Pushing Yourself to Do the Hard Stuff (AKA driving in a foreign country)

Many people do difficult things. They raise children, join the army, pass the bar exam, care for sick loved ones and run marathons, to name a few.

Though I’ve always loved a challenge, especially when it comes to school/studying/work/projects, I think I’ve forgotten how important—nay, critical—it is to do the hard stuff. The really hard stuff.

In a way, doing the hard stuff like crying. So many people, myself included, feel ten times better after a big cry. Not only are you letting out years of pent up frustration, anger, and sadness in each sob, but you’re also emptying out your emotions to create space for new, better ones. You start seeking happiness. You smile. Things don’t seem so bad anymore.

You get that same feeling after accomplishing some great feat. Even if you don’t have your scores back yet, you feel relieved finishing your exam. Even if you didn’t get the best time, you finished the race. You struggled, you panted, you panicked, you nearly shat yourself. But you did it. And now, you can smile.

Where am I going with this?

It’s nearly August, right? Seven months of memories have gone by this year. If you know me, you know I chase happiness and am in a constant state of reflection. Recently, I’ve been bored and a bit down and I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to lift my spirits. I’ve been trying to think back to the moments this year when I felt my happiest to see if I can replicate those feelings here and now. And of the seven months, I can think of one specific time when I felt pure euphoria.

It was the moment I parked my rental car at my hotel in Fort William, Scotland.

You see — (lmao, love that expression) in March, I had booked a tour that would take me from where I was staying in Glasgow via coach bus through the Scottish Highlands and drop off in Edinburgh the next day. I was beyond thrilled for this little trip because it was my mini vacation while I was working remotely, my chance for escape and enjoyment, and a chance to see the countryside.

But two days before the departure, I got a message that the trip was cancelled due to a shortage of attendees. I was super bummed. After thinking about it long and hard and conversing with a friend or two, I decided on a whim to take the situation into my own hands, rent a car, and make the trip myself. Why not?

It all seemed like good and fun, until I got to the rental car place in Glasgow the morning of my escapade. After inspecting my Nissan, the attendant handed me my keys, pointed to the exit, and said, “You’re good to go. Have a great day.”

Then, boom. It hit me.

I was all alone.
In a foreign country.
With a car I’d never driven.
A driver’s seat on the wrong side.
Street signs on the wrong side.
About to drive four hours in a direction I didn’t know.
Through land I didn’t know.
Without anyone on the continent to call if I got stuck.
I had to figure out how to get out of the garage.
And then through the crowd of pedestrians.
Then out of the city.
Then… Oh my gosh.

For the first time in a very long time, I was terrified.

But I had already spent $260 on the rental and booked my hotel in Fort William (my halfway point) that night. And I booked my hostel in Edinburgh the next day. Time and money were of the essence. There was no backing out.

So I did it. I told myself I could do it and drove that car out of the garage. I found my way to the highway after about six wrong turns and a speed well below the limit. I got to the countryside. I made it to see the rolling hills and greenery. (Absolutely breathtaking, btw.)

This photo does NOT do it justice.

Of course, the Scottish weather held up to its reputation and it was pouring on and off the entire trip. And get this— I even had to stop and fill up with petrol. That honestly made me more nervous than driving on the left! How do gas pumps work in a foreign country?

I was literally shaking the entire journey. My hands, trembling, were glued to the steering wheel. I was leaning forward and driving slow like a Grandma (sorry, Grandma). My eyes were peeled.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

By the time I got to my hotel a few hours later, I was physically exhausted. Stress, anxiety, and terror do that to the body, you know.

But seconds after pulling into the parking lot, I smiled. Really smiled.

Then I laughed. Then I squealed. Then I teared up. Then I laughed again. Another squeal.

I F*CKING DID IT!!!!!! (Again, sorry, Grandma.)

And that was the happiest I’ve felt all year. That utter bliss carried me through the next few weeks, with nothing but pure jubilation emanating from my body. The world was perfect. I was in love with it.

Okay, okay, so I know driving in a foreign country does not come close to the great challenges people face all the time. It wasn’t climbing Everest or being launched into space. Or getting my MBA (now that’s scary).

But it taught me an invaluable lesson. I’m happiest when I’m working really, really freaking hard, bitch-slapping my comfort zone, shaking in my boots, and just doing the damn thing.

