Moving Again + Big Plans (Ep. 71)

Today, I’ll finally share my plans with you, tell you what my next steps are, and where I hope this journey will lead in the next few years. I’ve been hinting at this for weeks, so it’s about time. Now, that things are finally official, I want to tell you where we are moving this fall, why we are moving there, what I’ll do once we are there, and what the dream is that is making all of it worth it. I’ll also share my vision for this channel in the future, what I want it to be, and how I plan to get it there.

I’ve been adrift ever since we had to leave my heart’s home, California. New Zealand was beautiful and had I not been too depressed by having to leave California, I might have enjoyed it a lot more. I’d move back there in a heartbeat, given the chance, so that’s probably saying something. But when we were confronted with the choice of spending our savings on a lawyer or leaving the country after just one year, we didn’t have the energy left to fight. In retrospect—hindsight is 20/20—we should have fought. We should have stayed. But, we were exhausted, and tired, and neither of us was really happy there. Sure, it was mostly because New Zealand wasn’t California, and all we wanted was to go back, but it still kept us from fighting. And it would’ve been a risk. We had the savings to leave the country or fight for our right to stay. It would’ve been a big risk. So, we left.

The issue was: we only had eight weeks until we had to leave the country. No one had anticipated this, including three lawyers. Everyone had considered our visa a done deal. With only two months on the clock, choices were limited. Our German passports meant, we could work and live anywhere in the EU. I was more than reluctant to go there, though. I feared that we’d go back to Germany at the first sign of trouble, and end up right where we started. Going back to the EU felt like giving up.

So, we made spreadsheets, gave points for things that were good about each country, deducted points for things that sucked, and ended up with three choices, in the end. I wanted to move to Spain, but my husband isn’t as language-savvy as I am, and was scared of not speaking the language. Considering he has to actually talk to co-workers, I totally get that. Easy for me to say that it’ll work out, as I don’t have to talk to anyone if I don’t want to. So, the three choices in the end were the Netherlands, Ireland, and Malta.

And we made the wrong choice. Of all the moves I’ve made over the years, this is the only one I wouldn’t repeat. And before anyone tells me that we also don’t speak Dutch: that’s true. But if you speak German and English, you can read Dutch for the most part, and the Netherlands have a much higher rate of speaking English than Spain does. Or so the internet said.

The Netherlands were a shitty fit for us. Everything was more expensive than it should be. Salaries sucked. My school was a shitshow, and I quit after less than a year. There were additional taxes for everything—all things that the landlord would cover in Germany, so rent was even more expensive than we’d compromised on. And the people were a lot different from what I’d expected. I have met wonderful Dutch people. Don't get me wrong. But we weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. And the way my non-Dutch friends of color were treated was just fucking wrong.

And then the pandemic hit. I was yelled at for wearing a mask and inducing panic. I was coughed at on purpose. I didn’t feel safe. Numbers were rising, and the government reacted poorly. My Dutch friends kept me posted on things after we left, and the Netherlands are lucky they were not hit worse than they already were. Between the government poorly communicating the risks of vaccination in a way that convinced people they wouldn’t be able to have children, and advising against masks for the longest time, things were bad. And we were glad to be out.

The other factor was my health. I was getting worse and worse, and my GP was an idiot. I didn’t know how much of an idiot he was until I requested copies of my records. He had made up his mind during our first appointment and decided it was my lack of friends and social interactions. Did I mention that there was a pandemic going on?

Not that doctors in Germany turned out to be any better, but that’s a whole different story. I was recently finally diagnosed and there is an episode about the entire nightmare.

When my husband floated the idea of going to Germany for a while, I didn’t even want to consider it. Every part of me hated the idea of moving back to Germany. I really, really didn’t want to. I was scared to get stuck here. I was scared we’d never leave again. I’m not the biggest fan of the German people, the mentality, the language. I grew up feeling like an alien in a world that wasn’t mine. And I didn’t want to go back.

But, in the end, we did. My fear that a return to Europe meant a return to Germany came true. I felt defeated. I felt like we’d given up on our dreams. I logically knew that it was the right choice, but I hated it more than I can express. And I still do. I hate the German weather, the fact that there is winter, and the never-ending gray of the North. I hate living somewhere this far from the equator, where the days are fucking long in summer but so fucking short in winter. I hate the people here—a few exceptions excluded—and I really, really don’t like the politics.

But, the pandemic and my health, the fact that I had quit another school because it was so bad… it all added up. Moving back to Germany was the right choice. Fuck, how can a right choice feels so wrong?

It’s been almost two years since we moved back here. I still hate it. I really do—even now in summer. I had been accepted to the University of Hamburg for a Marine Ecology major, so we needed to stay somewhere around Hamburg. We chose a small village with a good railroad connection. We chose a new building where we were the first to move in to avoid all the issues we’d had in the past. By now, the railroad has been limited to fewer trains per hour—well, currently essentially no trains at all because of some construction stuff—and the apartment is falling apart. Looks like the landlord cared only about one thing, even while building, the short-term bottom line.

