Crossing Enemy Lines

Now what do you think about THAT, Mr. German?! yells the balding old American man in a tie-dyed shark t-shirt, leaning dangerously over the table facing (who I guess would be) Mr. German. 

For some reason, American cruise lines attract a ton of international patrons, which seems odd to me considering that the whole point of going on a cruise is that you don’t have to do anything besides eat, drink and tan – flying to get to an American destination just to get on another vessel seems counter intuitive. However, regardless of the reasoning, on American cruise lines, Americans are going to interact with Europeans and Asians and Canadians and everyone in between.

For an entire subset of people kind of isolated from the rest of the world from a geographical standpoint, this is actually pretty cool. It’s fun to sit at a table full of strangers and leave an hour later collecting email addresses and Facebook usernames; it’s even more fun to find out what people do for work, where do they live, and what their lives are like across the pond (or a few ponds).

However, this type of interaction may not be suited for all, including who I will consider Mr. Shark (I really would hate to call him Mr. American). When meeting others of differing backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas, regardless of their originating country, it is obviously important to respect those thoughts and respond accordingly, especially if you disagree. (This isn’t kindergarten class and this shouldn’t need to be reiterated from a kindergarten class, but I will). Since there are boundary lines involved here, I actually think it is more important to remain respectful because we must remember that the birthplace of those ideas is extremely different, especially when aboard an international cruise ship or any other cross-lines destination.

So what was Mr. Shark and Mr. German fighting about? Universal healthcare and the effects of Obamacare. If Mr. Shark had cared more about presenting a valid argument, possibly changing the opinion of another, and learning about another’s viewpoint over the ego-boosting feeling of being right especially from an international standpoint, he probably would not have stood up, pointed his finger in Mr. German’s face, and addressed him as Mr. German in his tie-dyed shark t-shirt. Unfortunately, he did.

Although as human beings we have a lot of shared human experiences, we also have a lot of severely seperate experiences based on the country we live in, the taxes we pay, the part of the world we reside in, the car we drive, the work we do, the government we operate under, and a thousand other facts. And although it’s fun and pretty cool to pick out all the quirky similarities we share, it’s important to also remember that there is no need to stick us all in the same box and assume we all think and act the same exact way. Whether we live next door to one another or across the ocean, your experiences and thoughts will never mirror mine – and I like it that way.

As a result, Mr. Shark will never even somewhat understand Mr. German’s viewpoint and Mr. German may not ever understand Mr. Shark’s. Leaving a bad taste in one another’s mouths, Mr. Shark may never respect Germans and Mr. German may cease from respecting Americans, especially if these were their limited experiences of one another’s countries and cultures. Mr. Shark may stray away from visiting Germany and Mr. German may avoid visiting America.

Is this a stretch of circumstances? Yeah, maybe. But the point remains – Mr. German will not forget the time he went on an American cruise line and an old American man in a tie-dye t-shirt stood up and pointed and wagged his finger at him. He may not remember what the argument was, or if his shirt had a dolphin or a shark on it, but he will remember the sheer disrespect and embarrassment at that wobbly table in the middle of the Atlantic. He will remember that it was a tiny American man that did it. And, for the first time in this entire circumstance, it will become blatantly obvious that neither man has had the same experiences which led him to this opinion in the first place.

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Smitten With Sea Cows

One of the many joys of travel is that unlike your commute, unlike your job, and unlike your family, you truly have free reign over your travel plans. If you want to go away and sit on a beach with a colorful drink in your hand, you can do that. If you want to get your hands dirty and play in the wilderness, you can do that too. However, there are also some ways you that you travel that you didn’t even realize – such as that of ecotourism.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Obviously for some do-gooders out there, this is their chosen travel plan – such as visiting Madagascar to view the peculiar biodiversity and bring aid to poverty-stricken communities in the meanwhile or heading to Guatemala to learn about the historic cultural traditions of the Mayan Itza. For the average middle class traveler, though, these plans sound a little far-fetched and out of reach. They’re not. Especially you have no idea you are currently operating as an ecotourist. 

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A few weeks ago, in the heart of this nightmarish winter, I found myself in beautiful Cape Canaveral, Florida on a Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise set for Florida and then Nassau, Bahamas. Of course, being the devout adventurer that I am, I had the intention to hop on an airboat set for the Everglades to check out some alligators, then head to a wildlife park in this jungle environment to meet some monkeys, and finally eat the tails of the nasty gators at a classic Floridean lunch. It was the perfect tour – until it was sold out. That’s what you get for laying poolside for three days before booking anything.

