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lefarfalleblog

The Italian idiom for "To run after butterflies": To chase dreams, to not be realistic

To Travel Or Not To Travel: Is That Even A Question?

When this article went up on Forbes’ Under 30 Network, my reaction was, as they say, “I can’t even”. My love of travel was instilled by my parents at a young age, and as I grew that love turned into passion – a passion that continues to thrive and has taken me on countless adventures.

So, obviously, I needed to express my strong feelings of opposition to the stance taken in the Forbes article. I wrote a rebuttal and submitted it to Forbes Under 30 Network… and never heard back – no surprise there. Forbes is all about being financially savvy, so of course they would publish an article encouraging young people to stay home, settle down, and save for retirement instead of taking risks, following dreams, and exploring the world around them. While I don’t disagree that being responsible with time and money is important, I just hate the fact that people might be reading something telling them that travel at a young age is essentially unimportant, aimless, and irresponsible. And so I couldn’t allow my article of opposition to die in someone’s inbox.

Luckily, Elephant Journal agreed to publish it, and even included some of my personal travel photos in the article. My work will not be as widely read as the Forbes article, but at least I feel like I’ve done right by my passport by actively and publicly sharing my love of travel, opposing what I feel to be such a narrow world view, and hopefully inspiring others to step outside of their comfort zone, or even just their time zone.

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The Wizardry of Fiction, Fandom, and the Fountain of Magical Brethren

Do you remember your Disney prince crush as a kid? Or which cartoon character’s stuffed animal you couldn’t sleep without, staying up late under the covers, telling them your inner most 7-year-old secrets? My crush was Aladdin. I wanted to run my hands through that thick, luscious black hair. Plus he had an adorable monkey. I found friends in many Disney and other fictional characters as a child. Just when my parents thought I couldn’t possibly want to watch a particular movie for the umpteenth night in a row, I would inevitably demand another trip to Bambi’s forest, or under the sea with Ariel and Sebastian.

The psychology of creating attachments to fictional characters is not a new phenomenon. It often comes down to an emotional connection we feel with a particular story or persona. Maybe we can relate to a struggle that a character is going through, maybe their hardships trigger our feelings of sympathy, empathy, and compassion, or maybe we aspire to be as brave, successful, or kind as our favorite protagonist. There are, of course, also the antagonists that we love to hate. They are powerful, strong, maybe beautiful, and therefore it is all the more satisfying when we watch them fall.

Blakely Vermeule of Stanford University even wrote a book on the subject, entitled “Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?” She writes that as human beings, we “need to know what other people are like”, and that the reasons we grow to care about and understand fictional characters are similar to the reasons we care about and understand other (real) people in our lives. I can only hypothesize that this basic human need to learn about and know others around us stems directly from our need for human connection and social networking.

The research is seemingly endless in support of social connectedness, and how feeling loved and accepted into a community benefits your health – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Studies have shown that the lack of a social network is more detrimental to one’s health than obesity or smoking, and that being connected to others can lead to a 50% increased chance of survival.

Even as long ago as the 13th century people were beginning to understand the importance of social connectedness. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II devised a social experiment wherein about 20 infants being raised in an orphanage were to only have their basic needs met, and they were not to be cuddled, played with, or interacted with in any way outside of their feeding, bathing, and diaper changing. We may not find it surprising today that these infants all died within weeks – what we might call “failure to thrive” in today’s world. Regardless of the fact that they received the same food and basic care as the other infants, they still failed to thrive due to their lack of social interaction. In short, we are inherently social creatures, and the extent and depth of our relationships with other people is directly related to our health.

Today, it is easier than ever to become sucked into a fictional world, whether it be through books, movies, TV shows, or video games. These alternative universes, which used to only be available through the page, radio, or television, have now also found a home online, where like minded people from all over the world can discuss, create, share, and connect through their shared interest. In the days before the internet, it was much more difficult to not only find the other people who shared a particular passion, but then also to exchange ideas or homemade paraphernalia. We now have access to a whole new level of this social network called fandom.

Fandom can be defined as a community or subculture that forms around a certain person, sports team, book, TV show, movie, video game, comic book, etc. True diehard fans can spend hours discussing the smallest detail of a story, or every single pro and con to trading a certain baseball player. Probably the first example of fiction fandom as we know it today started in the late 1800s, when the Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle developed a following who were actively invested in Holmes, provoking them to write fan mail to Sir Doyle with every kind of question and opinion. This ultimately led to the author being all but blackmailed into bringing the detective back to life after killing off his best-selling character, even though as an author he was desperate to write more “serious” work.

Again, with the advent of the worldwide web, fan culture has become infinitely more connected, organized, and active. One of the most avid fandoms is the one surrounding Harry Potter. For many of us, our love for the Harry Potter story is deeply rooted in our childhood. For me personally, the first book was published in the United States when I was 9 years old, only 2 years younger than Harry when we first met him. My generation quickly caught on and became enthralled with this spectacular new world. We grew up with Harry, we understood his awkwardness as a preteen entering a new school, having to make new friends. We admired his bravery and righteousness when he first stood up to Draco. We rooted for him during Quidditch games, and were intimately familiar with his anxiety when left alone with a certain pretty girl in the Room of Requirement. We immediately began awaiting our own letters from Hogwarts. (I’m still waiting patiently. Do they have a graduate program?)

As the hype around Harry Potter grew, and Rowling’s writing became more sophisticated and experienced, the fan base quickly grew from younger kids and teenagers to include people of all ages. However, I believe the true heart of HP fandom and the reason that Harry’s world is still relevant is the fans of my generation, those of us who literally grew up with Harry.

