Happy Earth Day 2020! As humans in the 21st century, we often forget that we exist in but a moment of our earth's life. From striking mountain ranges to vast oceans, from unforgiving deserts to brutal tundras, and from vibrant rainforests to silent canyons, our earth is an incredible, diverse wonder that we are so lucky to witness and call our home - along with so many other creatures.
Every thing we do, use, and eat has an impact on our earth, in one way or another. The earth is our collective home, and we need to take care of it! Just by swapping out a few of your everyday household products for those that are reusable, cleaner, and more sustainable, you can significantly reduce your impact on the environment. On top of doing well by the planet, making these changes also helps your wallet. You can save money by choosing better, healthier alternatives!
Join me in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by making a few small changes that can make a real, positive impact. These are a few examples of product alternatives I've personally implemented and really love!
Cloth Towels instead of Paper Towels or Napkins
The United States spends almost as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined (The Atlantic). We've built a habit of using paper towels unnecessarily and going through them like it's nothing. But it's not nothing - manufacturing paper towels utilizes water, trees, and fossil fuels, and used paper towels end up being a serious problem in landfills.
We started using cloth towels in place of paper towels just earlier this year, after I received UNpaper Towels by Marley's Monsters from my sister for Christmas. And we haven't used a paper paper towel since! The cloths can be used just the same as paper towels, then washed and reused, eliminating paper waste. We recently purchased this more affordable version from mamamade on etsy to have some extras as paper towels, and to use as napkins as well.
Using cloth towels instead of paper has been helpful during quarantine and while supplies are limited, but it's a sustainable habit that will continue to relieve our impact on the earth.
Reusable Cloth Makeup Pads instead of Cotton Rounds
At the end of last year, I really started to get in a good habit with my face care routine, but I felt so wasteful using the basic cotton rounds from Target and discarding them after each single use. One of my best friends told me about reusable makeup remover pads she was trying, and I decided to give them a shot too!
As with most reusable items, there are several brands and options out there. I chose to purchase from Green Estate Goods, a local Arizona company. Their cloth pads have a dual use - the black side to remove makeup, and the white side to apply toner. 14 pads come in a pack for a week's worth of use, along with a bag to wash them in. They're super soft, extremely effective, it feels so much better to avoid all of that waste - plus save money in the long run.
Bamboo Toothbrush instead of a Plastic Toothbrush
Did you know that every plastic toothbrush produced since the 1930s still exists somewhere on the earth? As they've become trash, they've ended up in waterways and oceans, killing marine life (One Green Planet). Floss packaging contributes to this as well. As an alternative, bamboo will degrade in a matter of months, opposed to hundreds of years. Bamboo is also antimicrobial and grows quickly. When looking for a bamboo toothbrush, be sure to check that it's 100% plastic-free, as some companies may still use some type of plastic in the product.
A great option for purchasing a bamboo toothbrush is ME.Mother Earth - I met the team at the Phoenix Vegan Festival earlier this year and they were so kind! They sell a wide variety of eco-conscious products - and just look at that awesome plastic-free packaging! So far, I love the bamboo toothbrushes and vegan floss.
Dropps instead of standard laundry detergent or pods
Have you ever thought about how much plastic you use just related to laundry products? Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans, and many fish that humans consume have at one point ingested some type of plastic (Earth Day).
To reduce single-use plastic in our laundry practice, we've switched to using Dropps! Dropps are laundry pods, but they're not the same as Tide and the other brands. Dropps come in recyclable and compostable cardboard packaging rather than plastic. They are made out of plant-based ingredients and Dropps doesn't test on animals. They also partner with Oceana to educate people about how our choices impact our oceans and marine life. We love a mission-driven company!
Other Earth-Friendly Habits to Try
By now I hope you're mildly fired-up to make a few changes with your products around the house, switching to alternatives that are healthier for you and for the planet! Here are a few more ways to do that:
Our earth is hurting, and we are undeniably the problem. None of us are perfect and we are all using products that are harmful in some way to the environment. But there is great opportunity in choosing items that make as little impact as possible! In celebrating Earth Day, many eco-friendly companies are offering discounts on their products this week, so what better time to try something new?
When you hear the word "vegan," what comes to mind? Do you think it's just a bunch of hippy dippy nonsense? (Good news: It's not) Or are you curious about what it means to be vegan, but just not sure how to ask?
As I move through my journey of adopting a vegan lifestyle, I become more and more passionate about it, wanting to share with others how it can really transform your life. So, I'm starting a new blog series to share the various ways to level up in veganism and why it's crucial to the health of people AND the planet! I'm kicking off the series with the basics about what it actually means to be vegan.
But let's start with a couple of disclaimers: I am NOT a licensed medical professional, nor do I claim to be an expert on diet, fitness, or nutrition. What I share here are my personal suggestions and recommendations. I will add links to some sources, but I encourage you to do your own research, too!
So, what does it mean to be vegan?
The most basic definition is this: vegan (noun) - a person who does not eat or use animal products. (Oxford) But there are a surprising amount of complexities to being vegan and living a vegan lifestyle.
The first thing to know about being vegan is that it is not a diet. Veganism is designed to be a lifestyle - and that's important! What you do, eat, and use is not meant to be temporary, nor is the main goal of being vegan to lose weight.
The second thing to know about being vegan is that it's not just about what you eat - it's also about the products you use. I'd argue that it's also about the activities you choose to engage in - but more on that in a future post!
And the third thing to know about veganism is that the motivation for people to be (and stay) vegan is mainly for both health and ethics. Pursuing a vegan lifestyle minimizes the impact a person has on the environment and on animals, as well as the impact that animal products will have on their bodies and their overall health and wellbeing. Some things involving animals are difficult to avoid - using transportation (impacts land and habitats), or getting a flu shot (many contain egg product) for example. But living a vegan lifestyle is our way of doing our part in as many ways as we can to live a healthier and more ethical life.
