Why I Travel

Traveling serves many purposes. It allows for a chance to see the world outside of your hometown perspective. It gives people the opportunity for vacation, and gives those working in the field of tourism a job. For me, traveling has become something different.

Travel has become a prescription for my mental health.

The first 18 years of my life were spent fighting demons, both internal and external. Mental health was never a concern of mine, because I had already accepted the fact that my home, my reality, and my “comfort zone” would always be one of mental anguish. One where a good day is “just good enough.”

That’s a really sad reality for a someone to accept. Let alone a child, an adolescent, or a young adult.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and let me tell you, I’m pretty damn strong. I feel proud to tell my story, because it is one of perseverance, of self awareness and self discovery. It is a story of using everything in your power to change your reality, in order to change a mentally unhealthy life, to a life of flourishing, growth, and mental wellness.

The best decision I’ve ever made was going to school for psychology. I would have never sought help otherwise, because my reality was my norm. I didn’t understand how starved for positive mental health that I was, until I learned the true definition of mental wellness. Of abnormal psychology. Of mental abuse.

I’ll never forget the day I left my classroom in tears. The day my professor defined and described my home, my family, and my life, straight out of a textbook. I nearly vomited when I realized all the lies I was forcing myself to believe. I was faking happiness for 18 years.

After speaking with my professor, the wheels that moved the rest of my life began to trek forward. In 2011, my new life began. I sought the help that I needed. The help my family needed. I learned that it is not ok to be mentally abused. Ain’t that a funny thought.

Parents are just people. We’re born under this notion that parents are suppose to shower us with unconditional love. But what if you have a parent that can’t love them self? Or a parent that loves them self too much that there’s no room for anyone else. What if you have a parent with a caring, appeasing soul, born under the notion that they are suppose to do whatever it takes to make their spouse happy. Even if their spouse is incapable of happiness. What becomes of a child raised in such an environment? What happens when a child is told not to tell?

I am what happens.

After 18 years of being constantly criticized, of suffering threats, walking on eggshells, and feeling the weight of a parent’s regular suicidal threats on my shoulders, I learned that this was not the life that I deserved. That is not a life anyone deserves. And man, what a powerful realization that was.

So, why do I travel?

Sure, I escaped the mental prison I once existed in. But such a hellish reality comes with repercussions. Anxiety is a very real part of my life. Once I was able to actually focus on my own mental health, I learned that anxiety is one of the building blocks of what has made Lauren, Lauren. It was one of those “a ha!” moments of that’s what that feeling is!

One of my favorite quotes about anxiety is that anxiety is like praying for what you don’t want. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop.

I began to test myself, pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone, until I was on a plane from JFK to LAX with a 2 month solo agenda. I have never felt so alive. I finally felt free to be me. Nothing was holding me back.

I travel because I am strong, brave, and capable. I travel because there is such beauty in this natural world, and I deserve to experience it. I travel to make up for lost time, for those 18 years that I forced a smile on my face, as I carried the weight of my parent’s personality disorder upon my shoulders.

If you are reading this and any of my words feel all too familiar, if you are living a life of accepting abuse, pain, and anguish, and have been forced to believe that you deserve it.. I am telling you, you are so much more than your circumstance. It’s never too late to seek the help that can set you free. Let 2018 be the year that your new life begins.

Happy World Mental Health Day. I love you, life.

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The Road to Brave

The first step to being brave 

is being scared. 

Dig deep to find superpowers 

you never knew you had. 

Comfort zones will surround you, 

Stagnation will set in. 

Be scared and then be brave,

Only then will life begin.

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10 Things I Learned From 10 Cities in 2017

In 2014, I made my first New Years Resolution – to travel to five cities I’ve never visited before, and to fly solo on at least one of these trips. Since 2014, I’ve visited over 35 new cities and 10 countries, with more than a handful of these being solo adventures. There’s something about traveling that makes me feel like I’m not just living— but that I am truly alive. I’ve pushed further beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone than I could have ever imagined, which has given me a sense of confidence that has trickled down to every aspect of my life.

Each year, I reflect on my trips and the pearls of wisdom they have brought me. This has become my favorite post to write, for it forces me to mull over the moments that have been marinating in my mind as the months have gone by.

