Hello Again: The Art of Getting my Words Unstuck

I’ve always believed that new beginnings are more powerful when they are grounded in vulnerability rather than sheer resolve. So I’ll start my return to the internet with a confession: I’ve been stuck.

The self-protecting part of me would like to pretend I’ve been gone a long while from here because I’ve been off creating amazing things, discovering more of the world, and just haven’t had time for life on the internet. While some of this is accurate, the bigger truth is that I’ve been quiet because I’ve been stuck in that horrible place of letting the culture of ‘who I should be’ silence who I am.

I didn’t leave you on purpose. Six months ago, I accidentally crashed Wandering for Good when I was building the website for The Honeymoon Hack (a travel hacking tool for couples which is, in fact, an amazing thing I did create while I was absent). And I crashed it in style–losing years of words that I’d collected while wandering around the world.

Had I been sensible I’d have straightaway paid a developer to fix the mess I’d created, but sense is not the strong-suit of a DIY girl with serious resolve (and minimal coding skills). After a small success in recovering some of my work, my inner-bohemian rose up and got me wondering if it all didn’t happen for a reason. I was completely unsure, so I responded by doing what internet hustlers do–I pretended it was on purpose. I threw up an under construction page promising that my site was coming back soon–and better than ever before.

Lesson: Two lies never make a truth.

That “coming back soon” page stayed up a really long time. Only behind it, I wasn’t working on making my site better, and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry. I kept ‘rebuild website’ on my very long to do list– but at the heart I was paralyzed in not knowing how I wanted to re-invent my online brand, grow my audience, and all of the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah the digital-business world tells us we have to do to be successful.

Weeks turned into months, and the longer I went not having a website, the less pressure I felt to be an internet rockstar. Part of this separation was liberating, yet there was one thing that I missed. I missed the words. And I missed this place I’d carved out to gather with you over these stories and lessons.

I wanted those words back, but every time I’d come here to write them, I’d get stuck again. I’d take my eyes off my own paper looking for inspiration of how to create that new and improved page I promised to house them on, and then I’d spiral into overwhelm. My words were lost. I wasn’t only stuck, I was silenced by comparison.

Then  I ran into someone else’s words, and they moved me:

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” – Tom Stoppard

I finally realized, my words don’t have to look pretty to change a life. To nudge the world. I was stuck on something that didn’t matter while all the while I was holding captive something that did.

And so here are my words. Delivered to you today on the most un-improved and un-inspiring wordpress template that exists. Maybe it will get prettier over time, but that isn’t a promise. If you want to see pretty pictures of my color-coated life you can look at my carefully curated presence on Instagram.

For now, my promise here is to show up here regularly to bring you words. Messy words, joyful words, words colored in black and white.

But most importantly words bathed in a prayer that by reading them together that we shall all nudge the world a little.

 

Roots and Regrets: Travel Lessons from Italy

255770_10200641354510145_265673010_nMy first trip to Italy was in 1993. I was a young and hip backpacker, too cool for the universe—as most teenagers are—and especially too cool for my family. Or so I thought.

Now that I’m much older and a little wiser I’ve come to realize that this whole time my family is awesome.

My family has deep Italian roots. My father is Italian. His parents were Italian. My great grandparents were Italians straight off the boat. (See above, those were the immigration papers of my Grandmother’s mother).

I don’t know enough stories about that boat and why the patriarchs and matriarchs of my “Italian-American” family came to the “new” world of their time. Perhaps they were “explorers” rather than “settlers”. Maybe this is where my genes of adventure come from. If I am cool now, it is only because it is hereditary.

There is one story that I do remember well about my learning my family history. Sadly, it is both my own story and a story of regret.

In 1993 when I took my very first trip to Europe, my Italian grandparents were alive. They religiously hand wrote me letters nearly every week during the duration of my first study abroad semester in London. I’ll never forget my Grammy’s perfect cursive penmanship or the way she and Pappy always tucked 20$ bills into their tri-folded drugstore notepad letters.

As the end of my time in the U.K. neared, I prepared for my first backpacking trip through Italy–Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Venice were on the list. I was excited, and in advance of the trip received one of Grammy and Pappy’s letters with a 20$ travel bonus! This time, however, the letter wasn’t the ordinary update with the regular news of their local Italian choir and spaghetti dinner club they hosted. In preparation for my first trip to Italy, they had carefully created a list of the names and telephone numbers of all of my relatives in the cities I would be visiting so I could connect with my roots. It was a treasure map.

