Last week, I wrote about things traveling has taught me. Today, it’s about things I still don’t know how to do despite my 30+ years on the planet. When did being an adult get so complicated?
How to dance.–Even though my best friend is a dance teacher.
How to cook anything that isn’t tacos.–I mean I can follow a recipe but those people who can whip up amazing dishes with random ingredients in their pantry a la Chopped!–those people have real talent.
How to flirt. It is shameful the things I don’t know about flirting.
How to say no to something I really don’t want to do. I have been on a few dates with people only because I couldn’t say NO without making up something or coming across like a bitch. I have also done things I wasn’t overly thrilled about doing just because I couldn’t say no. And I’ve worked way too many extra shifts and done way too many extra projects because I didn’t want to say no.
How to wear make-up. You’d think that every female alive would know how to apply make-up properly. I am not even talking about special occasion make-up. I don’t even know how to do much more than put on lotion.
How to run. Properly. Seriously, who can’t run. That would be me. I have never managed to eek out more than 0.25 miles before collapsing in a heap of rubble thinking “Who would do this on a regular basis?” And I have managed to trip over a root and break not one, but two bones while running.
How not to take criticism personally. I try. I really do, but when someone say to me “That poem sucked.” or “that photograph is pretty generic” or “this dish is rather bland” what I hear is “You suck. You are generic and bland.” and then I think no one likes me.
How to sew. Clothes. Skin I can manage, and I did learn to darn socks when I was a child, but who does that anymore?
How to air-kiss. I mean what’s the point. Kissing should involve lips and tongues and attractive men. Otherwise, what’s the point…just shake hands. Or hug. I only wish people in France, Brazil, or basically anywhere not in the USA [or Japan] would come around to my way of thinking.
How to change a diaper. And I work with kids. In a hospital. Where diapers are being changed constantly. Who knew people at home didn’t actually weigh the diapers to see how much pee it contained. They just tossed them away. So cavilier–these people we call parents.
How to use a budget. I can set one up just fine, and I always have a very good estimate of how much money is in any given account and/or how much I owe. I am just not every good at following a plan.
How to drive a stick shift. I am ashamed to admit it. It has held me back in some of my travels. I have only owned 3 cars in my lifetime and none of those have been stick shifts.
How to manage time well. I often get distracted by things that are much more fun than the task I am currently doing. Cleaning out the file cabinet–boring. Reading all the stuff I found stuff in the file cabinet–much more interesting. Let’s not even get started about all the things I find on the internet at 3am.
How to have meaningful conversations. I am sarcastic at times. Snarky even. I make light of serious subjects. Humour is a defense mechansim and I use it well. Becuase when the time comes, how do you really bring up serious conversations. And if you can manage to braoch the topic–how do you have a honest conversation about the serious parts of life.
How to tell people what I want. Whether in the more personal aspects of life or the more general. How do you say no, I really don’t want to go to that party with you. I’d really rather just stay home.
16. How to ask for help. I grew up super independent. No one ever had to check my homework, wake me up for school, or tell me it’s time for bed. I probably went years without asking anyone for anything. Now that I am an adult, there are situations that I am in where I really need help. At work—you can’t save a dying person by yourself. At home–Christopher and Lucy need someone to look after them when I travel. In life–maybe just how to do all these things I don’t know how to do.
17. How to say I love you. Especially when I really mean it. I can tell the kitties I love them all day long, but people–especially the ones I am closest too–saying I love you usually causes me to break out into an episode that looks strangely like a heart attack on an EKG. But to those people–and you know who you are–I love you. I am glad you are in my life. There I said it. Just don’t think this will be a regularly occurring event.
18. How to tip people? I mean why is this even necessary. [and yes, I have worked in the service industry where most of my income was from tips] I am not going to tip someone for getting a bag out of the car for me. Or turning down my sheets [not that this happens often as I don’t usually take taxis or stay in fancy hotels] But why should I tip someone for doing their job. No one tips me when I save their life or their child’s life and I’d argue that CPR is one damn important service. I don’t even get a ‘great job on the rescue breathing’ or ‘those were some awesome chest compression you did’ so I don’t see the rationale behind giving a tip to the person who cuts my hair or cleans my hotel room.
19. How to break up with someone. Hasn’t been much of an issue of late because generally the guys break up with me. And while that sucks. At least I am not the bad guy.
20. How to select produce or meat. Grocery stores present a huge challenge for me. I usually walk around looking lost. And I don’t generally buy more than bananas. It’s the only thing I know I can’t mess up. Unless I select a plantain by accident.
21. How to match shoes and purses with my outfit. Which is possibly the real reason I don’t carry a purse. Or have a wide variety of shoes to choose from.
