The Saga That Has Been This Year!

After returning from Europe in the beginning of this year I was still in a state of constant transition. Half of my belongings were in upstate New York, a quarter on my back in the pack I’d been gallivanting through romantic European destinations with, and the rest of my worldly possessions in my mother’s basement. I decided to move in with her briefly, to “figure my life out”. I was delivering groceries about 11 hours a day, trying to climb out of my European Vacation money pit. While not the most stable point of my year, beyond all that came after, this was the most special time to me. I haven’t lived with my mother and sisters since high school, and we were all under the same roof again.

Growing up with a single mom and all sisters we are indeed a pack of Amazon women strong, independent, driven, and ferociously supportive of each other. My family is everything to me and to have the Girl Gang back together meant more than the world… even if it meant sleeping on my mama’s floor in a technically two bedroom home, converted to 3.5, but currently housing 7 humans…. Then came good news all at once, I was accepted into the University of New Haven for a fully funded masters program in Environmental Science AND I was accepted into a separate summer internship to work with US Fish and Wildlife at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.

I had my assumptions about spending the summer in the middle-of-nowhere, MN. Wow was I wrong! Tamarac now holds a special space in my heart as one of my favorite locations on Earth. It was the peace, solitude, and wild strength I needed after my time in Europe and in DC. The people I worked with at the refuge became family, I love and miss them all. I learned so much, but that wasn’t what set this experience apart for me. It was the first time working as an intern where I didn’t feel like I was just absorbing knowledge, I felt valued and my confidence grew. As the internship progressed I felt more and more like a contributing member of the team and a sense of pride and independence I hadn’t felt before blossomed within me. The most important lesson I learned in that forest had nothing to do with the swans, the sampling techniques, the way a National Refuge operates; the most important thing I learned was how to start truly trusting myself again. This is something we have a firm grasp on as children, and unfortunately for most of us as we get older that trust in our intuition fades. I grew this summer from somewhere deep in me, while deep in the woods… into someone stronger, someone familiar, someone I once was, someone I always have been.

That was far from easy, growth never is. The usual lessons were learned, that you can’t take every thing, person, or idea you once held onto with you. Losses I’m still grieving today. I left feeling brand new, at peace, ready for the insanity that would be August. Since I am apparently insane… I decided that it would be a great idea to do a “few fun things” before I buckled down into my graduate studies… those few things included vacationing in Jamaica, visiting Ithaca, moving into a new apartment, working for a week and a half for my professor in the lab, and flying to the west coast to go to Burning Man again. Yeah, I know. So off I went. I left Minnesota on the 25th of July, and 28 days later I am on a flight to California writing this post. I started with an epic and eventful road trip, where I spent the night sleeping at a truck stop just outside of Chicago, and got from MN to DC in barely 2 days, which is about 20 hours of driving folks… if I made zero stops. I had then three days before my flight departed for Jamaica, which I had yet to pay for, thank the Goddess for sisters that can spot you $, and my ability to contribute to a trip with my master planning skills and intense Virgo organizational habits that border OCD! I spent those days packing and catching up with friends and family! Then paradise!!

I thought I was going to just luxuriate buuut I ended up being the master-planner-mom for my sister’s dirty thirty, where out of 9 people she was the only person I knew. I coordinated the logistics for her and 8 of her friends, and all though I was “busy”, I realized I LOVED it. I knew I liked planning, thank you September birthday, but I didn’t know how fun it was to coordinate a big trip like that (I’m weird I know), and to top it off I absolutely adored all of her friends! We stayed in a villa, had a personal chef and driver and butler. I have never traveled like that in my life and it was fabulous. I stayed an extra two days and traveled a little more my speed (I spent one entire day sleeping), but then I hit the beach and the markets and local eateries. I stayed in a hostel right in the middle of the gritty city of Montego Bay for about $20 a night and I was in heaven. Just drowning in a culture so similar to my own having grown up in the Virgin Island, yet so unique. I ate myself silly. Then home again home again jiggity jig. I was thrust back into reality.

Ok, let me preface this next part with… yeah I know I’m not the most conventional, and as much as I just said I love planning… that’s usually just for other people when it comes to me, I prefer the procrastination route. So, now it’s the 9th of August, I need to be working in my lab the morning of the 14th…. I don’t have an apartment, I don’t have any of my belongings, oh… and I don’t have any money. Like I have $150 in my account, which fingers crossed covered the gas to get there. I was banking on a loan coming through, but come to find out that won’t clear until the 28th. Moral of that story… have friends that love you like family and family that’s ready to ride-or-die like best friends! I figured out the money, packed a truck my mom would drive later that weekend and headed up to Ithaca, NY to collect my storage. I spent not even 24 hours in Ithaca, I loaded a Uhaul, again thank you for humans that love me enough to lift heavy objects for me, and strapped my car to the truck then checked in for a brief night of sleep.

