19th Street Yearbook: Class of 2017.

Oliver and I move into our new apartment next week, which is exciting and fun and we're scrambling to keep up with all of the things that need to be packed and purchased.

This will be the first time that I've ever lived without roommates, and that's both exciting and also a little nerve wrecking to me. I'm really excited to have my own space to walk around (case in point: I can go into the kitchen in a bathrobe/wearing a face mask/without pants without feeling weird until Oliver is like, "why is your face covered in mud and also did you know the neighbors can see that you're not wearing pants??), BUT- it'll be weird coming home on days when he's at the gym or something and I know that my roommates' girlfriends won't walk in and let me talk at to them for an hour.

In prepping and packing, I can't help but to look around at the house that I've lived in for the past 4 years. It feels like it's been a lifetime since the day Audrey, Rachael, and I moved into our little "Beach Bungalow," and a lot of amazing things have happened there. I find it fitting that our move-out date is the start of a new year, and that I was there for kind of a 4-year life-education. I've been stupid lucky with the roommates I lived with there, and every single one of them left me with some great memories.

And so, because I'm feeling sentimental and because this is my blog and I can make it into a memory board if I want, here are a few signatures for my 19th Street Yearbook.

Audrey -- I am SO glad that you moved into that house with me 4 years ago. I didn't even know you at all before we moved in, and now I consider you one of my closest friends. We have plenty of stories that are too crazy to be put into writing here, BUT I hope you know how grateful I am for you every single day. I have such a huge level of admiration for the fact that you packed up everything and moved to Spain, and took such a brave and adventurous risk. I'm even more glad that you're back now, and that your growing family moved in next door. Being able to be so close while you're experiencing newfound motherhood has been so inspiring, and I am honestly dumbfounded with how you are floating through every minute of it. I secretly think you might be a robot. I am taking notes so that one day, when I have my own kids, I can handle it with even an ounce of the grace that you demonstrate every single day.

Rachael -- Where do I even start? We knew each other for a few years before we were roommates, but I never knew how completely amazing you were until I got to know you in such a close proximity basis. You are fun and exciting and the happiest person I know, but you're also SO kind and caring and have an insane amount of love to give. I've never met anyone who balanced their life so well. Of course I've missed you terribly while you've been traveling the world these past few years. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't living vicariously through your Instagram feed! Every time you've come home from Spain or Korea or Italy, I've hoped that you'll stay and we can drink too much red wine and talk about life. But seeing how happy you are in New Zealand has me hoping that you stay there and continue to have the adventures that we're all tuned in to watch. I'm so proud to call you my friend, and I hope that I can come visit soon!

Denis -- My first boy roommate! You were so much fun to live with, and I miss coming home to hear you singing Ellie Goulding in your room when you thought no one heard you (seriously, though, for you having such a deep voice... nailed it!). It was really inspiring to see your relationship with Brittany, and how smitten you two were with each other. I was sad when she had to move away, but the fact that you got transferred to NorCal and made it work was seriously like a romantic movie plot. Thank you for trying to explain sports and Bit Coins to me so many times, and I'm sorry that I was never able to wrap my head around either one!

Kara --  This one is tough because of how everything ended up, and how much I want to be sensitive to the things that happened. Crummy things were said and done that can't really be taken back, but amazing things were also said and done, and that can't be taken back either. To focus on the latter- I'm grateful that you were such a flawless roommate to me for 2 years. After you left, I realized how much you did around the house (which, quite frankly, I think every person hopes their roommates will come to find!). There is a lot that I admire about your intelligence, passion, and your love & enthusiasm for the people you care about. I think we're both in really good places right now so even though things got complicated at the end, it seems to have all played out the way it needed to.

Stephen -- You are easily one of my favorite people on Earth. I'm sorry for trying to get your family to adopt me every time they came to visit. I know that you understand how incredible they are and how lucky you all are to have each other. I'm also sorry that I was so bossy with you whenever you were struggling with any personal stuff... I just cared so much about you and my way of showing it sometimes was to try to help you "fix" the things that were making you sad. Your intelligence blows me away, and that Carroll, Iowa mentality where every one should be kind to one another is something that I hope rubs off on all of us bratty Orange County kids. Thanks for making Halloween ornaments into Christmas ornaments with me, turning our concrete slab yard into an incredible garden, and for feeding me the best twice-baked potatoes known to man.

Jon & Tabitha -- I'm including you both here because you're both basically my roommates. Jon, I've known you more than half of my life and I have never seen you as happy as you are with Tabitha. And Tabby, you're so sweet and friendly, and it's been so much fun having you warming up our home with your bubbly personality. You guys have such an amazing adventure ahead, now that you're engaged. Jon, you are one of the only people from my youth that I've stayed close with, and it means so much to me that we're still friends. You're one of the few people I know who will always make an effort to be a part of my birthdays, get-togethers, and random hot yoga classes- because your friendships are truly important to you and I have a lot of respect for the way that you prioritize them. It's been a lot of fun getting to share a house and laugh at random internet memes with you over this past year.

Mike & Emily -- Last on this list but first at EVERYTHING, EVER. I am so grateful to have had you two living with us. Your energy, sense of adventure, and fun-filled attitudes have been infectious, and it's been amazing. I'm always so excited when we get to hang out, and have loved all of our uber-competitive game nights. Thank you for keeping Oliver and me from being so introverted all of the time, and for always having such upbeat attitudes. It's been inspiring to see how much you two connect and motivate one another through tough days at work, keeping your bodies healthy, and celebrating each other's accomplishments. One of these days I'll go to one of your crazy spin classes with you!! Love, love, love you guys more than you know.

So that's it. These people have been my biggest inspirations and most tolerant-of-my-craziness roommates for the past four years. I'm sorry that I hogged the TV so much, "accidentally" ate your bananas out of the fruit bowl, and offered you unsolicited advice. I hope that you had even a fraction of how much fun that I had living with you. Thanks for helping me to grow, be more tidy, and learn not to sweat the small stuff just a little bit more.


Wanderlust Series Part Three: Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes
Hello again! In this section of the Wanderlust Series, I’ll discuss my experiences and what I learned about travelling to Machu Picchu. Since we had 2 weeks to see a few spots in Peru and another in Colombia, we opted to take the train there. I’d love to say that we hiked the Inca Trail, and most people go that route if they are able, but we just didn’t have the time.

Getting to Aguas Calientes (And Feeling Great When You Arrive!)