22. How to really work my cell phone. It’s a phone, people. And that is what I use it as. Occasionally I use it to look up something on the internet or post something to Facebook, but that’s about it. I don’t tweet, pin, or do much more from my phone other than talk and occasional text. I know…I sound so OLD. [I am getting better at this one though]
23. How to do cool things on the computer. Ok, so I have a blog. I am fairly good with a camera, but Photoshop–I have no clue. Making cool videos–no idea. I can crank out research papers with the best of them, but figuring out how to present them using SMART technology is beyond me.
24. How to work an ipod…or any MP3 player. I am probably the last person in the USA who has never owned a MP3 player. In fact, I have no apple products of any kind [see #22–what would I do with an iphone].
25. How to pack a real lunch. I always end up packing too much or too little. It’s never just right. Especially since I work the night shift at a place that has no cafeteria service overnight, I have to bring everything that I might want. [Well, they do still have soup, applesauce, and milk]
26. How to walk in heels. Especially the spiky ones.
27. How to network. I am horrible at this. I hate talking about myself in general, and I especially hate promoting myself. But I have taken small steps to work on this. Baby steps are better than no steps
28. How to use a fire extinguisher. Only because I have never had to. I have to take the yearly competency exam at work. I know what PASS stands for, but what if I can’t get the pin out?
29. How to kick someone’s ass when necessary Literally and figuratively–I struggle with this.
30. How to properly start a fire without matches –and I call myself an adventurer…[shakes head in shame]
It’s birth-week. I am one of those people who prefer to celebrate the entire month, but especially the week of. I am hitting the age where people are asking questions such as “Are you ever going to settle down and get married?” [Maybe] “Are you ever going to have kids?” [ NO] “Are you ever going to get a house of your own?” [hopefully sooner rather than later]. I am sure all of these questions are not intended to make me feel bad about my decisions to forgo a conventional life, but are just out of curiosity. At least, that is how I choose interpret it. So in honor of my 30-ish years on the planet, here are 30 ish things I have learned from traveling.
Mountains, hiking, clouds, history, photography…these are just a few of the things I’ve encountered while exploring the world.
With each new country I visit, I become acutely aware of how many there are left for me to see. The world is a big, amazing place, and I will likely never run out of places that I want to explore.
2. Solo travel is not that scary
I am an introvert. It takes me awhile to get to know people. I don’t always talk to strangers. I don’t like to make plans. I used to think that solo travel wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I could enjoy it. I didn’t think I could handle it, to be honest. But I underestimated myself. I am a different person when I travel. Still somewhat quiet, but being alone makes it easier for other people to approach me. And I DO talk to strangers, and I can make friends. Now, it’s hard to imagine traveling any way other than on my own.
New York City comes to mind. Yes, it has everything. Yes, it is the center of American culture. Yes, it has amazing museums, history, architecture, Broadway, ect, ect. It was interesting. It was enlightening, but I didn’t love it. I think it was just too much. Of everything. I am glad I went. And I don’t think I’ll ever go back on my own. And that’s OK.
4. Technology has changed the way we travel
My first trip aboard was in 1997. When I learned I was to be in England all summer, I went to the local [English] library, researched day trips, and weekend trips. I went to the train station and got a copy of the timetables from Stafford. I wrote letters and sent postcards and used the phone infrequently because international rates were so expensive. I used a lot of film. Now, I can do most of my research from home on the internet. I take photos on my digital camera and upload them to my website wherever I have a wireless connection. I travel with a Kindle and a digital camera. I use my Kindle to read tons of books, my cell phone to Skype people at home, and Facebook is an amazing way to keep in touch with new acquaintances and old friends.
5. The world is not as scary as the media would lead you to believe
I no longer watch the news on a regular basis because if I did, I’d never leave my front yard, but if you’re like most people and get your opinion of the world from the news and movies, you probably view it as a dark, dangerous, and scary place. A place where terrorism is widespread, people kidnap tourists for ransom, and the likelihood of being robbed, maimed, or otherwise harmed is alarmingly high. The reality, of course, is that the world is not actually scary at all, so long as you keep your wits about you. At least, no scarier than some places in the USA.
6. A country’s history is not indicative of its present or future
If that were the case, I would have never visited Colombia. Or Serbia. Or I may be planning a trip to Mexico. Certain parts of the world have particularly dark pasts — war, genocide, communism, terrorism… But the truth is, NO country can boast a completely peaceful history. [Especially not USA] Instead of judging a place by its past [and perhaps avoiding it because of that past], it’s better to look at a country as it is right now. Don’t write a destination off just because of something that happened there 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago. By the same token, don’t automatically choose a destination you loved 10 or 20 years ago without taking into consideration today’s current events. People change. So do countries. And governments. And policies. [Let’s just say I would be planning a trip to the US if I didn’t live here].