And maybe I’ve been so bored lately because I’ve done so many things that I find few tasks daunting anymore. Work is challenging, but it’s not driving-in-a-foreign-country hard. Zumba is challenging, but it’s not racing-against-the-clock-to-find-a-gas-station-in-the-middle-of-nowhere hard.

So if you’re reading this—or if I’m just talking to myself here—challenge yourself MORE. Go do the hard stuff. The really hard stuff.

It is utterly, completely, unequivocally worth it.

A 2019 Revelation: yet another post where I announce I’ve “realized” something and vow to make a change

When I started this blog it was meant to document my findings as I did research for upcoming trips. And then, once I went on those trips, it became a way to chronicle and memorialize the adventures I went on every day that I was abroad.

So, when I left last year to start traveling full-time, I expected my blogging to continue. Naturally.

Well, a year of travel went by, I only posted one post.

And I’ve been beating myself up about it all year. I kept telling myself that the reason I wasn’t writing was that I was too busy living and having fun, and that’s justifiable since it was my mission and fuel all along.

But today, January 9, 2019, I’ve had a revelation (and a sh*t-ton of coffee).

I wasn’t avoiding blogging because I was “too busy.”

It was because I didn’t feel like I was on a little “adventure” anymore. My trips didn’t have a start and end where I could sum up my itinerary and post about what a great time I had.

My journey was ongoing. And, as a marketing professional, I’m married to the construct of brand consistency. So anything I would have written would have risked diverting from the brand.

Plus, I started the year with a comfortable income, so I didn’t feel “broke” anymore. Another brand diversion.

So I let myself become unmotivated. I didn’t feel like I had anything exciting or relevant to share, so I, myself, became unexcitable and irrelevant. And motivation is EVERYTHING when you’re working on a side project with no one holding you accountable but yourself. This blog is supposed to be a fun l’il journaling exercise anyway, not a chore. I ain’t getting paid for this ish.

But part of my revelation was that this has all been total BS and I have a ton to share!

I mean, look at what I’m doing. I’m 25 and I have no home. I sold everything and moved to a foreign country for a year. I work 100% online in a professional career. I live out of a CARRY-ON suitcase. I lived in hostels for a year. I managed to get in the best shape of my life while on what many would say was a “vacation.” I studied and practiced opera virtually. I’ve been treated for a mental health disorder in a foreign country. I’ve had both a serious relationship and a few casual flings while on the road. And I’ve broken through my self-critical, introspective, antisocial bubble to make numerous lifelong friends in a matter of weeks.

So while I’m may not have come out of this year with a “10 Free Things To Do in Brisbane” or “49 Hours in Melbourne: How to See it All” post, this l’il mama still has plenty of advice to give.

So, help me, dear readers. All 15 of you who have actually made it down this far in my musings. Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to know?

I have some free time and a really nice MacBook so let’s get this flowing….Comment box below. Right. There.

XOXOXO

Lexi

An Ode to McDonald’s

mcdonalds-berlin

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the real MVP of my travels: McDonald’s. No, not because I like fast food or get excited about nuggets and a red-footed, red-haired clown. Let me take a second to explain.

When I arrived in Berlin on a chilly, windy, wet April morning, I was running on less than three hours of sleep, a few granola bars and 8 oz. of water. I was not the best version of myself. I was parched, exhausted, jet-lagged, irritable, and not ready to face the day, let alone take on a new country with a language I don’t speak a lick of. Of course, I was excited to have touched down in Europe, the land I love more than my own, but that excitement was diluted by my physical stupor.

After stumbling through the airport and finding my way to the train stop, then navigating to the station closest to my hostel, I took my first steps in East Berlin. First impression: not great. It was dreary and grey; the people who shuffled up and down the sidewalks were dressed in varying shades of black, grey and navy. Heavy boots clapped on the ground and chains clinked on pedestrians’ jeans. Graffiti stretched as far as the eye could see on buildings, walls, fences, sidewalks, construction zones…everywhere.

I was dressed in a preppy tan coat and riding boots, with red lipstick on and my hair in a tight bun on the top of my head. I didn’t quite fit in. I got a few sideways glances and I lugged my suitcase off the platform and made my way to the street corner to look for signs. Since I didn’t have WiFi, I had screenshotted the directions from the station to the hostel before I had let the airport and I figured that would suffice to get me there. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I first walked about 10 minutes in the wrong direction. I realized it and walked back to the station, and then went 10 minutes in the other direction. Then, realized the first direction was the correct way and I had just read a sign incorrectly. So 30 minutes later, I was on my way. I was so delirious and growing more frustrated by the minute that even when a man saw me frantically scrutinizing my map and asked if I needed help, I said no thank you because I didn’t feel like talking to humans. Yeah, that bad.

