How I Travel

Oh, how I wish I had a dollar for every time anyone has ever asked/told me any of the following:

I’m so jealous, I wish I could do that!”
Ugh, if only I had the money!”
If I ever had the time, I’d go.”
Don’t you get scared/lonely/tired of traveling by yourself?”
“…yeah, but you’re young and a woman.”

Maybe you, reading this right now, have even thought the same thing about me. You see pictures on Instagram and posts on Facebook: Peru, Thailand, Aruba, etc. and think, how does she do it? The money, the days off work?

Let’s get one thing straight here: I am no different than the average person. I am not rich, “just lucky,” or any of that. And it would make me furious to hear how some people just assumed all of these things about me or the way I lived my life, simply because they didn’t know. I worked my ass off to get to where I am and for the things that I have accomplished. I work a full-time job, take writing classes, pay my school loans, struggle to maintain a social life, go to the gym, etc. and still get a decent night of sleep like everyone else. I am an ordinary girl, who just decided what she wanted and went out to get it.

While there are certainly traveling tips I’ve picked up over the years, nothing will get you there until you can understand and accomplish #1 on this list.

  1. You have to want it bad enough.
    It seems so simple. Who doesn’t want to go on a vacation, explore somewhere new and fun, make memories seeing the world instead of being at work? But it’s more than that. You have to want it bad enough that you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. You have to want it more than you fear the unknowns or what-ifs. More than you doubt yourself and your abilities. You have to want it more than you make excuses for the reasons you can’t do it. “I want to travel, but…” No. If you truly want it more than anything, you will find a way or make a way. This goes not only for traveling, but whatever you want in life. A degree, to get in shape, etc. You have the power. Mindset is everything.
  2. You have to be willing to sacrifice. 
    I get it. Money holds us back. Not once did my parents give me money to go on trips. I don’t come from a rich family. I’m still paying student loans (and probably always will be until I die). So what are you willing to give up? I worked a job I was miserable at for a year, but it allowed me to save up money to spend five months in Europe. I don’t get Starbucks every day. I recently sold my car. I don’t buy Michael Kors purses or go out drinking every weekend, because those things don’t bring me happiness. I’d rather spend my money on experiences. If you know that you can cut back somewhere- do it! I also didn’t stay in nice hotels when I went on my first solo international trips. I stayed in very cheap hostels, in dormitories, and ate bread and Nutella sandwiches, and carried a water bottle that I would refill at water fountains so I could have something to drink. I hardly ever went out to eat. Not glamorous, but that’s the truth. I wasn’t dirt poor, but I wanted to save my money for other things. Not eating out for every meal, every single day, allowed me to buy flights to Belgium and Switzerland. And believe me, I’d trade dinner at a restaurant for that kind of adventure any day of the week.
  3. You have to be flexible and open-minded.
    Maybe you’ve been dying to go to Chile, but flights are so expensive for the time you want to go. If you work, can you change your vacation days and go when flights are cheaper, in the off season? If not, can you look into other destinations that are more in your budget? Google Flights has an amazing tool that allows you to view the varying prices of flights over time, and also track when the price fluctuates. I went to Aruba over July 4th weekend. During the summer, my department gives us the option of working flex time (basically working 10 hours days four days a week, and then having a day off). I usually take Fridays off so I can have a long weekend, which is really convenient for traveling. Example: I worked that week Monday-Thursday, 10 hour days. Had Friday (my flex day) off. I left for Aruba Thursday night. Since July 4th was on a Tuesday, I only took off Monday, July 3rd. And there you have it! A five day vacation, only taking one day of PTO. I also was able to pay less for the flight, because I chose one with an overnight layover in Charlotte, where my best friend graciously allowed me to stay at her apartment. I was able to put up with longer travel time because of the payoff. I strategically planned it this way to my benefit. You just have to think outside the box, which leads me to my next point…
  4. You have to be smart and put the effort in. 
    This one goes hand-in-hand with being flexible and open-minded. Maybe you’ve seen an amazing Groupon for Italy, with airfare and everything included! Before you purchase it- consider the small details in print. Is your airport even listed as a departure point? If it isn’t, how much is it going to cost to travel to the next closest airport? How many meals are you really getting, if any? Look up the hotels they’ve listed. How much is the nightly rate, and how much is airfare for those dates? It might actually be less expensive to book it yourself, separately. Vacation packages are usually solely for the convenience of not having to plan it yourself, and if that’s why you want to go that route, then more power to ya! But, if finances are a factor, do your research. Can you stay at a more affordable hotel than the one they’ve pre-selected for you? Is the airfare cheaper if you leave the day before or come back the day after? When I travel solo, I try to be as economical as possible. Where some would normally take a taxi, I go on foot. I walk everywhere. It allows me to be among the locals more, to really get to experience a city and see more of it, and also is great exercise. I also really feel like I’ve earned it, in a way I can’t explain. But the same goes for excursions and tourist sites. Instead of going with a big group or private guided tour, can you pay the minimum of the entry fee, find a less costly way of arriving there, and explore the site yourself?
  5. You have to overcome your fear.
    People tell me I am “brave” or ask how I am not scared to travel alone. I’m never sure how to answer this. I was scared to death before I went on my first trip alone. I still get anxiety over so many things. As a woman traveling alone, I constantly have to have my guard up and be aware of my surroundings. People don’t see or understand that it isn’t fun 100% of the time. It can be so stressful and exhausting. But the reward is all in the rest of the experience. I refuse to be held back from the fear of “what if”. The risk of NOT taking the risk is a lot greater for me. Bad things can happen in the States (or whatever your home country) as well as South America, in any city, to anyone, at any time, whether they are alone or not. I don’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not following my dream because I was worried about what “might” happen. Traveling alone made me realize what I am made of, and to be comfortable with myself, which is something I had to learn. You’re going to be with yourself the rest of your life, might as well start getting to know who that person is. Do I wish sometimes that my family or friends could come with me? Of course. But they would never hold me back from going just because they couldn’t go. The reality is that if you wait for someone else to be ready, you may be waiting forever. It all comes back to #1, a single question: How bad do you want it?

