Women Who Travel Aren't Lost: Six Essential Growths Travel Brings


Women Who Travel Aren't Lost: Six Essential Growths Travel Brings

My partner Nadia and I simply cannot agree on when or how we met. Although we attended the same university, there’s seemingly no concrete point in time that we’ve been able to designate for crossing paths. We simply became Facebook friends at some point over 10 years ago, and the rest is history. What I can say is that over the years, before we came into contact again and re-ignited a friendship, I had unconsciously (if Nadia tells the story, it was a conscious effort) followed some of Nadia’s adventures over the years and admired her lust for travel, beautiful places, and connecting with people.

In 2017, I reconnected with Nadia as we became increasingly involved in social activism, and for the first time in years I had a chance to hear her travel stories firsthand. I got to hear about beautiful Guatemala, crossing the border into North Korea, and details about her family that lived in Iran. There was something incredibly aesthetic about this wonderful life she’d lived, and yet also it was messy. That’s what I liked about her stories, they were incredibly real and imperfect. Over time I was surprised to learn, however, that not everyone in her close community viewed her experiences in this way. Nadia was often confronted with societal expectations that did not validate the life of one who loves to travel for the sake of traveling. Not only as a break from tirelessly working in a corporate environment, not only as a means of connecting with distanced family and friends, but traveling as a space to connect with yourself when inner questions go unanswered.


For some, travel can seem like an irresponsible escape. I’ve fallen victim to that stereotype. I’ve had close friends tell me that I would eventually get over traveling (I didn’t), or that I would never find a partner that would be okay with me traveling (which is problematic to think that I might need permission), or that it was a financially irresponsible hobby and one day I would have to get a real job. As I got older, I did exactly the opposite of what was expected. I found a partner who shared my wanderlust. I found leadership roles in my field that gave me the finances I needed to support the lifestyle I wanted. I also simply learned how to budget and save money in a way that did not damage my financial security. I did what a responsible adult was supposed to do.

Society did very little to validate the amazing experiences I was having and the skills I was developing because of my consistent immersion in other cultures. What was important was that I found a suitable job, eventually got married, and had children. If I wasn’t checking off the boxes, it wasn’t impressive. At the end of the day, I never devalued money, work, marriage, or children. I just wanted the ability to decide what accomplishments were going to be meaningful to me. It’s a choice that I think everyone should have. I wanted to be allowed to be “a mess” and run away and explore because this is how we find ourselves. Having taken the path that I have, I feel confident as ever in the life that I want to manifest. Truthfully, I think travel has made me a better student, a better partner, a better employee, and in the future, it will make me a better parent.

I want others to see how powerful travel can be for an individual, even if through your own personal lens you can’t see how it is benefiting someone else. The reality is, it is only a judgement that you can make for yourself. In this vein, I wanted to highlight some of the tangible benefits that I have received from travel. Even in my dumbest, youngest moments I was always benefiting from my experiences, and it’s made me who I am. For this reason, I’d like to share six essential areas I grew in while globetrotting. This list is ever so incredibly accurate, but not exhaustive. If you’ve traveled, try forming your own list. If you haven’t, consider the possibilities. You never know what kind of impact hopping on a plane to explore an unfamiliar place will have on you.

  1. How to Develop Stronger Mental Health: Travel has helped me to find a safe space to examine how to tackle anxiety, depression, or other challenges in mental health. In addition, it has helped me to see that mental health is not viewed in the same way around the world, and that there are spaces that are open to spending time on self-care and balance without seeing it as a weakness.

  2. How to Build a Better Understanding of Self: Travel allows you to take the time to examine who you are, your values, whether your goals are working in your favor, and if any paradigm shifts need to be made. Some of the best personal growth occurs when you are alone. Literal and figurative silence and seclusion are some of the best methods for engaging in self-reflection.

  3. How to Thoughtfully Expand Your Perspective: There are some things you simply cannot understand about the world unless you go out and experience it. Throughout the years, I’ve created a stronger understanding of world history, how big differences in culture impact that way we see the world and live our day-to-day lives, and I’ve had the privilege to shed light on perspectives that I wasn’t taught in school or raised to understand. I am literally a smarter, more open, more thoughtful, and more creative person because I’m able to better connect the dots when it comes to the human existence.

  4. How to Make a Tangible Impact: As a person who lives a privileged existence, especially when acknowledging the spectrum of the quality of life around the world, I have learned to humble myself. I’ve learned to examine the “why” behind a phenomenon before judging communities and their progression. I’ve also learned that those who live lives with less privilege don’t need saving. They need my support, understanding, listening ear, and resources. I have learned to be a thoughtful ally that creates change in a way that respects the vulnerable spaces I am entering.

  5. How to Test Your Boundaries: At the most surface level, I have continuously proved my thoughts of my capability wrong. From consistently overcoming my introversion, to problem-solving getting lost, to making myself uncomfortable again and again, I have learned to be an increasingly flexible human. This has paid off in many ways, but especially in my professional life and how I approach meeting goals. I know what I can do, and I’m willing to push the boundary further, and I also have the organizational skills to follow through on my goals with incredible efficiency.

  6. How to Be a Radical Leader: Along the same vein, I have learned how to be an advocate that uses their voice in an effective way. I have learned critical thinking skills, how to thoroughly research an idea, and how to develop a structure or solution to the most challenging societal issues. I could not have done this without seeing that vast variety of thought and talent that exists throughout he world. It literally helped me land my current role in building programming for under-served college students in Houston, and I know it will lead to future growth in my career.

And so you have it! I hope this list entices you to set off on your own adventure. If you developed a skill or experienced a benefit that isn’t listed here, feel free to comment your own learning curves from your travels below.


Traveling While Gay: My Fears of Proposing Abroad

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Traveling While Gay: My Fears of Proposing Abroad

“Weird. My glass says ‘Will you marry me?’ Does yours say it too?” Nadia was staring at the bottom of her mug, previously filled with beer, and was reading the inscription on the bottom. “Oh, yours says it too. Weird. Wait. Are you proposing to me?” I have the most aloof girlfriend in the entire world.

The build-up to this moment had started over six months before. Like the sneaky detective that I am, I had already been probing on the styles of rings Nadia liked. I’d stolen her ring to try to size it, only to find out later that it “fit loosely”. “Well, what size do you wear?” I asked her. SHE DIDN’T KNOW. Have you ever tried to buy an engagement ring for someone who doesn’t even know their own ring size? Even though my work was clearly cut out for me, Nadia never suspected that I would be proposing on one of our vacations together.

Photo Shoot in Innsbruck, 23 November 2018, 26216 by Wild Connections Photography-59.jpg

Travel has had a deep impact on the lives of Nadia and I. Since we started dating, we’ve visited five countries together, as well as made our way around the US on several beautiful trips. It was only natural that our wanderlust, which had once dominated our lives independently, would become an important part of our journey together as a couple. As I started to think about places to propose to Nadia, one stood out more than the rest. Innsbruck, Austria.

I’d visited Innsbruck years ago while backpacking through Europe and visiting a classmate that lived there. It was gorgeous. I began searching for a photographer that might be able to capture this surprise moment in Austria, and that’s when it hit me. What if I can’t find a photographer that is comfortable photographing an LGBT+ proposal? Should I propose in public? What if people around me start expressing discomfort, will that ruin the moment? My search led me to Cat, an English photographer living in Innsbruck as an expat. I started writing an email and hoped for the best.

At the intersection of travel and identity, a tidal wave of complications exist. I had, many times, experienced complications with travel due to my socioeconomic status, being a woman, or because of my race. However, there is something incredibly jarring about planning to have such a vulnerable moment, such as a proposal, in a place that is relatively unfamiliar. The reality is, traveling while gay comes with an additional set of challenges that affects how people like Nadia and I navigate the world.

Cat never answered my question. Not directly, anyway. The response I got from her via email was even better. She said we were “such a frickin’ adorable couple” and she hoped to photograph our wedding in the future. I didn’t realize how important that validation was until I received it. Even though most Europeans are incredibly progressive, especially in comparison to the individuals I encounter at home, the reality is that many countries only recently legalized gay marriage. In addition, legalization does not change mindsets. Not immediately, at least. For this reason, even countries that have legalized gay marriage still struggle with how to integrate the LGBT+ community into a largely heteronormative culture.

