2 Girls 1 Camp

Before I arrived, I didn't even know this place existed about 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Key West. So glad my friend Michelle invited me along on this mini-adventure. 

DAY ONE
After a couple hours on the most expensive ferry ever, ($190 roundtrip) we arrived at Fort Jefferson which also happens to be a National Park situated smack dab in the middle of nowhere on a group of islands called the Dry Tortugas. Michelle and I immediately retrieved our gear from the dock and set up our tent and umbrella as the shadiest camping spots were already taken and the sun was high and hot. We were provided a picnic table and a pole upon which to hang a trash bag (out of the rats' reach) but everything else we had to bring ourselves. Immediately upon making our first meal of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, we were invaded by a tiny arm of hungry, hungry hermit crabs. (Although technically I guess it's we that are invading their space.) 

We stripped down to our bikinis and slathered on the sunscreen before taking our plunge into the ocean. It started raining and it was the most incredible feeling to be floating in the salty sea below while simultaneously experiencing a fresh shower from above. After the ferry left, along with the hoards of tourists, we didn't hear much except the white noise of nesting birds on the adjacent island and the rustling of the wind in our tents and trees. 

The summertime mini-monsoon came right on schedule around 4 PM that afternoon and I stayed dry and happy in our tent while Michelle was off wandering and got thoroughly soaked. Luckily, it doesn't take long for anything to dry under the Florida sun. We soon decided to start exploring the unfinished pile of bricks also known as Fort Jefferson. The juxtaposition of the dilapidated old structure against the screensaver-worthy clear blue water and white sand beach is pretty jarring. As it was nearing dinner time, we decided to head back to base. I did some sunset yoga in the sand (very exfoliating but I can't say I recommend it) while Michelle chatted up our neighbors Judy & Jeff who happened to catch some Red Snapper earlier that afternoon. She gladly accepted their fishy dinner while I stuck to the vegetarian dinner that I had prepared and brought. We wanted to take the rain fly off that night so we could sleep in the light of the stars, but it continued to sprinkle well into the night. Michelle had a small air mattress, a matching pink sheet set and pillow. By contrast, all I brought was my yoga mat, blue travel neck pillow and a light tropi-colored sarong that functioned as a blanket. Don't need much since it's Florida and still about 80º even at night. 

DAY TWO
I rose with the sun after a lucid and rather stiff night's sleep. Michelle is not a morning person so I left the tent with my yoga mat curled up under my arm to do a sunrise practice on the dock. There weren't many people around so I was largely uninterrupted, except for one Captain Obvious who asked "Yoga?" "Yep" I replied. Like trying to balance in sand, balancing in a rather strong sea breeze is also an added challenge. But, I was still able to complete a few harder poses like crow and headstand. Chavasanah at the end was particularly enjoyable as I listened to the waves lapping against the shore. I returned to camp to find Michelle eating breakfast s'mores with our other neighbors to the east. I opted for the pumpkin breakfast bars I baked earlier in the week and brought, as well as an apple and a banana. 

After satiating ourselves, we grabbed our snorkel gear and headed for the coal shoals - some forgotten wooden structures just off the shore that looked decrepit and unsuitable for any use above the surface (except as perches for seabirds) but were teeming with coral and fish below. We both had issues with leaky masks so I traded in my ill-fitting and bulky snorkel for my trusty triathlon swim goggles and Michelle smeared some toothpaste in her mask to keep it from fogging up. Round two was smoother and much more successful. We got out of the water just as the daily ferry was arriving and wolfed down a lunch of PB&J, popcorn, dried mango and water. We met our newest neighbors - a father-son duo named Mark and Dylan - as they were setting up for their first day of camp. I took a digestive nap in the shade of our umbrella while Michelle soaked up some sun on the beach. 

Later three of us went on a quest to find the elusive coral head, rumored to be just off the west side of the island. We swam out way to far past an anchored catamaran and into a current too swift for our liking, so we started to swim back to shore when we serendipitously stumbled upon the coral treasure we had set out for. It was definitely worth the trip. Our second adventure of the day involved taking kayaks out from the south side of the island seeking a fabled shipwreck with Jeff & Judy  with directions from a park ranger named Tree. I saw a few dark spots scattered across the ocean floor but couldn't tell exactly what it was from the surface so I submerged my gopro a few times and will review the footage later. I'm pretty sure our effort was in vain. (And it was.) 

