The Emerald Isle

Where do I begin? How do I explain what has transpired in these two beautiful, intense weeks? Ireland has been a dream destination for what seemed like years, and my MFA program gave me the opportunity to not only travel there, but also to work with brilliant Irish writers and mentors.

I flew into bustling Dublin with my friend Jaclyn and we promptly rented a car to drive to Cork. Here’s where our whirlwind weekend began- Blarney to Cork, Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, Belfast to Giant’s Causeway, and at last to Dublin, where we studied at Trinity College for two weeks and took a day to trip to Howth. There were way too many pints between classes, friends made, and laughs shared to count, but here are a few snapshots that help frame those wonderful memories:

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Blarney Castle

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Cork

Cliffs of Moher

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Galway

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Giant’s Causeway

Dublin

Trinity College

Howth

Already counting down until the next residency! But for now, the work of practicum begins.

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Weekend Warriors

Last weekend I took a trip to Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, with some friends for a little getaway. The weather finally broke and it was a beautiful day for hiking and being out on the water, which is just what we did.

After a couple miles of hiking in the morning, we cooled off by the lake.

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It was my first time here, and I loved every minute of it. Just a short two hours from Pittsburgh, there truly is something for everyone, whether you’re looking for adventure or just to relax in nature. We also did the Mountain Coaster, which was thrilling!

As the sun rose higher in the sky, we opted to go paddle boarding. I’d never been before and have terrible balance, so I was interested to see how I’d do. It was a blast, and honestly easier than I expected. We also jumped off the dock and went swimming.

On the way back to Pennsylvania, we stopped at Mountain State Brewery for some firewood flatbread pizzas and craft beer. With all these state parks right at our fingertips, there’s no excuse to not get out and enjoy them, especially if you don’t have the luxury of vacation days. I’ll definitely be back!

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DOPEnhagen

Q: What do you get when you gather seven friends, set them loose in a historic capital city, subtract your worries, multiply Carlsbergs and explored streets, and add in another country border crossing?

A: An unforgettable weekend.

My first impression of Copenhagen was that it reminded me somewhat of Amsterdam: the canals, the amount of bicycles, art and architecture, etc. But the Danish and the Dutch are quite different!

Our first stop was Nyhavn, the famous canal with brightly colored waterfront homes, shopping, restaurants, and more. We stopped for some smørrebrød before continuing past the wooden ships in the harbor.

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Nyhavn

On the way to the iconic Little Mermaid statue, we stumbled upon St. Alban’s Church and the picturesque landscape surrounding it.

The city itself was very walkable, and public transportation was also convenient. I got the tourist card for 72 hours at the airport, which came in handy for the metro, buses, and trains. By the end of the afternoon, we made a final stop at Tivoli Gardens, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it was an amusement park, but it was the middle of February. Surely nothing would be open and running. Wrong. Not only was this park a winter wonderland with its beautiful and brightly shining lights, but it was quite the happening place! We went for a ride on the antique roller coaster, screaming with delight as it whipped around corners and cut through the night.

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Tivoli- winter wonderland

The next day, we wandered Strøget window shopping and climbed Rundertaarn, a round tower with an incredible view of the city, as seen below:

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Other notable sights: Amalienborg Palace, Christiansborg Palace and the Renaissance-era Rosenborg Castle.

Sunday afternoon, we took a train to Malmö, Sweden.

It was awesome to spend the afternoon in another country, wandering the city squares, stopping for a drink, and seeking out the Turning Torso tower.

We saw Stortorget, the oldest square, and got our bearings as we searched for the next café or landmark destination.

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All of the locals we encountered in both countries were exceptionally helpful and friendly. It only added to the already charming cities.

Our final stop was Öresund Bridge, which was a breathtaking view as the sunset stretched across the sky. I’ve never seen such beautiful blue and peach hues. Crazy how many moments you want to bottle up just so you could relive them again.

After arriving back in Copenhagen, we explored Christiana (Freetown) in the dark, which was really trippy, but such an interesting place.

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If you ever get the opportunity to go, I can’t recommend it enough. Truly Dopenhagen. This was without a doubt a weekend for the books!

Until next time,

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UnBelizeable

As 2017 drew to a close, I knew I wanted to take advantage of all my time off work for the holiday season.

My parents and I flew to Florida to spend Christmas with my brother, his wife, and their daughter. We visited Destin, Panama City Beach, and Pensacola, ate way too much, and truly enjoyed our time together as a family again.

It was a beautiful change from the snowy weather back north!

Shortly after, I flew solo to Belize City for one last international trip before the craziness of 2018 began.

Although Belize has a bad reputation and certain parts of Belize City are indeed VERY dangerous, (consistently ranking as one of the highest homicide rates in the world) I am so grateful that I did not let this hold me back from going.  I had a safe trip there and back, and made friends with other tourists and many locals. It was hard to not enjoy all the beauty the country had to offer. I stayed in San Pedro, and took the ferry back to Belize City where I met Carlos, who showed me the best parts of his country.  Here was my first full day- packed with lots of adventure:

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Visiting Altun Ha ruins.

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Ziplining through the jungle!

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Cave tubing 🙂

I would highly recommend those who are thrill seekers to check it out! And though I’ve explored caves before, I was pleasantly surprised by how different my perspective was with cave tubing.

That evening, some friends and I went to Wahoo’s Lounge for the world famous “Chicken Drop.” You guessed it- we bought tickets and watched as a chicken strutted around on the board, hoping that it would take a shit on our number. It was easily one of the most ridiculously interesting things I’ve ever experienced.

The next day I traveled to Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s most famous destinations, to relax and have some island fun. I couldn’t imagine being surrounded by these incredible views and calling this place my home. Would I ever get tired of it?

I spent the late afternoon at the Lazy Lizard enjoying a drink and jumping into the crystal water.

There is so much more I could say about this trip, from turtle talk to late night exploration, to the friendships I formed, but some things can’t be put into words. I’ll leave you with these highlights, until next time.

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AmsterDAMNNNNN

You guys, I just got back from one of the most fun trips of my LIFE! I flew to Amsterdam last week and took full advantage of my short time there.

Some quick highlights:

Van Gogh & Rijksmuseum

I Amsterdam sign

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Vondelpark- I stayed right near this gorgeous place.

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Heineken Experience- this was a BLAST. Tour of the brewery, boat ride to A’Dam, interactive experiences, bottling your own beer, everything!

A’Dam Lookout- come onnnnn, more like AmsterDAMN.

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Over the Edge- because why not?

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Anne Frank House- Truly an eye-opening and overwhelming experience to tour this annex and learn about this incredible young woman’s life and how her words have impacted us.

Dutch Pancakes & Coffee

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Floating Market

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Canal Tour- By the way, 12,000-15,000 of these bad boys get pulled out of the canals every year!

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Light Festival- so, so beautiful! Photographs don’t do justice. From November 30-January 21st, so I definitely picked the right time to go!

(These are just Christmas lights- but still, how spectacular?!)

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Dam Square

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Here, you can see bubbles in front of the Grand Palace.

Jordaan/Leidseplein neighborhoods

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Red Light District

I made fast friends with these lovely lads from Ireland and we had an amazing night out!

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I also got to see the charming countryside of the Netherlands:

Zaandam-  Behind me is the only working mill in the world that still makes paint.

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Volendam

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Cheese tasting is awesome. Until you’re a solid ten minutes in…

I tried kibbeling here, too. Delicious!

Marken

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Wooden shoes, anyone?

And I’ll leave you all with this bathroom stall wisdom from Friday night:

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Catch you wildly beautiful people somewhere in the world next time!

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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