First and foremost, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get acclimated to the elevation in Peru. I saw this warning everywhere I looked while researching for our trip. The elevation in Cusco is over 11,000 feet, which is enough to leave you more than just breathless at its splendor. If you don’t acclimate yourself (i.e. get physically used to the elevation), you can get altitude sickness which is no joke and will ruin that segment of your trip. What we did, and what worked perfectly for us, was to fly into Cusco and then immediately hop in a taxi to take us to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the town at the base of Machu Picchu and sits at just under 7,000 feet elevation. Coming from sea level, as we did, this was still a jump from what we were used to, but not enough to really have any negative effects on us. Some people stay in Ollantaytambo, which sits at 9000 feet, but we felt that we were willing to spend a little more on our hotel to ensure that we didn’t get sick. We also wanted to get up and go straight to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, rather than taking a 6am train to the Ollantaytambo bus station.

We flew into Cusco and hired a taxi from inside the airport, as per the general warning. During certain times of the year, you can take a train directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, but we had to board in Ollantaytambo which meant hiring a driver for the 2 hour drive to the train station there. I want to say that cost us around $50 USD, and the taxi driver actually took US currency which was nice since we had some on hand.

As with many other places, the taxi driver we had would rather have a sure fare than not, so he offered to pick us back up from Ollantaytambo upon our return for a fraction of the cost for the ride there. So, that was nice. We picked up our tickets for the train and grabbed a bite to eat at the station while we waited. There was actually a pretty great little café in there so we had some Coca Tea and a sandwich- which was basically the first actual meal we had in Peru.

A word on Coca Tea.

It’s awesome. It’s not Cocaine, so don’t get all freaked out that you’re going to start feeling spastic. It’s like a stronger version of Black Tea, and it really does settle your stomach and help with headaches or any other signs of Altitude Sickness. I’m a coffee drinker, but Oliver and I both stuck with Coca Tea throughout our trip and we felt like it really made a difference. Plus it tasted pretty dang good… think an earthier version of green tea. It should also be noted that it’s quite easy to find altitude sickness medicine at any market in Peru, so if you DO get sick, you can remedy it quickly.

The train ride from Ollantaytambo into Aguas Calientes is GORGEOUS and takes about 1 ½ hours. You’ll want to purchase your train tickets prior to your trip, and buy them either through Peru Rail (which we did) or Inca Rail, depending on your starting point.

On the train to Aguas Calientes
We had some concerns about the luggage policy on the train, since Peru Rail doesn’t list baggage weight limits aside from carry-on luggage (which must be under 11 lbs.). If you’re only spending the day in Machu Picchu, that 11 lbs. is no big deal. However, we had our luggage for our entire two-week trip which was around 50 lbs. apiece. I’m happy to report that they weren’t very strict on baggage weight when we went, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Staying in Aguas Calientes – Our Experience

There are a lot of places to stay in Aguas Calientes, but I can’t really speak to any of them except for the one we stayed at. But I will say that we were totally blown away by our hotel room at Hotel Ferre Machu Picchu. The price was excellent, and it was right on the river. The picture below shows my feet hanging out of our bedroom window, for reference. We even ended up closing our window most of the time because the river was pretty loud outside of our room. It was totally walkable to everything we wanted to do, too. We walked there from the train station, and it was far enough from the main area of town to be secluded but close enough to it to grab something to eat without walking too far.

As we wandered through the town, we noticed that some of the hotels were near the river (by us), and others were really in the heart of the town. I would imagine that those places can be kind of noisy, and the view can’t be that great if you’re just looking at another building. All in all, we were really pleased with the place we chose.

What To Do With An Extra Day In Aguas Calientes

In order to make sure we were acclimated before we went to Machu Picchu, we spent an extra day in Aguas Calientes to be safe. So the day after we arrived, we did the hike to Mandor Gardens. I was also told that the Hot Springs in A.C. are awesome, but Oliver and I aren’t really into the idea of sitting in a hot body of water with strangers. The hike to Mandor Gardens took about an hour, in which you basically follow the railroad tracks out of the town (the opposite direction from which we arrived). There are a couple of sketchy parts where you have to go through a dark tunnel, and you should know that trains DO still travel along the tracks, but you can hear them coming from a little ways away. All the same- be careful in those tunnels.

We also discovered that you can walk along a dirt road where the buses come from Machu Picchu, as long as you stay to the right after the bridge to M.P. After you pass the campgrounds and a butterfly park you can veer up a small road to the right. If you get to what looks (and smells) like the city dump, you’re on the right path. You’ll see the railroad tracks in front of the dump so you should be able to keep walking along them without running into any tunnels, and once you get to a huge intersection of multiple tracks crossing just keep going dead straight and the sign for Mandor Gardens is maybe 100 yards past that crossing. We came back to town via the dirt road route and felt a LOT safer skipping out on the tunnels. We had asked our hotel for help finding the gardens and they gave us a map that made it look like the landmarks to follow were super close together but they really aren’t as close as they appeared in the map. As I said- the whole thing took us about an hour (one way). The park is s/10 per person, and has a bathroom which is really nice after a long walk like that!!
Mandor Gardens
Getting Ready for Machu Picchu

As I mentioned in Part One of the Wanderlust Series, you’ll want to have purchased your tickets to Machu Picchu well in advance. We were able to purchase our bus tickets up the mountain the day before we went. This can be done by heading to the booth near the bus stop and buying your tickets there. You’ll want to make sure you have your passport with you since the rates differ for locals vs. tourists. You’ll also want to make sure that you buy a sack lunch the day before you go. We got some amazing boxed lunches from LaBoulangerie de Paris, which you order and pay for the day before and then pick up as early as 5am the next morning. This was perfect since we assumed that we’d have to buy food and then store it somewhere until our early morning bus trip, but instead had fresh food waiting for us in the morning. 

Where To Eat in Aguas Calientes

Our absolute favorite place in A.C. was El Indio Feliz. The food was amazing and the décor really gave it a fun atmosphere. We wanted to go to The Tree House for dinner one night, but it was closed for renovations. We also really liked Café Inkaterra, but it was a little pricier than we’d have preferred. We ate pizza at Inka Wasi Restaurant and Pizzeria and Oliver thinks he got food poisoning there, but in fairness it also might have been altitude sickness. 

Bug & Sun Protection

It should be noted that both sunscreen and bug spray are pretty important the whole time you’re in Peru. We went in April and the sun was beating down pretty hard at times. And I made a HUGE mistake by not putting bug spray on my ankles while we were there and ended up with some kind of super-insect bug bites that stayed with me for almost a month afterward. We were there during the whole Zika scare, so it was also critical to us that we avoided all bug bites. I ordered Natrapel off the internet and wherever I sprayed it- I was fine.

