Tag Archives: traveling

Reflections of a Global Nomad: A Decade, From the Beginning Til Now

I intended to give myself a break from work today. No writing, no researching acting gigs, no scouring the Internet for animal opportunities. But I’m not very good at doing nothing. So I started cleaning.

While sweeping, the broom brushed out a rolled up scratch off map my sister and brother-in-law had given me for Christmas. I’d been putting off hanging the map on my wall because I wanted to be reflective during the time I spent scratching off the countries I’ve visited, the cultures I’ve experienced.

Today, I made time for that. And then, naturally, it inspired me to write so here I am at 9 AM on a rare day off that turned into not a day off because, well, I’m writing.

Writing is like an extension of my being. It’s hard-wired into my soul. I was born a writer; I can’t not write.

And just like writing, I’m a born traveler. The world is literally my stage (and I am literally a vagabond actress gallivanting across it, collecting parasites and scars and countless memories).

My first taste of international travel slammed into my heart 10 years ago when, college freshman year, I went with my roommate and a handful of girls from our floor to her home country in the Dominican Republic.

That original passport has since expired, but I was quick to renew it six months prior to the expiration date. I had no set travel plans, but when you’re a nomad at heart–well, you never know.

Today, I continued researching flights for my next international excursion, and I couldn’t help looking at Panama on my map anticipating using a penny to scratch it off. One of my flight options routes me through a layover in El Salvador, and I thought, okay, so I stay a little longer and see El Salvador.

But I don’t want to just see a country. I don’t want to just visit. I want to immerse myself. I want to jump head first into the unknown. I want to get lost and trust my gut and the kindness of strangers to help me find my way. I want to eat foreign foods and struggle to explain veganism to a waiter that can’t fathom it. I want to sleep on lumpy beds fending off cockroaches and humidity that make me toss and turn. I want to hitch hike and swim in new waters. I want to hear laughter and see smiles in a land that is so different from my own, full of people that are simultaneously unique and just the same as me.

As the years have passed and turning 30 looms closer, I had this little checklist in my brain, pushing me to hit 30 countries before I’m 30, so that I could feel like I knew a good chunk of this world. But I’ve stopped counting countries.

When I look at a map and see the big countries I’ve embraced, like Brazil, and then itty bitty ants of a country, like Luxembourg, they are of equal significance to me.

When I scratched off Brazil on my map, I remembered my first trip to the Amazon, something I’d dreamed of since childhood. I could see the faces of the children who helped me build their school. I pictured Bruno’s smile as he stole my bright green hat and taught me “Happy Birthday” in Portuguese, which I still sing a decade later. I felt how sore my muscles got mixing cement by hand in 100+ degree heat.

When I scratched off Luxembourg on my map, I remembered getting caught in a rainstorm and taking refuge in an old museum with a new friend I’d made from Australia. I could see the blood moon hovering over the capital city, brighter than I’ve ever seen it before. I remembered turning down an alley and running into a Serbian I’d met in Germany.

As I scratched off each country, my brain was flooded with memories–the good outweighing the bad, and the bad being mere life experiences that I learned from and laughed at–getting robbed in Ecuador, getting stalked in Canada, getting locked out on a third story terrace in Peru. (Oops, didn’t tell my dad about all of those…)

Scratching off my vagabond adventures, my gypsy life, my nomadic wanderings, I reflected on how many lifelong friends I’ve made all across the globe.

I notice the scars on my legs. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach with my inaugural adventure alone in a foreign land. I taste the salty tears dripping into my mouth the first time I set off with a beginning and end but no middle. I see the teenager I was and the woman I’ve become.

And I’m so damn proud of that woman.

She is the woman I’ve always wanted to be but needed to find the courage to become. She is someone who knows herself better than she ever thought she could, who believes in herself, who will try and fail and consider that succeeding. She is someone who knows how to plan and how to be spontaneous, who never stops dreaming and doing and dreaming and doing. She is the type of person who values face to face conversations and snail mail and nostalgia and blasts from the past and out of the blue honesty. She is the woman who loves humanity and this earth and will always do her best to spread love and happiness and the greater good.

Travel made me that woman, the woman I am today.

Looking up at my scratch off map now hanging above my bed, I am humbled. I’ve worked hard to experience so much of this world, yet this map reminds that I’ve still so much to experience. I’ve still so much to do, to learn, to see, to live.

So I’ve stopped counting countries, because I’m the kind of woman who chases meaningful experiences over fleeting moments, who values time over money, and who knows that no matter how small this world sometimes seems, it really is a great big world out there.

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.

15 Things to Do Before Moving Abroad

 

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1. Quit your job.

Kind of a no-brainer here. This can be done by putting in your notice exactly two weeks prior to your departure date, or the moment you decide it is time to move.  I found it easier to go about the moving preparations when I had a lot of free time on my hands.  You will have a busy schedule of things-to-do before you leave, and being tied up at work makes this tricky.

