Is the American Dream really a nightmare?

Uh oh.

The fun and games are almost over. My year on the road is officially coming to a close.

This year has given me a lot of time to contemplate the kind of life I want to live and I delved into many living situations to find out which best suits me.

I’ve surfed couches, beds, blow-up mattresses and tents. I’ve lived in cities, jungles and just about everywhere in between.

As far as what’s best, no place is “better” than any other. But I think there are certain ways of living that reflect more mainstream America ideals, such as life in the suburbs.

I just came from the land of aloha and my heart and mind is open to tolerating all walks of life, all professions and all sorts of different people. But one thing I can’t stand is the mindless ideal of the “American Dream.”

Talking with my friend Monica from Colombia, an au pair in Virginia, she was kind enough to give me an honest assessment of her time in America, especially in comparison to life in Colombia.

She expressed that many things in America are plastic, both literally and figuratively: that our happiness is fabricated. Our beds are bigger, our portions are bigger, our opportunities endless. Yet, somehow people are still unfulfilled. Why is that?

Is it because are arrogant enough to believe that we are “owed” the creature comforts of Wi-fi, satellite TV, Starbucks lattes made with skim milk (nevermind what farm that milk came from, or even bothering to learn your barista’s name…)? With freedom should come a certain amount of self-education and responsibility.

What do I mean by that?

How many of you know how to farm? I learned the basics, and I mean the bare essentials, of farming only 2 years ago when I started a small vegetable and herb garden in my Philadelphia urban dwelling. I lived in the city, but everyday for breakfast I managed to collect almost all of my ingredients from my garden: chives, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro. I worked in restaurants where everything was supplied from Lancaster County, PA and everything was sourced locally and home made. I became aware of where my dairy and meat came from. I learned to appreciate what it means to grow your own food instead of relying on a grocery store all the time to provide it.

I learned sustainable and organic farming in Hawaii. I helped harvest and collect pineapple, papaya, mint, mamaki, spinach, holy basil, avocado, Hawaiian bird peppers, eggs, bananas, macadamia nuts, and a myriad of other items. I know growing patterns and basic mulching techniques. I know how to weed and supplement my diet off the land. Is there anything more satisfying than a meal made from things plucked off of your own trees? Hardly.

Bounty, Hawaiian Style

Living this lifestyle helped me appreciate food as precious sustenance rather than a commodity owed to me by grocery stores and nameless/faceless farmers.

Another thing I see on the mainland is mindless consumption.

People complain about how much money they DON’T have, but continuously frequent drive thrus for iced coffees, can’t bear to quit their mani/pedi habits and buy thread after expensive thread at Victoria’s Secret. They run their AC on days when windows would be just fine. They eat out twice or more a week instead of cooking their own food. They spend money getting drunk as sin on weekends in bars where prices are notoriously high. They mindlessly consume television advertisements, sit by idly with eyes glazed watching commercial after commerical about whitening their already impeccable smile (thanks to their expensive health insurance and religious whitening regime). They throw away perfectly recyclable materials. They throw garbage in the streets. They litter.

Is this the American Dream? It sounds like a nightmare. 

Are you guilty of these things? I was at one time, only because I didn’t know any better. I spent my money on expensive restaurant meals and cigarettes. I believe I deserved a good job because I was educated, American. I scoffed at bruised produce in the grocery store. I littered. I’m not proud of these things. But travel changed me for the better.

I’m now a conscious consumer. I farm or at least try to grow some of my own things. I NEVER litter and I actively recycle. I turn off the water when washing dishes, using this Earth’s precious resource sparingly and wisely. I sign petitions again developing natural farmlands and protecting our oceans. I volunteered at an eco-hostel for the better part of a year.

Love yourself enough to love your environment

I urge everyone to look at their lives and decide, honestly, whether or not they are living the best version of themselves. Take responsibility for your life rather than expecting someone else to do it for you.

Instead of taking advantage of your liberties, earn your liberties.  WORK FOR the respect that so many people around the world give Americans. Self-start. Farm. Know what the hell you’re doing and why. Pick up a book, turn off the television and learn to do something you’d ordinarily pay for. There’s enormous satisfaction in self-awareness that money just can’t buy.

A Day at Wivenhoe Dam, Australia

We packed up a barbie, some chairs, an inflatable kayak and we were off, driving on the left side of the road on the other side of the world.

I had just arrived in Australia, my first out of country experience, and I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for who I’d meet, where I’d go and what I’d see.

