Month: November 2011

El Fin- 30 Days of Indie Travel

Today is the last prompt for BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel. I did pretty well trying to keep up with the daily prompts. Overall, I completed 19/30 prompts. Not bad! This challenge was fun in that everyday provided a different platform of discussion. Not to mention, it got my lazy ass blogging pretty frequently, which we all can attest can be challenging when life gets in the way.

Prompt #30: 2012 TICKET

Where are you going in 2012?  Why is that place great for indie travelers? 


I promised myself a trip to Costa Rica for my 25th birthday. Since my birthday has come and passed, I really need to get going. I want to have an extended stay (somewhere between 2 weeks-month). I’m planning on visiting my friend Kelly in Burbank, California in February for about 5 days to escape the cold and check out Southern California. I also have a proposed trip to Italy in March with my friend Erica. You better believe I’ll be studying up on my Italian before I go. I’ve already memorized Due birre, per favore (Two beers, please.)


As far as any of this goes, and as all travelers know, I will most likely end up in other places not even mentioned above. That’s the beauty and uncertainty of life. One day you can be going along your merry own way and the next you’re on the open road to somewhere you’ve only read or dreamt about.


I’ve worked hard this last year to try to make goals for myself and promised myself that 2012 will take me in a new direction. 2011 has been the most eye-opening, fun, difficult, freeing and confusing year of my life thus far. I’m hoping I can solidify some travel plans for the new year and make 2012 just as weird and interesting (if not more!) than 2011 has been.

Wanderlust & the video that inspired it

Today’s prompt for BootsnAll’s  30 Days of Indie Travel Project is WANDERLUSTShare a photo or video that just makes you want to GO. RIGHT. NOW.

Watching this video for the first time changed my life. It made me realize that I needed to sign up for MatadorU as soon as I could scrape the money together. Video credit to Matador Network, of course.




Ode to the Mint Julep

So, you think you’re a professional drinker? Partied with the best of them in college, always the last one to pass out? It doesn’t matter how many people you think you can drink under the table. NOBODY (no normal person, anyway) could possibly be ready for the drinking Olympics that is the Kentucky Derby.

People travel from all over the country and world to flock to Churchill Downs in their Sunday’s best. Women don the biggest sunhat they could find, linked on the arm of a tweed jacket-wearing old money fellow (if they’re lucky). That’s just the rich folk, though; ie: the ones who actually have seats. Someone like me, woefully broke and on the dime of a few friends, had tickets to the infield, arguably one of the raunchiest, drunkest, hillbilliest drink-a-thons known to professional sports (maybe besides NASCAR, but that’s in a league all its own).

We took a school bus. Don’t judge.

After being dropped off by our “private ride,” our party pre-gamed in the parking lot with cases of Natural Ice and other high class brews. Five hours of flippy cup later, we followed the mass exodus of drunks to Churchill Downs to watch the Derby. Never before have I seen such debauchery from misbehaving adults. Though it was all in good fun to buy beer by the can off the street, there was little to be said about those whose bladders were so full, they squatted behind cars and garbage cans to take a piss.

The infield of Churchill downs is essentially a backyard BBQ. Different tents are set up selling grill fare and drunks meander about musing over how much to bet on the big race. Lawn chairs and coolers make campsites and the young and old challenge each other to beer chugging contests.

Derby goers indulge early and often, I’m sure

As I perused the different tents feeling warm and fuzzy, one thing was certain: I HAD to have a Mint Julep. Ah, the images a Mint Julep conjures up: Sipping whiskey on a warm southern evening, bare feet up after a long day of hard labor. I was drunk from the romance of it all (or was it all that Nattie Ice?).  I imagined someone like Colonel Sanders would be passing out Mint Juleps nearby.

“Hey where did you get that?” I asked one unsuspecting, busty blond woman sucking one down.

“Over there sweetie! Just follow the loop of tents around and you’ll see the line! Nothin’ like a Mint Julep on race day!”

Score! The line was long and I was feeling hot and dizzy from all the cheap beer and the hot sun. When I finally ordered my Julep from some college girl working the tent (totally disappointed), I felt like I was livin’ the southern dream. I took one sip and I knew I was in a whole other league of hard-balling drinkers. They made these Juleps for professionals, not some beer chugging amateur like myself. I was taken aback at how strong this drink was. Traditionally made of bourbon, water, sugar and fresh mint sprigs, the julep isn’t much unlike a Mojito. It was something about that Early Times whiskey that washed over me in the wrong way.

