Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ultimate Ticket

This may be a bit sentimental for a travel journal, but I have a sister who is a year younger than me.  After battling cancer for two years and two months, she passed away last night.  As I think about it, I am devastated, because I loved her and I miss her incredibly.

But the other thought that keeps creeping in my mind, is, where is she?  Where did she go?

I've heard that when your time comes, you go to a place called heaven, and you are an angel.  I can guarantee my sister would be the best angel.  She would win over anyone who crossed her path with her charm, interest, and sense of sarcasm.  She is very generous, and loves to shower those around her with gifts, attention, and care.  She is protective.  But where is this place she resides, this heaven?  I guess since no one knows the answer, I can decide for myself.

I image that she is at a resort, with multiple swim up pool bars and all her favorite celebrities are there.  Amy Sedaris, The Fat Bachelor, Carnie Wilson.  They have the same drink list as Cheeseburger in Paradise, and all the Steak n Shake chicken fingers (with honey mustard) one could imagine.  She can smoke a cigarette while floating in her own root beer float pool, and I bet she flew there first class. No, I imagine she took a cruise there, that took a leisurely float around Alaska, the one place she always wanted to see.  And I image there is a perch, made of gold (but she would decorate it with green streamers), where she can stand and watch me, and laugh with me as I take on new adventures in life.

Lucky girl.  I look forward to the day I can fly there first class, and see her again.  At least I know I'll never be afraid when my time comes, because wherever it is that we go, she will be there waiting for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Travel Highs & Lows of 2010

I have already started to think about the travel adventures I am highly anticipating in 2011, the places I am hoping to see and the airline miles I hope to accrue (I realize it's only December but I am already planning!).  But what about 2010?  It was a good travel year.  It deserves some reflection.  I almost made it to my resolution to visit one new place each month (fell short in January, February, and July - shucks!).

What lessons can I learn from my 2010 travels, that I can apply to what's coming in 2011?

1. It's OK to take a risk and embark on a last minute trip, as long as you have the right company by your side.  Over the past year, I learned that traveling with someone can break your ability to tolerate them, or it can enhance the enjoyment you experience together.  I won't name who I did not particularly enjoy my time with, but I truly appreciate how lucky I am to share my time away from home with understanding and loving people.  And, I was blessed to find my travel soul mate "down under."

With the man who owns my travel heart, Ian Groff! Sydney, Australia

2. It's OK to leave some wiggle room.  On any typical trip, I plan, plan, and plan - researching restaurants, events and festivals in the area, and reaching out to acquaintances or friends who have recently visited the place in mind.  But on many of my quick weekend trips over the past year, I left some big chunks of un-planned time, and they turned out to be some of my best memories.  Such as enjoying a bar crawl around New York City and having one of the finest meals imaginable at a restaurant suggested after one too many beverages.  Also, in New Orleans, I had a dinner reservation planned at a top notch restaurant, but plans changed last minute to a more low-key, less known spot called the Green Goddess.  Heaven in a meal, and I have raved about the experience ever since.

Enjoying a drink with Eva and Scott, fellow road warriors I adore! New York City

3. Don't be afraid to try something new.  I would never describe myself as athletic, and I am usually a big, fat scaredy cat when operating outside of my comfort zone.  This past year I shivered and shaked at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Would I do it again, no, but I found a new understanding for my fear of heights.  I tried snorkeling, even though I was worried about my little ear drums, and loved it!  But it doesn't stop there!  With the help of an angelic instructor, and the encouragement of my boyfriend, I learned to snowboard this year.  And I wouldn't trade those solitary moments on the slope, in a deep snowfall, amongst tall pine trees and peaceful winds, for anything.  It was worth what I paid for it - $500 and three weeks later, I still have an aching tailbone!

I may be smiling but I am sweating and shaking under that climb suit! Sydney, Australia

4. Spend the cash, if loved ones are involved.  The two meals I described in #2 were pretty pricey, and worth every penny because I was able to share the delicious food with some amazing people who really make me smile.  But more importantly, my weekend excursion to San Fransisco with my beloved sister really wrecked havoc on my wallet. I believe I walked away with a $1500 tab.  But the memories I have, involving tranny's, sea lions, scary dance moves, scary movies, laughs, tears, chicken nuggets, a bridge, cellulite reducing gel, and sweating head to toe after pushing a wheelchair - are truly priceless.  If doling out the cash really gives you a belly ache, shave money from other items during the year (no more taxi's for me!) and put it in a travel fund.

Enjoying good drinks and good entertainment with new friends. San Fransisco, CA

5. Enjoy a stay-cation!  Some of my best weekends of the year were in Chicago, particularly the weekend when my good friends from Indianapolis came to visit me, and so did a dear friend from Germany.  We had the best time looking at Chicago through the eyes of a tourist, checking out a jeans sale at Union Station, enjoying new restaurants and neighborhoods, dancing our hearts off at a rave or at a nearby 80's late night spot, and laughing or telling stories over a fantastic, home-cooked breakfast, complete with yummy espressos.  But, best of all was watching the sun rise on my balcony and wishing the city a loud "Good Morning!" with my best friend.  Beats any weekend at a beach!

