Monthly Archives: January 2016

A letter to myself

Dear self,

Here are your tasks for 2016… It may seem like a lot right now, but you have an entire year + an extra day, so no whining*

  • You have a new job this year… so don’t suck at it… Also, do not kill anyone. [I kept the new job for a grand total of 6 months.  The environment was highly toxic, and for my own sanity, I left.   And I didn’t kill anyone… I call that a win]
  • Keep your shit together… organize your mail, email, and any other important communication and keep it that way for more than 3 nanoseconds.  Along those lines, keep your space organized. [Organization has been my nemesis since birth, but I try.  I call this one a draw]
  • Spend time with people who love you and believe in you.  [There have been more days than I care to count where the only words uttered from my mouth were LUCY! or CHRISTOPHER! I say this was a miserable failure. Going to school and working full-time in the evening make socializing harder than it needs to be]
  • Acknowledge that some things are out of your control and above your pay grade.
  • Stop saying sorry when that’s not what you mean. (Acceptable times to apologize include: when you break something that’s not yours, when you hurt someone’s feelings accidentally, when you step on someone’s toe, etc.).  Stop apologizing for every.little.thing that goes on in life.  Not everything is your fault.
  • Take responsibility for your self… (Examples including finding a dentist, dealing with the DMV, investing in your future, ect).
  • When needed, remind yourself that you have a right to take up space whether that is on a trail or in a hospital room surrounded by physicians.  Do not be intimidated by others.
  • Be nice to yourself.
  • Don’t completely succumb to adulthood, but still try to pay bills on time. [Yay, another win.  I dance with patients in their rooms, play with therapy dogs, and generally try to have fun while working. Health is a serious business, but I don’t always have to be serious]
  • Re-define impossible.
  • Do that yoga push-up chataranga thing that currently makes you feel like you’re going to collapse and smash your nose on the ground.
  • Remember that you always, always, always have a choice. We choose our emotions.  Sure, there are situations which will frustrate you.  There will be times when you are disappointed, but being disappointed is a choice. Being frustrated is a choice. Smiling and laughing it off is a choice… On that note, choose smiling.
  • Try to see failure as a painful, but necessary part of success — not a mandate on your character. Try.
  • Keep getting stronger.
  • Embrace partial success. Embrace progress, even the very small, barely noticeable, infinitesimal progress.

Celebrate life.

Lots of love

me, december 30, 2015

PS:  read & re-read this letter as many times as necessary throughout the year.  If needed, print off this letter , carry it around with you, and read this letter any time you need encouragement.

Happy Birthday NPS and Fee-Free Days

Happy Birthday National Parks Service! One of the best things about America is its national park system.  There are currently 59 of them and cover some of the best landscapes in the world.  There is the glacial wilderness of Wrangell NP in Alaska and the coral reefs of Biscayne Bay NP in Florida.  We have America’s first sunrise at Acadia NP in Maine and quite possibly the last sunset at American Samoa NP. There are old growth flood plains in South Carolina at Congaree NP and incredible desert landscapes of the west at Grand Canyon NP in Arizona and Zion NP in Utah.  We have amazing highs at Denali NP in Alaska and incredible lows at Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico.

The National Parks are home and habitat to more than 400 endangered or threatened plant and animal species.  Animals from grizzly bears to Dall sheep, timber wolves to peregrine falcons, Pacific Boas to gray whales all call the lands protected by the National Parks home.  The largest living things in the world are in National Parks: Sequoia trees and Alaskan brown bears (the world’s largest living carnivores.)  Whatever type of landscape fascinates you, you are sure to encounter it at one of the US National Parks.

Old growth flood plains at Congaree National Park in South Carolina

One of my random travel goals is to visit each of the US National Parks, and I’ve managed to visit roughly half of them.  The government wants us to visit the amazing wonderland that is our home and each year that have fee-free days for the parks that charge entrance fees [not all of them do].

