Chicago Inspiration

We were stumbling down the sidewalk with heavy backpacks, facing a heavy wind. It seemed to come out of nowhere, as we headed towards the famous bean sculpture I had been hearing about, still recovering from a four hour night of sleep and a candy coma after spending too much time and money in Dylan’s Candy Bar. We couldn’t hold back our laughter as I was knocked off my feet and thrust against a brick building, ignoring the many skeptical faces of young professionals passing by (I mean come on people, live a little).

There were few moments in Chicago last weekend that weren’t spent laughing and talking about our dreams. My roommate Frankie had invited me to visit some of her family for a few days and I jumped at the opportunity to see a new place and meet new people. Frankie, although she grew up in Michigan, spent much of her childhood in Chicago visiting her Grandmother and eventually her older sisters, who moved there to pursue their careers. I was eager to see what her childhood city was all about, and to become familiar with a part of her I hadn’t yet gotten to see. Unable to calculate all of the hours spent in recent months telling jokes and planning our unconventional futures with some inappropriate banter in between, I knew that three whole days spent with my best friend wouldn’t fall short of a grand time.

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We arrived at the airport much too early the morning of our flight with tired eyes, enjoying an expensive cup of coffee and a conversation about our weekend trip, wandering away into talk of everything that would come after. We spent a lot of time mooning over thoughts of the Appalachian Trail which has been consuming the space in our minds since we made the decision to start training for the sixth month expedition a few weeks ago, later plunging into a conversation about her clothes. For the past several months, Frankie has been taking her childhood aspirations of becoming a fashion designer a bit more seriously, learning more about sewing and designing while working at a thrift store in which she seeks out the perfect clothing candidates to cut up and turn into recycled masterpieces. These conversations seemed to unknowingly pave the way for an incredible trip that lacked any sort of planning.

Most of our time in Chicago was spent wandering. We walked several miles as Frankie pointed out the gorgeous Chicago River and many of the buildings we passed. I was fortunate enough to spend time with her sisters (I now see who she gets her road rage from), hearing their unique life perspectives and travel stories. On Saturday we enjoyed brunch with her Grandmother, an intelligent woman who talked mostly of books and a career that once lit a fire within her. She gave us a tour of Northwestern University, or rather, a tour of the sidewalks, nearly plowing over a group of students.

I was able to understand more about Frankie in this experience, seeing her in her element, exploring a place she once roamed with much smaller feet, and spending time with the strong, capable, hilarious women who had raised her to believe that anything is possible. It was reassuring to hear their thoughts about our AT hiking plans, ideas for an upcoming project we are starting (stay tuned for details) and support for Frankie’s clothing line. Even her grandmother requested a hand stitched, recycled jacket.

We further explored Frankie’s territory spending a good portion of our trip shopping. Although I am definitely not the fashionista that I once was, I loved every moment spent pointing out different ideas for her clothes and hearing the confidence in her voice as she exclaimed “Oh, I can definitely make that!” We spent some time poking around in the typical stores and then hesitantly entered a shop upon the greeting of a well-dressed doorman and racks of thousand dollar dresses that I feared even resting my eyes on. Frankie had warned me prior to our trip that Chicago is a high heels and lipstick sort of city, but here I was standing next to her incredibly stylish frame wearing jeans and a baggy Goodwill sweater.

We spent a lot of time admiring the pricey and elaborate clothing. “If you could own one pair of these shoes, which one would it be?” Frankie asked and I chose the converse-like white sneakers (at the not so converse-like price). This did not come as a surprise. Since Frankie and I moved into our apartment together in Denver, I have designated her my personal stylist anytime I need to look presentable, which happens to be a rare occasion. In our Chicago shopping endeavors, I came to the realization that my aesthetic could use some adjustments and decided, to Frankie’s delight, that we’d get to work on revamping my closet (More on this in another post). Needless to say, I spent a little more money than I had intended, as did she (Seriously, someone enter this bitch into Shoes Anonymous).

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Venturing into Frankie’s territory, of course, did not come without my own self-exploration. In addition to getting in touch with my more fashionable side, we made it a priority to try a new vegan restaurant at nearly every meal. We spent lots of time capturing images of delicious food, picturesque city scenes and ourselves, making every effort to document the experience (another one of my monthly vacations for 2018). As the light began to shine through our windows each morning, I got to work on my writing (and snuggling with the adorable puppy, Milo). There was so much inspiration involved in this trip and it seemed to follow us in the form of romantic architecture, quaint restaurants and funny stories exchanged among family members.