7. I am incredibly lucky to have the passport that I do.
Yes, it was a pain to get my Bolivian visa, and $135 to boot. Yes, I had to make a trip to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta to get my Brazilian visa [another $150], but there’s no doubt about it– my American passport is a very valuable thing. With it, I am able to travel virtually anywhere in the world. Even though I have to have visas for some countries, I realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States and have all the rights and freedoms associated with my citizenship.
8. Being an American does not have to be a negative thing
I know some Americans who are ashamed of where they come from — especially when they travel. They say they are from Canada, or wherever. I have done this once, but only after someone assumed I was a Spaniard -I didn’t correct him. Big assault rifles were involved. People were ‘escorted’ off the bus. They didn’t get back on.
This one is particularly difficult for me. I have state pride. I often readily admit I am from South Carolina, one of the United States, but when I just say USA, a lot of people say California? or New York? When I say that I am closer to Cartagena than California, people don’t believe me…until I break out a map. But I am getting better. Most people I’ve encountered around the world love Americans. They don’t necessarily love our government or world policies [and to be fair, I don’t necessarily love our government or world policies], but they love us and are open to learning more about us.
South Carolina has beautiful mountains with many creeks and waterfalls in addition to a gorgeous coast on the Atlantic Ocean.
9. You cannot judge a culture that you know nothing about
There is just enough true about stereotypes to make them true. Having said that, I believe that having an open mind will help you realize that stereotypes never fully represent anyone. You cannot judge a culture if you do not understand it — and basing your understanding on a stereotype does not equal understanding. Before you pass judgment on traditions or beliefs, take some time to get to know the culture you are judging first.
10. It’s OK to keep returning to a place you love
Even though the world is huge with endless places to discover, I’ve realized that some places will keep pulling you back. I visit the SC coast at least once a year. I will probably go back to Argentina and Colombia at some point in the future. You will leave bits of your heart in different corners of the globe, and those places will call to you periodically. And this is OK. You don’t always have to go somewhere new to be a “traveler.”
I’ve been to London 5 times, and plan to return every single time I visit Europe. It is a magical city.
11. Having an open mind will take you far
It’s OK to have a plan. It’s better to scrap the plan if something better comes along. Traveling with an open mind will allow you to have amazing, unforgettable experiences. Forget what you think you know, and life will be much more rewarding.
12. We are not so different after all
At the end of the day, things like language, skin color, religion, and culture differentiate us much less than we think. No matter where you go in the world, people want the same things: To be successful. To be happy.To care for their families. Keep this in mind whenever you start thinking “us” and “them” thoughts. Because, at the end of the day, our dreams and goals are not that different. Even if we have different definitions of successful and happy.
13. People back home may never understand
You are the only one who can truly appreciate your travels. When you return home from a trip and have all these amazing memories and experiences buzzing around in your head, chances are your friends and family back home won’t be nearly as interested to hear about your adventures as you’d like them to be. They won’t care you taught health classes in Spanish with the Caribbean looking over your shoulder. They make look at the photos–once, but while you were off traversing the world, they were carrying on with their normal lives. [One friend had a baby. Another got married. And those with kids already–well, those kids weren’t babies when I returned home.] They may never understand, and I’ve learned that you just have to come to terms with this.
14. Every destination has something to offer — you just have to find it
I didn’t love New York City. Or Lima, Peru. Or Santiago, Chile, but I found something in each place that was cool. In NYC, it was the zoo and Central Park. In Lima, it was its proximity to the coast, and in Santiago, it was just hanging out in the main square people watching. Maybe I’m just an overly positive person, but it’s my belief that every place — no matter where — has something interesting to discover about it. I try my best to discover these redeeming qualities about a place wherever I travel, and I think it helps me enjoy the whole travel process more.
15. When the universe sends you signs, pay attention
Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of signs from the Universe, pointing me down this path or that one. And, finally, I’m starting to pay attention. Whether it’s related to travel or not, if Fate or God or the Universe or whatever is sending you signs, you’d better be listening.
16. You and your excuses are the only things holding you back
People often tell me how they wish they could take a month off to go somewhere. My answer: Well go. Their usual reply: I can’t. I’ve got ___________. Maybe that’s true. Maybe its just an excuse. If you want to travel but currently aren’t it’s probably because you are making excuses. YOU are the only thing truly holding yourself back. You can make time by prioritizing and planning ahead. You can save money by staying in hostels and using deal websites like skyscanner.com. You can manage the responsibility smartly. You can bring children with you. And you can overcome the fear.