  1. Savannah, GA. | I’m my Mother’s Daughter

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This year I realized that I am one bob haircut away from turning into my mother. We’re two ENFJ’s in a pod, who have walked through fire to live a life of sunshine. Savannah was the first time my mom and I traveled together— no Tammy, no Grammy, just us. On the first weekend of January, my sister attends a theater conference in Upstate New York. My mom and I seized this window of opportunity to do something we’ve never done before: go on an adventure. The combination of a short flight, open containers, and River Street made Savannah the perfect destination.

My Mom has not been bitten by the travel bug as I have, however, we have both been plagued with a different beast: anxiety. Sharing my love of travel with my Mom goes so much further than showing her some of my favorite destinations. I am deeply indebted to travel for allowing me to realize that I can tame my own anxious mind. Our weekend in Savannah was spent going with the flow of what River Street had to offer. Not everything in life needs a plan— which sounds blasphemous when you’re as type A as we are. We didn’t have an itinerary telling us to take syringe jello shots at the dueling piano bar… those things just happen.

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2. Boston, MA. | Embrace change

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I don’t feel completely ready to say goodbye to 2017. My baby sister is a senior in high school, and will be going off to Emerson College in the fall. I’m not completely sure how that’s even possible, because I feel like I graduated high school 20 minutes ago. Going away to college is the experience that transitions you into adulthood. It’s the years that you’ll build relationships that will bring you into your next phase of life.

We visited Boston this summer, and it was such an obvious fit for my sister’s college experience. This trip allowed me to face reality. The truth is that I’ll never be ready to let my sister go (ammi right parents?!), but I have faith in Boston, and the happiness this city will bring my sister. 

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3. Montréal, QC  | Fly solo (and do some pull ups)

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Sometimes you gotta go, where nobody knows your name. ☝🏻🎶 Montréal is my first Canadian adventure, eh, and certainly did not lack in poutine, friendliness, and maple syrup. Once you travel by yourself, it becomes something that you crave. I love to immerse myself in a new location, and flying solo forces you to dive in differently. One of my favorite things to do is take classes at different gyms, so I can learn from different trainers, and trainees wherever I am! On this trip, I visited Studio Epix for their HIIT morning workout. This was the first class that pushed me to try pull ups… and life has never been the same.

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4. Austin, TX | Be Genuinely Curious

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A professor once told me that the key to being a good listener is in being genuinely curious. That was a tip that has always stuck with me, and has been brought to life during my time in Austin. This year on my solo adventures, I grew quite fond of hostel life. During my time at the Firehouse Hostel, I went on daily adventures with interesting others, traveling from as far as Australia. It wasn’t hard to be genuinely curious about the paths that my new traveling posse have taken, that led us to the same place, at the same time. It makes me think of all the people we cross paths with on a daily basis, that we may be inspired by if it were for just a little bit of curiosity. We’re not cats, after all…

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5. Pilanesberg, South Africa | Life extends beyond ourselves

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This year I took the trip of my dreams, and went on safari in South Africa. Being smack dab in the middle of the animal kingdom was a consistent reminder that the universe does not revolve around us. We humans get caught up in our own lives, and don’t often sit and ponder about the lioness that is hunting to feed her cubs. This trip was a refreshing culture shock, that allowed me to disconnect from the human world. Albert Einstein once said, look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. Albie, you weren’t kidding buddy.

[Read more: Lessons learned on an African Safari]

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6. Cape Town, South Africa | Don’t talk about it, be about it.

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Many of our dreams are reserved for laters and tomorrows. I prefer to-do lists to bucket lists, because as much as I’m a dreamer, I’m also a doer. South Africa was a destination that I always considered a “someday” trip. One of those majestic places that I’ll visit “one day.” Until my best friend said- I’m going, you coming?

We should all dream big, but don’t be afraid to jump up and make things happen. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have travel buddies with travel dreams similar to your own! This trip will hold a special place in my heart, with each moment affirming my love for planet Earth.

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7. Atlanta, GA | You can always count on Waffle House

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This year, two of my trips were rooted in the nuptial love of my college friends. In September, my prom date, his girlfriend and I traveled as sister wives to Atlanta, where we celebrated the wedding of my cat’s namesake, (human) Jordan. Did we lose you, yet?