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2. Sell your car.

Word of mouth in a small town might be the easiest way to get your vehicle off your hands.  It allows you some leeway regarding the date you turn over the keys, as you will likely want to have a set of wheels handy right up until the time you leave.  But sometimes there just aren’t enough interested car shoppers if you go this route, in which case an ad online is the next best thing; it’s free and targets a larger audience.

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3. Get rid of your furniture.

A garage sale won’t get you the prices your furniture deserves, so I recommend using an online service to sell your tables, chairs, lamps, sofas, beds, etc. (All hail ye, Craigslist.)

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4. Cancel your cell phone service.

Unfortunately, most data providers require a cancellation fee if you are terminating your plan.  However, if you are going to be abroad for more than a few months, it is worthwhile to cancel your plan.  You will save money in the long run.  Instead of wasting money on international rates, purchase a local phone once you arrive at your destination. (Contracted plans take advantage of the customer; a pay-as-you-go works great even in the States. You can get a $20 touch screen phone at any gas station or convenience store—trust me, they’re there—with the same perks as a contracted plan, but cheaper.) Save your iPhone!  Refer to #13 to find out why.

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5. Thin out your closet.

This is a must-do for both males and females.  Go through your clothes, shoes, and accessories.  Give away the sweaters hanging in the back of your closet that you forgot about, the shoes you’ve only worn once, and the (man)purses you could do without.  Offer your clothes to same-size friends, take them into work and put them in the break room for people to go through, or donate to a local charity.

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6. Do away with all the tchotchkes, knickknacks and junk.

It would be nice to rope in a little extra cash selling all that “stuff” we accumulate, and one person’s junk can always be another person’s treasure.  However, using the internet to sell anything that isn’t technically useful is generally a waste of time.  The hassle of setting up a time for someone to come look at or pick up an item being sold for under $30 typically isn’t worth it.  If you want to make any sort of buck off the little things, a garage sale is the way to go.  Keep in mind it is time consuming and often only brings in a couple hundred dollars.  I was happier biting the bullet and gave away most of my small stuff to friends (give them something to remember you by!) or charities.

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7. Get rid of your kitchenware.

Figure out what you are going to take with you abroad, what you are going to sell, and whether or not you really need 15 plastic cups.  If dinnerware and silverware do not have some sentimental value to you, it might be more cost-effective to buy replacements when you get to your new home instead of lugging these with you.  Cut down on the number of pots and pans you take with you.  Ask yourself what you can do without.  Can you use a fork to mash potatoes instead of a beater?  Does the cookie jar really have to make the trip?  (It’s never filled with cookies anyway.)  Tupperware can easily be purchased abroad, and let’s face it, half the containers are probably missing lids. It might be helpful to research the local cuisine in your new stomping grounds as grocery stores differ from country to country in products they sell.

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8. Tell your bank you’re going out of the country.

To protect yourself from having your credit card canceled unexpectedly while you’re abroad, let your bank know you will be traveling internationally.  This can be done through an automated phone service that will ask which countries you intend to visit and your dates of travel.  Most banks also let you do it online, so make sure you’re signed up for online banking.

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9. Request e-mail notifications for important information.

For all of those reminders and alerts that can be sent to your inbox instead of your mailbox, change your notification preferences to email.  I recommend doing this with your bank and any other financial institutions or payment services.

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10. Change your address at the post office.

While you may have signed up for email notifications for most if not everything, you will undoubtedly still receive mail at your last place of address.  I recommend you set up a forwarding address where important paperwork can still be sent and received.  Try asking a relative or a close friend if they would be so kind as to let you use their address, and alert them to what they should set aside, open immediately, or just toss in the trash. You can pick up a “Change of Address” form at the post office, or simply visit their website.  Forwarding of postal mail can be done for up to one year.

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11. Contact your family and close friends.

Make sure the people you care about—and who care about you!—know where you’ll be headed.  Give them your email address to keep in touch.  You never know when you’ll see each other again! It’s a small world after all.

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12. Set up a Skype account.

Make sure you stay connected with people on Skype.  Social media, email, and live chat services have made “keeping in touch” seem like a thing of the past.  It is a good idea to create a Skype account before you go so that they already have contact information for you when you’re saying goodbye.

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13. Download WhatsApp on your iPhone.

WhatsApp is a free mobile texting app.  (Why Americans don’t use it to cut down on the costs in their data plan is beyond me.)  Your iPhone acts as an iPod touch when connected to Internet, so it’s a good idea to keep your old phone in the event that you only purchase a cheap flip phone in your next destination.  You need an active phone number only to get started.  All your texts will be linked to this number, so if you end up using a friend’s phone number like I did for your WhatsApp account, you might get texts from your friend’s friends.  Thus, I recommend you link it with your existing number before cancelling your mobile plan. You can still use WhatsApp linked to that number once the plan is cancelled. Don’t ask me how it works that way; it just does. Or, you can link your WhatsApp to the phone you purchase in your new destination.  If you get a cheap flip phone, as long as it can receive the initial confirmation text code to start your WhatsApp, you’re good to go!

