Category Archives: Daily Joy

Traveling with Joy is not only about experiencing joy while traveling, it is also about embracing the little things in life that add joy to each and every day. This section of Traveling with Joy shares stories which inspire us to make the most of whatever moment we’re living.

Say Hello to Strangers

The world isn’t full of dangerous people, it’s full of friends you haven’t met yet.

As I travel the world, non-travelers always ask me, “Don’t you get lonely?”

My response is, “I am never alone.”

Traveling on your own teaches you many very valuable lessons, two of which are:
1. How to be happy with your own company
2. How to make friends quickly with complete strangers

The first is a deep personal journey I’ll let you embark on in your own time. However, allow me to elaborate on the latter, as making friends with strangers has always been my specialty.

When it comes to saying hello to strangers and making a new friend, it comes down to five simple steps.

1. Look people in the eyes. Project your positive energy with a warm smile. Typically you will get a feel for people with matching energies and will be able to understand if they are receptive to meeting someone new.

Say Hello to Strangers
An invitation for a run through the mountains and laughs shared over traditional food was all it took to become lifelong friends with this wonderful Costa Rican couple.

2. Embrace small talk. Break the ice by commenting on things relative to the moment. If you have a sense of humor, use it.

Anna Purna Base Camp
We met when I thought I had altitude sickness. The bloke in the middle laughed at me and told me we were too low for that to be possible. The next day these guys became my hiking partners, and we eventually hiked our way up to the AnnaPurna Base Camp.

3. Ask questions. Getting to know someone requires effort and interest. You’re not going to make a new friend staring down at your phone screen. It requieres active engagement and a bit of enthusiasm.

Tayrona National Park
I brought this crew together through asking lots of questions. From starting conversations in the middle of the street, to the shared shuttle bus, to the line in Tayrona National Park, our pack kept growing.

4. Don’t be shy. Tell people you are looking for friends to hang out with. People aren’t mind readers, sometimes you need to put yourself out there in order to make things happen.

eating in the hostel prison
We became friends after a free walking tour in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and we all decided to continue exploring the city together, after a quick coffee and chocolate ball, of course.

5. Make plans. After you have broken the ice and successfully engaged someone in conversation, make follow up plans if you want to hang out with this person again. This requires putting yourself out there a little bit more. You can ask them if they have plans that night or that weekend, or see if they are interested in joining you to do  something that you were thinking of doing yourself. Then get their contact information. If you just give out your information, you might find yourself waiting around, and that’s not how you want to be spending your time!

Poon Hill Loop

Of course these five steps are only the beginning. You must always trust your intuition. Don’t go wandering off with every stranger you meet. But do keep an open mind, and the next time you find yourself looking to say hello to strangers and to potentially make a new friend, think of these five steps.

Perfect example of all of the above:

I was recently in Mindo, Ecuador, a place which is best appreciated when you have a local friend who will show you the secret spots. While I was at a public waterfall, a local “lifeguard” reprimanded me for climbing on some rocks and we got to talking. We talked about the nature, the river, the waterfall and our beautiful surroundings. He told me all about how he loved to hike to the waterfalls for free, and I brazenly told him, “I need a friend like you!” and asked him what we was up to the following day. He happened to have the day off, and we made plans to go bird watching and waterfall chasing. With just the right stroke of luck and ambition, I had turned a stranger into a friend, and secured a personal tour of the coolest places that Mindo had to offer. Give it a try and see who you meet.

5 Questions to Serve As Your Compass to Success 

Have you ever heard the saying that you are the summation of the five people you spend the most time with? That these five people affect your perspective, your habits and the way you generally live your life, so you should take care as to who you have “in your circle”? 

As I travel, I change my surroundings every few days, so I don’t have a set group influencing me, but even so, when I find myself in the company of those who do not have the same values or lifestyle I deem important I take notice and I take care, because you can walk the line for some time, but if you cross over from good habits to bad, it’s an effort to get back on track. 

I recently was staying with a kind family in Colombia, and although they were nice, I found myself slipping into their way of life: late nights and late mornings, overeating and eating out, and simply existing versus making the most of my precious and valuable time on this planet. 

A blessing and a curse of mine is that I can be a chameleon and adapt to my surroundings very easily. I am a “go with the flow” type of person, so the path of least resistance was to join their way of life. I found myself frustrated from time to time, but I reminded myself that this situation wasn’t permanent, and I tried to take my personal choices when possible which lead me down the healthy lifestyle path that makes me happy. 

During this time, I read a quote which really spoke to me, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” It was simple yet profound and it reminded me that I am in control of my life, my goals, my outcome, and if I want to be successful and happy I need to actively take these things into my own hands. 

When I think of things that determine whether or not I will have a successful day or life, a few things come to mind. Below are 5 quick questions outlining the general aspects to use as a “compass” for life’s decisions. Take a read and keep them in mind. You might just find them useful as well. 