Instead, we did the next best thing (“best” being used loosely) – the wildlife ferry tour down the Banana River. Sounds cool, right? Of course it became much more exhilarating when my sister refused to even get out of bed for it and our 87-year-old tour guide, Jim, insisted not to worry, no walking was involved. 

I took Jim’s old man jokes and the seemingly drunk ferry captain’s antics with a grain of salt, knowing that I was literally the only person on the tour under the age of 50 (who was my dad). I made myself comfortable on the back of the ferry with a pair of binoculars, prayed the boat would move a little faster, and asked my dad how much he thought the riverside apartments went for. Jim said we would be lucky to see a manatee or two on the hour-and-a-half tour.

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However, soon enough, even calm and down-to-earth and exotically dressed Jim got a pretty excited when he saw the telltale swirling water marking the sign of a manatee caused by their circular-ended tails. I still wasn’t ready to pull out my binoculars – he was going to have to do better than that. Soon, though we checked out our first manatee though a couple of minutes later, and then a few more touting about the ferry, and finally, I was eyeballing tens of them throughout the water, doing their manatee thing. I was smitten with those big ol’ sea cows.

I liked their loafing, happy faces hanging out near the Banana River islands. The wildlife tour was becoming a true-life wildlife tour - we checked out giant, stout pelicans, nobly sitting nearby in the trees in little flocks, silently watching because they have no voice boxes. My dad made ridiculous chirping noises (which kind of worked) and dolphins soon huddled around us, jumping out of the water and chasing the boat. Jim explained that since they were in little groups of two or three, they were probably young males out on their own for the first time. We checked out tiny island birds and fish swimming about the dolphins, all the while admiring the riverside cottages (and mansions) and wondering what it would be like to have a backyard filled with all this life. 

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As the sun went down and we neared the ferry docking station once again, ever-reliable Jim pointed out the strings falling from the docks, which were filled underwater with oysters that would reproduce and clean the heavily-polluted river. Jim explained that normally, we wouldn’t have even seen the manatees eating leaves off low-falling trees, but the sea grass couldn’t grow as much with all the pollution and they didn’t have much to eat. Even the little minnows hung out near the surface of the water, gasping for breath in a river that offered them little oxygen.

In an hour, you can fall in love with an ecosystem; a set of sometimes funny-looking and sometimes pretty animals that operate within the scope of one another yet over time, became the victims of pollution and consumption. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than an hour to fix that; to clean up a river that has been dumped in for years and now has a rough time sustaining healthy life. However, with the allowance of once-blind tourists and normal vacationers looking for something to do on a Tuesday afternoon to view these habitats with a worthy (yet very old) guide, perhaps a healing can actually ensue.

A Pirate’s Life for Me

As a frequent cruiser, while wandering around various ships like the lost nomad I am, I often make friends with international cruise staff. More often than not, cruise workers are from countries where job opportunities are not as great, and having the chance to see the world, make money to send home to loved ones, and create lasting friendships with like-minded adventurous people is something that can’t be passed up.

However, I will also stress that this isn’t always the case. On a recent Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise,  I met a Swedish girl who told me that she wanted to be a singer and dancer, but in Sweden, if you don’t follow the traditional career paths, you are often shunned by friends since there is a push to fit in and be “normal,” so working on the ship was her chance to meet new people and follow her dream of being an entertainer.

Regardless of why one works on a cruise ship, there are a ton of perks you literally get paid to travel, hang out with other kids who are fun as you, and meet people from all walks of life. Cons exist as well, of course – one being that working on one is really freakin’ hard. You work long hours, seven days a week, only pausing for a little under two months after each six month period. You have little time off in port and you live in close quarters with people who start off as complete strangers to you. You’re away from your friends, family, and children, which becomes a huge burden as you grow up and become a real-life adult.

Often when I go on cruises and meet these cruise workers, I ponder the pros and cons of the operation, since it seems like a pretty fun job and a great way to live in a college dorm again and travel the world. When it comes down to it though, I end up figuring that I’m probably not really cut out for such a life and I’m better off trying to find an easier way to see the world, have some fun, and pursue my career aspirations.

