{Travel Tuesday} Finding Awe

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ⓉⓇⒶⓋⒺⓁ 𝒯 𝓊 ℯ 𝓈 𝒹 𝒶 𝓎 : I was on a trip to Zambia, Africa with a group of students from my high school. We had heard about the Black Rhino at the preserve we were about to safari to, and I couldn’t wait to see it! He was exotic, and one of only a few left in the world as they were nearly extinct at the time.

Our one-day adventure tour—before starting our mission work with kids and youth for the rest of the 10 days in Zambia—was here and I was ready. Starting in the cool early morning, we jumped into jeeps that bounced through the dirt trails and grassland, on the lookout for giraffes, zebras, and the alleged BLACK RHINO.

Our caravan rounded a corner, and at this point we hopped out of the jeeps to go on foot to where our guide thought he could be. He was blocked from my view when our guide announced he was there. Then, when I did glimpse his grey body lazily munching on the grass, I was surprised at how un-intimidating he looked.

“THAT is it?!” I thought to myself a little disappointed. “He’s not even black! He looks like a normal rhino!”

Rhino

The only time I had ever seen a rhino in real life before this moment was at the San Diego Zoo. How spoiled could my reaction be, as if the fact I was standing yards from the beast wasn’t impressive?!

“Who wants a picture with him?” Our guide asked.

One by one, we got photos with the rhino behind us. As the photo shoot was going on, our guide talked about the power of rhinos, their speed and strength, and how the one way to possible escape a rhino charging you is to run in circles and curves since their muscles prohibit them from turning easily.

It was my turn for a pic, and I had absorbed everything our Zambian guide had said. Now, grazing the grass 80 ft from me, it was hard to turn my back to the beast, knowing his body of muscle could easily charge, top speed reaching 35 mph. I can run, what 2? On a good day? HA!

My trip to Zambia reminded me of how small I am in every possible way. Even the termite mounds we saw were ginormous… the smallest thing, a termite, could cause so much damage if weren’t out in the open plains.

Termite Mound

Victoria Falls, misty and loud, the spray in the sky could be seen for miles down the river.

I even felt small doing my part in helping teach classes to students during our days of mission work, and playing with swarms of kids from the compounds who just wanted to be seen, touched, and hugged for a minute.

Me with Kids

I had turned 17 years old two days before the trip began, and it was a great way to start another lap around the sun. Zambia gave me such new perspective on life. From the way people eat, to the land full of animals I had only seen in books and movies.

The craziest, wildest things in nature, like rhinos and waterfalls flowing at speeds of nearly 39,000 cubic feet per second, there for us to behold and appreciate.

The Black Rhino will forever be a lesson to the vastness of the world. That I’m not that powerful against… anything wild in nature. And though it took a minute to sink in, that seeing the Black Rhino in person WAS a big deal. I walked away in awe and inspired and hope to continue the lesson to today… Awe keeps me humble and reminds me of the great things in this world outside of my own bubble.

{Hear From Him} Long Distance Relationships

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Very excited to announce the first post created WITH my lover man and future hubby, Kevin. I’ve wanted to do a post with him for a while, and being engaged and long distance we decided to write our first post on this very topic: LDR’s. We’ve gotten a lot of comments from friends and strangers about how we do it.

“Wow, power to you guys. I could never do that.”

“I had to break up with my ex after two weeks of distance– we just couldn’t figure it out.”

“How do you know it’s going to work out when you are married and living together?”

We know we’re not the only one’s who have been here, my own grandparents were long distance during WWII and wrote letters to each other during their first year or two of marriage!  Honestly, we have it easy with the technology available to us and we wanted to share with those who are curious, or are in a long distance yourself– it is possible to have a long distance relationship, and for it to work!

Here are 6 tips for you from us! Read through em and let us know of any tips you have from your long distance dating experiences!


Your Phone is Your Best Friend – Kevin

Keep it charged. Be mindful of the battery percentage. You don’t want your phone dying when having meaningful conversations or when you are trying to say something important. One huge factor in communicating well is to have (as much as possible) regularly scheduled phone times, where you both know you are available, even if it’s a brief morning call and lunch break check in. Be thoughtful of these times, keeping your schedule as clear as possible and having your phone battery fully charged and ready to go for when you can talk.

Look into each other’s eyes. See each other’s smiles. Laugh as much as you can together and even share in sad times and see each other cry. This establishes a true friendship that can be more durable in the long run.

Try to acknowledge your significant other’s calls or messages as much as you can. Understand that even though you each have separate lives, messaging and calling throughout the day is a big part of any relationship. It’s amazing what a heart emoji can do for your sweetheart days. Reply to their messages as soon as you can.


Gifs, Emojis, and Undivided Attention – Juliandra

Like any relationship, it takes work in communication to be in a long distance one as much, if not more, than an in-person relationship. One huge aspect to communication that has helped Kevin and I is the little things.