Machu Picchu

You can find lots of tips for Machu Picchu on more knowledgeable websites, but here were some tidbits of info that I found helpful:

  • The bus to Machu Picchu drops you off at the gate, where there are bathrooms. There are NO bathrooms inside of the park, so you'll really want to try and go upon arrival. 
  • We were running behind when we got there, so we figured we wouldn't really need to hire a guide. This was a big mistake. After hiring a guide for Saksaywaman in Cusco- we realized that learning all of the amazing facts about these ruins was really awesome. I highly suggest hiring someone to show you all of the details you'd otherwise miss.
  • I was really worried (because I am clearly an over-planner) that my running shoes weren't sufficient for the hike up Wayna Picchu. I ended up being totally fine. I do suggest dressing in layers, though, since it can go from hot to cold (and vice versa) fairly quickly. I also recommend bringing a rain coat or parka.
  • Speaking of Wayna Picchu- this hike was amazing. There were really great views from the top, but several great vantage points during the descent back down as well. It was overcast and slightly raining when we started our hike, which ended up being a blessing in disguise because it kept us cool during what was a pretty strenuous hike. Wayna Picchu is almost ALL stairs, which was tough, and left me with Jelly Legs for about 2 days afterward. BUT the hike looks much harder than it actually is, and you'll feel like a bad ass showing people pictures of the GIANT mountain behind Machu Picchu that you hiked all the way up. For reference- I am in "okay" shape, and don't go to the gym more than once or twice per week. I struggled, but was fine. 
  • I will add some images below, with descriptions so that you can have more of a visual idea of our trip up to Machu Picchu. Next up- I'll post some details about our time in Cusco, Peru!
The Llamas are friendly (and hungry!)
We had fun feeding them.

Viewpoint from the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu

The HUGE mountain right behind Machu PIcchu is Wayna Picchu.
It looks a lot gnarlier than it is, leaving you to look & feel like a total champ!!

At the top of Wayna Picchu. 
The steepest stairs on the hike up Wayna Picchu.
Don't worry- there are plenty of holding rails like this!

Jumping picture from a vantage point on our way down Wayna Picchu.
We look much closer to the edge than we actually were.


Wanderlust Series Part Two: Lima, Peru

In an effort to be more helpful with my travel posts, I wanted to discuss more of the specifics of our recent trip to Peru & Colombia. We were there for two weeks, so I’ll need to break this post up in order to make everything a bit easier to digest.

Please understand that this is totally my biased opinion of our particular trip. I will say that I had certain expectations and shortcomings in the planning phase, so make note of the following:
  1. This was my first international vacation with a significant other. This was both exciting to think about, while also terrifying. 384 hours of being with ONE other English-speaking person – I don’t care how much you adore each other – is enough to make you panic a little bit.
  2. I have traveled a fair amount, and this was by far the most rural trip I’ve ever been on. This was made even more challenging because I speak very limited Spanish.
  3. I don’t generally stay in 5-star hotels, but I don't usually stay in 2-star hotels either (not that there's anything wrong with either end of that spectrum!!). I think I had pretty realistic expectations as far as knowing that I wasn't going to get "the royal treatment" when staying at a 3-star hotel or an AirBNB. 
  4. I am, more and more, getting an idea of what kind of travel I enjoy. I’ve really loved some of the bigger cities that I’ve been to, but I honestly just prefer small towns, beaches, and countryside trips. This is relevant in that I will almost always prefer the parts of a trip that are more laid back, as opposed to some people who love the rush and excitement of a big city.
  5. In retrospect, I didn’t do nearly enough research into where we should stay in Lima. I was overwhelmed by how huge the city is, and prioritized staying as close to the airport as possible without considering the actual location outside our hotel doors.

With all of that said, welcome to Peru...

Getting There.

We bought a flight from LAX to Lima by way of a 10-hour layover at San Salvador Airport in El Salvador. This airport was pretty small, with hardly anything to do, and we were told to absolutely NOT leave the airport for safety reasons. Our saving grace was that we discovered you could go into the Avianca Airlines VIP Lounge for only $25 USD per person. Not only were we much more comfortable, but we felt safer leaving our stuff fairly unsupervised while we took naps. There were also really nice bathrooms, showers, free snacks, and an open bar. It was well worth the $25, in my book. 
How to Sleep in the San Salvador Airport - VIP Style.
We got to Lima at about 9pm, exhausted but excited for our trip. Unfortunately, our driver was NOT at the airport when we arrived. This was obviously frustrating, especially because I never pay for international phone service. I know, I'm an idiot. Let me officially say: just buy the international phone card if you’re going to Peru. It’s a lot harder to get around on WIFI than in countries like France or Germany.

You NEVER hire a taxi driver outside of the airport (even just outside the doors, as it turns out. It’s really dangerous), so after about 45 minutes of standing there, one of the official airport taxi drivers asked us if we needed a ride. We told him the address, and got the reaction that NO ONE wants, which is to say that he shook his head and said “Oh no. Are you sure you want to go there?? Tourists shouldn’t go there.” Panic set in as we discovered that the area we had booked our AirBNB in was pretty much the worst part of the city. More on that in a moment.

The best thing about our first night in Lima.
We were devastated. We tried using the taxi driver’s phone to call our AirBNB driver, whose phone was disconnected. We had already paid for the room, and were basically determining if we wanted to just pay a few hundred bucks for a NEW driver and a NEW hotel, when our AirBNB driver showed up with a sign that had our names on it. And even though it may not have been the best move, we just took our chances and went with him. If I weren’t with my boyfriend, I would never have taken a risk like that and don’t recommend it to anyone else.

So we got to our AirBNB in Callao, which was secure behind a locked gate, but pretty clearly in a bad area. Oliver went to buy water from a liquor store (escorted by the AirBNB host), and had to exchange the money for the bottled water through a barred gate. It was pretty unnerving, although apparently common. On top of that, the apartment was very clearly not cleaned prior to our arrival, based on the toothpaste and hair in the sink. Our experience wasn’t the worst possible scenario, but it put a damper on the first night of our vacation in a new country. Live and learn, I suppose.

This is a typical street scene from what we saw of  Callao, although there
seemed to be a lot of random nightclubs and people hanging out at night.

A Word on Lima.

Lima is a HUGE city, and a lot of it isn’t particularly safe. As we discovered, the closer you are to the airport the more dangerous it is. You really want to stay more toward Miraflores or Barranco if you’re going to Lima. Barranco has cute colonial style buildings, and you really don’t save a ton of time or money by staying super close to the airport. As a matter of fact, during the 3 layovers we had in Lima, Oliver and I agreed that one thing we wish we’d done differently was to stay in the same AirBNB for each layover. Our host’s name was Juan Carlos, and you can find his awesome & affordable apartment here.

Miraflores & Barranco Trip Details.

Our flight details were to go Lima -> Cusco -> Lima -> Huaraz -> Lima -> Colombia. To avoid bouncing around, I’m going to discuss other parts of Peru in later posts and focus now on our various stints in Lima.

