Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not All Who Wander Are Lost


I have been lucky enough to have taken some amazing trips in my adult life, and have come across some incredible people along the way. The need to travel seems to be permanently engrained in me; I don't think I will ever outgrow the desire to see other countries and experience new things. This makes me think that I have chosen the wrong career - one that doesn't pay well enough to support a travel habit, and one that does not require travel as part of a job...but that is another blog in itself. Today's focus is on the places I have been and the places I want to go next.

My first significant travel experience was in 2004, when Stacey and I took spring break to go visit DeLaina in Fairbanks, Alaska. We flew to Seattle and then to Fairbanks, where we spent the week living in the dorms with our younger cousin. We had a great time and saw several important Alaskan sights - specifically Chena hot springs, where we swam in the dead cold in bathtub-hot water, then camped in a frigid cabin with DeLaina and her friends, and the World Championship ice sculptures, where we wandered through the bitter cold in total awe of these enormous ice structures. I remember thinking they were just so amazingly huge and bold, but also very serene. In a word, awesome.

Alaska was my first disastrous flight as well, from Stace getting put on stand by, to experiencing the worst turbulence I have ever experienced...we were both fairly certain that after flying to Alaska and back, we would die on the puddle jump home from Seattle. But it was on this trip to Alaska, while we were getting lot using the city bus, while we were meeting DeLaina's friends, and while we were experiencing a new adventure, that I fell completely in love with the possibility of life away from home. I had unleashed my travel bug, and by the time I was home from my big trip to Alaska, I'd planned ten more trips in my head.

Fast forward a couple more years of college and countless hours of waiting tables for cash shoved into a piggy bank, and I was ready for my next big trip. In December, 2006, my best friend Jenny, her friend Nicole, and I embarked on a 4 week backpacking trip in Australia. This was the opportunity, and the trip, of a lifetime. I had never worked so hard to save money, and we purchased plane tickets that would cross us over the international date line and into another world. It was a grand adventure, and Jenny - who has proven to be the best travel buddy out there - and I had the same plans to do everything and see everything. We were in Australia, when would we ever be here again? Despite talks of going out, bar-hopping and club scenes that had taken place in the months before we left, when it came right down to it, we had no desire to spend money on food or booze, and basically did one big touristy activity every day that wore us out and wiped our wallets clean...we only went out drinking once in the whole 4 weeks, and we were all just fine with that. We did all we could do in Australia. Our flight took us from Portland to LA, then to Brisbane I believe, and a quick flight north to Cairns, where our week in the Australian rainforest began. In Cairns, we had the opportunity to skydive from 14,000 feet onto the beach, with miles of ocean and an eternity of sky around us. Skydiving. It was beautiful, mesmerizing, terrifying, and horrifying all at once, and I still wonder whether or not I have the draw to repeat it. In any case, it was a first time experience worth having, and certainly under such a gorgeous backdrop. Also while in Cairns, we took an all-day snorkeling cruise, where we spent hours getting the shit burnt out of us, along with swimming with the fishes.

At this point in our lives, Jenny and I had no desire to spend money on food, sleep, or travel, so we did these things in the most ghetto, cost-effective way we could - by skipping breakfast, and then eating 1/2 of a Subway foot-long sandwich each for lunch and dinner. $5 for food per day isn't really something you can beat...besides, we stayed in some hostels with bathrooms so nasty, you'd prefer to skip a meal than have to pee there. To get from Cairns to our next destination on the Gold Coast, we took the train. For about 16 hours. Just long enough to watch a lady beat her daughter with a brush. Awesome. We stayed in another condo in Gold Coast, where we ventured to the Steve Irwin Zoo and got to watch a crocodile feeding, feed an elephant, and hold a koala bear. All very cool. This is also where we spent the one rainy day of the trip, where we watched TV in the condo and did some shopping. We celebrated Christmas together here, exchanged local gifts, and then spent a horrible day/night in the train station before sleeping on the bench in the entrance of the local police station...all while waiting for our bus from here to Sydney at 6am the next morning.

Sydney was a whole other vacation. We went from mostly mellow times with a few adventures to back-to-back tourist fun all day every day. We toured the Sydney Opera House and fell so in love that we bought tickets to a show the next night and saw an Italian opera there. We watched New Years Eve fireworks in the park over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And then we climbed the bridge at 6am one morning. We went to another Zoo, drank Absinthe (illegal in the US at the time), stayed at a vineyard, got massages, and enjoyed a fancy meal with our in-case-of-emergency-call-this-guy person. You'd never think you would need the phone number to your friend's mom's doctor's sister's uncle...but we did! We were stranded over New Years and we had to call this person - a total stranger - to please pick us up, let us crash out on your front porch, take us to the train in the morning. It ended up being one of the most fun parts of the trip! We got to see a part of Sydney we would not have otherwise seen, took a hike, and learned what a $45 cocktail tasted like. So fun!

