Tag: Travel

Happy 2016!

LaurYn Holden (2)

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How to explain gaps in your resume because of travel

I have over 15 versions of my resume on my hard-drive. Being on-the-go full-time for 4 years was an incredible experience, but I am not independently wealthy. I had to work along the way to finance my travels. Many of those jobs were in the hospitality industry which exist worldwide.

My experience is all over the map. Depending on the job I was looking to get, I usually had some explaining to do.

Here’s a version of my current resume:

Resume Jillian Blog

As you can see, my experience is literally all over the board. It starts in Illinois, takes me to Hawaii (two different islands, now living on a third), back to the mainland in California, to Colorado and Wyoming. This doesn’t even account for a year I spent on the east coast in Philadelphia or my gap year where I traveled to Australia and Thailand.

Typical reactions I’ve received:

1. Why all the moving?

2. Hawaii? Why would you ever leave there?

3. What’s in Wyoming?

4. Looks like you’ve had a lot of fun! (This one I like!)

5. If I hire you, you aren’t just going to up and move again are you?

In my years of trying to get jobs and interviewing with every personality type you can think of, I’ve devised a way to make my travels work to my advantage. I want my prospective employer to see my frequent moves as as positive, not a negative.

Just to let you know, more than half the time, there is a stigma in the professional world when it comes to frequent travel. Some employers might let on that they think it’s cool and they wish they could travel. Some more positive interviews I’ve been on, owners and interviewers actually recount their travels with a gleam in their eye: they “get it.” I’ve actually got my job in southern California by just walking in the restaurant and handing my resume to the owner. My travels and world experience impressed him so much, he wanted me on the team. He was a world traveler himself and knew firsthand how travel makes you a more well-rounded employee.

I loved my bosses at my job in Southern Cali. I was able to taste and help order wine, eat cheese and photograph for the local newspaper!
I loved my bosses at my job in Southern Cali. I was able to taste and help order wine, eat cheese and photograph for the local newspaper!

More often than not though, people in the “real-world” are usually in a bubble. They can’t understand why you would choose to live in a jungle in Hawaii or still can’t comprehend WHAT, exactly, Wyoming has to offer. It becomes a little exhausting explaining myself to people, but hey, I DO need a job after all!

Many of my jobs have been “seasonal.” Many people I talk to don’t even know that seasonal jobs on the mainland exist. A seasonal job is one that lasts for just that, the season.A great resource for seasonal jobs is Coolworks.com. You work a summer in Yellowstone National Park, then the job ends. Then you work a winter in the Colorado Rockies at one of the ski resorts, then come April, that job ends. It’s a great way to see beautiful places all over the country while making money. It requires frequent travel, interviewing and job hunting for your next gig.

Why WOULDN'T I take a job in Wyoming where I can explore Yellowstone National Park on my days off??
Why WOULDN’T I take a job in Wyoming where I can explore Yellowstone National Park on my days off??

Making the leap OUT of the seasonal world causes you to encounter employers who don’t understand the seasonal lifestyle and wonder why you’re a vegabond that can’t hold down a job. For those people, you have your work cut out for you.

Here are some tips to get you through an interview where you have to explain gaps in your resume because of travel:

1. Make travel seem essential: When someone starts the conversation, “Why all the moving?” that doesn’t exactly sound like the most welcoming invitation to hear about my galavanting. In fact, it sounds like a threat, like they’re standing arms crossed waiting to judge my response. I found that the most effective way to soften up my interviewer is to make the strong argument that travel was essentially required for my jobs.

My response: Because the hospitality industry is world-wide, opportunities, often better opportunities, are presented to hospitality professionals who are willing to relocate. I don’t have any children and find it easy to take promotions and new positions in new locations. Plus, I have a Journalism degree, so on the side I’m a travel writer. I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and more. I wouldn’t be able to pursue my writing or advance my career if I didn’t take new jobs all over the country.

These publishing bragging rights didn't exactly come from sitting on my butt in my hometown
These publishing bragging rights didn’t exactly come from sitting on my butt in my hometown

2. Highlight the positives of travel and how it translates to “real world” experience: I always get the question in an interview along the lines of: “Tell me about a time where you couldn’t get along with or see eye to eye with a fellow employee. How did you handle the situation?” When you travel the country or the world, you’ve probably problem-solved your way out of some gnarly situations with all types of personalities. Use this to your advantage!

My response: (Start off with a specific anecdote). When you travel as much as I do, you are presented with unique problems in which you have to solve in order to survive. You meet a variety of different personalities from all over the world. I’ve become really good at reading people and getting along with others from all walks of life. Travel has opened my mind to different ways of living and respecting others’ opinions and ways of doing things. I believe my experience leads me to be an excellent team player with an open mind who is focused on nothing more than solving the task at hand quickly and efficiently.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences: It’s pretty obvious that you’ve traveled based on your resume. There’s no reason to hide behind a wall of shame. You should be proud that you’ve been able to organize a life where you’ve been able to achieve individual goals. Highlight that. All travelers, especially solo travelers, are self-starting individuals who are smart, savvy and usually great leaders.

During my tenure as a hospitality manager at a tropical agriculture farm. I managed bookings, reservations, managed volunteer work shifts and more!
During my tenure as a hospitality manager at a tropical agriculture farm, I managed bookings, reservations, lead volunteer work shifts and more!