Bottom line: Don’t spend your life waiting and wanting.

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P.S. Check out my article, What Keeps Us, if you want to learn more about getting out of your own way.                                                                           sig2

Monologue of the Woman Dreamer

I don’t know how to peel back the months of my life. When those moments I was in became days that drifted into years, how I stopped recognizing myself in old photographs or where the people beside me in them went, or how to get them back. (As if I could convince myself it would be the same.) When six year old innocence became sixteen angst, became the shell of this twenty six year old woman. I blazed through adolescence with bleached hair, a hungry heart, a kind of wild ambition I can’t even dream up now.

Graduation was almost five years ago. The night before, I stood on that dock ready to jump, ready for cool dark water, something to shock my body, something to wake me up, just something underneath that May moonlight to either bathe me or drown me, I wasn’t sure which. It’s a strange feeling to want to be consumed. To be ready for it. That desire, that ambition, meant long city nights were ahead, and I fought my way to see them through. To pay the electric, to keep the light on, to keep burning. I set myself on fire. I raked through a 9-5 like I was taught.  I stopped looking for answers to the questions I forgot I’m allowed to ask, steadied myself against the current of the world and from reaching the bottom of the bottles on my shelf. I buried myself. Had milestones and mistakes on repeat. I bled trying to figure out just what it meant to be successful. A degree. A job. An apartment. Check, check, check. I did all of it. And yet…what for? And what now?

What happens when the supposed keys to happiness don’t twist and give way at the door in front of you? What if your wants and your needs and your reality don’t meet at this intersection and you look over to find nobody but doubt is sitting shotgun? I’m knee deep in my life and all of a sudden, I’m not sure where I am going or if I like it and who I am. I’ve stood in shadows and I’ve stood in the light, and I still don’t know how to love myself in either.

But I’ve loved. I’ve loved men who have seen all of me and yet never even knew my scars. What does that say about them? Better still, what does it say about me? I’ve loved the chase, the thunder of the unknown barreling through me. I love the hum of a heartbeat, the strength of fingers interlocked, the safeness of a naked soul. I clung to the notion I should romanticize busyness. I loved making calendars and planners fill up until I realized I was emptying myself. Running on coffee and the belief that I was making you, or at least someone, proud. That I was becoming something. Starving despite a full stomach, the appetite for my life lost. Maybe I’m repeating myself. Maybe we’ve all been there.