What's the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
,As a basic definition, here are the differences:
Vegans not only abstain from eating meat, but we also don't consume dairy products (cow's milk, cheese, butter, or eggs) or any other products from animals - like honey or gelatin, for example. Friends, if you don't know what gelatin is made of, click here.
There is also a difference between eating vegan versus living a fully vegan lifestyle - for example, you can avoid all of the food items derived from animals, but still be using animal products on your body and in your home.
What do you mean by animal products? There's not animals in the things I use.
Oh but boo, there are. There really really are. This has been one of the more eye-opening areas of my vegan lifestyle journey, because WOW are there animal parts in everything. I'll dive deeper into this subject in a future post, but these are just some examples of things we use every day that are not vegan (Business Insider and Raise Vegan):
So though at first you may think of things made with leather, fur, wool, etc. - there are so many everyday products that are made with some form or type of animal substance. Gross!
While certain things are almost impossible to avoid - computers, for example (LCD displays can contain cholesterol taken from animals (LiveKindly)) - living a vegan lifestyle is all about being conscious of this and trying to minimize the use of animal products as much as possible. It's easy to find alternatives and read labels when you have this mindfulness to do so!
Why be vegan?
I mentioned health reasons and ethical reasons, but here's what that means:
Being vegan for your health:
Being vegan for the animals:
Animals are living beings just like humans are. Many vegans are motivated to give up eating meat and using animals products because they care about the treatment of animals and refuse to support industries that kill, abuse, and exploit animals. Examples of this include:
Being vegan for the environment:
So much of animal agriculture impacts the environment, in turn impacting weather, air quality, and natural disasters. For example:
As with most things, animal agriculture operates on supply and demand. The environment is relevant to veganism because if less people are consuming meat, there is less of a demand, and thus there would be a decrease in destroying our world to breed animals to eat and use. This article from VICE explains the issue related to the Amazon fires last year.
Vegan Society shares some additional info on why people go vegan here.
So these are the basics of being vegan! There's so much more to say, but I hope this summary has been helpful in giving you some main points of information about what veganism is and why people choose this lifestyle.
Easy ways to learn more:
In future posts, I'll be sharing about my personal journey to live a vegan lifestyle, how to get started in going vegan, some easy recipes to try, how to choose vegan products for your body and home, vegan travel, and more! What I'll say in every post is that going vegan is not meant to be a quick process or an overnight life transformation. Things that are different from what we are comfortable with are intimidating and daunting - it's okay to feel that way about going vegan. Taking small steps is great! Any effort to make better choices for your body and for our earth is better than nothing. You can grow through this experience, and it's so rewarding! You just have to start.
Travel nursing is a career and a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly popular among 20-somethings with a nursing degree. Essentially, it involves working with a recruiter at a medical staffing agency and signing contracts that typically last at least 13 weeks for a given hospital in the U.S. This option is available to nurses with a variety of concentrations and specialties, and there are contract openings in virtually every state. My husband Brandon became a travel nurse after our Heritage Honeymoon and we have been living the travel nurse lifestyle ever since.
While there are plenty of articles, blogs, and accounts from travel nurses themselves, I thought I may fill a void by sharing my perspective as the partner of a travel nurse - why I love it and why it can sometimes be challenging. If your partner is thinking about how to be become a travel nurse and you're thinking, how do I become a travel nurse's [boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, etc.]?, I hope my perspective will help!
Step 1: Have States in Mind, but be Open to Travel Anywhere
The very first question to answer when becoming a travel nurse is, where am I going to go? Brandon had literally no preference, but we talked about Raleigh initially since we had family there. Then we had friends who would be in Denver so Denver became our goal. But like most things in life, it didn't go as planned. There were no jobs available in any of the cities that we had considered. And another big thing to keep in mind is that you have to have a nursing license in the state you want to practice in. So choosing a destination also meant that Brandon would need to get a new nursing license before his start date. Not to mention the wedding and honeymoon we had in between.
If you are interested in pursuing travel nursing and have a specific destination in mind, you can get your license for that state, but be warned that you may not get to use it right away. It seems to be all about timing and luck and who you have looking out for you (see Step 2). What ended up being the best opportunity for us was just a 4 hour drive from home: Baltimore, Maryland. At first we honestly felt a little bummed out. We were embarking on this brand new adventure and if I had to put a sound to the feeling, it'd certainly be, "whomp, whomp." But looking back, it was a blessing in disguise. We had to be thankful that Brandon was able to get an assignment and get his license in time (literally just in time). And while I had been used to working from home in the evenings for quite some time, I was embarking on my own personal adventure of working from home full-time and having this new digital nomad lifestyle to accompany my husband's new travel nursing career. Baltimore gave us the opportunity to ease our way into it. I got to see Brandon learn the ropes of travel nursing, adapt to a totally new work environment, and build upon his already sharp skills. We went home to see family for Thanksgiving. And we had the chance to confirm that this is really what we want to do.
So I think that it's good to set goals of where you want to be, but don't limit yourself. Embrace the opportunity to travel and live anywhere, and all of the lessons and blessings it will bring you.
Step 2: Get a Squad of People Working for You
The most crucial part of the travel nursing process is getting the gig, which means having a team of recruiters from different agencies working for you to get you the very best assignment at the very best compensation. I think it's a mistake to put all of your eggs in one basket with one agency and one recruiter. It's important in anything of this nature to actively compare and incite a little competition. But that doesn't mean it's easy, either. Brandon had to go through so many applications, forms, tests, and procedures to onboard with each agency. I felt bad that I couldn't help him with any of those things, but we both knew that it was in the best interest of both of us to have an entire network of connections to find the best opportunity.
And wouldn't you know it, while he was all set with the Baltimore contract with one agency, he was able to secure his next contract in Denver with a different organization before we even stepped foot in Maryland. I don't think that's the way it will always happen, but it certainly wouldn't have happened if he didn't work with several different recruiters and organizations. That said, I'd highly recommend this approach for how to find the best travel nursing assignments. And even after you secure your assignment, there are a lot of other details to iron out - taking the provided housing or finding your own (we've found our own), thinking about how you're going to get there, and packing and preparing (on to Step 3). As a partner, the best thing you can do throughout this process is to be supportive, encouraging, and enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead.
