The Shore Was Made for Scavengers

Following my graduation from the Jersey Shore beach paradise that is Monmouth University, I did the most reasonable thing and I could think of rented a house a block from the beach for the winter with no job prospects in sight. What could possibly go wrong?

As I signed my name in blood in that overly-air-conditioned Century 21 office three months before graduation, I knew, as a hopelessly logical human being, that what I was doing was stupid. I was panic-struck I wouldn’t be able to afford my rent, I was petrified that it was much more difficult than I had imagined to find a job, and I knew that employment down by the shore was few and far between. However, that panic was outweighed by an even greater fear – that of returning to the mountains with my parents. I hoped it would all just work out. 

I couldn’t even bear the thought of leaving my one true love, the shore. I couldn’t imagine not hearing the waves as I slept or taking an afternoon walk down Ocean Avenue or staying with all my beachrat friends in one-square-mile seaside towns. I literally didn’t know if I could fathom the loss of the paradise that I had grown accustomed to for the last four years.

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So I signed, and nine long months proceeded to drag by, similar as to how I dragged my tattered suitcase on the floor back-and-forth and back-to-forth from my dream-like beach home to my new-found place of employment… two hours north.

Even though I had fun (on the weekends) – I enjoyed long crisp runs on the Long Branch boardwalk, supplied a boarding house for my backpacked friends, and wandered to my favorite seaside bars and restaurants only miles from my house – the whole debacle was a nightmare. I totaled my car, put 9,000 miles on my new car in six months, spent money people spend to live near their jobs only I lived two hours from my job, and pretty much gave up my life for a constant view of the ocean. It was not worth it. It did not all work out.

I grew resentful of the place that I loved. I angrily drove down Ocean in my 9,000 miles-older car, glaring at the winterized and empty version of the place that used to be mine. I probably spent most of my time in my room, drinking wine alone and packing my things for the next journey north, which came every four days at which point I would camp out at my mother’s home for three days (an hour and a half away from my work also) before returning back to the shore.

But, thankfully, all bad things must come to an end. The lease ended, I got a new job, and… I moved back to the mountains. With my parents.

This transition seemed equally daunting. Move home? Back to the middle of nowhere? With my… mom? Oh god. Why life.

However, the summer started up quickly and my friends rallied me to their places in Seaside, Point Pleasant and Long Branch. Most weekends, I run around my room, eagerly throwing my belongings into a patched backpack before getting in my car and eating my dinner on my lap so I can make it to my friends’ homes before they go out for the night. I sleep on dingy basement couches, I eat Jersey bagels from my driver’s side, I shower at the beach, and… I’m so happy. 

Things will probably change once the summer hoopla wears down and I miss my beach (and my old reliable beach house) once again, but for now, I think a lot of the shore appeal for me is the nomadic pull of it all.

Part of the fun is wondering on Friday afternoons, How am I going to get there? and Where am I going to sleep? I kind of like trying to find a secluded spot to change clothes in my car or sketchily sneak into bathrooms. I like not knowing when my time in paradise is going to end and who I am going to end up seeing from my favorite spot on North Beach. If paradise becomes the everyday, is it still paradise? If it becomes your home, can you resist not taking it for granted, not counting its flaws? Can you get sick of the most stunning window view you could ever think up?

I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that the shore was made for scavengers with backpacks in their cars and dirt on their faces… which is why that’s where you’ll find me every weekend, every time.

Be Your Inner Crazy Grandmother Dentist

When I asked my 75-year-old grandmother if she wanted to visit me in Florence, Italy for the weekend, I didn’t really think she was going to say yes.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want her to visit – hell, the more the merrier when you’re running around Europe armed with only a reusable water bottle and a Wal-Mart backpack – but realistically, why would someone choose to fly 5,000 miles and spend around $1,000 for one weekend, especially at an age when most are packing their bags for the nursing homes?

But she did say yes, and even better, she flew to Bergen, Norway first to spend some time with the fam before hopping on the next flight to Florence where we visited the Perugia Chocolate Festival and bought obscene amounts of Baci, hung out at the Boboli Gardens and basked in the sun, and spent our (few) evenings at local trattorias, drinking fine wines on the house with the friendly owners.