Women- how fragile and fierce are we? Too much this, too much that, but not enough. Crooked noses, big feet. Hair that frizzes in summer heat to swallow anything it touches. Clavicle bones that are never kissed, shoulders sunken with a weight we shouldn’t have to carry. The dripping curve of a lower back that forgot how it felt to be touched. Eyes an ocean of maybes. Stomach too soft, hips hidden from unwanted gazes (even our own), cellulite sliced into upper thighs as if it was a hot pepperoni pizza. Lips that beckon to tell secrets and inhale whatever a sunset is made of. Made of a million particles of “what ifs” and a swelling storm that rages even when we’re calm, even when we smile. Everything we are could bring you to your knees. We are composed of sheet metal our fathers molded from childhood, translucent glass that can never break, diamonds and teeth from past lovers, wood from the tree in your front yard, dirt roads and plastic bags, and stitched together with ribbon our mothers gave us- fragments of raw love, fraying at the ends. With bad posture and clumsiness and a beautiful brain and a lot of guts. I promise I am 75% fire and within me there is a real hurricane. I feel too much and I feel nothing at all. I’m trying to explain to you how that’s possible.

How do you learn to know who you are when the world is still telling you who to be? Where can you find what you love and let it kill you?  Maybe we’re just the blind leading the blind toward this whacked-out definition of happiness. Will there ever be a moment you look in the mirror and you don’t feel even just a little uncomfortable?  How do you make sure friends won’t be just a profile on a Facebook page and family won’t be strangers you feel obligated to see on holidays? Stop hiding behind filters and phones. Strip it all down, scream, do something. We’re so far removed from feeling anything and acknowledging it, revealing it. Too immersed in media and this illusion that everyone else has it together, and therefore so should we.

I’m here to tell you I don’t. I’m not exactly unhappy with my life. I’ve stood in crowds at concerts, feeling invincible. But when it ends, I wonder when’s the next time I’ll feel a part of something again. I’ve been told how envious people are of my accomplishments and experiences, like my life was this incredible dream they wish they could attain or trade something for. To some, that validation would hold meaning. But what do you say back, when they don’t realize the half of it? I’ve made friends in corners of the world, but those connections don’t reach across phone lines, probably for reasons that all lead back to me. I’ve stood on Machu Picchu, dined atop the Eiffel Tower, rode a camel in Morocco. I have traveled to cities where my tongue couldn’t speak the language, felt my skin burn from the fire of a different sun, and I’ve tried to soak my tired bones in all of it to find out what it means. Seeking fulfillment. I’ve crossed state lines and boundaries and crossed off bucket lists. I’m living but when do I start to feel alive?

And here we are already, another calendar year, another birthday looming ahead, emotions moving at the speed of light. How did we get to this place? I wish I could slow it down. These seasons are melting together so fast, memories always slipping through the tiny cracks in the palm of my hands as I try so desperately to hold on to them. And yet, I’m here still secretly hoping the leaves would just hurry up and change again, still wondering if there’s something more and measuring up just short of it, still waiting to find the word “yes” just so I can say it out loud, over and over again, to my reflection without flinching.

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First Anniversary!

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Whoa. Exactly one year ago I created From This Side of the Sun. I had zero clue how to use WordPress, let alone how to blog, and no idea what would happen once I let this baby out into the world. All I knew is that I had to do it. I had to create an outlet for my voice.

Since then, it’s been nothing short of an incredible adventure in itself, and my saving grace in its own right. I’ve been able to share my stories of traveling, my struggles and accomplishments with running, my poetry, and even opened up about my health issues. I’ve written about my passions and my most embarrassing moments, from wild adventures to every day life. I have connected with so many individuals across the country, and surprisingly enough, this blog has brought me even closer to those already here at home.

So a massive THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for following along these past 365 days, being an instrumental part of my continuous growth and support of strength, and letting me share my world with you.

New here? I got ya covered. Here’s a snapshot of  some of my favorite memories (both old & new) of posts from August 2015-now. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, huh?