That night, we all enjoyed dinner in the best camping spot on the island, which I called The Shire, as it was tucked underneath a small grove of trees. Everyone enjoyed various meals but we all indulged in s'mores for dessert, which happen pair very well with pinot grigio, by the way. By the time we were finished, the sky was completely illuminated with stars so we took a stroll around the moat to admire them. We discovered some bioluminescent creatures floating and flashing throughout the moat like a tiny, buoyant paparazzi. The sky was clear so the view was incredible. It's a little sad that this is what the sky is supposed to look like at night but we so often sacrifice it in the name of modern convenience. After a 360º view of the fort and the night sky, we dusted off our sandy feet and crawled into our tents to spend the night. I slept much better despite the wind trying it's hardest to blow us and our tent off the island. 

DAY THREE
Again I woke up at dawn and again I did some yoga on the dock. I have no concept of time with no watch, phone or phone signal so I'd guess I did close to an hour and a half. I brought one of the big, black offroading wheelbarrows with me back to the campsite in preparation for breaking everything down and taking it to the dock where it would be loaded back onto the ferry later that morning. It was a bit sad to break down the tent, but we planned to still make the most of every minute of that day. And every minute also happened to bring us closer to a proper shower back on the mainland so that was our light at the end of the tunnel. Michelle and I explored the top tier of the fort by ourselves before taking a guided tour. We learned more about the brief and completely pointless history of the structure. 

It really was a waste of effort and energy as the only thing that ever attacked the place was a bout of yellow fever (transmitted via mosquitos.) And it's called the dry tortugas because there is no natural source of fresh water on the island, so I don't know who thought it was a good idea to build a fort there and stock it with thousands of soldiers and Civil War prisoners. So many fails, except of course for modern capitalism/tourism. 

After the tour, Michelle and I enjoyed a DIY sandwich buffet, pasta salad, chips, fruit and overly processed chocolate chip cookies on board the boat. She was anxious to get back in the water one more time but I was done being cold and soggy so I scoped out some seats for us and on board the boat for the last hour or so before the scheduled departure time. We both passed out, using our backpacks as pillows during the return voyage. When I woke up, I noticed everyone around me fixated on their smartphones since we were close enough to Key West to pick up a cell signal. 

We packed a lot into three days on a semi-deserted island and I would highly recommend the experience for novice campers. Island life suited me well and I liked not having to worry about status updates, phone calls, appointments or even what time it was. I even set a personal record for going 24 hours without wearing pants in public. LoL

Wedding Season Officially Over

As of this weekend, I've attended three weddings in two months so I declare the season officially over, for me anyways. Yesterday was the long-awaited union of my friends Carol & Ty. (Although I have a personal theory that this wedding was actually just a front for a Sapient reunion because the majority of my team from my agency days was present and accounted for.)

We were all smiles and it was great find out what everyone has been up to since my bittersweet departure over three years ago. Even better, it was awesome to see Ty and Carol finally take the plunge after a decade and a half of dating. It was probably the most creative wedding I've been to, but of course I would expect nothing less from my favorite quirky couple. 

The venue was beautiful; a historic old house in Winter Park with immaculate gardens leading down to a lake. The ceremony was held outside amidst this natural beauty and was only briefly interrupted by a rather inconsiderate woodpecker and one or two rubbernecking jet skiers. And if I had to guess I'd put the temperature at (approximately) a million degrees Fahrenheit (500,000º Celsius). 

The copywriting and Eames-inspired design was impeccable and I love the humor injection, as often times weddings can take themselves too seriously. Everyone loved the kid walking down the aisle with a sign that said "Its About Time." Ty's Transformers cuff links were spot on. And the effort was wasted on me personally but I could appreciate their reception offering the best craft beer selection in the tri-county area. (I chose instead to be a schizoholic drinking, pinot grigio water, a tequila sunrise, water again and a Shirley Temple.) 

Then there was the music. I was beyond thrilled to hear not one, but two Led Zeppelin songs as part of the ceremony. And the band at the reception was fantastic, fusing together an eclectic medley of mostly classic rock with a few more modern hits mixed in. This included the Doors, Steve Miller Band, a few Michael Jackson hits, Uptown Funk and the full Eruption/Girl You Really Got Me Now by Van Halen to name just a few. 