Step 3: Be Prepared to Leave Everything Behind
Remember, being a travel nurse amounts to one word: Temporary. But it's on purpose! You don't need to take all of your belongings with you for a quick 13 weeks. This was the part of the travel nurse journey that I found to be most cathartic: living with less.
When it comes to packing, it's so important to be intentional and minimalistic. While your travel nurse partner may wear a pajama-like uniform, that doesn't mean you get to bring/pack more for the journey. Work together to decide what's necessary and what isn't. For Brandon and I, we decided to pursue housing in Airbnbs, so everywhere we lived has had everything we've needed. All of the personal items we bring can fit in our car, and that my friends is liberating.
The new lifestyle you are embracing as the partner of soon-to-be travel nurse will be so rewarding in so many ways. You'll see and do new things, experience new ways of life, and lean on each other in ways you maybe haven't had to before. But don't forget that this is your story too - your work is still important and you can still pursue your own goals, too. Find a balance of celebrating each other and your triumphs. Know that you are doing something wild and wonderful and while it may not last forever, it will be pretty amazing while it does.
Las Vegas is a self-proclaimed adult playground. But that doesn't mean that it's all fun and (table) games. A trip to Las Vegas can include time spent in nature, meaningful and historical value, and quirky and cute surprises, too. Having gone to Vegas 3 times while under the age of 21 (family vacations, Sin City style), my recent trip back was a breath of new experiences and adventures. I had the chance to show Brandon what Vegas was all about, and discover new things for myself at the same time. If having reservations is holding you back from making them, take a look at my roundup of unique and interesting things to do in Las Vegas:
Explore the Downtown Container Park
A collection of shops, restaurants, and entertainment, the Downtown Container Park near Fremont Street gives old shipping containers a new purpose - with style. We made our way into the park because we were in search of vegan food in Las Vegas and found Simply Pure on the map. Wandering into the Downtown Container Park, we passed a friendly grasshopper and other odds and ends of art. Once we had a chance to get in and look around, we stopped to admire the colorful containers stacked three stories high. Simply Pure was easy to find, a 100% plant-based restaurant that's small, but mighty. While waiting for our food to be ready we perused through some of the other shops and restaurants. The Container Park is also a great place to people-watch, as we did while we ate outside. One of my favorite parts about this area was the green, where parents watched from comfy lounge chairs as their children played with soft blocks and other outdoor games. There was a stage for live music and it was just so lovely. That family feel was really nice to experience, and if I lived in Las Vegas I'd be going to the Downtown Container Park allllll the time.
Go to Seven Magic Mountains
Okay, so you have to have a car to get here, but it's so worth it! Seven Magic Mountains is an art installation created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone in the middle of the desert right outside Las Vegas. There are - you guessed it - seven magical towers of colorful rocks stacked high into the sky. While there isn't much depth to the installation, it's an Instagrammer's paradise just waiting to be realized. It's fun, happy, and a nice opportunity to meet people too. You're more than likely accidentally in someone's picture, or taking it. But the opportunity to marvel at this massive artwork against the barren land around it is really a special thing. If you're thinking about visiting, act quick! The installation will be up for the rest of 2018, but there's no definite timeline past that (as of now). It's worth the 30-min drive to take in this manmade piece against our earth's natural backdrop, with no sign of Las Vegas and its flashy signs in sight.
Hang out at The Park
Take a Drive (or Hike) Through Valley of Fire State Park
When Brandon and I visited Las Vegas, we had exactly 1 full day during our trip and that was the day we rented a car to do all the things. What was actually last on our list for the day was Valley of Fire State Park, but it did not disappoint. This was the first state park in the state of Nevada and its incredible red rock formations are unique and gaze-worthy. There's a lot to see and do in the park, so you could spend your whole day there. We had about 3 hours and made the absolute most of it, so it's also doable in a half day! The highlights: petroglyphs, amazing views, and no cell service. You can drive from end to end of the park and make your stops in between, opting for short photo-ops or longer hikes. Either way, you'll be in awe of what our earth has been, and still is today.
If you want our crazy packed itinerary for the day, here goes:
1. Seven Magic Mountains (totally, 100% free)
2. Hoover Dam (parking fee)
3. Lunch in Henderson, NV (weird, but cool)
4. Drive through Lake Mead National Recreational Area (heads up, it'll cost ya, but it's worth it)
5. Valley of Fire State Park (also has a small fee)
6. Back to Las Vegas (priceless)
Visit the Neon Museum Las Vegas
Last but not least, one of the unique things to do in Las Vegas that I was looking most forward to was our visit to the Neon Museum Las Vegas. It's a collection of the old and forgotten neon signs that used to light up the strip, creating a cornucopia of history and Las Vegas culture. You have to sign up for a tour in order to see the display, but along the way you have the chance to learn about the signs and the stories behind them. Like the Moulin Rouge hotel marquee, which was designed by the same artist who made the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, but has an unparalleled significance. The Moulin Rouge was the first non-segregated hotel in Las Vegas, making a strong mark on history and the city itself. When the sign came in pieces to the Neon Museum, it fit best as, "in love." The Neon Museum is a must-visit destination on a trip to Las Vegas for its history, preservation, and photo-worthy set-ups. Bonus: You can go back and tour the museum at night for a totally different experience!
If you have the chance to visit Las Vegas, I encourage you to invest your money in unique and meaningful experiences, which are not hard to find. There's more to this slice of the state than what you've known it as before, and it's worth it to dig a little deeper.
In my senior year of college at Robert Morris University, I landed a dream job working for an ad agency in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. After graduation, my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I moved to Shadyside, a trendy and youthful yet historic neighborhood just outside of the city. It was too pricey to pay to park downtown, so I took the bus. But this was nothing new - I had taken the bus from Moon Township to Pittsburgh for my internship in the fall.