*How do you start your day? 

The way we start our day has an impact on our outlook and our overall productivity. Are you starting your mornings early and on a positive note? Meditation, exercise and a healthy breakfast with at least one cup of coffee, that’s how I like to start mine. 

  


*What kind of food do you eat? 

You know that saying “you are what you eat”? It is true. The things we put in our bodies act as our fuel for life. Are you getting your greens, or is your life made up of processed sugars and carbs, prepared and packaged by someone else? 

  

*Who do you surround yourself with? 

Are the people around you fountains of inspiration, or do they drain you of your natural energy and enthusiasm? It is important to consider this because your energy in life matters, and those you share it with can also reflect it back to you. If you’re around people who are negative black holes, then you will find yourself constantly giving without getting any positive feedback in the process, and that is just plain draining. 

   

*Are you on the path to achieving your dreams? 

Is what you’re doing helping you put one foot in front of the other to bring you closer to your dreams? If not, is what you’re doing really worth your time? Sometimes we have responsibilities which we need to take care of, and other times we are just in a rut because we’re doing what we think is expected of us. Think twice before you continue blindly doing what you have always done. Is it bringing you one step closer to your happiest self? 

  

*Have you learned something new? 

Keep your eyes and ears open. Observe. Let the world be your teacher. Whether it’s about yourself, someone else, or things that are going on or have happened in the world, it’s important to continuously learn and expand our minds. 

  

There you have it. Life is short, live it well, and let these 5 questions serve as your compass to success. 

Don’t Get Pissed, Get Polished – 5 Tips for Overcoming the Blues

Anyone who has ever traveled knows that in order to experience the amazing highs that come with exploring a new place, you have to go through some really frustrating times as well. There are some days where everyone talks too fast, walks too slow, and you find yourself feeling lost and going in circles. It’s on these days that you want to throw your hands up and go back to the home you know, the people you love, and say,  “Screw it, I’ve seen enough.” But then you find an off-the-beaten path gem, a stranger smiles at you, and you remember why you decided to follow your bodacious dream to see the world.
On the days that you find yourself feeling melancholic and the world seems to be a bit lackluster, step outside of yourself. Adjust your attitude. Remind yourself that you have a precious human life, and you’re not going to waste it. As this fantastic quote by Rumi says, “If you’re irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” Keep this in mind, and when the day isn’t going your way don’t get pissed, get polished.
Here are some things I try to do to improve my mood when I feel myself walking down a dark path of loneliness, contempt or self-pity. These are things we can all do, whether we are traveling or just having a bad day at home.
1. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember that whatever negative thing you’re feeling- it will pass, if you let it. You’re in charge of how you feel. Choose positivity. Find the bright side of things. Did you just step in shit? Well, as Forrest Gump says, sometimes it happens.

Tayrona National Park

 2. Exercise yourself into a better state of mind. Sweat out your worries, increase your endorphins, and strengthen your body in the process. Whether you’re counting your squats or push-ups, focusing on your breath during yoga, or trying not to trip while running down the sidewalk, your mind will be busy.

Beach exercise

3. Smile. Smile at yourself in a reflection. Smile at a stranger and see their reaction. Smile to the sun and remember that life is good. And if you’re crying, smile. Be happy you’re not a heartless robot.

Tayrona National Park

 4. Find a quiet place, preferably with green space. Breathe the life of the plants. Admire their beautiful details and remember that we are all connected. Whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone.

Minca Colombia

5. Pick up trash. You’ll distract yourself and make the world a better place at the same time. At least if you’re feeling worthless you will be doing something worthwhile. And smile. :) Remember, one person can make a difference.

Oropendola nests

At the end of the day, try not to let every rub hit you the wrong way; allow yourself to become polished. You’re only as happy as you make up your mind to be, so put a few of these tips to the test and see if you can turn your frown upside down.
Happy happy.

The Period Party

Woooooofff. I had just walked at least 500 steps up a mountain with my overstuffed bags and set them down with pleasure. The hostel hostess quickly brought us water, and we sat there, drinking it down and drinking in the view that stretched out before us: rolling, tree covered hillsides as far at the eye could see. The city of Santa Marta sprawled out in the distance, now over an hour away. 

I started to take note of my immediate surroundings, and noticed that there were many women in the entry room, and more continued to huff and puff their way up into view as they climbed the steps. As conversation began to unfold, I came to understand that they were all gathering here in the woodsy setting of the hostel to have a “women’s meeting” and that I was more than welcome to join. I always love meeting strong women who are active in the community so I was elated at the offer. I set up my hammock, took a quick shower, and joined the women for their early evening gathering. 