Once we got back to Lima from our stay in Cusco, we had a driver from our San Miguel/Miraflores hotel pick us up at the airport. Generally, whoever you’ve arranged to pick you up will have a sign with your name on it, and it’s no big deal to find them once you land. Our driver was a really nice woman who drove like an absolute maniac. It was pretty fun, but definitely an adventure. I will say that getting around in most of Peru can be pretty wild, so just be prepared for that and you’ll be fine. Our hotel was a bit south of the airport this time, in the San Miguel neighborhood. While it felt safer than Callao, and our hotel was really nice, I still would have enjoyed someplace else. However, we had to be at the airport once again at 5:30am, so we stayed as close as possible for a reasonable price.

Food in San Miguel/Miraflores.

The details of our hotel in San Miguel are a little confusing, even now, since the area is sometimes listed as being in San Miguel, but sometimes says it’s Miraflores. The reason I mention this is to reiterate how carefully you should plan out where to stay in the various parts of Lima. Downtown Miraflores is really nice and pretty urban, while San Miguel felt pretty gritty. You really want to stay closer to the areas near Parque Kennedy in Miraflores if you’re trying to find a nicer spot. And now- on to food!!

The uber-friendly guy at the front desk of our hotel recommended that we walk across the street to a considerably shady-looking Chinese restaurant. We passed on that idea and walked a few blocks inland to the busy Av. La Marina, which has a lot more options. There was a place called Norky’s a few blocks up, which looked “okay,” but we pushed on to find something that looked a little less fast food-ish. Long story short- we ended up at a place called El Autentico Rodizio, located at Av. La Marina 3151. It was an amazing Brazillian steakhouse-type place that seemed to be pretty popular with locals. It seems a bit hard to find online, but I assure you that it was really nice inside and the food and drinks were great!!

Barranco: Our Final Stop in Lima.

With one final evening in Lima at the end of our Peru trip, we finally got it right by staying in Barranco. Our afore-mentioned AirBNB was perfect, and very safe. We wandered around Barranco feeling very at-ease, although admittedly exhausted from planes, trains, and taxis. The beach was close to the place we stayed, but Barranco sits on the edge of a cliff looking down to a relatively rocky shoreline, so we gave up on trying to wander down to it. There are plenty of delicious places to eat in the area, so I won’t get too much into the food we ate, but I will mention that we made reservations to eat dinner at Maido in Miraflores, which is currently listed as the #13 best restaurant in the world. Needless to say, we were pretty excited about it.

Nikkei Experience Menu from Maido in Peru.
Sadly, the food fell pretty short of our expectations. I admit that there were some pretty good dishes, but for a $300+ price tag (including relatively inexpensive sake), we both felt that the Nikkei Experience tasting menu was subpar. The dishes were beautifully presented, though, including a dish with ground chili powder served on a frozen boulder, which completely changed the texture of the powder into an amazing a paste as soon as you scooped it up. 
A really yummy ice cream dessert from Maido called "Cacao"
**It bears mentioning that the #4 restaurant in the world (Central) is just down the street from here. We also met a couple in Huaraz who were in Peru working for the U.S. embassy, and they recommended a great restaurant called Rafael just one block from Maido on Calle San Martin.

I hope this guide comes in handy for anyone looking to visit Lima. If it does, or if you have questions, feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section below!! I’ll be back soon with more posts about our travels to Machu Picchu, along with what to do with 48 hours in Aguas Calientes. Also look for my upcoming post about our journey to 15,000 feet in Huascaran National Park, as well as our trip to Isla Grande in Colombia.


Wanderlust Series Part One: Planning Your Trip

I get a lot of questions from people looking to travel, and I also know that I always scour the internet for other people’s travel tips so that I can get real, honest advice about the places that I want to visit. That’s why I wanted to create this blog post series where I can offer up my experiences in detail, in the hope that it can help someone else as well!!

Planning your Trip: Where to Look

First of all, you should know that I love planning vacations. I will daydream about travelling someplace months before I even buy a plane ticket. This is great for people who, like my boyfriend, don’t want to comb through hotel prices & Google search “Coolest Yurts in Northern California.” Here are the websites/phone apps that I am obsessed with for planning the perfect vacation:
  • Skyscanner. I usually bounce around between a few apps to watch flight prices when I’m trying to purchase my initial flights, and Skyscanner tends to have the lowest pricing. The downside of this app is that it only allows you to buy one-way or round-trip flights, which kind of sucks if you’re planning a multi-leg vacation. I read somewhere that the best time of week to buy a flight is on a Tuesday evening, but I’ve purchased super cheap flights on a Saturday night so I don’t know how valid that claim is. I definitely recommend watching your flight for a minimum of two weeks because you’d be amazed how much those prices fluctuate. Case-in-point: my round-trip ticket to Bali went from $1,200 to $850 in just a few days.
  • Hopper. Hopper is my jam when I’m watching flight prices over the span of a few months. I don’t know if I’d say they offer the cheapest pricing compared to the other sites, but they DO make flight price predictions that show a daily fluctuation report, and those look forward almost a year in advance, which kicks ass. This app also watches the prices for you, and alerts you when they’re at their cheapest, which also rocks.
  • Kayak. This is my go-to site for multi-leg trips. I tend to look at the app on my phone, and then go to the website when I’m ready to buy the tickets since it redirects you to the booking site with the cheapest price.
  • AirBNB. I’m obsessed with this website. This is a site where people can rent their houses or apartments to people, and the prices are usually MUCH cheaper than local hotel prices. I will warn you, though, that there are areas that I don’t recommend using AirBNB for. Anywhere is the U.S. is a safe bet, and I had awesome experiences using it in Bali. But we had a few really bad experiences in Peru and it sort of woke me up from my AirBNB daydream. The key thing to remember here is that people can use angles and filters to make any house look really amazing, so read through the reviews and make sure you take any negative comments seriously. Having said that- some of these places are seriously amazing and unlike any hotel experience you could possibly have. We stayed in a refurbished RV just outside of San Francisco once that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and there are even lists of Yurts, Treehouses, and boats that you can rent. I usually check the box that filters in only SuperHosts, because sometimes it’s the person hosting the AirBNB that makes it really special. Many SuperHosts will really go above and beyond to make your meals, suggest local spots, and even welcome you with a bottle of wine.
  • TripAdvisor, Expedia & LonelyPlanet. These are pretty commonly-known sites but in case you don’t know, now you know. These are also where I look for hotels if I’m not going with AirBNB.
  • Thrillist. This is my hands-down favorite website to find underground restaurants and non-touristy things to do. This site is primarily for major U.S. cities, but you can find quite a few suggestions for major international cities like London, Rome, etc.
  • Rick Steves website/books/podcast. Rick has awesome advice if you’re traveling most anywhere in Europe, and there are videos, lists, and books that can help guide you to a number of remote places that you’d otherwise miss.