But it was new, because all of a sudden it wasn't just white, middle-aged, grumpy people on the bus with me (sorry not sorry, Moon). Instead it was standing room only during the morning rush, between people off to their jobs and students off to class at any one of the universities near downtown Pittsburgh. It was an entirely new sensory experience - from the sounds of kids crying to big kids crying (aka students/adults complaining), to the tactile roughness of worn-down seats, to the smell of that guy over there eating his dinner on the way home. And fun fact about me: I suffer from motion sickness in a BIG way. So you wouldn't catch me reading or writing or working on my commute. Instead, I used it as an opportunity to take it all in - those interesting sensory experiences and all. I spent my time thinking, reflecting, and meeting the people I'm telling you stories about today.
The Man with his Son
You know how sometimes you feel like you know someone from social media, without even having met them in real life? This story is kind of like that, but it is real life. What I mean is, I saw the same man with his son every week day for almost three years. But he doesn't know me. And I don't know him. And yet maybe I do.
At first I began to notice the man with his son on my commute home in the evenings. They got on the bus somewhere around my sister's university, Carlow, and his son was, well, so loud, and so curious. I usually sat in the first row of seats near the front of the bus, after the handicap accessible section, and they would sit in the accessible seats as long as no one needed that area - which meant that I always had the perfect profile view of them.
Typically they'd exchange words about what color the bus was, the numbers of the bus, and occasionally the son would even have an applesauce snack. They were sweet and the father was kind and patient and together they had this sort of innocent and adorable character to them. And even if I wasn't looking, I would know that they had boarded the bus when I heard the son's child voice asking questions about literally everything around him.
As I continued to ride the bus and get into more of a strict schedule (albeit I was still late for work almost every day), I realized that I was seeing the father in the morning too, getting on at the stop where he usually gets the bus in the evening. He was alone, hurried, sometimes a little sweaty, and many times even running to catch the bus. I'll never know for sure, but my assumption is that his son goes to school/daycare at Carlow, and the man drops his son off there in the morning, boards the bus to head downtown, and then comes back to pick his son up in the evening to head home to the "mommy" they talked about. And I kind of liked that. Sure, I felt bad for the father having to hustle each morning and I related deeply to the struggle of getting to work on time, but I thought it was so nice that this was his role, and that he spent that time with his son each day. In the evenings he was always pleasant, never angry or seemingly worn out after the day, never letting whatever happened at work interfere with the time spent with his wide-eyed mini. I think he must be a great father.
We never exchanged any words together, but over three years I almost felt like I watched his son grow. I hope he stays curious.
The Lotion Lady
While I never spoke a word to the man and his son, you wouldn't believe how many other people I talked to on the bus - not ever really solicited conversation, but even more refreshing. One winter evening on my commute home, I took off my gloves and took out a mini lotion to heal my very dry hands. It was my favorite smell - the True Blue Shea Cashmere & Silk hand cream from Bath & Body Works. The woman next to me, who up until that point hadn't made a sound, commented about how nice it smelled. I asked if she wanted to use it too, and she did. Looking back, maybe that was "weird," but the way she initiated conversation made me feel like maybe she just wanted to talk. Maybe she just needed to connect with someone. Hey, if my lotion was all it took, I didn't mind. We chatted for the rest of the ride until her stop. We discussed some deep issues too - all because of some lotion. It may seem silly to you, but it was such a random and meaningful human interaction for me and I'll never forget it.
The Homeless Germophobe
Often while on the bus, I had to stand for part or most of the ride. I took a busy route at busy times. One afternoon ride home I had the chance to get a seat, and noticed a man in the front of the bus wearing stained, worn clothes and carrying lots of things. He was standing and had some of this things in that flat part at the front of the bus where you're not technically supposed to put things but everyone always does. His hair was varying shades of grey and kind of all over the place. But he didn't seem elderly - I'd guess he was maybe 55 tops. Judging by the way he looked - emphasis on judging - I gathered that he may be homeless or without a permanent home.
I glanced up at the man again during the ride and noticed something that I found curious - he was holding on to the silver bar above him for stability, but not with his bare hand. He was holding a page of a newspaper in between his hand and the bar. And it wasn't like he was reading the paper. I thought perhaps he was concerned about the germs on the bar, which I personally tried to avoid thinking about as much as possible. I found this entire situation to be so interesting - a man that may very well be living in unsanitary conditions, dressing in unsanitary clothing, is seemingly concerned about the germs on the bus. It's an oxymoron of sorts but what I loved about this experience was that it taught me to refrain from being judgmental about the people I shared transportation with. Why did I assume that he was homeless? What does it mean to "look homeless?" I reflected on what society has taught me and checked myself. He may or may not have been homeless, but it didn't matter. We shared the same concern and I was reminded of universal human behavior. About germs nonetheless, but seeing his unwavering grasp on the paper barrier has always stuck with me. I wish I would have had the chance to meet him and to be able to know his story, and maybe laugh together about our shared perspective about the germs on the bus.
The Brazilian Businessman
My last story is actually about my first memorable bus experience from my time living in Pittsburgh. At the time, I was no longer new to my job, but gaining increased responsibility as supervisor after supervisor left the organization (was it something I said?). Just like any other day, I boarded the bus to return back home and I sat next to a tall man in a suit. Somehow, in some way that I don't even remember, we began to chat. I learned that he was fairly new to Pittsburgh, having recently become the leader of a team at a large local corporation in the city. He and his girlfriend had an apartment in my neighborhood AND also in the Sewickley neighborhood on the opposite side of the city, but farther away and not as conveniently accessible by public transportation. Safe to say I could tell that he was important.
And I couldn't help but notice his accent. He was Brazilian, and so was his girlfriend. He showed me a photo of her and talked of her so fondly, it made me smile to speak to a man with such respect and love for his partner. I shared about Brandon as well and that was about all we got to that day before we both departed at the very same stop, crossed the street together, and he entered the apartment building on the corner while I walked down the street.