Also at the reception were old pictures of the happy couple from the early days at UF, which confirms that neither of them have aged properly since then. I suspect part of the curriculum of design program in which they both participated included creating enchanted self-portraits that age for them and ensure their perpetual youth. 

I have one more interesting anecdote from the ride to the wedding which is also worth mentioning. My uber driver asked what kind of music I listen to. I said "classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc." So of course he plays Celine Dion for the duration of the trip from my hotel to the venue. SMH. -_-

Best wishes to the newlyweds Mr. & Mrs. Stalnaker! 

Gorgeous wedding invitation & RSVP designed by the artist formerly known as Miss Montoto. 

Gorgeous wedding invitation & RSVP designed by the artist formerly known as Miss Montoto. 

Short and sweet and hot ceremony

Short and sweet and hot ceremony

Friends, fun & festivities

Friends, fun & festivities


A Helping Hand(stand)

So since I've clearly mastered the headstand (and by mastered I mean finally accomplished it by myself for the first time) it's time to take my yoga practice to the next level. 

Supposedly this will be me in a month. Image Source: Cody App

Supposedly this will be me in a month. Image Source: Cody App

I've been following these famous SoFlo yogis @beachyogagirl (Kerri Verna) and @kinoyoga (Kino MacGregor) on Instagram for a few years now, never giving serious thought to me actually being able to do the incredibly impressive & athletic poses they post on a daily basis. Mostly the handstands and arm balances. And here's why. 

I've struggled with core and arm strength my whole life. Not once have I ever been able to finish a rope climb to the top - or honestly even made it halfway - nor do proper push-ups. I have flimsy noodle arms and I'm pretty sure I was just born without that whole set of lower abs. Even at my peak when I was volleyballing, basketballing, running and hurdling year round, I only ever had a four pack. My stomach was like four aluminum cans stacked in two columns on top of a little soft pillow. That analogy doesn't sound very stable and neither was/is my core. 

So these ladies teamed up with Cody App to offer a 31-day series of videos called Journey to Handstand and I finally broke down and bought it last night. Cody App is kind of like Netflix for workouts. After downloading the iPhone app and exploring it a bit, I want to download Kerri's Active Meditation series and Kino's Strong Meditations series as well because I could definitely need help with these skills as well. I think it's just the curse of being creative that your mind never wants to relax and is thinking of a million ideas a minute. 

So today marks Day 1 of my journey and I'll follow-up with a post on June 5th. I will never be perfect, but practice makes proficient! 

Culling the Clutter

General life cleansing has been an ongoing process for me this and last month since I decided to go on this trip. My life has gotten so cluttered over the years that I've been distracted by school and work so it's time to cull all the crap.  

JUNK EMAIL

Think about how much junk e-mail you get in your inbox. Just a few examples of mine were weekly triathlon training tips (I haven't done a triathlon since 2011), unsolicited emails from Crate & Barrel & David's Bridal after only buying one registry gift and one bridesmaid dress, respectively, and tons of emails from the likes of kate spade and Anthropologie. I have more than enough purses and clothes already without being tempted by OMG SURPRISE SALE up to 80% OFF TWO DAYS ONLY. So instead of just deleting these or ignoring them as I usually do, I made a conscious effort to unsubscribe from each source of superfluous messages as I received them.

Sometimes I'd unsubscribe from an email list and then become infuriated briefly because of the obnoxious irony of receiving one more email from said list confirming I had unsubscribed. >_< Anyways, I'd estimate I've unsubscribed from at least 150 different lists so far. So now when I see that little red number on the corner of my mail icon on my iPhone, I know it's all important stuff. 

JUNK MAIL

But all those intangible messages aren't nearly as bad as the mountain of paper junk mail that you undoubtedly receive each year. According to forestethics.org

  • Junk mail in the US accounts for over 100 million pieces of mail each year – about 20% of all mailed delivered in the world
  • Every year, American households receives a total of 104.7 billion pieces of junk mail, or 848 pieces of junk mail per household, which requires 6.5 million tons of paper
  • Approximately 44% of junk mail goes to landfills unopened

Personally, I don't get much junk and when I do, it goes directly from the mailbox to the curbside recycling bin. If there's a credit card offer, I usually take the extra step of using a sharpie to black out my name & address and ripping the papers and envelopes in half to protect my identity before they too get recycled. But after I leave my adorable little home, I'm not counting on the next resident to do the same when he or she still receives my junk mail for a few months because according to my own personal experience, most Americans don't give a sh*t about recycling.

