Autumn Readings

As quick as the leaves changed in the fall, my season of readings for the last part of 2018 has come to a close.
I’ve kept busy the past couple months:

Carlow University

IMG_8146

Red Dog Reading Series

Black Cat Market

IMG_8060

Honey Bee Review Reading

IMG_8100

 

Full Pint Wild Side Pub

IMG_8200

Hell’s Lid Reading Series

 

And one more upcoming reading at the Millvale Community Library

IMG_8946

Girls Write Pittsburgh Winter Reading Party

 

Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays with your loved ones!

 

Until next time,

sig2

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.

unnamed (5)

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

The Day I Quit My Job

Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

I quit my job. Technically, it was more of a mutual separation. I had come to loathe putting any effort in once 9 a.m. rolled around, and it had grown tired of making my life miserable since it had been working at that for the past eleven months.
Still, it was like breaking up with a boyfriend. Even if you’re the one to cut ties, there is something so strange about the way it feels to pack up the memories in a box and just leave it on a doorstep. I had to walk away from what I knew I did not want anymore, but how would I know where to go next?

I had never quit any job before. I’d worked summers at home between my college years where it was understood that I’d be back at school when the leaves changed in the fall, but I never quit. Still, I always imagined all the ways I’d make my big exit. Maybe, in a red hot rage, I’d throw a dish against the wall at the family restaurant I worked at for three years. Or cuss out a customer. Or just say, “To hell with it!” and sneak out on lunch break and never come back. That didn’t really sound like me, though. How do people even quit jobs?

It turns out that (despite what my family thinks) I’m a little less dramatic than that.

That Tuesday afternoon, after giving prior notice to my supervisor, I just left. I walked quietly out of the double doors with a tiny voice in my head screaming, “OH MY GOD, YES!” all the while feeling a lot like shitting my pants and crawling back home into my mother’s arms, to when things were easier. I knew that I couldn’t possibly know what would come next. After all, the comfortable routine of 9-5 Monday through Friday was now gone. Did I just make a huge mistake?
Most of my friends, like any other college graduate, struggled to find a job after graduation that did not involve food service or retail, and here I was, nearly a year into my first actual “big girl” job, and I threw it away.
But, I did get something in return: a one way plane ticket.

Just shy of my 23rd birthday, I bought my flight to Spain and fought to leave uncertainty on the doorstep of my first apartment. I had a goal in mind:

1003679_10201382798119983_1619665165_n

I convinced myself I was ready for this. Months of energy had been channeled into reading travel blogs, self-help books, and a desire to make my breaths known, and not just taking them to live. At 22, I had honestly felt life slowly draining from my fingertips with every number I dialed in the call center I worked at, every forever friend I lost, each meal I microwaved when I got home after working countless hours of overtime, and every bottle of wine I finished by myself.

You grow up familiarizing yourself with the way the system works, and what role you play in it. You do what is expected of you: graduate high school, go to college, get a job, start a family, etc. But what if that’s not in the cards for everyone?

I made the decision to move to Spain when I realized that I had no passion for my life. Not a career I loved to throw myself into, a man I couldn’t imagine being without, a hobby to consume my days, a real hunger for my life anymore. I had done just what was intended of me, and what I thought I wanted. I graduated college and moved from my small town to the city of Pittsburgh, where I immediately started working. Yet, I was unhappy. I stopped reading and writing for pleasure. I quit trying to discover the world, let alone trying to change it. I’d live for the weekends, but those would leave me waking to a pounding headache, and blurred memories disguised as happiness. I thought, “Would my 16 year old self be proud of where I am?”

unnamed (4)

It was around this same time that my good friend Matt kept posting pictures about his travels from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. For a while, I watched from the other side of a computer screen with jealousy. Then, one day, I sent a message pleading with him to tell me anything and everything he could about how I could travel the world like he was, and the rest is history.

He introduced me to Workaway, a site that essentially allows individuals to connect with host families and exchange help (i.e. babysitting, teaching English, gardening, other housework, etc.) for a place to stay, allowing the traveler to fully immerse themselves in the culture of the country of their choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. As perfect as that sounded, and as badly as I wanted to just ditch everything and escape my cubicle life, I still had fears. I had saved up some money, but what if I came back to the States unable to get a job? I knew how hard it was for me to find this one in the first place, and what my friends were still going through. What if I ran out of money, and had to come back? And then, had to move back in with my parents because I couldn’t afford my rent? How can a girl who just got used to taking a city bus ever survive alone navigating through foreign countries, by HERSELF?! What if I got robbed? What if I got shot by a gang or caught a serious illness? What if I got sexually assaulted in a hostel, or lost my passport, or missed my flight, or was denied by Customs? I confessed my less irrational fears to Matt.

Here was his reply:

unnamed (3)

Simply put, he was absolutely right- and I knew it. In that instant, my mind was made up.

unnamed (5)

With the help of Workaway, I connected with a family in Blanes, right outside of Barcelona, Spain: Jordi, his wife Roser, and their two children, Mar (5) and Adria (3). After several e-mails, Skype dates, and consideration, it was decided that I would stay with them for two to three months, lend Roser a hand with the children, and help teach them the English language. I would fly out of Pittsburgh International Airport on June 26th and meet them in Barcelona.

In preparing for my big day, Matt also was gracious enough to lend me his backpack that he used during his travels. My mom drove down to help me pack up for six months (that woman can fit the whole state of Texas neatly into a Ziploc bag) and restored order back to my wild, racing mind. I distinctly remember her joking, “You have two boobs and there are seven days in a week. WHY do you have so many bras?!”

1082312_10201739920647823_193479922_o

So, finally there I was, packed and ready to go. I had found someone to sublet my apartment, bought an adapter, and left behind my cell phone, several people who didn’t support me or understand, and my fear of the unknown.

Stay tuned for me setting sail, first impressions, and what happens next when I touch down!

sig2