There a couple of things in life you can depend on. You can depend on the New Yorkers to be the loudest ones in the room.  You can depend on your best friends to travel as far as it takes to watch you walk down the aisle. You can depend on your road trip buddies to keep you belly laughing the whole drive. You can depend on Turbulence by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke to get you pumped up. And, most importantly, you can depend on Waffle House to make sure you will fall asleep with a full belly.

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8. New Orleans, LA| Don’t jump in the Mississippi

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New Orleans was the scene for another nuptial adventure, that was fueled by Hurricanes and sleep deprivation. But oh, I’m sorry… I thought we were here to party.

This trip wins the award for most fun had in 2017. It has been four years since my friends and I graduated college, so this celebration also served as an epic reunion. There is nothing quite like a New Orleans hotel doubling as your old dorm. Our strong bonds was made stronger with the topsy turvy times that Bourbon Street introduced us to. If you look deep down to the bottom of the Mississippi, you may find some memories that were meant to be forgotten. But, take it from the itchy skin of my friends… you may not want to take that plunge.

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9. Miami, FL | If they don’t tell you how much, it’s probably $300

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South Beach has officially made its way to the top of the leaderboard on my list of cities visited. This year, I visited on my own in February, and as a birthday celebration for one of my best friends in November. We are a crew who would not snub our noses to the likes of a happy hour, and are a group of gals who don’t back down from a challenge.

On one South Beach Saturday night… we got got. If the hot waiter looks too good to be true, he probably is trying to sell you something. Heed our advice and ask how much, and how big, one Coronita is before ordering four of them. But, my friends, if you do order four of them… you don’t stop until the last one is empty. Remember, your body can do this, don’t let your mind stop you!

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10. Denver, CO |  Get high

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I get by with a little help from my friends, and I get high with a little help from my friends. Denver was one of the last cities I visited this year. It was one of those Google Flights cheap rate induced decisions that I’ll never regret. The Rocky Mountains were calling my name, and I was like, u up?

We visited Estes Park on the last day the road to highest peak of the mountains was open for the season. In less than an hour, we were in a completely different climate. There was a ridiculous sense of tranquility that came with the altitude. I felt like an astronaut that was exploring a totally different planet (ok, maybe that was the edibles talking).

My faith is something that I often struggle with, but I always seem to find answers in nature. This year, I have been coping with the reality of the progression of time. My sister is growing up and going off to college. My grandparents are aging and have been ailing. We’re born, we grow up, we do some things between A to Z, and then life ends. Depressing way to end such an uplifting blog, huh?

Sometimes I feel stupidly optimistic, clinging to silver linings. But, my mindset so often comes from considering darkness, forcing me to exude light. I believe that the role I play in this world is dictated by my ability to be present, be appreciative, and be mindful. Sometimes it takes standing at the highest peak of a mountain to remember that you’re braver than you think. Take this time as we begin the new year to really reflect on the world and your place in it. Try to give more than you take, feel as much as you think, and smile at as many humans as you cross paths with.

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10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2016

10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2015

Imagine an alien came down to Earth, and asked you to describe the taste of water. How would you do it?

Trying to describe the nondescript taste of water, to me, is the equivalent of trying to describe what it’s like to live in an unhealthy mental state. There is nothing to compare it to. It just is.

Now, imagine this alien takes you back to their planet, and gives you a taste of what water is to them. Suddenly, you can describe what you have been drinking your whole life by comparison. You have gained a fresh perspective into a different world, allowing you to reanalyze your baseline norm.

I did not have a comprehension of how detrimental my mental state was until I learned what positive mental health was. This is a petrifying thought. For 18 years, I lived in a figurative cage— bounded by the confines of mental health. I went for physicals every year… I was a healthy specimen. I was an honor roll student, had hobbies, interests, and a great group of friends. Yet, I was ridden by anxiety—- but that was my norm. I was use to the apprehensive fears that would keep me up at night, because that’s how everyone feels, right?