Every few days we would see each other again and sit together to catch up on how things were going, share travel stories and life goals, and also share in mutual woes of our working worlds. Meanwhile, he got downtown hours before I did and probably had a corner office too. Our lives couldn't even compare, but he was so humble. Over the course of a few months we became sort of strange friends, from totally different worlds but sharing about 40 minutes together each day. He gave me advice and encouragement and reminded me to act like the powerful young woman I was. The bus rides home weren't so bad having a kind and wise human to talk to.
Then one day I realized I hadn't seen him in a week or two. And that week or two became a month or two and then a year or two. I never knew his last name and we never exchanged information, so we'll probably never meet again. But when I meet or encounter someone who is in a higher up position in their company or who makes a lot of money, I hope that they'll be like him. Genuine, kind, encouraging. I hope that he and his girlfriend got married and settled into the house they always wanted. And I hope he feels fulfilled in his career and in life. I have the same hope for you, too.
If you made it this far, thank you for sticking around to read all of my stories. Taking public transportation in Pittsburgh, while annoying and uncomfortable at times, was one of the best things I ever did. Through my experiences like these and others, I had the opportunity to witness human behaviors, feel shared experiences, and make connections with total strangers. I was reminded that people are people, and we're all sort of all over the place. The bus was where we prepared ourselves for the day ahead, or decompressed from the day that was. I saw moments of weakness and moments of strength. My perceptions were challenged and I had new opportunities for clarity every day. And most of all, I learned that truth and hope can be found in the most unexpected situations.
When was the last time you took the bus?
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.
Anxiety is something that I have been struggling with for a long time. This time last year, I hit my breaking point. Just a few days before I was due to travel across the country from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit one of my best friends for her birthday, I found myself at the hospital, hopeful that someone would finally tell me what was wrong with me - with my heart, my lungs, or some organ that was making me feel this way. I felt like I wanted to rip out of my own body. Like I was going to pass out at any moment. Like I couldn't shake the feeling. It was a feeling I felt every day. But it wasn't until that day that I finally accepted that the problem was in my brain. It was, quite literally, all in my head.
I went back to my apartment and I went to work the next day like nothing happened. I resumed the role of the upbeat, smart, attentive, savvy young woman I had been playing my entire life. I embraced a new realization to cope with behind the scenes. And the day after that, I got dropped off at the airport and I went on that trip.
If you're like me, you have this kind of internal battle with yourself every day. You constantly put things into perspective. But you know that no matter what, you won't let your anxiety run the show, or keep you from doing the things you love. When there is an opportunity to see and experience this world, ain't nobody got time for it. As I approach the anniversary of a low point in my life, I thought it might be cathartic for me and for you if I shared my travel anxiety tips and the ways in which I cope. Whether this is a daily challenge for you, or just one when you go to a new place, I hope my perspective will help.
I'm currently living in the same city as that best friend, and we're taking a trip together for her birthday this weekend. Time is a funny thing.
How to Cope with Airplane Anxiety
I get it. Whether I'm by myself or with a group of people, all the same thoughts go through my head on an airplane. What if the engine stops working? What was that sound? Why did the lights flicker like that? What if we crash into another plane in the sky? Did I pay enough attention to the safety video?
When I find myself thinking those thoughts, I turned to my dear old friend, probability. You know, I used to be really good at math. I like to remind myself about the very, extremely low probability that anything bad will actually happen. I take a moment to appreciate all of the flights that occur successfully every single day all around the world. I trust the technology, and the people. I think about if I were a flight attendant or a pilot, how casual a flight would be, and I try to adopt that attitude. And I basically try to fall asleep as quickly as possible to pass the time. No matter what, I know that statistics are on my side, and I'm on my way to a wonderful destination.
Try out this perspective the next time you're on a plane and that uneasy feeling starts to creep up. It may not go away completely, but "debunking" your anxious arguments to yourself can really help. And if the person next to you seems like the type, strike up a conversation with them. I remember totally random people and our conversations on airplanes more than I remember any of the anxiety I ever felt. Don't underestimate how powerful human connection is.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Traveling to New Places
When you really think about it, every place was new at some point. But you could find yourself going to a really different place from the places you've been used to. Maybe the people there speak a different language, or dress differently, or behave differently. If I find myself feeling anxious about something, I turn to my other old friend, research. Learning about a new culture or country in advance is the best way to calm any uneasy feeling you may be having. If you know the important things, you can't be taken off guard. You can still embrace new experiences and be surprised at how wonderful it is when you get there, all the while knowing left from right in your new environment. Learn the basics of the language. Study a city map to get your bearings. Your brain is racing through the "what if?"s and highlighting all the potential downfalls - a little research can go a long way in setting your mind at ease. Then you'll be able to make the most of your adventure and enjoy every moment along the way.
Another thing to practice, always, no matter where you are, is mindfulness. If you're worried about being pickpocketed, remain aware. Be mindful of your surroundings and your body language. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety is like a hyper mindfulness, so I spin it into a positive. There's a big difference between being a careless traveler and a carefree one. Practicing mindfulness can help you and your belongings remain safe and sound so you can feel that carefree travel high.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Being Away From Home
If it's your first time traveling somewhere by yourself, you may be faced with tasks you never had to handle before. You have to keep your important papers organized. You have to be on time and at the right place at the right time. You have to communicate with other people. You have to navigate buildings and transportation. It can be overwhelming, and it can seem so overwhelming that you may not even want to do it. But I urge you to take the leap. When I start to have those feelings of anxiety like I can't do something, I know that the only thing to do is the exact thing that I'm scared of - because it will be so worth it.
