Learning Time Management in Medellin (and Why I’m Having a Slight Meltdown)

For the last fourteen months, I've been travelling through South America and publishing an article every week on Flora the Explorer.

Whatever adventures I've been having simultaneously – whether it's teaching English in the affluent Ecuadorian city of Cuenca, or having my first taste of building work in the Brazilian mountains, far from any luxuries (read: internet connections) – I've been able to write that weekly article.

All told, it comes to more than sixty articles, which is no mean feat. And I've been so proud of myself for being able to manage it, even if it's meant working feverishly for three days solid to get articles scheduled ahead of time – like I did before I left for almost a month of travelling through Peru with my fellow volunteers, and made the executive choice to not bring my iPad.

An iPad wouldn't have been too useful here anyway.

Writing is therapeutic for me. When I get my thoughts out of the jumble in my head and onto a screen, I feel calmer and more in order. But the constant problem is finding the time to get those words in the right order before my self-imposed deadline hits.

Who would have thought that settling in one place would give me less time to write than being constantly on the move? That picking up a temporary job at a newspaper, where the primary focus is writing, would actually provide me with the smallest writing-for-myself window that I've had in fourteen months?

And so, the confession.

I really miss my writing.

But not just that; I miss writing properly, honestly, my fingers burning up they're typing so fast – the kind of writing I truly enjoy. I have absolutely no handle on my time management in Medellin, and I think it's something I really need to get to grips with.

For the last month of living here, I've had to juggle eight hours at a job that is constantly challenging; I've had to deal with a terrifying, threatening landlord and subsequently moved apartments very fast; I've spent every spare minute applying for a Masters degree (more info further down on that one); and I've had an eye opening introduction to how much can be done in the six hours between getting home from work and passing out.

Taking clothes to the laundrette, getting cash out, going food shopping, chopping and peeling and cooking – not to mention spending just a bit of quality time with my boyfriend who's been staying with me for the month.

In the midst of all that, most blind attempts I make to get my own, personal work done falls flat on its face.

Essentially, I've come back down to earth with a bump. This is the nearest to a real working life that I've had in…. well, I don't even remember how long. I know I'm unbelievably lucky to have the opportunity to live and work in Colombia; to get a taster of a different career path. And I chose to take this job, which I'm well aware of.

But while I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm ultimately overwhelmed with how difficult I'm finding it to get everything – or rather, anything – done.

I need to destress.

In terms of writing, I think I've got so hung up on HAVING to produce a new article each week (an achievement that I mentioned in my Masters application) that I've forgotten how important it also is to me to create a piece of writing I'm actually proud to publish.

As I get close to a month of working at the paper, I know I've embroiled myself in a job that barely leaves time for anything else. And that's fine, because it's a finite position; and while I'm enjoying myself hugely and learning a hell of a lot, I know that eventually I'll be able to get back to writing properly.

So until then, I'll continue to scrape time together here and there to write, and make every effort possible to produce pieces I think are of the same level of quality they've always been. But I won't let it overwhelm me, because that's not going to help anything!

There's no use crying over spilt...jungle face paint? Whatever. You get the gist.

ANYWAY. Now I've got that bit of honesty out of the way, I still want to use the writing prompts for the third week of the 30 Days of Indie Travel Blogging Challenge. While it's not at all my usual writing style, and I know it elicits less response as a result (judging by the distinct lack of comments on the previous two posts!) I still find it a helpful exercise. And there's only one more week after this one, so hang tight for some better posts soon!

Plus this week's theme, 'roam if you want to,' has given me a chance to look back rather fondly on how much I've accomplished in the last few years.

Turns out I've travelled to rather a lot of places.

Prompt #15: Asia

Ah, Asia. I haven't travelled around this continent the way most people do. I haven't done the typical South East Asia route of Thailand-Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam (plus additional Full Moon Party), but I haven't spent months trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal either.

My first attempt at long term, solo travel was through Asia. It was the first trip that I decided to write about online, and for six months I hunkered down in an internet cafe every few weeks and wrote everything I could think of.

That 'everything' revolved around my travels; first a month in Nepal, where I volunteered at a Kathmandu orphanage and taught English classes at the local primary school; followed by four months in India, first with an Intrepid tour and then by myself; and finally a month in Thailand, where I was totoally overwhelmed by the amount of tourists and alcohol abuse.