I love traveling abroad. It has a certain amount of glamour associated with it, but over the few last years I have traveled to Washington, DC and New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle. The entire USA has so much to see from the Grand Canyon to Florida Keys to Crater Lake to barrier islands. I could never leave the USA and still see something amazing on every trip I take.
18. Being nervous is natural
Being nervous is natural when it comes to traveling. I’m not any braver than you are. There have been several times when I’ve seriously considered canceling a trip or an activity at the last minute because I was scared. [OK, I actually did cancel a couple things] Scared of the unknown because travel is full of unknowns. It’s pushing through this fear and nervousness that really make you brave.
19. You really can make lifelong friends while traveling
Yes, it’s true that traveling long-term often means having to say a lot of goodbyes. Frequently. But it also allows you to meet a ton of amazing people who love traveling just as much as you do. Occasionally, you’ll form bonds so strong that things like distance and time won’t matter. With technology today, maintaining international friendships is easy. And having friends all over the world is never a bad thing.
We were neighbours in Peru; then I vistied her in San Francisco and Seattle.
20. Getting lost can sometimes be a blessing in disguise
I get lost all the time–even in my own hometown. Sometimes, though, losing the map and just allowing yourself to get lost can be a great thing. As long as you don’t find yourself lost in a bad neighborhood or otherwise dangerous situation, being lost can help you discover a place in a unique way that you just can’t do by following a map or a guidebook’s suggestions. You’ll stumble across tucked-away restaurants, funny street art, and scenes most people probably don’t see. You may even get to talk to some locals about non-travel stuff!
21. Being able to read a map is crucial
Despite smartphones and Google Maps and all that, being able to read an old-fashioned paper map is still a great skill to have. Why? What if you end up somewhere without internet access! Or travel without a smartphone. [I never take my smart phone out of the country]
22. Hostels are a great invention
I love hostels. I love that I can have a room without having to pay for the entire room. As a solo traveler, I loathe paying for an entire hotel room that charges the same price for one as it does for two or four people. They are affordable, usually centrally located, and allow you to easily meet other travelers wherever you are. Sometimes they are really nice, too.
23. A travel style can change
Just as there’s no one travel style that works for everyone, there may not even be one travel style that works for you all the time. As you grow and age and gain travel experience, your style may well change. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A backpacker can stay in a 4-star hotel, just as a comfort-seeking traveler can rough it in the bush.
24. Don’t compare your travel style to anyone else’s
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know the “right” way to travel. There’s only the way that works for YOU. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxury seeker, just travel the way that you want to and ignore everyone else. In the end, you will be a much happier traveler.
25. No one cares about my eating/drinking habits
I’ve never been a very adventurous eater, and I don’t drink alcohol [anymore]. I always figured people would judge me for this. But I’ve learned over the past few years that trying weird new foods can be fun. And I’ve learned that most people accept that.
26. Travel gives you wisdom. On so many levels. Culturally, socially, historically. I can’t think of an area where travel hasn’t helped me in some way.
27. You will learn patience when you travel
You have to. I am a fairly patient person to begin with, but traveling and especially taking public transportation in out of the way locations you have to be patient.
28. Say ‘yes’ even when you want to say ‘no’
I have said ‘yes’ to lots of things while traveling that I wouldn’t have agreed to at home… Saying ‘yes’ to a date with a matador. ‘Yes, please’…Signing a lease on an apartment in a foreign country. ‘Yes’ twice–actually…Spending the night in a stranger’s house ‘Ummm, yes’ [not without hesitation]…Eating strange foods ‘yes…um ok’. It is easy to say no, especially when you are out of your comfort zone. Say yes. As long as you don’t die, it will at minimum be a learning experience.
29. People are generally good and it’s OK to talk to strangers
You don’t always have to be on the go in order to meet people. I love nothing more to park myself on a bench/cafe/ect. and just people-watch. Sometimes I even talk to them [gasp!] If you’re like me, you probably grew up listening to the “don’t talk to strangers” mantra and watching videos in elementary school about ‘Stranger Danger’ . But perhaps we should rethink that golden rule. I am living proof that talking to locals and fellow travelers when you travel can only enhance the experience.
30. We don’t need as much as we think we do
Packing seems to be a major headache for a lot of people. I pack basically the same whether I am traveling for one week or six months. You don’t need all that stuff you think you need, and technology comes in smaller and faster packages every day.