I'm not sure why I stopped in the first place, but I'm going to start using Paper Karma again to unsubscribe from unnecessary credit card offers and catalogs. It's a free app that only requires you submit photos of the unwanted mail and then they do all the work to get you off multiple mailing lists. 

MOBILE PHONE

Think about how many contacts you have in your phone. How many of those people have you actually spoken to in the past year? The majority of my contacts I hadn't actually contacted in over a decade and includes people and places from what seems like past lives. (I have had the same phone number since high school after all and I intend to keep it as long as possible.) 

So every now and again when I have some downtime waiting at a doctor's office or when I'm placed on hold during a phone call, I start deleting old contacts in my phone one by one. Almost all of them bring back a brief memory or two or at least a vision of that person's face in my mind if I remember them at all. As of today, I've purged A-S and will make it to Z before I leave in June.

With the seemingly unlimited amount of free apps available today, it's easy to accumulate a ton of phone clutter. I've made a conscious effort not too download too many but I also went through my phone again and deleted non-essential or rarely used apps. 

HOME

Even though my little house is only about 400 sqft, I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff I have accumulated that I don't actually use or need. Over the past few weeks I've donated six large bags of clothes and miscellany to the thrift shop nearby and I'm sure more stuff will make it's way there before I leave Florida. Starting next week, I'm selling almost everything in my place on Craigslist and will be storing only the essentials like my Vitamix, my favorite clothes, various art collected from friends and foreign travels, some tools and basic kitchen utensils. I'm expecting everything that makes the cut to fit in my little Mirazda when it's all said and done. 

 

Honestly, it feels really good to get rid of so much clutter and to detach from so many material things that just don't matter. Decluttering your life will lead to decluttering your mind. I'd rather focus my attention on people and places and experiences instead of having it divided among so many distractions.  

Calculating & Combating Your Carbon Emissions

Air travel is kind of an unavoidable part of visiting places far, far away. And everyone knows by now that the massive amounts of fuel consumed and excreted as carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere are not good for the planet. I imagine its comparable to when I'm at a lovely outdoor cafe and some jerk comes and sits next to me and starts chain smoking when all I want is to enjoy some fresh air and a delicious pastry. 

Until planes are powered by solar energy or some other renewable, clean source, the best you can do is to try to off-set our neutralize all that carbon crap. There are a whole bunch of websites where you can calculate your carbon emissions and then even more promising to reduce your carbon footprint, but I've found a lot of them are aimed at businesses so below are the easiest and most consumer-friendly ones I found. The exact science of carbon off-setting is debatable but doing something is better than doing nothing at all. 

CALCULATE YOUR CARBON EMISSIONS

carbonfoorprint.com
The flight-specific calculator is really easy to use as all you need to know are the airports (well most of them; it didn't recognize Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi so I had to guesstimate using other nearby airports) you are flying to and from. Then once you enter that info, it tells you how many metric tons of emissions your flight produces and then gives you a link to several off-setting sites if you want to take immediate action. You can also calculate emissions for homes, cars, motorcycles and other public transportation options (if you want to feel really guilty.)

Based on this calculator, my total estimated emissions for all my flights is: 4.1 metric tons of CO2e or 9,039 lbs (4,100 kg).  

gozero carbon calculator
Calculates carbon emissions based on miles flown. You can also calculate home & energy and auto carbon emissions. 

OFFSET THOSE CARBON EMISSIONS

Atmosfair
A German website that calculates your emissions then used donations to fund renewable energy projects and environmental education. Calculate your flight or cruise, then you get arbitrary dollar figures to compensate 50%, 100% or any other percentage of your trip. 

Carbonfootprint.com Carbon Offset Projects
A British company where you can calculate and donate all in one step, carbonfootprint uses certified credits toward carbon neutrality and funds sustainable development projects mostly in developing parts of Asia, Africa & South America. After entering your total amount of CO2e here, you'll be presented with a variety of projects and prices, but there's not really any transparency into how they come up with those numbers. 

Greenseat
A Dutch site specifically designed for travelers where you can calculate trains, cars, busses and flights. Also comes up with arbitrary but affordable dollar amounts. They currently support cookstoves in Uganda, windmills in India & biogas in Colombia but as far as I can tell you don't get to select which project to support. 