I drank half of it and gave the rest away to a friend. I traveled half way across the country to have a Mint Julep and it was so strong I couldn’t even finish it. At least I made off with the souvenir glass!

Me and the Julep. My friend Dan’s face says it all

There’s no place like…New York City?

Another week, another roundup. Here’s this week’s BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel  prompts and responses!

Prompt #13: HOME
For some people, no matter how much they love traveling, there’s always no place like home. Other travelers make their homes wherever they happen to be. Tell us about your home – where is it and why do you consider it your home? 

This song always reminds me of the importance of home in Chicago. Whenever I go home, I’m surrounded by people that love me and I love dearly. Family, friends and neighbors are almost always still there and willing to get together, to catch up and have a good time. Going home is sort of like a good stretch in the morning; sometimes it only lasts for a short time, but the familiar sights, sounds and tastes fill me with a tingly goodness from my head to my toes.

“I feel home when I see the faces that remember my own.”

Prompt #14: QUOTE
What’s your favorite quote about travel? Why does it stand out to you? 

This may come as no surprise that the quote at the top of my blog,Wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go,” is certainly a favorite of mine. It was Anthony Bourdain who said that. He also said something along the lines of, “The more I travel, the less I know.” Isn’t it the truth! Some things you encounter while traveling are truly stunning. My sister and I had a moment in Montreal where we wondered, “Are we in Heaven?” We really are just a small piece of everything going on out there in the world. Travel puts into perspective just how beautifully dynamic and culture-rich our world is, all while sparking the desire to see MORE.

Prompt #15: CITY 
What is your favorite (or least favorite) city and what do you love (or hate) about it?

I have a love/hate relationship with New York City. Every time I arrive, I step off the bus in Midtown, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for a Big Apple adventure. I’m filled with awe and wonderment at all the movement around me. I muse over how fast people move and contemplate how everyone’s unique lives intermingle in a common surrounding. I’m always astounded at how MANY people there are and equally impressed that New York City really IS the city that never sleeps! People hang out in the parks and walk the streets, conduct business meetings meet up with old friends, you name it, at any hour of the night. It’s incredible.

That being said, the feeling of claustrophobia becomes too much to bear. Subways are crammed full of people like sardines in a can. People can be rude or worse, dangerous. Although I love NY, I don’t get that feeling that I’m able to stretch out (that’s my Midwest roots talking) and really make the place my own. But isn’t that also the beauty of it, too? So full of struggle, strife, happiness, food, culture, art. New York City is life.

Prompt #16: BAGGAGE

Mental baggage can weigh us down as much as physical baggage when we travel. How do you travel lightly – either emotionally or physically?

As much as you can let baggage get you down, as Kanye West says, “I can let these dream killers kill my self esteem, or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams,” you have to convert negative energy into positive action. A major reason for my moving away from home was to get over a broken heart. Instead of sitting home, lulling over the guy who wouldn’t call me, hurting myself further, I took that negative mindset and developed it into a positive, proactive mindset that led me to want to explore the world, one small step at a time. Sometimes baggage can get you down, but if you can find a way to tread lightly and true, your travels will be that much more rich in meaning.

Me and my best girlfriends in St. Louis. I felt free.

Indie Travel Week 3 Roundup: Photo Essay

Time for this week’s roundup of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project. Each new day brings a new travel topic to expand upon. This week, I present a photo essay of the prompts.

Prompt #9: One Day  
Travel helps us better appreciate the present moment instead of always looking to the next thing. Describe one perfect day you had while traveling this year. Where were you? What were you doing? And what made it perfect?

 Site-seeing in my new city Philadelphia, strolling through Olde City, enjoying a beautiful fall day alone. 

Prompt #10: EARTH
At what point in your travels have you felt most in tune with the Earth? Share a story of how you interacted with the local environment or nature.

It sounds crazy, but this photo is from a trip that changed me forever. I traded in corporate drudgery just days earlier. Here I am in Gulfport, Florida (near Tampa), selling fresh watermelon on the Gulf with my best friend in life. Suddenly everything was right in the world.

Prompt #11: FEAST
For some of us, food isn’t just a part of our travels, it’s the reason why we travel. Whether you travel the globe to try new foods and use food to form a deeper connection with the culture or just eat to live, food plays a big part in the travel experience. Share a food-related story from your travels or describe your best meal.

