Tag Archives: travel

This Is My Greatest Accomplishment, and It Might Be Yours, Too

Earlier in the week, I came across a list of questions on the Internet intended to engage two people in meaningful conversation. The questions are deep, thought-provoking, probing, and personal.

I tried to think of my answers as I went through the list, but one stuck out at me:

“What is your greatest accomplishment?”

I’ve been reflecting a great deal on my most recent accomplishment–becoming a published author. My initial thought was to answer with that.

But then I thought of all the solo female travel I’ve done. Maybe independent travel is my biggest accomplishment.

Yet I couldn’t choose between the two.

So I dug deeper.

I remembered the many hardships I went through to write my book, many of which are outlined in its preface. And then I remembered how I fought through a knot in my stomach each time I set off on a solo excursion abroad.

And then I remembered what it was like to go to my first professional acting audition, to send in my first freelance writing query, to get my first official rejection. But beyond that, I remembered pushing through the rejections, time and again, to follow my passions, my dreams.

In all of my accomplishments, I’ve never been fearless. But I have stared fear in the face and persevered. Courageous people aren’t fearless people; they are the ones who are scared to death but go head to head against their fears anyway.

My greatest accomplishment? It’s believing in myself.

On the days when writing a 254-page book seemed a daunting task, I never doubted that I could and would do it. All the times that I hugged my backpack to my chest on sketchy bus rides, homesickness creeping in, I still trusted in my instincts and personable nature to embrace the culture I was about to immerse myself in.

Every rejection I received after an audition or writing submission was a challenge to press on.

Believing that I can do whatever I set my mind to is, hands down, my greatest accomplishment.

Think really hard about what you consider your greatest accomplishment to be. If you find that you can’t decide between two, reflect on the journey that led you toward each of these.

I’ll bet you’ll find that believing in yourself is your biggest accomplishment, too.

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.

 

How can we help Haiti from all the way over here?

You never really know the full value of life until you’re left with only the clothes on your back. Once you realize you’re breathing, you’re alive, you begin to rebuild. But how do you rebuild when you have nothing—no home, no possessions, no livelihood?

In “first world” countries, we toss around #firstworldproblems like it’s something to joke about, while the other half of the world is dealing with real #thirdworldproblems. And it’s nothing to joke about.

Hurricane Matthew is about to pummel the U.S. The U.S. has the infrastructure to rebuild. Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake 6 years ago. My Long Island, Bahamas forever-home is so lucky to have been spared the brunt of this storm because it is still recovering from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Joaquin last year. These islands rely on community to rebuild, because too often their needs are overshadowed by the eclipse of #firstworldproblems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I am asking as someone who has lived and worked in third world countries. I am asking as someone who has survived a historic natural disaster. I am asking as someone who loves you and loves strangers and loves this great big world that sometimes seems so small. Please help.

What can you sacrifice this week? Morning lattes? Happy hour? Donate the money saved to one of these reliable non-profit organizations in Haiti that will need to rebuild:

Jacmel Children’s Center: an orphanage for 3-9 year olds

Art Creation Foundation for Children: a program for Haitian students—money will help rebuild their homes

AID International-Faith and Love Orphanage: an orphanage for 0-21 year olds

I tell you from experience, every little bit helps. We are one world. We are all we’ve got. Let’s let our Caribbean brothers and sisters lean on us. My prayers are with anyone in, preparing for, or recovering from this storm. Stay safe.

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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Blessings in Disguise

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make everybody but yourself, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” —E. E. Cummings

The hands we are dealt in life are not always welcome. They can cause physical pain and emotional heartache, close us off to possibilities, discourage our hopes and dreams. But they can also give us perspective, open the door to new opportunities, and shape us into better versions of our younger selves.

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I am a happy person, but my life has not been fueled by rainbows and butterflies. Where I am today is a direct reflection of the independent outlook I have on life and the people and events I’ve mingled with along the way–both good and bad, positive and negative.

Maybe I strive to be an eternal optimist. Maybe it’s my natural intuition to trust my gut over a list of pros and cons. Or maybe it’s my past catching up with my present that’s shaping my future. Whatever the maybe, I don’t regret the challenges, curve balls and surprises that have been thrown my way. Without these blessings in disguise, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.” –Anthon St. Marteen

If I had not been born with both a heart condition and an athlete’s heart, I might have taken my athleticism for granted. I might not have welcomed the challenge of pole vaulting when advised against it. I might have listened to doctors and statistics and never fought the odds. I might not have realized that my heart is both a beating organ in my chest and a synonym for my feelings. So, thank you, dilapidated heart, for teaching me that there are two outcomes to every story.

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If I had not been robbed in Ecuador, I might not have needed to travel into the city alone to visit the doctor to refill the medicine that had been stolen from me. I might not have then had the guts to travel to the coast by myself when my companion’s plans fell through last minute. Without these experiences, I might not have had the confidence in myself to travel solo. So, thank you, Ecuadorian muggers, for pushing me to believe in my capabilities, for sparking a fire for solo female travel in my heart, one that I’m constantly feeding and never plan on letting die out.

If I had not contracted Lyme Disease, I might not have moved to the Florida Keys, expanding my zoological knowledge and acting prowess. I would not have had the opportunity to move to the Bahamas and experience the real island life. So, thank you Lyme Disease, for proving to me the strengths of the human mind to overcome physical pain, for showcasing the adaptability of the human spirit to make and embrace change and growth.

alaska portage pass
Photo by M. Parekh

If I had not dated boyfriends 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, I would not know myself the way I do. I would not understand my wants and needs, and I might find myself settling. I might have believed that you can’t be friends with your ex and that every relationship that ends has to be messy. I might have always been left wondering if we could be great together. So, thank you, ex-boyfriends, for shining a capacity for my own forgiveness, understanding and healing that I might never have known, for encouraging me to love myself before committing to someone else, for letting me know when is the right moment to compromise, for proving to me that the heartache and memories were worth it.