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On my last cruise, though, I really wondered what the hell I was thinking. The last stop on many Caribbean cruises is Coco Cay, a small touristed-out island near the Bahamas where ships unload their passengers so they can hang out on the beach, play some water sports, and snorkel or scuba dive. Each time I visit this island, I participate in a fantastic hour-and-a-half long jet skiing tour, where one tour guide leads happy adrenaline junkies around some Bahamian islands, periodically stopping at points to see sharks, swim around, or look at starfish. It’s a really cool, fast-paced and independent tour that makes you feel like you just hit the jackpot at Six Flags.

Since my parents locked all my crap in a locker when they went jet skiing and I was stuck wandering around half naked burning like a lobster, I hung around the hot Brazilian tour guides (who did not even notice I existed). The snippets of conversation I heard went along the lines of:

“Yeah, when my seven month contract ends, I’m going to go home to Brazil for a week or two, but then I’m off to Mexico to cave dive and then to Australia for a few weeks of backpacking.”

I was stopped dead in my fried, red tracks. Had I been living on another planet? How had I dared to think that a life like that wasn’t worthwhile just because they had to work a few extra hours a week? The bottom line was pretty simple. I live in freezing-cold New Jersey, where I commute an hour and a half and get home around 6:30 so I can make dinner, feed the cat, plan my outfit for the next day. On the weekends, I go out; try to make plans with friends. This Brazilian dude conducts jet skiing tours in the Bahamas and then after seven months of sunshine, he goes friggin’ cave diving and backpacking. Who am I to say my 401k is more rewarding than that?

I’m not saying that I’m the newest applicant for Royal Caribbean (or Carnival, either). I’m not saying I’ll ever work on a cruise ship or volunteer to bust my ass seven days a week or make it seven months without seeing one familiar face. All I’m saying is that a little patch of life like that from a tanned, happy man can pretty quickly make you reconsider what you’ve been doing everyday for eight hours a day – whether it makes you appreciate a quiet life with family or a wild life on the open seas.

At Home in the Garden State

When you travel and you are from New Jersey, a familiar feeling arises when someone asks you where you are from – which is that of dread. This is actually a little disheartening considering that New Jersey isn’t a half bad state at all – we have brilliant beaches, intoxicating cities, and quaint suburbs. However, one thing that non-Jerseyans are often surprised to hear (and normally don’t believe anyway, even though it’s on our license plates) is that New Jersey is a true garden state. We are surrounded by rolling hills and colossal forests that make for great weekend getaways when the city becomes too much to bear. Now that spring is on its way, take the plunge and visit some of these green destinations. Drive over to Jersey. I promise you won’t end up in the Hudson.

1. Hot air balloon over the hills. Hot air ballooning is pricey, but it’s a pretty cool way to glaze over the green Jersey landscape (even if you can only afford to do it once). Hitting between 500 and 2500 feet and lasting around an hour, you can take a look at the reservoirs, mountainsides, and even nearby New York City from your balloon. Per passenger, you can pay $215 at Balloons Aloft located in Pittstown, about a half an hour southeast from Easton, Pennsylvania.

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 Image courtesy of USA Hot Air

2. Tube down the Delaware River. Get off the ground for a little bit by renting a tube, kayak, or canoe and sift on through the Delaware for an afternoon. You won’t have to be bogged by a guide and you can get out and swim (or sleep in the boat) as much as you like. It’s a pretty easy go too – no need to worry about trying to fight down some rapids. For between $26 and $51 per rider for a five to six mile trip (anywhere between 2.5 to four hours depending on your rental), you can visit Delaware River Tubing in Frenchtown, about 35 minutes southeast of Easton, Pennsylvania.

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 Image courtesy of NJ.com

3. Rent a cabin for non-camping. I don’t know about you, but my idea of camping is hanging out at the Hilton down the street with no pool access. However, there are alternatives. If you want to hang by the forest but aren’t too keen on sleeping in a tent (umm, there are animals and stuff out there) then consider renting a cabin, preferably one near actual stuff to do (and a pool). Check out the Countryside Cottages in Bartonsville, Pennsylvania which you can rent from $200 a night and stay close to the Tannersville Outlets, American Candle, tons of casinos, and Camelback Mountain Resort.

4. Horseback ride through the West. The West of New Jersey, that is. A great way to revamp your hiking habits is to ride a horse instead and get in touch with nature without ever having to touch the ground. For $40 for an hour ride and $180 for a day-long ride at Top View Riding Ranch, you can trek through the Paulinskill Trail and ramble through the river in Blairstown, about 25 minutes east of Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania.