Being in Australia with my best friend for a month further proved that I was a jet-setter, that I wanted nothing more than to see everything there was. Jenny and I would sit at our favorite Chinese food place and map out dream destinations, make plans to save money and go somewhere else, anywhere else. We just needed to be on the go!

Following our long, expensive, exhausting, life-changing trip to Australia, Jenny and I, and another one of her friends (this one much shittier than Nicole, lol) took off for just shy of 2 weeks to hit the east coast. We weren't ready to dole out the cash for another out-of-America trip just yet, but we had the itch and had to go somewhere. At this point, I was working for the Hilton, so we were able to book awesome rooms at super cheap employee rates, which only fell through once (I had actually quit my job just before we left, and one hotel called my boss to confirm employment...damn her). For this trip, we flew into Baltimore to visit Washington DC, which was one of the coolest places I've been. It is a place so full if history and things to learn, see and experience. We went to Arlington National Cemetery where we watched the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was jaw-dropping to see, visited all of the memorials, walked by the White House, shopped, dined, just took it all in. We spent Halloween in DC, which was a night to never forget. People there go crazy for Halloween...and so did we.

After a few days in DC, we rented a car and drove through all those baby states from there to Boston, where we stayed for a mere 2 days - long enough to check out a couple local pubs and leave Jenny's friend with her grandparents before returning the rental and hopping on a bus to New York City! Jenny and I had a blast in NYC...we met up with 2 of my friends there, so it was a 4some for the long weekend We played in FAO Schwartz, ate at food carts, shopped, got tattoos, took a carriage ride and went ice skating in Central Park, and sucked up all that NYC had to experience. I loved it there. I don't think I'd live there, but I could definitely vacation there again; it was just so busy!

I have also been fortunate enough to have traveled some with my job at Old Chicago. I became part of the training team for the sole purpose of traveling, and on the 2 openings I did, I did get to see 2 pretty decent spots - Albany, New York (which, in all honesty, I hated) and Oklahoma City, which I really surprisingly loved. What I hated about Albany was more work-related drama, but that made it hard to get out and have fun. I don't really even remember much of it, other than the inside of the worst Old Chicago opening to ever take place. Oklahoma though, that was another story. I took my day off to tour the bombing memorial, which I thought was really beautiful and well done, and spent the majority of the rest of my days...well, inside a Best Western or an Old Chicago. But I met a lot of really cool people, and by being part of an opening, we got to spend a lot of time in Denver with the other trainers, specifically over New Years. In Denver (my favorite place in the United States), I have seen two NFL football games, my favorite bar, a great Zoo, and some of the best parties I've ever been to.
There was also the Christmas I took my brother to Dallas, TX for a Cowboys-Giants game, where we learned that everything...malls, burgers, beers, and airports...really are bigger in Texas. And a million times I have been able to go to Phoenix. And my recent 30th birthday in Las Vegas after going for the 1st time last Labor Day on...well technically on a 3rd date with a guy, lol. Jenny and I have driven to Boise to go on a camping trip and hang out with girlfriends. My friend Brittany and I once drove to Denver on almost a total whim...and that turned out to be one of the best trips of my life. I just love to go places. By car, plane, boat, helicopter, I don't care.
There is something about planning a vacation that makes me truly happy. It gives me something to focus on, a monetary goal, a timeline to time off, and something to look forward to. I love being able to even take a 3 day weekend down to visit Jenny in Phoenix, or even solo weekends to the beach. I just love being away from home, away from the daily grind. I suppose this has morphed a bit into my desire to have a career that requires me to travel, but that is what I want. I want to go places, I want my office to be a laptop, not a chair bolted to the floor. Maybe I'll stop pinning dream destinations to Pinterest and find that job one of these never know what the future holds, but I can assure you, mine holds a lot more of the world that I cannot wait to get out and experience.
Jenny and me at the Washington Zoo in DC

14,000 feet of pure, life-flashing-before-your-eyes fun!

Not fluffy. Stinky.

Nicole, me, our new friend Luke, and our instructors

Bridge Climb. One of my favorite parts of the trip