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This time a year ago, I wrote that it felt like we were already six months into 2015, what was sure to be the best and craziest year of our lives yet. I couldn’t have been more right and wrong at the same time. Our plan then was to get married in April, go on a backpacking trip around Europe for our honeymoon, move into an RV and travel full time with the magazine. The stars were supposed to align.

And it seemed like they were starting to as we took our first press trip together in February. But a month later, Allen’s mom passed away. In the midst of the horrible weeks that followed, my two biggest contracts evaporated. Four weeks later, the lease on our geodesic dome house came to a close, ending Allen’s personal training business, and we moved our boxes into my parents’ attic a week before our wedding with 90% of our income effectively gone.

 

We got married at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery on April 25, a wonderful and light celebration anchored from floating away into the night by the weight of loss, and took off on our honeymoon so generously gifted to us. Three weeks spent eating and walking our way around Ireland, Italy, France and England left us marveling at our fortune and sent us home with a renewed energy to make travel our life. We set out for new contracts and freelance gigs as soon as we landed and narrowed our search for our home on wheels to a custom tiny house RV.

But a handful of pitches and cover letters turned into dozens with not so much as an automated confirmation of receipt in return, and a few weeks staying in my childhood bedroom turned into five months. As our confidence in our plan and in ourselves dwindled to nothing, our search widened from work that would allow us to follow our dream to bar tending and walking dogs to pay for a studio apartment. The stars weren’t lining up, and I started to believe they didn’t exist at all.

Months scouring job sites with the TV on in the background led one particular show on vacation houses to capture my attention and spark an interest in real estate. Even if just a temporary escape from reality, this new curiosity eventually added one opportunity to my search results: marketing manager at a vacation rental and real estate company on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks–the very place that inspired this magazine. The job would mean giving up travel for a while, but it was otherwise perfect for me and I for it. I applied, interviewed, and–finally–got the job.

We moved to Avon, NC at the beginning of October into a little cottage across the street from the beach. A vacation island 30 miles offshore of the mainland is a far cry from any place either of us have ever lived, but it’s the most normalcy we’ve enjoyed in two years. Allen got a job as a restaurant server, and we joined a gym, took walks on the beach almost every day, and explored the island until its businesses started to close for the season.

Locals and travelers know Hatteras Island and the Outer Banks for many things: water sports, fishing, sunsets, pirates, lighthouses. But what I know it for now isn’t the postcards and marketing points. On clear nights, I drive down Highway 12 to the thinnest point on the island just two football fields wide and climb to the top of the dunes. Here, with the uninterrupted 360° view of the night sky, the glare of city lights is replaced by the shimmering of more stars than I’ve ever seen before, the Milky Way a glittering splash over the sea.

Here, we’re on the edge of the universe.

It’s funny how we can only connect the dots looking backward. Every major life event that could happen to us happened: loss, marriage, major career shifts, relocation, all in a single year, and all while building Travel Well one piece at a time. But even on our darkest nights, little twinkling dots were connecting around us, forming a constellation leading us here even when we couldn’t see it. As we venture exhausted into 2016, we are no longer trying to control or predict what shape the stars will take. Instead, we’re just strolling along the waves, feeling thankful for how the year ended and forever grateful to those who got us here.

As long as this new year is simple and calm and clear, we’ll be happy.

 

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