One of my favorite memories from my college days is going to the midnight premieres of the last few Harry Potter films. Tickets sold out as soon as they went on sale, and every single person staying up until 3am to see the new movie was a diehard fan of college age, just like me. We dressed up, we excitedly theorized about how they would portray a certain character or event, and as we anxiously awaited the opening credits, someone inevitably began a mysterious ticking noise, which crescendoed into a packed theater full of college kids yelling, “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape” – “DUMBLEDORE!” And then the lights would dim and we would scream our overwhelming excitement for a few exhilarating seconds before collectively becoming deathly silent as to not miss a single word.

It is us who have kept Harry alive through PottermoreLeakyCon, both Harry Potter theme parks, and not to mention all of the fan fiction and fan-made YouTube videos, music, and paraphernalia. We are exceptionally nitpicky in our attention to detail. And I mean, down to the word.

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But despite any disappointments or details that were missed, we stand behind the story, our loyalty and enthusiasm are unwavering – Always. We remain steadfast even as we pass the torch along to the next generation, introducing Harry to our own children.

I remember the controversy when the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script was released. The debate seemed to be over whether or not Harry Potter is even still relevant, and if the release of this latest installment was a sad attempt at continuing Rowling’s empire, or a valuable addition to the story of Harry and his family. It’s true that fan reactions were pretty divided. The purists felt like Harry’s story ended with the 7th novel, and it needed to stay ended there, while some other fans appreciated the new story for what it was and were happy for another adventure into the wizarding world, regardless of its script format.

Despite the crevice in response to this new story, I don’t believe Harry Potter or his world have become any less relevant. Fans who disliked Cursed Child for whatever reason, have not lost any love for the original story, and I suspect that many, if not most, of them still lined up to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. The differences in reaction have only given fans more to discuss and debate about a world to which they are forever connected, instead of driving people away. It’s like the love one has for a younger sibling, you will always love them and be invested in them, even when they disappoint you or make you angry.

I believe that our continuing dedication is in part due to the nostalgia of what Harry means to us. Maybe he was your childhood crush, maybe you too felt like an outcast, and Harry gave you hope that one day you would also find your tribe. Maybe it was about the new community you became a part of as an HP fan, the worldwide social group that accepted you as one of their own.

Whatever it was that grabbed your attention and then held it even as you left childhood, it is magic. Not the kind of magic that can make you invisible, immortal, or allow you to speak to snakes, but the kind of magic that awakens a passion and connects you to other human beings, becoming part of a family who understand and accept you. It is a kind of magic that allows you to thrive.

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In the last 2 hours, my stressed, over-tired brain has run the gamut of things that have haunted me lately. In the midst of this storm, I found myself remembering the very true, very pure hope and optimism I felt at the beginning of 2016, the feeling that without having a reason, I knew at my core that this would be a good year.

New Years Eve is arguably my favorite holiday for exactly this reason – not only honoring the year that has passed, with all of its ups and down, lessons learned and battles fought – but also the looking ahead with hope. Taking the last 365 days of positive and negative life experience and committing to moving forward, with a drink in your hand, a smile on your face and friends at your side. Raising a toast to having made it through another year in the trenches.

And then I thought – what happened?

How could a year that began with such a deeply visceral belief in the good it would bring, wind up being wrought with so many stresses and worries and fears?

I had so looked forward to the changes, growth, and personal development I knew these 12 months would provide, why have I been feeling so awfully beaten and down?

And then I remembered – because the paths of change, growth, and development aren’t always (indeed, they hardly ever resemble) a smoothly paved road basked in glorious sunlight with all roadblocks left open. They are littered with unknown demons, dark abysses, and patches of self sabotaging quick sand – all otherwise known as life’s trials that give you the opportunities to achieve the change, growth, or development you seek.

Not being a religious person at all, I could not help but be reminded of the following quote:

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”                          –Bruce Almighty

Now, I don’t believe in a God but I do believe in the idea that very rarely does life pass you from one plateau to another without making you participate, without requiring you to do the work.

So maybe my past self in the early days of this year was on to something. That girl knew that opportunities for the changes she so desperately sought would present themselves. She didn’t know how difficult they would be, she didn’t realize the stakes had been raised. But she knew something had been set in motion. She knew she had what it would take to do the work, and that whatever life force she had been praying to had heard her.

So today I give thanks to that past self for setting the wheels in motion for the things that she wanted, for doing the work required. And I remember to be patient and kind with my present self, because this was never meant to be easy. It was always going to be difficult. And I am building a more resolute foundation on which my future self will thrive.

 

Today: For Millanniels, By Millennials

As a member of the “millennial” generation, also known as “Generation Y”, I am always intrigued to read articles written about us. The world seems to have endless opinions about my generation, which is understandable as we infiltrate the work force and gain more of a voice and influence over world politics, social issues, the economy, etc.

There are many people who believe that millennials lack the work ethic of previous generations, are burdened by entitlement, and expect things to be handed to them without putting forth much of an effort. I wish I could say this was false, unfortunately I know there is some truth to it – but this didn’t spring from the collective laziness of an entire generation. The snowball effect of how we ended up here started well before many of us came of age. The assertion that we, as a generation, are lazy is also a wild generalization that clearly does not include those of us that are out there literally changing the world.

There is also an obvious shift in focus happening within this generation. The ambition is changing from working towards financial stability and security to following a passion, or finding a career of value that gives one purpose. This is also contributing to the growth of our collective consciousness and global awareness. The human race is more connected than it ever has been, and I believe our generation is more focused on social equality, unity, and diversity than ever before, and many of us are finding passion and purpose in fighting for these causes. And with the resources and technology we have at our fingertips, I for one, have hope for an incredible amount of global change throughout my lifetime, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary in current world events.

But long before the horror stories of today, there was a different kind of horror taking place – the Great Depression. Coming out of that Depression era, our grandparents were clearly focused on regaining economic stability.

For anyone who’s ever taken a Psychology class, you’re probably vaguely familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s theory is depicted in a pyramid, with the top being self-actualization and reaching one’s full potential. But he argued that you cannot move up within the pyramid until you satisfy a number of more basic needs, the most basic of which are physiological needs – mainly food, water, warmth, and rest.