We were dancing hard during my stay-cation! Chicago, IL

6. Appreciate each moment.  Given the year of ups and downs with my sister's health, I learned the most important lesson of all - to appreciate.  You may be on a trip that's not quite going as desired, and you may be a bit hungry, tired, and irritated. But breathe.  You are somewhere new.  Look around you.  You are lucky to be able to travel and enjoy your life, and you have good health which allows you to be active and move, smile and laugh.  Don't take a second of it for granted.  You never know when everything could change and you won't have such lucky opportunities in front of you - so enjoy.

Embarking on new adventures with my beloved sister. San Fransisco, CA

That's all for 2010.  Can't wait to start writing about 2011. :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A More Sophisticated, Experienced Version of Me!

Today my friend Will turned me on to this travel blog.  The guy is a genius!  It seems he has a better travel budget and higher tastes than I do, which makes for dreamy stories about first class lounges, service on fancy airlines, and boutique hotels with excellent restaurant menus.  Definitely worth checking out!

And, he's happy to clue in his followers on any deals he finds on travel or travel gear, which makes him one of my new best friends!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Like most well-seasoned travelers I know, when traveling for personal purposes, I always find myself staying at the hotels I frequent for business purposes, in order to best utilize my points!  Usually, that keeps us road warriors in the big-names like Hilton, Starwood, or Marriott.  We are chained to these brands and the benefits they provide us, which is actually quite smart on their part!  But the world of the big brands is about to be shaken...

Stash Boutique Hotel Rewards Points has launched!  It's a new program started by a former Expedia executive, who had the balls (excuse me) to bring the boutiques and small hotels together to form a union, of sorts.  Most of the hotels signing up are chic, or historic, all of them providing a much more unique experience.  The program is simple and rewarding.  You earn one free night per five stays and there are no blackout dates!

Want more details? Check out the link below. And if I can lend any well-seasoned advice, hurry up and sign up for it - you could win 100,000 points just for joining!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dining for Kings and Queens... Or Goddesses!

There is no doubt when it comes to my love for food.  I live for it, pay a lot for it, and, travel for it.  Whenever I go to a new place, I always spend an hour or two researching the restaurants in the area.  On my Halloween trip to New Orleans, I did the same, and found a few recommendations that I thought sounded like a sweet treat.  But thank goodness I had the tact to listen to my best friend and our guide, the artistic and kind hearted Jamie Jo Frederick, or I would have never discovered the Green Goddess.

The Green Goddess provided me with one of the most unique and enjoyable dining experiences I have ever had.  From the moment we sat outside in the cool air, and the chef in his purple t-shirt, ruffled hair, and pajama pants introduced us to the menu, I knew this would be more interesting than a usual dinner with friends.  We decided on the tasting menu, a thankful choice, and the dishes kept coming, one after the other, each truly innovative and delicious. Some of my favorites included:

1. Banh Xao.  The perfect combination of sweet crabmeat texture, with fresh avacados and a sprinkling of local sprouts, and a spicy chili Vietnamese sauce.  Each ingredient offered the perfect amount of flavor and I couldn't help but be more and more surprised at how much I liked it, after each bite.  Was definitely the favorite amongst our group.

2. Blue Corn Crepes.  I am not a big mushroom or fungus kind of girl, and at first bite, I thought that this crepe with it's corn fungus and mushroom taste might be too much for me. But as I took more of the crepe with each bite, I began to love the dish. Just the right amount of musty flavor with the light sweetness of the crepe.  Like nothing I have ever tried.

3. Pumpkin risotto.  A perfect comfort dish for fall.  The pumpkin was not overpowered by the butternut squash, but it was cooked perfectly and warmed my taste buds.  Delectable.

I must also confessed that, as a Midwest, meat and potatoes girl, I loved the soup (cream of garlic, celery root, parsnips, and arugula), even though the combination of vegetables is not something I would usually dare to try.  And the coffee was outstanding.  What kind of magic do you put in the coffee?!

The Green Goddess is the perfect combination of relaxing atmosphere, good people passionate about their creations, delicious food, innovation, and reasonable prices.  Skip the high-class, famous seafood restaurants in the Quarter and try something truly unique, if you can find it down the small alley where it resides...

In their own terms, "To some people our menu probably reads like a fever dream: loaded with exotic terms and unfamiliar foods from almost every corner of the planet.  Even classic ingredients from Louisiana meet unusual flourishes, as when our crawfish cakes hook up with Spanish romesco sauce, crushed avocado and wasabi tobikko caviar.  To us in the kitchen of The Green Goddess, we simply want you to come along for the ride.  We’ve spent years exploring how to make everything under the stars, and we can hardly wait to share our favorites with our guests."

I could not agree more!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Girl Who Learned to Snorkel

"Help! Help!"

I barely heard the yelps from under the warm, choppy waves, but I knew I heard something. My head popped up, and even in my foggy snorkeling goggles, I could see Ian. He had drifted about thirty feet behind me since the last time we checked in, and he was bobbing up and down, flailing his arms, signaling the boat about sixty feet behind us.

Well, here goes nothing, I thought. I'm a terrible swimmer. Ever since I started experiencing excruciating ear infections every time I jumped in a pool (or shower), I stopped learning. But I was now throwing my arms into the warm, kicking as hard as I could, fighting the waves pushing me further from my drowning friend.