 

Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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25 Things I Wish I Knew Before 25

  1. You will actually miss nap time when you’re older. Milk it.
  2. Your mother will become your best friend. Treat time with her like the treasure it is.
  3. Quit wishing for happiness, create it.
  4. Every second you spend wondering what someone else is thinking is a second lost.
  5. Next time your mom cooks dinner, let her show you how.
  6.  Just stop trying to sneak out- you get caught every time.
  7. The more you chase boys, the more they elude you.
  8. It will take a LOT of failed attempts before you find your way, don’t worry.
  9. Sometimes your accomplishments will not make other people happy.
  10. Crush those goals, anyway!
  11. Remember when your brother bit his nails? Don’t try it. You won’t be able to stop.
  12. Never, ever stop writing.
  13. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life. Learn to let them go.
  14. Hot Pockets are not dinner. Neither are Reese’s Cups. (See #5.)
  15. Start and keep a journal. Take pictures. Your memory is terrible.
  16. Drinking isn’t always fun.
  17. Those things you hate: taxes, bills, insurance? They’re frustrating, but important.
  18. Learn to love yourself before you give so much love away to the wrong people.
  19. Someone is always prettier/smarter/luckier. Stop comparing, you still have things they don’t.
  20. Friendships ending can hurt worse than breakups. Despite everything, you’re worthy of the best love.
  21. Take that damn trip!
  22.  Stop spending so much money on stupid shit. Seriously.
  23. Start running. It will teach you more mentally & physically than you could ever know.
  24. You are never too young or too old to change your life. Do what your heart wants.
  25. You’re going to be just fine. Laugh it off or learn from it- it’s all going to be okay.

 

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The Post-Op Post

Exactly two weeks ago, as many of you know, I went to the hospital to get a pacemaker. It came as a shock to my 25 year old/heart healthy/marathon training self and many others.

I arrived at 9:30 a.m Friday, March 18th. A million things were running through my exhausted mind. I hadn’t eaten anything for over 12 hours, so I was already hangry. Immediately they took me back to prep me, although my surgery wasn’t scheduled until 12:30 p.m. I changed into my gown and clutched the gaping back to cover my bare ass, as not to give a show to everyone else in the room.

A urine sample, IV insertion, and EKG test later, after my vitals were checked and paperwork signed, I waited in my corner hospital bed with my mom and JJ until they came for me. At this point I just wanted to get it over with.

And then, it was time. I ignored the way my voice cracked when I said, “I love you,” to my two favorite people as they wheeled me out of the room and down the hall. I could not look at my mother. I knew she was already crying. Instead, I looked at my feet, took a deep breath and recalled many of the messages you guys had sent, along with the comments,  words of encouragement, prayers, and well wishes. I was still completely overwhelmed with all the support and love I’d received when I first revealed what’s been going on with my health. I knew everything was going to be fine.

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Before surgery.

 

As soon as I shifted onto the operating table, I was already feeling the anesthesia kick in. One of the male nurses said, “Are you a NASCAR fan?” I looked at him like he was drunk. Why was he asking me this now? “Um, not really,” I replied. “Why?”

“Well, you know when the car pulls in to the pit, and there’s a lot of people working really fast? That’s what we are going to do.” Suddenly, there were bodies in scrubs and face masks everywhere, grabbing things, moving around me, and then- blissful sleep.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I instantly knew something wasn’t right. Was it just my body adjusting to this foreign device? I was having spasms on my right side- it felt like being kicked in the stomach. I panicked, of course, because my breaths were coming out weird.  The nurse shouted for my doctor, and then there were three middle-aged men around my bed. One of them put his hand on my side to time out the pulses as the other recorded it on a machine. I (unfortunately) remember joking, “It’s because you’re all so handsome, it’s taking my breath away” or something cheesy of the sort.  (I was a little out of it, okay?!)

Anyway, they knew exactly what it was: One of the wires from the pacemaker was against a nerve that was pushing into my diaphragm. I would have to go right back in so they could redo it and move the pacemaker over. So, anesthesia took me off to dreamland once more.