When I was in college, I studied abroad with Forum-Nexus as a solo traveler, hopping on a plane headed to Europe without knowing anyone and trusting that people would be there waiting for me, that I'd make friends, and that I'd have the summer of a lifetime. Here's the cliché - I did! I had the most amazing, exhilarating, life-changing experience that summer, and it set the tone for the rest of my life thus far. My family was absolutely terrified for me - I was the first person to leave the country since our ancestors came to the country. It was a big deal. I had traveled to Spain in high school and I knew what that feeling was like, and I knew that I wanted it again even if it meant going by myself. Sometimes all we need is to turn our anxiety for us instead of against us. What will you miss out on if you don't go? Get that FOMO on your side. You are strong. You are capable. And you are worthy. Being away from home is only temporary. And it can only become home when you leave it.
I'm proud to say that the person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago. Don't get me wrong - I still have that same brain. I still feel hyper mindful sometimes and I still get overwhelmed by things that wouldn't be overwhelming to someone else. I think - a lot. But I can recognize when I'm psyching myself out. I've learned to trust in myself and in my faith. I'm caring for my physical and mental health in ways I wasn't before. I'm opening up to you, who has read this all the way to the end - thank you for doing that, by the way. This space to express myself is never taken for granted.
I want you to know that you are fully you and your anxiety is a part of you that you can control. Use all that thinkin' to create your own strategies for how to cope with travel anxiety. You are able to make things better for yourself. You can travel near and far and live the full life you desire. I'm rooting for you.
Just like that, our time living in Baltimore, Maryland was up. My husband Brandon completed his very first travel nursing assignment and we were back home in Pittsburgh for belated holiday celebrations and lots and lots of family time. Up next was Denver, Colorado. No matter how much we tried to set aside the items we were going to pack throughout the two weeks we were home, nothing could prepare us to fully pack up and move across the country until we were just a day away. Not to mention Brandon took a long weekend trip to Salt Lake City, I had a ton of work going on, and we bought a new car! But hey, how can we really complain? We made it work and packed up everything we thought we needed and started our journey. Keep reading for a recap of our trip to Denver and our first impressions after almost two weeks in the Mile High City.
Day 1: Man, I wish you could have seen us. We scrambled to finish packing, wash the car, pack the car, visit Brandon's grandma, and run back to my mom's house to grab a few things we forgot. We finally left Pittsburgh around noon but we weren't in too much of a rush, thankfully. There are two main routes from Pittsburgh to Denver, one north and one south. The north route goes right near Jackson, Michigan, where two of our friends just recently moved. We had the opportunity to stay the night at their home and experience a local favorite: Klavon's. The highlights were a veggie stuffed pizza and local wine.
Day 2: We hit the road early driving south to get into Indiana and sort of merge into the southern route, eventually. We knew a snow storm was coming through, but we didn't realize that we'd find ourselves right in the middle of it on a highway that hadn't been plowed/salted/touched yet. It was one of those moments where you have to admit that you made the wrong decision and leave your pride out in the cold (literally) to make the rest of the experience better. As Brandon drove through the still-dark, snow flurrying sky, I found an alternate route that, if we just backtracked about 30 minutes, would put us on the right track for smooth sailing out of that snow storm. So, we turned ourselves around and escaped the storm that plummeted the East Coast that day. 15 hours later, including a stop in Pontiac, IL, we had made it to our goal destination of day 2: Topeka, KS. I used Hotels.com to set us up in the Hyatt Place and everything was groovy.
Day 3: Kansas. That's really all there is to say about this day. The journey was barren and beautiful and boring, too. But about 8 hours later we finally arrived to our new home: Denver. Reflecting back on our trip, the drive really wasn't that bad and frequent stops helped break up the monotony. Brandon and I took turns driving and we took a few naps when passenger to pass the time. My two favorite travel accessories that I brought along for the ride were my plane hat from Serengetee and my inflatable neck pillow from Sleeper Scarf. My hat helped shield my face from the sun and my Sleeper Scarf helped make my snoozes so much more comfortable - seriously! It's an infinity scarf with a secret neck pillow inside. All you have to do is unzip, inflate, and deflate when you're done. I'm definitely taking my Sleeper Scarf with me for my next flight, too - I'll be out like nobody's business before the plane even leaves the ground.
Favorites - So Far
We've now only been in Denver a little over a week and a half, but I feel like we've seen and done so much already. As far as first impressions go, this city is pretty cool. It's outdoorsy, casual, liberal, and fun! Not to mention there's a brewery on every corner. The people are friendly and really my only complaint is that the roads are a little funny - sometimes you have stop signs, and other times you don't. But that's just a matter of something to get used to. I'll be sure to do a round-up of my all-time favorite Denver do's and eats, but for now, here's what we've had a chance to experience so far:
There you have it, folks. Do you think we'll make it through the winter? A common misconception about Denver is that it's the most winter-y place on earth. While we've been here less than two weeks, it's quite the contrary. We've had several days in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. And every day is always better because the sun is shining. I'm so excited for the rest of our time in Denver and to share our favorite experiences and memories with you. Thank you for reading, and I hope you find something new to explore today!
As 2017 comes to an end, I'm reflecting on all of the trips and memories I've been lucky enough to have this year. It was by far the year of my life with the biggest trips, the most adventures, and the best photos. It never seemed so crazy in the moment, but I'm feeling really thankful as I think back to each experience and the people I've shared them with. Here's a recap of some of my favorite moments with a brief lil ditty about each place. Cheers!
January 2017 - Killington, Vermont
I'm really, honestly, truly not one for winter weather. But when my then-fiance, now-husband was planning a snowboarding trip to one of the top winter sport destinations in the height of the season, I said, "why not?!" Though I didn't hit the slopes myself, I had the opportunity to work from the lodge and catch views like this one. I loved being able to ride the cable car all the way up and gaze at the snow-covered, well, everything.
February 2017 - San Diego, California
Ahh, that's more like it. Feeling the warm sunshine in San Diego was such a treat compared to the freezing cold back home in Pittsburgh. I visited one of my best friends and got to explore Pacific Beach, watch the day's end at Sunset Cliffs, shop in Old Town, and brewery hop in North Park. We even made a little trip to Temecula for one thing and one thing only - wine! My favorite part of the trip (besides the wine) was salsa dancing at Tango Del Ray. I absolutely LOVE any Latin style of dance, and we had the best time there.