If I hadn’t lived through Hurricane Joaquin, I would not have the tried and true empathy to help my Ecuadorian friends struggling with the aftermath of the devastating April 16 7.8-magnitude earthquake. I would likely not be in Seattle today, merging my passions for animals, acting and writing. So, thank you, Hurricane Joaquin, for giving me perspective I didn’t know I was lacking, for showing me what is important in life, for teaching me what it means to be there for someone, and for guiding me along the lonely and arduous rode to self-fulfillment and happiness.

Every moment in life, the bold and the timid, the fleeting and long-term, the smiling and taxing times, creates our present-day selves. What we do with those moments is up to us. What version of ourselves do we want to be?

Animal Rescue in Texas

Texas–a land whose peaceful, rolling Hill Country encouraged long runs; whose cowboy boots introduced my feet to line dancing; whose karaoke bars allowed me to hone my theatrical skills; whose ticks gave me Lyme Disease; whose animals captured my heart.

I reflect fondly on my Texas adventure despite the many hardships allotted me during my six months shacking up with nearly ten people in a trailer in the Hill Country.

This was my second exposure to the labor-intensive world of animal rescue and rehabilitation, the repetitive long hours and interrupted nights of sleep. Here was my first scorpion sting,  my first encounter with wild snakes mating, my first sheep shearing, my first goat milking, the first time I touched a lion’s paw, the first (and hopefully last) time I butchered a dead horse. Texas was home to the first time I swam in my skivvies (carpe diem, people), the first time I saw a bullet wound (never mess with a Texan and his rifle), my first time driving manual all by myself (it didn’t go well), my first bed and breakfast experience (mmmm… asparagus omelet).

My initial days in Texas began with the unknown, sprouting growth and reflection in my life and career. I’ll never forget the smell of a skunk with distemper, the strength of a cardinal’s beak or the cunning minds behind the masks of raccoons. (Plus, I compiled the above video so that I really won’t ever forget just how cute a kid goat is.)

Appreciating the Ancient Art of Snail Mail

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When you’re down in the dumps and a trip to the mailbox reveals a handwritten letter tucked among the bills, you know your day is looking up to be better than it has been. Whether it’s a holiday greeting, postcard, pen pal or message from the abyss, you surely get a smile on your face. There’s something special about snail mail, comfort in the knowledge that someone took time to use pen and paper, lick a stamp and drop you a line the old fashioned way, in a day and age when cyberspace is at our fingertips.

Prior to my gypsy wanderings, I try to sneak a peek at the numbers on my friends’ mailboxes and jot them down in my travel journal. That way my postcards are a surprise. But sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes I’m sending postcards to people I haven’t seen or thought about in years. A random email or Facebook message asking for their address leaves them wondering and anticipating; their excitement and gratitude in pulling my chicken scratch out of their mailbox a week later is not lessened by the lacking element of surprise. How could it be? They hold in their hand concrete evidence in this seemingly broken world that we’re somehow still connected.

Travel teaches you, reminds you, to make new friends but keep the old. People come and go in our lives. What we make of their entrances and departures is up to us.

When the neighbor girl I babysat moved away during my teenage years, we sent each other a letter every few months for a couple years. Then we grew up and life got in the way.

After a mission trip in Brazil building a school for kids, I sent some of the school children letters once a year for awhile, painstakingly using Google translator to turn my English into Portuguese, including photos recapping my year. Now they’re grown up, not quite children anymore.

Sometimes I write letters to strangers, people who are important to me but don’t even know who I am. For Lent one year, I made a list of 40 organizations that I believe are making a difference in this world. I cut the list into slips of paper and put the pieces in a bowl. Every day for 40 days I pulled an organization out of the bowl and wrote a thank you note. Surprisingly, many of the organizations replied, thanking me. Me, a drop in a sea of people, a stranger just trying to pay it forward. I may have made a difference in their day, maybe even their week, but these groups are making differences in people’s lives.

This Lenten promise humbled me. It spoke volumes of these organizations to send unexpected, personalized responses. It reaffirmed my experience that the little things are as important as the big things.

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I’ve followed the same Lenten promise with friends, family and associates in my life. I’ve inked the names of 40 individuals past and present who have shaped me into the person I am today, and I’ve sent them a scrawling note of my rambling gratitude. Recently, an old college roommate sent me a photo of the pages I’d mailed her. She said she was rifling through old stuff and came across it. We hadn’t talked in years. What a smile that put on my face, hearing from someone out of the blue.

And then I was reminded of the small collection of letters I’ve kept over the years. Some are tucked away in an envelope, a handful are scattered in the nooks and crannies of my car, a few are taped to my mirror, and still others are swimming in my Mary Poppins purse. They are notes I rediscover by happenstance; they are affirmations I seek out when I’m feeling blue; they are tangible memories of the has-beens and reminders of the could-bes.

Snail mail should never be taken for granted. It is one thing I miss when I’m a nomad, a denizen with no address, or a girl in the jungle, on an island, in an exotic locale with limited means of communication. I’m currently decluttering the “stuff” of my life, but my bundle of letters is not something I’m willing to rid my life of.

The next time you set off on a big adventure, blossom with new friendships. But never forget those who have already come and gone; remember those who have made you who you are today.