31. It takes time to transition to new things
In my first weeks traveling in South America, I felt lonely and unsure of how I would continue to live this new life for so long. Then I transitioned to my new life and the new rhythm of it all and it was okay. I realized that I needed ‘transition’ time every time I changed cities and said goodbye to new friends or even hotel rooms. I would get to my new destination and would feel a bit uncomfortable and a little bit lonely. But I knew if I gave myself a day or two, those feelings would go away and I would have new reasons to enjoy where I was and often times, I found I liked it even better than the last place. This is one of the reasons why SLOW travel is better than flying through an area just to say you’ve seen it.
32. It’s OK to ask for help
Several times I have been forced to ask for help. I hate it every. single. time. I hate having to ask people to watch my cat or check the mail. I hate having to ask for directions in a new place. I hate having to ask where the nearest store is, but you know what? Most people are happy to help.
33. It’s not always about the money
Traveling is almost always more expensive than staying home, but there are ways to make it more affordable. Once I showed up in a resort town on New Year’s Day night without a reservation or a place to stay. I went to hotel after hotel. It started to snow. I was getting very depressed. And cold. And hungry. I finally found a place that had one room left for 200 Euros. I didn’t want to spend that much money, but I took it. It was the best 200 euros I could have spent at that moment. A hot shower and a warm bed did much more than take the chill off; it rejuvenated my soul. And I was much more able to enjoy the rest of my trip.
34. Travel will change you in ways you can’t imagine
There are the things you can think of–such as making you a more educated world citizen, having stories to tell at any occasion, and realizing that people are people no matter where you are. Sometimes, when the timing is right, when the events line up in just the right way, you can recognize the moment that the change happens. Sometimes it can be profound – you can find a life’s purpose. For me, it was running my very own health clinic in Peru. This one volunteer project has changed the course of my life. Sometimes it’s small, like discovering you like gelato or pretzels or ceviche. Sometimes, it is just remembering who you wanted to be instead of who you are today. These changes, big or small, alter us as individuals if we let them. And the really cool thing is that it can become contagious.
Charleston is the first city that stole my heart… the first place I fell in love. I was 9, on a South Carolina history field trip, and riding the boat to Fort Sumter. I knew at that moment that I would do everything in my power to have that feeling again… wind in my hair, salty air on my lips… freedom… Never-mind I was with 50 or so other 3rd graders, in my mind, I was on my own.
Charleston was also the city I escaped to when I ran away from home at 15. For three glorious days in June, I was a beach bum in Isle of Palms. I read books and swam in the ocean and my hotel’s pool. Then I decided to return home before my absence was noticed. Once again, Charleston represented freedom.
Charleston was also the first place I had my heart broken. No, not by some boy, [although that did come later], but by a school. I had an athletic/academic scholarship to College of Charleston to play volleyball, but when I got hurt playing softball my senior year of high school, they rescinded it. I still wonder what my life would be like if I had gone to CofC instead of Erskine. There’s a good chance that every single aspect of my life would be different than it is now.
The oh-so-beautiful College of Charleston campus. It was founded in 1770, before the USA was even a country.
Charleston is also the one place I return to at least yearly, if not more often. Whenever my energy level is flailing, I return to Charleston, or at least to the beaches nearby. Sun and salt water heal me faster than nearly anything else on the planet.
So it was with some trepidation that I returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Quite some time ago, I was here for my friend’s wedding with my then boyfriend as my date. Of course the wedding was the main focus, but we had hoped to carve out some alone time, too. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, due to how to say it—I fucked everything up due to excessive alcohol consumption. [Note: 2016 version of Michelle does not consume alcohol for several reasons, but a big one is to avoid future situations like this one.] The relationship sputtered on for a bit, but ultimately ended. And I’ve always felt bad about that. So Charleston became the place where I fucked up the best relationship I’ve ever been in, and despite my love for the city, it’s always hurt to return to Charleston, but I do, because really, how can you not love a city that looks like this?
Houses that look like this
Buildings like this
Bridge architecture like this
Cemeteries like these
food like this
History such as this
and beaches like this
However, life is funny and fickle and as fate would have it, we both had reasons to be in the city at the same time years after that fateful weekend. And we both knew ahead of time the other would be there too.
Running into each other Friday night on King Street was magical. One hug melted away years of what-ifs? Dinner of hamburgers and fries tasted like the most wonderful food on the planet. We made plans for Saturday to do some of the things we were unable to do together all those years ago… like wander around an aircraft carrier…
get up close and personal with airplanes
and tour a decommissioned submarine, because you know, us history nerds in the world have to stick together.
We also took a walk on the beach hand in hand, watched the sunrise over the Atlantic, and wrote our initials in the sand. Sure it was cold. After all, it IS January, but 40 degrees at sunrise in January is just about perfect.