April 2017 - Chicago, Illinois
My sister and I took my dad to Chicago to go to a Cub's game, since he's a huge baseball fan. We also incorporated some touristy activities into our trip, like visiting the Bean. The weather was mild and I enjoyed wandering about the city. In all our wandering, we stumbled across the theatre district and took a chance at getting Hamilton tickets for that night. As luck would have it, we got there right on time (which was about 4 pm if I remember correctly), the gentleman in front of us took just 1 ticket, and we got the remaining 3 available for that night's performance. We were giddy. And not only that, but when you buy tickets day-of and get basically the unclaimed tickets for that night, they are all the same price and can be anywhere in the theatre. Ours were in the fourth row. It was UNREAL. Honestly, if you have the chance to see Hamilton, do it. The soundtrack may be stuck in your head for the rest of your life, but it's so worth it.
May 2017 - Berlin, Maryland
The next month, we went with my mom on vacation to Berlin, Maryland, just outside of Ocean City. This was a familiar place for us - it was the place almost two years prior where Brandon and I got engaged, when we went on vacation with both of our families together. This time, the weather was not in our favor, but we made the best of it and had a great time relaxing in our little cottage, walking the deserted beach, and checking out the antique shops in the town of Berlin. Brandon and I took a few moments to sneak away to the spot on the bay where he proposed. We may or may not have re-carved our initials into the wood while taking time to reflect on our engagement and re-ignite our excitement for our wedding in just a few months.
July 2017 - Rome, Italy
This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to the Eternal City for the first time through my work with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. (There were actually a ton of people all around us at this moment, but with a little angling we were able to get a clear shot!) Each year with Forum-Nexus, we take about 60 students to cities across 5 countries in Europe as they take a variety of different courses and participate in visits to international companies and organizations. Studying abroad with Forum-Nexus was the best decision I've ever made, and I'm lucky to have continued to be a part of the organization ever since. Traveling is such a huge part of my life and I feel like I'm really fulfilling my purpose by helping other students have the experience!
August 2017 - Miami, Florida
By the time we returned home from Europe our wedding was right around the corner, which meant only one thing: my bachelorette party! I had always wanted to return to Miami after only traveling there briefly once before. We spent most of our time in South Beach, soaking in the sun, eating good food, and most importantly, DANCING. There are only a few things that I love more than salsa (see February in San Diego). But I think our favorite night of the trip was a Sunday night when we went to Tapas y Tintos for tapas, sangrias, and a flamenco show. We were there all night and had the BEST time - shout out to Patricia our waitress and the entire staff for being so amazing! Unfortunately the next day I did not feel so amazing, but we had to check out of our hotel and we had planned to visit Wynwood before flying back home. When I look back on my photos at the Wynwood Walls, I laugh at how awful I felt on the inside, while trying to play it cool on the outside. Now you know and can LOL with me!
September 2017 - Split, Croatia
My favorite memory from September (and ever) was getting married, but my favorite travel memory from this month is from our Heritage Honeymoon! We traveled to Wales, Croatia, and Italy to explore some of the countries our ancestors have come from. In Croatia we spent 24 hours in Zagreb on our way to Split. In Split we really felt like locals, staying in an apartment, shopping at the markets, strolling along the water, and relaxing out at sea. We got a taste of what it would be like to live there, and honestly I really loved it. I could see us living there or somewhere similar for a time. It was a low-key lifestyle that felt just right, and when I look at this photo I smile thinking about how wonderful it felt to be there.
November 2017 - Boston, Massachusetts
We moved to Baltimore at the very end of September and had the opportunity to explore nearby areas like Frederick and Washington, D.C., and also travel to Boston in November. I had never been there before but really wanted to go! We planned it at the last minute, and it was really nice to have the freedom to do that. I was able to use my Hotels.com rewards for our stay at The Verb Hotel, right near Fenway Park. This hotel is amazing! It has a retro vibe with music inspirations from the lobby to the hallways to the guest rooms, and there is so much attention to detail. Each room has a record player and there is a selection of records in the lobby to choose from. Even though it was freezing cold, we took some photos out by the pool. I loved the way the retro windows matched the bright closed umbrellas, and Fenway looks like an extension of the hotel in the background. The staff were super friendly and it was overall such a fun experience.
Whew! 2017 was so amazing - I hope yours was, too. But the best part about today is the excitement of what's to come in the new year. I love New Year's Eve and I can't wait to celebrate! Time passes and years change no matter what, but we have to be HERE for it. I feel so ready to do more, feel better, and live harder in 2018. What are you looking forward to most?
It's amazing how seasons of our lives change so rapidly. As you might be preparing for the upcoming holiday season, I'd like to share some of my favorite holiday gift ideas that pack a little more meaning and celebrate what it means to give and receive.
The Five Minute Journal // This isn't your average journal. It prompts you to practice gratitude and mindfulness as the first and last things you do each day. Each week there are additional challenges to complete, plus every day you can read an inspiring quote. It's small yet durable enough to take with you when you're on the go, and it puts every day into perspective. This could be the perfect gift for someone who wants to journal but doesn't have a lot of time, or for someone who longs to adopt a posture of thankfulness and thoughtfulness. BONUS: Intelligent Change sends a weekly email every Tuesday with extra tips + inspiration.
Cost = $23 / Buy here.
Greetabl // This compact gift is the perfect present to send to faraway friends or family. How it works: You pick the print, pick a tiny item to put inside, upload 3 photos, and write a greeting. The Greetabl forms into a cube that unravels when the recipient opens it up, and the photos can tear off from there. I love sending Greetabls for birthday gifts, but there are plenty of holiday prints and presents, too! It's totally customizable and such a fun surprise.
Cost = $11-$42 / Buy here.