Unfortunately, the thing about teenagers and treasure maps, was that I wasn’t smart enough to know the value of this letter at the time. It was just a piece of the same old drug-store notepad paper from my grandparents with the names of people I didn’t know on it. I put the 20$ in my wallet, tucked the address list into my Let’s Go guide, and hit the road!

As a teenager I thought of my relatives as the people who I saw at family reunions and funerals. They were the ones who brought funny Italian dishes like cold pizza with no cheese they called tomato pie, and pinched my cheeks, and always asked me if I remembered their names. (And of course I didn’t.)

One day in Florence, where some of the relatives on the list lived, I pulled out the piece of paper from my guidebook, admired Grammy’s perfect cursive, and picked up a hostel payphone. And then I got scared and put the receiver down. I didn’t know who these people were. Maybe they were somehow related to my ‘old’ grandparents, but I didn’t know them, I didn’t know what to say to them, AND they didn’t speak English. Game over.

I never made that call. I put the list back in my book and never looked at it again. I had assumed that I was living my once in a lifetime chance to visit Italy and I didn’t want to waste it with cheek pinching strangers who might serve me funny food and not be able to talk to me in 18 year old English. I had no inkling that I’d spend the next 20+ years traveling.

I’ve been back to Italy at least ten times since, and I’ve thought about this moment dozens of times. I’d give anything to be able to pick up the phone, dial into the past, and get to know the family on that list. I’d call them all and mumble in my best incoherent Duo-Lingo Italian.

Sadly, I lost that paper, and within a few years after that trip I also lost both of my grandparents who were my connections to these living stories. For some reason, however, I’ve never lost that memory of putting down the receiver and making that choice not to call.

Sure, it was just a phone call in the past that I didn’t make, but moments like these also go by another name. We call them regret, and regret strangely has a way of sticking around—even longer than estranged relatives and cold cheese-less pizza.

Perhaps regret sticks and stings because it so badly doesn’t want us to forget the lesson it teaches. She stays with us to remind us to run the other way from our fears and failures. Not to condemn, but to condition us for the better and to prepare us for the future. To make us stronger and more willing to pick up the phone the next time we get the chance.

I’m headed back to Italy next week, making my own mission to chase my roots into the village where my great grandparents came from. I’m not sure what I’ll discover, but I know one thing that won’t be hanging out there: Regret.

You may never get a rewrite of that moment from your past, but you do get to write the end of your story.

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The Art of Taking Up Space

CoverStory-Liniers-Eustace-Manspreading-879x1200-1454103357You’ve probably heard of the “manspread” – the cultural phenomenon that has taken the New York City subway by storm. If you haven’t, it may be time to Google it.

The topic of manspreading been laughed about on comedy shows and trending across social media networks. In fact, a “manspreading” illustration of the famed New Yorker caricature Eustace Tilley is currently gracing the coveted cover of the magazine’s 90th anniversary edition.

While the jokes are funny, I haven’t quite been able to understand this phenomenon, or the bigger question of why people, both women and men, put up with this.

While I don’t live in NYC, and don’t even pass through the big apple that often, I often see this same phenomenon happen in the skies where I tend to hang out quite a bit as a master travel hacker. Why is it that the man sitting next to me thinks his elbow, his knees or his side beer belly is welcome to take up half of my seat? And why do I naturally scoot over in my own seat to make room rather than say excuse me, but get the F#&* out of my space?

A rockstar friend of mine shared this poetry slam video with me this week, and it got me thinking about this topic. (It’s a few years old, but it’s good. You should watch it.)

While I consider myself to be a pretty independent and empowered woman, so many of these words resonated with a silenced voice deep inside me.

Sure, I’ve been told that I can do anything I want and be anything I want—and I fully believe this. But I’ve have also spent decades taking in the silent lessons that politeness trumps truth, soft is better than strong, presence requires apology, and pretty precedes professional. While our hearts desire big lives and success of epic proportions, our poorly-calibrated inner compass directs us with these misguided truths.

Ironically, the same figures in my life who applaud my opportunity and success, are the same who hint that I’m not ‘settled down’ because perhaps I’m too independent, too strong, and too smart to be a suitable partner. “Live large they say, but maybe not too big because no man wants to be with that.” I call bullshit on this.

We are all meant to live largely and to love others. That’s how the world works.

Isn’t it interesting that women are said to glow when they are pregnant? Perhaps this is the one time in their lives they are finally as an act of nature, un-apologetically taking up space, and people make room for it without question.

Perhaps we should all live like we’re expecting.