Go Zero | The Conservation Fund
An American company that supports improved forest management and restoration. They support projects throughout several states including South Carolina, Texas, California, Louisiana and Michigan. You can do one time or monthly donations but how the money is spent and where it goes is kind of nebulous.  

One Tree Planted 
I really like this site. It's incredibly informative and well designed and super easy to comprehend. One dollar plants one tree in some of the most rapidly disappearing forest throughout the world including the Boreal Forest in Canada, the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil as well as forests in Africa and Indonesia. Seems appropriate this service at least to offset the carbon in my flights to and from Indonesia. 

Tree Nation
Plant trees in places throughout Europe, Africa and South America to celebrate any occasion including birthdays and anniversaries, or just offset your travel. I like this site because you can pick where you want to plant trees and you see exactly what kind and how many trees different donation amounts (in Euros) buys you. 

TREES TO CARBON RATIO 10:1

I'm kind of a tree-hugger so I personally want to off-set by planting some because it seems like the simplest and most natural solution. I scoured the internet for a site that would just tell me how many trees to plant per ton of carbon emission but I couldn't find any so this is my attempt at figuring out an easy formula. 

Example: I already know I want to pay to plant trees via One Tree Planted to offset the Indonesia leg of my trip. But it's kind of a process to figure out how many trees you need to plant to offset your carbon emissions. In order to use this American Forest Calculator I first had to figure out the miles between airports using this Mileage Calculator. So based on these sites, I estimated my flights to and from Indonesia to equal 4,620 miles or 1,523 lbs (0.69 metric tons) CO2e which equals just two trees? That's it?

Well according to the same American Forest site Tree FactsA tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and can sequester one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old. So I figured out they're calculating such a low number based on about 15 years/tree so if I wanted to offset in a year, it would be 1523/48 = 31.72 but since you can't plant three quarters of a tree lets round that to 32 trees. Two years would be 1523/96 = about 16 trees. 

I think 5 years is a pretty attainable goal between the 1-40 range of expected tree life so let's try to simplify this: 

If you want to offset over 5 years, you should plant 10 trees for every ton of carbon emissions*.

So since my entire trip is about 4 tons CO2e, I should plant at least 40 trees to offset all my flights. Boom. Of course you can always pay and/or plant more, I just wanted to come up with a relatively easy and affordable formula. 

*Here's how I came up with that based on the American Forest Statistics:  1 metric ton = 2205 lbs so that's 2205 lbs divided by 48 lb/year/tree = 46 trees in one year. So to disperse it over 5 years is 46/5 = 9.2 trees, but we'll round up to 10 trees. 10 trees x 48 lbs/year x 5 years = 2,400 lbs of carbon, slightly more than the 2,205 lbs (1 metric ton) of emissions we started with.
Also, 1 lb CO2e = approx 3 miles [4620/1523 = 3.03 based on the example above] So 1 metric ton should equal 6,615 miles.

I welcome anyone to double check the math on this because my brain is thoroughly exhausted now. And if anyone wants to convert the whole thing to metric, awesome. (Sidenote: Its ridiculous that "standard" - what a misnomer - is still used most prevalently here in the States instead of metric, like the rest of the world.) 


 

The Pursuit of Passion

Even though it seems like this happened over night, I've actually been inching closer towards a dream goal, even before I knew what it was. It was like this dream was in a glass box but the sides were all condensated, like your bathroom mirror after a shower, and I couldn't see exactly what was inside and slowly I was able to rub away parts of the foggy glass. Then the conditions became right and enough of the fogginess faded for me to realize this dream was a long term trip on the other side of the world. Several people who are already living their dreams have contributed to me taking this journey, whether they realize it or not. So, thanks y'all! 

Jamie: My own little sister has quite the collection of stamps in her passport. Our first international trip was to the UK when we were just getting into high school. Then her later academic pursuits led her to a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark with side trips to other parts of Europe including Paris, Vienna, Bratislava, Berlin, London and Spain. While pursuing her Master's degree she had a particularly serendipitous trip to Toronto, Canada where she met a ginger Swiss guy named Stefan, and well, the rest is history. Now she lives in Switzerland as Mrs. Gloor (when she's not utilizing research grants at universities in Australia and Singapore, of course) so you never know what can happen when you travel! 