4. When in doubt, turn the conversation around: If the specific job you’re looking at doesn’t involve travel one bit and the person interviewing you is looking at you practically dumb-founded, chances are this isn’t the right job for you anyway. In order not to thwart an opportunity, take the time to interview your interviewer. A lot of people fall in the trap of thinking an interview is all about drilling a candidate. Make sure you ask questions and interview the company. You need to know that this is the right fit for you, after all. Here are some sample questions I like to ask when it’s time to take the focus off myself:

a. What is your company culture like here?

b. What benefits do you offer your employees?

c. How does your company invest in the health and wellness of your employees?

d. What do you like about working here?

Letter d almost always puts the interviewer and I on a level playing field. I love asking that question! It usually catches my interviewer off-guard and makes them ponder, usually rather uncomfortably, what they like about working at said company. I get to sit back, smile, relax and learn about their experience and gauge whether or not this company is the right fit for me.

Overall, I’m not afraid to ask the hard questions during an interview. I’ve had so many jobs that I know what I’m looking for in a position. Travel has led me to experience many different work cultures, some excellent, some bad, and I’m able to read a company’s vibe pretty well during an interview.

The point is, don’t be scared to interview just because you have a non-traditional resume. Chances are the right person will come along and see your world experience as a huge asset. That is the person you want to be working for anyway: someone who recognizes your talents and values that you care about personal growth and experience.

Dispatches from Thailand…Vol. 1

I’ve debated for the longer part of 2 years whether I wanted to publish this, either on my own blog or pitch it out. Out of fear of ashaming and outing a once good friend due to circumstances beyond my control, I believe the friendship is exhausted, unfortunately. There’s no reason to keep the following a secret. After all, all the best writers make plenty of enemies.

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I’d never go back for only a week. And that’s only the beginning.

The trip was Madeline’s idea: she’d backpacked through southeast Asia just after high school. She raved about the food, the culture, the amazing scenery. I was all in.

Here we were 23 hours from where started, somewhere on the other side of the world – a far cry from Chicago. Three girls on a half-brained scheme to tour Thailand in one week. The plan was simple: Meet up with Madeline and her flight attendant friend Jess, use their airline benefits (thank you flight attendants of the world!) to jet off to the other side of the world, practically for free, and take in the sights. Stupidly, I had agreed to let Madeline play tour guide, given she had been to Thailand before. There was no backup plan. It was all here and now.

We were hot sweaty and jetlagged at Bangkok’s airport. First order of business: money.

We elbowed our way through the crowds as best we could on the moving platform to the ATM. First rule of international travel? Let your banking institution know you’re going.

Jess and I successfully withdraw the equivalent of $100 US money to play around with. It comes in the form of Baht, the Thai currently. It’s enough for the cab fare to the hotel and a beer and a bite, at least.

It’s Madeline’s turn. Her card won’t spit out any Baht; it’s been placed on temporary lock. She didn’t tell the bank she’d be out of the county.

“It’s okay Madeline, we have you covered this time,” I offered.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me!,” Madeline lamented. “This trip just isn’t meant to be! I’m leaving on the next flight home!”

The luxury and curse of at-your-fingertip flight access is that you are afforded the opportunity to make rash decisions. If she really wanted to, in her frustrated, travel-wearied state, Madeline could have caught the next flight out to Narita, Japan and wait for the next plane back to Chicago. How anyone could manage that, mentally or emotionally, after flying so many miles is beyond me, but it was certainly possible.

I had never seen someone so angry over something so little. Surely neither I nor Jess would leave her at the airport empty-handed. We would spot her some cash until tomorrow.  In any case, Madeline stomped off, leaving Jess and I bewildered and abandoned in a foreign city I knew next to nothing about (*Note: always have a Plan B in case you tour guide loses it).

Jess and I spent the next hour trying desperately to find Madeline in the seemingly endless airport, which was somehow BUSTLING at 1 a.m. After traveling 7,000 miles in 23 hours and dragging around our luggage, we came across the “Lost and Found.” Miraculously, through a combination of broken English and sign language, we were able to croak out, “We lost our friend! She ran away. Can you page her?”

The search was futile. Resigning to the fact that Madeline was probably listening to the safety procedures and preparing for liftoff to go back home, we grabbed a cab from the tourist booth- another mistake that cost us 1000 Baht, about 600 more Baht than the standard fare.

It was hot and muggy, even at 1 a.m. I could tell we weren’t in the states anymore. Hello Bangkok!

We were driving on the left side of the road. Our cabbie didn’t speak a lick of English, nor did we speak a lick of Thai. He tried to find our hotel for the better part of an hour, circling around the immediate vicinity, but not quite able to pin point it. I can’t lie: I was scared. The cabbie drove, backed up, turned around, doing this ugly dance about 10 times, narrowly avoiding a family of five on a motorized bike zooming past us.

We saw the streets. In Bangkok, it’s all about the STREETS. The streets were alive. They breathed and omitted pollution. They sold sex and dinner for 30 baht and offered Thai massage, lottery tickets and turtles in a bag. Stray dogs were everywhere. And so were the lady boys.

Jess, rather naively, questioned: “Who are all these girls? And what are they doing out so late?”

Only the discerning eye could tell that these girls where actually lady boys, or transgender/cross dressing Thai men who make natural women look like dogs. They are every bit as beautiful as natural women, but their disgusting offerings cheapened them to the likes of a whore. Lady boys continuously primp themselves, hoping for a fare, some business. Like robots on a programmed schedule, they pull out their compact, cake on some more powder and touch up their lipstick. A lady boy’s vanity rivals any sane (or insane for that matter) woman’s.  When not putsing around in mile-high heels over open sewers and smoking cigarettes, they traipse over to 7/11 to buy Pepsi, not making eye contact with anyone, but hoping desperately to be seen, if not touched.