Finally, I made my way to the hostel. Of course I arrived before I could check in and could only drop off my bags. I wanted nothing more than a meal and a coffee and gallon of water to drink and a shower and a nap and a comfy bed – was that really too much to ask for? Apparently yes, it was. So I used the hostel bathroom, freshened up with some tap water from the sink, stored my luggage in the safe room, and took off on a quest for food.

Usually, when I travel, I have no issue eating alone. I’ll find a cute café with outdoor seating and will order a glass of wine to ease my nerves, and then dig into my meal. But on that morning, I was not so optimistic. I was simply hungry and tired. I passed by a few hole-in-the-wall kebob places but to me they looked questionable and definitely didn’t have warm-fuzzy vibes to them (though of course I saw everything though my lens of irritability and probably didn’t give them the chance I should have). So I didn’t stop.

I continued to walk, passing a few more uninviting-looking eateries and eventually ended up in an industrial area that was even more intimidating than the goth/punk rock area wherein I had begun my journey. Every sign and poster was in German and I didn’t know what I was looking at. I passed by more questionable characters on the streets and got more glances and I was just so uncomfortable I wanted to cry. I was so done.

But then off in the distance, I saw the golden arches. I can’t remember the last time I have eaten McDonald’s in the U.S.  Like every other person born in the early 90s, I definitely had my share growing up, but eventually stopped eating there post “Super-size Me” movie, as the world grew more aware of the health effects of eating fast food.  

But when traveling, it’s a different story. It’s not about the food at that point. It’s about taking a break from risk-taking and going somewhere where you know what to expect and you can read everything on the menu. It’s a little home away from home, a refuge when you’re feeling how I was in that moment.

So I made my way to McDonald’s, ordered my food, and for the first time in 24 hours, felt at ease. I plugged my phone in to charge in the outlet by my table. I logged into the free WiFi and looked up where I was. I stayed there for nearly an hour, browsing the web and planning my next few days in Berlin.   

I thought about how many times I have resorted to McDonald’s when traveling alone. I did it in Sydney, Australia, when I was fed up from getting lost in the city all day and just needed a place to go and recharge. I did it in Casablanca, Morocco, when I felt so uncomfortable trying to eat anywhere else because women typically don’t go out by themselves, let alone eat at a restaurant, and I had gotten lots of uncomfortable looks from hopeful men at every other restaurant I tried to enter. I did it in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the power went out at my yucky hostel and I just needed to go somewhere with light and power to charge my phone and get a coffee.

It’s interesting how a place that doesn’t enter my brain space at home becomes my sanctuary while abroad. But then again, I don’t need a sanctuary when I’m at home because everything is already familiar. It’s like going to a party by yourself, finding the only person you know (a kid you knew briefly from high school), and clinging to that person the rest of the night just to survive the party. It’s really all just survival, isn’t it?

McDonald’s Corporation has undeniable flaws, but it has done a great job keeping its interiors and its in-store experiences consistent while assimilating to the demands of international consumers. And while I sat there in Berlin, drinking my signature diet coke and dipping over-fried French fries into sugar-infused ketchup, I couldn’t have been more appreciative for the fast food chain. I left feeling content and ready to take on the rest of the day.

This is my Ode to McDonald’s.

How I’ve felt after nearly a year without travel

So….

Last I wrote, I was headed off to Australia in April 2016. My post was about the adjustment to post-grad, full-time working life and missing the freedom to roam.

In some ways, not much has changed since then. I’m still adjusting to being a real adult and to be honest, I don’t love it yet. I miss spending  a few hours of the day inside in a classroom and the rest of the time walking across a beautiful campus, stretching my legs, choosing how I spent the hour-long breaks between lessons and meetings and rehearsals and work. Now its about spending two hours in traffic commuting to and from work, sitting at a desk indoors for eight hours, getting back home when it’s already dark and making dinner before going to bed. I didn’t like this a year ago, and I don’t like it now.

But if you look at it from the other side of the tracks, a lot has changed since my last post. On October 15, 2015, my boyfriend got a call that the a spot had opened up in Los Angeles for a job he wanted, and after 24 hours of deliberation, he accepted. Ten months later, there were were driving 3,000 miles cross country with our parents to start our new life on the West Coast.