And just like that, the weekend was over. We went our separate ways. Who knows what the future holds? Certainly not me, but at least I can say that I fell in love with Charleston again. The most negative memory of the city in my memory-bank has been removed and replaced by the most perfect weekend in recent memory.
Places are like that for me. Linked forever with memories of people, events and food, not just the scenery. Charleston and I have a rich, complicated history and while things are good now, like the most complex relationship with people, I expect it to be ever-changing, ebbing and flowing between love, languish, serenity, and hate.
Relationships are like ghost signs; evidence of their past are etched all over a city.
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 National Park Service 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; enjoy what America has to offer. Fee free.
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]
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.
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.
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 in town [#truestory] 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 know it 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.
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.
Update: I now have a smart phone. Life is grand.
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 well enough to know that there is 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 am 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 have 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 from my [oh-so many] mistakes… eventually.
I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on Earth. Steve McQueen
I have always been an independent sort. As I kid, I often ‘ran away from home’. I never went very far –usually exploring the outer reaches of our 25 acres. Many times, I had my school backpack and stuffed it with a sleeping bag, snacks and a book and had a good day. Summers were great as I often set up a tent somewhere on the property and was ‘away’ for a few days at a time. A couple of times, I built a little raft a floated it on the creek pretending to be Tom Sawyer. As a child, my fondest wish to be a boy scout. Our town didn’t have a girl scouts, but that didn’t stop me from checking out books in the library on ‘wilderness survival’. I taught myself cool things like how to build a fire, how to set up a tent, and how not to get attacked by bears.
Up until my mid 20’s I considered myself to be pretty outdoorsy, enjoying to spend as much time outside and under the sun as possible, hiking, biking, communicating with nature and all that crap. But somewhere along the line, things changed. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when this happen, but I think it had something to do with getting my first big girl job. Working 6 days a week with minimal vacation time sucked the life out of my soul, and after about 2 years, I couldn’t do it anymore. It had been 2 years since I’d had a vacation so just after my two year work-anniversary, I took off to the North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The Outer Banks is awesome. The northern half where Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is by far the more popular part of the Outer Banks. Ocracoke Lighthouse is gleaming white. It was built in 1823, the second oldest still in use in the nation. It’s not a tall as Hatteras or as famous but nevertheless it is an awesome site!
Ocracoke Island sits 23 miles off the North Carolina coast and a quarter mile south of Hatteras Island. It usually measures 17 miles long and a mile wide. The deserted, windblown beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore make up the northern 90 percent of the island, and a small village of hotels, restaurants, shops, homes makes up the southern 10 percent. It’s a great place to get away from it all.
Going to the Outer Banks helped me re-assess my priorities in life. Did I want a life of relative security and stability? Did I want a life where taking a vacation was more of a headache than a means of relaxation? Hell no. I didn’t want that when I started, and after two years I didn’t like where that life was leading. Subconsciously I guess I realized how unhappy I was with my life, and deep down I was yearning to get back to my childhood roots, and to the last time I was really happy with life. I needed to get dirty, sleep under the stars again, and paddle about around on a body of water on a regular basis.
And where did I have this profound, existential realization? In a tent, under the stars off the coast of North Carolina in an area where the one of the most infamous pirates in history roamed.
I sure know how to pick my moments.
There is something incredibly cliche, but true about laying out under the stars, way out in the middle of nowhere, hearing waves crash on the shore that triggers some scary deep thoughts, right? Right? Please say this is not just me.
Seeing the sun rise over the ocean…
watching dolphins play in the ocean…
observing patterns in the sand…
These were the kinds of moments I had been missing over the past few years. Taking a step back away from all the craziness, all the rush, all of the stress that is involved with chasing the “American Dream” and realizing that simple, peaceful quiet moments abroad are often the most meaningful and profound. I exited the rat race at that moment [even thought it still took a while to start chasing MY American Dream].
It’s been 8 years since I’ve had that revelation. In that time I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries. I’ve had short adventures and long ones. I’ve become a registered nurse. I’m on my way to becoming a nurse practitioner. As I paddled around and explored the barrier islands off South Carolina’s coast, I felt the stress of the last few weeks melt away. I was light years removed from the stress of the last few weeks. With each stroke of my kayak, I felt so far removed from the hustle and bustle of life, I could feel a smile creep on my face for the first time in a while.
My first visit to Budapest was a frosty sojourn where I tried to be either inside or in the toasty warm thermal baths at all times. I learned a lot about Budapest’s cafe culture, walked around the city with my head wrapped in hats and scarves, learned to use Europe’s second oldest subway efficiently, attended some grade A classical music concerts, and made a lot of mental notes to ‘look up’ the significance of what I saw, and explore more in detail should I ever return.