So, coming out of the Great Depression, many of our grandparents had been thrown back down to the bottom of the pyramid, and their primary concern was to recover the financial security needed to feed their families and put a roof over their heads. This struggle for security and stability made its way into the psyche of their children (our parents).

They were taught to strive for an education, and to work long and hard for a practical, secure, and prosperous career so that hopefully they never had to go through what their parents had experienced, and could continue on to the next level within Maslow’s pyramid. Our parents grew up watching their own parents struggle and work hard to make their lives better. They came of age with the belief that if they worked hard and did their best over a number of years, there was no reason why they couldn’t have an easier, and certainly a wealthier, adult life than their parents.

Then, as our parents started their lives and built their careers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the economy entered a time of remarkable growth, and many of our parents did better than they had expected to. They began to have children (future millennials) during this time of unreserved optimism and opportunity. They saw the world take a drastic turn for the better since their own childhood, and raised their young children with the idea that the world was their oyster, they could be anything or do anything they wanted to be or do.

The result seems to be a generation that is all at once incredibly ambitious, entitled, and not nearly as hard working as their parents or grandparents. The lives their parents built for them no longer seem like enough. They want more – more money, bigger houses, multiple houses, more time off and means to travel the world, and yet – the general work ethic of our generation seems to have suffered as people have been taught that they deserve all of these things, and they can have them, without the emphasis on how hard they have to work to earn them.

And then, just as many of us were entering the work force or getting ready to go to college, the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008. While it might not have been quite as devastating as the Great Depression, the world was certainly no longer the place of growth and opportunity in which our parents had begun their adult lives. While not entirely caused by the financial crisis, it definitely contributed to a myriad of difficulties that hit our generation at a crucial time: stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities, shrinking home values, and immense educational debt.

study done by the Urban Institute concluded that Generation Y will be the first since the Great Depression to be less prosperous than the previous, and not supersede their parents in wealth, stability, and well-being. Most jobs these days, even those with low hourly wages, require at least a four-year Bachelor’s degree. And according to American Student Assistance, nearly sixty percent of college students borrow money to attend school, leading to approximately $870 billion in outstanding debt for graduates, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Urban Institute’s study also states that despite the relative youth of Generation Y, they may not be able to make up this lost ground, and if they are unable to accumulate a competitive amount of wealth, they will be less able to support themselves in retirement. In a time when humans are living longer than ever, this is a truly unnerving thought. This uncertainty could have repercussions for the economy as well, as the aging Generation Y is potentially unable to save and invest, thus unable to build upon the economy left to us by our parents. Historically, it has been true that as a society grows in size and in wealth, each generation finds itself wealthier than the last at any given age. So far, this does not seem to be the case for Generation Y.

“Happiness” can be defined as Reality – Expectations. Basically, if things in life turn out better than expected, you’re happy. And if they end up worse than you expected, you’re unhappy. So while our parents entered the work force in a time of economic growth, and their reality exceeded their expectations, they were quite happy. Their optimism made its way into our psyches, and we grew up with this expectation, not knowing anything different. So then, as millennials went to college and entered the workforce, putting forth a mediocre amount of effort, but expecting incredible outcomes and benefits in the current economic climate, reality did not live up to expectations, and we became unhappy.

And even for those who do not fit into the laziness generalization, and work extremely hard, in this climate it can be hard to see the payoff to all of that work. You spend however many years in school to come out of it with thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in debt – to what? A stunted job market and wages such that you may never pay off that debt.

Yet another facet of the millennial discussion is that of a shift in focus. Our ambitions have shifted from financial security to passion and purpose. Again, I believe the root of this change can be seen in how our parents taught us vs. how they were taught as children. Our grandparents said – get a good education, find a stable job and work hard so that you never have to struggle for food and a roof like we did. Our parents said – find something you love, follow your dreams. As opposed to stressing the importance of practicality and stability, we have grown up in a society that stresses personal fulfillment over financial security and career stability.

Google’s Ngram viewer is a device that shows the popularity of any given phrase in English, and how often it appears in print over any period of time. Research using this tool has shown that the phrase “follow your passion” has only really caught on in the past twenty years. Similarly, the phrase “a secure career” has dropped in its usage, and been replaced with “a fulfilling career”.

The question is, will this revision in goals and ambitions help us or hurt us? Sure, many people will end up broke while following their dreams. That is a reality. But what about all of the millennials who have started their own business? What about everyone implementing social change and committed to leaving the world a safer and more loving place for our children? And even the ones who do go the more corporate route – working for Facebook or Google or JPMorgan Chase. They will not sit back and accept low wages or inadequate paid maternity leave. They believe they deserve better and they know it is possible, so they will fight for it. They will fight for benefits like these to be implemented in companies all over the country, until they are the new norm.

The economic climate we find ourselves in coupled with our longing for purpose and to live our lives with passion has given birth to a generation of resourceful, creative, forward thinkers. The structure that benefited our parents so well is not holding up anymore, and we must pave the way and build something new. A new structure that is flexible and creative. In a way I believe it’s possible that our generations’ “entitlement” isn’t an altogether bad thing. People feel entitled to certain benefits, or a certain quality of life, and if they choose to not accept anything else, their only other option is to fight for what they want, and create change. And with a growing global focus, I believe the change we create will reach far beyond our own individual lives and communities.

I don’t pretend to have answers. But I do think that the conversation surrounding millennials falls somewhere at the crossroads of believing the world is ours for the taking, having the resources to follow our dreams, all while still striving to end up better off than our parents and continue in a trend of growth. This is not the time of supreme economic growth in which our parents built their careers, and our primary focus is no longer solely monetary. We are dealing with more varied financial issues, while at the same time trying to find careers in which we are both fulfilled on a personal level as well as supporting our families. If the upbringing of our parents was one end of the scale, and the pendulum swung to the other end during our upbringing, I believe we as a generation are seeking balance.

