Category Archives: Travel

I’m Going to Meet Dr. Temple Grandin!

When I was rescuing animals in the Ecuadorian Amazon, sitting in a monkey-poo stained hammock in a bamboo hut after a 12-hour work day, I read Dr. Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation by candlelight.

The book details how Dr. Grandin’s autistic mind allows her to understand animals, literally putting herself in their shoes. She crawled through mud down cattle chutes to revolutionize the livestock industry. Half of the slaughterhouses in the U.S. and even more throughout the world now use her humane design, giving respect and dignity to these farm animals up to their predetermined end.

Dr. Grandin’s book was pivotal in my decision to commit to a vegetarian (and now vegan) lifestyle. It is a conscious choice I make every day to offer respect to the beautiful, entertaining, comforting, inspiring, impressive, and innocent animals that make up this great big world.

And now I get the chance to go to a Q&A and book signing with one of my idols, a woman who has battled countless odds to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves or are misunderstood. Not only is Dr. Grandin world famous in the livestock industry, but she is also a leading spokesperson for autism.

I received a press pass to go to the Vashon Sheepdog Classic (VSDC) this summer. Read more about Dr. Temple Grandin and the VSDC here.

“Animals in Translation” was a reprieve each night from the manual labor I put my body through in the Amazon, and helped me escape my anxiety and homesickness after being robbed on my first day backpacking solo in a foreign country.

When I was back in Ohio, I used to pull the book out from the shelves and stick my nose in the pages that forever captured that distinct and remarkable rainforest smell, transporting me back to the first glimpse of both my addiction to solo female travel and my future animal career.

I Met a Man from Iraq

On the evening of Tuesday, November 7, 2016, I flew from Idaho to Washington. In the airport terminal, I stopped at a burrito bar. It was there that I met a man from Iraq.

I made small talk with the man taking my order. He asked where I was from, where I was heading. Friendly and bright-eyed, he asked who I thought was going to win the election. I was confident a racist, xenophobic misogynist would not be taking the presidential oath in January, so we didn’t talk much more about politics.

I asked him how he liked living in Idaho. He said he hadn’t been here long, but it was suiting him fine.

“Oh, where did you move from?” I asked innocently.

He looked at me and said, “I’m from Iraq.”

A woman in a hijab emerged from the kitchen to begin fixing my burrito.

In that moment, I fumbled for words. I wanted to pour my heart out to them, to offer my sincerest apologies for all the hate–so much hate–being spewed in their direction. I wanted to ask them what it was like to live in Iraq, what it was like to listen to the news in America, what it was like to pass through airport security every day. I wanted to know how they came to run a burrito business and what were their hopes and dreams. I wanted to tell them I was sorry for the state of the world.

I wished to reach over the counter and take that man’s hands in mine and tell him I would fight for him. I wanted to look that woman in the eyes and tell her she was beautiful and so was her hijab.

Instead, hoping my enthusiasm would show I didn’t care where they came from, I uttered, “Oh, wow, that’s cool!”

Then I asked the man, “How did you choose Idaho?”

He shrugged and said, “It’s quiet out here in the middle of nowhere.”

I gave the couple a generous tip.

Early in the morning of November 8, 2016, I cried for the man and woman I met at a burrito bar.

I have wished countless times since then that I could rewind the clock and speak my thoughts aloud. Silence and inactivity are a crutch for the weak, confused and insecure. Fear paralyzes us and accomplishes nothing. Hate begets hate begets hate.

I cannot time travel, but I can work for the future. I will not stop fighting, and America, I hope you won’t either.

 

Beach Essentials: How to Make the Most Out of Your Sandy Relaxation

When I lived the island life, I quickly developed a habit of grabbing the same beach necessities every time I headed to the water.

While the coast of Washington doesn’t see me snorkeling like I did in the Bahamas and Florida Keys, I still pack my beach sack with the same things, excluding snorkel gear.

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Here’s a list of beach essentials that I recommend you carry to make the most of your shoreline adventure:

 1. Travel games

I refuse to go to the beach without Bananagrams and a deck of cards. Even if I’m going solo. Sometimes it’s too windy for cards, so keep that in mind before playing Solitaire or Rummy. And sometimes sea gulls will swoop in and steal the letter tiles for Bananagrams, particularly the coveted vowels. Here’s proof.

 2. Water

It is of course important to stay hydrated while soaking up the sun, but I also never go anywhere without a water bottle. Drinking fountains are just too far away from my beach towel anyway.