My anxious mental state was just a drop in the bucket compared to the bigger issues surrounding them. For 18 years, I dealt with problems that were bigger than myself. They all revolved around one thing—- mental health. But, it was not my own mental health that consumed me, it was my Dad’s.

Have you ever met someone who had behaviors so ridiculous that you just attributed it to, “oh, that’s just who they are.” Well, let me tell you, one glance at the index of a psychology textbook will tell you, there is a rhyme and a reason for everything.

I know of many people who have grown up with a parent or loved one that was ill. Disorders of the heart, brain, muscular or skeletal system are apparent, but disorders of the mind or personality are not so easily recognizable. Sometimes, in the most frustrating of cases, the disorders aren’t even recognized by the person who is suffering. In these cases of denial, the suffering falls upon those around them. Suffering becomes a part of everyday life, but you learn to put on your big girl pants and deal with it, because everyone is dealing with something, no?

I am here to tell you, nobody deserves to suffer. You are more than your circumstance, and there is always a way out. Sometimes, you have to fight like hell, but I promise you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone says that life is short, but I think that discredits time spent suffering. I know there are people who look at me, and judge the life that I live. But you know, I wouldn’t challenge these people to try on the shoes that I have once walked in, because they have trekked through a dark, painful, and treacherous past.

Yes, life is short, and there will be suffering that we cannot control. That is inevitable. But we must recognize the things that we can work at— with mental health being at the top of this list. Sometimes, this means making hard decisions, and doing things we don’t want to do— such as seeking treatment. The ratio of those who would benefit from speaking with a mental health professional and those who actually do is incredibly skewed— which I personally think is a MAJOR underlying reason behind many of the problems in our world as a whole, but I digress.

The fact that #WorldMentalHealthDay is trending is a victory for the entire world. Between the election, clowns, and everything in between, we can scroll through a feed of support for those who know what it is like to fight an internal battle. Today is a day that we recognize the warriors who have overcome wars within themselves, and more importantly, letting it be known that you are not alone. There may not always be answers, but there is always someone who will listen to you. Who will understand you. Who will support you. Who will let you know, you are not crazy. No one deserves to feel that the weight of the world is resting on their shoulders. No one deserves to think that “grinning and bearing it” is any way to get through life. You deserve happiness. You deserve mental freedom. You are entitled to your health.

Dying to Live, or Living to Die?

There are few things in life you can be sure of— like finding a Starbucks in every city, or hearing Uptown Funk on the radio. While these statements are most often correct, they are not certain. In life, there’s only one thing we can be certain of: we’re all going to die.

Weren’t expecting that, were ya? What’s with this sudden morbidity from someone who is usually so cheery and upbeat?

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The truth is, the acceptance of life and its guaranteed end are what pushed me to live a different way. Growing up, my life was restricted by anxiety. I was always worrying about something that was not guaranteed to ever happen. In fact, as they say, worrying is like praying for what you DON’T want!

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It was after reading “The Four Agreements” when I finally started seeing things for what they really are, rather than what I was afraid they may or may not be. One of the final chapters of the book spoke about accepting “The Angel of Death.”

“The angel of death comes to us and says, ‘You see everything that exists here is mine; it is not yours. Your house, your spouse, your children, your car, your career, your money–everything is mine and I can take it away when I want to, but for now you can use it.’ If we surrender to the angel of death we will be happy forever and ever. Why? Because the angel of death takes the past away in order to make it possible for life to continue… When are we going to live in the present? That is what the angel of death teaches us to do.” – Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

None of us are making it out of here alive. I promise you that. So, while you’re here, what is it that you will do? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to see? What kind of person do you want to be?

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There is no arguing with the angel of death. We are all guaranteed a visit. Instead of thinking about this fearfully, look at the world of opportunities that lie beneath.

The Dalai Lama has said, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

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Death is one of those “not-fixable” situations. Accepting it does not mean to live recklessly. The purpose of accepting your eventual demise is to free yourself of that heavy, dark, raincloud called “worry.”

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Many of our goals, hopes and dreams are married to “somedays”, “bucket lists” and “maybe tomorrows.” The thing about the angel of death; she work on her own schedule, not yours. Those “somedays” may be nevers. So if there is something your heart yearns for, get Out There and make it happen!