I also believe that Generation Y has and will continue to prove itself to be incredibly resilient. We grew up in the middle of the technological revolution, we’re smart, forward thinking, and globally mindful. Our collective consciousness is growing, whether or not we are all aware of it, and we hold a tremendous amount of capability and power. I would strongly urge others to not underestimate millennials.

I would like to believe our resilience, creativity, search for purpose, and thoughts to the future are unique to our generation, but in truth, these are traits of human beings. The human race has evolved tremendously due to these qualities, and I have no doubt that Generation Y will continue to contribute to that forward trend.

Fighting the Good Fight: The Fear of Inadequacy

This morning I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s somewhat new podcast, called “Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert”, relating to her most recent book, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear. Liz (we’re Facebook friends so I feel as though we’re on a first name basis) just released the second season of the podcast, and today I listened to Season 1, Episode 1.

I loved Eat, Pray, Love, I enjoyed Committed, and I always stop by Liz’s Facebook page to read another inspirational or thought provoking post. A part of me wanted to read Big Magic when it came out almost a year ago, but another part of me held me back. Every time I saw the book in a store, I would think, “I’ll find it at the second hand bookstore, I don’t feel like paying full price” or “Maybe I’ll pick it up next time I see it.” It wasn’t until today that I was able to articulate exactly why I kept putting off buying it, and oddly enough, it was Liz herself who helped me find out why.

As I’ve mentioned in many of my blog posts, for as long as I can remember I have wanted to write, and yet never sat down to write anything. Starting this blog was a way for me to finally begin that journey, and do something about it instead of always just saying how much I wanted to write. I started this blog about 10 months ago, and in that time have written 19 posts. It doesn’t sound like a lot, I know I could’ve written more, and I would like to keep up the pace I started last month, where 8 of my posts came from.

This month has been quiet on the blog front, however that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I have written quite a few long pieces on a variety of subjects, with the intent of trying to get them published. I have pitched 3 different articles to 3 different publications in the past couple of weeks, and heard nothing back. I know it can take them awhile to respond if they respond at all, and if they don’t, I’m fully aware how new I am to this game and to writing in general. I’m not expecting to be published right away, but I wanted to get something out there, make my intentions known to the universe, and give myself a goal to write towards.

However, hand in hand with the realistic view of my ability and experience, of course comes fear. The extreme fear that I will never be any good, the fear that everyone has already written and said what I thought were inspired and original thoughts, the fear that this nagging desire to write is not actually a sign I should listen to, but rather just another dream at which I will ultimately fail.

After having only written on my own blog, it’s also very different trying to get something published. I have no frame of reference for how to do this. I’m used to writing a blog post and immediately being able to make it public, the instant gratification of letting a piece of my creativity out into the universe. With this new venture, my creativity is sitting in someone’s inbox, probably still unopened. And goodness only knows what kind of reactions await it if it ever does get opened.

When attempting a new project or adventure, my tendency is just to do it, with very little planning ahead of time. When I plan a trip I book a flight and a place to sleep, and after that I may or may not plan much of anything else. When I wanted to switch careers and get into the field I’m in now, I had zero experience. But I sent out a bunch of emails to strangers and friends alike, and got myself an internship, and I’ve been working consistently ever since. So it is with this now, I’m sending in submissions to publications a little blindly, hoping for the best. (I realize this may backfire, and if it does, I’ll have to find another approach.)

Listening to Liz’s podcast this morning I learned that, obviously, I am not alone in feeling this fear. So many people experience their own insecurities and fears when attempting their creative ventures, that most of the time it causes them to find excuses not to follow their dreams. This is probably why it took me so many years to finally start writing something. Starting this blog was my first line of defense against that fear, my first time fighting back and proving that I can write something. It may be that no one reads it and it may not be anything that any worthwhile publication would publish, but I was at least doing something to fight back against that deeply rooted voice telling me that I wasn’t a writer.

Listening to the podcast also helped me realize that that same fear is the reason I never picked up Big Magic off a shelf. I knew reading it would only prove that I was living in fear and finding excuses to ignore my creative impulses. I knew that Liz would somehow get right at the heart of that fear, that I would be seeing my insecurities in print, and my experienced and well crafted defense mechanisms subconsciously kept me away.

As with all fears and insecurities, it comes down to my self-talk and my own inner monologue. That voice that likes to remind me that I’m not a writer, it’s still there. It became a little quieter after I started my blog, but now that I am thinking more and more about getting published, it’s back to being pretty loud. It likes to gloat when I’m looking through other peoples’ blogs on the exact topics I want to write about, seeing how many views and comments they have. It turns smug when I am researching a publication that I want to submit an article to, only to find that they have a handful of already published articles on the same topic, which are of course much better written than mine.

It was hard to argue with that voice before I had written anything – it was right. But that’s not the case anymore. No, I’m not writing novels and who knows if I will ever actually be published, but the more I write and the more I release that continuously nagging creativity begging to be expressed, the more ammunition I have against it.

It makes me think of the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We all know the dangers of judging someone else by what they look like, what they do for a living, or one thing they said. But what about not judging yourself by your fear? Isn’t it just as dangerous to judge yourself by what your insecurities are telling you? When that voice tells you “You’re not beautiful” or “You’re no good at this, so there’s no point in trying” you’ve got to challenge it, give yourself a chance to prove it wrong, just like you give others a chance to reveal their true selves before you pass judgement on them. (This idea is related to another of my blog posts, The New Golden Rule.)

So, I’m challenging that voice of mine, and remaining open-minded in my approach to who I am. I will no longer take that voice at face value, it does not serve me. I’ve learned recently this is not a change that can be made overnight, it is a practice, and one that must be done on a daily basis.

It just might be that I am a writer.