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14. Change or cancel your voter registration.

If you don’t want to be called to jury duty while you’re away, it is important that you take care of this. You can sign up for an Absentee ballot instead.

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15. Throw yourself a farewell party! (I’m really good at this one.)

If someone else doesn’t do it for you, don’t be too shy to gather your friends for one last hoorah before you head out.  You will have a lot of people wanting to “get together before you go,” and it can be time-consuming—not to mention costly—to go out to lunch with everyone before you leave.  So have yourself a big send-off, and encourage people to spread the word just in case you accidentally left anyone out.

What other things need to be done before moving abroad? Leave a comment below!

By Air and Sea: Paragliding in Peru & Spain, Parasailing in Florida

Avid travelers see landscapes by foot, train and bus far more often than by air or sea. But maybe we should rethink that. Scenic boat rides and bird’s eye views really put the world in perspective.

My instructor prepares me for our tandem take-off paragliding in Bilbao, Spain.
My instructor prepares me for our tandem take-off paragliding in Bilbao, Spain.

In Peru this past May, my sister treated me to a birthday paragliding trip over a small mountain range south of Lima. This was my second time paragliding after a peaceful jump of a cliff face in the Bilbao region of Spain back in 2010. Both times were humbling—though my instructor did some acrobatics in Peru that left my stomach turning! In Spain, we paralleled the dynamic line of land and sea, dually unnerving and thrilling knowing you have nothing but the wind preventing you from dropping hundreds of feet into the cold dark waters below. A hawk joined us in flight over Bilbao while a pair of caracaras danced on their wings through the sky in Peru.

For another birthday a couple years ago, my best friend from the Florida Keys and I enjoyed a birthday parasailing trip out of Key West. This was another mix of tranquility and adrenaline rushes as we soared above greens and blues and dropped for quick dips into the chop below.

Parasailing over the Florida Keys is as beautiful as it is fun!
Parasailing over the Florida Keys is as beautiful as it is fun!

All of these experiences offered me a unique look at my surroundings. Completely immersed in nature, I was at one with the birds in the sky, towering over the foreboding ocean and steep, rocky terrain. If you have the opportunity to take in your travels from a different vantage point, I say do it. It’s one thing I’ve never regretted shelling out money for. You’ll undoubtedly test your courage, have some fun and, hopefully, encounter a fleeting, memorable state of nirvana.

It’s Not About Where You Go But What You Do When You Get There

The trip that made me reflect on how I travel was the exploration of my roots in Eastern Europe. Here I am learning about my ancestry in Budapest, Hungary.
The trip that made me reflect on how I travel was the exploration of my roots in Eastern Europe. Here I am learning about my ancestry in Budapest, Hungary.

For years, one goal has been on repeat in the back of my mind, an endless playlist of only one song: 30 under 30. I have had a goal to visit 30 countries by the time I turn 30. That gives me two-and-a-half years from today to hit 11 more foreign locales.

There is one big problem with this objective. It can be a hindrance to my adventures; it has made me want to pack up and move on to the next stop so I can put another mark on my checklist. What I need to do is rip out the earbuds to my internal iPod so I can live in the moment.

Many with a case of the wanderlust might disagree. Isn’t that the very definition of wanderlust, always wanting to be going places, always searching for new things? When has anyone every complained about setting a goal?

Traveling is a time for growth, a time when we get to know ourselves on the inside and out. Since I first stepped foot in an exotic land eight years ago, I’ve learned a great deal about why I travel: I travel for me and no one else.

Of course travel entails viewing impressive landscapes, eating questionable food and making new friends. But for me, the biggest draw of travel is culture. I am on a circuit of the unfamiliar, immersing myself in foreign languages and customs, undiscovered faces and societies. I am uncomfortable, and it isn’t until I achieve a level of comfort that I feel like I can leave a place behind. Travel is about more than just going somewhere; it is about learning and then doing.

I only recently came to the realization that traveling slowly is the right fit for me. I remember when it happened, popping into my head like a swift kick from a horse, snapping me off my conveyor belt and rooting me in the here and now. I was in Hungary, the beginning of a two-week vacation from work, and I was intent on exploring my ancestry. My father is straight up Hungarian while my mother’s side is a mix of the dissolved ethnicities of Yugoslavia and Bohemia. I only had fourteen days and a few hundred bucks to discover where I came from.

Time and a budget constrained me. Though these are not normally welcomed with open arms by the average wayfarer, they made me take pause.