I reached Ian, and he looked terrified with his flushed face and diluted, bloodshot eyes. I tried to extend the end of my noodle, but in all his fear, he grabbed a hold of me and started pushing me under, trying desperately to keep himself afloat. In my head, I was screaming, No Ian! No Ian! But with the snorkel in my mouth, and the water rushing around me, I couldn't make a sound. Ian's adrenaline had kicked in and all his strength was keeping me below.

Finally, an instructor reached us, and hooked Ian around the life saver, pulling him from his grasp on me and back to the boat. I paused in the water, pulling out my snorkel and gasping with words of comfort, "Ian you're ok! You're ok now!" He couldn't speak between his deep gulps of air and his white knuckled grip on the life saver.

It was only an hour earlier that I was anxious, pulling on my wet suit, shoving little tubes of Styrofoam into my ears. The waves looked dangerous and angry. Why was I doing this to myself? I couldn't swim, I hated water, I knew that there was sharp, piercing pain just around the corner if I jumped in...

Ian pushed me right on in, laughing and shrieking with excitement. I cautiously started to paddle, lightly dipping my face into the water. It took quite a lot of kicking, and struggling against the waves, until I finally saw the first coral ridge. And then... it felt like the angry waves parted so I could drift along the calm seas, breathe coming easy so I could see the wonder below.

I felt like the Little Mermaid, bobbing with my blonde hair curling around me in the ocean water. Fish came up and graced my arms, swam almost between my fingers. The coral was the most beautiful shades of gold, orange, and red, the seaweed waved back and forth welcoming me to this beautiful new world. I saw a giant clam open to reveal a beautiful, soft, iridescent padding and I gasped at it's beauty.

Wait, I thought, panicking for a second. The boat! And Ian!

I pulled myself up out of this mysteriously beautiful world. Looked to my left, to my right, and there was Ian, awkwardly bobbing and adjusting his snorkel, spitting salt water like one of those stone cherubs in Italy. Relieved, I dipped my head back under.

A swarm of beautiful, small, yellow and black fish swam under me. I dove under, disregarding the pressure on my ears, and followed them. They swam slow against the current, and I was able to keep up. I'm not sure how much time had passed, as I swam along, daydreaming and smiling. The water felt amazing as I pushed it away from my arms, and I felt free, weightless. How had I missed this for so long?

That was when I heard the slight, muffled yelps from underneath. What could that be?

Ian and I had been friends for awhile. So far on our Australian excursion, he had been the adventurous one. On the top of the Sydney bridge, I was shaking, hyperventilating, crouched to the steal stairs and squeezing my eyes tight as can be.

He was the one who suggested ziplining, as I was content spending an hour in the massage chair. And here I was swimming like a little fish, while Ian was flailing and scared for life.

That's just how the Great Barrier Reef can change you...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Crock Pots and Rooftops: The Perfect Combination

I must quickly mention that upon stumbling upon this blog, I feel like I've found the holy grail...

Cooking around a huddled kitchen, sharing food and drink on rooftops? Yes please! I will be spending a great deal of time perusing these posts...

New York City: No Touristy Stuff

I recently shared my first visit to New York City with a new travel partner in my life, Scott. His directions about what I could and could not plan were very clear: "No touristy stuff." So I tried to sneak it in where I could... "Oh, you're hungry this late at night? Let's check out the street vendors in Times Square..." "Oh, your friends are at the Natural Museum of History? Let's meet them and walk through Central Park on the way..."

But I have to say, in the end, he was right. For the most significant adventure of the weekend was the day we spent, without any plans, moving from bar to bar, neighborhood to neighborhood, with two of our dear New Yorkers.

We started off at Lombardi's. The margherita pizza was pretty good, cheesy and thin crust and true to Napoli tomato sauce. Then we visited the oldest bar in Little Italy, adorned with sharks and weathered photos of patrons, drinking beers around a barrel... traveled through an Italian festival with canoli's and large, hairy Italian men... on to a cigar bar... wondering around the streets searching for perfume, frustrated with our google maps... marveling at small lockets and well woven scarves along the way... stopped to view a little bit of football... arriving at a dive in Greenwich Village where we met a friendly but diverse group... kicked out of a fine leather store and searching far and wide for the glassiest evil eye... finally ending up at the most lovely Italian dinner I have ever had.

You can see we left few casualties behind...

Fried zucchini flowers? Who knew you could eat such a thing? And after bottles of red wine, espresso, sambuki, tiramasu and lots of laughter... we found ourselves huddled around chalkboard tables, once again, enjoying some beer.

What did I learn about New York City? I learned that you understand more about the people who live there by talking to the waitors and hearing their stories, and poking around in dive bars and hustling through crowded festivals. I learned the food, language, and conversation varies by neighborhood but all seem to be binded together through pride of where they come from and pride for where they are.

I think Scott was right. Going forward, my new mantra is going to be, "No touristy stuff..."

But may I mention that I did really like Times Square and Central Park?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Finding my Niche

I've recently read that the key to being a successful travel writer, is to find your niche. I've been advised that one of the best ways to discover your small pot of gold for writing content is to consider the activities you always engage in, no matter where you travel. Well, I have three, and I'm happy to take your vote!

1. Visit the local market. I am a huge advocate of walking around a city and getting to know the streets, but I also believe the market is one of the best ways to get a quick overview on a country or city's culture. You see the local specialties, and you can converse with the locals who put their sweat, blood, and tears into their home. The people watching is usually fantastic (you'll see I'm a big people watcher) and you can purchase small momentos for family and friends at very reasonable prices.