Next day… dooms day, I actually can’t even… I will save what happened the next day for its own very special post called “Try and Move When Mercury is in Retrograde, I Dare You”, yeah it was that bad. Long story short for those of you who are tired of me and won’t be reading the next post…. Every possible piece of equipment malfunctioned, every apartment was rented, Murphy’s law was running around in its birthday suit having a damn field day! The universe eventually came through and by 6 pm I had an INCREDIBLE apartment with an amazing landlord in an awesome part of town. I actually live in what everyone refers to as “the hood”, but it’s my people… black people of all backgrounds, tons of Caribbean people, I’m walking distance from an organic grocery store and 4 Jamaican food spots… it’s a dream. I’m also a 6-minute drive to campus and less than a 4-minute drive to the downtown area of New Haven. My mother, who had met me that morning with the truckload of my things from DC, picked the most incredible restaurant and we went out to congratulate ourselves on surviving the day.

I slept the entire next day. Then it was Monday, I had to start work. That whole next week was spent meeting lab mates, collecting crabs in the marsh, running around filling out university paperwork, and pretending to unpack. I had zero time to get anything done in my house. The weekend came around and I was living out of suitcases and boxes, I couldn’t even start to unpack because the apartment was unfurnished and I had nowhere to put anything! I spent Saturday buying an entirely inappropriate amount of Ikea furniture, and all of Sunday marathon-assembling. Come Monday, work again. This is when it sinks in that I leave for Burning Man in just over 48 hours…. My apartment is chaos and not only do I have to unpack all my Burning Man gear I also have to then sort through and pack what I need for this year. I honestly couldn’t stay up past 8 pm, my body was revolting… it was like screw you, we have been in transition for almost 28 days lay down… OR ELSE.

I had to listen I had no choice. I slept through the night like a baby, wishing in the morning I had just pulled at least one all-nighter that week! Tuesday, my last full day in New Haven, I couldn’t pack at all because it was graduate orientation day at UNH. I spent the whole day meeting new people across tons of fields, it was a blast. When it was finally over I needed to unpack/pack, but I crashed. I attempted to take a nap and woke up 8 am. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention…. I had a 10:30am meeting with the team I’ll be working on for my graduate grant-funded research, and I needed to leave town by noon to drive to Newark to catch my afternoon flight to San Jose. Yoga breaths!!! I tell my girlfriend who’s driving me to the airport once I get to Jersey my “status”…. Her response “oh you’re playing with life today”, she isn’t wrong, haha I never have been this unprepared for Burning Man. 

It would seem an impossible feat, but apparently, the universe is into cosplay as much as I am. I move faster than maybe I ever have in my life. I spent the next hour cleaning and organizing my apartment to an acceptable state, then 40 minutes deciding what I needed to bring to the Burn this year, and 20 minutes packing it. I was only 5 minutes late for my meeting. I then drove back to my house, picked up my bag and packed a few last minute things, I was on the road at 12:20. I got to Jersey in time to have lunch with my friend and her beautiful baby girl before heading to the airport. Here is where I take a bow…. Thank you, thank you, but I can’t take all the credit for this impossible circus act, let’s hear it for the Universe!

As I type, I’m snuggled into my Alaska Airlines seat, which I didn’t realize was premium and comes with free drinks… I love surprises. I’m three glasses of wine deep, and happy as a clam. It’s been two whole years but I’m finally heading “Home”, Burning Man here I come!!! Overcome with emotion my eyes started getting watery.. my emotional state is totally exacerbated by the Pinot Gris and the mama rocking her 4-month baby next to me (I have baby fever), but it was more than that. I was having one of those heartfelt moments when one realizes how incredibly blessed they are… and how little that has to do with anything material in their life. The sheer amount of love engulfing me every day I wake up is an outright miracle. I love my life, and I love unconditionally the people who have chosen to be integral parts of it.

Well, that’s all for now folks. I will check back in after I am done getting good and dusty!

 

Olivia, Olive, Ollie.

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In Defense of Wanderlust!