 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

–Marianne Williamson

In Defense of Numbness

Last week I challenged myself to spend time away from the vortices of Facebook, Netflix, and other stupor-inducing applications/websites/black holes, of which there seem to be more and more everyday. As I begin an extended period of time off from work, I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall into the trap I’ve fallen into many times before, of wasting away days on the couch, to then end up feeling sluggish and entirely unproductive, a useless and uninformed member of society. I’ve had this need lately, a drive to get up, get out, do more, learn more, experience more. New experiences, people, knowledge – these things don’t show up at your door, you have to get out and take them for yourself.

This self imposed assignment was great in a number of ways. I learned new things, had new experiences, and most importantly – I actually did things I’ve been saying over and over that I’m going to do, but never got around to doing (probably because I was so “busy” spending hours on Facebook and bingeing on Netflix).

The importance is obvious of the search for knowledge, experience, growth, pursuing things that are important to you, and continuing in the general forward motion towards greater heights. However, I also want to take a minute to provide a defense for the other side, that of inactivity and stagnancy, which I believe also have value.

I use this term, “numbness”, that I realize has some negative connotations. The idea of feeling nothing, turning off or ignoring feelings, running away from problems that need to be faced, this is not the concept I wish to defend. Rather, the notion of stillness, emptying your mind, and/or deciding for a certain amount of time to shift your focus away from the stresses of your life. This is necessary for one’s mental and emotional well-being. Not to be used as an avoidance tactic, but finding a time and a space in which you can allow yourself a break, and give yourself permission to escape, put aside your worries, and recharge.

Find what works best for you to rejuvenate your mind and spirit. It may be meditation, reading, watching TV, spending time outside, volunteering, playing with puppies, playing video games, or any combination of things. If at the end of that activity, you feel calm and ready to re-attack the more difficult areas of life with purpose and focus, by all means take the time you need to do it. Don’t let others to make you feel “lazy” or “unproductive” if your down time happens to be playing video games or watching TV. The idea that different ways of regenerating suggest various personality traits is missing the point. Being someone who meditates doesn’t necessarily make you more “spiritual” or self-actualized than anyone else. Being someone who finds peace in watching TV doesn’t necessarily make you lazier than anyone else.

You know what will benefit you, and provide you with the best defense in tackling life’s everyday hardships and stressors. And you will also find the balance of how often and how long your times of departure from reality need to be. So, you do you.

Journeying Within and Without – Part 2 (Day 7/7)

Yesterday I wrote about the joys of journeying both alone and with others as I’ve experienced it in terms of the physical act of journeying – traveling. Today I want to delve into a different kind of journey – the one taken on the path to love, connection, and meaning.

As I’ve mentioned, because of the nature of my work and how much time I spend on the road, I spend a lot of time alone. I’m also a naturally introspective person, and have spent a lot of my alone time exploring my inner workings – insecurities, hopes, anxieties, habits (good and bad), and motivations. Even though the journey of self discovery is a lifelong one as we change with the seasons of our lives, I feel as though I’m beginning to understand who I am. What brings me peace, what triggers my anxiety, my short comings and my strengths. People often say that others cannot love you until you love yourself, and arguably the first step in loving yourself is knowing yourself, and then accepting that person with gentleness and compassion. This is a solitary endeavor that no one else can do for you, a difficult one, but a worthy undertaking.

Another obvious side effect of my work is that it’s very difficult to maintain relationships. I have not been in a serious romantic relationship in…. well, a very long time. What worries me about this is that while I’ve gone to lengths on my own journey of self-discovery – I don’t really know who I am as a partner, which then inevitably leads to the fear that I may be a terrible partner and end up alone forever. This is the point in my thinking where I try to exercise some self-compassion and remind myself what an irrational and un-helpful fear that is, but doubt lingers like the remnants of a cigarette recently extinguished.

The bottom line is, I’m in the middle of these journeys as we speak. Both the journey within seeking my true self, as well as the journey without seeking connection and meaning through my relationships with others. I don’t have answers, but I do feel strongly that both of these paths are intricately vital to a fulfilled life, and that their relationship is synergic in nature. One odyssey cannot be completed without the other.

(**NOTE: Spoiler alert ahead!**)

This is beautifully and tragically portrayed in the book and movie Into The Wild. For those of you who don’t know, Into The Wild is a book written by Jon Krakauer about the true story of a young man’s journey away from society and the material life, towards a life lived in nature, off the land, on his own. It was then made into a stunning movie as well. The young man’s impetus for venturing out into the wild was a frustration with conventional lifestyles and the modern obsession with “security” and material excess. Here are some quotes from the book:

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”

“You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.”

“It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty…”

I believe this desire to escape conventional life, chase the sunset and live among awe-inspiring beauty is not something unique to Chris McCandless, he just had the gumption to act on it. I, for one, have also fantasized about leaving behind this life of “things” and “bills” and everything I am “supposed” to do.

So 22 year old Christopher walked away from friends, family, indeed the entire human race, and ventured into the wilderness, believing all that was needed for happiness was the beauty found in nature, the strength to live off the land of our incredible planet, and to complete the journey within, to “…explore the inner country of his own soul.” After 2 years of living this way, Chris died, alone, in the Alaskan wilderness. Having taken numerous rolls of photographs, and keeping several journals, one of the last things he wrote was, “Happiness only real when shared.” From the novel:

“And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…. And this was most vexing of all,” he noted, “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”

At the most basic level he came to understand that the journey within is rendered hollow when severed from the journey without. How poignant, that while on the ultimate quest for the fundamentals of life and meaning on this planet, believing it to be a necessarily individual voyage, that his conclusion and final realization would be that it had been incomplete, as it had not been a shared journey.

 

 

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“Know thyself.” — Ancient Greek aphorism

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates

“I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”             — “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

Journeying Within and Without – Part I (Day 6/7)

Today and tomorrow will be twofer posts! For awhile now I’ve been interested in taking up one of The Daily Posts’ Daily Prompt challenges. Basically everyday they post a word, and bloggers from all over the world share stories, thoughts, poetry, photography – anything that somehow relates to that word. They also do weekly challenges, called Discover Challenges, where you respond to a weekly theme. This week’s Discover Challenge theme is Shared Journeys.