This is a photo of the fish market in Tokyo. I remember my friend Ali and I woke up before dawn, sleepy eyed, following the men in galoshes from the subway to what looked like a giant warehouse. We were almost run over by zooming carts before we reached the vast variety of fish. It was incredible. From giant tuna (seen here), to bloody eels, I saw an amazing and almost sick display of seafood that I had never had the chance to witness before.

And, related to #3 in this blog entry, the fish market had the most tasty, fresh cut, buttery textured sushi I have ever had in my life. Photo of me next to the menu, extremely puffy eyed and sleepy for a very early morning. But so, so, so worth it!

2. Relax at a beach. The beach is my haven. The sound of the waves, the warmth of the sun, and the peaceful breeze relax me more than hours at a spa ever could. Beach culture always varies from country to country, from the secluded black sand beaches in Mexico to the busy, bustling beaches in Brazil with vendors and unique beach treats.

My favorite beach I found in Brazil, on the island of Ilha Grande. The beach was called Lopes Mendes, and even on a cloudy day, after hiking seven miles to find it, it was breath taking. I think it was the combination of shallow waters over soft, packed sand, gigantic waves, and jungle / rock setting that amazed me. We sat and had a picnic, as it softly rained, and I couldn't even be sad that my chips were soggy. I even jumped in the water, shivering and shaking in the cold winds. It was beautiful.

3. Enjoy a meal. I am a huge fan of food. Usually I go for simple dishes, with lots of seafood, and I love to try local specialties. But, I am also amazed at how a favorite dish of mine in the states can take on a life of it's own with some local spices and love from a local chef.

One of my favorite meals was discovered in Brazil, also in Ilha Grande. The first time the steaming black pot of fish, coconut milk, spices, and rice was placed in front of me, I knew it was love at first site. I believe I ordered the meal three times in a week, each time slurping up every last drop and rolling myself down the small dirt roads home. (In the photo is my travel companion, Cesar, who couldn't touch the stuff!) I dream of one day finding a man who can make this for me here in the midwest, but it's unique blend is almost impossible to recreate without the knowledge of skilled island chefs.

So what will it be... Will I write about the markets I venture into, and the food and crafts I find there? Will I write about the peaceful beaches I find all over the world? Or, will I recount each and every meal, making others salivate over the delicious details?

Can I choose all three?

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Road Warrior Soulmate... Retires

Today is a sad day in my world of planes and miles. Karissa, my road warrior soulmate, has decided to trade in her wings and instead create a new home for herself with her fiance and her puppy in the city of Chicago.

Karissa - I wish you all the best my love. My life on the road will not be the same, but I could not be happier for you! XO

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Know Just Enough to be Dangerous...

Friends, family, and followers,

I have decided it is time to focus on my travel writing. I aim to improve, seek, and learn in order to better entertain you and enable my dreams of having my own show on the Travel Channel.... Better watch out now!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

To Travel, or Not To Travel...

On July 31st, I had my four year anniversary with my company. It seems almost amazing to me that I have been working and traveling for the same corporation, for such a significant chunk of time. These four years took me from a new, naive twenty something, or an experienced, later twenty something in the business world...

But in the last few months, work has become increasingly stressful. I find myself feeling hopeless and itchy inside the same blue walls without windows, with the same stupid laptop in front of me. My travel soulmate (Karissa) and I chat online all day (love technology) about how we are tired, miserable, want coffee, and want a nap. Our coworkers make us dizzy and confused, and we don't feel motivated to do anything.

My company offers a flexible leave program, where one can take three months off work, unpaid, and return to their job afterwards. The program is meant to compensate for long hours, stressful coworkers, and drain that comes with the job. But it is becoming more and more attractive every day.

I am considering taking this option in January or February 2011, pending some family arrangements. If I were to take it, here is what I would do:

1. Spend the first month sleeping, relaxing, drinking, and cuddling. I think I'd spend the first month traveling from beach to beach. Here are some photos of what I'm imagining:

Bora Bora

Florida Keys

Kauai, Hawaii

Mal Pais, Costa Rica

2. Spend the second month in Asia, visiting my favorite city in the world (Tokyo), and visit bustling new cities like Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Hanoi.

3. Spend the last month in Europe, visiting Spain (sangria and art and dancing and tapas), wine tasting in Portugal, and prosecco tasting in Italy.

It's now a matter of saving all my money, convincing my Karissa, and staying alive for the next few stressful months...

It's Not How Long It Takes, It's Who's Taking You - Marilyn

There are several beautiful beaches and relaxing small towns to visit in California. My heart belongs to one, San Diego, and more importantly, to the Hotel Del Coronado.

A few years back, I spent a few days nursing a friend back to life after a very traumatic event that happened in her relationship, and as she is also a Marilyn fan, we spent those few days consuming several bottles of Marilyn Merlot while watching all of her old movies.

And so I fell in love with Some Like It Hot, where clever banter leads to an amusing romance in a beautiful hotel, the Hotel Del Coronado, located on San Diego's beach.

For my 26th birthday, I decided the only way for me to celebrate would be to visit this iconic hotel. As none of my friends had the time or money to visit with me, I invited a sweet gentleman who I was dating, and he was happy to escort me!