There were many red sheets strung up between the trees, creating a sort of red tent, and women were entering one at a time. Outside the tent, one woman was wafting the smoke of a bundle of burning rosemary around each woman who was awaiting entry, and once she had been “cleansed” the tent would open, and a woman dressed in all red placed a red flower “bindi” on the forehead of the woman entering, welcoming her to the tent. 

The whole procession reminded me of the best parts of India, with the smoky scents hanging in the air, and the bindis. As I waited outside the tent, the women were so kind, saying they were happy I had come, and I was happy to be there. I had no idea what I was in for. 

I was welcomed in to the tent, the same way as the others, and I took a seat on the red carpet that covered the earth. There were some other foreigners from the hostel, or transplants to the town of Minca, and we chatted amongst ourselves as we awaited the beginning of the meeting. Spread before us were a variety of delicious treats, and finger-painting like pictures hung above an area with a book, a flower, and a glass of water. Incense was lit and its aroma drifted around us all. 

  

Eventually the last person entered the tent, and the woman in red began to address us all. Everything was in Spanish, as I imagined it would be, and she started explaining to us about the “Tienda Roja” book, which was the basis for this meeting- a meeting intended for women to honor themselves and learn to love their menstrual cycle. 

The leader of the meeting started by telling us a bit of the history of where the idea for the “Carpa Roja” group came from. Historically in some cultures when women were menstruating, they would put up a red tent, and the women would go inside, separate themselves from the world and reflect during that seven day cycle. She went on to describe how each week of our cycle was like a season: spring, summer, fall or winter, and how we should pay attention to the feelings we have during these seasons. She even encouraged that perhaps we make art during our menstrual cycle, and then she gestured up to the “finger paintings” that were hanging in the tent and told us she had made them using her own beautiful blood. I tried to keep an open mind. 

I had heard there would be meditation during the meeting which is part of what drew me in, and there was, but it wasn’t at all as I was expecting. During this meditation we closed out eyes and were told to go back in time, to the day we first received our periods. We were to talk to our past selves and process the thoughts and emotions that arose. Afterwards we were asked to share how we felt about all this. 

At one point, a woman came in to the circle, late and with her young son. When it came time to sit in a circle, hand to uterus with the person next to you, the little boy asked, “What’s a uterus? I can’t feel mine. Where should I put my hands?” This provided some comic relief, and the leader told him to put his hands to his heart. 

During another portion of the meeting all women stood, and a red string was passed from person to person, connecting us all. We then went around and in turn we said who we were. For example, I am Holly, daughter of Lori, grand daughter of Edith, and mother of all my dreams and projects. For each of these things we wrapped the string around our wrists, paying homage to all the uteri before us, and all the uteri that would follow. 

As a closing project, we were given a piece of paper with a chrysalis on one half, where we were supposed to write things we wanted to overcome, and on the other half we were supposed to draw a butterfly, signifying what we would become. Then we left the tent, stood around a bonfire, tore the paper in two and burned the pieces, saying what we wanted to overcome and what we want to become. 

We closed this multiple hour meeting with songs around a fire. This was possibly the most enjoyable part for me, except I was so hungry I could barely concentrate, and the leader kept wanting to sing another and another and another song. After some truly lovely songs about being a beautiful woman who is one with the earth we went back to the tent where we all passed around the treats and reflected upon this unique Carpa Roja group and what we got out of the meeting. It was a long meeting, much longer than I was anticipating, and the whole experience was definitely a surprise to me. I don’t think I was the only one who went in to the meeting blind, I think some others had no idea they were about to join a 3.5 hour long “period party”, but it was an experience to remember, to say the least.

Apparently this is a global group, with meetings in multiple countries, so if you’re actually interested in getting involved, seek it out. In English the book is called The Red Tent and the groups are called The Red Carpet. 

Five Quick Tips for Learning a Language 

The best thing I have ever done in life was to learn Spanish. As I travel, I love meeting new people, and throughout my travels, it has been incredibly helpful to have Spanish as another communication channel when English doesn’t suffice. Being able to speak Spanish has opened up my world exponentially and it continually allows me to make connections that otherwise may not be possible.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to move down to Costa Rica for work. At that time, I didn’t know more than “hola”, “gracias” and a few colors and numbers, but I had faith that I could learn the language. My first three months were so confusing. I had no idea what was going on around me, but I persevered, determined to ultimately learn the language.

Signs in Costa Rica

Many people talk about wanting to learn a language, but saying and doing are two different things. Learning a language takes time, effort and persistence, and in all honesty, you need to be a little bit shameless.

If you are really going to try and learn another language you have to be willing to practice, even if you might sound goofy in the process, and you have to seek out opportunities to speak with people who can help teach you the language you are trying to learn.

Now, the best way to really learn a language is to move to a country which speaks the language you are aiming to master. Immerse yourself.  But, if that’s not in the cards, or if you’re hoping to try and learn a language before visiting a place, try these quick tricks that really helped me to prepare for Costa Rica, and to pick up on Spanish fast.