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 3. Headphones

I always bring music with me. If it’s a crowded beach, I am most likely going to be plugging in the tunes. If I’m traveling, I play music from my outdated iPod (read: songs from 2000–expect lots of High School Musical).

However, if the sound of nature overpowers the tourists, I forego the headphones. Puget Sound surprised me last summer with a delightfully vocal group of seals and sea lions!

 4. Blanket

In addition to the obvious beach towel, I usually bring along a comfy dedicated beach blanket. My blanket of choice has morphed between various styles over the years as they become soiled with seaweed and saltwater.

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 5. Camera

The best moments in life can’t be relived in a photograph, but nature constantly has beauty to behold. When I lived in Long Island, Bahamas, I kicked myself every time I got to the sea turtle cove and the camera was either forgotten or uncharged. Now I make sure I’ve got a means of snapping a picture if the opportunity presents itself.

 6.Waterproof shoes

Many of my beach adventures turn into hikes along old coral beds, which can’t be done in flip flops. I had to retire my last pair of Scuba booties, but any sort of waterproof shoes will do. (We called them aqua shoes in Ohio, but I’ve been told that is not a universal term. WHAT DO PEOPLE CALL THEM!?) Keens are also great! I wore out my pair in Florida–they’re not made for saltwater.

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7. Other games

In addition to handheld games, I like to be active with other games on the beach. (I loooooooooooove games.) Growing up spending the summers on Lake Erie, my sisters and I played a minimum of two board games a day. Game pieces actually got lost in the sand and were recovered in future years during sandcastle building, hole digging and people-burying.

In case you’re feeling a 90s throwback, the beach board games of my youth included:

  • Pizza Party
  • Mall Madness
  • Sorry!
  • Guess Who
  • Ready, Set, Spaghetti!
  • Hi-Ho-Cheerio
  • Clue
  • Scrabble
  • Memory
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Candy Land

In my 20s (ohmygodImalmost30), I tend to bring a volleyball and cornhole to the beach if I can.

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 8. Beach snacks

Snacks at the beach get their own term–“beach snacks”–because they tend to be bite-sized foods that we gravitate toward time and again when packing up for the sand. In my Ohio years, we always had Oreos at the beach. We’d freeze them and then let them melt in the sun. (Fun fact: Oreos are vegan.) Chips ‘n salsa was also a must and usually some fruit, veggie and cracker trays thrown in there. Frozen grapes are great!

Nowadays, I tend to bring fruit and trail mix as well as a sandwich. Check out my healthy, allergy-free recipes for some ideas! It is zero fun having to leave the beach because you’re hungry. Prepare ahead of time to prevent this!

 9. Book

Don’t ever go to the beach without a book. Just don’t do it.

Once, I made the mistake of bringing a book I’d read a few months before. I have regretted it every day since.

Kindles are great; just make sure they’re fully charged!

Sometimes, I also bring my animal identification books (birds, shells, etc.) because once a zoologist, always a zoologist.

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 10. Beach cover-up

To protect my skin from the sun but avoid overheating, I have a nifty, flowy, breathable button-up I bring. I apologize that I don’t know what material it is made out of, because this fashion piece is dynamite. If someone could help me out, that’d be fantastic.

 11. Sunglasses

Make sure you have good UV sunglasses, and don’t trade fashion for protection. With good research, I promise you can have both. If you have giant white scleras like myself, take extra caution to protect those eyeballs or you’ll get UV damage like I did! 😦

 12. Notebook and pen

Not only does this come in handy for keeping score in card games, but it’s also a necessity if you’re a writer like myself. When that muse hits you, it starts spewing like a jar of marbles. Be prepared to snag those good ideas before they roll too far.

13. Jar for seashells

To be honest, I usually forget this one, but I am a sucker for beachcombing. I’m always collecting shells, seaglass and rocks on the beaches with which to make little seashell creatures. The beach finds end up going in my teeny backpack (which I much prefer to a tote bag) or in whatever container I have leftover from my lunch.

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14. Miscellaneous

I’m limited in how many arms I have, and sometimes I get to the beach on my bike. But when I can carry more items, I’ve also brought or enjoyed the following:

  • Hammock (you’ll need trees for this one)
  • Chair
  • Metal detector (my friend had an underwater one and we found a whole penny!)

boat on beach

Note: This post was inspired by Tripping.com’s Florida Vacation Rentals. If you’re heading to Florida this spring or summer, be sure to visit some of my favorite coastal towns heading south:

  • Anna Maria Island
  • Sarasota
  • Boca Grande
  • Florida Keys (all of em!!!!)