The life of a travel blogger, or a travel-addicted nomad, posing as a travel blogger (shhh don’t tell anybody), is a lifestyle often accused of residing “out of the box”. The fact that I can live from a singular backpack for a year, or that I have been known to go without a permanent address for months at a time, can sometimes make folks uneasy. To live this lifestyle you find yourself sacrificing that night out again with your girlfriends, incessantly ‘instagraming,’ locking yourself away for hours on end to write (not good at this one yet), and my least favorite… missing lots of holidays. When people ask you “what’s your 10-year plan… or 5-year plan… or 2-year plan… ok, what the hell are you doing next month?!?” I usually giggle and give them the same response every time, “Something fun I suppose,” and throw my hands in the air the way I do caution to the wind.

I am certain at least a few of you have experienced that this lifestyle isn’t always well received by family and friends. I remember right out of college, after working my butt off at an Ivy League school (literally… cuz those hills on Cornell’s campus are no joke), my family was like… ok and next. They didn’t miss a beat, it was “where will you be going for your Ph.D.?”, I was in no shape to hop back into the term paper saddle, let alone begin a full-blown career. After 4 years at Cornell, I wanted to take a nap… like a nice year-long nap. My ‘gap year’ turned into two, and my family continued to freak. I continued to rebel… the wild child that I am, what else did they expect. Those 2 years turned into four, but it didn’t take all four years for them to get the picture that I would be living life in my own way and on my own timeline. Every single person came around to that idea, they saw the joy that traveling brought me, they saw that I wasn’t starving or homeless (except when I elected to live in and out of hostels and on stranger’s couches for months at a time in developing countries… but that is a technicality). I had the support of my family, which actually means everything to me… no matter how many times I tell my mom that I don’t care what she thinks.

Unfortunately, their acceptance wasn’t where the difficulties ended when it came to choosing a life of adventure over sitting complacently while being spoon-fed conformity (a tad dramatic, I know). There is a lesson I had to learn recently, one that I want to share with all those out there trying to make a name for themselves in the travel industry, the blogging sector, or really any field that goes against the traditional grain. There still may be people you actively choose to have in your life, who accept your lifestyle but resent you for it. They will ‘reason’ your love to travel away, by telling themselves that you are in a constant state of flux because you are somehow lost, and one day when you are found, then you will finally settle down. I guess it makes it easier for them to swallow the fact that I can pick up and go with such ease, if they label it with an alternative purpose, with an end game. I decided to stop letting people shame me into believing I was being selfish, I was taking too much time “discovering myself and soul-searching”. How dare I reject societal norms, how dare I not fit their mold… it must be because I am lacking, lacking something… and clearly, I am searching for it in places far and wide.

I have a secret to tell you… There is NO SHAME in spending time ‘finding yourself,’ but don’t let anyone convince you that just because you elect to live a life full to the brim with adventure and challenges, that you are lost. I am never going to stop ‘finding myself’ because that is who I AM. There is no rhyme or reason that can stand up to my love for exploration and my dedication to personal growth. I am a girl who loves to learn, to venture into the unknown, and if that unknown includes the depths of my soul, so be it. I don’t have to be lost, to adore flying to foreign cities and losing myself wandering on ancient cobblestone streets. Anyone who sees the road to self-discovery as a voyage with an actual destination has clearly never taken on the task of looking for themselves. Don’t let anyone write your life story for you, forge your own trail and love yourself every damn day that you have the courage to do so!

Road Trip Checklist: Top 5 Tasks

If you are currently planning a road trip, or even just daydreaming about one, then this post is for you! Organizing travel can sometimes feel a little daunting, but preparing for a road trip is a special kind of hectic. Take your travel plans, then add a car into the mix, and you quadruple the “what if” factor. It’s far from an impossible feat though, and it doesn’t even have to be that stressful. People say the key to success is preparation, and this holds so true for travel, especially of the road trip variety. Below I have laid out the bare-bones list for the absolutely necessary tasks to complete before the pedal hits the metal. This is just the start for many, but if you, like me, can get easily overwhelmed by an excessive amount of tasks… then just start here.

1- Get your car serviced

If you ask me, the scariest part of a road trip is that I have a giant unpredictable hunk of steel tagging along when I am used to it just being me and a pack. There are so many things you can’t control out

Ready, Set, GO!

there on the road, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way. This means getting any outstanding mechanical work done, possibly a tune up, checking all the fluids, getting an oil change, and stocking your car with an emergency kit. Some great things to keep in your trunk are a can of Fix-a-flat, extra windshield wiping fluids, flashlight with batteries, a blanket, and reflective tape are a few things I personally like to keep in my car. If you aren’t driving, then get that car rented ASAP to get the best prices.

 

2- Budget

Don’t get caught with all your eggs in one basket!