1. Label your life.

Post sticky notes all over everything – your home, your office, your car- and identify the items in the language you are trying to learn. I even added phrases like, “Close the door,” or “Turn off the lights,” to my sticky notes which were by the door and the light switch. As I did these actions, I would force myself to speak these phrases, which began to integrate them into my mind and my life.

2. Download an app like DuoLingo and start practicing.

DuoLingo is a fantastic app which helps you learn a foreign language through reading, writing, and speaking. While you are using it, you feel like you are playing a game. You earn points and can even track your progress and compete with other people who are trying to learn a language. If you have ever tried Rosetta Stone, it is very similar, but it’s available on your smartphone and it’s free.

3. Listen to music videos with lyrics.

A great way to make a connection between reading, speaking, and listening is through the use of music videos with lyrics, readily available on YouTube. Find some songs you like, and sing along to them. It will get you practicing the words, and it will help you to understand how the words actually sound when people say them. By reading the lyrics you will also become familiarized with spelling.

4. Learn how to say a few key phrases about your interests and how to ask basic questions.

Use Google Translate, or an app like itranslate on your phone, and start translating things that you would like to tell people about yourself in the process of getting to know someone. When I first moved to Costa Rica, I quickly learned how to tell people that I liked nature and hiking, because I wanted to do those things. I also taught myself how to ask simple questions like, “How was your weekend?” and then I would look up how to say what I had done the past weekend, so I could continue the conversation.

5. Watch TV or videos with subtitles.

Sometimes it is helpful to hear dialogue in your native language and to simultaneously read along in the language you are trying to learn. By reading along, you are introduced to new words, and it also helps you understand how you would say the phrases which are common in your native language.

6. Watch your favorite movie, but dubbed in a foreign language.

This advice was given to me by a French professor years ago. He asked me what my favorite movie was, and then he told me to go and watch it in the language which I wanted to learn. The reasoning behind this is that you already know all the lines to your favorite movie, so when you hear it spoken in another language you will be able to make the connection. I completely forgot about the advice, until it just happened organically. I was in Costa Rica, and one of my favorite movies came on tv, but completely dubbed in Spanish, and without English subtitles. I decided to watch it anyway, and lo-and-behold, the French professor was right! I understood everything.

7. Find a teacher.

If you are financially able, a professor is a great investment because they will teach you the official rules of the language. However, if you can’t afford a professor, find a teacher in a different way. Maybe you can see if there are any local gatherings of people in your area who speak the language you are trying to learn, or maybe you can reach out via the internet and find a new friend to practice with. If you are already living the country, practice speaking the language with people at local markets and stores.

8. Read a book!

As you progress with your language development, branch out into the realm of children’s books, and see what you can learn. The Little Prince is a beautifully written book for young adults which has been translated into hundreds of languages, and it is a great book to start with.

As you can see, there are many ways to bring a new language into your life. When you’re learning another language, it automatically opens you up to another world. It helps break down possible barriers, and allows you to go beyond what you know in order to connect with something new.

As you get started, allow yourself to enter a child-like state; be open to everything; soak it in like a sponge. Remember: Don’t get overly frustrated with yourself- it doesn’t happen overnight.

Learning a language is a fun and challenging process, and when you’re finally able to speak with someone in a language that’s not your own, you will feel a deep sense of satisfaction that lets you know it was all worthwhile.

 

Don’t Let Your Doubts Get in Your Way

The most memorable week of my life started out with a day full of doubt. I was returning from the beautiful lakeside mountain town of Pokhara, Nepal to the country’s dusty capital city of Kathmandu. As our bus wound through the lush mountain roads back to “civilization” I wondered to myself, Do I really want to head back to city life? After all, wasn’t this what caused me to run away from India only a few short days before? I let myself forget my worries and get lost in the scenery as we passed village after colorful village.

Once we arrived to Kathmandu, I had yet another moment of doubt. My friend who I had traveled with was heading back to her cushy, safe, $25 a night American-approved guesthouse, but I had opted to stay with a local Couch Surfing host, and he wasn’t at the bus station yet. We were 40 minutes early, and the phone number he gave me didn’t work, so I had no choice but to wait and hope that our plans held strong. As my friend pulled away in her taxi, I continued to fend off on-coming taxi drivers. “No, thank you, I have a friend coming.” After half an hour of waiting on the curb, trying to read my book, but secretly wondering if this host would indeed come through, he showed up, with an entourage of 4 colorful friends.

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It was Holi in India, a religious “festival of color” and the streets were packed, but nearly every store was shut up tight. We were lucky that one store was open, and we proceeded to drop off my massive bag with this local shopkeeper friend before heading out to walk the streets. Armed with plastic bags of color, we skipped around, singing, “Happy Holi!” as we marked other people celebrating the holiday. There was music and festivity all around, and a generally good vibe in the air. However, while we were dancing in large crowds, the boys would encircle me for protection against unwanted gropes from passing men, and when we walked the streets they fended off water throwers on my behalf. I was happy to be with them, experiencing Holi like a true local, but safely.