It’s been a strange year. During the months between graduating college and moving to LA, I’ve experienced a range of emotions. I loved my job at a creative agency in D.C., but it wasn’t enough to make me feel fulfilled. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t have anything going on after work. I would come home and do nothing, or continue working on projects for work to fill the time. I watched a lot of Netflix. I gained a lot of weight. I stopped wearing make up. I saw my boyfriend on weekends but I would feel empty every Sunday night when we would part. I didn’t have any motivation to wake up in the mornings, I didn’t see a greater purpose for everything I was doing.

When I was in school, I had plenty of motivators: work hard in class, get good grades, earn my degree, work long hours to earn money for travel. Everyday I woke up with a mission and at any point in those four years, if you asked me why I was doing something I would have a definitive response. After graduating, I didn’t know what my mission was. Of course I wanted to perform well at work, help my company, help our clients, make a good name for myself, etc. But why? There wasn’t a degree to work towards. There wasn’t an award. And most importantly, there wasn’t a big trip that I was saving up for, because I only had a few days of vacation for the year. That coupled with everything listed in my last paragraph lead to a downward spiral in my mental health.

I felt the symptoms of depression taking over and I did everything I could think of to feel better. I did yoga, tried online therapy, meditated, took up therapeutic coloring, talked to my boyfriend about how I was feeling, even tried vitamin supplements that are supposed to be natural mood boosters. Nada. I still cried at least once a week and donned a painful smile for work.

Okay — I know by now you’re like, “Alexis, stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You have a good life. And besides, you’re in control of your life and if you want change, make it happen!” I hear you. But sometimes when you’re that far down in the trenches, you’re paralyzed; you can see the bright sky up above but you can’t seem to move toward it.

I thought going to Australia would be the answer. It was on the opposite side of the Earth, I was visiting one of my dearest friends and I was finally off of work for several days. But instead of  escaping those feelings, I brought them all with me. I felt tired during the trip, not alive. I wanted to sleep instead of party. I was timid around Sasha’s friends. I ate a lot. It was wonderful to see Sasha and meet her friends, and I did have a good time. But when I got back home to D.C., I didn’t feel any different. It was back to the grind as usual, and I still didn’t understand my purpose.

Still, I knew the move to LA was coming up. I hated to say goodbye to my coworkers, but I was looking forward to new work opportunities. I turned my attention, and my hopes, to that. I thought, okay — warm weather, beaches, art: check, check, check. It’s not Barcelona, or Dublin, or Zurich, or one of the many gorgeous European cities I really wanted to move to, but at least it was different. I drifted through the last few months before the move.

But despite the change in scenery, Los Angeles hasn’t been the solution I was dreaming about. It’s  different, but not necessarily in a good way. It’s smelly. People wear a lot of make up. Traffic is horrendous. Even the pretty streets you see in Instagram photos with colorful buildings and palm trees are wrought with litter and graffiti. My boyfriend travels for work, and when he’s not traveling, he is studying for his accounting exams. I spent my first several weeks feeling lost. I was looking for jobs and felt a new wave of discouragement after going weeks without a hit. As my savings dwindled, I accepted the first offer I received, doing marketing for a family-owned jewelry company in downtown Los Angeles.  It’s been a great position so far, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the industry and applying my creative and digital skills to help evolve the brand. But I still struggle to wake up each day and I coast through the weeks on autopilot, without direction.

ALL OF THIS BEING SAID, I’m still hopeful. I made a new years resolution to invest in hobbies and subsequently joined a choir, registered for a local photography class, and started working out with a personal trainer. At first, being busy felt great — but after a while, I just felt more fatigued than ever.  I’ll continue to try out a schedule balance will work best.

If I am completely honest with myself, I know that no matter what I do, I will never be truly happy unless I’m traveling. The contentment I feel when I’m abroad, in a country where I don’t speak the language, learning about how other people live, is so intense that I don’t think anything else will compare.

So, YBT is back. And she’s planning her next move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The real reason I travel

The Real Reason I Travel (2)I have been feeling uncharacteristically emotional and anxious lately. These feelings, I’m sure, are symptoms of stress from exams, lack of sleep, nervousness about my impending graduation and uncertainty about the future. This emotional tempest of late has caused me to be immensely introspective; I’ve thought deeply about who I am, who I want to be, where I came from, where I want to be and what I want to do with the rest of my life. When I try addressing each question, travel always seems to come up.