Gay acceptance while traveling seems to work in layers. There are places Nadia and I simply cannot go. Being gay might be criminalized with harsh penalties, even death. No thanks. There are places where being gay is decriminalized, but still unsafe. Perhaps we will not arrest you or kill you, but also please stop being gay. Signed, our government. There are places in which individuals have some legal recognition. Perhaps there are some protections against discrimination, or even an acknowledgement of civil unions. And finally, there are progressive countries in which leaders are actively working to protect gay individuals and acknowledge who they are. I must be perfectly clear that no matter where I am, as a gay woman, I am never 100% safe. That is the world I exist in.

Photo Shoot in Innsbruck, 23 November 2018, 26216 by Wild Connections Photography-6.jpg

As you can imagine, this yielded a natural fear for me as I planned to propose in Innsbruck. Flash forward to “the day”. I was so incredibly nervous. Cat and I had to move the proposal up by an entire day due to weather issues, and we had to change the venue. I chose a bar that had a 360 degree view of Innsbruck. It was stunning, and a close second to the view that could be seen from the mountains. Cat had gone ahead of us and given the bartenders two mugs that had “Will you marry me?” engraved at the bottom. No matter what Nadia ordered, they were meant to put the drink in those mugs.

Photo Shoot in Innsbruck, 23 November 2018, 26216 by Wild Connections Photography-18.jpg

I then had to wait, for what seemed like one million years, for Nadia to finish her drink. She talked about everything under the sun. I feel like the range of topics discussed could be itemized and re-expanded into an encyclopedia series. And finally… “Weird. My glass says ‘Will you marry me?’ Does yours say it too?” Everything happened so quickly. And, she said yes! To my relief, there was no awkwardness from the surrounding guests. Largely, I think, because they probably spoke German and could not understand what was going on. When I think about my journey to proposing to Nadia, I am so happy that it had a happy ending. However, I can’t help but imagine that this is only beginning of a long list of experiences that might incite worry in me.

Even small things, like whether I should change my last name, will impact how we travel in the future. While my personal belief is that a woman should have whatever last name she chooses, gay couples aren’t always allowed such freedom. It is incredibly common for heteronormative families to have individuals with several different last names that are still acknowledged as one family unit. However, it is harder to prove you are a family when society doesn’t acknowledge that you count as a family. Therefore, I am always inclined to think about my safety and being able to immediately be acknowledged as some sort of family unit by ensuring both Nadia and I, as well as our future children, have the same last name.

I think about how I will explain my relation to Nadia at customs counters across the world, especially in countries where our marriage isn’t recognized. Or how I might explain our relation to our future children when they travel with us. We will endure every road to acceptance as the world continues to decide how gay populations will be re-integrated as valid members of our communities. We will also continue to be held accountable as a representation of all gay people in how we uphold ourselves as we navigate the world.

Despite all of these worries, I am hopeful for the future. I am excited to begin a new chapter of my life with an amazing partner-in-crime that is ready to see the world. I know that at the end of the day Nadia and I desire to only add good into the world, and I hope that is what others see. The only question left for Nadia to answer is, where are we going next?

Photo Credit(s): Cat Ekkelbloom-White (Photographer for  Localgrapher ). Check out more of her work here:  Wild Connections Photography .

Photo Credit(s): Cat Ekkelbloom-White (Photographer for Localgrapher). Check out more of her work here: Wild Connections Photography.

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A Queer Voice in Havana


A Queer Voice in Havana

“¿Tú profesión?” Right, easy question. I know what I do for a living. I direct a team that assists high school students by providing access to college and supporting them in earning a degree. I don’t know how to say that in Spanish. “Soy una profesora.” “¿Que clase? ¿Español?” Okay, first of all, if I’m in charge of teaching children Spanish, we’re all doomed. I am having trouble communicating to the immigration officer in Havana exactly what it is that I do in the United States. Do I explain the educational gaps for Latinos and African-Americans? Honestly, no one needs to be put to sleep with this information. Let’s just go with “un clase que assistir estudiantes en universidad”. I’ve only been in Havana for 30 minutes and I’m already humbled by my terrible Spanish.

Havana is beautiful, make no mistake. The stereotypical associations are here. Vintage cars exist, some restored to beautiful conditions and others that are slightly less appealing to the eye. Old family homes from the Spanish period are painted in bright colors, both renovated and dilapidated. Buildings contain anything ranging from casa particulares (apartments that Americans can rent) in some of the more modernized buildings, or restructured tenement housing that hosts multiple families and desperately need repairs. It’s all here. Later that night, I go to meet Susana, my first host for experiences while staying in Havana. Susana is a journalist that previously worked with the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. We stop at a local bar in Vedado, a neighborhood that Susana describes as “the heart of the city,” to talk about the LGBT+ community and take some time to frame what I’m about to experience. It’s during this chat that I am lovingly corrected when I say that Havana’s buildings and cars are part of the reason I traveled here. “Americans come here because they think this is ‘cute’, but it’s not cute.” Shit. I have embarrassed myself for the second time today.

To give more context, I don’t think I’ve ever been much of a tourist. I have placed a lot of time and care into my travels. I always try to study, watch movies, or at the very least, travel with someone who is native to the country. I am very sensitive to the fact that many tourists are not interested in what experiences are most authentic and I try very hard not to be that person. Even so, I needed a reminder that it doesn’t matter how much I study culture, it does not exempt me from harmful mentalities that are very much embedded within myself, mentalities that I am trying to reframe with each growing moment. I realized that I had already created a narrative for Cuba, and that’s not fair. As much as I want to highlight these stereotypes of Cuba, I won’t. That’s not the story I was asked to share. So let’s all look at one photo of a vintage car in Cuba, and then we’ll move on with our lives.


Susana takes me to a club called Swing Habana that is frequented by the LGBT+ community. It’s there that I get to meet Angela Nefer, a drag queen that performs at several gay clubs in Havana. After some time, I’m taken backstage and am able to ask questions about the challenges drag queens in Cuba commonly face. Angela is already wearing a fierce face of traditional drag makeup with ice blue contact lenses, but hasn’t yet changed into her costume or wig. It’s then that I am told the story of how she’d been promised a bicycle by her boyfriend if she maintained strong grades at university. Angela had been studying languages and developed a love for Egyptian culture. After studying hard, Angela decided she no longer wanted a bike. What she really wanted was to be a drag queen. And thus, Angela Nefer came into existence.

Being a drag queen in Cuba isn’t easy. Legal restrictions make it almost impossible to get the products needed for performances at a reasonable price. Simple things like makeup, clothing, or wigs are very expensive, as are other imported goods. For this reason, the compliment that Angela gives me about the eyelashes I’m currently wearing hits me a little more deeply than usual. I am aware that this also implies that other individuals in Cuba have difficulties getting things like soap, shampoo, feminine products, or other goods that are far more accessible in the US. There is an obvious financial barrier that is not easy to witness. It’s written all over the city of Havana. However, what particularly speaks to me about Angela’s access to goods are the impact it has on her ability to be her authentic self.


Drag queens have long been an icon for the gay community internationally, yet they serve as very specific landmark for identifying LGBT+ spaces in Cuba. In addition to the socioeconomic barriers faced by the vast majority of Cuba, the LGBT+ community faces additional layers of impact on their identity, specifically regarding sexual orientation and gender, and it surfaces in subtleties. After a few more questions, Susana and I meet our friends back outside to wait to watch Angela’s performance.

When she finally surfaces in the spotlight, her costume is gorgeous. It’s a glittery ensemble that is detailed with Egyptian iconography. I try to follow Angela in Spanish, noting that I get a special shout-out during her introduction as a guest visiting from “los Estados Unidos en Houston”. Her performance includes a series of songs from various Latin countries in Spanish and it’s amazing. Before I know it, the show is over. At this point I’m several screwdrivers deep and I can’t tell you much more about the night. Just know that Susana ordered me a taxi and I woke up safe in my casa particular.

Cuba does not need saviors, it needs allies. Much like the gay community in America, what is needed is individuals to invest time in hearing the stories of the individuals that are in the LGBT+ community. In addition, what is needed is an investment of your money. The tourism industry is incredibly necessary in order for Cuba to continue to grow and create more opportunities and access to financial stability. If you’re interested in visiting Cuba and learning more about the LGBT+ community, I highly recommend you book Into Queer Havana. Your interactions and investment of time are a small step to contributing toward more LGBT+ awareness in Cuba, and to being the American ally that Cuba deserves.