As the night wrapped up, we retrieved my big backpack, and headed back to their home. To most Americans, the neighborhood would feel like a ghetto slum, with houses stacked upon houses, and hundreds of electricity lines dangling haphazardly about, but to anyone on this side of the world it’s just a normal neighborhood. As I ducked down to follow them through their gate, and hiked up the stairs, they told me I would have my own room and bathroom. It was obvious that I was taking someone’s sleeping place, as they tidied up the tangle of covers on the bed, but I wasn’t going to argue. They showed me the shower, jimmy-rigged to keep the water off with a wire wrapped around the handle, and told me the bathroom light didn’t work. I realized I was about to have a very cold shower…in the dark… Again, I had moment of doubt, thinking to myself, Are you sure you don’t want to spring for a hostel?

I decided to stay on this path, and proceeded to set up a flashlight in the bathroom and washed the colored powder off my body, jumping in and out of the water, telling myself, “It’s not cold! It’s refreshing!” Upon conpletion, I bundled up in my warmest clothes and came out of “my room” to find my host vacuuming the floor and cleaning the house. He told me I could watch tv, but the other boys were upstairs starting to cook dinner. I’m on a mission to improve my cooking skills, and I’m always looking to learn something new in the kitchen, so I ascended the pitch black stairway towards the rooftop and kitchen area, and that is when everything really came together to let me know I was exactly where I needed to be.

All these boys come from the same rural village, a few hours outside of Kathmandu. They have grown up together their whole lives and have basically formed a “village away from the village” with this apartment. Everyone is welcome, everyone helps one another, and everyone contributes, taking their turn cooking dinner or cleaning the house. That first night I was merely a spectator, but in the nights to follow I would help to cut and clean the vegetables, and even become familiar with their local vegetable vendor, learning how to say various vegetable names in Nepali.

As I sat in the kitchen, observing the preparation of rice (bhat), lentils, (dal) and vegetables, the boys started to engage me in conversation. All understood English, but some were less confident than others in their conversational abilities, so they would look to one another for help with their responses. Two boys really took me under their wing and started teaching me some useful phrases like “shuva bihani” (good morning), “shuva din” (have a good day), and “shuva ratri” (good night). My use of these simple phrases, and my willingness to learn Nepali, would prove to help make me quite popular with the locals in the weeks to follow.

That night, I remember feeling such a happiness in my heart as I stood in the kitchen, watching these young men work together, and listening to them sing various songs, like John Legend’s “All of Me” and some old romantic Nepali classics. I was so grateful that I hadn’t let my fear of the unknown scare me out of this amazing, authentic experience of living like a local in Nepal. From day one, I knew my bond with these boys (ages 22-25) was something special, but I had no idea how fond we would all grow of one another in the coming week. By the time I left, they gushed, “You are the best Couch Surfer we have ever had! Your presence adds something special to the group!” My cheeks flushed, but my heart melted.

In Nepal they say that the “guest is God”, and these boys lived up to this saying, treating me like a queen. My stay extended for more than a week, and was full of incredible experiences: a trip to their rural mountain village, a local wedding, time spent working in the fields, a motorcycle road trip to Chitwan National Park, and regular wonderful days commuting to and from the city for work.

I will forever remember my week spent with these boys, and I will hold the memories we created together near and dear to my heart for years to come. Another win with Couch Surfing, and another experience that taught me not to let moments of doubt get in the way of a good time.

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8 Reasons Why You Should Give Couchsurfing a Try

I remember the first time I heard about Couchsurfing… I was traveling in Costa Rica, sitting in the sunshine alongside the thundering Nauyaca waterfall when out of the mist walked two college students who were exploring the country on their summer break. As we got to know one another, I learned some of the ways they were able to make long-term travel affordable, and one of the things they mentioned was Couchsurfing. Like many people, I was intrigued yet skeptical about a service where complete strangers open up their houses to you and let you stay with them for free. In the months that followed, I set up an account personally, and from that point on my world expanded as I tapped into an incredible source of travel enthusiasts who are located all around the world. As I began to utilize Couchsurfing, it taught me many things, several of which I will share with you now.

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1. Couchsurfing isn’t about a “free place to crash”. 

 When you participate in Couchsurfing, the expectation is to share things with your host or surfer. Whether it be a meal, a walk around town, a trinket from your hometown or simply a few life stories, the idea is that Couchsurfing can help people make connections and feel at home in a place away from home, and keep it affordable along the way.