So, we are combining the worst of rural life with the worst of city life. We pay city prices. There’s noise from both the trains and the freeway. There is little untouched nature. But we also can’t get groceries delivered. It takes forever to get into the city. And everyone is mowing their lawns all the fucking time. The worst of both worlds.

Neither of us likes where we are, not just the apartment itself or the small village we moved to, but also the area. I need to be closer to an ocean. We need to be closer to nature, to dive sites, to peace and quiet. No, this isn’t the right place. We need to get out of here.

So, for a while, we thought we were moving to Portugal. Sunshine, beautiful landscapes, and a low cost of living sounded promising. My husband’s company has a branch of English-speaking folks down there. It sounded like the perfect plan. I started looking for bachelor advisors, but couldn’t find anyone. In the end, I chose a second advisor from my current school, and decided to do my bachelor’s online.

But as the move came closer, we both started doubting the decision. Without me getting the benefit of adding a Portuguese university to my degree in addition to the German one, other issues held more weight. My laptop is four years old. My phone is already dying. We’ll need new GoPros soon, a drone, some other electronics. All those issues already weigh on me every day. On a Portuguese salary, even a tech one, they’d be a nightmare. And saving up for our dream, our next step, would’ve been harder, too, as that dream will need a lot of saving up.

In the end, we decided to stay in Germany for a few more years. It’s honestly the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Harder than moving back here. Harder than anything else I’ve ever done. I’m still grieving the sunshine. I’m scared shitless of winter. Seriously, I am a summer girl with every part of my being, and the idea of snow and cold temperatures, short days and gray skies, just scares me shitless. Might sound silly, but it’s truer than I can explain.

But suffering a few more winters will be worth it for what we are working toward. Or at least, I hope it’ll get me through the winters. I might need to take some internships in sunny places…

Last week, I took a road trip with a friend to check out potential places to move to. There were exactly three deal-breaking criteria: internet enough to work comfortably from home, upload my videos, and such fun; an ocean very nearby; and cheaper cost of living than where we are now. We drove East to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in bright sunshine, enjoyed some time at the beach, and checked out the first two cities. We spent a night there, woke up to rain, and checked out the other options in way less sunny conditions. We had a lot of fun, and in the end actually managed to find us three areas to move to.

Woman walking into a shallow ocean with grass in the foreground and stormy clouds in the sky.

Now, the apartment hunt is on. I handed in the termination of the lease to the landlord with a smile on my face. I started looking into apartment options, even reaching out to a few potential options. We’re moving East. But most importantly, we’re moving closer to the ocean.

Moving East will reduce the cost of living, too, allowing us to save more for our future, a future we have a pretty good idea about by now.

We thought long and hard about how to make it possible to live sustainably—well, as sustainably as humans can live—while also not being stuck in one place for too long, seeing the world, and getting me close to the nature and environmental issues I want to teach about. Last year, we found the answer and have been working toward that dream since: we’re buying a sailboat. It won’t be any time soon, as it requires a lot of savings, but we are doing it. We’ll move onto a sailboat full-time and take it around the world.

I’ll continue my YouTube channel and podcast, but with more of my own footage, my own videos, my own photos, both above water and below the waves. In addition, there will be a second channel about sailing where my husband and I will share our adventures together. I hope to show you the beautiful biodiversity that’s still out there, but also to share the destruction caused by humans. I want to visit projects that are working, share the amazing things conservationists and environmentalists are doing already to inspire hope, but more importantly, to inspire action. I want to show you all the beautiful animal groups we’ve talked about in the Tree of Life series, showcase ecosystems, but also talk to people all over the world and show you how differently the world deals with the challenge of climate change. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the fucking beautiful.

I have a pretty clear vision for my future, but I know I’m not there yet. Many thousands of bucks in savings stand between me and that dream. So, I have to sacrifice, to stay in a country that makes me feel like I don’t belong, and to say no to some of the unnecessary luxuries along the way. But I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

Once we get to our new home, I’ll start honing my filmmaking craft, showcase some local ecosystems, both on land and in the water, and continue to teach you as much as I can about this beautiful planet, its biodiversity, and how to not fuck up the home we share with the rest of this planet.

With this clear vision in mind, I revisited everything I currently spend my time on, and made sure they are still in line with where I want to go. Some of them were; some of them were not. I was juggling too many hats: between studying, the YouTube channel, the podcast, my writing, photography, diving, my health, the household and errands, my social life, and me-time, something always had to give. Add wanting to learn sailing, Spanish, and Portuguese, as well as hobbies like knitting, crocheting, and beating my husband at Mario Kart, and there just isn’t enough time. Writing short bios for things like Instagram is a nightmare, as I could never decide what to include. And dividing my time between all these things never works. You’d think the least important things would be the ones to give, but this wasn’t the case, at least not for me.