Essentially, my Asian travels thus far have been confusing and eye opening; disjointed but inspiring. At some point I'll go back to India, but I think my next stop in Asia will be somewhere in Indonesia. I barely know anything about this collection of islands and I'd like to change that.

Prompt #16: Europe

Europe is one of my favourite places to explore, simply because I've had such a mix of experiences in different countries over the years. Family holidays in Greece and Turkey; trips with school and university friends to Spain and Italy; blogging conferences in Portugal, blog trips in Scotland, music festivals in Serbia and Iceland.

Now I'm planning to head back to Europe in the latter half of this year, and while I'm sad to leave South America, I can't wait to sink my teeth back into some more local travel that's nearer to my London doorstep.

Somewhere like Malta - which I still haven't written about yet!

Because I've never been to Scandinavia, I'm getting steadily more keen on a journey around Norway, Denmark and Sweden. It helps that I have a wonderful Swedish friend I met in India who's currently at university in Lund, so I'll hopefully make it there before too long.

I'm tempted to go to the lesser known countries – to Albania, Bulgaria, Romania – and having spent the last year struggling my way through the Spanish language, I'm planning to spent as much time in Spain as I possibly can. I also have a number of blogger friends who are moving to Berlin, so it might be worth rediscovering the most eclectic of German cities.

Prompt #17: the USA

Growing up, I always had a fascination for the USA. So much so that I decided to study American Literature at university before I'd even visited the country. That same degree course then afforded me a year abroad, studying in San Francisco, which was my first – and as yet, only – visit to the States.

A year living in California was an eye opener in countless ways. I was engaged in conversation by a homeless person daily; ate Chinese food and sushi for a vast majority of my meals; impressed American students with my American accent; learnt the rules of beer pong and how common the famed red plastic cup actually is; befriended sorority girls; made daily trips to the Safeway supermarket and discovered the immeasurable joy of six layer dip.

I also spent a large portion of that year sitting on a hill that overlooked the city and creating a group of friends that absolutely made the year what it was. We had a boys weekend in Las Vegas, hiking trips in Yosemite, skiing in Lake Tahoe, and a road trip right through the centre of the country.

I'd love to go back to the States but I know it won't be the same as it was in 2010 – although I guess that's just in California. There's a whole lot more of the country to see…

Prompt #18: South America

When I came back to England after six months in Asia, it took me only a few days to decide on booking a flight to Ecuador. South America was a continent that had filled me with temptation for years, and I knew that my journey there was going to be much longer and intense than Asia.

Little did I think that, fourteen months after I left for Ecuador, I'd be living and working in Colombia.

If only the landscape actually looked like this on a regular basis.

My time in South America, journeying through five countries (three of them I've gone through twice) has been nothing short of incredible.

I've attempted to teach English to Ecuadorian high school children. swum with sharks in the Galapagos, carried my friend through the Andes with a broken collarbone in Peru, taken a homeless Colombian kid out to lunch, drunk ayahuasca in the Brazilian mountains, been unable to cope with my surroundings in a Bolivian pueblo, got the worst sunburn of my life on the Peruvian coast, ridden in a milk churn truck in Ecuador, and had my Doritos stolen on the way across the border to Colombia.

And that's not even the half of it.

Ruminating on my travels above Rio de Janeiro. Behind the guy in orange, who owns the balcony.

When I finally leave the continent this year, I'll probably spam the site with various rundowns of my top moments and experiences (seriously, I'm working on a 'Best Pizzas in South America' post at this very moment), but for now it's enough to say that I'm pretty sure I've found the area of the world I most enjoy travelling in.

Prompt #19: Africa

The first trip I ever took to Africa was when I was 18, fresh out of school and eager to flex my volunteering muscles. I paid a gap year company way too much money to spend a month in a Kenyan village, not far from Mombasa, where I attempted to build walls of concrete at the local school alongside a huge group of Americans, Australians and Brits.

Even though I naively really wanted to make some kind of difference, a lot of our time was spent at the beach or on pre-organised weekend trips to elephant sanctuaries and on safari.

I managed a bit of time to hang out with the locals, though.