Though it’s easy to file this under “gender issues” this isn’t solely about women. The “manspreader” is symbolic of a much bigger cultural, and even global problem we face:

We must stop living in false belief that one person or any group of people has more right to take up more space than another.

Let me say that again:

We must stop living in false belief that one person or any group of people has more right to take up more space than another.

Male, Female, Red, Yellow, Black White—the challenge is for all of us:

Live in your fullness
Break your invisible boundaries

Show up more, Shut up less
Open up when you’d rather give up

Make space for others, but most importantly, fill the space that’s yours

And if this is just too philosophical for you, please remember this one simple thing:
Keep your knees off my seat and your elbow off my armrest.

Capture the Things that Move You

w4gcapture - 1I have a love hate relationship with my smart phone and my computer. One minute I want to hurl them both off a cliff, and then two minutes later, I accidentally drop one of them or forget one in a restaurant, and my breath gets caught in my throat, and I suddenly feel like my life is going to end.

There are lots of reasons to hate the technology that surrounds us every moment of every day. But, then again, there are lots of reasons to love it too. Maybe you’re firmly in one camp? Or maybe you straddle the technology lover/hater line like I do.

I love that technology allows me to live an untethered life. That my work can travel. That I can literally have an office wherever my laptop can go, and I can easily stay connected to the people I love. I wrote Upgrade Unlocked while eating pad thai in the street in Bangkok. I’ve written thousands of words from 37,000 feet in the sky. I’ve Facetimed into family holiday gatherings from far aways squares in Cambodia and Colombia. I’ve even been known to hike into the forest with my computer and my hammock when I need to get away to a “quiet” office to think. I’ve been able to build the life I have because the world is more connected than ever.

Yet, sometimes I miss the days when my computer was as big as the desk it sat on, and there was no chance that I’d ever try to pack it in my carryon for a trip around the world. I miss the days when a vacation was a vacation, when you checked out paper books from the library, and going out with friends included more time spent in deep conversations than in checking in and live posting every moment from the evening on instagram or snapchat. I miss the days when my friends were in my neighborhood and stopped by for a cup of coffee rather than liking the picture of my coffee in my social feeds.

As my new year has been starting out, I’ve been contemplating this paradox. I want to make sure I’m living fully in the real-life present, and using technology as a tool to capture the memories I want to keep, rather being captive to them–living tethered to my phone and awarded for my loyalty with notifications of pavlovian likes.

This year, I will choose to be at my sister’s wedding, rather than live stream it to Facebook. I will choose to share dinner conversation with my friends rather than posting the play by play demolition of our magnificent four course kale salad on instagram.

I will be present in the moments.

I will capture the moments that move me.

I will share memories.

I will not make memories for the sake of sharing.

 

If you don’t see me online every minute of every day this year, don’t worry. I haven’t died. It’s just a sign that, I have rather chosen to live, a little differently.

I hope you will join me. I think we’ll all be a little happier this way.

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How Travel Hacking Can Change the World

 

The habit of collecting points and miles started when I was a teenager. I never realized that this hobby would eventually change the way that I viewed my place in the world.

I’ve been doing a lot more work in the realm of travel hacking lately. If your shaking your head and wondering what that is, Travel Hacking is the practice of getting a whole lot of points and miles and using them to see the world. You can call it loyalty, you can call it frequent flying. I call it trying to figure out how to get airline miles and hotel points for everything I do. 

Since I’ve shifted from full time humanitarian work to consulting, I’ve also been paying more attention to what I’m saying Yes to in my life. I want everything I’m pouring my energy and effort into to align with my personal mission to be a world changer. But I kept saying Yes to opportunities to teach people how to earn mileage bonuses and book first class tickets for free. I worried I was losing focus.

And then it occurred to me. Travel had been the key to changing the trajectory of my life for good 20 years ago. There were many things I never cared about or couldn’t understand until I walked the streets of foreign places and took in the sights and smells and sounds with my own senses.

Travel Hacking opens a door of opportunity to the world. Points makes it possible for all of us who don’t have deep pockets to be able to fly to the Middle East or Asia or Africa. It enables those who otherwise can’t afford globetrotting to be able to see and touch and smell for themselves.

The last year that I lived in Cambodia, my youngest sister and my 17 year old niece flew on miles to come visit me for an Asian adventure. I drug them through smelly markets, walked them through temples, fed them street food and had them visit a drop in center for abused boys where I’d done some work.* (I even tried to get them to eat bugs but they refused.) For a brief window in their lives, they had an opportunity that they’d never had before: to understand that the world is much bigger and different than they’d ever imagined. 