As Sunday evening approached, we hurried through the airport, each of us sporting a new pair of shoes. There was a certain joy and anticipation in boarding a plane to return to Denver, a feeling of novelty that came as a surprise to someone who is always looking for the next adventure. I was certain that this time the inspiration would follow us home, and it has- materializing in Frankie’s original clothing, in the hikes that prepare our legs for 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, in video footage that will soon be compiled into our “project”, and perhaps most relevant, manifesting itself in these very words.

 

 

My First Solo Trip & Thoughts On Traveling Alone

When I graduated high school I had never stepped foot in an airport before. I took my very first trip in the summer of 2016 to visit a friend who was staying with her family in the Czech Republic, somehow managing to maneuver airport security, long flights and international layovers that had me running down crowded hallways lost in the midst of time changes, unfamiliar airport signs and foreign languages (with only a few tears shed). I have flown many times since, almost exclusively by myself, but there has always been someone waiting for me when I reached the destination.

For the past several months I have had a bad case of wanderlust, spending much of my time researching cheap flights to absolutely anywhere, seeing visions of Expedia deals and Justfly.com in my sleep, begging friends (and some people I barely know) to be my travel partners. I had this idea in my head that the reality of my travel aspirations would depend on the people around me and the limits of their schedules, budgets and desires for adventure, hardly considering my own capabilities. When I saw that I had a few days off in the coming week, I decided to take a leap into something unknown by going on a spontaneous trip to Los Angeles by myself.

The night before my flight I hardly slept. I was eager, yet unsure, worrying I hadn’t done enough research, that I wouldn’t know what to do when I arrived. As part of a big family, I am not used to spending much time alone. Since I moved away from home I have surrounded myself with good story tellers and good listeners, always itching for conversation. There was a small part of me that feared feeling awkward or lonely by myself, but when I stepped off the plane into an unfamiliar January heat, surrounded by families, couples, school groups and friends, I felt confident to be taking on this experience alone.

With little time to spare, I set off into the heart of the city for exploration. I spent hours in downtown Los Angeles observing the buildings, the people, the food, and the music. I visited Grand Central Market and ate lunch outside, entertaining myself with bits and pieces of conversations from those passing by. I checked into a hostel in Santa Monica by mid-afternoon and spent the remainder of the day at the beach and on the boardwalk, watching a magic show in which a man swallowed a twenty dollar bill and then cut open an orange to reveal it inside, and listening to renditions of popular songs on saxophones and ukuleles. Come dinnertime, I found a trendy vegan restaurant and enjoyed dinner and dessert, all the while relying on my own company.

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The most unique aspect of my trip was that I never had to compromise. I spent as much time as I wanted in the city before heading to the beach. I ate out at a restaurant of my choice. I went in the direction of anything that caught my eye without having to consult the next move with those around me. It was wonderful and liberating not having to please anyone aside from myself.

The silence that previously worried me became a peaceful way to relax and really take it all in. My mind wasn’t prone to wandering away into a conversation about work stress or otherwise irrelevant matters. I was at ease listening to the sound of crashing waves, stopping every now and then to hear music and observe what was going on around me. I was able to stay present and be engaged in my surroundings, absorbing so much more without the added distraction of a companion.

The greatest thing I learned while on a trip by myself is that anything can be done alone. I met so many people in passing who inquired about where I am from and what brought me to Los Angeles. I explained that I was simply taking a short trip on a whim by myself “just because.” This opened up incredible conversation with people who seemed to fear the thought of stepping outside of their comfort zone the way I previously had, hypnotized by the notion that being alone has to feel lonely rather than empowering. These conversations made me feel more confident in my abilities, questioning why I hadn’t even eaten out alone or seen a movie by myself in the nineteen years of life prior to this trip. I ‘d spent so much time planning around others, constantly seeking the approval of those around me, that I forgot how to just be myself and go after the things that are important to me regardless.

My solo trip came to an end too quickly, but I know it won’t be my last. The morning of my departure from Los Angeles initiated deeper thoughts about my experience traveling alone and looking within myself to achieve the things I never thought I could as I sat on the curb and waited for my ride to the airport. The driver arrived at the hostel to pick me up and we began making small talk about classical music and hiking as we drove into a dark sky soliciting the sunrise. Our conversation took many turns before he asked if I believe in alchemy, a means of creating your own destiny by emitting an energy that attracts good things from the universe, allowing you to achieve that which you desire most. I considered that perhaps this short trip was just a small piece of a larger dream I have of seeing the world and that I need to take responsibility for its execution. I have a sense of pride mixed with exhilaration knowing that I am well on my way to achieving it.

Upon my arrival in Denver I was greeted with a tedious weekend of working doubles alongside some angry and hungover coworkers, confronted by familiar faces complaining about school, jobs and all of the bills they have to pay. I try to resist the vacuum that sucks me into this negativity, making me feel that there is no end to it all, holding tight to a few words that my Dad has assured me with: “It is temporary. You’ll be traveling soon.” And I know he is right.