5. Drink fine wines. New Jersey is literally littered with wineries, which isn’t particularly shocking considering the drinks we must consume to deal with the taxes in this state. Wineries are an awesome way to spend some time outside, drink something besides Barefoot, and eat some cheese. At Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, you pay $10 to sample several wines alongside cheeses and meats, get a glass to take home, and cruise the vineyard itself in a golf cart afterwards – unsupervised.

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6. Dance with wolves. Zoos not really your thing? It’s cool. Check out the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, about 15 minutes southeast of East Stroudsberg, and get on a guided tour for $15 for an hour and a half to see and learn about four different packs of wolves. At the Preserve, you can also do a 1/2 mile hike or hang out in the observation area.

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 Image courtesy of Lakota Wolf Preserve

7. Zipline down the mountainside. If the amusement park is a bit of a hike for you this weekend, consider taking your thrills to the skies by ziplining this great state and getting some awesome views of the mountains and countryside. For $65 a person, hit the Mountain Creek Zipline Tour in Vernon (one hour from Paramus) with ziplines ranging from 200 feet to 1500 feet suspended above a mountaintop lake.

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 Image courtesy of Advertiser News South

8. Take a hike (and skip the gym). Hiking is the easiest and cheapest way to get in touch with nature, especially in New Jersey, a state that is flooded with parks and trails that are tempting to get lost on. As Carrie’s crazy ex-boyfriend in Sex and the City once so eloquently stated, “Here’s a secret… hiking… is walking.” Anyway, you can find great hidden-away trails in most Jersey cities you happen to be in, however one favorite is Tourne County Park in Denville, about 15 minutes from Morristown. With 550 acres, a climb to the top of the park boasts phenomenal views of New York City in the distance.

9. Get on your old bike. Got a crappy old mountain bike? Bring it to your local park for a nice ride around and you won’t care when it gets dirty (or destroyed). Once again, parks run rampant in New Jersey, but a great spot for mountain biking is Schooley’s Mountain County Park in Long Valley (thirty minutes from Morristown) which you can tour for road bikes or mountain bikes around the lake, fields, and up the mountain itself for a spectacular view of the countryside below.

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 Image courtesy of Flickr User

10. Bring home dinner. If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon hanging out by the lake with a beer in one hand and a fishing pole in the other, New Jersey is the place to be, loaded with lakes and filled with fish.  Lake Hopatcong in Hopatcong, near Jefferson and Sparta, is the largest freshwater lake in New Jersey and has tons of docking stations for boats, lakeside bars (check out the Jefferson House, a community favorite), and insane mansions to gander at as you attempt to catch dinner for the wife but end up stopping at ShopRite instead.

Article idea courtesy of Nick Hodgins

The Literary Hunter

Reading awakens a thirst for the world. 

Most of my first visits to centuries-old cities, cerulean cities, and chilled cliffs didn’t take place via airplane. I didn’t have to stand in lines, spend money, or even miss classes. Instead, my original obsession with lands far away came through the written word, which I coincidentally now translate to you.

I’ve never stepped foot within 20 miles of Palmetto, Florida, but through As Hot As It Was You Oughta Thank Me, that didn’t occur to me until right now. I stumbled upon The Likeness long before I took a flight to Dublin, but I barely knew the difference. I probably will never get too close to Death Valley, but when I read Born to Run, I felt like I too conquered an ultra marathon over the terrain.

It saddens me when I meet people all day long who brag that they haven’t picked up a book since they were 15. Movies are pretty cool and TV is alright I guess, but reading a book alone at the end of the day when there is nothing else to do and no one else to see and even the world is finally quiet is a special experience in itself. How can you limit your influences of worldly travel to one form of communication? Why do you think that those drones on the screen are providing you with all the necessary information? How could it be that what is worthy is only being produced in this way?

I love reading so much that when I went abroad, I was deathly nervous that I would quickly run through the books I had brought to read while waiting in airports and wasting time in cafes. These fears quickly came to fruition. However, the cinching of this (obviously) didn’t bring the end of my habit – instead, it made it into a game.

Instead of pulling my next novel out from under my bed (or popping in a DVD) I now had to seek out food for thought like some kind of hunter. I scoured the dilapidated bookshelves in my Florence apartment, cautiously snagged books from friends’ places, raided piles of material from boxes at hostels, and always kept an eye out for roaming novels at airports. I was unstoppable. When I found another book that turned out to be weird, terrifying, comforting, or even enjoyable, I felt like I had cracked the code and I was a real bona fide traveler.