Why Americans Think Everything Looks American (Even Though It Doesn't)

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Why Americans Think Everything Looks American (Even Though It Doesn't)

Sometimes, I'm a little embarrassing. You know how television often depicts well-traveled individuals as these all-knowing, socially savvy, wonderful creatures of mystery? They wear shoes that they bought in Morocco, and drink wine that they once tried in Paris, and know how to say "Where is the bathroom?" in 15 different languages. They know what the capital of every country is, have an opinion on current events that wows people they just met in bars, and quote ancient wisdom they once heard from a Buddhist monk while in China.

However, it's not like that at all in real life, at least for me. I stumble through my adventures with very little grace, and in reality I feel like travel is a series of awkward moments strung together (in a good way). YOLO, right? I try my best to hold nothing back when I travel because I know I won't get a chance to relive those moments ever again. For this reason, I have become way too comfortable with asking questions and sometimes that leads me into some awkward situations.

I've just had to accept that I'm going to miss some cultural cues here and there, and that in the moment it's going to be totally embarrassing, but eventually it will benefit me because I'll learn from the situation. In the past, I have asked for iced tea in Ireland (Why would anyone in their right mind drink iced tea in a country where it's constantly cold and rainy? Just so you know, nobody drinks iced tea in Ireland.), I've asked Europeans what they do for Thanksgiving (FYI, the rest of the world doesn't embrace this holiday), I've completely confused national governments (Isn't everybody over here, like, under the queen or something?), and the list goes on and on. Heaven forbid I reflect on this too long, because there are probably other misunderstandings that have occurred that I still am not aware of. But why on earth would I ever assume that another country is completely unaware of American culture and traditions. Aren't we the center of the world? Even if these small faux pas weren't committed on purpose, it became very obvious to me over time that my view of the world is highly skewed by my country of origin and the culture I grew up in.

When traveling, it's difficult to take everything you're seeing and put it into a bias-free context. Often, I hear travelers mentioning how much things remind them of home. This beach looks like a beach at home, or this restaurant reminds me of one in my neighborhood back home. Sometimes, these comparisons get so extreme that everything starts to look "just like home." This Starbucks reminds me of the Starbucks at home! A Starbucks is a Starbucks is a Starbucks, and a paper coffee cup is a paper coffee cup is a paper coffee cup. At what point are we in danger of missing out on the full picture by placing everything we're seeing into the context of "home"?

Technology has changed culture forever. Due to the constant sharing of ideas via web, television, etc. it is becoming more and more difficult to determine the origin of cultural factors. In fact, cultures are becoming so intermixed that they are creating new and completely separate sub-cultures of their own. Movement across borders makes it much more difficult to hold onto architectural styles, art, colloquialisms, and other badges of uniqueness that particular cities or countries can stake claim on. So, how surprised should we be that something here or there reminds us of home? From this perspective, the world seems so small, but it definitely shouldn't make travel any less magical.

Perhaps what we should focus on while traveling is the experience rather than the rigid categorizations that we tend to place cultural factors into. When I was recently traveling in Canada, I tried poutine. Poutine is a dish that includes french fries topped with a gravy and cheese curds. My first thought, having lived in Ireland for a significant amount of time, was "this isn't poutine, this is a gravy chip (a delicious dish consisting of french fries and gravy that is often found in the UK and Ireland, and perhaps other places in Europe that caused me to gain a lot of weight while I was studying in Ireland- no regrets)." And honestly...does it even matter? Do I have to assign an origin to this thing, or can I appreciate how much there is a connection between food in Canada and Ireland despite having a huge ocean separating the two countries.

This is a small example, and I'm sure the majority of you do not spend hours at home analyzing how your french fries came to be in existence (although this is literally something that I myself do all the time. Guilty! #anthropologist #gradschoolproblems #whocares). However, using the lens of "home" can affect your traveling experiences in so many other ways! You lose the opportunity to learn how someone in that country views their country, which is vastly different than how you view it as a foreigner.

So, while I can't deny that the smell of Starbucks in another country does actually remind me of home (ahhhh the smell of American consumerism), I, in general, try not to let my American bias affect how I experience another country's culture. I ask a lot of questions, I seek connections, and I accept things as they are, not as I think they are or want them to be. This, I believe, is one of the best lessons that I could have learned as a traveler, and as a person. It has helped me in so many other areas of my life not to pre-judge. You can take off your "American shades" too. You just have to try, and you have to be prepared to be open-minded. And honestly, every once in awhile, you're going to make a faux pas and order iced tea in an extremely cold country. But you won't regret the embarrassment, because you'll be more cultured than you were before.

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What does "unsafe" mean?


What does "unsafe" mean?

Abre tu mente. It means "open your mind." The past few months, for me, have been a very eye-opening struggle. I recently turned 26, and I started panicking about all the things that 20-somethings tend to panic about. What am I doing with my life? Am I making the right choices? Am I happy? Your 20's are riddled with questions, and after awhile, even deciding what food you want to order for lunch becomes overwhelming because you feel like you already have to make so many decisions every day. I have always been different. I grew up in a small town outside of Houston where I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. In high school, I was what one might call a "hipster" these days. But obviously, don't categorize me, because that defeats the purpose of being a "hipster," dude. I wore tutus to school and belonged to obscure clubs like "The Shutterbug Photo Club" and "The Multicultural Club." For this reason, all of the patches on my letterman jacket were custom made, and honestly, I didn't even wear it until I was in college, and only for nostalgia. The point is, my interests and passions I have always felt were misunderstood by most, and when I started traveling during college, this was no exception.

Since I've begun to travel alone, I've been getting a lot of negative feedback. Despite trying to share the positive aspects of this experience, I still feel like people just don't get it. "Why are you going to that country? It's, like, a third world country." "I'm worried about you." "I don't know how you do it." "I've heard that place is really dirty and they hate Americans." These are all common responses to traveling outside of the US to "unsafe countries." But what does "unsafe" even mean? For many Americans, they base their impressions of other countries off of what they see in media, not what they research or personally experience. The thing is, out of my own insecurities, I sometimes believe it too.

Recently, I've returned from visiting Costa Rica, a trip that received some particularly harsh criticism. I'll be honest, when I first arrived, I experienced an intense culture shock. There is definitely a visible socioeconomic difference between America and Costa Rica. But is this what makes it unsafe? As I was texting my friend at home in Houston, clearly panicking after being there for only a few hours, she said "maybe it's safe, maybe it isn't." Later on, I laughed at this statement. I'm a Cross-Cultural Studies major, and this is a very anthropological view. Anthropology is a type of human science, and has many different fields, but here I am referring to "the study of human societies, culture, and the development of such." Basically, these are the guys studying how people live around the world, and everything in-between. Those who study culture aren't necessarily there to categorize things into "good or bad," "safe or unsafe," or "pretty or ugly." They're just there to observe. They're there to point out patterns, and answer questions that really can't be answered.

A person who studies culture from an anthropological perspective does not travel to a country and return saying "yes, this place is unsafe." They know that "safety" is a very complex concept, and that there are unsafe places everywhere. Now, what I can say is that I've observed that my American friends tend to use many factors that are completely unrelated to safety to judge whether or not a country is worth visiting. "It's dirtier there." "The people there are so loud." "Their laws are different." The list goes on and on. In reality, does this mean that you should not be traveling there? Just because a culture is different and abides by a different set of standards does not mean that they are right or wrong. It means just that: it's different.

Perhaps what needs to happen is that we need to change the lens that we are using to perceive what we are experiencing in another country. When I go to a new place, I find myself "recalibrating" quite often. After a certain amount of time, my brain adjusts itself to what the norms of that country are, and then I proceed to experience that country from the perspective of the locals. In Costa Rica, this took me about 24 hours. The culture seemed to be more open, and there was a different view of personal space. In the US, we tend to avoid close contact and enjoy privacy. The bustling, noisy, open environment I experienced in the city quickly let me know that those cultural norms do not apply here. Does that make it wrong? Unsafe? Perhaps trying to categorize it at all is a waste of energy. It just is.

When it comes to travel, it's so easy to let fear determine what type of experience we will have. I encourage anyone reading this to follow the advice of the amazing street art pictured above and "Abre tu mente." Things aren't black and white. So when people ask me why I'm doing this, I think I now can confidently answer that I travel to every country for the same reason, to "open my mind." I hope that I can inspire each of you to do the same.