After what I’m told was another hour and a half, I came out of surgery again. And I had the dreadful realization that I had to pee. Bad. I called for the nurse, and she brought over a bedpan. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

“Have you ever used one of these before?” she asked. I shook my head no. This was going to be interesting…

I still don’t really know how I did it, or managed not to spill it on myself or the bed. And then, I heard the best words: “Do you want me to bring your family back?”

Minutes later, JJ and mom were in the room with me. Our reunion was brief, as they had to take me down for x-rays and other testing. “This is like a less fun roller coaster,” I said awkwardly as a nurse wheeled me away on the bed.

I don’t know if it’s then that reality set in, or if it was just the anesthesia wearing off, or a combination of the two, but they put me in a hallway next to two elderly men watching Judge Judy and it was miserable. It felt like I was stuck there for an eternity. Finally, I was all done and brought to a different room for out processing. They were letting me go home! I ate small bites of a turkey sandwich and cried when I saw these two enter the room.

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All done & waiting to go home.

*Side note: About .02 seconds after he took this picture, JJ dropped his cell phone right on top of where the incision was made for my pacemaker. Ouch.

The rest of that night and the weekend basically consisted of me sleeping, throwing up, trying to eat, and not moving. I got very sick Saturday because of the pain medication, so I stopped taking it Sunday and felt less nauseous, but obviously was in more pain. I read poetry, watched movies, and ate Chinese food.

My mom had to help bathe me, as I couldn’t move my left arm or get the site wet. (I was advised not to raise my left arm above my head, make repetitive movements, or lift much for a month after.) How humbling that was… I’m 25, an adult. And here I was, not being able to do this on my own. We had to wash my hair in the kitchen sink. Monday afternoon was my first time leaving the apartment. Mom and I went to a couple stores and had lunch while JJ was at work. She left later that evening and we both bawled. It was such a blessing having her there with me.

From there on out, JJ was my saving grace. Dressing me, propping my arm up with pillows, getting groceries, rubbing my back, etc.

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The incision site a few days out.

 

It’s been two weeks, and all of the gauze and bandages are off. I am going for much longer walks, and I’m pretty much back to normal. I still keep my arm in a sling at times- just because for this next month I know I’m going to forget to not use it in the capacity I am used to.

I still get winded going up a flight of stairs, and I had to sit down in the middle of Wal-Mart while grocery shopping because I thought I was going to pass out, but the incision is healing nicely and I hope to be 100% in no time, and (hopefully) even running again.

Thank you again to everyone who wished me well and kept me in their thoughts. And a word of advice: be really, really nice to your mom and to nurses. You can’t imagine what they’ve done for you or what they may have to help you do in the future.

Oh, and find yourself a guy that will help blow dry your hair and put it in a ponytail even if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. You won’t know that kind of love until you’re shown it.

 

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The Beating From Within

As I sit here, I am still processing what has transpired over the past couple weeks… I debated sharing something so personal this publicly, but it is the easiest way to let my friends & family in and inform them.

As I mentioned in an earlier post here, there were several reasons why my presence on this blog has wavered recently, and the main reason is this:

On a Monday evening in late January, I passed out after getting out of the shower.  Fainting was never uncommon for me (as I have passed out maybe once or twice a year since high school), but back then it wasn’t made into a big deal. When it first happened, they took blood work to see if I was anemic, and I wasn’t. I didn’t really follow up, and neither did they. People fainted all the time, right? So, so what? It did not happen enough to interrupt my everyday life, and there was probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for what caused it in the first place.

But this Monday night was different. Luckily, this particular time, my boyfriend JJ was there with me and witnessed the episode. (Usually, I am by myself.) He actually caught me before I hit the ground. From that point, he said I went into a seizure, and then stopped breathing. He immediately did CPR and within a couple breaths/pumps I was okay. When I finally came to, I knew where I was (lying on the bathroom floor) and could sit up.  We called my mom and told her what happened. The fainting was obviously familiar to me, but to stop breathing? Maybe JJ was mistaken. Maybe he was scared and just overreacted, I wondered. As I felt a little weak but otherwise fine, I went to bed and into work the next day.
Later on that next afternoon, I went to my doctor for a procedure. I passed out from the pain of the procedure- not much of a big surprise as pain can trigger fainting, but it took me a long time to recover and feel well enough to sit up. I could not do anything for nearly 20 minutes. They would not let me leave to go home alone, so I called a friend, Debra, to drive me home. However, after I told the doctors what happened to me the night before, they thought it best to go straight to the ER.