Laura Lee: I met LL through a mutual friend in Miami years ago. But before that, she spent 6 months backpacking Africa and ended up meeting a former Mau Mau general about whom she felt compelled to write an autobiographical novel. This book has been a passion of hers since I've known her and I'm so excited it's being published now! Congratulations, Friend! 

Sarah: I really admire Sarah's commitment and tenacity. She is so serious about maintaining a healthy, plant-strong diet that she can sit there unaffected while the rest of us in the office would order oily take-out food or binge on office birthday cake. Her amazing blog is the reason I started cooking so much more and so much healthier. Also, nothing can stop Sarah from traveling, not scooter accidents, not food poisoning or even fire coral. She's also been an incredible dancer since she was a teenager. I don't think I've ever been able to stick with anything that long besides activities crucial to general survival like you know, breathing, eating, sleeping. 

Sean: We indirectly worked together a few years ago at an advertising agency in Miami. I left for a Regional Art Director position at Whole Foods Market and he left to travel the world and document it through amazing pictures. He's even been published in the New York Times and some nationally circulated magazines. I've casually stalked his travels on Facebook and always thought "I wish I could do that." And years later, I believe that I can; well the travel part at least, I'm not as good at photography. 

Jessy: We started Miami Ad School together and couldn't have been more different. I was a somewhat naive, Southern, blonde sorority girl and she had just moved from the mean streets of NYC and had a bunch of tattoos and illustrated pornographic coloring books. I was a little intimidated but it turns out over the next two years we found out we had a lot in common like our work ethic and intrinsic motivation and general optimism. Now I'm one of her biggest fans and she's living the dream as an independent artist in Miami who has been commissioned for murals, had her own gallery during Art Basel and had three gallery shows throughout Europe last year in London, Vienna and Zurich. But I think my favorite piece she's done so far is her studio/house in Miami which I've been privileged enough to visit:

Jochen: I met a lot of kids (I use this term loosely to describe anyone between 18 and 30) during my last trip to the South Pacific, mostly from Europe, who were traveling for several weeks, months and perhaps even years at a time. I thought "Wow, if they can do it, I can do it."  I met Jochen in Auckland, New Zealand and heard amazing stories about his current trip with his backpack and a surfboard pursuing the world's best waves. I find it very inspirational to just go wherever your passion takes you with barely any advanced planning. 

Devin Graham: Also known as devinsupertramp on youtube. I don't actually know him but I've been following his videos for years since he was first getting started. I've said before I want to live life like a Devin Graham video, because they are so adventurous and so much fun and so well executed. He posted a video recently about how much work it actually takes to make those videos happen, but as long as you're passionate about it, you don't mind putting in long hours. Now he doesn't exactly have to rough it every time because he gets sponsors that fly him around the world and pay him to do what he loves. 

 

Lindsey Stirling: Related to the previous post because she and Devin are friends and he filmed a lot of her early videos. Despite being incredibly talented and original, the judges on America's Got Talent told her she basically wouldn't ever be successful. But she proved them all wrong after amassing an eclectic collection of videos, original music and millions of followers on youtube. They actually invited her back recently as a guest performer on the show and she blew them all away and got a standing ovation. I actually got to see her last year in West Palm Beach during her last tour and it was incredible. Here's one on my favorites called Elements:


Also, here's my recent reading list that I've also found particularly inspirational:

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
and now, after planning my trip I'm working through:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Here We Go

So what's a girl to do after she's quit her 9-5 job and let her lease expire? Travel Southeast Asia for six months, of course. Wait, what?

This is actually the backup plan. Before I left for my last trip, I was planning to pack up and move to Colorado upon my return. But when I followed up my realtor and she told me she was telling all her clients to offer over asking price and the houses were selling in a day or less, I decided I could stand to wait a little longer before being anchored to such a substantial purchase for which I was likely overpaying and would lose money on in the long run. Makes more sense to travel without a mortgage and bunch of bills that you still have to pay back home. 

So why Asia? Seems totally random, right? Well it's been on the back burner in my brain for a while and each time I hear of friends returning from short term trips to the area, I mentally move a little closer to a journey of my own. So I started researching and after filtering through all the advice from European gap year kids giving advice on full moon parties and 'shroom shakes, I finally found more that piqued my interest. 