2. Couchsurfing helps make the world smaller by facilitating connections. 

As I travel around the world, I am able to use Couchsurfing to help make local friends along the way. The cool thing about these Couchsurfing friendships is that sometimes you make such a great connection with someone that you may surf with them, then host them a few months later. I have had several multi-continent meet-ups with friends I have met through Couchsurfing and it is so much fun to reconnect with a familiar face after having shared a previous surfing experience together.

3. Couchsurfing is more than just hosting or surfing, it’s about people helping people. 

When I find myself alone in a new location, I turn to Couchsurfing to try and make a friendly connection, and it hasn’t failed me yet. If you’re traveling through an unfamiliar place, and you’re looking for travel tips, recommendations or even a friendly partner to hang out with, you can reach out to the local Couchsurfing community and you will nearly always get a response. Also, if you’re ever in a bind, there are typically people who can help you out. I’ll never forget the time I needed a ride from the airport, and my actual friend in the area had to bail, so I reached out to the Couchsurfing community. I met a newfound friend who picked me up and spent the afternoon showing me a few of his favorite places in the area. We ended up maintaining contact the whole time I was in the area, and by the time I left, I felt like I had met someone who really had my back if I needed them.

4. Couchsurfing reminds you that the world is full of good hearted people.

As I am welcomed into the houses of Couchsurfing hosts, I am constantly reminded of the kindness of strangers. These people share their lives with me, and treat me as their friend and I am forever grateful for their help and the connection we share while I am on my journey.

5. If you really want to get to know a place, visit someone who lives there.

When you know someone living in another city or country, they can help you see the place through the eyes of a local, and not only as a a tourist. Before I knew about Couchsurfing, I often chose my travel destinations based on where I may have had friends living or studying. Now that I know about Couchsurfing, it’s as though I have friends all over the world who can show me the wonders of where they live.

6. People live in all sorts of ways. Embrace the differences. 

As I stay or “surf” with more and more people around the world, I experience many different ways of life. Sometimes I have my own private bedroom, with wifi and hot water, other times I wake up on the floor surrounded by a deflated air mattress, and there have even been times where I have bathed “Indian style” with a bucket and pail. There is beauty in the differences, and with each new Couchsurfing experience I am able to get a taste of what it might be like to live in the that city, state or country. It opens my mind and expands upon what I may know as “normal”.

7. Couchsurfing is not only for “hosts” or for “surfers” but for anyone with a love of travel and cultural exchange. 

As I came back to my hometown, I found myself wondering if Couchsurfing existed there as well. I did a quick search and was happy to find an event group who got together to explore different restaurants around town. The great thing about Couchsurfing is that it provides a sense of community, centered around people who love to travel and get to know other people. With this community, you can always expand your world by getting to know new people and places, and by learning from the connections you make along the way.

8. Pay it forward. 

As people take me under their wing in my travels to all corners of the world, it makes me want to help others in any way I can. Whether it is hosting when I am not traveling, or simply sharing travel tips or advice with a weary traveler I meet on the road, I want to treat people well and make their travel experience the best it can be.

As I continue on with my travels, I know Couchsurfing will remain a part of my journey. I am in love with the worldwide sense of community that is shared, and there is no friendlier way to get involved with a new culture while on the road.
Now I’m curious…Have you ever tried Couchsurfing?? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section!

Getting to Know My Home Sweet Home: Grand Rapids, Michigan

There’s no place like home. Yes, that’s what they say. Even though the world is full of incredible places to explore, sometimes it is just as cool to reacquaint yourself with the wonders of your own hometown. Lucky for me, my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan has only been getting better and better. The city has been growing and developing, and has really put itself on the map, in more ways than one.  In the past few years it has set world records, launched an amazing annual international art competition called “Art Prize“, and has earned itself the title of “Beer City USA“. In 2014, The Lonely Planet even named Grand Rapids as the No.1 US Travel Destination!

Art Prize sculptures in the Grand River near the Blue Bridge, downtown, Grand Rapids.

For the first time in more than 4 years, I will have the opportunity to spend a solid six weeks here, and I can’t wait to reacquaint myself with my home sweet home. Sometimes when you are a from a place, you get used to doing what you always do. You can become comfortable with what you know, and in that comfort you can lose the drive to find what is new. In the past few years, I typically came home, caught up with my friends and family, hit up some of my favorite restaurants, hiked some of my favorite trails, and then I set back off to whatever location I came from. This time, I am going to explore my hometown the way I normally dig into other places I visit… I am going to become a local who is “in the know”.

The interesting thing about getting to know my hometown is that I already know quite a bit about this place. I know there is an awesome art scene, a plethora of delicious and different restaurants, and tons of places to get outside and get active. I am not as completely in the dark as I sometimes am when I am moving around and traveling. Here, I have a network of friends and I have years of history with the city. What I am looking to do is to simply brush up on what I know, and enhance my circles.