I decided to check out Brisbane for about 2 weeks during my stay in Oz. In order to fit my budget (and to learn what was like for an Australian family), I did a home stay which I organized through Helpx. *Side note: I can’t say enough about Helpx, travelers! Don’t be put off by the subscription fee. It’s been worth every dime and more!*

I stayed with a youngish, modern and hip couple called Angie and Gary. Angie worked for the local government while Gary was a chef at a nearby college. They met in London years ago and since had traveled the world together. They opened their home to travelers in order to show Clancy, their young daughter, the ways of the world.

Meet Clancy. This girl has style!

I arrived as Fresh American Meat. When Gary picked me up from the train station and we arrived home he announced, “I found an American!”

That day I was greeted with a lovely lunch and some introductory conversations. But then we were off to explore.

Wivenhoe Dam was on the agenda, about 50 miles from Brisbane. We ended up at a place that’s actually an artificial lake, which made swimming safe (no crocs to worry about!)

A day at the dam

As Gary inflated the kayak and Clancy put on her lifejacket and immediately took to the water, Angie pointed in the distance.

“Look there they are! Some kangaroos!”

I almost fell over in shock. Wild kangaroos were galloping and bouncing about. I definitely was somewhere far away from home.

Where was I? What day was it? How was I on the other side of the world where marsupials bounced around freely? I grew up in the Midwest of America with the likes of squirrels and deer. To be honest, kangaroos are a bit mangy and not very cute.  They’re just as common as deer back in the U.S., but that didn’t make it any less cool to see them hopping around.

Straight up chillin’. Australia’s hot, yo!

Gary and I paddled in the kayak around the lake, taking in the scenery. He was very curious about me and admitted to adoring America and Americans.

“So what do you think of this place?” Gary asked me.

I could see were enormous, beautiful bluish grey mountains in the horizon. The sun was hot on my face and the sunglasses I had borrowed from Angie kept slipping off my nose. All I could conjure up was that this area of Australia reminded me of a tropical Vermont.

I think that observation amused Gary because I heard him repeat it several times throughout my stay with them. Having traveled America extensively, he was very familiar with the North east and I think his laugh was in a surprised agreement. What a strange pairing, Vermont and Australia. But what can I say? It worked.

We had a delicious barbecue next to the lake as the sun set. Typical fare was had like sausages, bread, steaks and chips.

Fire up the barbie

Shortly thereafter, I went to the bathroom and almost sat on the biggest toad I’ve ever seen camped out in the toilet. I then saw an enormous spider, the likes of something you’d see in a zoo. To Ozzies, that’s the norm. They’re just part of the Australian package.

Let it be known: if you’re weary of wildlife, exercise caution when planning your Australian holiday! I never let it get the best of me, but the squirmish better beware.

After sunset we left and I felt lucky and happy to be taken in by such a kind family who wanted to show me their little slice of Queensland heaven.

The uncertainty of the travel flow

Traveling opened up about a million cans of awesome, and almost as many cans of worms.

This year alone has been my greatest success. I conquered continents. I traveled here, to there, to here and to there again.

A lot of people ask me, “What are you running away from?”

I like to answer, “It’s not a question of what I’m running away from, but what I’m running toward.

The line, though, my friends, becomes pretty blurred after months on end on the road.

I think I’m suffering from travel burnout.

Correction Sydney airport, home is where I lay my hat

Sounds like a pretty nice problem to have, huh?

Traveling is great and has afforded me some awesome opportunities. I burned my tongue silly on the hottest goddamn pepper in the world. I cuddled koalas in Australia, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef (saw some sharks!), swam with dolphins, surfed wild waves, learned Hawaiian permaculture and enjoyed my fair share of California sunsets. I have juggled the most amazing friends and lovers all over the world.

I’ve seen things people only dream about. I woke up from a reality that I perceived to be my only way of life. Then I realized how much more there was out there to see. A dizzying amount of opportunities. How do you know which one is right?

Who is who?

Like I’ve decided earlier, I’m calling Hawaii my home. I’m in search of something more permanent. I loved meeting and creating contacts all over the world. I love having friends that I can stay with or call or share a memory with, but saying goodbye time and again has become so very difficult for me.

I think Anthony Bourdain said it best:

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

In Hawaii, I met some amazing, life-altering soul friends. We shared many philosophical conversations, resources, adventures, work life, the works. Leaving them was especially difficult. Are these people meant to come into our lives to make an impact forever? Certainly. How do I cope with feelings of greediness?  I want them all in my life always.

Part of my jungle family

I think it comes down to making decisions and following your heart. It was a difficult choice to leave home to travel in the first place. I remember after my going away party, I cried for hours wondering why forces were pulling me away from a comfy, lovely and perfectly wonderful support system: my family and friends. But cutting that cord offered me a million unique opportunities I would’ve never had otherwise.

