The Scent of Southampton

As a true-life Jersey Girl, to me, the shore is the mark of many: the destination I inadvertently end up most weekends, a place where every beach house, no matter the size, has at least 14 mattresses, lit-up and almost tacky sprawling boardwalks, and the biggest hub of the best bars and the coolest people I can come across.

With only a few weekends left in the summer, I decided it may be time to take my shore life to new horizons – the horizons of the Hamptons, that is. The Hamptons are sort of like the Jersey Shore of the North in the fact that similar to how New Jerseyans flock to the Shore every Friday afternoon May through September, New Yorkers hop on 495 and head to the Hamptons on their summer weekends.

The difference is that the Hamptons have an intoxicating smell of money.

Driving into Southampton, a traffic-ridden drive of about four hours from northwestern Jersey, I clutched a sheet I had compiled with activities to do with some angst. There weren’t many, and for one I gave up and listed a beach just to hit four. The place wasn’t made for toddlers.


 Biking by Agawam Lake on Gin Lane

When the highway turned into quaint lanes, this became much clearer. Otherwordly mansions beckoned from behind six-foot-tall hedge barriers, BMWs and Range Rovers literally lined the streets, and brick walkways had the undeniable air of trying too hard to be normal with perfectly manicured shrubbery and purposely vintage decor.

Not to say it wasn’t lovable – just fashionable. After we checked into our hotel, the Southampton Inn, which was voted the Best Family Hotel in Southampton by the Travel Channel, and we took the complimentary shuttle to Cooper’s Beach, which sits about a mile and a half away from the hotel and costs $40 just to park for the day.


The Southampton Inn

Pulling up to Cooper’s Beach after winding down the dark, romantic roads of Southampton, its immediately obvious that this is no Seaside – the sign proudly boasts the beach’s status of the #1 Beach in America (it is consistently named one of America’s Top Ten Beaches) and islanders are dressed in designer garb and carry everything from designer towels to designer beach bags. The beach is undoubtedly nice – clean, white sand, clear waters, and no clouding of pollution or artificial lights. A thousand identical umbrellas bloom from the sand, rented from the beach shack and grill (equipped with a deck) near the parking lot.


 Cooper’s Beach, consistently voted one of America’s Top Ten Beaches in America

From where I sat, I could hear dozens of conversations I definitely didn’t hear often in north Jersey – how a mother was trying to get her kid into Stanford, the most stuck-up private schools in Manhattan, why some college kids just loved Seville, France, and how only those that lived in Scarsdale grew up in a “bubble.” Even as it got dark and we hung around drinking local wine from plastic cups, the beach stayed packed with families watching the weekly plays and movies that show and hosting bonfires.


Cooper’s Beach by Dusk

Cooper’s Beach calls Meadow Lane home, a modest name for a lane that has a median home sale price of $18 million. David Koch, William Salomon, Calvin Klein and Gerald Ford all call the five-mile road home, and one another, neighbors. Being the unashamed tourist that I am, I mercilessly snapped photos of the hidden mansions as we cruised by – the only Jeep to grace the road among the Audis and the only one to even bother looking out the window to admire the works of real estate art.


One of the many mansions of Meadow Lane, where the median home price is $18 million

Later, when I ran down the streets in the morning, it became obvious who was a tourist and who was a native based on who gawked at the multimillion dollar mansions. I constantly checked out faces walking and in cars, wondering who was a famous financier I had read about or just another normal loaded local.

I was shocked to find that as we drove the lane, we came across an attraction that I hadn’t researched and set on my list – Shinnecock Bay, which lies on the other side of Meadow Lane. The Bay has many rustic docks and walkways that run into the water, where homebound beachgoers stop to watch the sunset, fish and boat. We hung our legs over the water, scaring the minnows and snapping photos as the sun went down.


 Sunset at Shinnecock Bay

Even as we drove inland to Southampton Village and up Main Street later in the weekend, the classic glitz did not stop. Most homes on the beach-country roads had domineering gates and more hedges and trees blocking any views to even see one brick of the buildings that lay behind. For the ones that did, we tried to glance at their beautiful wrap-around porches, waterfall pools and private tennis courts.