Having them around that week was a bit magical for me. It allowed me to wipe the dust of 100 countries worth of travel out of my own eyes and relive the wonder of seeing things though the lens of a new traveler. Though Cambodia had become every day and ordinary to me after living there for 3 years, for a brief moment it was all rich and extraordinary (and smelly) again.

The week reminded me of how life changing travel is–especially when you’re new at it. Especially when it’s your first opportunity to see the world.

And so, I go on sharing my secret strategies for points and miles. Knowing that it isn’t just about the free ticket, it’s about giving to others the priceless opportunity to open the Pandora’s box of the world to the uninitiated. And once you’ve seen and smelled and tasted, I truly believe they’ll join me in my mission to make every corner of the world they touch just a little bit better!

Happy Travel Hacking.

PS. If you want to learn more about travel hacking, check out the Frequent Flyer Master (I was a contributing author to this), join the Travel Hacking Cartel (I moonlight at the content editor here), or sign up for the CreativeLive course I did last fall with my friend Chris. And stay tuned, there is something new and exciting I’ve been writing to share with you soon.

* Visiting orphanages and volunteering with children when you travel isn’t always the best idea. It may change your life, but it isn’t always the best for the children your visiting. The program we visited in Cambodia was a place where I had long term relationships with the staff.  Check out these two amazing resources for information before you volunteer overseas: Child Safe Tourism and Child Safe’s Children are Not Tourist Attractions Campaign.

Building Tomorrow Doesn’t Work

This morning my tea leaves spoke to me. Well, the leaves didn’t actually speak. It was more like the words on the tea bag tag jumped out at me as I sat at my desk sipping my sweet and spicy herbal blend and wondering how I’m ever going to make it through the list of things I want to accomplish this week. Here’s what they said:

“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” – Henry Ford

I thought about that a minute as my tea steamed and I stared at the piles of papers on my desk waiting to be attacked today. And then I thought about Henry Ford.

Henry built his reputation on two great things he gave to the modern world: the Model T and the assembly line. But what about the things Henry didn’t get around to doing? Most inventors and entrepreneurs have about a million ideas a day. I’m positive Henry had more than just two. It left me wondering what else the world would have right now if Henry would’ve had more time to get things done.

There are always two camps on my to do list: the list of things that I have to do so I can pay my bills, and the list of ideas I want to create that will make the world more remarkable. You can guess which list is more interesting. And, sadly, you can probably guess which list doesn’t always see much action.

I tell myself, “That’s just the way it goes” or “If I had a just little more time in the day”. But truth be told, I’m just trying to make myself feel better because I also know this to be true:

You aren’t defined by your ideas, you’re defined by your actions. 

What you don’t build, or write, or start, or begin today isn’t going to build itself while you sleep and write emails.

You won’t build a blog if you’re never going to write. You can’t summit a mountain if you never start the journey. You’ll never see 100 countries if you don’t send in that passport application.

You and I have the exact same amount of time in our day as Henry Ford, and he managed to use it to invent a car. (And he didn’t even have Google)

Get up early and have a cup of tea. Choose now. Say yes to the right thing and get it done.

You’ll thank yourself. And someday the world will thank you too.

 

 

 

Seeking Silence

Crickets. It’s been quiet here lately. Silent, actually.

There’s going to be no apologies. No excuses for abandoning you readers here without words for so long.

I have missed you, but I’m actually not sorry. You see, I left you on purpose.

No, I didn’t quit my blog. I didn’t run out of words after writing a whole year’s worth of blog posts in the small month of February.

My silence has been intentional. I needed to make space to think. To quiet down, lower the volume and turn some things off. In my ongoing quest to find home, I realized I had settle to inside before I could ever even think about the scary idea of physically settling down.

I stopped looking for answers and went looking for some silence. It was an effort – a little like climbing a tall mountain– but a journey that I couldn’t bring you on.

It hasn’t all been quiet. I’ve discovered lots of sounds in the silence like birds chirping, burning matchsticks crackling and the sound my hammock makes when it blows in the breeze. Most importantly, I’ve discovered what it sounds like to listen to myself breathe.

And now I’m ready to roll again. To write again. To let the band play while I dance toward home in my sparkling ruby slippers. To re-embark on my quest for home and to invite you along.

I may stop for a little more silence here and there, just to make sure I’m still breathing and grateful. But don’t be worried, I’ll always come back. I’m here for good, remember.

And speaking of good and grateful, I’m glad you’re still here, that you stuck it out through my silence.

What have you been doing with all this quiet time?