambodia did not want to hire her. Fools! As we all do when upset, she listlessly scrolled through a friend's travel photos on Facebook. A Brazilian friend of hers had just posted photos of the Bali Spirit Festival, which led her down an Internet rabbit hole to the Instagram account of Green School, an international, experimental, environmental school in Bali she'd read about months earlier. And boom, there it was. A brand new job posting. For an English teacher. Requiring a video application. So the next morning we set out to our favorite fountain in Tel Aviv and shot the thing. And it was totally adorable. Here, see for yourself:
A month later, after 7 interviews, endless long talks, fingers crossed so hard our circulation stopped, and manifesting the living shit out of this opportunity, she was offered the gig—exactly two years, to the day, after we were hit by a truck in Laos. That is a wink from the universe, my friends. And so began the familiar process of getting rid of all our stuff, subletting our apartment, and moving on out. Except this time, we were planning our wedding at the same time. That epic task, and the ridiculous wedding week is fodder for another post.
Simply put, in our last months in Israel we tried to downgrade as much as possible. We gave away more than half of our clothing to shelters. We found a friend to take over our Tel Aviv lease and buy all our furniture (including that beloved couch). We held a party for our friends to win some of our more interesting belongings, including a bag of currencies from 11 different countries, a popsicle maker, a book of 501 Hebrew verbs, and a "World's Greatest Teacher" mug. Challenges included "Embody the following vegetable", "Give us your best snake impression" and so many more. At the end of the night, everyone was drunk and had a little (or not so little) piece of us to take home.
We said goodbye over and over and over again. To our friends, who came through for us like world champions as we annoyingly devoured their time with conversations about our plans, our worries, our concerns. We said goodbye to our favorite hummus places, our favorite beach spots, our favorite streets. We said goodbye to Europe (Israel's more refined neighbor, which we visited on weekend trips every few months) with a quick stay in Italy (call it a pre-honeymoon). We said goodbye to the life that we'd built for ourselves over the years. It was not easy, but it was also totally surreal—and thereby easier to swallow. My mind couldn't quite comprehend that, this time, I wouldn't be coming back. I was equal parts ecstatic for the next chapter and heartbroken to write the conclusion to the current one, caught in a weird limbo of incomprehension.
Then we got married, spent 6 weeks in America, unpacked and repacked, and landed here in Bali after 36 hours of travel and a night spent on a greasy bench outside the Jakarta airport. The whole thing happened head-spinningly fast—and it'll take weeks to emotionally unpack everything that happened. Now, on my second full day in Bali, I'm typing to you from a cafe that I anticipate to be one of my new workspaces. It looks like this.
So there you have it. In short, how we left Israel and moved to Bali. And with that, my blog is officially back on. If you're at all interested in our journey, expect more travel stories, including some epic tales of hosting 40 family members in Israel for our wedding, and how we beat jetlag and found a place to live (neither of which has happened yet).
Cheers, y'all. It's good to be back.