We finally make it to the hotel and start a frantic plea to the overnight concierge: “Our friend Madeline’s not feeling good. She went home–” we start, as the room was in her name, with her credit card.

“Madeline from Chicago? She’s already here and checked in,” the concierge offered.

A cruel joke.

We ride up to the fourth floor, our jaws agape in disbelief and anger. We’re speechless. We walk into our room, and there she is: completely showered, relaxed.

“What took you guys so long?” Madeline asks.

She’s been looking for us! What a laugh. We try to avoid an all-out war. My head is spinning with images of the Bangkok streets and in the battle of me versus jetlag, the latter is the promising victor. Madeline offers a lame apology and we all simultaneously collapse into bed.

No one sleeps. Like on the plane ride, I lay with my eyes closed for five hours and think “good enough” around 6 a.m. to head down to breakfast.

By 7 a.m. we’re down at the continental breakfast, happy to be alive, munching on home made Pad Thai, fruit, and fueling up on the best goddamn coffee I’ve ever had. Three cups later we make a loose plan of action.

Madeline suggests the tourist mecca known as Koh San Road to start, so we head in that direction.

Again on the streets. Every other corner is a rummage sale trying to peddal worthless and probably illegal goods. I contemplated buying one of many passports lining the sidewalk. Surely a cool, albeit illegal souvenir.

After a few blocks, a friendly Thai history teacher intercepts us.

“It’s your lucky day!” the teacher began. “Today is a holiday!”

Yes! There was some light at the end of the tunnel after a long and shitty travel day. Little did we know,  any scamming Thai local will lead you to believe it’s a holiday for 20 Baht!

According to our new tour guide, today was the one special day of the year that an extra special Thai temple was open to the public. He even summoned a “Government Official” tuk-tuk for our traveling needs. Our driver agreed to take us all around Bangkok for 15 Baht.

I felt so special. “How could I be so lucky?” I thought as we piled in for the ride of our life.

Tuk-tuks are more of a novelty turned headache. We crammed in, the 3 of us, and zoomed off into the streets of Bangkok, destination and destinies unknown. All we knew was that we were going to see some rare shit, and that was good enough. Who wouldn’t want to be us?

We weaved in and out of traffic, our driver beeping indiscriminately at anyone who dared cross his path or THOUGHT about crossing his path. In a pair of gray Converse, the peddle was to the metal as we whizzed up streets, over bridges and through neighborhoods. It didn’t matter that none of us knew where we were going, where we would end up. We were going somewhere, doing something, somewhere far off, exotic. How many people could say that?

We arrived at our first Buddhist temple. I didn’t quite know how to act. I’m sure this place was sacred, so I just acted cordial, on my best behavior. I heard Monks chanting in the distance.

“I’ll wait here,” our driver said beside his Government Official tuk-tuk.

We took pictures outside of the temple before removing our shoes and entering. There were a few people inside praying along with the monks who make a sea of orange with their cloaks. I stared in awe at the giant Buddha. It glistened in the hot Thai sun. A magnificent sight, surely, but a whirlwind nonetheless.

Back to the tuk-tuk driver. We zoomed through the streets again, choking on pollution, snapping selfies and making up for lost bonding time. We continued to visit random temples. They were all beautifully adorned with gold, statues, and outfitted with chanting monks. All of them were nice, but the trip was becoming repetitive. Jetlag was starting to settle in along with exhaustion.

Madeline piped up to the driver that we wanted to be dropped off at the water taxi so that we might cruise up the river to get to Chinatown.

“We have to get gas coupons first,” the driver said.

We arrived at a tailor shop. Upon walking in I saw expensive coats, jackets, furs, ties and other accessories. It was hot as hell outside, much too hot to think about buying a winter coat. I wasn’t  interested and neither were the girls.

It turns out we had been scammed. We were harassed to buy cashmere coats and silk ties for an exorbitant amount of money. No wonder our ride only cost 15 Baht. When we refused to pay or counter offer them, the shop owner called us stupid and chased us out of the store.

Jess talked to our driver and pleaded with him to drop us off at the river ferry.

“I want my day of pay!” the driver demanded.

He made off with $6 US, obliged to drop us off at the ferry.

We rode the ferry toward Chinatown. The river was pretty nasty. In fact, a lot of areas of Bangkok are pretty nasty. The streets are strewn with litter, people are sleeping in the streets, feral cats and dogs with open wounds and mangy hair are scrounging for food, komono dragons lurch out of city sewer pipes, I mean, you name it.

The river ferry is fun and no-nonsense. Every stop is a dock, and the ferry stops ALMOST long enough for everyone to get on, but hardly. The ferry driver routinely leaves behind around a dozen people who may or may not have had one foot on the boat already. The ferry zooms forth, and poor, unsuspecting suckers are left stranded, scratching their heads with no choice but to wait for the next maniacal captain.

We arrived to Chinatown and I was feeling bad, dizzy. I was tired, cranky and starving: I was hangry (*Note: Hungry + Angry = Hangry).

Asian food is good, probably one of my favorite cuisines.  I have my first of many street vendor meals in Thailand from a Pad Thai cart. Basically the rule of thumb for ordering food in Thailand is to just point to what everyone else is eating and say, “1 please!” Minutes later, steaming hot noodles with mystery meat, peanuts, cilantro and chili arrive. You have to top it off with chili flakes, fish sauce and peppers (all found on any respectable make-shift table in S.E. Asia) and you’re set for foodie bliss. Let the magical ingredient combination wash over you and save your tortured soul! Sweet misery!

I down my noodles and some water and feel better…if only for a moment. My travel companions turn out to be typical women: shoppers. I’m screwed.