Sometimes we don’t have hours on end to spend with each other. Sometimes it’s a 10-minute phone call between work and gym and then maybe a call while doing errands and that’s all we have time for that day. And it’s okay as long as we keep up with the little things like an “I Love You” gif or “Thinking of You” text. Those little messages will help keep communication going, whether or not you can talk much during the day.

And because you don’t REALLY know what your partners’ day is like as you aren’t a part of the daily ins and outs, then being sure to be the first one to send a sticker or gif through the day can just be a stepping stone to showing your partner they matter and are on your mind.

Little things matter too, even when you do have hours to spare on the phone. When you talk, do yourself and your partner the favor of turning off your TV or notifications on your phone, giving him or her your undivided attention. This communicates that you’re focused and fully engaged—Little Things matter so much!


Keep Physical Reminders in Sight – Kevin

This works as it reminds you of your lover and brings memories that keep you going, no matter what is happening around you in your day.

I have mementos hidden in drawers and placed around my room of pictures, gifts Juliandra has given me, and things we’ve collected together on trips. These physical things matter in a tangible way and ease out a smile every time I see them.


Your significant other has a life outside of you—don’t hate them for it.  -Juliandra

As a matter of fact, try to be encouraging of it! Like all things in life, balance is key and though you will want to spend most of your time together on the phone, and that’s important to keep communication lines open, having relationships and activities outside of talking to each other is important too. When things come up that you are home, but they are away for hours or even days, encourage them to take those times and moments with other friends and family. It will give you more to talk about after the fact, and shows you trust them with how they spend their time outside of talking with you. Long distance is hard enough, don’t make it harder for your partner by being selfish that they be at your beck and call (no pun intended) at every moment.


Creative Date Nights – Kevin

The opposite to Juliandra’s point above, it’s just as important to have dates and times figured out in advance, where your schedule is clear just for each other. These nights are meant to be work free and relaxing. No interruptions allowed.

Pick out a movie, get a drink, and order food you both like. Get your phones fully charged so no one gets left out during your date. It usually takes a minute or two, but syncing your movie and watching it at the exact time makes you feel as if you are both right next to each other.

Other things we’ve done is going on walks and even shopping at the same time. Not caring about the looks of others when on a video call during your date night, especially when out and about, gives the feeling of being in your own world together. The rest of it fades away.


Expect hard things to come up when you do see each other – Juliandra

One thing I didn’t expect dating long distance was the awkward to sometimes hurtful moments when were together in person. When talking on the phone, it’s easy to avoid conversations you don’t want to have, or brush things under the rug that are actually a big deal in person. And it’s okay to have those moments. Expect it even. You are two people who might not get to see each other often, and there will be an adjustment period every time you are physically in each other’s presence. Things that you didn’t know were an issue might come up, and have to be addressed to have clarity in the relationship. This doesn’t mean you should end things because it’s hard, it just means that you’re human and so is the man or woman you are dating.

I’ve realized in dating Kevin that every time we see each other I get super sad or even irritable with him days before he leaves. I didn’t understand how we could be together even during fun events and me feel so dejected inside. Or, we’ve ended up bickering, fighting, being less than patient with the other always just before another long parting.

When I realized this pattern, which would surface every visit and always just days before separating again, it has been easier to know that its coming and be better prepared for it the next time. But no matter what happens—giving myself and Kevin grace in the hard, awkward moments of being together after a lengthy separation is key.

 

{Travel Tuesday} Travel Better With These 3 “To-Dos”

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Travel better with these three recommendations for your next trip!

Rather than make a post about a specific country, culture, and time of life, the simple “To Dos” on this Travel Tuesday post are things that I’ve learned through the 27 countries I’ve visited, that I hope will help you make the best memories the next time you venture out!

1. Do talk to strangers. Some of the best moments traveling have been the serendipitous conversations with passerby-ers, people staying in the same hostel as I, and strangers next to me on the bus or train.

I remember a time in Queretaro, Mexico striking up a conversation with a gentleman standing outside of a play I wanted to see. I was with a few other students and we all showed up late, without tickets. It was sold out. We ended up striking a conversation with a guy outside, having no idea he worked at the theater. If we hadn’t taken the time to chat, he wouldn’t have then snuck us in a backdoor so we could see the second half of the show… It pays to talk to strangers; you never know where it’ll get you!

Another time, a guy with blue hair, gauges in his ears, and wearing a leopard print shirt was traveling from Spain to Morocco on the same flight as I. From the looks of him, this guy was someone I wouldn’t have talked to on my own turf. However, he asked me a few questions about Morocco, namely why was I going, and then happily told me allllll about his vacation. From plane, to taxi, to train, we ended up sticking together through the travel process in making it to our destinations. Halfway through our 2 hour wait for the train, I heard him ask the people around us about phones and buying a SIM card and data. He turned out to be a huge asset as together we found a mall a couple of blocks from the train station with a phone store, got food, and he even carried my bags on and off the train for me. You can find great comradery in friendly travel conversation, even with someone who looks like they just rolled through their sister’s closet by accident.