 

 

How I Plan To Take At Least One Vacation Per Month In 2018

 

 

Having recently moved to Denver, Colorado from Maine, I truly believed that my entire existence would become a vacation. After a long day of hauling pallets up to the top floor of my apartment complex (yes, pallets. Photos of a homemade couch to come), I hopped into a friend’s convertible and cruised into a navy sky with the pristine outline of mountains illuminated by city lights. I remember thinking that the only thing that could possibly make the moment better would be if I had an elastic to prevent my hair from whipping me in the face. The rest was just too magical to be tampered with.

It was not until a few weeks later that I realized living on my own was not all it’s cracked up to be as I tried to hold back the tears while on the phone with my Mom. I had walked all over the city and managed at least twenty interviews but hadn’t yet found the job of my dreams. Shocking, I know.

Months later, I have finally settled in my new home and enjoy all that it has to offer. Most days the weather is gorgeous. I am able to go on frequent hikes with my incredible roommate Frankie and discover museums, libraries and coffee shops all over the city. I enjoy both of my jobs and feel very fortunate to interact with new and interesting people on a regular basis. That said, every day is not the vacation that I thought it would be.

Over the past year I have quite literally been dipping my toes in new waters, learning so much about the world around me and only craving to know more. I have discovered that no matter how wonderful my life is, I am not comfortable being stagnant. For this reason, I have made a New Year’s Resolution (not that I’m into that kind of thing..) to take at least one vacation per month. Here is how I plan to do it:

Demanding What I Want Out of Life

If you are a people pleaser much like I am, then you understand where I am going with this. This is probably the most important aspect of taking many vacations. As soon as this idea was born, I forced myself to state it aloud, to speak it into existence. I had to tell myself and everyone else that this is something I am going to do, not something that is up for discussion. I had to learn how to be firm with my choices and ignore any backlash from those who are stuck in the motions of the life that society has imposed upon them. I had to truly believe that this goal is achievable, and know that it is what will make me the happiest.

Defining Vacation

A vacation does not have to be an elaborate and expensive two week adventure across the country, but it can be. Taking a vacation to me simply means allowing myself a few days off per month to explore a new place or experience a new thing. It can be tempting to lay around in bed all day when you have the weekend off, and although this is relaxing and necessary once in a while, it does not get your heart racing and it does not promote growth. These are the two things I look for when taking a vacation whether that means taking a short road trip to visit a museum or flying across the world to experience a whole new culture.

Working Hard In the Mean Time

I have been called a workaholic by friends and family since the day I turned sixteen and began working at a fast food restaurant. It does not necessarily matter what you do for work or how much money you make. What matters is that you work hard. For me, this means working several days in a row, picking up shifts, and not asking for a lot of time off unless I have a specific event to attend or travel plans. This makes it hard for employers to say no when I ask for a few days off.

Taking Advantage of Opportunity

An easy way for me to save money on vacations and visit a multitude of places is to keep an ear out among friends and family for travel opportunities. Over the next few months I will be visiting my roommate’s sisters in Chicago, staying with my brother at his work-away program in Thailand, and meeting my family in Myrtle Beach for our annual trip in April. Taking vacations every month is much easier when you make connections and aim to share your experiences with others.

Understanding Wants Vs. Needs

A big part of taking vacations is saving money, whether that be to pay for my trips or to simply feel financially comfortable taking some time off of work. While I do consider myself a minimalist for the most part, there will always be the sweet scent of Indian food wafting into my nostrils from a restaurant nearby, or a cute pair of shoes that is practically begging to live in my closet. Although I do indulge every now and then, I try to remember that experiences are more important to me than material things. That said, one can take being frugal to the next level. A few days ago a resident of my apartment building advertised his need for a mattress, wondering if anyone might be looking to get rid of one. I was seconds away from hitting send on an email offering to sell him my bed. I had to give myself a gentle reminder that sleeping on the floor for the next several months is probably not worth the extra hundred bucks. Likewise, when I am on vacation, I try to limit what I splurge on, understanding that certain travel expenses are inevitable, but luxury accommodations and excessive eating out are not.

Embracing Each Moment that Life has to Offer

Although I am eager to stock up on new memories and collect stories to share, living vibrantly in the moment is the most important aspect of taking vacations every month. Additionally, I know it is something to keep in mind even while treading the same waters religiously, counting down the days until the next time I can experience something new and exciting. Taking frequent vacations is just one of many ways to feed my hunger for adventure, and finding that adventure on a day to day basis matters just as much as finding it in my travels.