What are your beach essentials? Florida and Bahamas friends, I want to hear from you especially! 🙂 

**Please do your part to protect the environment and avoid taking plastic bags to the beach. They blow away in an instant and are mistaken for jellyfish by sea turtles and other animals!**

All photos ©Stacey Venzel, Creative Commons license.

 

50 Things I’ve Learned Since 2015

My life has been a series of catapulting adventures and misadventures since I left the Florida Keys in February 2015. But I’ve never felt more alive.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things I learned in the past two years:

  1. Some people will be there for you; some will not. Always be the one who is, not the one who isn’t.
  2. Dogs cure everything.
  3. Date yourself at least once in this lifetime.
  4. Be real on social media.
  5. Being a member of a community is vital to your own humanity.
  6. Almond butter > peanut butter.
  7. Everyone has a voice, but some voices are stifled. Be a voice for those who want to be heard but aren’t.
  8. It’s okay to be emotional.
  9. Never stop asking questions; it’s how you learn.
  10. Second chances keep you from second guessing.
  11. Not everyone will “get” you. Embrace those who try, forget about those who don’t try.
  12. Laugh at yourself often, a minimum of once a day.
  13. Friendships are just as valuable as blood and boys.
  14. Stopping to smell the flowers is a legitimate excuse for being late.
  15. Modern luxuries numb perspective and gratitude.
  16. More often than not, strangers are beautiful humans trying to get by just like you.
  17. Individual independence is a state too few obtain in life. Seek it.
  18. Change precedes growth precedes fulfillment.
  19. The city can eat you alive, but it also teaches things you can’t learn anywhere else.
  20. Most opportunities you have to make for yourself.
  21. Never take an unhitched breath and a normal heart rate for granted.
  22. No dream is ever too big. Dream and then do and then repeat.
  23. Always flip head over heels for the little things in life.
  24. The harder you work for something, the better it tastes.
  25. Find the equilibrium between listener and advisor.
  26. Self-awareness is a necessary state of living.
  27. Forgiveness is an incredible gift. Give of it freely, and accept of it graciously.
  28. Know when and how to stand up for yourself.
  29. Failure is inevitable. Learn from it.
  30. If you sacrifice until your sacrifice is no longer a sacrifice, you’ll be an expert on compromise.
  31. Happiness is subjective.
  32. Success is subjective.
  33. Beauty is subjective.
  34. Hate begets hate begets hate.
  35. Be funny.
  36. Push yourself, but don’t be hard on yourself.
  37. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if others don’t understand them.
  38. Don’t forget the power of face-to-face conversations.
  39. Trust your gut.
  40. Be an expert problem solver.
  41. Never go anywhere without nail clippers. Hangnails are the devil.
  42. If you’re going to lose yourself in something, Nature is a good option.
  43. Balance the good with the bad and the old with the new.
  44. Believe in something. Be grounded and steadfast in that belief.
  45. Not having a car is one of the quickest ways to learn patience.
  46. You can be informed about lots of things but you don’t need to know about everything.
  47. Cooking over a fire is not the same as cooking over a stove.
  48. Fearing for your life is something you never really get over.
  49. Some people are toxic, and you have to let them go.
  50. Empathy can feel like a curse. See it as an incredible gift.

We only have one life to live. Let’s give it all we’ve got.

Sometimes Travel Is About Who You Visit, Not Where You Go

I used my Travel Rewards points to book a flight. It isn’t to somewhere exotic; in fact, it’s to a place I’ve already been twice before. Yet with my current excitement level, you’d think I’m finally setting off on that backpacking trip through Southeast Asia.

In the past decade with so many months spent on the road, I’ve embraced solo travel—and it’s taught me more than I could ever learn at any job. But I have also worked hard at nurturing the relationships, near and far, that mean the most to me.

Sometimes travel is about going home for the holidays. Sometimes travel is about celebrating your friend’s marriage or newborn baby. Sometimes travel is about cherishing those last few breaths with a loved one.

And sometimes it’s about making the most of a quick trip simply to dance like a fool with your bestest friend.

7 Reasons Why WhatsApp is the Greatest Messaging App Known to Man

It’s time to get with the times, people. Even I, a millennial who just recently learned all the Kardashian names (I kid; I still don’t know them all), am a frequent user of the greatest technological advancement in phone messaging history: WhatsApp.

Why am I qualified to write a non-sponsored ad for WhatsApp? (It’s true. This isn’t sponsored. I just really, really love WhatsApp.) As an avid traveler with family and friends abroad, I need a messaging app that won’t have me racking up roaming charges, one that lets me stay in touch easily and effortlessly.