  • The Amateur TravelerI like to check out this website/podcast to see what interesting places there are to visit. He has a ton of interviews with people who have lived or visited some really neat places around the globe, so it’s a good place to build up some excitement for your trip, or to expand your vacation ideas to places you might not have considered yet.
  • Honorable Mention: Pro HDR Photo app. This takes ridiculously good photos. I suggest only using it for scenery, since it takes 2 photos and combines them with the best colors from each. This means that you have to hold the camera VERY still for about 30 seconds. If you try to take a picture of something that’s moving, it’ll end up totally blurry.
  • I'm sure you already have it on your phone, but Instagram is also a really great place to check out potential travel locations. I like to look up hashtags of the cities, monuments, national parks, or even hotels that I want to go to. This is not only a great way to see if they look as fun as you expect, but as you get closer to your travel date it’s a nice way to check out the weather so you know what to pack.

Other Travel Planning Tips

Always, always, ALWAYS look up travel alerts and warnings for the places you’re going. You should also search online to find out if you need a Visa for the place you’re visiting (this is separate from just your passport), and also check to see if you need any immunizations.

Another important thing to note is to do a Google search to see if you need to apply for any type of permits for your trip. For example: if you want to attend Easter or Christmas Mass at the Vatican, you need to fax a request to the Papal Office at least 2 months in advance. You also need to file for a permit if you want to hike Machu Picchu, and a separate permit to hike Wayna Picchu and/or the Inca Trail. It’s also a good idea to make sure the place you’re trying to go is open the day you plan to go there (many popular museums, such as the Louvre in Paris, have various weekdays that they are closed to the public).

I hope this has been helpful for anyone planning a trip someplace fun. If you know of any other great planning websites, please leave a comment below so I can add it to my list/life!!


Things I Learned in Bali, Indonesia

"Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all took a moment, each day, to reconnect with what was important to us?" 
-My Dad, upon hearing that Balinese radio stations pause several times per day in order to broadcast traditional Hindu prayers.

Bali was a long time coming, for me. And not just because I spent hours planning out the perfect places to stay and which foods I would (attempt to) eat. It wasn’t because it was the first trip I’d taken where I would be alone for days on end. It wasn’t because it was my first time in Asia, or because it was the longest I’ve ever been away from home. It was a long time coming because it was my first trip where I not only saw a new place, but was also supremely changed by it.

Of course each trip I take influences me. I expand myself and experience things with widened eyes. Each picture on my photo wall has something remarkable that I’ve had the humbling good fortune to see, and they’ve all been pretty easy to capture on film because the world is a beautiful place. But those are just photographs… flashes in time of what anyone standing behind the lens would see. I have plenty of pictures like that from my trip to Bali, but none of them can express the complete embrace that Bali takes of you.

The air is hot, and damp. Your hair sticks to the back of your neck, and it mats to your forehead and temples. It’s hot, but you don’t mind because each layer of clothing you strip off makes you feel even more free. You take off the jacket that you wore on the airplane, and pull your hair back from your face. The air smells like incense and, at dusk, the ash from dozens of fires burning in yards throughout the city. The entire island is perfumed with smoke and Jasmine.

Bali isn’t clean, and it isn’t quiet. There is trash along the sidewalks (where there are sidewalks), and away from the rush of cars, there is always a rooster crowing or frogs croaking. The city streets are a river of flatbed trucks and motorbikes with bursts of intermittent horns. None of these are disruptive or hostile sounds. Unlike Americans, the Balinese honk their horns simply as if to say, “on your left.” No one takes it personally, and no one gets angry for being honked at. I tried to explain this to several taxi drivers while I was there, but they couldn’t understand why anyone would ever get Road Rage. It just didn’t occur to them why it would make any sense… and honestly, it doesn’t really make sense to me now that I think about it.

Bali is a place of peace, even in the midst of chaos.  It’s a place for kindness, empathy, and patience amidst challenge. The Balinese are primarily Hindu, and therefore believe in Karma. According to my new friend Suka, this is one reason that they are such happy, helpful people. They believe that goodness begets goodness.

In the two weeks that I was there, Bali stripped me bare, or as near to bare as a person like me is capable of being. In the heat and the activity, I slowly left both tangible and emotional nonsense behind, realizing how over-packed I was. And it was this very symbolical thing, to lighten that load. My initial plan was to bring a few items that I knew I would use up- like soap and sunscreen. I even brought this beast of a Citronella candle in my bag to keep the mosquitos away. I knew that as I emptied each thing, I would throw it out to make room for souvenirs from my trip. But what I didn’t realize was that I would be throwing away so many more things that no longer served a purpose for me, in order to make space for things that would mean infinitely more to me when I returned to California.

If there was one word I’d use to describe myself prior to this trip, it would have been Scared. I’ve been terrified of change just as much as I’ve been terrified of monotony, and most of all I was scared of “What if this is really IT? The life I’ve been dreaming about as far back as I can remember??” I used to be this person who contemplated life, and who saw it with endless possibilities and wonder. I wrote about my views on the world, unafraid of who read them or what they would think of me when they did. But somewhere along the line, I started to fear the open-endedness of each interaction I had with the world. I stopped being brave enough to trust the world I saw, and my vision of it became cloudy and filled with doubt. After all of the things that have happened to me in my crazy life, I always took pride in the fact that I’d never acquired any baggage from it. But it turns out that it had been stacking up in a closet of my mind that I had disguised as a guest room.

Without realizing it, I’d turned all of my trials and fears into anger. I was angry with the people who’d let me down, and angry with myself for not being a stronger person than I’d been. I was angry at circumstances that were out of my control, and at difficult situations that I knew better than to stick out. And it wasn’t until I had unpacked and repacked my bags a few times that I started to realize that I desperately needed to throw some things away for good.

The first week of my trip was challenging. I was in a totally new place, and since we moved every few days I was constantly disoriented. I got lost a LOT, and it was a struggle to adjust to being in a polar opposite time zone. But on the third day in Bali, we went to Tirta Empul- the holy water temple. It was actually pretty funny because my traveling buddy had decided to jump in the water first, posing with thumbs up and peace signs (as I had planned to follow en suite) with me snapping pictures of the whole spectacle. As he climbed out of the water, a staff member approached us and explained that you were absolutely not supposed to jump in the water wearing the sarong that they gave you when you entered the temple. There was a whole ceremonial procession wherein you would need to first rent a second sarong for the water, then meditate and thank the Gods for their blessing. After this you would make a request to the Gods and place an offering on the first spout of water, following that by approaching each spout in order (except for the two that were representative of the Gods of Funeral Rites), in order to be purified from all evil spirits and discontent. My poor friend had missed out on his chance to partake in this ceremony, but I was lucky enough to be a part of it (sorry, bud).

I’d felt some frustration during the first few days in Bali, and so my request to the Gods was to give me peace and patience. I needed to feel a sense of calm whenever I felt challenged by my world around me, and I asked that I would remember to maintain an inner sense of peace when things became complicated.