Fee free days

For 2016,–which also happens to celebrate 100 years of the national parks system– the following days have been designated fee-free:

  • January 18–>Martin Luther King Day
  • April 16-24–>National Park Week
  • August 25-28–>National Park Birthday–let’s party
  • September 26–>National Public Lands Day
  • November 11–>Veterans Day

If the fee-free days aren’t enough to get you out there, check out these interesting facts about the US National Parks.

  • Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. It was created in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Its caretakers – the cavalry.  The most recent addition to the 59 national parks list is Pinnacles, California, which was added in 2013.
  •  Sometimes national parks and national monuments are confused. National parks are chosen for their natural beauty, unique geological features, and unusual ecosystems. National monuments are chosen for their historical or archaeological significance.
  • Only one state in the country is not lucky enough to currently have either a national park or national monument. It is actually the country’s first state, Delaware. Poor little Delaware.
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the largest park in the country. At six times the size of Yellowstone, it is the meeting point of four major mountain ranges and includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. The preserve contains three climate zones, which means that it has everything from giant glaciers to wetlands to one of the largest active volcanoes in North America
  • Everglades is the only true tropical forest in the northern hemisphere. Because of this it is home to plants and animals you can’t find anywhere else, including the Florida Panther and twenty species of orchids.
  • Russell Cave National Monument, Alabama, has an almost continuous record of human habitation going back to at least 7000 BC.

For statistics nerds, check out the numbers.

  • The NPS operates roughly 401 units which include 79 National Mon­u­ments, 78 His­tor­i­cal Sights, 59 National Parks, and 46 Historical Parks all contained within 84 mil­lion acres.
  • The parks host 280 million visitors a year. And whether they are exploring the highest point in North Amer­ica in Denali NP (Mount McKin­ley –20,320 feet), or the low­est point in the west­ern hemi­sphere at Death Val­ley NP; the National Parks are a host of extremes. From the deep­est lake at Crater Lake NP (1932 feet), or the tallest trees in the world at Red­wood NP (397 feet).

Get out there, and enjoy what America has to offer. Fee free.

You’d think I’d learn

We all make mistakes… especially when doing something you’ve never done before, and traveling to a new place definitely fits in to that category. It seems as if I make at least 10 mistakes a day when I’m traveling. In that regard, I am just like everyone else [although I am not ashamed to admit my shortcomings], and when it comes to traveling, I make plenty of mistakes… usually the same ones or variations of the same theme.  You’d think I’d learn, but so far, I haven’t… it’s almost as if I am allergic to learning or something.

I’ve been on my own now for half of my life, and sneaking away to travel even earlier than that [Exhibit A–Alone in Atlanta as a 7th grader… Exhibit B… Baseball in Baltimore as a 14 year old], so you would think I’d learn a thing or two about this whole put stuff in a bag and go somewhere thing.  Yet, I am surprised as anyone…maybe more so because a reasonable person wouldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again… when things don’t go according to some ill defined plan.

Traveling is not easy… Things do not always work out like you think they should in your head… There are often hiccups, last minute change of plans, substitutions, and other clusterfucks that a lot of people never talk about. So with that in mind, let’s review the travel mistakes I keep making.


Mistake # 1  Not making reservations ahead of time.

I really [REALLY!] hate planning.  I also hate commitment, and to me, making reservations, is both planning AND making a commitment.  In my head, I’m screaming “Reservations cramp my style.  I want to be free.  I want to be spontaneous.  What if I change my mind?  What if something better comes along?”  In reality what happens is the flight I want is already booked.  There are no more hotel rooms to be had.  I have to keep changing hotels everyday because none of them had availability for the duration of my stay.  Or I have to scrap plans all together.  I really should get my ass in gear and make reservations more than 45 minutes before something starts.

Seeing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve was awesome; arriving in Chamonix, France in the French Alps on January 2 without a place to stay and without a cellphone [see #4] during a snowstorm was not awesome.  Spending 400 Euros for the last remaining hotel room [#truestory] in town also was not awesome.

Mistake # 2  Packing the wrong things

I’m a pretty light packer as things go.  I have never had my bags go over the weight limit, and I’ve never had more than I could handle.  South America in general was a lot colder than I thought it would be… [altitude is a tricky beast]  I ended up wearing the same clothes for days… [I did change my underwear though] because they were they only warm clothes I had… I even slept in my fleece pullover a few times… In the end, I had to buy some things while I was on the road, and at least in the upper half on the continent 5’9″ women aren’t too common so fit was generally an issue.