We hit the markets of Bangkok’s Chinatown. If you really want to go a bender, go to Chinatown jetlagged. It’s crowded, and I mean arm-to-arm, can’t move, just-get-pushed-to-the-next-place-like-you’re-on-a-conveyor-belt crowded. A veritable labyrinth of stalls, women, junk selling for mere pennies in wholesale quantities. There are women in colorful burkas from the middle east buying purses in bulk, people snatching up umbrellas, fans, stickers, earrings, wallets, shirts, sunglasses, junk upon junk for as far as the eye can see.

In between what appears to be a never-ending alleyway of stores, going deeper and deeper into a dark abyss (sunlight is void the further you meander), turning you into a shopping zombie, the occasional motorbike nearly bowls you over and you come back to your senses and try some meat on a stick or freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  I opted for a good old-fashioned Pepsi, which was served to me in a plastic bag with ice and a straw. Welcome to Asia: Land of waste and weird.

We escape Chinatown. Jess and Madeline make out with hello kitty stickers, 3 purses each and a menagerie of what I perceive to be worthless shit.  Next on the agenda is Koh San Road.

Bangkok streets never sleep. They’re fueled on haggled dollars, Chang beers, cheap smokes and doomed backpackers like ourselves and Koh San Road is no exception. It’s the stereotypical tourist trap, though I felt a lot of places I meandered to unsuspectingly turned out to be tourist traps, too.  For example, one lady trying to make a buck was wearing a court-jester hat and was draped in every gimmick you’d ever see for sale at a Fourth of July fireworks show in the States. She shoved a wooden frog in our face and wanted us to buy it. I guess those are the experiences you remember when you try to cram a tour of Thailand into one week.

Backpackers inhaled cheap beer and Pad Thai that had been sitting out for hours. Rhianna over the loud speakers reminded everyone that she fell in love in a hopeless place. This place really did feel hopeless in some ways. After getting our fill of cheap thrills, we stumbled home and crumble into bed at midnight, scarred for life, but exhilarated.

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*Names have been changed.

 

 

 

Staying fit on the road

It’s time to address an issue that has been on my mind my whole life, but most recently more so ever since hitting the road: staying in shape.

I’m a person who has been technically overweight my whole life. Part of this is because I truly love to eat. Something about food tastes so darn good. Flavors, textures, you name it…if it’s about food, I’m all about it.

Ain't no shame. Grinding on a hoagie in Maui
Ain’t no shame. Grinding on a hoagie in Maui

As I grew older and more self-conscious (and self-aware of my health), I realized that I, personally, needed to work out at least 3 times a week. Not only that, but I had to cut out many of the foods that I loved so much growing up: soda (pop as we in the Midwest call it), chips on a day-to-day basis, mayonnaise and chocolate among other delicacies.

The heaviest I ever grew was in college to 23o pounds. Freshman year was when I put on the most weight, drinking, partying, eating pizza and junk food into the wee hours of the morning, stuffing my face with dorm food, ordering takeout, you name it.

The heavier years...
The heavier years…

I visited the doctor for a routine check-up that he told me I had high blood pressure because I was overweight. That was the nail in the coffin for me. How could I have high blood pressure at age 19? I wasn’t a 65 year old man with high cholesterol. Worse, I was not educate when it came to eating healthy and staying fit.

That doctor’s office visit was the wake-up call for me to lose some weight and try to maintain a more conscious lifestyle.

Since then I’ve lost 35 pounds and managed to keep it off. I have fluctuated somewhere between 185-195 for the past 5 years. I can’t say it’s been all easy, nor have I been a saint.

These days I like to stay active outdoors
These days I like to stay active outdoors

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The ways in which I keep off weight to me are simple (most days):

If it makes you feel gross eating it, don’t.

If you can feel sugar in your teeth after you eat/drink something, stay away.

Water is your best friend.

Stick to granola, bananas, hummus, pretzels, apples, and other light, healthy snacks.

Don’t deny yourself some pleasures.

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Another key to staying fit is working out. I am a runner, albeit a rather slow one, but I do try to get out there at least twice a week and run a few miles. I practice yoga about 3 times a week, I lift weights and do pushups. I also love hiking, biking, climbing and swimming when the opportunity presents itself. My workout routine is moderate at best, some weeks ranking in at sluggish. Though I do sometimes feel guilty about this, I give myself one small allowance: I work on my feet as a waitress about 8 hours a day, clocking anywhere from 5 to 10 miles walked daily. Not to mention, I’m constantly, bending and lifting.

Hiking Green Sands in Hawaii
Hiking Green Sands in Hawaii

Routing is probably the best way to keep a healthy lifestyle, but with travel sometimes this becomes difficult.

When on a road trip, it’s almost impossible to pass up chicken fried steak in the south, the new-to-you IPA in the Rockies or huge T-Bone steaks on the grill in the country. This is life and it’s worth celebrating. Most often we celebrate with food and drink. It’s hard not to say “Screw it! I’m having a burger!”

It’s easy and fun to throw caution to the wind when it comes to eating and drinking. I find that the most exciting culinary experiences happen on the road. You get to try new flavors which initiate new sensations. Who couldn’t get behind that?

While all this is true, it’s also a recipe for disaster. I have been guilty of letting one small freebie turn into days, sometimes weeks on end of freebies. That’s when I get a little cushy, for lack of a better term.

Beer: one of my many vices
Beer: one of my many vices

Life most things in life, all things are good in moderation. While on the road, instead of indulging into my boyfriend’s bag of beef jerky, I’ll grab a granola bar and a yogurt. Let it be known, though, middle-American gas station selections rarely weigh on the side of healthy. I’m more often disgusted and would rather listen to my stomach rumble than eat taquitos and old, dry rotating hot dogs.