Sure, this whole concept of making a wish to a foreign God sounds sort of crazy. But I think that, sometimes, we need something crazy to make us believe that something is possible again. Sometimes, the only answer to Nothing is quite simply: Anything.

After the ceremony at Tirta Empul, any time I felt frustrated or irritable about something I reminded myself that I could calm down and create space for peace. That didn’t mean that I needed to control the things around me, but that I could accept the things that didn’t feel “ideal” to me, and allow them to simply exist as they were. I was removing my ego from the equation and allowing myself to observe my world rather than react to it. If I got lost, it stopped being frustrating and turned into an opportunity to see where this new path took me.

When I tell people that I traveled alone, they think I’m out of my mind. “Didn’t you get bored?” or “Weren’t you scared?” are hot topics. But it was the mind set that I had from Tirta Empul that allowed me to embrace solo travel that much more. The first few days alone, I was bored. But I also discovered that I have a great time by myself, and that getting lost allowed me to discover that I could find my way even within disorienting circumstances. I did yoga for the first time on my trip. I listened to music and sang along with songs that my voice is nowhere near suited for. I went skinny-dipping in my private pool and ran away from more than one giant bumblebee. I wandered and got lost in the dark and caught tiny little frogs in the yard. And after days of being alone on the opposite side of the world, I discovered that I was miraculously still okay.

Bali changed me, and I can’t quite nail down exactly how or when. It could be the locals that I met; mostly taxi drivers or shop workers who were filled with optimism and a peaceful pride in their beautiful country. It may have been the silent permanence and spirituality of the countless temples, which are scattered throughout the island on a grand scale in addition to being a seemingly critical addition to each Balinese home. It could have been the friendly nature of the expats I met, who inspired me to see more of the world and taught me to speak up and make friends with the random girl sitting alone at the cafe. Even the monkeys, who were on occasion slightly aggressive and tended to be very protective of me for some reason, endeared me with their playfulness and curiosity- reminding me to explore my own surroundings and see what simple joys can be found. The sun and the sand, and the ability to sit on my own and really just Be were considerable factors in who I was when I returned home. Reading again, and writing again, on a daily basis. Getting back in touch with who I am, and more importantly, who I desperately needed to remember that I could become. I needed to believe in something, and to remember that my own inner voice is capable and strong.

I don’t want to sound dramatic, because I know that I was never in any real danger- but in so many ways, Bali saved me and brought me back to life. And I know that probably sounds kind of crazy. But sometimes, we need something that sounds kind of crazy to make us believe that something- anything- is possible again.


Things I learned in 2014.

2014 was a year for hindsight being 20/20. I hit a lot milestones this past year, but I was blinded to them because I didn't open my eyes to them, or maybe because they weren't the milestones I expected to meet. It wasn't until some self-reflection that I realized that I've moved forward in strides, rather than standing still the way I've felt throughout the past 12 months. Here are a number of lessons I learned at the close of this year. I hope they inspire you to find your hindsight lessons, too.

1. Find what you love and make it happen. Life provides us with a multitude of pathways; some of which are secret passages we have to seek out. Things seem so obvious when you're looking at them on a map- this goes there, that leads here. But being faced with our lives head on creates a lot of confusion and non-compliance to the rules. Sometimes when you're there, in the moment, you realize that you're following a map to a place you were only headed for the sake of following the dotted line. I think that one of the most beautiful points in our lives is when we realize who we want to be, and not who we're expected to be. I realized this year that I want to see the world, especially the obscure places not many people try to go. I'm learning more and more that I'm fascinated by the culinary world around me, and also that I want to learn as much about world history as possible. Some of these things are interests that I've held, others are new. But it's been really exciting to discover things that I'm anxious to learn more about, especially since it takes a lot to gain and then hold my attention. I'm not saying I'm going to become a travel-food-history journalist, but I expect 2015 to be a year to further develop those passions, and I can't wait to see where they'll lead me.

2. Let your friendships flow, and chose to receive and let go with love. From my late 20's until now, I've had a multitude of people who have simply gone other directions with their lives. And it's often been heartbreaking for me to let go of those people, some of whom I've known for decades. But trying to keep them in my life is much more heartbreaking, as we attempt, time after time, to force an outdated friendship. The people who want to be in your life will be, and the people who can't, or sometimes wont, will no longer hold a place as anything more than a memory. That's okay, and while you may feel hurt at losing someone you care about, they once gave you a beautiful friendship. It's important to honor that by letting go with love. The proactive step is to make time for the people who make time for you, and dedicate your energy to developing those friendships. Nurturing friendships with those whose lives are in line with your own allows both parties to expand on the commonalities that brought you together, helping you each to grow as the people you're aiming to be.

3. Let love breathe. One of the biggest things I learned this past year was how to love other people by allowing them space to breathe. This was one of my biggest "hindsight" lessons, because I experienced some strikingly similar situations in 2014 that I'd once been on the other end of. I think that we often tell ourselves that we need to nurture love, and that is true. But we also need to allow love to nurture us, meaning that we need to allow others the opportunity to give of themselves. It not only gives us a chance to relax and not be "on" all of the time, but it shows faith in the other person by telling them that you trust them to steer things for a while. I've had relationships where I smothered and tried too hard, feeling like perfect couples wanted to share every experience and to be together as often as possible. Now I see how impractical that really is. I want to be in a reciprocal relationship, where we compliment each other's lives, but aren't each other's lives. Two people can't grow together if they're stifling each other from growing individually.

4. Never stop learning. Does anyone remember The Newlyweds TV show with Jessica Simpson? It was during this really unfortunate time in television (which may still be happening but I just stopped watching), when it became endearing to be a stupid girl. We all felt sympathetic for these adorable little idiots and they, I suspect, played it up even more. I'll admit, I played the part from time to time. The past few years, 2014 in particular, were about going the opposite direction. Maybe part of it is just me getting older, but I want to know what is going on in the world around me. I obviously care about making sure my hair isn't a mess and if I can buy pants that make my ass look good, right on. But I stopped subscribing to silly make-up magazines and scouring the US Weekly website, and started paying attention to the news and reading actual books. I guess I also just got tired of reciting the same useless crap. And yes, some of the stuff I read consists of silly anecdotes and bread recipes, but I seek out things that better my life rather than fogging it with idiocy.

5. You're in charge of the way you feel. I've spent a good portion of my life as a victim to my emotions. I often feel sad, or lonely, or jealous. Other times, I feel optimistic and capable. I'm incredibly superstitious and vulnerable to outward influences on my feelings, and maybe I'll always be that way. However, this year I found that most of the times when I've felt sad, I'm allowing myself to feel sad. When I've felt lethargic or trapped, I'm allowing myself to feel that way. I've had several discussions with close friends as of late, many revolving around unfortunate things happening around them. In those scenarios, there isn't much to be done about bad things happening, but you can always control the way you respond to those bad things. And your choice response to the world around you is what makes you the person you choose to be, not the person your world chooses. It's sort of empowering, to know that you can choose to change your perspective, rather than fall victim to an unchangeable world around you.