With strangers I’ve gone rock climbing, dancing, out to shows, connected with over drinks, and like the guy from Morocco, even finding and buying phone data in foreign countries! Strangers, while keeping a close hold on my phone and wallet, make traveling worth it as we’ve exchanged stories and experienced life together. After all, my current fiancé was just a stranger on a ship at one point, before we started talking!!

2. Do travel alone. I LOVE group trips. It’s important, fun, and you come back with shared stories to talk about for years to come. BUT the times I’ve traveled alone, I’ve learned more about myself—what I’m capable of, what scares me, and how to stretch myself out of my comfort zone. I am more aware of my surroundings when alone, whether for safety reasons, or just to make sure I arrive on time to the next bus or train. It allows me to take in more with sights, sounds, and smells. I get to pull out my camera, and not feel pressured to hurry because I’m with people, as I capture the both the breadth and depth of life around me. I love a good solo trip, even if it’s just for a day to branch out in a new city.

3. Do what locals do. I’ve certainly stood out as a foreigner in many travels. Even just to NYC, 5 hours from where I live in Pennsylvania, if you’re not from the area, locals can tell. And with that comes the risk of being targeted for money, scams, pick pocketers, or worse. I’ve learned to research the customs of the areas I’ll be traveling to in advance and have gotten advice from people through Facebook groups, blogs, tour guides and even “safe zones” like hotels and Airbnbs. Doing the local thing, by researching in advance will save you money and harassment, I promise.

A small, but telling story of being naive in a new place was as simple as buying a gelato in Italy. You would think it was a simple thing, buying gelato in Florence. It’s everywhere. Street corners and plazas. Piled high in beautiful, colorful mounds. Luckily, I’m not much of a dairy eater anymore, or I would have fallen for the simple trap that those gelato stands have going on in most touristy places throughout Italy. I learned from a local that those tall, gorgeous piles of gelato aren’t real (artisan), and shop owners charge double, 6 euros, instead of 2 or 3, for a scoop like in true gelato shops. She said the real places with homemade, artisan, and authentic gelato keep it insulated in small containers. And she warned to not spend more than 3 euros for a dish. If the workers tried to charge more, she said tell them you know better and you’ll pay the local rate.

It doesn’t matter what country, city, or culture I’ve visited, I’ve been naive and have stood out many times. But through seeking locals’ and avid travelers’ advice, and by doing what they do and going where they go, I’ve always had a richer experience.

By the end of my Italy trip, I ended up trying gelato a few times and it was always the right price and quality, saving me a few bucks as a foreigner.

That’s it! My three “To Do’s” to making the most of your next trip. Drop a message/ leave a comment with your To Do’s when traveling; I’m always open to the advice of others!

Held Back By Money… or Not?

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I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time. For two years now, I’ve pondered the words my older brother said to me when I was considering grad school, but concerned about the cost, he said, “Don’t ever let money be the reason to do, or not do something.”

It was a statement of freedom. Of empowerment. That money doesn’t have to dictate my choices. He followed the comment with, “There is so much money in the world, and if God really wants you to do something, He’ll provide the money to make it happen.”

I did end up going to grad school, and just five months out of student life, back at work, it seems I’ve settled back into a mindset of “well I don’t have money, so I can’t” and “I’m living a poor person life right now, sorry” and “I wish I could take trips like them.”

Money is important, and we need to live within our means. The repercussion of spending what we do not have could wind us up in a position of vulnerability, debt, and destitution.

That said, living like a “poor person” is a mentality and lifestyle that goes beyond mere frugality. It’s the opposite of empowering and is a self-inflicted state of being that gets rid of choices, and puts you at the disposal of others.

I feel the crunch of getting out of debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and wanting to save up in order to move on to a new market where I can make a decent wage for my degrees and experience. But, I’m not going to get there by living as a victim to my circumstances and with the mentality that I’m poor.

I’ve yet to see a paycheck for my work, yet I’ve published a book that a whole slew of people have bought. I’ve gotten engaged, and used mileage built up via credit, to make the flights possible on my most recent trip to see my fiancé in his country. I can buy groceries every week, put gas in my car, and pay all the car bills that make it possible for me to get to work each week.

I’m not poor.

Nothing about what I do in my daily life depends on other’s charity.

And after paying another round of payments off with my last piddly squat paycheck, I know that as long as I continue to dream big, and however slow or fast make moves of living my best life, money has no authority over what I can and cannot do with my life.