Another tried and true tip I use is if I’m full, I stop eating. This becomes increasingly difficult if I’m noshing on a plate of nigiri sushi, an amazing burger and beer combo or a huge, delicious steak. Other vices include kettle cooked potato chips and the occasional soda. What can I say? After all I’m American.

Soda in a bag in Thailand. What's up with that?
Soda in a bag in Thailand. What’s up with that?

Staying fit on the road isn’t always easy, especially with endless opportunity and deliciousness knocking on your door at every turn. But with a little conscious decision making, staying in good, healthy shape can make your adventures last a lifetime!

Finding the perfect vessel

It’s official: I have itchy feet.

The only thing that makes my feet even itchier is being in a relationship with a guy who loves to travel too. At the drop of a hat, we can see ourselves anywhere at anytime. We both are aware of our freedom and the excitement associated with the open road.

Jon and I are both living in Chicago in our studio apartment. It’s a nice neighborhood and we both have good jobs. We go out to eat, get dressed up and relax just like any other normal people do.

But after a few months of hibernation after Hawaii, we both put on a few extra pounds and missed our Vitamin D. I have become increasingly burned out with work, as well as him. There’s nothing quite as exhausting as working as a server in the restaurant industry 5-6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Dealing with people in general is exhausting. Most days, we like to come home from work and just zone out.

I know this is not my personality. I typically enjoy talking to and meeting new people. But when people start talking AT you, it becomes tiring, mentally and physically.

In any case, Jon thought of an idea which I think is a good one and we’re going to try it out together. The traveling couple.

Since both of us work jobs in the hospitality industry, our schedules are pretty flexible. The industry is almost always looking for help considering the transient nature of the business. Both Jon and I have wandering attention spans and get burned out quickly. Plus, we very much enjoy leisure time.

Since our time together, we average about 3 months of work and 1 month off. This gives us enough time to save money for our next “jaunt.” I enjoy the change of scenery, and most of all, I enjoy that sweet month off.

We decided that instead of getting ourselves into a lease, furnishing a place and making a life every where we land, to instead be turtles and live with our house on our back.

For that reason, we spent weeks searching for the perfect vessel.

The romantic idea in which we put into fruition is that we would like to travel and be free agents. We want to be able to go wherever, whenever, within reason.

Both of us have never seen many parts of the United States, Canada or Mexico. So we decided on an extended road trip. This trip will be comprised of work and play. It’s going to start off with camping around various places in the United States for a few weeks, possibly a month. We are going to blow off some steam, camp, fish, hike, and reconnect.

From there, with the help of websites like www.CoolWorks.com and www.WorkingCouples.com, we plan to find seasonal work, preferably jobs that offer employee housing (many of them do), as our perfect vessel can be lived in, but is a bit tight for full-time usage. If we had to, we could, as it’s fully functional.

About our setup

The per-requisites for our vessel became clearer as our dream unfolded. This was our wishlist:

Something small

Has to be relatively stealthy (We want to off road and “boondock” meaning going off the grid for a week at a time)

Good on gas mileage (HUGE!)

Must be attached to or BE and everyday vehicle (We were looking for a Vanagon, but those are very hard to find in the Midwest!)

Affordable (Under 10K)

Relatively new with good resale value

Must have cooking space, shower and toilet,self-sustainable

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As we looked, we discovered the RV world. We looked at and test drove Class A, Class B and Class C motor homes. We popped our heads in pop-ups and considered just roughing it in the back of a van with camping gear. Until we found what we were looking for.

We stopped by the Airstream dealer one afternoon on a whim, as a previous lead that day didn’t pan out. Then we saw it:

Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!
Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!

This camper is perfect for many reasons. It was within budget, a relatively decent year (2006), had one previous owner who took immaculate care of it and had every basic amenity we needed. PLUS, it looks stealthy enough on the back of a truck, is completely self-sustaining and would allow us to live in it for weeks, maybe even months at a time. Not only that, but if we ever wanted to, we can leave the camper behind and take our “every day” vehicle, the truck, out for a spin when need be.

Here is an overall view of the layout:

Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?
Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?

The inside of spacious enough. When it’s traveling, you fold it down, but when it’s time to get in and live a little, you crank up the ceiling, or pop it up, for extra head space. The unit also has an outdoor awning so we could set up a barbeque and some chairs for a nice evening under the stars.

I tried to capture a few photos, not all of them great. I’ll be updating more with time, but here are some preliminary ones:

From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!
From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!

IMAG1022

Jon checking out the storage under the bed
Jon checking out the storage under the bed
The toilet/shower combo.
The toilet/shower combo.
Hello, new lifestyle
Hello, new lifestyle

In any case, there are many new things to learn with this new lifestyle. Jon and I are studying up about waste removal, water tank capacity, electricity and power. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve, but a very fun one, I think!

We purchased a Ford F250 3/4 ton truck with 4 wheel drive and an off road package. The vehicle is used, a 2004, with about 150,000 miles on it. It has a 6.5 foot bed and extended cab for extra storage space (hello charcoal grill!) Pictures of that and the complete, put together vehicle soon to come.

I am excited for this journey on the open road. The only plan now is to head west. We both love the idea of a week or two of remote camping and hiking in Colorado (and places along the way) before trying to find some work. Oh yeah, and hot springs. We both want to find some hot springs. Shouldn’t be too bad, right?

Good times ahead, me thinks
Good times ahead, me thinks

Notes on nostalgia and loss

I am in a radically different place than I was a year ago.