The funny thing about 2014 is that while it was happening, I felt really confused. I had ups and downs at my job, I reignited some friendships and disengaged from others, and while I stayed home more this year than I ever have before- I also traveled more than I have during any other year of my life. It's hard to see the truth when it's staring you in the face, and I didn't recognize this year for what it was until near the end of it- but it was one of my biggest years for growth in my life. I don't know if I will ever feel my age, and at 31 I don't know how "on par" I am with other people in that bracket. But I also feel more like "me" than I have in a long time. Maybe ever. Which is a good thing, considering that I'll be "me" for the rest of my life.


Hey Jealousy

(Warning: This video has essentially nothing to do with this post and will 
send you into a 90's music whirlwind, should you succumb to its catchiness)

I often find myself getting frustrated trying to explain the way I see the world because it's not... well, normal. In a lot of ways, that's a really good thing. But it makes me seem sort of batshit crazy when I try to explain how my negative feelings tend to turn into something that I actually find constructive.

For example: if you follow my blog, you know that one of my biggest hurdles in life is overcoming jealousy. Not in a crazy "Who was that on the phone?" kind of way. But in this sort of like, "Ugh, why is that person's life soooooo perfect?" way. I think that, especially in this edited world, it's far too easy to see someone's highlight-reel Facebook feed and think that your mediocrity doesn't size up. I mean, lets get really real here and talk about how some of my closest friends are taking selfies in New York, or cutest-offspring-ever pics, and I'm over here like, "Look at my cat playing with twist-ties!!" I took a SnapChat of my cat listening to the soundtrack from The Aristocats last week. I wish I were joking.

And so, people-who-are-now-afraid-of-me, now you see why I find it so easy to take issue with people who are... I don't know... NOT taking SnapChats of their cats (SnapCats? It should be a thing).

Having said that- I have never, in my life, been a person who felt compelled to do (or not do) something because someone said I should. "What's that Mom? DON'T try Tequilla? Oh, okay. I'll get right on that." No. Not my jam. It takes a lot of nudging, and failing, and at times straight boredom to motivate me to do things that I probably could have just taken the advisory for and done right the first time around.

THIS is why jealousy is my biggest challenge, and also my greatest ally. It sucks to see someone doing things that I wish I were doing. I feel like a complete troll when I feel envious of someone for being pretty, or smart, or successful. But then I realize, in true comedic form, that my inner monologue sounds like a complete joke. "How dare that person be doing things with their life! How dare they get up early and blow-dry their hair and look awesome while my roots are growing in and I'm wearing flip flops to work! How dare they travel and have adventures while I sit here helplessly at my desk!" Um... hey, self, why don't you just DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE? Get up early, do your hair, plan a vacation, buy real shoes...

That's the simplest solution. Do you want to do something? How about you just, like, do it?

This is why jealousy is fantastic. It's really just admiration with a splash of laziness, which can be discarded and ignored to allow for motivation to chime in. I realize that some things are out of reach in the jealousy department. There's not enough self-motivation in the world to give me an ass like Gisele Bundchen. But if jealousy gives me the motivation to work toward my best version of myself, thanks for the inspiration- impossibly beautiful alien/model lady.

Life is 100% what we make of it. I of all people know how easy it is to get caught up in petty insecurities and trivial short-comings. But I also know that sometimes, you have to take a good look in the mirror and see how limitless the possibilities are if you only allow them to take root and thrive.

In completely related/unrelated news: if you're into SnapChats of ridiculous things, find me under Meganmccrindle.


Positively Happy.

Image found here.
 "So you attempt to hide your loneliness in public, to behave, in fact, as though you have too many friends already, and thus you hope to attract people who will unwittingly save you. But it never works that way. Your condition is written all over your face, in the hunch of your shoulders, in the hollowness of your laugh. You fool no one."  - David Murosek 
I read this and realized that it hit a little too close to home. But... not in a bad way.

Which is sort of weird.

And I don't know why it made me think of it, but I somehow went to this thought of most people's main goal in life, as far as I've heard it.

What do you want in life?
...I want to be happy.

It's an awfully tall order, when you really think about it. Because have you ever really met anyone who was happy ALL of the time? I don't think I have. Even the people who I've found to be the happiest have often had moments of pretty deep sadness. And that's totally fine. And normal. That's life.

So I decided something: I don't want to be happy.

What do I want? 
To be positive.

I want to stop considering the negative possibilities and start considering that good can (and will!) come from everything in my life. I don't need to pretend to be happy, or fake a smile when my heart isn't in it. But I do want to be sitting, in the midst of my completely normal bad day, with the outlook that I will walk away from it a better person, and that things will turn out alright in the end.

This is a huge challenge, at least for me. I dwell. A LOT. I over-analyze even more. I stress and I plan and I worry. And sometimes that can't be helped. But it's a comforting thought to know that my tendencies to be... well... me, are acceptable so long as I check myself out of them at a reasonable hour and remember that it's all going to be fine. I just need to remember to remain positive.

There's also this:
"It is our own mental attitude which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light."
...and because of that, everything will be fine. Our problems are never the issue. The way we interpret and respond to our problems is the issue. We tend to be our biggest roadblock, which is almost humorously ironic considering that we are the ones in control of removing our problems from our lives, simply by looking at them in a different light.

So take your roadblocks- take your blustering mind- and make your life positive, even when it can't always be happy.


Things I learned in Rome.

I'm starting to go through my pictures from this month's trip to Europe, where I had the good fortune of somehow finding myself in Brussels, Bruges, Paris, Florence and Rome. The funny thing about it is that as soon as I got off the plane at LAX, I knew: I have now been to these places. It was just so matter of fact. "Oh, yes, I've been to Rome." And... you know... that was that. But when I began to look through my photos, I realized, that wasn't that.

I'D BEEN TO ROME. I'd touched the wall of Vatican City. I'd stared up at the once-bronzed statues of the Altare della Patria. I looked at my camera roll and remembered the feeling of wandering the streets of Montmartre in Paris and giggling with my old roommate, Rachael, as I took a selfie pretending to pick my nose at the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence. But when I was there, I remember feeling exhilarated yet somehow disconnected. I guess it all just rushed by in this wave of excitement and overwhelming wonder.

And I looked through my pictures and I started to compare this feeling to like, LIFE. There were times during our whole "Euro Fest 2014" that I felt tired and crowded and irritated about one thing or another. But I don't look back and remember those moments with much consideration for them. And I can't help but ask myself, now, Is Life Just One Big Travel Album?