This theme is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the past several years, and particularly this year, in more ways than one. It’s also, ironically, a theme I was already thinking about addressing in my own challenge this week. Since I have thought so much about this topic, I’ve decided to make it a 2 part post, which will make up the last 2 days of my personal challenge, discussing two areas about which I feel very strongly – travel and love, and how my own solo and shared journeys through these arenas have been vital life experiences.

Shared vs. solo journeys have been a recurring theme in my life, as over the past several years I have spent a lot of time journeying alone. Sometimes by choice, but often by necessity. To me, a solo vs. shared journey can mean any number of things, from the physical journeying of traveling, to journeying through a relationship (platonic, romantic, familial, or your relationship to yourself), to journeying through having to make a difficult decision, or a rough patch at work. Any of these things can be done alone or with others, and all are important for personal growth.

I travel all over the country for my work, on contracts ranging from 3 weeks to 9 months. On a few occasions a company has paid to fly me out for a gig, but most often it is my responsibility to get myself there. This has meant a lot of solo road trips, solo outings exploring a new city, and time spent alone by sheer virtue of being in a new city and working with a new company full of people I have just met. As I establish myself more and more within this career, I find myself returning to more and more of the same companies, and running into people in various places that I know from previous gigs (it is SUCH a small world), so that has been nice.

Because of this nomadic lifestyle, I have also been able to travel pretty extensively during my time off between gigs. Most of my adventures abroad have been at least 1 month long, and as most people I know can’t be away for that long, I have traveled alone quite a bit. As in every aspect of life, I believe balance and integration are the key to happiness. I appreciate solo journeys, of any kind, for the unique experiences they bring, and I hope to continue having solo adventures throughout the rest of my life. At the same time, I hope to incorporate more shared journeys into my life. (Already off to a good start, as I’m traveling to Iceland this year WITH A FRIEND! So excited.)

I am of the mind that both solo and shared journeys have equal value and merit. Solo journeying is, I believe, the most affective, and maybe the only true way to discover who you are, without outside influence. It can be scary, lonely, and anxiety-inducing to allow yourself that much time inside your own mind or having to make big decisions by yourself, but I believe I’m a stronger and more balanced person for having done those things. Shared journeys are equally wonderful, as you work together with others to achieve something, whether it be buying a home with your significant other, or navigating through a foreign country with your best friend. Shared journeys also teach you about yourself in a way that solo journeys cannot, and that is how you are as a partner, friend, travel companion, co-worker, etc., and how well (or not) you interact and work with others.

A story comes to mind from my most recent adventure abroad, that I believe illustrates both a solo and a shared journey, in a nice side by side comparison. Last fall, I spent 5 weeks traveling across England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hamburg and St. Petersburg. About half of this trip was spent traveling alone, and half spent traveling with others. That whole trip was an adventure in both solo and shared journeying, but I am thinking about one story in particular.

I happened to be traveling alone while in Ireland. I immediately fell in love with the stunning countryside, the friendliest people on Earth, and the incredible nightlife and live music scene in Dublin. My first night in Dublin, I went on a super fun pub crawl, met some cool people, and had a great time. My second night in Dublin, I decided to venture into the Temple Bar district (the main hub of Dublin nightlife), and see what the deal was.

After all of my solo traveling throughout this country for work, and abroad for fun, I believe myself to be a sort of expert in finding the perfect bar when you are out alone. I know what kind of bar to look for, how to stay safe, and when to go home. I’ve never found myself in a sketchy situation that wasn’t easy to get out of.

The trick is to find somewhere that is crowded enough that you can somewhat blend in and not stand out, but also somewhere that’s not so crowded that you can’t find yourself a nice barstool or chair on which to park yourself. The overly crowded bars will leave you cornered against the wall, feeling like an idiot, hoping the drunk college kids don’t knock into you and spill your drink everywhere (kids these days…). The bars that aren’t crowded enough will leave you feeling exposed and open to the sad, lonely, drunk weirdos who are also there alone, while the bartender is obviously awkwardly wondering if you are meeting someone, but doesn’t want to ask in case you are actually just a pretty, young woman sitting and drinking alone.

Having live music is also really helpful if you’re looking to go out alone. It gives you something to “do”, something to watch and participate in that isn’t your phone. This part was obviously not going to be a problem in Dublin, as every bar I walked into had live music. I went in to and out of a few different bars to scope them out, including the actual Temple Bar that the area is named after. I’ve become very convincing at walking into a bar like I am looking for a friend that I am meeting, while actually just scoping out if I want to stay there. Then if I decide not to stay, I walk out of the bar like I can’t find my friend and am stepping outside to use my phone to call said friend. It’s a technique developed over time.

I basically walked all the way through the Temple Bar district, and at the end of it found a bar that looked promising. Upon walking in, I saw that the first level had two bars and tables and booths where it looked as though some people were finishing a late supper. As I climbed the stairs to the second floor, I immediately had a good feeling about this place. The second level had another bar in the back, and a small stage in the center where three guys were playing some pretty awesome music along the traditional Irish vein. The stage area had a hole in the ceiling above it, as large as the stage itself, where people on the third floor could look over the railing and watch the band as well. There was one unoccupied barstool directly in front of a small bar that lined the outside of the stage area, so I quickly went and ordered a whiskey ginger (Jameson, of course) and commandeered the barstool for myself.