I felt like Marilyn, walking into the hotel, with its large wooden lobby and old fashioned elevators. I spent some time walking on the beach, looking out at where crowds of locals once stood to watch Marilyn film her scenes.

I thought about my parents, who had actually visited the hotel on multiple occassions, one of their favorite date spots. It was a beautiful hotel. We were hoping to watch the sun set while having dinner on the patio, but it was a bit chilly and I actually became ill from the dinner!

I look forward to going back again one day. I'd like to have dinner on the patio again and then enjoy drinks in the parlor. I'm going to start my own piggy bank dedicated to renting one of the private villas on the beach with my loved ones, perhaps watching Some Like It Hot on the beach where it began!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Since seeing the love of my life, Anthony Bourdain, head to Singapore in an episode of No Reservations, I have been dying to visit this unique and bustling city.

As eating is one of my favorite hobbies of all time, and I love Asian cuisine, I thought Singapore could be my heaven, as it has a unique and delicious fushion cuisine of Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Western influences. In watching the episode, I drool over the Bak Chor Mee noodle dish with shrimp, fish balls, and pork (although I think I'll skip the Indian specialty Haji Kadir, a dish of bright red dyed meat and bone marrow).

I even purchased a travel guide on the small country so I could study up and start to plan my adventures there.

Then I received an email about the brand new Marina Bay Sands Resort, and considering how much I love to lounge and relax in a beautiful pool, and lay eyes on a great view of a new city... I think my Singapore visit just rose to the top on my priority list!

What a resort! Now the most expensive resort ever built, it includes an indoor canal, opulent art, casino, outdoor plaza, convention centre, theatre, crystal pavilion and museum shaped like a lotus flower. I probably won't visit any of the other ammenities, maybe the casino, but I can already picture myself lounging in the 55 story-high infinity pool, some exotic drink in hand:

At about $600 a night, it's some expensive lounging. But I think I'll start saving now. Surely I already have a couple hundred in change lying around my apartment.

Singapore, here I come! Who's coming with me?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cheers to the Travel Gods

A few weeks ago, my coworkers and I arrived at our regional airport to prepare for our flight back to Chicago. We were about an hour from takeoff as we strolled through security and collected our belongings. We were pondering the usual question, "Drinkie? Or no drinkie?", when we heard our names over the loudspeaker.

My immediate assumption was, "Uggghhhhhh....", that our flight had been cancelled. When we arrived at the gate to inquire, the attendant explained that there was a jet that had been parked at the airport since early that morning, waiting for a part. And now, the part had arrived and been replaced in the jet, and it was ready to head back to Chicago. She asked if we would like to board it, which would give us an earlier arrival in our home city.

Of course!

We boarded, making fun of each other as always, and our mouths dropped upon passing through the door. The plane was not a regional jet - it was your normal, two seats on each side, two or more bathrooms, first class, jet! Since there were only nine of us, and nine seats in first class.... We chose the more plush seating with great views of the cockpit!

The flight attendants explained that they had been stuck at the airport all day, and as they presented us with margaritas (which were quite good) and bags of trail mix, we laughed at their stories and understood their desire to head home. We learned a great deal about the attendants, what their life is like, as they relaxed and chatted with the nine of us in first class. I felt relaxed and happy after my three margaritas, amazed at my good luck after three years of flying on such tiny, cramped little planes.

Thank you travel gods for one relaxing, enjoyable flight!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Too Young to be Platinum

A few weeks ago, I arrived at XNA to fly home with my usual airline, at the usual check in time, with the same luggage, ID, and demeanor. I didn't recognize the woman who was behind the counter, and she informed me that she was the regional manager visiting the airport for the day. Since the airport is so small, it is sometimes tricky to get help, so she was happy to check me in. I handed her my ID, she looked me up, and gave me a worried look.

"Oh honey, you are much too young to be platinum."

I looked at her, and said, "26?" And she gave me a slight smile.

So, this made me start to think. Am I really too young to be a road warrior? I look at my friends who are at home, with their boyfriends or husbands, their beds, their routine, on a daily basis. They have fresh groceries and pets, happy hours and tv nights. I imagine I'll have that one day. But truthfully, if it wasn't for the long commutes by plane, the grueling hours at work, and the road warrior life, I wouldn't have found my passion for travel. Japan, Brazil, Australia, would still all be dreams. Being a "road warrior" funds my passion and the adventures I'm lucky to have.

The woman said to me, "Do you ever get tired of the travel?" And I thought for a moment. I thought about the miles and the hotel points, the wonderful people I've met who have truly become a part of me, the experiences I've had that all my friends are jealous of, and I smiled.

"No. I'm just waiting for the day the travel life gets sick of me!"

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Inspiration

I recently took my sister to San Francisco for her birthday. Because her chest is almost completely consumed with Hodgkin's lymphoma tumors, she needs to rest a lot during the day, and when forced to be active, usually begins to cough, sweat, and wear out very quickly. Therefore, we spent a lot of time together in our wonderful W hotel room. She has been telling me how depressed, and helpless, she feels that she is at a point where she isn't even well enough to enjoy her life.

After I encouraged her not to give up, I left to purchase something for her, and upon my return, found her fixated on the television. And we met Ami Ankileweitz.