For advice on how to stay safe in a foreign country, or to form your travel plans around research-based facts regarding travel security, follow the tips in this article: Ways to Ensure Safe Travels.



Ways to Ensure Safe Travels


Ways to Ensure Safe Travels


Being an American has taught me so many things, but mostly, it's taught me to fear everything. My childhood is riddled with memories of being told all the things that I can't do and being instilled with a fear of all things unfamiliar. While there is definitely a grounded purpose in teaching children to be cautious, never was I taught the truth about the other end of the spectrum: while there are many bad things out in the world, there are also good things too. Sometimes, you have to take the risk of encountering some bad in order to experience the good. Traveling takes a certain amount of acceptance of this complex truth.

I receive a lot of backlash about my travels, particularly when going abroad alone, and mostly from individuals who fear both being alone and traveling to begin with. A close friend once reminded me that, in reality, most people are bound to help you more than they will hurt you, and I strongly stand by this sentiment. I truly believe that most individuals are inherently good. Now, before I continue, I should establish that I have traveled to some very dangerous places. In fact, I once studied in one of the top 10 murder capitals of the world. I am more than aware that some places are extremely dangerous to visit, and for this reason I think it's more than appropriate to equip you with some travel tips that will help to ensure your safety. 

In addition, I want to establish some positive framing on these tips, as I don't want individuals submerged in panic as they set off on their adventures. I have yet to experience very many encounters with crime or negative individuals, and I hope my travels continue to remain free of any major incidents. However, I also believe that things have turned out this way because I remain very open and do not pre-judge a place based on sources that are not experience or research-based. So, please keep these tips in mind, and do stay safe no matter where you are! Below you will find some guidelines that I follow to increase security for myself no matter where I am.

1. Check the crime rates and safety lists ahead of time. The US keeps a national safety list that lets you know what countries are considered unsafe for Americans to travel to, and for those outside of the US, your country probably has a similar published list. You can find this list here: US Safety List. This will give you an overview of any dangerous activity that may be happening in a country, an overview of crime statistics, and safety tips related to that nation. 

2. Research any dangerous neighborhoods. Just because a city is "safe" does not mean that there aren't any areas that you should avoid. I will often Google "dangerous areas and xxxx" to find information about a particular city. It is also a good idea to Google recent news articles to see what comes up so that you can be aware of any significant current events before traveling to a country, such as protests or political unrest. Most travel books will also outline crime patterns, such as areas where theft often occurs, or any other warnings you need to be aware of. Last, read travel blogs that chronicle what others have experienced within the country. This is a good idea no matter where you are going, there are usually neighborhoods in every city that locals would say you should avoid.

3. Where's your wallet? Please keep in mind that each time you remove your wallet from your purse or bag, individuals can be watching to see where you put it back. This is why you should never put your wallet in a front pocket. It is very easy in crowded spaces, at bus stops, or even in passing on the street for someone to remove your wallet without you even noticing. If I'm carrying a bag, I always put my wallet in an inside pocket underneath my jacket or other items so that if someone was trying to take it, it would be much more difficult. Which brings me to an equally important point.

4. Only readjust the contents of your bag in private spaces. I try not to remove the contents of my bag unless I'm in a restaurant, bathroom, or other private space where I can relax and pay attention to what I'm doing. I rarely adjust the contents of my bag in the street unless completely necessary. In some places, I won't even take out my phone. It's really a matter of being aware of your surroundings. Interestingly enough, I felt very comfortable readjusting my bag in public squares in Costa Rica just because there were police everywhere and at least 20-30 people surrounding me that would probably make it awkward for anyone to bother me. By this, I mean I would stop and check my bag to make sure everything was there, and I also felt fine stopping to check maps or sit and figure out where I was going next.

5. Don't wear anything expensive. This is usually a given. If you have something that someone else wants, you have an increased chance that someone might try to take it. Be aware that jewelry or expensive bags might be on the hot list to snatch up.

6. "Be incognito." I honestly don't know how much of a difference this makes, but dressing like a local may help you to blend in. I honestly don't think doing this alone will deter theft, I thinks it's a combination of you being unaware, looking like a tourist, and giving a sneaky individual the opportune moment to catch you off guard. However, I felt more comfortable simply wearing a t-shirt and jeans at times because I felt like people paid less attention to me.

7. Walk with purpose. If you're walking slow, look lost, or give off the aire that you're uncomfortable, this might make you a target for theft. Check your map/phone before you start moving and walk confidently. This is also a good practice because you'll get used to the streets more easily and start to memorize your surroundings. After a few hours in most neighborhoods, I usually know main streets and or buildings, which prevents me from getting lost later on. If you feel like you're not sure where you are, don't panic, just step to the side and gather your thoughts or ask for directions from a local. Most will be happy to help you.

8. Ask officials for help. Depending on where you are, the most reliable advice can often come from officials. This does not mean that they are the only people that will or can help you, however, so don't be afraid to ask locals for directions, recommendations, or other advice. For example, to find out who the official taxi drivers were at the airport in Costa Rica, I asked an airline customer service rep. However, a local who was waiting to be picked up also advised me about normal taxi fares that I should expect. Both individuals were helpful, and both gave me accurate information. Police, security, store owners, servers, etc. can also be very helpful. Just remember that honestly anyone can be a source of awesome or lackluster information, so be patient no matter what.

9. Speak in shortened sentences. This has sometimes helped if I do not speak the local language very well. For example, when getting a taxi, I find the less that I talk, the less it brings attention to the fact that I'm not a local, which may help in preventing being overcharged, etc. It may also help with bargaining. However, trying to speak the local language has also helped me to gain a lot of respect in foreign countries, so don't take it to an extreme where you're being antisocial as a whole, only in particular situations where it might be useful for your place of origin to be ambiguous.

10. Sit down if you get overwhelmed. There may be moments while traveling where you just simply freak out. I don't blame you. You're in a place that's very different and it can be difficult to navigate. The safest thing  to do in those moments is to take a step back, sit down, and calm yourself. I can honestly tell you it's going to be okay. Sit on a bench or get a coffee. Get back up when you're ready.

11. Don't be afraid to address aggressive individuals directly. Sometimes your first reaction when you feel uncomfortable is to become shy or ignore someone who might be the cause of your concern. However, it's best to do the opposite. If someone is persistent, politely tell them you're not interested. Look them in the eye when you're talking. Move confidently and express exactly what you would like to happen. If the situation escalates call or ask for help.

Have some tips that might help others to stay safe? Post a comment below so that other readers can be aware too! 


Tricks for Getting Through the Airport Easily


Tricks for Getting Through the Airport Easily

I was sweating. I had run all the way through Heathrow airport, and was desperately trying to make it through the second security check point so that I could catch my flight. I had already missed one connection, and this was the last flight to Shannon, Ireland leaving that day. There was no way I was getting left behind, and that's why I looked like a crazy person running past all of the gates with onlookers parting like the Red Sea as I breezed through.

There are several things wrong with this scene. First, I was wearing high heels. Since I was going to meet my boyfriend, I thought I'd look extra cute arriving in a pair of boots. I had completely forgotten how much I'd have to walk around once I'd gotten to London, much less run. Second, I was carrying 1734298374 bags, with some of the contents being distributed between my arms, and my boarding pass in my mouth. All limbs on deck! I was a mess, and while I did make it onto my flight, I wish I'd prepared for an easier and less chaotic journey while navigating the airport.

Because I care about you, and because no one should have to plop into their assigned plane seat breathing heavily and drenched in sweat, I would like to share some hacks that will help you to get through the airport more easily and efficiently without much effort. If it makes you feel any better, I have forgotten to do all of these things at least once, so I understand your pain. Below you will find ten tricks for getting through the airport with swagger.

1. Wear slip-on shoes or shoes with a zipper. At most airports, you will be required to take off your shoes. For this reason, think of laces as your worst enemy. Shoes that slip on and off easily are your friend, they are the Beyoncé of travel shoes. Whatever you do, don't wear high heels. Let's be real, no one looks cute stumbling around the airport because your feet are in such pain from walking so much.