Once you have all the crucial work completed on your car, then you can take a look at what’s left in your piggy bank… or wherever the kids keep their pocket change these days. Budgets do not have to be as detailed as you might think, especially if you aren’t on a super tight budget. I always round my costs up because it’s way better to be under budget than to run out of money on the road. The typical criteria for my budget is a daily food allowance, lodging allowance (I almost always stay with friends), expected gas expenses, souvenir allowance, and account for any specific activities you already know you want to do like rafting or city tours for example.

 

The actual allocation of funds will be different for everyone, but those are the 5 core elements to budget for. Typically my lodging, activities, and souvenir budget is almost zero, as I like to bring back just postcards and photographs, but I will research ahead of time to find the best local watering holes. The last two important aspects of a road trip budget are always having access to either a credit card or a savings just in case of an emergency, and accounting for any bills that will be withdrawn while you are away. Be careful not to double spend your money in the bank.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

3- Pick Core Stops

Got Georgia on your mind?

There are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are to… (Is there another colloquial phrase aside from the “skin a cat” saying, because that just freaks me out). Anyway! I think its best to first decide if you will do a loop, or rent a car one way and fly back. Either way, you need to pick some core stops, which are the places where you will absolutely be stopping. I am sure some of you are saying part of what makes road trips great is the spontaneity, and I agree. I usually only pick a few stops in cities where I know someone and plan to spend the night. It is important to factor in how much driving per day you realistically can do, and often that defines where your stops will be. So pull out that handy map, or hit up The Google and get excited!

4- Research Weather

Not too shabby…

My favorite! I get so excited to look up the weather in all my stops, especially if I am heading south. This is important beyond picking which swimsuit to pack, knowing the weather forecast is critical for planning out time. Be sure to give yourself extra time if you see the weather will be particularly bad. If you check the weather often before you leave and see rainy days ahead, you should have enough time to reroute a few of your stops… if you happen to be chasing the sun like myself.

 

5- Copy and Share Vital Documents

Once I am pretty much all set with my itinerary, I do this final step, which is far from least. It is really important to share your potential schedule with someone at home, even if it is a loose outline. I like to email a copy of my route and potential stops to my mom (I knoooow, but she is my BFF), and it helps that my loud mouth is forever on social media. In addition to my itinerary, I also make copies of my driver’s license, and I keep in my glovebox and another copy in my bag. This is also a great time to double-check you have current copies of your insurance and registration in your car. Lastly, be sure to write down contact info for a few people close to you and keep that in your car. I know with cell phones hardly anyone memorizes phone numbers anymore, so in the off-chance you need to make a call without your phone handy… a pen and paper might just be what saves your behind!

#WatchMeRoadTrip

On the road again… no literally on the road this time!

I take pride in being quite the jet setter, but this time I’m hitting the pavement rather than the clouds. I am off on my first ever long-distance solo road trip, and I plan to stop in at least 8 cities on my very roundabout 6 day trip to my summer internship. The environmental education internship I was accepted into will be taking place in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

Yes, I said Minnesota… and why, might you ask, is my first stop down south? I guess just cuz I roll like that (horrible pun I apologize.. HA!) Actually though, I had planned a trip south in coordination with a conference in New Orleans. I never did save up enough money to take that trip earlier this year, but my heart was set on seeing some old friends along the way to NOLA. When I was informed that I needed to bring my car to Minnesota for my summer internship position, I decided a bit of a cross-country loop was worth the extra mile… or few thousand.

My current plan consists of driving from DC to New Orleans, stopping in Charlotte, North Carolina; Aiken, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia. Then I will head north from NOLA to Minnesota, stopping in Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Minneapolis, Minnesota. Finally, by the end of the weekend I hope to arrive in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota just in time for my internship that starts bright and early Monday morning!

Insanity to most, just another Tuesday for me and my Zippity*

You Can find me on Instagram and Twitter, both can be found through the home page of this blog. Keep up with my WatchMeRoadTrip hashtags, and read real-time road trip confessions on twitter, come with me on this epic 6 day journey!

*Zippity is the name of the adorable Honda Civic behind me.

R&R at a B&B 

This past weekend I took an extra couple days off for some R&R at the BEST bed and breakfast in Virginia. OK I am slightly biased but very rightfully so. In Hillsboro, Virginia a quiet town of 88 residents there is a magnificent bed and breakfast, owned and operated by my great aunt. I grew up with it as a family home and it’s now been converted into this amazing Inn in an equally awesome location. Gourmet farm-to-table bistro’s and wineries producing bold flavors are beginning to pop up in towns surrounding Hillsboro. The tiny town of Hillsboro, and the surrounding countryside, are slowly but steadily becoming more commonly known as wine country for the socialites of the Washington area. For me to refer to this rural slice of Virginia as “wine country” says a lot coming from a girl living in the finger Lakes!