A year ago I was living in a tent in the rainforest under an avocado tree in Hawaii. I was hitch hiking barefoot with strangers. I was having the time of my life.

My heart BURNS with nostalgia for those times. That crazy jungle. Those crazy fools I shared my experiences with. As I sit here and blog from my studio in Chicago, I am fiery with red, hot desire.

I want nothing more to be sitting with my crazy friends, drinking wine, or maybe a kava smoothie, passing the herb and listening to Beats Antique. Someone is probably cooking an amazing curry and conversations about traveling the world abound. Wild pigs scurry about in the night, cats lurk, and night blooming Jasmine floats in the air.

Hawaii, the amazing place where cats eat coconuts
Hawaii, the amazing place where cats eat coconuts

I’m intoxicated with memories of this place. It cripples me sometimes how much I want to relive these moments, some of my very truest glory days. One day I’m harvesting a sacred root plant, the next day I’m swimming in a natural hot pond, and that night I’m dancing under the stars and moon at a Full Moon Party. I could die and go to Heaven, and all the people I met on the road would be there in one room.

We would laugh about the time I posed nude for my artist friend, or lament simultaneously about our collective mosquito bites. We’d sing that one verse of that one song we loved so much. We’d imitate each other, tell each other secrets, speak in foreign tongues. We would share recipes, read aloud, perform, write poetry, bathe in the mud. Whatever it is we decide to do, it will be fun and soul-enriching.

We would forage for wild orchids in the rainbow eucalyptus
We would forage for wild orchids in the rainbow eucalyptus forest

How do I let these memories “go”? Does anyone else suffer from missing the road and the crazy shenanigans as much as I do?

I try to connect with my friends on Facebook but it’s not the same. I can’t give my friend Adrianna a haircut with kids scissors on the beach via the internet. Something’s lost there. Everything’s lost there.

In my dreams I am in the waves again. I’m having those endless conversations with my travel soul mates about the infinite future. The sky is the limit. We swim with dolphins and return to shore.

I wake up in my studio in Chicago. Sometimes it’s painful to relive even your fondest memories.

How do I cope with saying goodbye? How do I put these memories that somehow still feel very alive into a sealed box and shove it to the back of my mind? I want to taste that curry. I want to hoola-hoop. I want to swing in the hammock while people shuck coconuts, smoke weed and laugh maniacally at nothing.

Dancers in the night
Dancers in the night

I miss these things. I tend to over romanticize moments of my life, usually when it comes to relationships. Travel memories are forever burned into my brain in a different way though.

I know there were difficult times in the jungle. There were scary nights when I felt so alone, so isolated, afraid. I was left to lie there and overcome my fears of being somewhere so far away, completely by myself (albeit amongst friends), strange sounds in the night, volcanic energy haunting my dreams. There were sick days, days of jungle fever, drama, confusion, fighting. But somehow all of this is lost when I reminisce.

I can only recall soul music and Sunday brunches under the papaya trees. Lazy morning, yoga stretches, endless dance parties and great beer. I think about the jokes, how hard I truly laughed, the kind souls I met every day.

I realize how painful it is to sometimes recount good memories. I do this when I suffer through a breakup. It’s like mental torture.

Though, I must say I have learned to incorporate my past experiences into the present so they don’t feel so far away.

I cook those recipes. I dance to the music. I practice my yoga. I talk about Hawaii fondly, but some days I feel like Rose in Titanic. My heart’s a deep ocean of secrets. Many of my best experiences cannot even be recounted in words. They are too precious, too private and too uniquely “mine.”

To say that I’m suffering through loss is wrong. What I’m really doing is suffering through gain. I am growing from one place to the other, and sometimes that is painful.

If I learned anything from living in a hostel with my friends constantly coming and going, it was learning the practice of loving non-attachment. I am confident that I can love those moments for what they were, look back on the fondly, and release them. I know I will catch up to them again if I need a friendly place to return to, maybe a warm bowl of curry and an hours-long conversation over a bottle of wine. That place was and still is. That is my comfort.

I am still here
I am still here

Life as a journey

Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that not everything can be figured out in one day.

I “suffer” from wanderlust, the insatiable craving for new experiences, places and people. I relish in the unfamiliar, the awkward, unknown, the ugly. I yearn for experiences that scare me so I can prove that I can overcome one of life’s most debilitating emotions: fear. My heart is open, my mind is open, and I’m ready.

I sometimes ignore my travel blog because I don’t know what to say. My “About Me” section changes every few months because at the bat of an eyelash, I’ve found home somewhere new and exotic. A few months, or even weeks later, it changes.

How can I explain myself? Where is home? What does home mean?

What home looked like two months ago
What home looked like two months ago in Maui, Hawaii

Home is inside my heart. I’ve realized that no matter where I go and where I end up, that my life is my home. My journey is my destination. How could I be afraid to write about that? It’s the most honest and real thing, the most driving and ever-present force in my life.

It’s tough to explain the ethereal experiences you have while traveling. I think similar experiences can be achieved through doing similar activities that you love, like cooking, writing a book, opening a small business or following your dreams in any sense. Suddenly life opens doors to you that before never existed. You see and witness the beauty of following your heart’s path. These experiences are beautiful, but often overwhelming and tough: they challenge you to question everything you’ve ever been raised to think or do.

View of home now...Chicago
View of home now…Chicago

I grew up going on family vacations but was never told or raised to live a life on the road, doing the strange and wonderful things I’ve done. In jumping into the abyss, my eyes bugged out of my head in disbelief at the beauty of the unknown. The first time I feasted my eyes on the rainforest in Hawaii, it was if I died and went to Heaven. I floated around for months on a cloud of happiness and uncertainty.