Ami was being featured in National Geographic's Extraordinary Humans, and the specific episode was covering individuals who suffer from extreme muscle deterioration. Ami has Spinal Muscle Atrophy, a condition that has caused his muscles to wither away. Looking at him is heartbreaking, as he is nothing but skin and bones and wide, curious eyes. We watched with bated breath as the doctor's discussed his condition, and his will to live past the 6 years that were estimated to him, as he was now 41 years old. He weighs only 39 pounds and isn't capable of any movement below his neck.

Lo and behold - he attributes his will and years of life to his passion and desire to travel.

The discussion quickly turns to whether or not he should be allowed to travel to Thailand, a dream of his since he was 18. His tremendous passion to live and experience new countries has provided hope for him to continue on, and his family struggles with concern that he will stop breathing while abroad as the muscles in his chest have almost entirely deteriorated.

I almost stopped breathing myself, captivated by his story. Here was a man who looked sick, couldn't move, could barely communicate, yet did not lose touch with his dream to travel the world. The episode ended before the conclusion on whether or not he went to Thailand, but I don't think I will ever forget him. I hope with all my heart he made it, and I imagine I will be thinking of him one day when I walk Thailand's streets myself.

For information on the National Geographic episode:

For more information on Ami:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Packing Fails

Every year, without fail, I forget to pack something green to wear on St. Patrick's Day. Last year I borrowed a green sweater from one of my coworkers, but this year, I ended up in pink and black with little blue and black bruises (from all the pinching that occurred).
Which made me reminisce about all the other packing fails I've experienced (or heard of), such as:

1. Underwear. I usually don't mind so much if I forget it because I love shopping for it. Bonus enjoyment if it occurs during the Victoria Secret Semi Annual sale. Extra, high roller bonus if you're in a city without a car that only has a La Perla in walking distance!

2. Heels (client was not happy to see me in a skirt and Uggs all day). I was in the middle of Virginia where there was only one department store (and it was closed for rennovations), so I had to borrow a pair from a coworker, one size too big, and stuffed kleenex in the toe so they fit!

3. Makeup. Who looked like a puff fish all week?

4. Airplane pillow. When I forget my airplane pillow, I am a wreck, because it means I will not be comfortable sleeping on my flight. And I cannot stay awake. So forgetting my airplane pillow = most miserable 1.75 hours of my life.

5. iPod. I can fly without it, but not workout. Therefore, if I forget it, I can pretty much chalk up the week to eating way too many calories and drinking way too much, because that's what I'll do with the hour I was supposed to spend at the gym! Or, I'll go the gym, and walk around aimlessly. Either way, it's bad for my waistline.

Who am I kidding? I am miserable at working out during the week... But I am good at eating and drinking...

6. Tights. Which would be terrible in the winter, especially when you packed only 4 blouses for 4 days, 1 blouse only goes with 1 skirt, and now you will freeze to death because it's 30 degrees in the office! My friend Brie told me that if she packs a pair with a hole, and she has to "perform some mcguiver surgery in the hotel room."

7. Socks. Holla at the barefoot girl in tennis shoes, with blisters, leaving the gym.

8. Umbrella. I have countless stories of forgetting it, and looking like a drenched rat at a meeting because I had to walk 20 minutes in the pouring rain from my parking space. But on the upside, I have curly hair so it's not so terrible if it gets wet. However, wet hose, shoes, and pant hems are miserable in air conditioned buildings. 

But let me tell you... I have not forgotten underwear, an umbrella, or tights in a long time. I guess even the best of us can learn right?

My Travel Family: Ryan

I have been stopping by Ryan's stomping ground (aka the bar O'Laughlin's at XNA) for about three years.

But it was probably earlier this year when I was traveling to and from Arkansas alone that we became close. I found refuge sitting at his bar stool, listening to his dirty jokes, funny stories, and women troubles. I learned to see through his tall tales (like about how a shark apparantly bit him in the leg), appreciate his recent eBay purchases (including a Rocky Horror Picture Show costume), and admire the sensible passion he has for fixing up old cars (except for the time I saw him sitting in a car, in the pouring rain, that did not have a roof).

He is far from your usual man. In fact, the first discussion we ever had was about a pie he had just made, and how much he enjoyed baking pies.

Ryan is someone who makes you feel immediately comfortable, happy, and at home. He pours a pretty good vodka soda, and more importantly, he is such a joy and so much fun. I just wish he would bring his weiner (aka dog) into the bar more often! He was specifically a good friend during the difficult days of my sister's battle with cancer, when there were no friends around to talk to about her condition. Without fail, he'd always ask about her, with the most caring and understanding expression. And he's happy to walk back and through security to make sure I get a delivery pizza when I'm starving!

Ryan, you touched my heart. Thanks for all the care you've shown me.

PS You make one sexy Elvis...

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Travel Family: Karissa

Best friends are always fabulous. But combine road warrior and best friend, and I think you've pretty much created a soulmate. That's how I feel about Karissa, a very important person in my travel family!

Karissa and I started our friendship on the road, and have it taken it to many different locations besides our home-away-from-home in Arkansas. We've taken it to:

Santa Monica, California

Sonoma County, California

Denver, Colorado

 (We were unfortunately having too much fun to take photos...)