It was a perfect place to sit and drink alone. It was crowded enough that I wasn’t feeling like I was on display, but I was still able to get a front row seat where I could sit and enjoy the music. And the band was terrific. There was a guy on the drums, a guy with a guitar, and a guy with an instrument that I had actually never seen before, but looked and sounded like a smaller cousin of the bagpipes, but I believe are called uilleann pipes. I sat there for over an hour completely immersed in the music, the atmosphere, and the bar. Long gone was any anxiety or self-conscious awareness that I was alone, because I felt…… connected. Connected to the guys playing music, and connected to the other people around me also reveling in the fact that we were in Ireland, listening to Irish music, drinking Irish whiskey and beer, and communally sharing that experience with all of the strangers in the bar. I was totally at ease, and LOVING every minute of it.

Midnight rolled around, and this awesome band was finished with their set. It was clear that another band was slotted to perform next, as they quickly began their setup. My drink was basically gone and I debated whether or not I should stay and listen to some of the next band. One of the first things I noticed while they were setting up was the very cute guitar player, and that the lead singer was, like…. old. Needless to say, I was intrigued, so I stayed. This band was more of the cover variety, not traditional Irish music. And it very quickly became apparent that despite the lead singer’s age, he was badass. Cut to months later, when I was back stateside and still obsessing over Ireland / this bar / the live music, I sat down with Google to find out exactly who all of those musicians were, and found out that this old dude was kind of an Irish rock legend. Although I didn’t know that at the time, I still couldn’t get enough of these guys. They played a great variety of rock, blues, and soul. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding this place, and hearing not one, but two incredible live bands. I walked back to the hostel, glowing, and feeling incredibly fulfilled.

My third night in Dublin consisted of a Musical Pub Crawl, which was awesome. I quickly became friendly with three, loud, hilarious girls from Texas. We hung out together throughout the whole Pub Crawl, and afterwards headed back to the Temple Bar area. They were still jet lagged and didn’t stay out long, but as we parted ways we made loose plans to meet the following night at the same bar we had just left, without exchanging information (a.k.a. leaving it to the Gods).

Cut to the next night, and there is me, sitting outside of the bar the girls and I had been to the night before, hoping to by chance meet up with them again. I sat there, and sat there, and sat. Looking at people walk by, checking my phone every few minutes (as if I were expecting them to contact me, which obviously wasn’t going to happen), feeling more and more self conscious with each passing minute. I hadn’t really thought about what else I would do that night, and the longer I sat there, the less I wanted to go somewhere alone. It was a Monday night after all, and I had heard that the bars close around 11:30 during the week, so if I was going to do something I didn’t have too long to figure it out.

The whole time I had been sitting there, there had been a small group of people sitting and hanging out next to me. They sounded American, and were drinking some beers they had bought at a convenience store nearby. Just as I was about to give up and go back to my hostel, the guy next to me leaned over and offered me a beer. He was cute – very cute actually, and I soon found out Canadian, not American.

I accepted his kind offer, which turned into an offer to hang out with them that night. There were 4 of them in total – 2 girls that were flight attendants, the cute guy who was a friend of one of the girls, and then the other girls’ father. I continued to sit with them, talking and drinking. Soon we were out of the beers they’d bought, and we decided the pre-game was over and it was time to head to a bar. No one had a specific place in mind, and we talked in circles for a few minutes before I spoke up and recommended the bar I had been to a couple nights before, with the great live music. They were unfamiliar with the place, and seemed agreeable to checking it out, so we headed that way.

When we arrived, there were once again three guys up on the stage. It was not one of the bands I had seen previously, but luckily – the same cute guitar player was there playing with this band. We all got drinks and found a spot right next to the stage. They were again playing mostly covers, anything from Oasis (they love that shit in Ireland) to U2 (Irish pride!) to Incubus. They were playing the soundtrack to my adolescence, the music that shaped who I was while in middle and high school. I, as well as my new Canadian friends, knew every word to most of the songs they played, and we sang along at the top of our lungs as we danced and drank and laughed.

It was a high that had nothing to do with the Irish cider I was drinking. These are the moments in my life in which I have felt the most alive, the most connected, the most wholly my best self. These moments are my religion, the times that I revere and worship. In a place where I am listening to music, dancing with no thought as to who may be watching, in sync with the musicians putting their hearts into the music while also feeding off the energy of the crowd, and looking around me at all of the strangers who I will never know, but who at that moment were all a part of me, and I a part of them, all sharing in the perfection of that moment. And to top it off, I was there with people who, while essentially still strangers, were there as my friends. We danced together, laughed together, sang together. It was perfect, in an equally yet totally different way than my first experience at that same bar.

Two of the Canadians and I ended up following the band to their next gig late that night, at an “after hours” club that didn’t abide by the 11:30 closing time rule. I stopped caring that I had an early flight the next morning, and became a groupie for the night.

Two nights, two journeys in and of themselves, just 48 hours apart and at the same bar. One a solo journey and one a shared journey, both highlights of my 5 week trip. In one adventure, I overcame the self consciousness of being out alone, and ended up with complete fulfillment in my own company, once again affirming that being alone and being lonely do not go hand in hand. In the other, my 5 year old self overcame her own self consciousness, and I made new friends on the playground (the adult version of which is the bar). Together we shared in an experience that I’m sure will stay with us all as a testament to how connections can be made anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Humans are humans are humans, and love is love is love. Keep yourself open to what the world has to offer, and I guarantee you will find more awe, inspiration, love and peace than you could ever imagine possible.

“Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, Bigotry, and Narrow-Mindedness.” -Mark Twain (Day 5/7)

Today I’d like to write about travel. For anyone who knows me even slightly, you probably know I’m a bit (a lot) of a travel addict. Firstly, I travel for my work. I have loved seeing new parts of our beautiful and diverse country through work and I’ve been very fortunate to reap some incredible benefits from living the nomadic lifestyle.

I’ve been in my career now for 5 years, and I spent the first 4.5 of those years being a nomad, a vagabond. Homeless, if you will. My contracts have ranged in length from 3 weeks to 9 months. Some gigs provide housing, some don’t. If they don’t, I end up in an AirBnB. And whenever I’ve had time off between gigs, I’ve either spent that time traveling for pleasure, or relaxing at my mother’s home.