How could this place be real? I wondered. All I ever knew was the cold, Midwestern winter. Suddenly I’m picking fruit barefoot and surfing in March.

Travel makes you question everything.

It made me prioritize my life. That sounds simple and like a “duh” moment, but it’s surprising how many people don’t really live their own lives, but rather, one prescribed to them. I discovered what’s most important to me: It’s being true to my tastes. I enjoy good food, good drink and travel. These are my life’s expenses and the things that bring me the most joy overall. Even though travel sometimes puts me in difficult situations, the difficulty never outweighs the fact that travel helps me to discover things that I like. Moreover, difficult experiences are often the truest test of your vulnerability and your strength and give you a firm sense of what you do NOT like and won’t put up with.

Not all days are Mai Tais and rainbows
Not all days are Mai Tais and rainbows

Part of opening your heart and exploring the world, discovering new ways of life is accepting and finding comfort in the unknown. By far, the unknown is the root of anxiety and fear.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

This quote from Lao Tzu has never rang truer. In trying to “figure out my life,” I’ve noticed a more hands-off approach is best. Things tend to play out as they do anyway. Life’s journey continues forward whether I worry about it or not.

It’s time to stop being my own worst enemy, do myself a favor and enjoy the peace of the present. It hasn’t let me down in the past and I’m confident it won’t in the future.

Reconnecting with Aloha

I am back island side after 2 long months of traveling, visiting family and friends around the mainland, and making a trip to Thailand.

What a whirlwind year! When I think of it all, it almost makes me crazy to think of all the times I’ve taken off, landed, stuck my thumb out for a ride (still need to return that favor when I see hitchhikers) and laid my head to rest in various parts of the world.

That’s a whole lotta travel!

With the stresses of moving halfway across the world to Maui, I have found that it’s been a bit of an adjustment to come back to Hawaiian time and the Hawaiian way. I’ve officially been here one week and I’m just now starting to slip back into the ways of Aloha. What do I mean by that?

Moving automatically makes you self-driven, operating in survival mode, ready to throw elbows against competitors and nay-sayers. I know this is the sort of attitude I developed, and I want to flush it down the toilet. I already managed to piss off one friend by calling him out for not picking me up at the airport. Though I think we both over-reacted, I can’t afford to make enemies before I even make friends. That’s not my lot in life.

Detoxing from the mainland takes some time. When I was gone from Hawaii the first time around, it took me almost 3 weeks to be born-again. I arrived and I looked haggard. My skin had faded to a pasty white and I surely put on some pounds from eating so much red meat back home (yummy but not good for my body or complexion). I was wound up from the mainland, riddled with anxiety and nerves and I was overall a big mess. I guess you can say much of the same this time around.

I have a lot riding on this move. I sold my car back home, I said goodbye to my friends and family…I jetted off into the unknown where I only knew one person (who probably seriously hates me now, but what can I do?) and I’m attempting to carve out a life for myself. For now, more question marks than answers are in front of me. I’m nervous that I’m burning through money too fast, spending more than I’m making and wondering if I’m getting the “best deal.”

But then it occurred to me that no matter where I am in life, that’s where I’m supposed to be. So what if I’m a little uncomfortable to start and a bit lonely? Worrying about making friends isn’t going to help me make them. Worrying that I won’t have enough money to survive here isn’t going to make me money to survive here. Thinking it’s all about me without counting my blessing is my biggest mistake yet.

With coming to the islands and living aloha, you respect and give blessings and thanks for everything you have in your life. You live with love, awareness, humility and kindness. Instead of worrying with negativity, you anticipate with positive energy. Instead of blaming, you appreciate. Instead of being out for yourself and your survival, you see the world with new eyes, eyes that help you see that the world is a product of your mindset. If you treat it poorly, it will treat you poorly in return.

It will take me more time still to figure out my role here on Maui. I need to continuously be grateful for all of the opportunities afforded to me, have follow through, be committed and do my best. I need to smile more than I furrow my brow, quit worrying so much, and appreciate the natural beauty around me. If something this beautiful can exist from behind my eyes, than I have to know things will be okay:

Sunset at Ho’okipa Beach. Photo by author

 

I sat on the beach the other night, alone, worried. As I was sitting there on the rocks, I had a conversation aloud with Maui about how hard this last week has been for me, and even though I’m strong, I can’t handle too many more curve balls. I  admitted that I’m lonely and constantly going over negative thoughts in my head. I promised to have respect for the island and to be pono (do what’s right).

As I sat there and offered all of myself up to the island, watching the Pacific rolling in and the sun dipping into the clouds, eight large green sea turtles began to crawl onto shore. In Hawaii, honu, or turtles, are symbolic of good luck. As if answering my prayers for a sign that things will work out how they’re supposed to, almost ten turtles emerged from the sea onto the shore to “rest.”

Photo by author

I felt so humbled and blessed at the same time. Never before had I seen so many of God’s beautiful creatures up close and in one place: and they were crawling toward me! I am going to forever remember that special moment for inspiration when times are lonely and hard: that good luck is here with me always, I just have to be wise enough to believe it.

Mahalo ke akua!

Enjoying the fruits of my labor

Well, I became…ahem, distracted from my round the world trip.

I originally started this year with stars in my eyes about seeing the entire world. I had this vision of my mind of showing up on my parents’ doorstep with a suitcase slapped with stickers from other worlds, proudly proclaiming, “Well, I’ve seen everything!”

That didn’t exactly happen, but I’ve done a HELL of a lot this year, including focusing on my true path.

What do I mean by that? I mean I quit a life that was no longer serving my true desires. When I envisioned myself happy, I saw myself living the island lifestyle and freelance writing to pay the bills.