Since then, actually seeing Africa properly has always been at the back of my mind. I don't know if I'd want to attempt backpacking solo around the continent, but I know I want to spend a significant amount of time there. My friends Dan and Audrey at Uncornered Market are currently travelling through East Africa, including Ethiopia and Rwanda, so I'm eagerly awaiting each new post they write.

For now, my major incentive to go back to Africa is to spend more time in Morocco. I went to Marrakech on a press trip a few years ago, but it was just for three days and I felt like I barely scratched the surface.

Wandering the souks in Marrakech: something I could honestly do forever. And it's easy to if/when you get lost in there.

I want to explore the country properly, from Chefchaouen and the Atlas Mountains to Tangiers and Fez, and I'd love to spend a good few months doing so.

Prompt #20: where next for 2014?

I've been living in Medellin for just over a month, and I'll be here for three months more. In that time, I'll spend a week on the Caribbean coast, hopefully make it down to Salento and the coffee region, and do a bit more weekend exploring – maybe even reaching the incredible site of stone statues at San Agustin.

Then there's a big change a'happening in July/August as I finally return home to England again for a while. Part of the last month's stresses involved applying for a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and I'm happy to say that I've been offered a place! The course starts in late September, so I should have two months to get to grips with London life again before a large amount of focusing on my writing kicks off.

There'll still be enough time for travelling though. The annual TBEX conference is in Athens in late October, so I'll head back to Greece for the first time in almost a decade. Then it's time for my beloved Iceland Airwaves Festival in early November, which I may manage to find time for.

So that's where I am at present, as I sit typing feverishly away in Medellin before my one day off from work each week is over.

I'm stressing like crazy at how many different things I have to get done, but also strangely bolstered by the amount of experiences I have behind me. Sometimes it's quite cathartic to look back over the things you've achieved.

Have you found yourself severely lacking in time when you're travelling or working? What do you do to ease the situation?

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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14 Responses to Learning Time Management in Medellin (and Why I’m Having a Slight Meltdown)

  1. Kara April 24, 2014 at 1:33 am #

    Hi. I’m a long time reader, rare commenter.

    I totallyyyy know what you mean about missing therapeutic writing. There are posts that require hours of my time and concentration because I don’t feel particularly passionate about the topic (at least at that moment), but want to get something out. These are stressful and usually not all that well written.

    And then there are posts that are written in one sitting, usually late at night, that leave me with the same feeling I get after a particularly good run or yoga session. Contentment. Emotional relief. These are the best.

    Anyways, back to the most important part of this post.
    Let’s here more about this boyfriend!!

    • Flora April 25, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

      Thanks so much for commenting Kara! I’m glad you get what I said about writing being therapeutic – when I wrote the first half of this post about what I was ACTUALLY feeling, it was like a huge weight came off me! I know sometimes producing work you’re not keen on makes everything feel a bit shit but eventually it all comes back to normal again I think.

      And good spotting there! I’ll explain that situation in another post..!

  2. Katherine April 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Hey Flora ๐Ÿ™‚
    Just wanted to let you know I’m still loving your posts as of late!
    It seems like you’ve adopted the right attitude to have about your busy schedule ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Flora April 25, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

      Thanks so much Katherine! You don’t know how lovely it is to know that people are still happy to read my stuff even when I don’t feel it’s up to my usual standards ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Lauren April 25, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    I’m really enjoying all of your posts and look forward to reading them! I can identify with you in that I often pile way too much on my plate and get overwhelmed and stressed out. I feel like sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day!

    I enjoyed reading about your visits to various places all over the world. I admire that you volunteer so much! My sister is headed off to Peru in May on a 2-week volunteer trip…maybe I will do something like that sometime!

    • Flora April 25, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

      Aww thanks for the empathy Lauren! I think I’d forgotten just how busy life can be when you’re travelling..

      You should definitely do some volunteering at some point, I can’t recommend it enough. If you need any suggestions..!

  4. Amanda April 27, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    At least you know the stress on your time isn’t going to last forever.

    And congrats on being accepted into a Master’s program! That’s awesome news!

    • Flora April 30, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

      Thanks so much Amanda! I’m really happy ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Victoria April 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Congratulations on the masters! Looks like I may be in the UK and/or Athens at the same time as you. Yay! Good luck and try to enjoy!

    • Flora April 30, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

      Woohoo to London and Athens! And thanks so much, I’m over the moon and so excited to get down to writing properly ๐Ÿ™‚

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