Is that always the compromise? While traveling, I missed my family and friends and wished they could be with me. But I know that can’t be the case, because when I’m alone, I’m a free agent. I can re-invent myself somewhere totally different. I can go my own way without preconceived notions of who I was before. It sounds bizzare, but your reputation, even when it’s good, follows you and hinders you in some ways.

I’ve been able to let go and be completely me on the road, getting into shenanigans & cars with “strangers,” eating exotic foods in exotic locales, learning about things I might not have been exposed to before. That to me, was worth the pay off of leaving home.

Dragonfruit..tastes like a hot pink kiwi…who knew?

But now, the new experiences have become a bit daunting. Experiences end as quickly as the they began. New faces become old friends on Facebook in the matter of months, days even.

I’m ready to set up shop. I’m ready to set up a support network. I’m ready to hang up the vegabond hat for a while in search of the elusive dish-all over coffee or a beer best friend. I want a dog. Hell, I even want a partner. I want people I can look at at the end of the day, smile with and feel a piece of my heart and soul growing, rather than having to have it all torn away week to week, day to day.

C’mon, let’s share the view

After all, happiness is only real when shared.

How do you cope with the  travel blues?

A Hawaiian Hui Hou

I left the Big Island to travel to the mainland to see my sister who just had a baby. I am an auntie for the first time! It’s a boy: Thorston Sanderson Kozak Grosse, 9 lbs, 5 oz., given life the au natural way.

I had to say goodbye to the Big Island and the jungle for many reasons. The biggest of them all was money. While traveling full-time this year, I had to keep a keen eye on my budget and plan for when it would be time to get back to work and make more money. That time is rapidly approaching, but like I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been given the INCREDIBLE opportunity to travel the world and pick somewhere to make my home.

Another reason I left the jungle is because it was time for me to re-integrate myself into society. Though I loved my kooky little jungle family, it was becoming a drag to hitch-hike to the nearest store (while my perfectly good VW Beetle lay dormant in my parents’ driveway some 4,000 miles away) that was five miles away. The mosquitoes became ALMOST too much to bare, and I was in desperate need of my belongings de-molding.

A bamboo hut I called home for a few months

In any case, Hawaii is my home and I will be returning in a month when I’ve settle my affairs back on the mainland.

I dream of a life in Hawaii: learning more about organic farming, sustainability, getting into my body and becoming more acquainted with mother ocean.

My last day on Big Island was emotional. I spent my last afternoon basking in the Hawaiian sun at my local beach, Isaac Hale State Park, affectionately dubbed “Pohoiki” by locals because it’s right at the end of Pohoiki Road. It was almost like any other Saturday down at the beach: families having picnics together, surfers catching waves, dogs and keiki (children) running about. But then something special caught my eye.

I saw the most beautiful bamboo canoe. I was so enthralled by its size. Never had I seen such a gigantic canoe that stunned me where I stood. Usually I only see battered fishing boats and some kayaks going into the boat ramp at the beach, but this day was different.

Traditional Hawaiian canoe

I noticed there was a sea burial ceremony going on in the midst of the burrito guy selling his fish tacos and the families enjoying some fun in the sun. The services were taking place under a small tent in the middle of all the action, and after the Hawaiian priest said his blessings, it was time for the canoe to set sail and release the ashes into the mighty Pacific.

If there’s one thing I learned about Hawaiians, it’s their celebration of life. A burial service, instead of being a solemn event, its na ho‘ohiwahiwa o ho‘öla, which means celebrating life. As the canoe glided into the ocean, I watched the family members gather around the shore to say goodbye to their loved ones. They were dressed in casual but tasteful island ware and looked serene and happy.

A woman from shore says goodbye

I sat on the shore and watched 8 Hawaiian men row the canoe with the ashes out to sea. Those at the beach that day swimming and surfing took a moment to respect the life of the departed. As the canoe rowed further into the distance, people from the party let loose red roses into the water, carefully placing them down, watching the canoe row further on still.

I sat there floored. It was the most beautiful ceremony I’ve ever witnessed. Not only was it traditional with the canoe and ashes being scattered into the ocean, but the deceased was being honored amongst the living, the Hawaiians, locals and visitors all enjoying life and their Saturday together. It was such a proper last afternoon in the Big Island.

A red rose memory

I struggled leaving that day, but was an appropriate goodbye filled with much aloha. Aloha is technically a word to mean hello, goodbye and express sentiments of love, but I felt that it wasn’t goodbye, just see you later. I know many of the family members had to have felt the same way as they celebrated their loved one’s life. In Hawaiian Hui Hou means see you later. I know I will call Hawaii my home in the near future, and I hope that one day those at Pohoiki will be reunited with their beloved family member. We will all come together again later.