I’ve tried many other apps, and in fact still have some of them on my computer (Skype, Facebook Messenger). I’ve heard about Google Hangouts and Viber. But I can’t seem to break my love affair with this messaging genius. My name is Stacey and I’m a WhatsAppaholic.

If you don’t agree with me, you might want to agree with the rest of the world:

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Similar Web
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Similar Web

(Visit Similar Web to get number specifics and have your mind blown.)

Throughout Latin America, many countries advertise WhatsApp as the main messaging system. And instead of telling someone, “send me a text,” you’ll hear people telling them to WhatsApp them (in Spanish of course, you silly wabbits).

Here’s a list of reasons why you should download WhatsApp right meow. I’ll start with the best one first.

 1. Emojis

Hail to ye, O WhatsApp, a god among emojis. Not only do you have ample choosing, you can also change the skin tone to be racially diverse, politically correct, or have that black Santa you always wanted. It’s about damn time an app realized we’re not all white.

The quality of the emojis is top notch. Sorry, Google, but your gumdrop emojis just don’t cut it for me. WhatsApp also has two of my favorite, most unique emojis: the Stanley Hudson and the awkward nerd face (both of which are me to a T). They rank high among my frequently used.

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Image credit: Stacey Venzel and Stanley Hudson

 2. Videos

If you’ve got a large video file that won’t send over email or Messenger, chances are, WhatsApp’s got you covered. Like those 12-minute videos you take of your dog that your friend just has to see this very moment.

 3. Live chat

Phone call or video chat with WhatsApp’s updated version. It works, people. I use it often. It’s FaceTime, but better.

4. Gallery storage

You can turn on or off the settings to automatically download all WhatsApp media to a separate file in your image gallery. For organization’s sake, this is killer for perfectionists.

5. Search option

It’s easy to find past conversations by perusing the search tool much like you would using Ctrl+F on a PC. (That’s  the”Find” shortcut for all you Baby Boomers.)

6. Forwarding option

If you come across a video on YouTube that your friend musthaverightnow, you can send it by clicking the share button and selecting the WhatsApp feature. Easy peasy. No more of these copy and paste shenanigans.

 7. Text referencing

If you’re like me and my pow-wow buddies, your brain ping pongs all over the place, and your fingers text that entire game of ping pong in a thread that would cause someone outside the conversation to question your sanity.

But if your fingers can’t keep up with your brain or your friend’s brain, you can reference past messages via the quote-reply feature. It is unknown to many, but I’m sharing it with you now cuz I care.

Just highlight the message of choice (e.g. Friend: “How do you feel about dogs?”), click the arrow second from the left at the top of the screen (there will be many arrows; choose wisely), and type in a message (e.g. You: “When they stare at me, I melt.”) Your friend’s message will pop up above yours when you send. You can do the same thing with images, too! Stop it, WhatsApp. I’m crushing hard on you.

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So there you have it. WhatsApp is a cybertastic cultural phenomenon, and for once, I’m not behind the times.

I’ve still got my $25/month pre-paid SMS texting, but I prefer WhatsApping when I’m connected to wifi.

Lastly, to any of my friends reading this who downloaded WhatsApp just for me and my vagabond ways, it means a lot. Friends for life, WhatsApp for life.

Okay, I’m done, I swear.

What’s your favorite phone chat app? Join the discussion below!

Mom Jeans, or Solo Woman Travel 101.2

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, I’m re-posting this good read on machismo culture and being comfortable in your own skin.

Stacey Venzel

The Mom jeans have traveled across the globe with me, debuting in South America and Europe.  But I don't think this swan cares that my pants are too short and it looks like I have no butt. The Mom jeans have traveled across the globe with me, debuting in South America, Europe and the Caribbean. But I don’t think this swan cares that my pants are too short and make me look like I have no butt.

I am 27 years old and nowhere close to being ready for motherhood, but somewhere along the way, I acquired a pair of Mom jeans. What makes a pair of jeans Mom jeans, you ask? Let me break it down for you.

  • They must be largely unflattering
  • The butt is saggy
  • There’s no hip hugging action
  • They are abhorrently straight-legged
  • They are likely too short (hello exposed ankles)

Now, I’m no fashion guru. I wear what I want when I want, and I rarely buy clothes. Sometimes I’m fashionable, sometimes I’m comfy, and sometimes I look like Sporty Spice shopping for a bag of beans at the grocery store. But…

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