...and plan on taking it to many more exotic places (Spain, to name one). I've said before that it's the people that travel with you who really get to know you, from how patient you are to how nice you are to strangers to how well you can make the best of any messy travel snafu. They know what you love and what you hate, who you flirt with and who you avoid. No matter how much your personal friends may love you and try to know you, they will never know you as well as those you travel with.

I am lucky that she is both my traveling partner in crime, and my best friend.

The girl knows my Starbucks drink order. She knows if I'm hungover, I'm gonna be a little late to meet her downstairs for work in the morning. She knows she can always pressure me into having a few drinks with her, and she knows that, at times, I can be bossy and gossipy. And I know about the time her bag fell down the escalator and forever slumped to one side, and I know who she hates to sit next to on the plane. But it's nice not having to explain funny situations that happen to me on the road and look at a blank stare... because she was there to experience every moment with me!

Traveling has it's ups and downs. Sometimes you're going to be delayed, or your flight cancelled. Sometimes you'll be on vacation and catch the flu. Sometimes a boy broke your heart and you are stuck in a city without your friends and your bed and your ex boyfriend voodoo doll (just kidding). So it's just nice to know that there's someone who can make you laugh through it all.

Furthermore, she travels really well...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lonely Planet? Yes Please!

I apologize for being out of touch. I was on an exciting adventure "down under", investigating unexplored terrains, jumping deep caverns, and wrestling against deadly animals... otherwise known as: I took a nice, long vacation in Australia. And it was amazing. Lots of new writing material!

Ecstatic to be near the ocean...

One of my best discoveries while in Australia actually occurred at the Sydney airport. I was feeling a bit perturbed, because sometime between when I arrived in Australia, and prepared to exit, I lost my Dromamine (an absolute essential for me when suffering through long flights). So, I went in search of a drug store that would carry it. Alas, I did not find my precious drug, but I found something much more interesting...

A Lonely Planet Store!

What is this?! I walked into the store, with it's warm lighting and climbing book shelves of travel books, and my eyes widened. The amount of unique and valuable travel accessories was outstanding. I found a book on Cape Town (my next adventure). I found unbreakable water bottles that included their own filters and displayed beautiful Japanese designs. And I found adorable, biodegradable cloth animals (kangaroos, koalas, and a whale) that adhere to a keychain or purse (bought six). I found a travel sanctuary.

I talked to the young woman behind the counter, and she explained that it was a concept store, the one and only of it's kind. I asked if it was successful, and she smiled and said yes, but there were no announced plans to open more. She asked what I did for a living, and when I lied and told her I was a travel writer (actually I said, "I'm a very well known and successful American travel writer"), she suggested I get in touch with their company and apply to do some writing for them.

I figured I'll see how successful my blogging becomes first.

Travel gurus and junkies, check it out:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Australian Adventure Begins Unexpectedly

I have been very excited about my trip to Australia, and I had all kinds of adventures planned: climbing the Sydney Bridge, snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef, wine tasting in the Yara Valley... But I was not expecting to start my adventures so early, at O'Hare International Airport!

When I checked in, the agent couldn't get me a seat on the flight which I was confirmed. Once I traveled through security and made it to my gate, the gate agent assured me I would miss my connection. So she sent me to another gate agent to get me on an earlier flight. That gate agent insisted that she could not get me on the earlier flight, and requested that I call the platinum concierge desk to try to rebook me.

Lesson Learned: always use the rebooking centers. They have more power, patience, and are more helpful, than any gate agent.

However, once I was confirmed on the earlier flight, my bag was still on the later flight, and the same gate agent who wouldn't confirm me, had to put in a baggage change order. I waited thirty minutes while she clicked away on her computer, as she continued to tell me it would be another five minutes until she finished her duties and could help me. I was getting impatient.

Well,  fianlly walked away and luckily found a gate agent willing to stop what she was doing to help. But it was too late. No guarantee my bag would be on the earlier flight. So, he put in an order to pull my bag, and I rebooked for the following day, and traveled downstairs to try to get my bag. But the most ironic part? My bag was never pulled, instead it was on the earlier flight (which I was confirmed on) and was on it's merry way to LAX, without me.

Lesson Learned: the baggage guys are the most overworked, misunderstood people at the airport. They are also the funniest and will put the most amount of effort in to help you. They spent more time trying to help me than any of the gate agents combined.

After two hours waiting for them to pull my bag (and then discovering it was already on a plane to LAX), a long taxi ride home, a bottle of champagne, and a few hours of sleep, my bag is still nowhere to be found. The baggage agents on the phone believes it is on a flight to Sydney. But they can't be sure. The woman on the phone explained to me, "We're American Airlines ma'am, not FedEx. We don't know where your bag is located at all times." Well, maybe you should be.

Lesson Learned: If you can help it, always always carry on. And always keep a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator, just for occassions like this.

Monday, April 5, 2010

How I Caught the Travel Flu

Many people explain the sudden, desperate need to travel as a "bug." But due to the feverish pitch, shakes, and sweats I get after spending too many days at home (home being a relative term between Chicago, Indy, and Arkansas), I would rather refer to it as a flu.

Which makes me wonder - when did I catch this wonderful illness? I believe I must go back to 2000, when I was invited, as a cheerleader for the Cathedral Fighting Irish, to travel to Ireland and perform in the millenium St. Patrick's Day parade. That was enough of an opportunity to make all 4 sufferable years at that school worthwhile.