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I can’t say I’m really surprised at the fact that my grandmother wore me out, a freshly energized 21-year-old, when after being divorced from her husband and house-wifery around 40, she headed back to school to become a nurse, moved to Florida, and still works as a nurse today as she takes her time off to hop around Europe and skiing in the West.

I won’t lie – I don’t see or speak to the lady very often and when birthday cards come around, they’re regularly empty. Even though I have family members who are spiteful of her absence, I have to hand it to her – she’s living the dream at 75. Missing out on it at 25 was never a reason to mope.

When people are young, they make a lot of excuses not to travel. When I was in school, students I knew made studying abroad to be this huge endeavor, when really all it took was a summer of extra shifts at the diner, some responsible saving and papers to fill out. Even though it’s these kids who have the real opportunity sitting right under their suitcases, I’m beginning to see it’s the more seasoned citizens who take advantage of their time by spending it all where it counts.

My friendly neighborhood dentist is also in his 70’s, yet he spent the last weekend before Good Friday in New Orleans, dressed to impress and rummaging the streets for Mardi Gras. It’s actually pretty difficult to get an appointment with him because he’s always away in the Galapagos Islands, Venice, or Thailand, armed with his camera so that he can print out his professional-quality photographs and hang them all over his office ceiling (for patients staring up at it from the dentist’s chair). I actually feel pretty guilty when he asks me “What’s up?” and I have nothing to say yet he responds that he spent last week in Aspen or visiting his son in Hawaii where he works as a scuba instructor. Oh, and he also runs a Christmas tree farm…. in his spare time.

It may be because they feel they’ve deserved this time after a lifetime of raising their bratty kids, it may be because they finally have the cash, or it may be because they’re realizing they spent too much time sitting at a desk under florescent lighting and it’s time to make up for those years. Whatever the reason, if my 75-year-old grandmother can hop on an international flight for some stellar pizza, so can you. Learn from your elders and take the time to do what you want now instead of making up a new excuse for every decade of your life. Be your inner crazy grandmother dentist.

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Why I Love Being Poor

“Jen, I could seriously hook you up in a heartbeat,” says my father. “Why the hell wouldn’t you want to work on Wall Street?!”

Like everybody else who has ever existed, I would love to dine with millionaires on two-hour lunches, drive a red Ferrari, and wear $2,000 shoes… from nine to five, Monday through Friday. As Jordan Belfort so kindly pointed out in The Wolf of Wall Street, “I’ve been a rich man and a poor man, and I choose rich every time.” I, too, have been a rich woman and a poor one (although not quite as rich as Belfort) and although I relish extensive shopping trips and boat outings, there is one occupation that I feel is better off experienced as a nomadic, dirty being – and that is of a traveler.

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I’ve stayed in fancy chain hotels in Budapest and hairy hostels in Milan. Although I kind of remember laying in that Budapest Marriott and watching some Disney movie on TV, I can vividly recall the off-green Italian hostel with pubic hairs littered on the itchy twin bed next to the barred window. I remember sitting up at night, wrapped in my sweats, trying not to touch anything as I listened to the drunken tourists stumbling home from outside. I remember spending the day being dirty, wandering Milan with a backpack strapped on wondering where I could pee. At the chance of sounding like your mom, being a poor traveler makes you interesting, resourceful, and perhaps most appealing, the most captivating storyteller on this side of the Atlantic. 

I’ve purchased overpriced designer dresses in Madrid and lost my shoes at the airport. That navy blue dress still sits like-new in my closet from four years ago, a little too European and expensive for anything casual here in the States. However, my $20 brown boots from Kohl’s ventured Italy years later, stomping the cobblestone streets during the night many times over before eventually falling to pieces at the Amsterdam Shiphol Airport. It’s the cheap items that become priceless; living out their days being worn and being useful before dying a noble death most likely outside of the confines of your closet.