But why travel? Most people reading this blog are also travelers who I’m sure could talk for hours about why they love to travel and what travel means to them, but I’m still trying to figure out what it means to me. Of course, I love travel because I love learning about cultures different from my own, meeting people who have amazing life stories, falling in love with art and architecture and music from around the world, and meeting other travelers who are as passionate about these things as I am. Yet these factors describe only why I love traveling, not why I’m obsessed with it.

Truth is, I’m scared. What, Alexis? How does scared = obsessed?  Bear with me.

As I’ve recounted tales from my international trips to family and some older friends, I’ve usually been met with the same response, “Wow! I wish I had traveled when I was still young and healthy” or “I’m jealous! I always wanted to travel, but I got too caught up in my career and never found time…” Some are moderately regretful that they didn’t travel, others seem to be truly torn by their decisions. No matter what the level of regret they feel, I’m terrified that will be me someday.

I’m afraid of growing old and never crossing things off my bucket list. I’m afraid that any moment, a terrible accident will happen, and I’ll pass away without having fulfilled my dreams. I’m afraid of running out of time.

——–

Life is too damn short.

——–

Exactly one year ago, I lost one of the most important people in my life to brain cancer. He was more than a friend, someone I loved and who inspired me every moment we spent together. Even before he found out he was dying, Zach made the most of every minute, always chasing an adventure or story (we met in journalism class) and always seeing the best in every situation. One of the mantras he lived and swore by was,”Make each day your masterpiece,” and he did just that up to his last breath. He would have been 22 this May.

Since his death, I have vowed to honor him by in turn making each day my masterpiece. Any day can be a masterpiece if one is open, optimistic and sees beauty in everyday things, especially those things that disguise themselves as ugly. But the true way to make each day you masterpiece is to spend it doing what you love.

What I love most is traveling.

——–

Part of me is writing this post for my parents, to justify why I want to go abroad for a while after graduation. Like any wise, realistic parents should, they hope I get a job out the gate so I can begin earning a decent living and pay off student loans. Honestly, that is the smart and noble thing to do, and I know my parents want only what is best for me.

The other part is writing for myself, to know that if I decide to do a working holiday or teach English abroad for a year (I’ll definitely still have to work while I travel), I shouldn’t feel guilty for following my dreams. The ideal situation would be to find a job in the career field I want — public relations/marketing/research/data — that allows me to travel. Trust me, I’m searching for that job, but I can’t guarantee I will find it. Thus, in the meantime, I want to work toward fulfilling what dreams I can so my bucket list doesn’t become The List of Things I Wish I Did. I refuse pass away carrying inside me a depository of regrets.

I want to see the world before I run out of time. I want to take advantage of the fact that I am young, healthy, able, mobile, educated and, most importantly, alive.

That is the real reason I travel.

12 life lessons I learned from a year of travel

1 (2)

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

2013 was the year I fell in love with travel. 2014 was the year I let that love take me all over the world. In the past 365 days since I started this blog, I traveled to three continents, nine countries and 22 cities. And that’s while being a full-time student, working 30 hours a week, interning and taking a summer class.

From climbing to the top of a huge sand dune in the Sahara Desert, to losing 50 Euros at the Monte Carlo Casino, to listening to stories wild 55-year-old Welsh woman on the train on my way to Ireland, I’ve had a whirlwind of experiences, both challenges and delights. In honor of my one year anniversary of being a Young, Broke Traveler, I’m taking time to reflect on everything I’ve learned from traveling in 2014.

Lessons I learned from each country:

  1. A small good deed goes a long way. (Canada)
    I met so many kind-hearted people in Canada. When I left some souvenirs at my hostel, the housekeeper mailed them back to D.C. for me. It was a small deed, but unbelievably kind, and inspired me to pay it forward.
  1. Nothing can bring people together the way music can. (Ireland)
    Oh man, bliss. Musicians populated nearly every street corner and pub in Dublin. And where there was music, there was a crowd of people listening and applauding. Music brought people together, connecting them and making them happy in a way no other medium can.

Dublin Musicians
Musicians played on almost every street in Dublin.