Typically when I arrive someplace new, I have a way I go about making connections… First: find local events. Second: meet new people. Third: follow up and have fun!

As I begin to reacquaint myself with my hometown,  I am embracing some of the tools I have learned in my times of travels. For example, I decided to see if anyone in the area is connected with my new favorite form of meeting people: Couchsurfing. It turns out Grand Rapids has a group of Couchsurfers who like to get together for dinner every other week or so. It just so happened that the day I discovered this was the day they were getting together for dinner. I met them right away at some hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant in a part of town I never visit and poof! Newfound friends with great tips on the area, as well as a passion for travel. Perfect. Check, check and check.

Now, to continue enhancing my circles, I am beginning to look up places of interest like local museums, art galleries, yoga studios, theaters and concert venues to see when they have different events or community gatherings. The Experience Grand Rapids website has been incredibly helpful for all this. Through local events, I typically meet new people with different ideas of places to go and things to see, and voila! Soon I will have a whole list of “Must See” places, as well as an expanded network of interesting people to do things with.

Right now, it is only the beginning. I have only been home a week, and as always, it has been a whirlwind of a week… but I can’t wait to see what I find out about good ol’ Grand Rapids. I have no doubt that in the coming weeks I will be able to write several posts of praise to this city, and to my home state of Michigan. I look forward to getting to know my home sweet home of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I welcome any and all comments and suggestions below… Let me know what you think I should see or do while I’m home in the mitten!

5 Reasons Why You Should Try Traveling on Your Own

Many people tell me they wish they could travel the world, but oftentimes they cite fear of loneliness as a reason high on the list as to why they don’t go for it. I’m here to tell you, yes, of course you will have moments where you feel alone, but these moments will force you to become stronger, more adaptable, and more independent than you have ever been, and these moments will pass, just as all moments in our lives tend to do. Everyone should give solo travel a try at some point, whether it is a weekend away in a neighboring city, or a trip half way around the world. As I prepare to embark on another round of solo travel, I find myself thinking of a few of the best reasons to travel alone. 

1. You will develop your accountability and your decision making skills. 

When you travel alone, there’s no one to turn to who can take a difficult decision for you. There’s also no one there to remind you when you need to be somewhere or get something done. You realize you are responsible for yourself and you are in charge of your course, and this puts just the right amount of weight on your shoulders to get you moving in the right directions. 

2. You will actually meet more people when you’re traveling alone. 

People always ask me, “Holly, don’t you get lonely??” Well yes, sometimes I do, but you can feel lonely even when you’re at home. When I’m on the road, I find that I am constantly meeting new and interesting people who open my world to different ways of thinking and different ways of doing things. When you travel with someone else, you have a built in safety blanket, someone who will always be around for conversation. In contrast, when you’re on your own, you’re more likely to strike up conversation with the stranger next to you on the bus bench. And then, who knows where that conversation will lead. I can only tell you that by traveling solo, it has opened my eyes even more to how many genuinely good people live all over the world. I now have connections I never imagined would form, and I am able to maintain them through Internet communication. How cool is that?

3. You learn that you are responsible for your own happiness. 

As you’re out there traveling by yourself, you might be in unfamiliar places, struggling to understand what is being said and what is going on, but as soon as you learn to look within and understand that you are the one who can bring yourself joy, your world will shift. You learn to take charge of your feelings and to find the bright side of whatever situation you may be experiencing. Remember, a cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition, so find your inner sunshine…then share it with the world!  

4. You learn more about yourself.

As you’re embracing the world on your own, you will not only learn about other people and other cultures- you will learn more about yourself. You will see the types of places and situations that attract you, and you will be surprised. You will tap into interests you never knew existed. You will let go of characteristics that no longer serve you, and you will find new traditions that you may carry with you forever. It is eye-opening to find out who you are without the influence of others, and it is even more interesting to find out who you may become when you remove yourself from the “norms” of your homeland.

5. You can enjoy your own company, and do what you want to do. 

When you travel with another person, you constantly have to take that person’s needs into consideration. However, when you’re on your own, you can go with the flow and do whatever strikes your fancy. You want to hang out in the park all day, people watching and soaking up the sun? Okay, go for it. You want to read every sign in the museum over and over and over? No problem, you’re not holding anyone else up. You want to spend a week volunteering with local kids instead of checking out every “must see stop” in the Backpacker’s Bible? Go for it! Because it is your trip, and you can do what you want! You can change your course of direction on a whim, and you don’t need to answer to anyone but yourself. It’s a beautiful thing.

Whatever the length of your solo travel expedition happens to be, you will learn and grow immensely in that period of time. You will find out that just because you’re traveling alone doesn’t mean you will always be alone. You will meet people along the way, and you will discover things about yourself that you didn’t know before. You will emerge more confident, because you will see that you’re capable of overcoming obstacles and doing whatever you put your mind to. Yes indeed, solo travel is a good thing. 