Packed With Purpose // This is an organization with a mission to provide curated gift boxes containing items that have a social impact, each in their own unique way. I backed Packed with Purpose on IndieGogo and received a box, pictured above. It contained various items like dark chocolate, lip balm, a dip mix, and a sweet smelling soy pumpkin candle from Bright Endeavors, an organization that supports young mothers. Packed with Purpose provides a meaningful gift for friends, colleagues, or relatives.
Cost = $55-$115 / Buy here.
The Bouqs Co. // Alright, I'm a sucker for flowers. I love the colors, the shapes, and the gorgeous nature that they bring indoors. And The Bouqs Co. is one of my absolute favorite ways to send some love from afar! They have incredible artisan bouqs sourced from farms that practice sustainable, eco-friendly farming. Choose from a wide variety of arrangements and add a personalized message for an extra special touch.
Cost = $40-$75 / Buy here and get $15 off.
Other notable mentions:
This just a quick holiday gift guide for something a little extra special. Have other awesome, meaningful gift ideas? Share them in the comments below!
Happy holidays! Remember that in the end, it's all about love.
You guessed it, I'm engaged! In less than 200 days I will be marrying my partner in life: a handsome, compassionate, talented, and genuine man. As we've gone through the wedding planning process, a thought occurred to me while daydreaming about our honeymoon - What better way to start off our marriage than experiencing where we came from? As third-generation Americans (meaning some of our grandparents immigrated to the United States), we've taken note of the decline in patriotism for our countries of origin. Many of my older family members don't know any of the details of where our ancestors came from, or why. Thus, a concept I've been affectionately referring to as our "heritage honeymoon" was born.
Both Brandon (my fiancé) and I have origins in Europe, but not knowing the details was a little intimidating at first. So, we decided to view it as a challenge rather than a problem. It took hours of research, conversations with family members who we hardly talk to, and did I mention research? But we're finally at the point where we are ready to book the details of our heritage honeymoon. Here's how we planned it, and how you can, too.
Step 1: Gather the Information You Know
Any details that you already know about your family origins will be helpful. Even just knowing a country is still a good place to start. Depending on when your ancestors emigrated from their countries to the U.S., you might even be able to talk to them directly! Unfortunately, neither Brandon nor I had that opportunity. Some of our grandparents were immigrants, and some were born in America; for those who were, that meant that we had to trace our ancestries back even farther.
Step 2: Research. A lot.
Since we had such limited knowledge of our ancestries, we decided to take what we did know and begin creating family trees using Ancestry.com. Ancestry provides access to databases and records that are difficult or impossible to find for free on the Internet - trust me, I've looked. We subscribed to Ancestry.com for a few months to collect as much research as we could, based on the little information that we knew. And what we found was amazing! Seeing the military, naturalization, and marriage records of some of my ancestors really blew me away. Family whom I've never met, but their sacrifice, their decisions, and their love ultimately led to me. And being able to show my mom and my uncles the documents related to their father who passed away at a young age, and their grandparents, was really exciting, and we were able to discover new things together as a family. There are plenty of websites like Ancestry out there, and you can consult specific resources like The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation Passenger Search as well. In doing so, here's my warning: Approach each piece of information with investigation. Ancestry in particular suggests other family trees that may link to yours, and it's easy to get caught up in accepting all of the hints and attributing information to ancestors that you really don't know if it's true or not. We scrutinized as much as we could, knowing the limitations, and celebrated the puzzle pieces that fit.
Step 3: Lay it Out
Once we had gotten a better sense of the countries and cities or regions where our ancestors originated, it was time to look at the big picture. Disclaimer: We weren't able to zero in on clear locations for some of our ancestors. For example, my paternal grandmother's side of the family goes back generations and generations of being in the United States. We got a sense of what might be our family's path, but we couldn't identify for certain any other countries of origin. But, I now know a town in West Virginia where that side of the family lived for several generations. The tools and information still helped me learn, so don't be discouraged if you don't find exactly what you were hoping for. Work with what you can, and lay all of the potential locations out on a map.
The countries that we did know were: Wales, Slovakia, Croatia, and Italy. Countries that we had hints or suspicions about were England, Scotland, and Ireland. In attempting to plot out our itinerary, we first tried to plan to make it to all countries and cities. In doing so, we realized that we would be traveling more than we would be enjoying each place, and that the cost of traveling to all of the cities would be overwhelming. Which brings us to:
Step 4: Make Decisions
As difficult as it was, we had to make the decision to cut Slovakia from our heritage honeymoon itinerary. The flights and logistics weren't in our favor, and neither was the pressure to fit it into an already packed trip. We also had to make an alteration to our destination in Wales. We found that Brandon's family is from the north of Wales, but it is easier for us to fly into Cardiff in the south, and travel to our next destination from there. So, we decided that getting a sense of the country and culture in general would be a great first step. On the other hand, since we knew that both of our families are from Italy, we wanted to spend more time in that country in the particular regions we're from. And wouldn't you know it, but the two towns are only about 2 hours apart. Getting down to this level of detail will help you determine what's really doable given your time, budget, and energy commitment. In Croatia, where my paternal grandfather is from, we're taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the beautiful beaches and relax and unwind a little bit in the middle of our adventures. In the end, we had to make some strategic and difficult decisions, but we are really excited about making our heritage honeymoon official.
Step 5: Book!
Ahh, and that brings us back to where we are now, preparing to book! We've decided that we will spend 3 days in Wales, 5 days in Croatia, and 4 days in Italy. Our heritage honeymoon will take us to cities and countries that we've never been to, and yet I imagine they might feel sort of familiar. Knowing where we came from can tell us where we're going. Understanding and appreciating, really, the incredible places our ancestors left to pursue something new in America will give us new perspectives on the family we will create, and our sacrifices, decisions, and love that will influence generations after us.
I hope this post may inspire you to do a little research into your family origins, even if you don't decide to pack up and go there. I hope you find time to consider the big picture of who you are and how you influence your family. We are living in a time in which it's ever important to celebrate what makes us unique - the melting pot of ideas, behaviors, perspectives, and characteristics that stirs inside each and every one of us, created by those who came before us.