 

  1. You may speak the same language as someone, but can be having two very different conversations. (England)
    I thought I’d have a lot in common with Londoners given we speak the same language and are influenced by similar pop culture icons. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found London to be as foreign as Spain or France, with many different customs. I was glad to be wrong – I wouldn’t have learned so much otherwise.
  1. Dress well, dine well, drink wine, and appreciate art and surround yourself with good company.(France)
    Life’s too short not to.
  1. Being rich is glamorous, but really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Monaco)
    Our Contiki tour guide told our group about all the famous people who applied for citizenship in Monaco but weren’t granted because they weren’t quite rich and beautiful enough. That’s ridiculous. Yes, Monaco is the most elaborate, beautiful, expensive country I’ve been to, but its culture of stuck-up-ness and policy of exclusion make it ugly.
  1. Life doesn’t have to be rushed. Take time to stop, reflect, relax and enjoy. (Spain)
    In the U.S., it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact-paced, goal-driven, individualistic mentality. In Spain, people are still goal-driven, but take breaks from work to spend time with family, walk the dog, play with the kids, rest and have a pitcher or two of sangria – all in one day. It’s the best way to make time slow down.

People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.

  1. Let go and enjoy the moment. Family and friends are everything. Good food makes the world go round. (Italy)
    The second and third are a given in Italian culture. The first I learned at a karaoke bar in Florence. I’m usually nervous to go on stage and sing in front of a bunch of strangers, but at that moment, I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I rocked out to Rollin’ in the Deep by Adele. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip. The tequila helped…
  1. Success requires discipline and determination. But it’s okay to take a break every once in a while and have a beer. (Switzerland) 
    During the day, Zürich – one of the largest financial centers in the world– was bustling with sharply dressed business people on their phones, walking quickly, making business transactions. But those were the same people I saw at night, taking leisurely strolls by the water or drinking in the streets, cheering on Switzerland in the World Cup.
  1. You don’t need money to be happy. Peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood make you richer than money ever can. (Morocco) 
    Some of the happiest people in the world live in Morocco. While many live in poverty, they don’t wallow over what they do not have. Instead, they cherish what they do have — peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood – and that’s all they need. All anyone needs.

One of the happiest people I have met was a carpet craftsman in Morocco.
One of the happiest people I have met was this carpet craftsman in Morocco.

Lesson I learned about people:

  1. We’re not so different. 
    In 2014 I became friends with 29 Australians, 8 Kiwis, 7 Canadians, 5 South Africans, 5 Chinese, 3 Moroccans, 2 Japanese, an Italian, an Irish, a German and a Scott (they all spoke English). And while we came from 5 continents, we laughed at the same jokes, appreciated tights hugs, wore jeans, enjoyed a good beer (or glass of wine) and ate French fries, and hated to say goodbye. I found I have more in common with people from other countries than we have differences — because we’re all humans. Now I can’t wait to meet other people and find out what else we have in common.

Lesson I learned about myself:

  1. I’m more competent than I think.
    My trip to Europe in the summer was my first solo trip. And while I met up with a friend in London, and joined a tour group for 15 days, there were several days when I was completely on my own. Though I had some confidence in myself, I was nervous about traveling solo through countries like Italy and Switzerland where I didn’t know the language. But I struggled through the challenges – like figuring my way around Zürich – and realized I am capable of more than I thought. And it was with the new-found confidence that I felt compelled to travel to and from Casablanca alone.

Lessons I learned about travel:

  1. “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
    It’s so true. I met so many kind French people, despite all the chatter that the French are rude; I felt safe in Morocco and met some of the kindest, friendliest people in the world, despite discouraging rumors about Islāmic countries; I saw productivity and achievement in Spain, despite claims that Spaniards are lazy and drink too much. The only way to truly know someone or someplace is to travel.

Travel is everything. It’s how I learn about both the world and myself. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have visited as many countries and have met as many wonderful, unforgettable people as I did in 2014. I worked hard for it and I cherished every moment. Now I’m excited to see what 2015 brings.

What lessons did you learn from travel this year?

5 reasons why I’m grateful to be broke

5 reasonsI had a long discussion with some friends last night about another friend  or ours who is studying abroad in Europe. She traveled to a different country almost every other weekend during her semester and now that her classes are finished, she’s traveling around Europe. We kept asking ourselves, “How is she affording all of this??” I mean, she is seriously living out my dream of traveling all throughout Europe – but the only way I could do that is by working long hours and saving up for it for months.