And now, months later, that’s EXACTLY what I’m doing. It’s been a learning curve: How do you come to grips that you’re actually happy beyond measure? That you’re truly living your bliss?

By enjoying it! That’s how.

Sunrise to my new life!

I’ve been “sidetracked” (can you even call it that? This is my path!) from my world conquest by the Big Island of Hawaii. The magic of this place constantly reminds me that I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m learning to travel slower and live richer. Instead of seeing the world in one year, I decided to work on a fascilitating a lifestyle of choice and intention.

I’d rather move forward intentionally, albeit slowly, than run through and miss something.

I’m currently an apprentice manager of an eco-retreat in the rainforest. I walk barefoot, I rock a sarong, I hone true hobbies (learning to hula hoop and playing wooden flute, among many), I live amongst and converse with artists, travelers, writers, musicians and free-thinkers from all over the world. I find myself in an environment that satiates the cravings of my wildest dreams.

I read this quote today and felt it to be very fitting:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t have to escape from.” -Seth Godin

Some people look at my life and say that I’m lucky. Maybe I’m lucky that I have the wherewithal to look within, discover what I truly want and go after it. I mean, it feels good. It makes me wonder why I waited to find my bliss.

My time in Hawaii is special and ornamental. Here I am learning about ecology, sustainability, community living, tribal living, living off the land, and about overall humanity. I am studying to facilitate a life a travel through my work. I’ve even been asked to co-author the owner’s book about sustainable community living. I guess you can say it all fell into my lap. But it wasn’t that easy.

I looked deep within and discovered that I was the only one holding me back from living the life I always imagined.

These are good times.

Now on Monday mornings, instead of relishing in my one day off from the restaurant biz or dragging myself to the office for a gruelling 8-hour day, I bask in the Hawaiian sun, enjoying the fruits of avocado season. I treat myself to a moisturising, refreshing mask made by myself, from the avocados that dropped this morning right next to my tent. Because this my paradise, why not? 

The cost of travel besides MONEY

I”m not shy about giving out details about my personal budget, because, believe it or not, just like you, I had to work for my money. I still work for money and I will continue to work for money.

So many people have it wrong. It’s not all about the money. Admittedly, I drained my bank account in order to finance my traveling lifestyle. Sure, I’ve created many a marvelous memory by not working and spending money, but that’s not the only cost to consider when choosing a traveling lifestyle. The other costs include:

1. Physical- This year alone, I’ve done so much flying that I’m exhausted. I’m truly suffering from burn out. That doesn’t mean that I still don’t enjoy flying off to new places, emerging from the plane bright eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for adventure, but it leaves your body physically exhausted. Jet lag is a serious concern. When I left Australia earlier this year, ready to engage in a 4 flight, 23 hour fly-a-thon back to the U.S., I left on Wednesday morning, February 29th, leap year, traveled for 24 hours straight and landed in L.A. Wednesday morning, February 29th. Believe me when I say it took WEEKS for my body to adjust to THAT time travel!

Tired.

My good friend the flight attendant is constantly on the go as well. One time I asked her what day it really is for her because of all of her traveling and time zone differences. She opted for “no comment,” saying that trying to figure that out would drive her insane. It would drive anyone insane!

The road burns your body out. Toting a 50 pound backpack after a shitty night’s sleep in a hostel isn’t for the faint of heart. Trying to sleep when others are partying is even worse. I combat this by trying to maintain a relatively normal sleep schedule (by normal I mean at LEAST seven hours/24 hour period), eating healthy and maintaining a healthy attitude.

2. Emotional- I’ve gotten good, I mean REALLY good at saying goodbye. That doesn’t mean I like to say goodbye, but I have to force myself in order to move on. Luckily it’s not goodbye, just see you later. Part of my goals when traveling the world have been to create contacts all over the world. As I start on that goal, I often grow close to and have to say goodbye to many people that I love. I love their generosity, their kind hearts, their laugh and their unique life perspectives.

My Hawaii friends, aka Family

I also have to deal with feelings of homesickness. Like every traveler on the road, the pangs of homesickness haunt you when you least expect it. You miss birthdays, graduation parties, engagement schindigs, holidays, you name it: any occasion where the family gets together to make mirth and merriment, it seems you’re sleeping in a tent 3,000 miles away. These are the sacrifices we make. 

Aloha until next time!

3. Mental- It’s no secret travel changes you. I’m dealing with this right now. I’m trying to hash out how my life goal’s have changed, how everything I’ve been spoon-fed growing up doesn’t exactly jive with my old interests, now that I’ve seen how other people live successful, happy lives alternate to the “American Dream.” I am dealing with how these differences are changing me as a person, how to reconnect with others who still might subscribe to my “old way” (not wrong, by any means, just confusing and different), and trying to explain my “gypsy” lifestyle to my parents. It’s an on-going struggle. I have to be an ambassador for my life’s decisions. If I won’t stand up for me, who will?

On my magical mystery tour

As a good friend told me, luckily you don’t have to figure it all out today, or tomorrow. The questions I’ve been asking myself are some huge, philosophical, transcendental questions about life, questions people don’t often ask themselves until their midlife crises. Thinking and obsessing over my observations and how they will manifest themselves in my future is unhealthy mentally.  I am prepared to think of life as a mysterious journey, and although I can’t possibly perceive my future right now, I think that through travel, my future will be a brighter place. Growing pains.

I will leave you with an Anthony Bourdain quote, one that describes how I’m feeling in this moment. Just because you can’t strike gold every day while blazing the trail:

“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.”
— Anthony Bourdain