 A very secretive driveway of First Neck Lane

Main Street itself is lined with well-cared-for flowers and benches and, of course, designer boutiques where I didn’t see one piece of clothing for under $179 (most disappointing). Every restaurant had white tablecloths and asked if I wanted tap or sparkling. Tate’s Bake Shop, located just north of Main Street, felt like being home again besides more BMWs that parked in front and ran in for a cookie. An award-winning bakery featuring vintage decor and a grandma’s-house feel, the place feels remote from the other gaudy shops nearby.


 Vintage shops near Tate’s Bake Shop on North Sea Road

Southampton felt like a step into a reality that I had only ever seen on television – the owners of pristine penthouses in New York City, flocking to their wealthy beach houses where they needed no boardwalks, clubs or fried food to entertain them. Instead, they were surrounded by private pools, beach clubs and tennis courts where they took the yacht out for a spin and talked about the merits of investment in French accents.

However, as exhilarating as it was to listen in on those lives and pretend to fit in, at the end of the trip, I was exhausted. Not just exhausted for myself in always having to wear my best clothes and pretend to not be shocked at an $80 lunch for two, but exhausted for those around me. I wondered how the teenagers felt, straddled in their button-up shirts who probably just wanted to go drink beer with their friends. I wondered how this life made you into someone you couldn’t recognize and why, at 145 miles between, it felt so very far away from the nearby beaches that marked my very existence.


Shinnecock Bay

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

How To Be Homeless

As of today, I can confidently say that I am a semi-functioning, fairly responsible, well-on-my-way adult. I know how to boil water, I do my own laundry (and nails), and I have a full-time job that I have to wake up obscenely early for. However, adulthood notwithstanding, I still insist on acting like an absolute homeless person from every Friday at 5:00 pm to whenever I happen to wander my way home on Sundays, obviously in time for dinner.

Being that Long Valley sucks, I make my way to (anywhere else in the world) each weekend, relying on cheap food, draft beer, sleeping bags in the trunk of my car, and the extreme generosity of my poor friends to make my way through this three day nonsense fest. Luckily for you, dear reader, I’m about to share with you how to make your time on the road as easy as a casual day at home.

1. Sing for your supper. Literally? Well, you can if you want to, but if the sound of your voice makes dogs cry, then I more mean along the lines of making it worth the while for your friends. Yes, they love you– they’ve been with you in the good times and the bad, the sober and the not-so-sober. However, even still, your hapless body on their couch drinking all their soda isn’t the most pleasant of sights. So, do what you can to help them out. Offer to drive, insist on paying for their drinks, tidy up their room while they’re in the shower. Don’t take the fact that you’re technically a “guest” for granted– guestdom doesn’t exist until one of you actually has money. In the meantime, you’re a good-for-nothing freeloader, and remember that and act accordingly. Be the one who leaves their living room cleaner than you found it.

2. Make their friends your friends. There’s one thing I can say for certain – the person who stands in the corner sipping on a Ginger Ale is never the person invited back for a second visit. Your friends may love you, but they don’t want to babysit you. They don’t want to be the one who has to entertain you. Even if they, or the night, isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, pretend you have been best friends with their friends for years. Be chatty, ask questions, and be friendly. Remember that unlike people you meet at school or at work, this is your one shot ever to win someone over that you probably won’t ever see again, but your own interaction with them will prove a lot to your friends who don’t want to be the one feeling guilty because you’re off moping on the other side of the bar.

3. Don’t just hand over your dollars. When on the road, it’s easy to drop money on stupid stuff because you feel like you’re on vacation. If you’re off every weekend like me, you’re probably not on vacation. This makes it imperative that you do not constantly splurge on nice food or constantly forget your toothbrush and have to buy new ones. So scope out that free beach, bring a couple snacks that can possibly work as small breakfasts, and for Christ’s sake bring water so you don’t have to keep buying those overpriced $2 bottles. A little extra planning pre-trip goes a long way.