2. Put everything you are not using inside of your bags. While moving around, you're probably going to get warm. Place all of your jackets, scarves, and hats in your carry-on so that your arms are free. It's much more difficult to move quickly if you are holding all of your belongings, and it's also an easy way to lose or forget things.

3. Put your laptop in an easy to reach place. At most security check points, you will also have to take your laptop out of your bag to go through the scanner. Just in case you're wondering what happens if you don't, your bag will most likely be pulled and you'll have to go through a more detailed search that takes seemingly forever. Put your laptop in a sleeve or pocket that is easy to open and close so that you can slide it right back and be on your merry way.

4. Get a rolling carry-on bag or a backpack. Nothing is worse that trying to lug a duffel bag around the airport. Bags that roll are easy to maneuver, and they can be held closely so that they don't take up much space as you're boarding the plane. Duffel bags tend to unpleasantly smash into every single person as you make your way down the isle. 

5. Check-in and choose your seat ahead of time. This will prevent having to fuss around at the counter when you arrive at the airport. In addition, if you only have a carry-on bag, you may be able to bypass the counter altogether. You can also identify any errors that may have occurred ahead of time, so you're not trying to correct a reservation at the last minute.

6. Get a portable charger. Plugs are not always easily available in the airport. Portable chargers allow you to keep your device batteries from going low without having to crouch in awkward places or fight with other passengers for the few outlets that exist in the airport. In the event that you do have to use a wall outlet, it's helpful to have converters and adapters for the country you're going to so that you can charge up while you wait for your flight or when you arrive.

7. Stop awkwardly standing around. Let's be honest, boarding a plane takes forever. I always find it amusing when people stand around or awkwardly pace, as it's going to take however long it takes to get 100 people on the plane. There's no speeding it up. In contrast, I usually try to board the plane last, after everyone has already settled in, shifted their bags around, and the isles are clear. Sometimes this angers the passenger service agents (and it used to anger me, as well, when I was a passenger service agent), but it definitely makes things less stressful for me. Just sit, and relax. But not too much, I don't want you to miss your flight when you're only sitting ten feet away from the gate.

8. Get a passport cover with pockets. This will allow you to keep your boarding passes, baggage tickets, and if you'd like, your cash and credit cards all in one place. When rushing around, the only thing I carry in my hand is my passport cover. Everything is there, and if anyone ever asks for my ticket or ID, I never have to look far. I always feel terrible when I see people shifting around trying to find documents in a panic. Bag? Passport? Alright, let's go!

9.  Use your smartphone apps. With technology, you can check in, get a digital boarding pass, check the status and location of your flight, and much more. Download your airline's app, or check out some of the top travel apps to see how much easier you can make it for yourself by having all of your documents and information at your fingertips.

10. Use TSA Pre-check. With this program, you can go through security without removing your belt, shoes, outwear, or your laptop. Your airline will let you know if you're approved for this program when you check-in, or you can ask the security guard at the checkpoint. It's much quicker than a regular clearance, and will save you so much time.

While these tips cannot relieve you from all potential problems that might happen while traveling, it will make things go more smoothly and quickly as you make your way from place to place. Prepare ahead of time, and eventually these things will become habit. Before you know it, you'll be traveling like a pro.

What are your tips for breezing through the airport? Leave comments below to share with other readers!


All By Myself: Activities for Solo Travelers

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All By Myself: Activities for Solo Travelers

Lately, a lot of people have been telling me that I'm very brave. These people are insane. Here's the thing, since entering adulthood, I have developed an unexplainable anxiety. This anxiety is, of course, self-diagnosed, but I think it should nonetheless be taken very seriously when I say I am one of the least brave people I know, if I'm allowed to include myself on my own list of people with an absence of bravery, that is. Not too long ago, one of my college friends wrote an article about the tendency for others to classify travelers as brave, which you can read about here: "Dispelling You're So Brave" by Jaime Sepulveda. This seems to be amplified when individuals find that you're traveling alone. In a stunt of pure madness, I'm going to reveal to you what I'm actually doing while traveling just to prove that I'm not really brave at all. Are you ready? Here it comes: I do the things I would normally do at home, just in another place.

It doesn't really sound as majestic when I put it in those terms, but on some level it's true. What I do think is very important about my solo travel is that I am comfortable being alone with myself. In addition, I have come to care less and less about how awkward or silly I look so long as the experience I'm having is memorable. So, there you have it, what I actually am is a crazy person! But in all seriousness, in the event that you decide to one day go on your own solo adventure, you may find it difficult to pass the time without having another individual there to keep you company, especially if you spend very little of your everyday life alone to begin with. I have spoken many times on my blog about how awkward I am in person, and traveling alone is actually something that I make myself do in order to grow as a person. It wasn't easy, though. The first couple of times that I traveled by myself I often paced around in circles, second-guessed every decision I made, and looked completely nervous wherever I went. Sometimes it would take me a little while to brave going outside of my room and enter the world that I had traveled miles and miles to see.

Actually, on my last trip to San Diego, I came back to my hostel after a long day of sightseeing and realized it was only 7:00 pm. What do I do now? It was dark outside, and I had no friends to go to dinner or drink with. So, I did what anyone would do, I texted my friend, who was all the way at home in Houston, to ask her what I should do. The whole situation was quite comical. For this reason, I have conveniently put together a list of things that I do when I'm traveling alone so that you don't experience the same anxieties. Ready? Set? Go!

1. Look at things. It sounds so ridiculous, but some people forget the whole point that you came to this whole other city is to look at it. So go! Don't sit in your room, it will still look the same when you come back at night to sleep, I promise.

2. "Have a Nice Walk." When I have nothing to do, I'll walk around. A lot. I will literally walk miles until I'm exhausted at the end of the day. At that point, I don't even think about what I'm going to do at night, I just go to sleep. I'll walk back and forth, over and over, around in circles just looking at shops, people, and for things to eat, of course. I used to make fun of my European friends for "having a walk," but now I do it all the time because it's so relaxing.

3. Sit in a place and observe. Just sit. I don't mean awkwardly shift your eyes like a stealthy thief, I mean just look at what's around you! What are people doing? What are they saying? Observe and learn.

4. Think about life. Seriously. I'm not kidding. You're in a new place alone, and that is the best time to think about life. You're cut off from all distractions and familiar faces, answer some of those questions you've been avoiding by rushing around and being distracted by your "to do" lists.

5. Go get a cup of coffee, tea, etc. and just enjoy it. In the US, we have a culture of taking things "to go." Rarely do we just sit and enjoy a nice cup of coffee. Maybe not even a Starbucks, get some local coffee at the kind of place where a nice barista asks you where you're from and draws designs in your latte. Then you'll become best friends, and they'll tell you all the secret places in the city that you'd never find on your own. You'll be so overjoyed that you add them to your Christmas gift list and take a selfie with them.

6. Eat dinner. In a restaurant. Alone. Don't take your food back to your room! You're missing out on some of the experience. No one cares if you're sitting alone, and it's an opportunity to focus on how amazing the food you're eating is. 

7. Take photos. This is so relaxing. When I don't have anything to do, I just walk around and try to capture my surroundings. I don't even care where I am anymore, I'll literally whip out my tripod, use self timers, awkwardly create a scene, and who knows what else just to get a good shot.

8. Write something. You'll want to remember what you're seeing and feeling before you forget it. And maybe there are things you want to share with others later. Hello there, I want to share this with you!

9. Talk to strangers. I know this goes against what your parents told you, but you're an adult now and talking to strangers is okay. Meet people in your hotel or hostel, and don't be afraid to go out and approach others. It's a great way to make new friends. Start with simple things, like asking locals what their favorite things about their city are, or asking individuals in the hostel where they went that day.

10. Sleep. Which is one of the things my friend suggested I do. See, I told you. I just do what I'd normally do at home.

Hopefully this will help others to see that traveling alone really isn't that scary at all. You're just doing everything you do in your everyday life normally. Don't be brave, just be yourself.

What do you do while traveling alone? Leave comments below with suggestions for other readers!