You’d think that in those two bags, I’d have everything I need for a year in South America.  Nope, I had to go shopping in a mall in Quito for for jungle/cloud forest gear.  I had to buy a poncho for warmth in Peru [and used it in Bolivia].  Traditional Andean clothing does not come in tall… just so you know.  My flip flops fell apart in Chile.  I rented clothing for the Inca Trail.  I bought a warmer jacket [down in case you are wandering] for Patagonia, and by the time I hit Brazil, I was ‘accidentally’ leaving things behind.  Let’s not even talk about the time I showed up in a ski resort area without appropriate gear. I am ever hopeful that I will eventually happen on the right combination of clothing for the actual destination and the actual weather.

Just a few weekends ago, I went to the coast for a few days.  When I left it was 75F with highs in the mid 80s.  When I came back it was 48F.  I did not pack for 48F… Yes I knew was October, but it was 75 degrees at 8am.  I threw in my swimsuit, a pair of shorts, water sandals, 2 t-shirts, and one long sleeved shirt… Yes I probably should have thrown a sweatshirt and jeans or something in my bag, but my mind was singularly focused on being on the water and 80 degrees.  Friday and Saturday were awesome; Sunday I froze my ass off.

Mistake #3 Not letting anyone know my itinerary.

This all goes back to #1.  I don’t intentionally wander; I just change my mind.  I may intend to go one place, but hear something great about another so I just go… Or some place may be great, and I end up staying there longer than planned.  Or I meet fascinating people and want to hang with them.  All of these things have actually happened, and all have changed my original plans.  I’ve boarded a plane for Chicago on the spur of the moment.  I was in Serbia when I ‘should have been’ in Austria.  I was having such a good time in Peru that I got an apartment.  Chile wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be so I dipped in and out, never staying in one place very long.  Venezuela nor French Guiana were never on my original itinerary, but I made allowances and ended up spending Euros in South America.

Although I should probably let people know if I am headed to an area where there are landmines.

Mistake # 4 Not using a smartphone when I travel.

I realize that a smartphone is so much more than a phone, but I’m terrified of forgetting to turn off the roaming or something and the racking up a $500 bill.  So on international trips, I turn the phone off completely.  I know I need to suck it up, move into the 21st century,  and just get an unlocked phone.  Life abroad would be SO.MUCH.EASIER. [2018 update. I now have a dual SIM unlocked android phone I use exclusively for travel.  Although free wi-fi is not universal, life is way easier with the smartphone]

Mistake#5 Not signing up for any loyalty program

Nothing. No travel rewards credit cards. No airline frequent flyer program. No getting triple points for every $ I spend. Nothing. I don’t know where to start. I have rarely fly the same airline twice, and 10,000 miles just  doesn’t get you very far.  If I had started way back when I could have at least gotten an upgrade by now.

Mistake 5.5 Booking things at the wrong times.

I am inherently a night owl. I am much more likely to stay up until 5am than get up at 5am. I know myself enough to know that there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I am going to be able sleep the night before anything is scheduled, and if I do, I’m likely to nod off 30 minutes before it’s time to get up and wake up in “oh shit!” mode… either I’m in a rush or I’ve missed it all together. I’m getting better at picking the right flights, buses, tours, ect, and I am fortunate enough to be able to sleep just about anywhere. As long as I can make it to the beginning point, I’m all right.

Mistake # 5.75  Not having insurance.

After getting severely dehydrated in the jungle… falling a breaking my arm in Mexcio… needing stitches in Belize, I have come to accept that I am inherently clumsy, and as I get older, I am less likely to bounce back from various injuries. Starting a couple of years ago, I never leave the country without travel insurance.  Since I’ve started buying travel insurance, I’ve yet to have an accident. Coincidence… I think not.  I’m never leaving home without it again.  See… all is not lost… I do learn… eventually.