Two weeks, I said aloud sitting on the bed of a hostel in Budapest. Remember your budget, I repeated as I scanned restaurant menus for authentic cuisine. It’s not enough, I heard myself saying while I learned about the war-ravaged history of this forgiving nation on a walking tour. It simply wasn’t enough.

And so instead of cramming the exploration of my ancestry—Hungary, the Czech Republic (ancient Bohemia) and all six present-day countries that make up historic Yugoslavia—into one limited trip, I said, Next time.

See, that’s the thing about wanderlust. There’s always a next time.

I’ve been to Europe three times now. Why can’t I make it once more?

Q+A with Stacey Venzel, Solo Traveler, Zoologist + Writer

I am honored to have been featured on a women’s inspirational website today as one of their “muses.” If you’re not following Be Your Own Muse, you should be! This organization is doing great things for women. Thanks for featuring me, BYOM!

Be Your Own Muse

Stacey reached out to us last month with a lovely stream-of-consciousness piece describing the immense love she has for her sisters. We were truly touched and wanted to know more, and she did not disappoint! Stacey is an Ohio native, but currently living and working in Long Island, Bahamas as a zoologist and freelance writer. On top of that, she is also a solo travel enthusiast and a dedicated vegan with a strong sense of intentionality, self-awareness, and zest for life and adventure, all of which she combines into a riveting reading experience on her personal blog, Stacey Venzel: Just Another Adventure. Stacey’s journey, mindset, and lifestyle are captivating, and she is certainly not afraid to laugh at herself when she finds herself a bit lost in translation along the way! 

THE BASICS

  • Age: 27
  • Location: Long Island, Bahamas
  • Education: BA in Zoology, minors in English + Environmental Studies from Ohio…

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Seven Degrees of Separation: How Small This Big World Really Is

My travel destination crossed paths with a buddy and past co-worker from the Florida Keys.  We reunited in Anchorage, spending a day bike riding around the town.  Read more of that in my blog post "Happiness Is..."
My travel destination crossed paths with a buddy and past co-worker from the Florida Keys. We reunited in Anchorage, spending a day bike riding around the town. Read more of that in my blog post “Happiness Is…”

More than seven billion people, seven continents and 196 countries make up our planet, but have you ever noticed how small this breathing sphere of blues and greens really is? The global interconnection is made increasingly more evident with social media these days. When you mix in individuals with a case of the wanderlust, the web of who knows who becomes remarkably uncanny.

While monotonously perusing my Facebook newsfeed one afternoon—as this world’s generation is apt to do—I noticed my college lab partner is friends with a girl I met in the Florida Keys. I attended Ohio Wesleyan University, a private college of less than 2,000 undergrads, in a town skirting the rural areas of Columbus. Not one of the three of us is a Florida native. And yet somehow we were linked. Where did they meet, I wondered. Was our zoological background the common thread? With the amount of internships and conferences aspiring wildlife conservationists attend, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to surmise they’d met somewhere along the way.

Alaska is apparently the place to be as I reunited with yet another Florida Keys friend who was on an Alaskan cruise the same time I was traversing the state.
Alaska is apparently the place to be as I reunited with yet another Florida Keys friend who was on an Alaskan cruise the same time I was traversing the state.

But then there’s the Australian I worked with in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose boyfriend knows a girl I interned with in Texas. Then there’s the face-with-no-name associate from my college days who I ran into on the busy streets of Chicago. I posted a photo on Facebook a couple months ago during my travels in Peru. A British friend and co-worker (also from my Amazon days) commented: Are you in Lima? Because this photo was taken a block from my apartment. I mean, come on world, seriously. My travel buddy now lives in the same neighborhood as my sister halfway across the earth? I find myself repeatedly questioning, Is this for real?

Turns out someone I met on my travels in Ecuador in 2009 now lives in the same neighborhood as my sister in Lima, Peru.  We had a picnic in the park with a handful of locals and ex-pats when we reunited.
Turns out someone I met on my travels in Ecuador in 2009 now lives in the same neighborhood as my sister in Lima, Peru. We had a picnic in the park with a handful of locals and ex-pats when we reunited.

Oh, right, and then there’s the time my family was vacationing in Austria and my sister grabs my arm, shouting incredulously, “Isn’t that your roommate’s boyfriend?” Indeed it was, meters ahead of me, ice skating in Salzburg on his own family vacation.

Moments, connections, encounters like these make my head spin, spurn me to say aloud, “What the fuuuuuuuuuh?” You can blink as many times as you want, but you can’t hide from the truth. We’re told the world is a big and scary place when in reality, it’s just a small world after all.

My gradeschool friend was residing in Anchorage at the time of my Alaskan RV road trip, and we spent 4 weeks reliving our spirited youth.
My gradeschool friend was residing in Anchorage at the time of my Alaskan RV road trip, and we spent 4 weeks reliving our spirited youth.