4. Scope out free things. Once again, with a little extra planning, you would be shocked at how much free stuff you can snag. For example – this weekend, I casually walked by the beach patrol stand and sort of used the beach shower alongside brightly-dressed families on vacation as my daily shower. Nbd. Getting dressed in the car and doing your makeup in public bathrooms is all in a day’s work.

5. Don’t be afraid to get a little scummy. When living on the road, you can’t sweat the small stuff. Would you rather be changing in your room than in the backseat of your car in a crowded parking lot in broad daylight? Yeah, probably. But consider all your options, and when that’s your best bet, shrug it off and remember that we’ve seen it all anyway. Think logically, figure out who you can bug and where you can go to get what you need, then take it with a grain of salt and act confidently and unapologetically.

Living out your car isn’t the most glamourous of things. Your car quickly becomes full of garbage and sand, as well as every outfit you could possibly need, and you can often be found with your hair piled on top of your head and carrying a lot of bags. Scummy? Sometimes. Tiring? I would say so. But exciting? Always.


I don’t know why but I feel that this photo is very relevant


All kinds of lifestyles inevitably bring forth different types of dress. You live in the South? You’re probably rocking some sun dresses and cowboy boots. You party in the city? I can guess you’re running around in bright, metallic shirts and skirts and high heels. You’re hanging at the beach? If you wear clothes at all, then it’s probably perfectly acceptable to stroll the street in your bikini.

And, fittingly, those who choose to roam the world have developed their own sense of style for themselves. It doesn’t usually consist of bright colors, any sort of elevated shoe, or jewelry that could attract a mugger. However, one thing it does do is notify the world that you’re in the road business for the long haul. Here are some key pieces to help you pick out those who don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight:

1. Crossbody bags, not purses. I don’t want to say “purse,” because the world “purse” in itself implies something cute and compact. Crossbody bags are great because for some reason, they never run out of space to stuff your water bottle, extra pair of underwear, and random piece of bread. Oddly enough, even though they probably cost under $10, they also tend to last years on years helping you tote around town.

2. Many, many elastic hair ties. Don’t let the name fool you- hair ties aren’t just for hair, although they are handy for when you suddenly decide to jump into that lake or need to take a run for your money, literally. However, they’re also pretty great for tying up your skirt, cinching a too-big shirt, and securing the tops of bottles. Who would have thought?

3. A most-likely stolen watch. For most rogue wanderers, a cell phone, especially an international one, is probably out of the question. There’s too many fees, too many risks, and let’s be honest here, it’s probably not going to make it home in the first place. However, a scratched up hand-me-down watch is perfect for blaming when you miss the train once again.

4. Shirts from the side of the road. One time I was making fun of my sister and calling her own style “hobo chic,” in which she confidently told me, “You found that shirt you’re wearing on the side of the road.” Actually, in truth, MY FRIEND found that shirt on the side of the road and gave it to me. This isn’t the point. Soft, worn clothes that have seen the world have character! Stories! Plus, when you fall in the dirt you won’t mind nearly as much.

5. Stacked jewelry, also most likely stolen. For some reason, even though stacked jewelry attracts muggers and thieves, wanderers love this junk. When running the world, we want to take something with us, and God knows we’re not taking a magnet. Instead, we buy something little and glittery, something that feels almost magical and can be carried without being carried.

When you’re on your next family vacation, take a look around. If you see someone wearing all of these things and looking a little soggy, chances are that right now, they’re already scoping out their next bed.


So is Culture Shock What They Call It Now?

Upon our university orientation to our semester in Italy, a few very misinformed school employees told us about a phenomenon known as “culture shock,” which basically are feeling of sadness, frustration, and anxiety as one attempts to assimilate into life into their host country. Being that Florence is basically America, I feel that “culture shock” didn’t really exist for us. Maybe if one of us spoiled New Jerseyans was studying abroad in Gambia, but we’re not. It’s Florence, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

However, “reverse culture shock” is another story entirely. While we all fit in quite nicely, albeit for a few small frustrations and discrepancies, into our new pseudo-Italian lives, getting back into our lives as over-indulgent Americans was a little more of a struggle.