I have returned.
One of the things that I saw on my January walk along the river, was several pairs of cast iron shoes pointing towards the river. Interesting, yes, but what is it’s significance.
I only snapped the one photo because…cold, and frostbitten fingers were a very real possibility.
Interesting…curious….something I’d like to investigate further.
It’s hard to look at a monuments like this–sometimes called ‘dark tourism’–especially in areas where life has gone on, but I think it’s important to look at them, ponder the significance, and reflect on the meaning. Budapest, in 1944 was not a place you wanted to be if you were Jewish. But then again, most of central Europe was not a place you wanted to be either.
Rusted cast iron looks like real, used leather, and these shoes in all shapes and styles represent some of the victims of the Holocaust. In the winter of 1944, several Jews from Budapest were rounded up and stripped completely naked on the banks of the Danube River. That would have be torture enough. January in Budapest is not balmy. Trust me, I was there in January and nearly froze to death despite my wool hat and coat. These Jews–men, women, and children– were told to face the river. A firing squad shot the prisoners-of-war at close enough range so that their bodies would fall into the icy Danube and be washed away from the city. If the gunshot didn’t kill them, the river most certainly would.
Leather was such a precious commodity that even shoes were taken from the victims. After the victims fell into the river, the shoes were rounded up, either re-distributed or the leather re-worked into something else. Today there are 60 pairs of cast iron shoes modeled after 1940’s footwear lined up on the Pest side of the Danube. The memorial was commissioned in 2005.
The monument is located on the Pest side of Budapest, Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Hungary.
So here’s the thing. DJ and I are both registered nurses. We met while working at the same hospital, her as a RN, me as a respiratory therapist. The timing of this trip was such that both of us should have graduated (me initial RN; her BSN). We almost screwed that up–me by breaking the bones, not working since May, and pushing back my externship for a block, and DJ is actually taking a chemistry class as we travel that will be her last class. It would have been better had things gone as planned… So–as part of out London tour, we had to visit the Florence Nightingale Nurse’s Museum. We went to the museum right before the Miss America pageant aired. One of the contestants, as her talent, performed a soliloquy in her scrubs talking about her job.
She was mocked endlessly by talking heads for wearing her ‘doctor’s stethoscope’ and just talking. As a person who has worked in healthcare better part of 10 year, I can definitively say that being a nurse [or respiratory therapist] takes talent. It takes skill to take care of sick babies. It takes skill to insert an IV on someone who is dehydrated. It takes talent to make someone comfortable when they are not in comfortable situations, and it takes talent to help someone die with dignity and grace. While certainly an unconventional talent, being a nurse [or any health care provider really] is most definitely is a skill and a talent and not everyone can or will do it.
She did not win.
But from pageants to TV shows to corporate sponsors, nurses have been in the news in the last two weeks more than possibly at any other time in recent history. And that’s good for nurses. It’s good that the public at large are getting to see what nurses do. I worked for ten years as a respiratory therapist before I became a nurse and people know even less about that profession than they do nursing. Anyway…as luck would have it, I have been spared most of the nurse drama because I was in London, visiting the nurses’ museum…oh the irony.
How can I say this nicely? The nurses’ museum wasn’t my favorite. It is small. It costs 7.50 [many of London’s museums much bigger, better, and are FREE], and doesn’t do the best job of depicting nursing. It’s mostly historic, but unlike the Old Operating Theatre, it’s not full of many artifacts. It consists mostly of photographs… displayed much like they would be if you were looking at microfiche [I feel so old just knowing about microfiche]. The Fleming Museum consisted of his laboratory; the Semmelweis museum (in Budapest) is located in his former family home. Those are all much better scientific/historic museums, and the surgery museum depicts surgery a time when surgeons were just slightly better than butchers.
How could the museum have been better?
What I would have like to seen is a small section focused on Aunt Flo, a small section cataloging the history of nursing, a small section of historic nursing artifacts, and maybe an interactive ‘can you be this patient’s nurse’ set-up using a current model of a hospital room or ICU room. That would have made for a rocking nurses’ museum.
It did have the lamp, which is a pretty important part of the graduation ceremony [or so I’m told. I skipped my graduation… remember broken arm, broken ankle? yea, I didn’t get to graduate with my original class and was in the new class for only the internship part…which didn’t really foster warm, fuzzy feelings towards my new classmates… anyway…]
I wonder what the design thought was in using fake grass to adorn the walls, or if there even was one.