Now when I run amok, whether it’s at the local university, a lonely bakery, or just nearby an empty park bench, I always return the favor my fellow faceless travelers paid me – I leave my conquests behind for the next uninspired, bored kid. I know I’m not the only one, because I still frequently find these treasures every which way I turn and I often like to consider where this person was going and where they are now. Next time you find a book, pick it up, and consider choosing it instead of the TV today. You never know who loved it last.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” - Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451

ImagePhoto Credit of Mika Urbex

Things You Didn’t Know About Me

Normally, I am a huge advocate of not getting too personal on your blog. No one cares about the crap food you ate on the plane, the fact that the dude next to you kept touching your knee on the flight, or why you now regret traveling with your mom. However, 500+ followers and 137 posts later, I feel that it is time for you to hear a little bit more about the person who is always on the Life Aboard the Traveling Circus.

1. The first foreign country I visited was Norway, which I considered the Sears of the mall of Europe. When I was 17, my poor father toted my sister and I off to Norway to meet our family members in Bergen and get some culture in our blood. At first, we didn’t see it as such – it was effing cold in the pit of July, there was way too much hiking to be done, and we were sleeping in someone’s converted library. However, somewhere between the constant daylight and centuries-old city, the whole thing became kind of cool and Norway became our underdog of Europe instead of the store in the mall people never really want to go to unless they need a dishwasher. This trip spurred my need to see more; to get out of what was ordinary.

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Voss, Norway

2. My second trip to Europe was a three-week backpacking tour of Europe… armed with one other 17-year-old. I literally have no idea why my parents let me do this – probably because they don’t like me that much. Most people end up visiting our neighbors across the pond via school trip with chaperons and respected adults – I went with my high school friend armed with a backpack from my grandmother and some clothes I knew I wouldn’t miss. This can be considered jumping in with both feet - I had never even gone camping before. Nevertheless, it was my first real taste of venturing outside my comfort zone and into London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia.

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Loch Lomond, Scotland

3. I almost didn’t study abroad because I liked a boy. And then I signed up one day because I was feeling particularly adventurous. From my first year of college, I always thought about studying abroad, but it seemed like a far-off pipe dream with all the paperwork and planning that had to go into it – not easy considering my constantly changing majors and minors and over-analyzing nature (If this is you, go anyway. It’s gonna be OK). When I was getting ready to finally do it – sign up to go to London, England for the semester – something happened where I thought that the boy I liked throughout college was finally going to give me a chance (he didn’t). I hesitated and decided to give it another year to see what happened. The next year, I took a chance and moved in with my friend, which turned out awesome, and I figured why not give this one a go too? and that day, I put my name on the Florence, Italy list. I chose Florence based on a materialistic pro/con list my roommate and I made… that day.

4. I’ve never really lived anywhere for more than a short amount of time. Until I was in fifth grade, I had never been in the same school system for more than two years, and even after this, we continued to move around for various ridiculous reasons. Even if we weren’t getting ready for yet another move, I was rarely home; instead, I was constantly staying over friends’ houses and trying to create a home for myself and get on the ins with their families so I would always be welcome. I always spent a lot of time in cars… which is probably why I feel uncomfortable being in the same place for a long period of time now.

5. I crave the dirtiness of travel. I hate to admit it, and you probably wouldn’t guess it from following this blog, but I’m the most straitlaced and organized person you’ll ever meet. I am frequently picked on for my incessant list-making and perfectionism – I battle deep anxiety if everything isn’t in its place. However, this is why I am pulled towards travel – it is the precise opposite. I like not knowing, even if just for a bit, if I will be showering that day, what time I’m gonna crash into bed, where I will crash into bed, and even if my shoes will make it to see tomorrow.

What would people never guess about you?

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The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Flying the Skies For (Nearly) Nothing

The only bad thing about finally getting airplane tickets is when you say to your friend, “Yeah, I got these tickets for only $300!” and then they come back and tell you, “Really? $300? I got the same ones to the same place for $100 two weeks ago.”

Even as seasoned travelers, buying airplane tickets can be frustrating, mostly because we are usually broke and not always awesome at math. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. You can have your cake and eat it too. Follow these tips below to always score the best prices and keep the ability to visit a new place and afford dinner.