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Resorts vs. Reality


Resorts vs. Reality

One of the few things that I remember from elementary school was this mind-blowing fact: goldfish have a memory that lasts only three seconds. I actually googled this fact before starting to write this article, only to realize that this is apparently a myth and goldfish can actually remember as early as five months back. While I yet again feel that one of my foundational childhood realities has been shattered, I will still stand by the fact that an unsettling parallel exists between goldfish living in a fish bowl and resort life. If you need a refresher, let me paint a clearer picture for you. Have you ever had a goldfish as a pet? Perhaps you won it at a carnival, or you purchased it from a pet shop and proceeded to pick out a fish bowl. Maybe you even splurged and bought marbles or neon rocks that you covered the bottom of the bowl with for decoration. If you were feeling charitable, you probably bought some fake plants to wedge between the fake rocks. And if you're really an amazing goldfish owner, you bought a fake little cave for your fish to hide in when he wasn't feeling social. 

You created this whole environment for your new pet, fed it, and gave it a place to swim around. Once you're done, and you're sitting around watching your fish wiggle its way through your strategically-created habitat, a natural question arises, "how is this fish not going completely out of its mind swimming around in circles all day?" Now that I know that the answer to this isn't related to short-term memory, I feel even more uneasy about all the goldfish that I've ever owned, left to swim around in their little glass prisons. The thing is, the goldfish knows nothing of what is going on outside of the fishbowl, it experiences what you allow it to experience, and that is precisely what I feel a tourist experiences at a resort: whatever experience is created for them.

I've been to a few resorts in both Jamaica and Mexico, and had a similar experience at both. Some bonuses to being cut off from the outside world (in some cases, literally, because internet and phone were not an option) is that it can be relaxing. You remove yourself from your stresses, eat delicious food, lay on a beautiful beach, and then return to reality when you're ready. However, I couldn't help but notice the surrounding areas of the resorts and how cutting myself off from the world also meant ignoring that I wasn't actually experiencing that country's culture and all that it had to offer by remaining inside the fishbowl.

While in Jamaica, I spent most of my time in Kingston, which I was grateful for because I got to spend time going through farms and outlying towns, as well as experience the city life, and also meet locals who gave me a wholesome view of their traditions. On the way to the resort, we stopped at a small market where vendors were selling food, and were nearly unable to leave because the sellers would not exit our bus until we purchased something. There was a sense of desperation and the reality of poverty that we came face to face to right before setting foot at the nearby "upscale" resort.

The first thing I noticed was that the majority of tourists were either European or American. The food served was not local, and it consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries. The beach itself was absolutely beautiful, but it was surrounded by cheesy "tiki" style bars that served sugary alcoholic drinks. For activities, we could scuba dive, kayak, or walk the beach, but all the areas were roped off. You were stuck in a specified area where everything about the experience was already decided upon for you by someone else. This scene seemed to create the facade that Jamaica was a beautiful and luxurious, which is absolutely true. Everything that I saw while I was in Jamaica was so beautiful to me, but this environment was different. It was fake and incongruous to the country that was outside the walls of the resort. It had reduced something beautiful, charming, and somewhat rough into something with much less depth. By the time I'd visited a resort in Mexico, I started to wonder if this was just the case for most resorts in existence.

What I've learned is that there is a valuable take-away from every experience. I was so appreciative to be able to indulge a little at a resort and see beautiful beaches filled with beautiful people. However, I also made a promise to myself. I wanted to make sure that I went back and saw everything else. I wanted to acknowledge everything about that country and not just limit myself to confined spaces. Luckily, I was able to fulfill that promise in Jamaica by traveling quite a bit before having to leave the country, but I'll need to circle back to Mexico to experience more of the true culture. While I wouldn't advise travelers to steer clear of all resorts, I would encourage them to try to also expose themselves to other parts of the country that exist outside of the resort when planning a trip. It's okay to leave your comfort zone sometimes, and unlike goldfish, you can keep these memories forever, you're not just limited to three seconds.

Have you ever been to a resort? Did you feel you received a wholesome view of the country while there? Did you enjoy your time there? Share comments below about your experiences!


Things That Make Me Uncomfortable


Things That Make Me Uncomfortable

I am an extremely awkward person. 90% of things I experience in everyday life make me uncomfortable in some way, and I'm terrible at hiding it. You can only imagine the amount of anxiety I experienced the first time I traveled to another country where things are ten times as unfamiliar, and where I honestly started panicking before even getting on the plane. Luckily, on most trips I've had friends to guide me.

I know I am not alone in this, and that these unfamiliarities are what prevent many people from having amazing experiences abroad, but sometimes it is necessary to be uncomfortable to really make your trip memorable. Therefore, I give you a list of ten things that you should definitely do while traveling despite how absolutely uncomfortable it will make you. To the right, you will see me doing two of these things. Can you guess which they are? These experiences have made me grow as a person, and I can assure you that they are worth trying. So, let's get awkward!

1. Using public transportation.

In Houston, Texas, public transportation is not really "a thing." It's sort of like a mythical creature that people say exists, but is really inconvenient due to the size of the city and the time it takes to get from point A to point B. However, in many cities across the world, public transportation is one of the greatest things to ever be invented, and it can get you places faster and without as many expenses. In addition, you're more likely to experience life as locals do, and you'll get to know the city more easily. In Paris, I remember my friends and I once spent nearly an hour trying to get a cab while completely bypassing the Metro system. All it took was a little confidence and effort to get us where we needed to go, and we did it on our own. This can be absolutely scary, but trust me, you are perfectly capable and you'll be so proud the moment you arrive at your destination knowing you figured it out all by yourself.

2. Speaking another language.

Never have I been more ashamed of my education than when I realized how absolutely useless I was at speaking a foreign language while traveling across Europe. Que? Yo soy Americano? The sheer look of confusion on the face of locals I spoke to was enough to make me want to melt into my surroundings. However, you'd be surprised what words from Spanish class will appear out of absolutely nowhere when you really have to go to the bathroom. So, use what you know! Don't be afraid, and the opportunity to practice another language is genuinely priceless. Which brings me to the next thing that makes me uncomfortable...

3. Talking to people I do not know.

If there's anything American culture has taught me, it's to keep to yourself. While there is an obvious culture of not talking to strangers, there is also an undertone of independence rather than a sense of community that you can feel. I had to learn that talking to people abroad, no matter how short the trip, was valuable because I gained friendships that allowed me to create a network of friends around the world. One of the greatest things I did while traveling was stay in hostels and befriend complete strangers. It's a great way to find out what's worth seeing in the city, or to add a few more companions to your group.

4. Not carrying a backpack.

We see you tourists with backpacks, we see you. And so do all the locals! For some reason, people experience large amounts of anxiety if they don't carry everything they own with them while traveling. However, ask yourself, would you be carrying this if you were out and about at home? You will feel lighter and more free if you carry only your essentials with you, and you'll be less of a target for theft.

5. Not visiting touristy things.

Sometimes I am literally the worst person to travel with because I avoid places like Times Square or Buckingham Palace due to the large crowds. While some places are essential to see, not all tourist attractions are what they're cracked up to be. Some of my greatest memories while traveling happened while veering off the touristy track, and I don't even feel guilty anymore about visiting a city and skipping the majority of "must sees." Sometimes it's great to ask the locals what they love about their city and start from there. The experience you will have will be completely different, and sometimes less stressful.

6. Standing on things that are tall.

Did I mention I'm afraid of heights? It's not even a tiny fear, when standing high up I will freeze in place and start to sweat because I am so uncomfortable. However, some of the best views I've ever experienced would have been complete bypassed if I didn't muster the courage to climb higher. Some of these experiences included getting to view Innsbruck, Austria from the mountains (pictured above) and the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I nearly saw my life flash before my eyes, but it was worth the risk.

7. Eating food that I cannot identify.

While Starbucks and McDonald's have nearly taken over every country in the world, let's not forget that double chocolate chip frappuccinos will still be waiting for you when you get home. Your new favorite meal could be out there just waiting for you to try it, if you'd only give it a chance! I'm still working on building up my list, but so far I've been able to try shark, alligator, escargot, and a few other unconventional dishes while traveling. Even if you don't go exotic, take the opportunity to eat authentic food as much as you can. After all, it's not every day that you're in another country with access to an uncanny amount of new flavors to experience. Above you will find my awesome lunch of spinet knodel (a traditional Tyrolean dish of spinach dumplings) that I chowed down on in Innsbruck while sitting mountainside.

8. Asking people for directions.

In general, I've had very few bad experiences asking locals for directions, and most individuals are more than willing to help you get where you need to go. While you may feel like avoiding anyone and everyone while frantically walking around and covertly glancing at your map is the best thing to do in any situation, you know you'd secretly like a little help. So ask for it! It's also a good idea to learn how to ask if someone speaks English in the local language, as being bombarded in foreign language can be intimidating if you're not expecting it.