God knows the plans He has for me. And I will continue to prosper under His hand, knowing full well He has all authority to give me more or take it all away, like Job, the wealthiest man of his day from the Bible, who at God’s allowance, lost EVERYTHING including his children. Imagine losing your home, money, job, and children, and health all in the same week. Job lived through it and came out more blessed on the other side as he trusted God during the process.

God’s perspective is higher than mine, and He sees what I need and how he’ll provide, before I do. So far, He’s been gracious to give me a job to at least be making something during this transition period after grad school, but I know this is not the end. It can’t be. I need more and I ask him every day to show me the jobs I should be applying for that pay in a way that I can be a blessing to people, instead of a burden.

On the flipside, when a high paying job presents itself to me, I don’t want money to be the sole purpose of taking it. As my brother said, “Don’t ever let money be the reason to do, or not do something.” I want to be passionate about my work, not just take a higher paying one for the paychecks.

Money shouldn’t be the reason (a reason, yes, but not the ultimate reason) for making any life changing decisions. DO YOUR LIFE. Think about what you want, then go for it!

Live the life you want, now.

Be happy, now.

Be debt free, now.

Give generously, now.

Set goals, and then achieve them, now.

Money isn’t the mindset and lifestyle that will allow you or I to live your best life. It is a part of it, but money never needs to hold us back.

{Travel Tuesday} Cuba: Write and Remember

 

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I wish I had written about Cuba when I traveled to the island in 2018. I was only there for a day with my best friend on a cruise stop. It was the hottest day of the cruise, that I recall well. Sweat dripping into my eyes despite the smiles for the camera. But of all of our stops that gorgeous cruise trip, our one day in Cuba was my favorite. The problem is, as I flipped through old photos, I can’t remember everything that made the day so special.

Hence, why this is such an important post. What I do remember I will try to detail out here, and pray for another visit one day in the future that lasts longer than just a few hours.

Timeless is the first word that comes to mind, when thinking of walking the streets of Havana that hot morning. There was something quiet and timeless in the old cruiser cars, the signs that hung above shops on the streets, and the architecture run down by the salty air, but kept “nice” with a colorful coat of paint.

Rum, Cigars, and Coffee, oh my! The best part of learning about Cuba was a rum, cigar, and coffee tasting in an old bar where we got a mini dance and music lesson. The three biggest exports of the island, rum, cigars, and coffee (along with fish which we learned later on our tour that day), were cheap and good. We learned of the different grades of Cuban cigars– our guide told us to never buy the most expensive cigars offered because at the end of the day, whatever options are layed out, it’s still a cigar from Cuba. Romeo and Juliette is the brand we tried, not the most expensive, but still as pure as they come. I remember Tiffany, my best friend on the trip too, being able to light her cigar with ease, smoking like she’d done it 1,000 times. I on the other hand struggled with the simple task.  As we learned, the correct way to light a Cuban cigar is with a little strip of cedar, that allows the cigar to burn, without contaminating the flavor. My strip of cedar was burning too fast before I ever really got the cigar lit, and burnt my fingers instead. I did get a small a taste of flavor for a couple of moments, enough to feel like a true tourist.

As for coffee and rum, the rum was CHEAP and a handle of the same rum in the USA would have been $20-30 depending on tax! In Cuba, I chose not to take the opportunity to get a bottle for just $5. Taught me a little bit of the price markup and taxes that make some imported goods so expensive. And the coffee tasted sweet, not bitter. Fresh Cuban coffee, having not sat on a shelf for weeks or months before brewing, probably allowed for the flavors of the bean to stand out. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the flavors that day.

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Life in Cuba, our guide had lived her whole life where everything from cooking oil to meat was rationed by family size. She said her family (parents and a sibling) only got 7 oz of oil per month, which is not quite a cup. Imagine spilling that on your floor one day by accident, or using too much in the pan than necessary… It’s hard to think you can’t just go to the cupboard for more, but have to wait till the following month to get what you need.

As the country is growing to attract more tourists, they have programs that allow people to go to Hotel and Restaurant service school. A way to have a guaranteed career in the Travel and Tourist Biz if they don’t want to continue their education after high school. Handfuls of 20 year-old (ish) men and women walked in their uniforms, and when I asked the guide about if school was still in session, though it was the middle of July, she informed me that training to work in a restaurant or hotel is the thing to do after high school. That and like her, becoming a tour guide.

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And finally, I thought it was fascinating that Hemmingway spent so much time in Cuba fishing, writing, and living. We stopped in the hotel he used to stay and live at when he was on the island, and even saw him shaking the hand in an old photo with Fidel Castro. It was in Cuba that he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, the work that turned him into a household name.

I suppose I remember quite a bit considering our cruise ship was docked for a total of 7 hours, before moving on to Cozumel, MX. The beauty of writing is it forces you, me, to remember with words in a way much different than passively flipping through photos, and I am so grateful to have all of the memories of that day.