So many good meals shared at this South Philly spot called Oregon Diner. Just take one look at the pastry selection!

Travelers meet dozens, if not hundreds, of new people on every trip. They may become friends, enemies, lovers, and resources; they may stay in your life forever or be forgotten the next day. Tell about a time you felt a powerful connection – for however long – to another person while traveling.

 Perhaps the only existing photo I have of Mike (far left), our Australian friend/tour guide in Montreal, QC for the day. He showed us such good times!

Notes on the Ghetto & Chanelling My Inner Hippie

It’s time for the next installment of BootsnAll‘s 30 Days of Indie Travel challenge!

Prompt 5: KINDNESS – One of the greatest joys of travel can be the random acts of kindness you’ll receive from total strangers. Have you ever found kindness from strangers in unexpected places?

Absolutely. Sometimes I laugh at myself for being scared of strangers. They are usually as confused, if not more confused than me when traveling. When someone holds open a door me, gives me advice on how to hail a cab, or straight up rescues me from the dark mountains where I’ve been inexplicably lost for the last 9 hours, I feel grateful and astounded that people care so much. These are the things that remind me to pay that kindness forward.

Prompt 6: FEAR – Just as travel can be fun and exciting, it can also have its challenging, or even downright scary, moments. Being in a new place pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us face our fears. Tell about a time you had to face your fear when traveling, and what was the result.

One of my first days driving around Philadelphia, like most newbies, I accidentally crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River into New Jersey. What’s on the other side? Only Camden, a city known for its crime rate and “urban dysfunctions,”  to put it lightly. I was lost in the straight up ghetto and scared shitless. I had no GPS, no map or directions and no balls to get out and ask someone for help. I called a friend back in Philly for help and he gave me the best advice: “Drive toward where you feel  like the water is.” Oddly enough, it worked.

Prompt 7: CELEBRATE – Joining in a local festival, holiday or special event is a great way to learn more about a local culture. Share the story of a celebration that meant something to you on your travels.

While in Montreal this past Labor Day, I went to a day-long drum circle called the Tam-Tams, a special event that takes place every Sunday in the summer. It’s held in Mount Royal Park on the east side of the mountain near the George-Etienne Cartier Monument. Drummers, dancers, hippies, freaks, families, artists, stoners, students and grandmas come to hear the beat of the drums, smoke marijuana and dance the day away. It was one of the most fun days of my life.

The crazy crowd celebrating Tam Tams

Prompt 8: LOVE LEARNING – Travel and learning go hand in hand. Travel teaches us not only about the world and the people in it, but also more about ourselves and our own ideas and values. What has travel taught you this year?

Traveling this year has taught me to be flexible. I have had to make last minute alternate arrangements, but in the end I’ve found that it’s always worth it. When I missed my bus to Boston to catch a connection to Vermont, I was forced to drive to Vermont from Philly instead. What I discovered was beautiful upstate New York, Lake George and the Adirondacks. I’ve also learned to be confident and honest. When people ask me why I moved here, I no longer beat around the bush for an answer. Now it’s: “Because I wanted to try something different!”

Tale of the Night Owl

I left the house unprepared. It was 4:30 a.m. and I was on my way to thePhiladelphia International Airport.

I parked near a friend’s house ready to make the mile-long trek to the Elstation with my suitcase and two carry-ons. As I walked through the dark neighborhood,a working class part of the city now populated with starving artists andlow-income families, I was scared. Any area underneath the El is notoriouslysketchy. Abandoned warehouses tagged with graffiti made me feel like I was inGotham City.

I made it to the El, lugged my things up two flights of stairs only torealize there was no attendant selling tickets. How could I have been sostupid? It was 4:30 a.m. after all.

I walked down the stairs, defeated, sweaty and on the phone with a cab companywhen a sole black woman saw how pathetic and lost I seemed.

“Where you tryin’ to go honey?” she asked.

“The airport. I have no idea how the night schedule works,” I admitted.

“Why you gon’ take a cab for? The last night owl bus into the citycomin’ in five minutes. We just take that down to Market East station. That’swhere I get off for work, been doin’ so for 40 years. You’ll catch the trainthere to the airport. Jus’ follow me,” she said.