Days 2-4 in Budapest… Let’s go adventuring, shall we, but first, a little history lesson. Budapest is a fascinating historical city seperated into Buda and Pest by the Danube River. This area represents the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which fell at the beginning of WWI. After WW2 in 1949, Hungary was declared a people’s republic and was ruled by communism. The iron curtain fell in 1989 but when touring Budapest, you will see that there are reminders of the Communist regime scattered throughout the city today.
Today, Hungary is part of the European Union which is part of the reason it is facing its current refugee crisis. DJ and I narrowly escaped Budapest ahead of Hungary closing its borders in an attempt to stem the influx of these invaders. Authorities in Budapest are trying to help the refugees [migrants, illegals, ect..] by providing shelter, water, and facilities at the train stations, but the migrants want more. More handouts from not-exactly-wealthy governments. More demands from people not vetted by any type of security. It’s quite the sticky situation… but I digress…
One of the few remaining Soviet Monuments is Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill. This statue was originally erected to honour the Soviets who sacrificed themselves to free Hungary from the Nazis occupation. As we all know, that liberation came with a price and the Soviets ended up locking out the Western world. The statue was damaged in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and in 1989 after the fall of communism, the statue was kept to honour all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for Hungary. An inscription in the statue states: To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.
Ruin Bars are a popular spot that came out of the fall of communism. These are trendy hipster pubs that are decorated with retro furniture and have a very cool vibe. Known by locals as ‘romkocsma’ (ruin pub in Hungarian), these pubs have been a part of the drinking culture for over a dozen years. Each one is unique but, more often than not, a ruin pub in Budapest will have a rundown and slightly sketchy exterior that completely contradicts the vibrant colours and unique ambience you’ll find inside. Filled with second hand furniture and nearly anything funky picked off the curb, these formerly abandoned buildings are now pretty integral to Budapest. And it all seems to have started in the city’s 7th district.
The neighbourhood was largely damaged and neglected after World War II and it’s said that ruin pubs are what changed the district’s future for the better. Where many saw abandoned factories and deteriorating apartment complexes, the people behind Szimpla saw potential. Over the years, the transformation of these buildings (and now others across the city) led to an entirely new concept in Budapest that super cool.
Budapest is in a major transition right now and an interesting part of traveling there is that you can see a contrast between the communist era and the modern day society of today. Communism is very much a part of the conversation in Budapest. People that are the same age as I am remember growing up during the regime. It has been slower to develop than other communist cities due to lack of funding, but this has allowed it to stave off the dreaded gentrification that is affecting so many cities today. It won’t be long until the West invades though, even now you will find McDonald’s and Starbucks. As a matter a fact, Budapest was the first city in the Eastern bloc to open a McDonald’s. They had a more relaxed form of communism than other countries, giving it the nickname Goulash Communism. They enjoyed a certain freedom and amenities that weren’t available to other countries in the Eastern Bloc.
Definitely the fancy one
Our train to Prague was nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes late getting in last night. It originated in Budapest, then went to Prague. For the first time in 10+ years of traveling, the police boarded the train at the Czech border, and checked passports. It reminded me a little bit of when I was hanging out in Zapatista territory– at least these police didn’t have machetes attached to their hips.
The migrants are now, shall we say, pissed. They are now attempting to block trains from coming and going by standing on the tracks unless they are allowed on them… without a passport… Without a ticket… without any type of security checks. And they all want to go to Germany. Germany. Does. Not. Want. Them. and neither does anyone else after these antics. To riot against the very people who have literally given you shelter, water, and a place to pee because you did get want you “want”, is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It makes no sense. They are acting like children who got their candy taken away.
What’s the answer? Idk, but Greece and Italy can’t patrol all the islands that these people are arriving to. Hungary put up a razor wire fence on its border with Serbia but it can’t cover the railway which is being used as a highway. Romania isn’t strong enough to police it’s borders. The Austria / Hungary border is ground zero. People are trying to get into Austria by any means necessary since they see it as the gateway to Germany. And people are dying–hiding in truck shells. And sealed refrigerators.
Hi, I’m Michelle and this is my own little corner of the interwebs where I write, share photos, and interact with others in the blog-o-shpere. So in addition to that–Who am I? I am –in one way or another– the following: hiker + backpacker + swimmer + pediatric respiratory therapist + registered nurse + avid traveler + cat parent + gardener + photographer + medical science junkie + adventure-seeker + DIY enthusiast + voracious reader + history and science nerd + football fanatic + aging athlete + wannabe chef + trying not to succumb to the trappings of a 9-5 life. And beginning in 2018, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda.
Everyday life doesn’t have to be routine. Anyone can do just about anything he or she wants to do– sometimes one has to find creative ways in doing it. Sometimes one has to tear down the barriers that might stopping them. Everyday is an opportunity to choose your own adventure. That is what I ultimately write about.