 

Fieldstone Farm

 

I’m just going to give you the highlights of the trip, but for you to get the whole picture, I first have to tell you about the B&B. To say the Fieldstone Farm bed and breakfast is luxurious would be an understatement, to say it’s inviting another understatement, and to call it inspiring yet again an understatement. My aunt’s property will always just be a family home to me, but it’s now equipped with all the modern amenities you would find in a hotel with even fancier soaps and an outdoor pool! Watching this family home evolve into this “resort like” country-get-away, has been such a fun journey. The grounds which I have had many a Easter-egg hunt on, are now home to magnificent flower, herb, and vegetable gardens, perfect places for reflection. One thing that hasn’t changed is my aunt’s love to decorate, every season gets its fair share! When I was just there, every room smelled like cinnamony-goodness and my aunt was ushering in Fall in the best ways. Despite all the modern amenities it can still feel like a trip through time to 1770, with fires blazing and antique furnishings. My Aunt has done a fabulous job keeping most of the decor to date, as this property is one of the premier historical homes in Virginia. This trip I brought my partner, and maybe if I haven’t done a sufficient job getting across how amazing this place is his words will do it best. According to him, Fieldstone Farm is an antique store mixed with a Hilton hotel… or what it would look like if a colonial museum had a baby with a luxury spa, so eloquent that man of mine!

 

Welcome Home

 

Tranquility Anyone?

 

Felt like summer for a day

My Aunt recommends the best places around to all of her guests, so we are always in good hands when we go out with her. This trip she took us to one of her favorites, Market Table Bistro. This is a place one would expect to find in NYC or DC, it is hip to the local farm-to-table food scene and delivers at the highest quality. The premise of the restaurant is comfort food in a gourmet fashion… I couldn’t ask for more! Considering myself a “global gourmand” I feel arbitrarily qualified to judge this eatery, and I give it an A+. The flavors are absolutely delivered as promised, highly evolved yet familiar. I am a huge fan of restaurants with the “fancy comfort food” philosophy, it creates a space where unique and complex flavors become available to those not so comfortable outside of their comfort zone.

 

Shrimp and Grits!

 

Quail and Kale… YUM

 

The potato flight (potatoes done 6 ways)

Visiting Fieldstone Farm and my Aunt Amy is always such a treat, and since I’m back on the writing wagon I wanted to share just a bit of that magic with you. Having the chance to relax in such a positive space played a huge role in me renewing my dedication to follow my dream of travel writing. If you are ever in the Northern Virginia area, my aunt would love to have you at the Inn, and maybe some of the magic of that place will inspire you as well!!

Travel Tip of The Day!

Nothing like waking up to the sunrise from the airport floor! I love to travel and fortunately enough for me I honestly don’t mind red-eye flights or layovers sleeping on airport seats. The way I can travel so cheaply has a lot to do with the dirt cheap flights I find that have the worst layovers possible. Not everyone feels the way I do, and often times for travelers, getting there is by far the hardest part. For all those that fear the airport floor, there are a few things I always bring that make my airport stay a bit more comfortable. When my layovers are short I try to bring nothing more than a small bag, but traveling around the world requires something more substantial. I typically pack one carry on, and the easiest is by far a small backpack. If you are a backpacker then your 10-20 liter daypack will work great. To make my comfy airport bed I bring an eye mask, ear plugs, a small sweater, another sweater I use as a pillow, a lite weight sarong just to cover the seat or floor, and a small blanket (mine is actually an airplane blanket I “collected” a while ago). A book and headphones are critical, and I always bring a change of clothes (thin fabric to save space) and my toothbrush so I can arrive in a new place not feeling like I’m covered in thousands of other people’s germs. One last thing I bring that I don’t think is on most people’s airport list is peppermint oil, rubbing some on your tummy helps with nausea on the plane not to mention it smells a lot better than stale airplane air! Before I head out I often check tripadvisor for the restaurant ratings in the international wing to make my decision of where to eat easier when I’m starving and my legs are wobbly from sitting for 7 hours. If you are ever in the Bogotá airport, Orleans- American Bistro is pretty tasty… but aside from Tabasco there is nothing there that reminds me of New Orleans, that said their chowder is incredible. They also play great movies (on mute), and awesome 90s music videos at a reasonable volume during the day… at night you might mistake it for an empty discoteca. I hope this helps make it a little easier on those that loath the overnight flight, if you really need to save some bucks go for that dirt cheap flight with terrible hours and make the best of it. Happy Traveling!!