Sold. I followed my new friend named Shelia onto the bus. We zippedthrough the city, passing beautiful murals of strife and conquest. The streetswere quiet and empty. No tourists lined up to see the Liberty Bell.Independence Hall was dark.

We turned onto Market Street and I saw City Hall with its illuminated yellowclock, William Penn standing atop  the gargantuanstructure of granite and marble. It’s a building that always makes me feelregal and proud.

Our bus crawled to a stop and I followed my veteran tour guide into the dark.She hobbled onward, the 40 years of hard work evident on her frame. I stillstruggled to keep up.

“Lord, it’s days like today we jus’ get out of bed and wait for Fridayso we can have our weekends off to be with our families. E’ryone love Fridays.”

We walked into Market East station, Shelia saying I’d need $7 cash for the trainfare. I was embarrassed to admit that I only had enough money to ride the nightbus.

“Don’ worry, that’s what I’m here for. I’ll take you to the cashmachine.”

I withdrew $20. I lucked out having had met Shelia underneath the El tracksin the dark.

“Now don’ miss it. The train gon’ be here any minute now. Have a safetrip!” Shelia yelled after me.

I rode the escalator down to the platform waving goodbye toShelia.  The train pulled in, lulled to astop.

“Train to Philadelphia International Airport! Cash only!” Theconductor yelled.

I handed him my $20. I knew to expect change.

Nightmares, Dreamscapes and a Killer Soundtrack

The writing events going on in the month of November seem endless. The one I want to participate in is BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel. Are you participating? The concept is easy and encouraging: Each day to your emailbox, you are provided a prompt to blog on. Between moving and other projects, and inspired by fellow Matadorian Candice Walsh‘s interpretation, I will be doing a single post based on that week’s prompts.

Prompt 1: GOALS- What were your travel goals last year? Did you accomplish them? What travel goals do you hope to accomplish this year?

2011’s goal list. Almost accomplished all!

This year I had to start with the basics. I had just moved cross country from the Midwest to the East Coast to try something new. I was eager to travel up and down the East Coast. This year, I have been able to visit Washington D.C. twice, New York City three times, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Vermont and Montreal, QC. I also achieved my goal of finally obtaining my passport and taking the leap into travel writing with MatadorU.

This upcoming year, I am planning on following my dreams by completing an extended stay out of country, whether it be with a workaway program or teaching English abroad.  

Prompt 2: EMBRACING CHANGE- Change can be exciting and bring new joys into our lives. But it can present challenges that frustrate or annoy us. How has travel changed you in the last year? Did you welcome these changes or resist them at the time, and how do you feel about them now?

I have tried to welcome any change that has come my way, no matter how frustrating or rewarding. I have developed a thicker skin learning the different customs and way or life of East Coasters. While I have stayed within my same country, things differ radically from back home, from how people drive and handle snow (being from Chicago, I’m a bit of an expert), to handling the ridicule that comes along with calling soda “pop.” I’ve learned to be proud of where I’m from and I believe anything that I’ve experienced thus far has only caused me to grow as a person.

Prompt 3: MUSIC-Music and travel memories often go hand in hand. A song can inspire our explorations, or it can take us back to a specific place and time. Tell us about your travel playlist and what it means to you.

Since moving out here I have been really into Hall & Oates. That sounds so unbelievably cheesy, but people LOVE Hall & Oates here! I have listened to a lot of Steely Dan, tons of soul/funk like Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown, and of course, tons of rap/hip hop. There’s something about Drake and Lil Wayne that make driving through rush hour bearable. 

I’ll always remember driving through the hilly and winding roads in upstate New York’s Adirondacks to Steely Dan

Prompt 4: MISTAKES
Everyone makes mistakes. We forget to ask for Coke without ice in Mexico and spend the rest of the trip in the bathroom. Or we arrive at the airport for a 7pm flight only to realize the flight left at 7am. Tell us the story of your worst travel mistake.

Never mock trail warning signs

I’ll keep this brief only because it’s an experience that was very dangerous and embarrassing, but a few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I got lost in the Pocono Mountains at Jim Throrpe for 9 hours. The trails were poorly marked, as we were hiking in Pennsylvania Gaming Territory. It wasn’t until dark and a VERY treacherous, beyond-expert hike through the back country that we were rescued atop a mountain by 3 counties of fire departments. I will absolutely NEVER depart on a hike ill-prepared and without doing research on the trail first! What a nightmare.