So, let’s talk about these many labels or hats or whatever you wanna call them. We’ve covered the channel and the podcast, so let’s move past those. They are here to stay, as they are part of where I see myself in five years.

Studying

After the move, I’ll write my thesis to finally finish my degree. I don’t plan to apply to any jobs, so no one will probably ever ask to see it, but I want the anti-imposter-syndrome piece of paper. Calling myself a marine ecologist feels fucking good. And when I finish my bachelor, I’ll officially be a fucking marine ecologist. But, as I’ll finish everything except the actual thesis and two surrounding projects before we move, this will take up a lot less time than my current studies—especially because all of it will be from home and on my own schedule. So, studying will be a priority, to finish the damn thing once and for all, but it will leave me with enough time for what I care about most: educating others on how fucking awesome nature is—ahem, and how shitty humanity is. But, to be honest, I can’t wait to shed the label of student.

Novels

And while I’m not giving up writing my novels, they will be taking a backseat—on purpose, this time. As much as I enjoy writing and reading, fiction is not part of my plan. I have let go of the dream to make writing a profession. I’ll keep writing, reading, sharing the fictional stories in my head, but it’ll be a hobby, an outlet, and not a chore. It was a hard decision to come to terms with, but it feels right. I’ll still finish re-editing my existing novels, get them back out there. I’ll still continue to write my books, but it’ll take longer. And that’s totally okay.

Photography

In a past life, I was a full-time wedding and couple photographer. Oh, what a bad fit it was. I mean, I was really good at it. My couples loved me. They loved my photos. But I hated the 12-to-18-hour days with an immense weight on my shoulders—both literally and metaphorically. And I hated the drama. In the end, I also hated the wastefulness. I once photographed the wedding of a couple who sold their car to afford the wedding. I’ll never understand. But then again, I got married at the courthouse without guests, without rings, without vows. I can’t even remember if I wore a dress.

Kate (Caucasian woman with reddish-brown hair) looks through her camera. She's wearing a blazer and a gray scarf.

I transitioned to couples and families. I found out I’m at least as good at photographing kids, dealing with them, making them feel comfortable. But I hated it even more. Sure, it was shorter appointments, less pressure, as everything could be repeated if necessary—you can’t exactly ask the couple to walk down the aisle again. But I don’t like children. And I really, really don’t like most parents. I once had to witness a father hitting his little boy—the end of the session, of course. I’ve read The Little Mermaid to a crying daughter whose mother wouldn’t stop yelling at her, staying for an hour after the session to calm the child, fully aware I wouldn’t be able to do anything for her in the long run. Picture-perfect families are rarely picture-perfect, in my experience.

It took me years to get over the aversion I’d built up, to be able to touch my camera again without feeling like an undervalued button-pusher instead of an artist. Over time, I was able to photograph again, albeit very differently. I no longer take photos of clients. I take photos of nature—when I feel like it. When it feels right.

A few years ago, we started photographing the underwater world, a realm of photography I’m still just starting to explore. The equipment is expensive, and while I’d love to take my DSLR down there, it’s not an option at this point. So, equipped with a really good underwater light, a point-and-shoot camera, and the GoPro, we explore photography under the waves. The equipment can’t do everything I’d like it to do. At some point, I’ll have to buy the case for my good camera, but it’s a start.

Above the waves, my fingers and eyes never lost the craft. Years without touching my camera didn’t manage to get that out of me. As soon as my fingers touch the wheels and buttons, as soon as my eye views the world through the lens, I know what to do. And slowly I’m learning to love it again, to let myself enjoy the camera away from the service-based business where quantity trumps quality, where volume trumps art.

Photography and videography are part of my vision for the future, a slow return to a craft that was such a big part of my life for years, but in a very different way.

Diving

Diving will hopefully become a bigger part of my life again. After a misdiagnosis of asthma in New Zealand, I was grounded for two years. A lung function test and a visit with a lung specialist later, I was cleared to dive again. Shortly after, I had another appointment with a diving specialist, a wonderful doctor who took her time to make sure I was safe to dive. She cleared me, too. Unfortunately, the next dive site is more than two hours away from us, way too far for more than a day or two of diving per month. Not to mention the expense of an entrance fee and a ferry to get there. Diving is part of the reason why we are drawn closer to the ocean, why we are moving as close as possible to the shore this fall.

Needless to say that you can’t take good underwater photos and videos without being underwater—and knowing how to properly dive, so you can control a camera while staying in place. Some of my favorite dives have been within a few feet from the boat’s anchor line or the shore entry point, just hovering in place, letting the fish and other animals get used to me. Diving is one of my favorite things in the world, and something I can’t wait to do from our own boat.