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1. Keep flexible. Studies show that when it comes to domestic travel, flying on Wednesday is the cheapest day (followed by Tuesday and Saturday) and the most expensive days are Friday and Sunday. Also, and for obvious reasons, flying early in the morning (like six am… may not be worth it after all) is the cheapest time to fly, so you can kiss your eight hours goodbye. The next best times are during lunch hour or the dinner hour.

2. Purchase at strategic times. It’s not just about the time and date you choose to fly… it also has to do with the exact date that you purchase your ticket. Studies show that the best time to purchase tickets is at 3:00 pm on a Tuesday (Tuesdays in general are pretty good for this) while purchasing on the weekends is the worst, since discounts usually get pulled out on Thursdays to beat the weekend rush.

3. Pick off one person at a time. Last time you shopped for you and the family, what did you do? Most likely, you entered in four adult passengers, however, this isn’t the best way to go. When you do this, the airline must sell each person the same price, which is obviously going to be the highest one. Instead, enter each guest, one by one, and you can possibly get some tickets for cheaper.

4. Don’t be an early bird. It is possible to buy tickets too early – that is, more than three months in advance for domestic and four months for international. Before this time, airlines don’t release many of the cheaper seating options available. The best time for purchasing domestic flights is about seven weeks in advance, according to CheapAir.com.

5. Clear out your cookies. This is pretty sketchy, but some airline sites automatically can raise prices based on how many times you have already viewed the page. So if you have looked at United tickets four times this week, the prices will skyrocket because they know you’re pretty serious about snagging these tickets. Make sure to clear your cookies or cache history to fool ‘em.

Photo courtesy of Alex Ferrara

Thank You Camera Phone

My 20-year-old ne’er-do-well sister has a $1,000 Nikon camera that she uses to take selfies with on vacation. I have an iPhone which I use to capture centuries-old cathedrals, cerulean seas, wrinkly locals, and flaky pastries.

A couple years ago, this would have really bugged me, since before the time of the iPhone all us reject kids had to use was disposable cameras. Unfortunately, this caused me to miss out on timeless photos from my earlier trips like my first visit to Europe when I went to Norway to meet my long-lost family, a tour of Colorado where we drove from Denver to Ouray to take a look at the wild ponies and the Continental Divide, and my 18-year-old jumping-in-with-both-feet trip backpacking across Europe armed with one other confused teenager.

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These are trips I will always look back on with a smile and read about teenage angst and newness in my old journals, but unfortunately, there really aren’t photos to represent the fog over an early mountain morning or the freeze of a Norwegian lake in the summertime.

However, thanks to the advent of the smart phone, social media blew up, public information went mad, and the world became more interconnected than ever before. But one thing we sometimes forget about in the smart phone, even the camera phone, is that suddenly, everyone had the chance to capture their own images without a $1000 budget and a photo degree.

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I’m not saying that my college roommate has anywhere near as much photography talent, skill, and knowledge as a professional photographer with a budding portfolio – as a trained journalist, I know how annoying it is when people think that when it comes to the arts, it all comes easy and any kind of creative education is worthless. But what I am saying is that I think it’s pretty cool that my college roommate has as much Internet opportunity as anyone else does to capture, edit, and share their images with the world, even if only her grandma and her dad really appreciates them.

A blossoming opportunity for all will never be a bad thing. Instead, now when I venture off to see the world, I’m not hoping that my disposable camera film doesn’t run out or that the photos are too dark – instead, I feel confident to grab every lame sunset and every towering peak, lighten up every color and define every line so that not only can I show my mom the cool places I went, but I can look back on journeys that barely need words alongside them.

Keeping the World in Your Kitchen

I’ve never been a foodie. I can’t tell you the difference between cooking with vegetable oil or olive oil, I rarely use measuring cups, and I’m still not sure how much pasta to throw in the pot for two people. However, I can tell you that nobody appreciates a gourmet meal quite like a kid who grew up on TV dinners.

When I was little and I would go to the grocery store with my mother, it seemed normal to just point out what microwave meals I wanted for the week. When I would eat them at the end of a long day, I would always feel empty, a little gross, and always hungry, hungry for something with a taste; with flavor.

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Turkish lunch from Istanbul 

Getting invited to other people’s homes for dinner was always a real treat, which was why I made it a point to get in the good graces of fat Italian mothers who made it all from scratch. In my head, they spent the day poring over cookbooks, stewing pots of homemade pastas and beating down tomatoes with their bare hands. At the end of the day they would emerge from their lairs, beautiful again, eager to present finely laid out meals to their happy families and their kid’s weird friend who may or may not have lived in a car.