Turns out, my friend’s family is paying for her trip. She is traveling at ease while I’m at home working 30 hours per week on top of a being a full-time student just to be able to spend 3 weeks in Europe this summer. And while our conversation about this friend could have turn into a jealous rant, my friend Rachel, who is paying for her study abroad trip to France, said something that completely changed the conversation. “Yeah, it’d be more luxurious doing it her way, but the gratitude level is much different for us.”

And I thought about that for a spell. She was so right. I’m grateful that my parents, who are definitely not poor, decided they wouldn’t pay for my travels (or food, or clothes…) because they wanted me to know what it’s like to have to live on a budget. And there are 5 reasons why I’m so grateful for that:

  1. I know the value of money.

There’s nothing like working every moment you’re not sleeping, eating or in class that makes you appreciate money. My hard work put every dollar in my bank account. I don’t buy things frivolously because I want to put my hard-earned money to good use. Instead of spending $300 on a designer purse, I’d rather spend that money on a plane ticket to somewhere I’ve never been before.  I know what money is worth and I’ll make sure I’ll extract every ounce of its value.

  1. I know how to earn my way.

Now this might turn into a bit of a rant. I know too many people who haven’t worked a day in their lives. Or they have, but just for fun because their parents still pay for everything. We all wish someone would just hand us money – but what is the good in that? Once I graduate college, I’ll know how to save up for a house, a car, groceries, etc., because I know how to earn money. I can be a functioning part of society, making an honest living, and do so because I know how to independently earn my way. I will never wait for someone just to hand me something.

  1. I appreciate things so much more.

Ever notice how a meal tastes so much better when you make it from scratch rather than buying it at a restaurant? Or how the cabinets in your kitchen look so much better when you build them by hand than when you buy them at the store? It’s because you worked hard on them. You exerted some sort of effort into making them what they are, so when you eat that meal or see those cabinets, you are also reminded of the fruits of your labor.

And that’s how I feel about everything I pay for. When I get to Europe this summer, I’ll be reminded of how many hours I worked to pay to be there. And every meal or souvenir I buy abroad will be memorabilia of not only the trip, but also of every time I had to say no to something because it was too expensive and I had to save money. I appreciate everything I have so much because I earned it.

  1. I’m more connected with the real world.

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than 10 USD a day, according to GlobalIssues.org. Out of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty. And 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity.

In most of the world, people’s parents can’t afford to send them off to travel Europe. In fact, they can barely afford food for the week, or sometimes not at all. I know my friend who’s abroad is aware of these things, but there are so many other people in the U.S. who live in complete ignorance that other people are struggling out there just to stay alive. They’re completely disconnected from what’s happening to the other 80 percent of the world.

I’m unbelievably fortunate that I can shower, change my clothes, eat three meals and watch TV every day.  And with that, I should also say that I am so fortunate to even have a job – and three at that. At least I can earn money (even it if takes a while), whereas most people in the world can’t say that. I’m extraordinarily blessed.

  1. I’m a better person.

Because I’m broke, I’m a hard worker. I’m independent, and I know how to persevere. I know what it means to have to work for what I have. And know how fortunate I am to have what I do.

My friend who is abroad is not a bad person. She is really a sweet girl with a great heart, and has been blessed with amazing opportunities. I don’t mean for this post to be a negative rant about her. This post is a reflection about how she helped me realize that I should never be jealous of what other people have; instead, I should be more appreciative of everything I have. I want people to read this and realize how lucky they are, too. If you’re reading this, it means you are literate and have access to the internet. At least half of the world doesn’t have what you do. Think about it.

Top 15 Destinations on My Travel Bucket List

From Rio to Zurich, I am drawn toward cities with beautiful, colorful architecture and waterfront cityscapes. The following are 15 places on my before-I-turn-30 bucket list, apart from the ones I get to check off my list this summer — Rome, Paris, Barcelona, London and Montecarlo.

1. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague_Castle_at_Dusk-1

2. Berlin, Germany

berlin-pakete

3. Amsterdam, Holland

aaa2Amsterdam.Holland1

 

4. Venice, Italy

Venice_Italy8

5. Dubai,  United Arab Emirates

Hotel-Dubai

6. Stockholm, Sweden

stockholm

7. Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich-Switzerland-Wallpaper

 

8. Cape Town, South Africa

cape-town-south-africa

 

9. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio-de-janeiro-hip-hop

10. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo_odaiba

11.  Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

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12. Edinburgh, Scotland

edinburgh

13. Dublin, Ireland

dublin_ireland

14.  Jungfraujoch, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

jungfrau

15. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul-2