9. Asking people annoying questions in general.

While traveling, it can seem taboo to ask questions about why people do things a certain way. Maybe we should all just accept that things are the way they are in that country, and just gossip about it later with our traveling companions in our hotel room. However, you'll learn so much less about the place that you're in if you don't ask the questions you're dying to know the answers to. Sure, you'll encounter some embarrassing situations here and there, but most locals are more than happy to explain traditions because they are proud of their culture. You are not as likely to offend others as you think, and you'll get so much more out of your trip.

10. Walking places.

Did I also mention I hate walking? At least, I used to hate walking. After spending a semester in Europe, taking an afternoon walk is now one of my favorite things to do, especially if the weather is amazing. I also decided that sometimes getting in a car really isn't necessary. When things are close by, why not get some fresh air? In addition, you can experience more scenery and you're more likely to bump into unexpected gems that you wouldn't have noticed while driving around or taking a taxi.

So, there you have it! While it is not my intention to cause anxiety with this list, hopefully you aren't too tense. I can genuinely promise you that if you step out of your comfort zone, your trips will be more meaningful and unique. It's okay to be awkward, but don't let it hold you back from having an amazing experience!

What makes you uncomfortable when traveling? Share in comments below so that other readers can feel awkward too!


Why Everyone Should Travel Alone at Least Once


Why Everyone Should Travel Alone at Least Once

Mary Poppins ruined my life. At some point, a child has to accept that a bottomless carpetbag does not exist, and there is, in fact, a physical limitation of how many things you can fit inside of a backpack. This is an important concept to submit to when you've just stepped off of an airplane and committed to traveling for two weeks across Europe with nothing but...a backpack . After leaving the country a few times before, something about traveling and experiencing other cultures made me fearless. Or stupid, because who sets off in a foreign country armed with nothing but a toothbrush, Hanes t-shirts, and a smile?

Everyone always tells me I'm lucky, but I'm not. I'm lucky and grateful for every experience I've had, but I'm not lucky in the sense that people imply I am. The truth is I just stopped believing that things were impossible. One year later, I arrived in Ireland for another visit. This time, when I arrived in Dublin Airport and walked into the waiting area, there wasn't a familiar face to greet me. I wasn't traveling with friends, I wasn't studying abroad, I wasn't in Ireland on business. I was just "there." Now what? I went to the ATM. I bought a bar of Cadbury chocolate. I bought a bus ticket into the city. I walked into the City Centre...and that's when it hit me.

As an American, I have been adequately trained to fear anything and everything. Flu epidemics. Foreign invasions. Zombie apocalypses. The possibilities for disaster are truly endless. But when I stopped thinking of all the bad things that could happen to me, I also realized that great things were equally as possible. And here's the crazy thing, guys. I survived!

After traveling awhile, you just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you take a train in the wrong direction, there is (gasp!) always a train that will take you back the opposite way. When you don't know how to enter the station, there's always the option of creepily staring at everyone passing by until you figure out what to do. And when there is no one nearby that speaks English, don't worry, shouting and using wild hand gestures always works. Every person on the street suddenly becomes your friend, whether they like it or not. You stop being afraid to whip out that Spanish you learned in 5th grade. And when, at the end of a long day, and several modes of transportation later, you get to view the city of Barcelona from Estadi Olímpic Lluís, you've long forgotten what it took to get you there.

Traveling made me fearless. It made the world small and big all at the same time. It made me believe that I could do anything. It forced me to become familiar with myself. It made me realize how many opportunities there were to impact the world. I know if I hadn't gone out into the world on my own, I never would have had the same amount of confidence to pursue my goals. Most of all, it made me understand that our only limitations are those that we place on ourselves.

To all my 20 somethings afraid to step outside of the box: don't let others tell you what's out there, find out for yourself. Take a train, drive a distance, buy a plane ticket. Whatever you do, take more than a backpack. Contrary to popular belief, a giant vanity mirror and fully-grown house plant will not fit inside.


10 Ways to Afford a Plane Ticket by Summer


10 Ways to Afford a Plane Ticket by Summer

I am far too acquainted with Ramen noodles. Not only did I enjoy this budget-friendly meal throughout my childhood, but it was also a staple for me during my college years as I strained to learn how to skillfully budget my earnings. During my undergrad, it also served as a stealthy distraction from actually studying for my finals, because fixing someone a bowl of soup totally counts as productivity, right? It seems that no matter what stage of life I'm in, consuming a bag of $0.20 dried noodles is a constant reminder that, if necessary, I could always survive on very little. So how did a girl earning minimum wage in the local mall and eating Ramen noodles afford a ticket to Ireland while in college?

One of the many questions I often get asked about my travels are how I afford them, and the answer has remained quite simple over time. Throughout my twenties I've (1) wanted to travel so badly that I was willing to make any sacrifice just to see one more city and (2) learned how to eliminate unnecessary expenses in order to afford my flights. While in a few instances I did acquire scholarships and grants to fund overseas studies, becoming a budgeting expert is one of the main reasons that I've had some amazing opportunities. It wasn't a stroke of luck, it was hard work.

While I realize I can't speak for every financial situation, I wanted to share some easy ways to save enough money to travel by this summer by simply cutting out purchases that often amount to significant cash loss. More than anything, it is the drive to travel that propels experiences to happen. Individuals don't just get lucky, they make their dreams a reality. Below you'll find a list of ways to build a healthy budget and save a relatively large amount of funds so that you can cash in on a new experience and valuable memories, and you don't even have to eat Ramen noodles to do it.


Things to Eliminate:

1.       Cups of Coffee (or other frequented beverages)- For all the coffee addicts out there, as well as coke addicts, or any other type of beverage addict, stopping often for drinks can add up quickly. Try buying in the grocery store and bringing drinks from home. Starbucks also sells prepackaged coffee that is *almost* as satisfying as going to their store.

2.      Clothes Shopping- Limit your purchases per month, and give yourself a few days to decide if you really need an item. If it doesn't bother you that you haven't bought it after 48 hours have passed, chances are you didn't need it anyway.

3.       Eating Out- As tempting as it is to have someone prepare delicious food for you, try cooking a meal for yourself. Make a grocery list every week and try to stick to it. You'd be surprised at the amount you'll save!

4.       Bar Tabs (for those 21 and above)- Try hosting fun activities at your apartment rather than going out. There are also many things to do around your town that are completely free! Google low-budget activities. In the budget below I was extremely generous on allocations, as I've literally seen acquaintances in college spend hundreds of dollars in one night, and then have no money for the next few weeks of school.

5.       Cigarettes (for those 18 and above)- For those choosing to support the habit, imagine how much money you would save per month by kicking it aside. It amazes me how individuals who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day will tell me they can't afford travel expenses.

6.       Unused Belongings- Do you have clothes or electronics that you no longer use? Try selling a few items on E-bay, or visiting thrift shops to trade your clothes for cash.

7.       Driving When You Can Walk or Take Public Transportation or Just Not Go Outside- You can save a whole tank of gas within a month by using public transportation to get to nearby places. Ask yourself if the car ride you're taking is a necessity!

8.       Unnecessary Bills & Memberships- How long has it really been since you've visited the gym? Do you really need cable access, or will Hulu and Netflix suffice? Cut back on bills you don't need, or use less heating, air conditioning, and electricity to lower your charges.

9.       Buying Smart Phone Apps or Songs- Perhaps this isn't a problem for most, but I often find myself making quick and unnecessary purchase to download useless apps or songs that I must hear immediately. You can go without it!

10.   Buying Things That Are $1 or Under Just Because They Are $1 or Under- You don't need gum. You don't need a candy bar. Fight the urge. Stay away from the bargain section located at the front of most Target locations. It's a trap!

Things to Add:

1.       An Airline Mileage Account- For every few trips you buy, you could get one for free by using miles! Don't throw away free earnings with your airline, sign up for a rewards account.

2.       Bill Companies That Partner with Airlines- Did you know you could earn reward miles just by paying your bills? Check with your company to see if they have partnerships with any airlines you use!

3.       A Travel Savings Account- Separate your spending money from your savings. Visually seeing your money add up in an account will help you to refrain from spending.

