Thicker than water

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Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that – without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember: you may not want to endure what they are enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.

This year has been simultaneously remarkable and harrowing. I always refer to my life as a rollercoaster because that’s how it’s often felt with the ups and downs and the loopty-loops. It still really does. And now as I sit here halfway through 2017, I’m quite thunderstruck just absorbing the fact that half of this year has already passed. Time is slipping through my fingertips at a rather alarming rate. Some days, it’s unsettling. Others, I’m grateful for it. Life is a balance, isn’t it?

I recently made a surprise trip stateside to see my family. Namely, I went back to see my grandparents who’ve not been in good health lately, as I’ve previously mentioned. When I was initially planning to go, I wanted to write about my week when I returned to London because I thought it’d be cathartic in some way. I’ve been back a week now, and my opinion has changed slightly. Part of me wants to spill every little detail about my week and commit it to ink, but the other part of me wants to keep it close, to myself and those closest to me. As a writer, the latter bit stresses me out a little. I’ve been relatively open about massive issues I’ve faced in my life, especially recently, and I do genuinely find catharsis when I put my feelings into writing. But my week in Cleveland was special, emotional and one I’ll forever hold dear. Because it feels cruel to write a blog and mention something as dramatic as a surprise trip 4,000 miles away and not say a peep about it, I will say this:

My week home was heart-warming, exhausting, happy, sad and very, very fulfilling. My grandparents and aunt were so incredibly surprised and thrilled to see me and spend time with me, and that’s all I ever wanted from the trip: to make them happy and aware that I was willing to drop everything in a heartbeat to be there for them. And I was. I was there. And I will be again if and when they want or need me to be.

It was not a holiday. It was not time off. I woke up every morning at 5am because that was 10am UK time and I worked a full day. Every day that week. Then by 1pm, the UK workday was over so I’d get ready for the afternoon and spend it with family. In the evenings, I’d squeeze in a few hours to see friends. I’d fall into bed every night absolutely shattered, mostly running on adrenaline, which seems to be my only fuel source this year. I rolled back into London on a Sunday morning and rocked right back to work that Monday. It was very hard, but I don’t regret doing it. It was the right time for me to show up, and I’m so, so glad I did. However, I have no idea how I’ll ever top that kind of gift! Think I set the bar too high for myself…

I still don’t know what’s next in this long saga of continuous chaos. Some days I’m optimistic and strong and cheery, other days I’m a moody, grumpy lump on a log for no discernible reason. Some days I’ll talk my friends’ ears off about what’s bugging me or what I’m excited for, and other times I force them into an awkward exchange with lots of one-word answers and uncomfortable silences. I don’t know how people are meant to handle the things I’ve been going through this year, and I don’t know that there’s really a guidebook for any of it either. Day by day I take things as they come, and meet them with whatever mood happens to me. I never have proof of my strength and I often feel like a wimpy, whiny baby, but I’ve been told that I’ve been doing okay so I take that as a success and keep moving forward.

My life isn’t better or worse than anyone else’s. While it’s hard not to feel like the world owes me something, I want to believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe this year is a year for hard-earned lessons that will prep me for whatever 2018 has coming my way. I don’t know. I can’t know for sure. But what I do have now that I didn’t have before is experience. I’ve learned way more in these last few months – about myself, life, humanity – more than I ever could’ve imagined I would.

This life is precious. Although it’s cliché, you never know what tomorrow may bring. I do what I can in a day, and then I’m done with it. I make time for what I want and need, and do my best now to strike a better balance between work and my personal life. Work still seeps into my personal life, but it is a choice and not a requirement. I am grateful to have friends both here and in my hometown, all of whom show their support for me when I need it. Life isn’t about merely surviving – it’s about living, right? That’s what they say.

So I guess this post is my thank you to everyone who’s been following my life thus far, offering tid bits of ‘you’re doing great!’ and ‘thinking of you’ comments here and there. I imagine from the outside looking in it’s been pretty dramatic and entertaining, so I can’t blame you for wanting to know how I am and how things are going. Thank you for caring. Thank you for striking up conversations even if I look unapproachable. Thank you for spending time with me even on the days I’m not very communicative. Thank you for being constant beacons of light when I’ve not even realised I was in the dark. I am so very grateful that even on days I feel like I’m dealing with this life alone, I’ve never actually been alone. It’s been quite the adventure so far, hasn’t it? Here’s hoping for tomorrow…

Wealth of travel

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Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sites; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

A gypsy is a nomadic individual, commonly described as free-spirited and unattached. Although you’re probably imagining Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, gypsies do still exist today, mostly populating parts of Europe. And although all people have basically adapted and changed to accept a new modern lifestyle, gypsies still remain true to their nomadic heritage. I have never met an individual that identifies as a gypsy, but I’ve met the other extreme: the homebody settler. These are the people who make a home and refuse to leave it or explore the rest of the world not because they’re unable financially or for other legitimate reasons, but because they simply don’t want to. Now, I’m a firm believer that traveling does a person good for many reasons. It broadens your horizons, you get to interact with people who may have different ideals, beliefs, cultures or lifestyles than what you’re used to, you can explore history firsthand and with your own eyes, you can physically separate yourself from the stress that awaits you at home — quite frankly, I can only think of seriously positive reasons to pack up and go elsewhere every once in a while. Perhaps I am entirely biased, being a self-proclaimed nomad in training, but how can you fully understand what is happening around the world if you’re only reading about it or hearing about it from others? There’s no better way to understand than to put yourself there!

There are plenty of lists out there about why you should travel, but there are a few key reasons I think are most important to highlight.