I flip through my mind and thumb through all of these moments in my life that I know happened. "I've been through this experience," or "I've seen this place," and I know, you know... that's that. But then I begin to look closer and I realize: that isn't that. I'VE BEEN TO THESE PLACES. I've been through these experiences and they were real and they were great, or terrible, or mediocre. But more importantly than anything else- they were real, tangible, audible and moreover existent experiences that I sped through in a flash of excitement and wonder.

The funny thing is that I have all of these little mementos of my life (so far): photographs, books, letters and trinkets. And I see them every day without a second thought of what they felt or looked like or meant when I was there. I have a pair of diamond earrings that a boy gave to me when we dated 5 years ago. They're the only precious jewelry I own, and I never, ever change them. But I long ago stopped staring at them in the mirror as something that I felt honored to wear. I guess I just forgot that moment in my life and how valuable it was. I wont go on to list a bunch of "things" that I own and don't appreciate, because it's embarrassing. The point is- my life has run on auto-pilot of "this is what's happened," and I often forget to appreciate that good or bad- tired or frantic- alone or with company, it's been pretty remarkable.

The thing is, I know that this is common for everyone. What, so every time I look in the mirror I'm supposed to stop and guffaw over a pair of 5-year old earrings? I'd never get anything done! But... well... let me tell you about two little moments that happened in Rome that put things in perspective for me.

One was when we first got to Rome. We'd been to about 30 amazing places in about 6 days, and I'd been trying to save myself for Rome. We stopped at every monumental attraction in the city, each met with wide eyes and a dropped jaw. But by the end of the day, our cries of "That's SO awesome!" were starting to slowly fade, and finally my friend Amy hit it on the head by saying, "Honestly, it's not that these aren't amazing. But how many times can we see something that's 'SO AWESOME' in two weeks?"

The next 'perspective' moment for me was when we got to the Trevi Fountain. I was tired of walking and, quite frankly, overwhelmed with it all. I've found in my travels that it's been my quiet moments I've appreciated the most. The times when I've gotten to sit and just marvel at the grandeur of something. And as we all tried to muster up the strength to talk about how amazed we were about something remarkable, I made a small request. "Let's all just stop and take 30 seconds of silence to just stare." And we stopped talking. And we stared. And the noises of The New invaded my ears as I heard foreign languages interpret the word "awesome," and the water flushed from the fountain and every single movie and photograph I had seen where someone had made a wish in this very place flashed before my eyes as I stopped and just... absorbed the moment.

And, well... I guess that's what life is. It's a series of "SO awesome" moments, happening on fast-forward. I guess that's what Ferris Bueller meant when he said that if we don't stop and take a look around once in a while, we'll miss out on life. It'll still happen. But we'll have gotten so caught up in the rush of each rapid-fire moment that we'll forget what it felt like, smelled like, sounded like and even tasted like- when we were standing in that space. And whether you felt great or tired, whether things ended spectacularly or whether your heart was broken by the turn of events, there was a flash of time in there that was pretty amazing. And I guess what I learned in Rome this year was that I'm always in Rome. Every place, every moment... it's all Rome. And it's always SO awesome.


A Blanket, Eeyore and a Guitar changed the way I see the world.

"Excuses are a chance to reiterate who they are. 
Your reactions are a chance to reiterate who you are." 

I've spent a lot of time lately looking at the person who I've been, and the person that I am now, and kind of wondering: if I could go back and change anything, what would it be? I don't believe in the whole "no regrets" thing, because I think that everyone has regrets and I also believe that we NEED them. Without messing up, being aware of it, and progressing forward as a result of it- we don't grow. So I like that I have regrets because it means I was aware of what needed to change. I like that.

I think that if I could change anything, though, it would be to not have taken so long to figure out who I wanted to be. Let me start that with a story. A really, really embarrassing story. The summer before my senior year in high school, we took our individual portraits. It's this big deal and in my house my parents put everyone's up on the main wall and blah blah blah. So there's a head shot (which is still at my parent's house), and a full body shot where you use all kinds of props to showcase what your strengths and interests are. My sister had her Cheerleading garb, my brother had his Letterman's jacket from Waterpolo... etc. I had no idea what to do. I certainly wasn't going to wear my swimsuit and goggles, and I didn't really have many interests (or so I thought) outside of just 'hanging out.' I asked my Mom for her advice and she suggested all of these neat little props to represent "me." So what does my picture have? I'm sitting on a Zebra-print blanket (to show I was trendy or something I guess), holding a magazine with a picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar on the cover (to show that I was a huge Buffy fan), next to a stuffed Eeyore doll (to show that I was suicidal or something), and I'm holding a guitar. I HAD NEVER PLAYED THE GUITAR IN MY LIFE. The idea was, according to my mom, I knew I wanted to learn to play some day. And by the time I was going to look back on these pictures, I'd be really, really good. Probably.

I used to be so ashamed of this picture, and obviously I realize how totally ridiculous it is. But it occurred to me, yesterday, how 100% spot on it was as far as representing "who I was." I was a girl who had no idea who I was. Everything was projected as this image of who other people thought I should be. Note: if you have to ask your mother what represents 'you,' you're doing it wrong. But that's who I was- an interpretation of what everyone else wanted to see. My bedroom wall was cluttered with magazine pictures of women skinnier and prettier and more famous than me- people that the world put on a glossy page and told every teenage girl that we should be like. I bought the shoes they said were cool, I took the general ed classes in college that everyone took. My personality was essentially a xerox copy of whoever seemed like they knew what they were doing.

It wasn't until years later that I started to befriend more people who promoted individuality, and I started to see things that the world showed me and say, "meh, that's not for me." And maybe that makes me less of a celebrated "yes" person, but I'm okay with that. When I look around my room, now, I see places around the world that I've been because they were important to me. I have books that represent my values and clothes and jewelry that I think are pretty and comfortable. I have a 13 lb. cat that everyone else hates but I think she's the greatest thing in the world and they can go to hell if they have a problem with that. I love my little life, and it finally feels like home to me.

The reason I started out my entry with that quote is that I was having a moment today where I felt like I was kind of getting the butt of things. I was irritated that people were expecting things of me that I felt they weren't personifying themselves, and it was very much a "well, why should I do it then??" moment. And I made all of these very true, very valid excuses of why I felt like the only non-hypocrite. But that thought stopped me because, at the end of the day, I can only control my own actions and reactions. And just because I feel that someone else has made poor choices doesn't change a thing about my own. I struggle with that concept a lot, actually. And not to sound like I'm a saint by all means, because I can be a real selfish asshole. But I often feel like it would be fair and right for me to react to a scenario based on the scenario, and not on the person that I try to be. But I don't want to be anybody based on what other people believe I should be. I'm not a teenager, asking what represents "me." I am "me," and I should be the one deciding what to include in the picture.