4.       A Part-Time Job- If you have a skill that can earn you money in your spare time, or just want to pick up a few hours on the weekend at a local store, designate the extra funds you make toward your travel account. Seasonal work is also an opportunity to earn cash for your savings.

5.       A Social Schedule- Decide on a specific day of the week to designate for going out. Stick to your schedule, and remember it's okay to decline a few invitations. Going out less will reduce spending for you each month.

6.       A Budget Spreadsheet- It helps to visually see where your money is going. If you're not keeping track of what you're spending your money on, chances are some purchases may be going toward frivolous items. Create a budget and follow it.

7.       Scholarships- Many schools offer study abroad opportunities which can be funded by grants, scholarships, and other financial aid. If you have the opportunity and the academic standing, you might be able to travel for free through your university and earn college credit at the same time. Many financial aid plans might leave you with a refund check for extra spending money abroad.

8.       Roommate & Possible Future Travel Companion- Having a roommate can help you cut down on your bills, and if they are also interested in traveling, they can keep you focused so that you can both achieve your goal of affording the expenses. You might even be able to split the costs of certain portions of your trip.

9.       Grocery Shopping List & Knowledge of Cooking- So much money can be saved by cooking at home and bringing food to work and school rather than buying it on campus or at restaurants. You might even be able to cook in bulk and ration a cooking session out for a couple of days. Learn how to grocery shop for yourself and utilize smaller funds for purchasing food that will last you a longer amount of time.

10.   An Ability to Say “No”- Remember, you don't always have to say yes to every invitation you receive. Learn to moderate the amount of time and money you spend, and your savings will start to grow before you know it.

Don't believe it? Add up the numbers for yourself! You could afford a plane ticket to Europe by summer! Make adjustments that are more realistic of your monthly spending habits, or add other expenses that you might accumulate over the next few months, and watch the dollars add up!


How Visiting Amsterdam Changed My Life


How Visiting Amsterdam Changed My Life

It was totally awkward. I was staring right into her face, and she was scantily clad, surrounded by a window lined with red neon lighting. Do I look her in the eye? How does this work? I wanted to spend more time examining, but it's not exactly polite. Even more, this situation was a photographer's worst nightmare. I've always wanted to capture everything; I just have to do it, it's engrained in me. However, if I'd taken a photo at this moment, I'm certain I would have been in danger of a beer bottle being thrown at my head. And so there I was, observing this extremely controversial scene, and I could do nothing but etch it into my memory, and I can never share that image again unless an individual decides to go to The Redlight District in Amsterdam and observe it for themselves.

Now, before things get even more awkward, I must state that I'm a graduate student of Cross-Cultural Studies, and I've spent many hours researching human trafficking and advocating it's prevention, so being in The Redlight District was not so much as an enjoyable experience, but something that I felt I needed to see and try to understand in regards to what it meant both for individuals native to Amsterdam, as well as those who had immigrated and become a part of such an extremely controversial lifestyle. However, I must leave "controversial" open to interpretation, because in reality, the Dutch did not seem to find the existence of The Redlight District very controversial at all. It is this dichotomy of traveling experiences that I actually want to focus on, as I had two choices: I could become an observer and look at "those crazy Dutch people" and "those crazy things that they do" in "that country over there," or I could become a traveler and immerse myself in my surroundings to try to understand what was happening and what it meant to me in my experience as a human being.

Now, this happens to be an extreme case of reasoning. I could have easily decided to ask why the Dutch choose to eat their french fries with mayonnaise, or why they possess such a business-focused culture, but talking about The Redlight District is so much more meaningful and causes us to look at contrasts in lifestyle or perspective. For most, rather than allowing other cultures to change our perspectives of the world, we leave our country and we observe. However, I believe that if we choose to stop being observers we will not only benefit more from travel, we will grow from it. I think going abroad should be about more than viewing other people like scientific specimens and being entertained by our obvious differences, it's about truly appreciating the many ways of life that exist. We return home unchanged instead of becoming immersed because it is easier to separate ourselves from others than it is to acknowledge the complexity of humanity and try to understand it in a deeper fashion.

So, what does it all mean, you might be asking? Perhaps that is something that I am still trying to figure out. It's been two and a half years since I walked the streets of Amsterdam, but I can say that it did change something inside of me. I can also say hearing about individuals that live differently from Americans on television is much less effective than experiencing it in person, and that I hope to continue to expose myself to new cultural perspectives for the rest of my life. Some things in this world are beautiful, some are ugly, some are shocking, some are thrilling, and I need to see it all or I will simply experience a one-dimensional view of this world. For me, Amsterdam is where this epiphany occurred, but perhaps it could be elsewhere for others. Wherever it may be, it must happen outside of the comfort of your home. The next time you're abroad, don't divide yourself and "the others," and remember that something valuable can be learned from the way individuals live across all borders. You just have to stop observing and start traveling.


The Day Everyone Quit School to Travel


The Day Everyone Quit School to Travel

"I literally have $0.36 in my account right now." These are actually the words that came out of my mouth when I arrived in Chicago to visit friends for a short trip this past year. Here's the thing, when you're in love with travel, sometimes you do crazy things just to get out of your city, like book a trip without any actual certainty that you'll have spending money when you arrive. So, you sleep on a friend's couch, and if your friends are awesome like mine, their family makes you dinner, and you just really don't care how much money you've got to your name because you're somewhere different. Now just to clarify, I arrived in Chicago just before payday, so in no way am I suggesting that you make this a habit. The point is, wanderlust can make you do insane things, and those who love to travel tend to have life epiphanies quite often where they must drop everything and jet off as far away as possible.

How do I know this? Well, it's easy. Since starting this community, I've tried to immerse myself in travel social media. Whenever I have a few minutes, I often catch myself reading tweets, blogs, and posts, browsing photos, and using basically any form of social media available to me in order to find better ways to inspire people to see the world in a different way. Surprisingly, one of the most popular phrases I come across is "I just want to quit school and travel." This phrase appears in varying degrees, from "I'm tired of sitting behind books, I just want to get out and explore," to "I HATE SCHOOL WHY AM I EVEN HERE IT"S STUPID I JUST WANT TO GET ON A PLANE RIGHT NOWWWW!!!" Now, I've been in school quite some time. I'm a second year master's student, and trust me, I have hit many lows in my studies over the years. I became this machine that lived off of coffee and cuddled with their textbooks at night, and I knew I hit an all-time low when most of my wardrobe consisted of the same sweatshirt nearly every day because I literally had no brain power left to choose my outfit in the morning. I get it, sometimes it's hard to commit to a challenge when there's a whole big world out there waiting for you and you just want to dive into it.

Another tweet I often see is: "I just want to get paid to travel." If I could, I'd spend all my time tweeting those people back, but unfortunately I have a full-time job outside of blogging and photography, and they don't pay me to tweet "You can! You can get paid to travel!" all day. My heart sinks every time I read that statement, because I know that (1) you can get paid to travel and (2) one of the biggest ways to do so is by going to college. WOAH. I know your mind is blown right now, but just bear with me a minute. The truth is that if you do well in high school, and you do well in college, you can win tons of scholarship money toward study abroad programs, and you can essentially get paid to travel. The first time I studied abroad, I not only had enough money for my tuition, room and board, and living expenses, I had enough money to travel to over 10 different countries during my 5 month stay.

But this amazing truth does not stop there, companies and organizations pay people to travel in their careers all the time, you just have to find out what path you need to take to earn one of those positions. One thing that inspired me to join a Cross-Cultural Studies graduate program, a sector of Anthropology, was the fact that you often have to travel to other countries to study certain characteristics of society, historical perspectives, or other portions of program curriculum. However, you can find bridges to a career that allows you to travel in many college programs and career fields. What I have learned in my short college and post-college experiences is that obtaining an education can actually be one of the greatest portals to being able to travel.

So, while I can't tweet every person on the planet and let them know of the amazing opportunities that exist for them, I can start with you. Hello, reader! You are awesome! And you can spread the message too. If you know a wanderlust that wants to give up their education, give them the encouragement to stick it out just a little longer. I have learned so much by studying abroad through universities, and without my education, I wouldn't have developed such a deep appreciation for cultures that exist around the world. I wouldn't have met so many amazing people, and I wouldn't have had as many opportunities to travel. Don't ditch your school books, use them to your advantage. They could be a gateway to your next boarding pass and adventure.