The general plan is to start in June and go through Cairns, Australia then to Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam and get home just in time for Christmas. Along the way there will be some voluntouring, some personal reflection, creative inspiration, lots of yoga and endless vegetarian food. And no, I've never read the book Eat, Pray, Love nor seen the movie so it had no influence over my itinerary. Although now I'm curious after friends have cited the similarities so I'll probably end up reading now it before I go. 

Well there goes my life savings right? Actually, I did the math and I can travel Asia cheaper than it costs me to live on a daily basis in the states. 

So another travel blog. How's this one different? Well, most solo travel blogs I've found online are dudes so I'm in the minority on that one. Also, I've found several of them to be pretty hedonistic. "Look at how awesome I am and how awesome this place is and don't you wish you were this awesome?" Which is fine; extended travel is an awesome thing that very few people get to experience and you're supporting foreign economies either way. I just want to give a little bit back along the way and am hoping to get a more authentic, immersive experience.

I'm also focusing on traveling as sustainably as possible and avoid the typical trail of trash in my wake. For example, just the amount of plastic wasted alone during the two trans-Pacific flights of my last trip drove me nuts so I'm bringing re-usable bamboo utensils and a collapsible silicone cup with me this time. 

The only thing I've 100% confirmed is my month of yoga training in Mysore, India, which I discussed in a previous post but I'm planning a few other things and some things I will figure out as I go along. Stay tuned!


Passport Problems: How to Renew ASAP

So it turns out that your passport doesn't actually expire on it's printed expiration date.  For all intents and purposes, it expires 6 months prior because you can't apply for a visa or enter a country if you are less than six months out from said date which makes zero sense because then what's the point of having an expiration date? 

I learned this the hard way when trying to apply for a visa to Cambodia. My expiry date is the end of April and I was trying to get a visa for November and failed hard. Which kind of prevents me from getting any other visas until I renew my passport. If you need to renew a passport in a hurry, here's what I did and recommend doing.  

Your passport renewal will cost $170 (as long as you meet these requirements) and then to expedite it via the government costs an additional $60 but that only cuts your turnaround time to three weeks. I needed mine sooner because I still have several visas I need to apply for after I get my new one and I only have about 5 weeks to get it all done.

I found Visa HQ to be the easiest and most reasonably priced option. Their site is really well organized and easy to navigate - unlike several other competitors that I looked at. You can get your passport renewed as fast as three business days for $199, 5-6 business days costs $139 and 7-9 business days costs $59. I opted for the mid-range. 

The fastest and most efficient way is to order and pay for everything at once online with a credit card. This includes the cost of the passport, the expediting fee and FedEx shipping ($20 each way overnighted). Then you have to fill out the DS-82 online and save a .pdf copy when finished. Email that, the shipping label and the Letter of Authorization .pdf to yourself then head to your nearest FedEx Office with your old passport. (They are supposed to send you back the old one with the new one, but I went ahead and scanned my old passport and all the pages with stamps on them just in case.) Then at FedEx, you can get your new passport photo taken (1 photo, 2 copies for $16.95) forward the email with forms to that location's email so they can print them and you can sign them and finally mail everything along with your old passport. 

All together it cost me about 3 hours and $366, but I didn't really have a choice. 

How does the government still have such a deficit when they charge so much for passports?! I can't wait until technology progresses to Minority Report levels and travel is all verified via retinal scan and I don't have to deal with this nonsense anymore. (And we're not far off because they told me not to show teeth and to have both ears visible in my new photo, no doubt for facial recognition software.)

I'm not used to seeing small, square photos without Instagram filters on them. 

I'm not used to seeing small, square photos without Instagram filters on them. 

 

Namaste, y'all!

What? Is this real life? I just got accepted to AyurYoga Eco-Ashram in Mysore, India for 200 hours Yoga Alliance Certification. I start in August as a student and emerge 28 days later as a legit yogi. 

This will be me in a few months, except with less facial/chest hair and more clothing... 

This will be me in a few months, except with less facial/chest hair and more clothing... 

Ok I guess I should provide a little context for this decision that seems to have appeared a little out of the blue. I've actually been doing yoga classes sporadically for several years since about 2007. It's kind of a vicious cycle: get really stressed from school and/or work. Start doing yoga classes to bring some balance (literally and figuratively) back into my life. Start getting busy again & decide I don't have time for it anymore. Then I reach a tipping point again and force myself back onto my mat. 