So because I have spent most of my career thus far as a nomad, this meant I had no rent to pay, and very few bills. This was wonderful in many ways because I don’t make a lot of money doing what I do. But because of my very few expenses, I was able to save a lot of money, and also use some of that money to travel the world.

My love affair with travel began long before my adult life, however. My parents were instrumental in instilling a love of travel in both my brother and I. Both of my parents spent much of their 20s traveling the world, and my mother is not even native to this country, so my very recent genealogy has visible roots far from our shores. I remember taking family trips abroad, and just being enthralled by the physical act of going to the airport and getting on a plane, checking into a hotel, hearing foreign languages and eating foreign foods.

We went on a number of family trips while I was growing up, and in the summer of 2006, at the age of 17, I traveled without my family for the first time. I spent 3 months traveling around Europe with a couple of friends, including a German exchange student who had lived with us the year before in Atlanta. It was the kind of summer that every American teenagers’ “EuroTrip” fantasies are made of. Full of beaches, nightclubs, meeting all kinds of new people, and maybe squeezing in a museum or two along the way. I wish I had kept a better journal while I was there to remember more of the details, but at least I still have the photos.

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For the first part of the summer, my German friend did most of the planning and logistical work since she had more experience with getting around Europe, and I was a little bit oblivious and just along for the ride, having an insane amount of fun. However, she got sick at one point during the summer and couldn’t travel with me to our next destination. Here’s where I experienced a bit of a hiccup, and had to figure things out on my own for the first time in a foreign country. Luckily, I just had to get from Berlin to Paris, to meet up with another friend of mine from home. And before I knew it, I was a confident world traveler. We decided on a whim to go from Paris to Belgium, to meet up with a cute Belgian boy I had met in Spain. We stayed up late at night, went out dancing, ate the cheapest food possible, walked around a totally new city or sat on the beach during the days. I was hooked.

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I was glad to be home at the end of the 3 months, but I had gotten the travel bug, and badly. I couldn’t wait to get out of the country again, and it wasn’t too long before I did. In 2009 I did two international trips through my school – one to Prague for a week, and one to China for 2 weeks.

Then in 2011 my brother and I both graduated (me from college, and him from high school), so we decided to do a trip together. We spent about 10 days together in Istanbul and Greece, and then split up so he could have his own “EuroTrip” summer, while I did my first truly solo trip to Budapest, Vienna, and London. By this time, traveling alone felt like a walk in the park, and I discovered the wonders of CouchSurfing, one’s best friend while traveling on a budget. I also realized the benefits to traveling alone – mainly that you get to do whatever you want, and nothing else. I had no trouble meeting people while out and about by myself, whether it was on a walking tour or sitting at a bar.

My next big excursion was in 2013, when I tried WWOOFing for the first time. This is also a great way to travel on a budget – through the WWOOF website, you can find farms all over the world where you go and work for free, and then they house and feed you for free. Essentially all you’re paying for is to get there. Every farm operates differently and has different rules, etc., but you can easily scroll through them all and find one that you think is a good fit. I learned about WWOOF from a nice young couple that I CouchSurfed with in Vienna in 2011. They had spent a year WWOOfing around the US and Canada, and I was immediately interested.

I spent a month on a farm in Italy, about an hour north of Rome. They ran a small farm of mostly vegetables, but also ran a hostel and a weekend restaurant on the property. I only worked for a few hours a day, mainly gardening or picking vegetables, or helping to turn over a hostel room after a guest had left. During the weekend, the restaurant took over and I helped wait tables and clean dishes. On a few special occasions I was invited into the kitchen to help the chef (and the mother of the woman running the property), prepare a dish.

Maria Pia didn’t speak any English, and very rarely smiled, so I was a little bit terrified of her. But there was usually another WWOOFer in the kitchen with us, either an English boy who had been there for months, or another Italian guy who spoke very good English and was very chatty. The English guy also had a Vespa, so on one of our days off we rode down to Rome on the Vespa, and spent the day walking around and eating gelato.

My German exchange student friend also happened to book a trip to Rome at the same time without even realizing I would be there, so again we got together and traveled in Europe together!

I don’t want to say there was one best thing about that WWOOF farm, but I mean…there was a 200 liter keg of red wine. Just sayin’.

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(If you’re interested – another similar way to travel is through HelpX (short for Help Exchange). It’s like WWOOFing, but not just for farms. There might be a youth hostel looking for help, or like one amazing post I almost followed up on – helping out with Iditarod dogs in Alaska!!!)

My next adventure was in 2015, I spent 5 weeks traveling around England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hamburg and St. Petersburg. Half of this trip was spent traveling alone, and half was with family and friends – again, my German friend decided to join my mom and I in St. Petersburg! It was yet another amazing trip that only fueled my passion for seeing the world – and soon hopefully more than just Europe.

I do have an adventure lined up for 2016, it was a very spur of the moment decision but my friend and I decided to take advantage of a great flight deal and we’re going to Iceland! In 2017 some of the Croatian side of my family will be spending the whole summer there, so I’m planning a return trip to the homeland. And finally, after TWELVE YEARS at No. 1 on my Bucket List, I am hoping to also get to Cuba in 2017.

Even though I have traveled fairly extensively, I still have quite a long travel bucket list. I don’t make a lot of money, and I’m sure there will come a time when I’m not able to leave the country every year or two. But until that time comes, what better way to spend my few dollars than exploring this vast, diverse, and amazing planet? There are so many new places to visit, so many ways in which I can open my eyes to something new and learn and grow, so many new foods to eat, and so many new people to meet.

And even though I am reaching a time of my life where I do want a home of my own that I can come back to, I will never want to stop traveling. I enjoy the stability of a home and in some ways moving on from the nomadic lifestyle. But that travel bug is here to stay. Stay Calm and Travel On!!

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