When I think back to that time in my life, I was awkward, unsure how to find my place in a group of twenty girly girls and their mothers. Perhaps that's why I noticed so much about the country. I remember my fascination with the flower stands on every downtown corner in Dublin. I remember, in a smaller Irish town, seeing a newspaper with the Spice Girls on the front, thinking maybe it wasn't so different than home. I remember the castles and the cliffs and the beer and the green hills and the small twisty roads. I think I can even remember the moment I fell in love.

I believe it was in Dublin, on our tour bus, as I was taking pictures of what I saw in the city. I remember seeing a wedding chapel in a corporate building, and parked beside it was a giant flatbed semi with hundreds of kegs stacked up. And I just thought, what a lovely place. That's when I knew that there were lots of lovely places, places much more lovely than Indianapolis, in my future, to be discovered. All I had to do was find a way to afford my adventures and endure long plane rides to new homefronts.

And here I find myself, in my life, at the place I always knew I was supposed to be. With a comfortable plane pillow and plenty of Dromomine.

Another note about Ireland. As fascinated and bright eyed as I was in the country, I never felt more proud of myself, and where I was from. Lots of teenage boys who encountered us would flirt and fawn and make me feel, at the awkward age of 16, like a supermodel. They had never seen a cheerleader before. And I remember as we walked along Dublin, in our cheerleading uniforms, dancing and cheering to our fight song, all the little kids who had never seen a girl from America, smiling up at us with admiration, and I felt like a celebrity. So really, Ireland was the beginning of a more confident, wordly me. It is a beautiful place.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If Lady Gaga Was on my Plane...

In honor of Gagaloo's birthday...

I often wonder (as I'm sure everyone does) what I would say to Lady Gaga if she sat next to me on a plane. After much thought, I have decided on 10 particular questions I would ask her, and estimated what I think her answer would be:

ES: What items do you never leave behind when you travel?
LG: I always travel with the Haus. I always have one suitcase full of glitter that holds my disco stick. And I keep my lovers in a cage in coach. 

ES: If you could only choose one of the following to wear for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Masks. Hair pieces. Sunglasses.
LG: Choosing one would be like muder. But masks. I cannot live without them.

ES: Can I borrow your disco ball bra from Just Dance?
LG: No my love, but I will give you my disco ball mask from Poker Face...

ES: What is your favorite feature on yourself?
LG: My eyes, so I can see my little monsters.

ES: If you could only choose one gay husband, would you choose Perezzy or Elton John?
LG: After I got dirty with Elton at the Grammys, I had to break up with Perezzy, although he ate a chunk of my heart.

ES: I have never forgiven myself for missing your performance at Lollapalooza. How have you evolved since then?
LG: More chains, makeup, and teeth. Less disco. I've become addicted to my fans and the stage, I die without them. More provacative, but never brunette. And because you are a fabulous monster, I will tell you to be sure to attend Lolla this year...

ES: One of my favorite lines from your new album is "raise a glass to mend all the broken hearts of all my f***ed up friends." Did you write that for me?
LG: Yes.

ES: What was your relationship like with Alexander MacQueen?
LG: I don't know how I can survive without him. His art was scary, provocative, like me. He understood me and I would have worn anything he ever created.

ES: Why do you hate pants?
LG: Because I'm slutty.

ES: And if you had to choose between leather and lace?
LG: Nice girls don't kiss and tell.

I would probably close the conversation by inviting her to Costa Rica with my friends Karissa and Will, where we are going teach the monkeys that visit our jungle bungalow Lady Gaga dance moves. Specifically her new dance move from the Telephone music video, the "sandwich dance." We have been practicing.

Now I need to memorize her Monster Ball summer schedule and start looking for her at every airport...

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Heart of a Road Warrior

I am an American Airlines girl at heart. I've got the AAdvantage kind of attitude. And I love when AA runs their "Road Warrior" contest every year. I have actually considered entering, but with only 3.5 years under my belt, and the majority of my locations being "un exotic", I leave it up to the professionals.

You can read bios on each of this year's winners here:

Caryn Carson, one of the women featured, really worded it best when asked for her own definition of road warrior: A Road Warrior is someone for whom there does not exist a separation between “home life” and “road life.” It’s all your life — wherever you go, there you are.

I feel like that statement should be followed with an "Hallelujah" or "Amen Sista!" There will always be a physical separation between a life in one city versus another. Different restaurants, different people, but the same thoughts, feelings, interests. Unfortunately there will always be a disconnect between my non road warrior friends and my travel / work buddies. Because the friends that have been on the road with you really know you better than anyone. It makes me sad when I tell my friends stories about my travel life. The light bulb doesn't turn on, there's no empathy, because my travel life isn't real, isn't relevant for them. They haven't physically seen it, can't imagine it. 

But for me, it's my life. Which reminds of a quote: Turns out it's not where you are but who you're with that really matters.

Very true.

On a side note, I once went on a terrible first date with someone I met online. After several conversations, compliments, and laughs, we finally met in person and sat down to share pizza. He looks at me then, quizzically, and asks, "So tell me, why do you think someone would want to date you? I mean, you're never here. You travel every week. What kind of guy would want that?"

The right kind, the kind who understands. A road warrior.