I finally broke that cycle when I quit my corporate job in March. As soon as I got back from my South Pacific trip, I signed up for a month of unlimited classes at my locally acclaimed Red Pearl Yoga studio and enjoyed practicing almost every day since. In this short amount of time, I've noticed several positive physical, mental and emotional changes, that I know will only get better and deeper with more practice. 

So I figured, why not commit 100% and get certified at the source? After researching about 10 different retreats and schools across India and Southeast Asia, I selected this one based on my preferences, my gut instinct and my budget. 

AyurYoga Eco-Ashram is a 20 acre organic farm situated on the banks of the river Kabini in Mysore district in India. Traditional, Hatha yoga six days a week and three vegetarian meals a day without the burden of modern technologies? Yes, please!


My Best Friend's Wedding...

...Was actually nothing like the 90's rom com starring Julia Roberts. 

Beth and I have been friends for over a decade (ugh that makes me feel old) and it was an absolute honor to be a bridesmaid at her wedding and to create a custom welcome sign for the ceremony.

It was the simplest, sweetest, stress-free soiree I've ever been a part of. Of course Beth was an absolutely beautiful bride, and us bridesmaids were pretty awesome too, but lets be honest, the flower girl really stole the spotlight. I was just a tad disappointed that neither of their big, orange cats were trained to walk down the aisle with the rings tied to their tails. And I will never wear that blue dress again because strapless dresses and tops are one of my most notorious pet peeves, next to cigarettes and people talking in movie theaters. THE SACRIFICES I MAKE FOR MY FRIENDS! LoL

Seriously though, I couldn't be happier for Mr. & Mrs Clark! 

ElizabethandMichaelWeddingSign
Bridesmaids
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South Pacific Part I: Fiji Day 1

This was the beginning of a much needed and deserved vacation after about 6 months of working nearly nonstop. Seriously I averaged about 70 hours a week between my full time job and freelance work. 

I left Los Angeles on a Tuesday and arrived in Nadi, Fiji on a Thursday morning; my first time skipping a whole day all together. The flight was about 11 hours and sat next to an appropriately social guy named Cory who travels all over the world seeking the best SCUBA diving spots. I say appropriately social because sometimes its super awkward if you never speak to the person next to you for the entire duration of the flight but it's better than the other extreme where your air-neighbor tries to talk your ear off. 

Honestly, when we landed it felt like I had flown half way around the world just to end up back in South Florida because it was just as hot and humid as my home state. But there was a pretty awesome sunrise since we landed so early so I focused on that instead. 

Anyways, said air-neighbor stuck together through baggage claim and customs until it was time to go our separate ways both literally and figuratively. I serendipitously acquired transportation from the airport in Nadi to the Westin Resort in Denarau when I was asking an employee what my options were to get there and a friendly voice in my vicinity said "We're going to the Westin." I turned around to see a couple roughly my parents' age that looked just as pleasant as the voice had sounded. I only had to pay $10 FJD to tag along to the small shuttle they had previously booked. Good thing too, because I had done next zero planning for this place besides (obviously) the flight and the room reservation. 

The shuttle drove us several miles through third world-ish city and landscapes that reminded me a lot of Costa Rica and the smaller towns in Kenya that I've visited previously. Then, as soon as we crossed the bridge from Nadi to Denarau, the view became golf courses and resorts for as far as the eye could see. Quite the contrast, but every bit the paradise I was promised on all those bottles of water back home.  

Even though it was still only barely breakfast time, the Westin had my room ready right away (no doubt since I'm a gold level Starwood Preferred Guest). I was greeted by a spacious room with two Heavenly queen beds and a ground-level ocean view. The first thing I did was change into a bikini and take a dip in the pool along with my newfound friends and fellow Westin guests, Harriet and Gordon. I later enjoyed a yummy yet overpriced lunch and dinner at the resort and caught up on some much needed sleep. I'd like to say I won the lottery and was able to pay for these five nights with a fraction of my prize, but in actuality I used several years worth of Starpoints, saving myself $850. 

The jet lag really messed with my head this time as I went to take a shower later and after several attempts of turning the knob to the right, I ended up calling the front desk to inform them that I didn't have hot water. Instead of just turning the handle to the left. Like the maintenance guy did. When he arrived a couple minutes later. And giggled a little bit at my idiocy. FACEPALM.