Two turtles hanging out under water.
Image credit: Kate Hildenbrand

My Health

I’ve recorded an entire episode on my healthy journey and what it all means, so I won’t get into any of that. All I’ll say here is that exercise will be a crucial part of my life. Slowly building strength to support my fucked-up joints and then keeping that strength will be essential to keep me from falling apart—almost literally. I’ve started working out again, ordered a jump rope to start rope skipping, and I am doing balance exercises. I’ll get this battered little body into shape, so it can help me live a healthy life. While I’ll never be able to do all the things able-bodied people are able to do, I should be able to do most things, and that’s something I didn’t even think possible until recently.

Social Life

Since moving back to Germany, I’ve met wonderful people, wonderful friends, and spending time with them, online or offline, recharges my batteries. I never thought I’d meet such a supportive bunch of people, and no distance between us will be enough to keep me from doing everything I can to keep that up. Love you, guys.

That said, other kinds of social life exhaust me. I’ve realized that spending time with neurotypicals is beyond exhausting for me. Keeping up a mask, pretending I am “normal” is not something I want to waste energy on. So, part of figuring out how to structure my life is learning how to say “no” to people who don’t like who I am underneath the mask. I’ve had to cut some ties, reduce contact with others. Some of these difficult conversations are still ahead of me, and while I am absolutely not looking forward to them, I know that it’s worth it. I won’t surround myself with people who don’t support me, care for me, and love me. Friendships, relationships, even family bonds, should be something that strengthens you, not something that wears you down. If you have to pretend to be someone you’re not, if it’s exhausting to spend time with someone, take a good look at that relationship. Is it worth it?

Me-Time

I haven’t touched my crochet hooks in weeks. I started crocheting an octopus months ago, and haven’t made it past row 17. By now, I’ve built up a resistance to trying. Luckily, my friends are awesome, and I’m meeting one of them to crochet that damn octopus together. Crocheting is meditation for me, and creating something from nothing is so fucking good for my mental health. It’s a shame it fell off the way-side.

But, like all other versions of me-time, crocheting has been something that I didn’t have time for. I haven’t read a book in months, haven’t written more than a few words in any of my novels, haven’t danced, haven’t gone for long walks with Pepper. Me-time is always the first thing that gives when I wear too many hats, and that’s something I need to change. It’s probably telling that me-time, even now, is seventh on the list in this episode.

The only proper me-time, well kinda, I’ve been getting is hours and hours spent racing my husband on the Switch. We’ve played so much Mario Kart that we’ve added custom rules, rolling the dice at the beginning of every session to randomly switch the car, change the speed, or even swap controllers—fuck, you won’t believe how long it takes me to stop stirring Toadette on the right side of the damn screen until I realize I’m suddenly Mario. It’s a load of fun! Now, I just need to find a way to be as good about me-time as I am about me-and-my-husband time.

Learning New Things

And all the while, I can’t quench the thirst to learn new things. To be able to move onto a sailboat, I need to learn how to sail. But I also want to learn two more languages: Spanish and Portuguese. Between English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese, I’d be able to communicate properly with a decent chunk of the world. And while I’ve been diligent about doing at least one exercise on Duolingo every day, I haven’t progressed even remotely as well as I’d like to be, unable to prioritize studying either language. The goal is to get good enough to be able to read the first Harry Potter book, but while I’m getting close in Spanish, I am far from that in Portuguese—and time hasn’t been on my side.

I am reluctant to admit that I have so far only mastered 5 of the almost 300 questions for the sailing theoretical. Ah, well, I’ll get there. Once I start actually doing some questions every day, I’ll improve quickly. It’s something I want to focus on more as soon as my last exams are done with. A few more weeks, and studying will become less of a strain, and I will be able to use my brain for other things.


Fuck, this one wasn’t supposed to be a long episode. If you’ve made it all the way to the end, let me thank you for giving a shit! Next week, we’ll finally reach a very cool episode, one I am more than excited about: I’ll get to teach you about octopuses. I’m fucking excited!

If you want to support me making episodes like the Climbing the Tree of Life series that are super research-intensive and take a lot of time to make, or even episodes like today’s more personal babbly one, consider supporting me. You can either become a Patreon supporter for as little as 2 bucks per month, or send me a one-time donation through BuyMeACoffee. If you don’t have the coin to spare, please like, subscribe, or look for my name on your favorite podcast app to rate the show. Know anyone who might enjoy what I do? Send them the link. All these things help more than you can imagine. Thank you!

As always, a special thank you to my loyal patrons, Paul and Robert, who have been with me for a while and pledge money to me every month, and to the lovely people who have sent one-time donations.

You all are amazing, and I couldn’t do this without you. Thanks, everyone! Until next time.

Weirdly yours
Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.
Germany