However, living on your own finally gives you the opportunity to live life the way you imagined it from your pink bedroom. Besides learning how to pay bills, scream at conniving gas companies, and fix leaky roofs, I finally learned how to boil water and thus began my gourmet chefdom and eventual progression into the closest to adulthood that I will ever wander.

When I went to Italy for a few months when I was 21, my newfound obsession with cooking and creating was brought to a new level when I realized I wasn’t the only one. Unlike in America, when every Internet recipe screams “easy” and “quick,” Italian recipes whispered for dutiful chefs, qualitative cooking, rich spices, and savory, dark flavors.

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Blueberry steak from Acqua al due, Florence

Although it was an adjustment to learn how to walk slower and talk faster, catching onto the beauty of food was not difficult. Finally, not only could I enjoy these creamy and pungent foods on a daily basis, but I could also create them, following vague instructions in Italian I learned from Giancarlo in my Pairing Food with Wine class and mixing flavors and spices in pots in my tiny kitchen and hoping the oven would work that day. I could spend hours hunched over dishes, but more often than not, the time would fly by and before I knew it, it would unfortunately be the time to sweep up the flour and figure out what I was going to pack for lunch tomorrow.

Thankfully, it didn’t end there – in every country I went to, I would never balk at meats, tails, or goop staring back at me – instead, I would smile, dig in, and ask for seconds. Running around the world, I have yet to run into a dish I found truly disgusting, and instead, I jump at the chance to try whale at the local fish market in Bergen, eat bratwurst and roasted nuts at Oktoberfest, and dig away at fish heads in Brac.

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Seafood pasta dish from Split, Croatia

Back in America, I talk to people all day long who ate food for dinner that had already been cooked in a bag and they’re just grateful to have some time back in their lives; for themselves. But for me, cooking is for myself, whether I’m trying to recreate a Spanish paella, master the perfect bruschetta, or throw a bunch of stuff together that tastes strangely Creole.

Even if the world is keeping me at home, it will not keep the world out of my kitchen. By the time I finish cooking dinner and drinking wine it may be too late to do the laundry, clean my room, or watch some television, but I have yet to go to sleep hungry.

A Life Of

I’ve always just wanted to travel. 

This is a phrase I hear often, mostly from people who hold down full-time jobs and have a salaried income and are looking to settle down with a house and a dog and what could be considered a normal life, a real life. Even though I am all for the average person branching out and seeing the world; visiting new countries and meeting new people who live lives completely different from anything they have seen before, it still makes me a little nervous to hear this.

For some, travel is something they want to hit on the weekends, something that, for perfectly good and logical reasoning, is not worth giving up stability and a place to live for. They want to book a trip to the beach for two weeks a year, spending a couple well-earned days soaking up some sun with a fruity drink in their hand, or maybe even still visiting somewhere new and kind of scary and exciting.

However, when I hear this, I’m the one that gets scared because I know that is never going to be good enough for me. I know that two weeks a year, a measly 14-day break from my desktop computer and my coffee cup, is just not going to cut it, no matter if the destination is the Jersey Shore or New Zealand. To me, it’s not funny that some can’t wait to finally get to work just so they can begin counting the hours they can go home and do it all again the next day. It’s not ironic, it’s just very sad.

Right now, the seams-of-your-pants, no-strings-attached, washing-clothes-in-the-sink life doesn’t feel within my reach, which seems odd because in theory, this should be easy, at the least more fun, than nine-to-five cubicle life. However, it becomes remarkably easy to attach yourself to a detached normal life, one that involves a morning and evening commute and patent leather heels. You can really do it without even thinking and barely noticing, trust me.

But what I do know is that this isn’t the end for me, and the time I have spent trying to find my place in the big scary world and finding the perfect suitcase and crafting the perfect travel pitches has not been in vain, even if today, it all seems like another lifetime and the next chapter feels impossibly far away. People say that life is short and that they should enjoy it – I actually feel the opposite. Life is incredibly long and if you spend it being bored and complacent, it is a slow-moving dragging of the feet to nothingness.

For some, two weeks is fine (although four would be nicer). But for the rest of us, we would rather face a little uneasiness and a lot of fun instead of a lifetime of simplicity and typicality.

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