At this point, JJ had left work and had arrived to the ER, along with Debra. After taking my vitals, they did an EKG test and a CT scan on my head. Everything came back normal, but they still wanted me to see a cardiologist and follow up with my PCP. So I did that, more EKG tests, and had an echo cardiogram (ultrasound, basically) done on my heart. Again, everything was coming back normal. I was getting frustrated. Maybe nothing was seriously wrong, and we all just overreacted.


My cardiologist still wanted to do a tilt table test as a next step. During this, you are strapped to a table and moved slowly into an upright position. They monitor your heart rate and blood pressure and try to induce fainting so they can see what happens. I had this done on President’s Day, Feb. 15th. I passed out shortly into the test (a good thing, actually- otherwise they wouldn’t have found anything). But when I fainted, my heart stopped for 20 seconds. Because of this, my doctor recommended a pacemaker. He said that my blood pressure is fine, and normally my heart is fine, but when I faint, there’s something that is not sending the signal to my heart to keep beating. It is a necessary precaution.

As you can imagine, I was in shock. I am 25 years old, with a completely healthy heart. Pacemakers, I thought, were for the elderly and people with severe heart conditions. And then the realizations hit me in waves. I’m in the middle of training for the full marathon on May 1st, so I have to stop running? I was working so hard to accomplish that, and had wanted to cross that finish line so badly… And for travel, can I still go through metal detectors? How will this limit me? I know I’ll have a visible scar spreading across my chest someday in my wedding dress. The thought of something being planted inside my body to keep me alive freaked me out, and as I am writing this I am still scared, but I’ve decided I am ready to take it on. My health is not something I am willing to gamble with. Pacemakers have been around for many years, and in my condition, the potential benefits outweigh the risks. My doctors are incredible, and my family & friends have been wonderful. Not to mention JJ, who has been there through the entire ordeal. I made an awful joke about it over Valentine’s Day weekend after we got the results, but he really does keep my heart beating.

So, after a second opinion and a lot of thought, I have agreed to get a pacemaker, and will undergo surgery this week.

Since coming back from Minneapolis, reality has begun to set in. I can no longer push this to the back of my mind, but I still have tried my best. Last night, JJ and I attended PostSecret: The Show in Cleveland. (You can learn more about PostSecret here.) It is something that has always been close to my heart ever since I discovered it. We made a last minute decision to go, despite how tired we’d be (especially thanks to Daylight Saving Time) and how big of a week we both had to prepare for. Since I will be cooped up in my apartment recovering, I want to do as much as I can before the surgery.

In the bathroom at the theater, there were post-it notes decorating the walls and lining the mirrors and stalls, exposing secrets of strangers.

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Some were funny, some haunting, some sad. What I love about this is that it is okay to be vulnerable- we all are. And yet, we are all in this together.

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You never know what someone is going through. You also don’t realize sometimes how blessed you are. I am nervous for Friday, and that’s okay. I’m allowed to be. And while I could easily sit here and feel sorry for myself that this is happening to me and that I can’t run the race I’ve been training for, I’m lucky to have run at all, and to have the chance to keep going.

In closing, while I don’t know how a pacemaker may or may not change my life, I know if it is what I need to do, then I have to get it, even if it seems unfathomable at 25.

My surgery is scheduled for this Friday, March 18th. Four days from today. It’s simple and I’m sure to be successful, but I’d appreciate your prayers nevertheless. They’ll keep me overnight, and I’ll be released the next day if all is well. Some people have asked, and yes, of course- I’m dreading it. I don’t do well with hospitals, IV’s, any of that. There’s no guarantee that this will even work, and I have to be aware of that fact.  My amazing mama is coming down to stay with me for a couple days, as I’ll be out of work for some time. I will do my best to give an update when I’m feeling better, but this is probably the last I will write for a while.

 

 

Before signing off, I want to give a tremendous thank you to both my amazing boyfriend and my wonderful parents, who take such great care of me and help me always. I love you more than you’ll ever know. 

I’ll see you guys soon.

 

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