1. Traveling is a learning experience. The act of traveling outside of your comfort zone (metaphorically and literally) forces you to figure things out on your own. You can learn how to read a map, how public transportation works, how to manage your time between flights. You learn these things because you have to in that moment otherwise you might miss the next train! But you also get to learn in a broader way – learning how certain people live and how it differs, learning about the past, learning about world, regional, local issues, learning cultural differences and language. The world quickly becomes your classroom and -gasp!- you’re a willing, eager student now! When you travel away from home, you are opening your mind a little bit more each time and learning and changing all the time. Heck, you might find yourself jumping ship from ideas you once held firm simply because travel opened your mind to other opinions. Trust me, it happens!

2. Traveling is good for your health. How many times have you gone on vacation and never left the hotel room? Never? Exactly! When you go somewhere away from home, you’re much more likely to be active and constantly on the move. Sightseeing, hikes, walking around famous shopping centers for hours – all of these things keep you active, and when you’re excited about something, those good chemicals start flowing in your brain! We all know about the scary research about desk jobs and how harmful they can be to your health when you’re sitting for long periods of time, so use that as your excuse to pack your bags and get out for a while. Besides its positive effects on medical health, traveling can also do wonders for your mental health. Shred the stress, let down the barriers and accept the exciting act of adventuring. It’s liberating!

I expected my list of reasons to travel to be much longer than two reasons, but quite frankly, I think that’s plenty. We’re encouraged to travel a lot when we’re young, but I don’t think age matters. The only reason we’re told this is because when you’re young, you have less responsibilities and more free time. However, I don’t think it matters when you go so long as you do go. It’s never too late to learn and grow. There are no excuses that should permanently thwart your ability to travel. If you don’t have money, start saving. If you don’t have time, make time. If you don’t have a plan, get creative. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re probably not growing. So don’t be afraid of having to bunk down in a hostel in Europe because those scary tales about hostels being gross, dingy and unsafe are all just that — tales! And even if you do wind up in a less than conventional situation, imagine how fun it’ll be to tell that story later on? We learn as we go, but if you’re standing still, you probably won’t learn as much. Just go. You’ll be glad you did.

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

On the road to understanding

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I flip through my used, worn out copy of Jack Kerouac’s, “On the Road,” and find myself comparing then and now. Not necessarily the economy, living standards or general way of life, but more like the attitudes of the individuals in the book and the way they demand adventure. Why don’t people think like Dean anymore? Why don’t we live spontaneously? In a simpler form, why don’t we do exactly what we want? 

Obviously, there are struggles in life – obstacles, nay-sayers, reality – but there are small, easy ways to better ourselves and enjoy our time on this planet. For instance, why not book a flight to India for a week? If money weren’t an obstacle, would you? I worry that many people nowadays are too comfortable where they are, and when this happens, we can’t grow. The most understanding and open-minded individuals I have ever met have a hefty traveling resumé. They’ve explored and immersed themselves in a location or culture unlike their own for no other reason but to learn from it. I truly believe the best way to understand another person is to learn about their lifestyle, culture, religion, environment or language. We all have deep roots that extend well into these facets of our lives, and if we start to understand where these roots come from and why, then we can only grow in understanding. Does that make sense? Our beliefs and opinions are not just created out of thin air, so we should work to figure out what has aided in forming them. Don’t just read a book to learn – take yourself there! 

If you want to go, that should be reason enough. The tickets may be expensive, but the experience is sure to be priceless. In any case, there are ways to save if it’s an adventurous learning experience you’re after! 

Through my travels, I’ve nixed the idea of hotel stays for the most part because I prefer not to pay out the nose! However, many Americans hear the word, “hostel,” and immediately picture a dirty, unsafe, sketchy room shared by 20 other random foreign people. Let me destroy that stereotype right now! If you’re planning a trip and want to book a place to stay the night, you need to check out Hostels.com. I’ve used this site a bunch, and it’s so simple! You control exactly the kind of place you want to stay. Determine how much you’re willing to spend, what area you want to be in, what amenities you prefer and more! The reviews and ratings make it easy to find out if the hostel is legitimate and safe too, which has all too often saved my skin as I’ve hopped across the globe. I know this sounds like a shameless plug for the site, but I wouldn’t encourage it if I hadn’t found such success myself! And come on, doesn’t £20 sound much better than £150 for a night’s stay in London? So you can sort of live like Dean Moriarty hopping from bed to bed, but in a much safer way.

And what about meals and activities? I relied heavily on Groupon and LivingSocial if I ever found myself in high tourist areas. These babies got me meal deals I shared with friends and tickets to events, shows and other adventures that saved me a pretty penny. It also doesn’t hurt to hit up the local market and buy meal staples to make your own sandwiches or have snacks to munch whenever your tummy growls and your pockets ache. I took a trip down to the beaches of Southern Spain for a few days and only spent money in a restaurant once! For everything else, I bought food at the market and cooked it myself in the kitchen at my hostel. Gave me an opportunity to mingle with other hostel goers too! 

If these little money saving tips can’t convince you to hop on a plane, train or car to go exploring, then check out TripAdvisor.com to hear from other expert travelers and get more advice and tips. I’ve asked a few questions on the site myself and gotten some very helpful responses in return.

My point is if you want to understand others with a diverse background, the most fulfilling way to do that is to envelope yourself in their environment and culture. You’ll learn so much so quickly, and you’ll find your entire outlook on life can change with just one trip. And if you disagree, it’s probably because you haven’t ventured outside of your comfort zone. 

Come on, we modern day Dean Moriartys are waiting for ya!