I’ve met rich Columbians with closets as big as my room and dirty Australians who spend their days wandering shirtless. When we think of the rich and powerful, our minds default to thinking of their exciting lives jet setting the world, eating the finest food, and rubbing elbows with the coolest people. In reality, it’s the nomad travelers that do this without ever having to fake one sentiment. I’ve met countless backpackers who spend their days with smiles on their faces picking fruit, bar tending, and food running as they see countries that others don’t even consider as destinations. It’s these behind-the-scenes people that live the real adventures, not the ones who have never had to leave their comfort zone.

I’ve eaten “top-notch” food at the finest restaurants in the world and home-cooked stews on grandmother’s porches. It’s undeniable that $100 steaks and the rarest wines aren’t scrumptious, but when you leave, what else do you have to say but Wow that was a great steak but now I’m out $200? When I think back to my most memorable meals, I don’t think of these gourmet pastas at tourist spots but instead I remember the nights I spent on Norwegian porches sampling home-cooked elk and whale with a view of the fjords below. Food needs a story – something you won’t find for many restaurants in the guidebook.

Being rich is great when you’re a shopper, great when you’re a businessperson, and great when you’re trying to impress the flavor of the month. But when that time comes around when it’s my turn to see the world once again, I prefer to revert back to the filthy nomad I am at heart.

The Traveler’s Dilemma: Hostels Versus Hotels

Originally posted for MyFunkyTravel.com

When I booked my weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast as a Florence study abroad student, I figured I was making the obvious choice when I chose a hotel instead of a hostel. The idea of a hostel brought forth horrific film images of dingy basements, fake blood, and conniving Europeans. However, upon stepping into a dingy econo-lodge reminiscent motel, equipped with stray hairs and sour milk, it quickly became apparent which was the better choice, especially when checking out the modern, chic, and youth-friendly hostel down the road.

As in all situations, one isn’t always better than the other, however when it comes to backpacking, hostels are bound to be your better bet with a little bit of background research beforehand. So why are these colorful cohabiting pseudo-homes so much cooler and more fun than your run-of-the-mill hotel?

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Hotel Verona in Milan, Italy

1. Hostels keep you social. Unless you specially request a private room, normally, hostels bunk you with a bunch of other rowdy travelers like yourself – they usually have between four to sixteen beds per room, although some can range up to 100 beds. For some, this may be a turn-off, but for young backpackers, especially those flying solo, it’s the easiest way to grab a travel buddy and make international friends for the next time you hit the road. What better way to make friends with someone than to brush your teeth next to them?

2. You’ll meet more “travelers” than “tourists” at hostels. When staying at hotels, you’re bound to run into some loud little kids, stuck-up tourists, and confused vacationers. However, at hostels, it’s a sure bet that you’ll be with other adventurous backpackers that you’ll have more in common with and can stay in contact with for years to come. The average age of one staying in a hostel is between 18 and 26, according to Rick Steves, however there is no average age or demographic of one staying in a hotel.

3. Hostels add an interesting new level of surprise to your travels. A hotel pretty much always looks like a hotel, especially if you’ve opted for a chain or you don’t have the dollars to drop on a luxury hotel. However, hostels tend to be more optimized with amenities, activities, and décor related to the city you are actually staying in.

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Image of Generator Hostel Dublin, Ireland, Photo Courtesy of generatorhostels.com

4. Hostels tend to run much cheaper. Because you usually share a room with other travelers and they are geared towards younger travelers, hostels are almost always much more cost-effective than hotels, especially if no loyalty points are involved or you’re only staying for a night or two. The average nightly price of a hostel is only between $20 and $40. If you can part with Egyptian cotton sheets and private bathrooms, then the hostel price is worth it.  

5. Hostels tend to be locally owned and operated. If you’re pissed that your room is sub-par and you complain to the desk staff at the local Holiday Inn, the college dropouts at the front desk probably don’t really care. However, when you’re upset about an issue with your hostel, the person you are complaining to (or praising) at the front desk, most likely owns the whole place and they will personally help you handle your issue and can easily change hostel policies to avoid that issue at a later date.

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Image of Goli and Bosi Hostel Split, Croatia, Photo Courtesy of whatwedoissecret.org

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.

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?

3

The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

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.