When I first got back home, I was excited! Overwhelmed! Joyful! at finally being back at my nice quiet home, where I could eat buffalo wings and donuts for a buck and ride in a warm car to get somewhere. However, this joy was short-lived… which wasn’t surprising since it mostly revolved around American bacon. Soon enough, I was looking around every aspect of my old life, which was now my new life, and wondering… Why?

Bacon Flowchart

Exhibit A: Yesterday I drove from a Kohl’s to Target, probably about a mile from one another, although on a busy road. As I got back in my car and didn’t even turn on music for the ride, I thought to myself… if I was in Florence right now, I would be walking. And that would be okay. I wouldn’t be releasing poisonous fumes into the air or wasting gasoline, but I would be getting a bit of fresh air (although cold) and that would just be life.

Exhibit B: Once at Target, as I tried to buy some food for my mother, I literally felt so overwhelmed I almost had to leave and I was enormously thankful my mother also showed up around the same time. With my little hand carriage sitting beside me, I was wondering why I didn’t get a cart. What size milk I should get. Why there were so many goddamn brands of bacon. How do people do this? If I was in Florence, I would have walked into a store the size of my room, got everything I needed, and I would have been able to fit it into my backpack. Probably would have made a few friends, too.

Me, Food Shopping

Exhibit C: Yesterday, I drove in my car about 30 minutes to get to the mall. If I was in Florence, there would be nothing that I needed that would have been more than 30 seconds away. Yet here, everything is so incessantly spread out, probably so some rich CEOs in their mansions can have some breathing room.

I could honestly go on about these instances forever, and I could even limit them to my experiences on that boring Friday that was yesterday, but I’m guessing you would be pretty bored by then. Now that I am back home, I look around at this disease of over-indulgence and I just wonder…why? What are we getting out of this? I don’t want to get too political here because that’s just not my point, but this country is in 16 trillion dollars of debt, 28 percent of people are obese (which is the second highest rate, behind Mexico, then all other countries), and we take up five percent of the world’s population but we use 20 percent of the world’s energy. I think it’s pretty obvious something is wrong here.

That’s not “reverse culture shock,” people. It’s more like having your eyes open, for the very first time.

The Excuse Counter

When I think of courage, and probably when you think of courage, too, some similar images come to mind:




But travelers? Really? However, lately since I’ve been home, when I tell people about all the cool stuff I got to see and do while abroad for the semester, they respond with “Oh, how admirable! How fearless of you! How wonderful!” And then I got to thinking. Maybe traveling also, in and of itself, demands quite a level of courage alongside its much more prestigious counterparts.

When deciding to study abroad, and many of my other trips as well, I never even felt like I ever had a choice. This is because I know myself, and when I get an idea in my head, even just a tiny inkling of Oh, maybe I should give this a shot, I know I have to do it or else I’ll regret it forever. I’ll always wonder what if and it’ll kill me a lot quicker than a downed plane or a nasty gypsy or living under a bridge when I lose my wallet ever would. Instead, I just shrug my shoulders, take a deep breath, sign my name, and hope for my best.

However, possibly for me but most definitely for more psychologically sound persons, traveling is courageous. To give up everything you know and love, to get on a plane with people you don’t know or barely know (yet), to learn a language, to try food you can’t pronounce and may or may not have eyes, to fit everything that means anything to you into a backpack but also remain detached enough to understand something will probably happen to it. This is a different kind of courage, alongside its calling.

There are millions of people out there who have dreams of seeing the world, who define themselves as being “aspiring world travelers,” but will never even apply for their passport. There are millions more who will always say next year, when I have more money, when the kids are grown, when the house is sold. These are excuses. An excuse that carries the same weight as one from someone who won’t take out the trash or won’t go to the gym.

Lots of people spend their lives standing in line for the excuse counter. Get out of line.

The Excuse Line