If you haven’t given it a try yet, go for it! And if you have traveled on your own and lived to tell the tale, let me know about it! Where did you go? What did you do? 

Live Each Day to the Fullest, Toastmasters Edition

For as long as I can remember, I have always strived to make each day count. I am not a sit-on-the-couch kind of girl, I’m a get-up-and-get-out-there kind of girl. I love to see the world. I love to explore new places, or even go to familiar places but with a fresh set of eyes. When I travel, I apply this same mantra of “live each day to the fullest” as I make my way around the world.

The first time I lived outside of Michigan, it was for one summer working as an intern in Dallas, Texas. There, I embraced another one of my mantras, which is to “be a traveler, not a tourist“. While in Texas,  I got to know a lot about Dallas and the surrounding areas, and when I wasn’t working, I was immersing myself in the Texas culture.

A while back, I was going through boxes of old things, and I came across a speech I had written for a Toastmasters group I participated in while living in Dallas. Toastmasters is a group which helps people improve their public speaking skills in a fun and safe environment, and the group is always looking to reach potential new members. At the end of the summer, the interns in Toastmasters decided to put on an event for other co-workers to come and see if they may potentially want to join the group…Below is my speech for the event, and although some parts are kind of silly out of context, it still reminds us all to live life to the fullest, and embrace life as travelers, not a tourists.

“Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist”

Holly Haveman, Summer 2009

When I first found out I was going to be interning in Texas, I didn’t know what to expect. A scorching summer and a whole bunch of cowboys were the first things that came to mind. Whatever it was, I knew I was going to make the most of it.

I knew I wanted to positively impact my work environment, to meet new people, explore new places, and learn as much as I could about everything in the process. In a nutshell, I knew I wanted to live each day to the fullest.

I got a letter from my friend in the mail the other day, and in it was a bottle cap. Now, it wasn’t a Snapple cap, but I know you still would have liked it, Mr. Christopher Rose.

On the inside of the cap were words of wisdom, and they said, “Be a Traveler, not a Tourist.” I immediately knew I liked what this cap was telling me.

I started thinking about my time here in Texas, and I realized that quote perfectly described how I lived my summer, as a traveler, not a tourist.

Travelers must immerse themselves in their surroundings, get out of their traditional comfort zone, and see what the world has to offer. 

I have learned to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and to seek out things that don’t necessarily find you on their own.

As a traveler I was able to do so many amazing things this summer. Throughout the summer, I actively sought to find local events that were happening, and jumped on any opportunity to experience something new. I have been told many times that I have seen and done more in Texas than some people who have lived here their whole lives.

This summer I have done things I never would have imagined doing… I watched an Indy race, shot a gun…in fact, I shot more than one gun! I rode a bull…just kidding! but I did watch bull riding, and I did ride a dirt bike through the desert all on my own!

I helped build a house, and I’ve eaten down-home cookin’ like fried okra and chicken fried steak- which I didn’t even know existed until I came here… I also learned how to country western dance, as well as dance like a flapper in the ’20s.

I fed a donkey, and a zebra, and a cow…I killed a cockroach outside of my hotel…I mean, I am really impressing myself with this list!

Now, before this summer, I had never worked in a “corporate” setting, so coming here was a huge step outside of my “comfort zone”. Through my first project, I met many people in different departments and positions. Every worker has something to contribute, and I tried to take away what I could from each person I came across.

Toastmasters was a big help in easing me into the corporate workplace because it helped break up my day and it introduced me to all you fine people! I am sitting in a room full of intelligent and creative minds, and I am extremely glad I was able to be part of this group.

When we first started Toastmasters, many of us were unaware of our Um’s, Er’s, Ya Know’s and so on. We didn’t know that a “broken arm” didn’t necessarily need a sling or cast, that the “fig leaf” wasn’t only found on trees or Greek statues, and that badges could serve as distracting play tools.

We quickly learned from the rattle of the posturologist, and eventually even started making up our own names for distracting things like, “playing the bongos”, “the hugger”, and “scoliosis”.

Toastmasters has been a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn from each other, while at the same time learning about each other. I’ve absolutely seem improvements in all of our public speaking skills, and I know we consciously take what we learn from Toastmasters and apply it to our everyday lives.

This whole summer has been a learning experience, and that was what I was hoping for. I met new people, made new friends, explored my surroundings, and I found out there is more to Texas than cowboys and extreme heat.

I want to end this speech by reminding you all to live each day to the fullest! Go into everything with an open mind and a fresh set of eyes, and strive to do your best. Tasks may seem daunting and some jobs may seem unconquerable, but give everything a fair shot and I know you will surprise yourself.

I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to speak to you today, and to meet and learn from you this summer. I can now add this summer spent in Texas to the list of things I’ve done as a traveler, not a tourist.